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Framing the Issue

Local union carpenters gather for a forum on women in construction at Mount Holyoke College.

Construction has long been a male-dominated industry, but the playing field doesn’t have to be so uneven, several carpenters with Local 336 told BusinessWest. They all took different paths to the field, but all say women with an interest in working with their hands shouldn’t shy away from a career society has too often said they’re not suited for. Progress in diversifying the workforce has been incremental, but several regional developments offer reason for optimism.

Lily Thompson laughs when she hears that women can’t handle themselves on a construction site.

“That’s a societal thing as much as anything,” said Thompson, a journey-level carpenter with Local 336 of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. “If a mother can pick a sleeping child out of bed 2,500 times, there’s no reason she can’t pick up metal studs and shlep stuff around; 90% of this business is moving and fastening.”

Yet, the stereotypical messages persist. “You wouldn’t believe how many times kids are told, ‘that’s a boy thing,’ or ‘that’s a girlie thing,’” she went on, recalling the day her young daughter was helping her install a barn door, and a passerby took note of them and commented, ‘a lady with a saw — how unusual.’

“It doesn’t get any more basic than that,” she said of how gender roles get reinforced in traditionally male professions. “But society has changed a lot lately, and Western Mass. is prime territory for people doing non-traditional things.”

Julie Boucher, another journey-level carpenter, didn’t get those messages at an early age, or, if she did, she ignored them.

“I wanted to be a carpenter since I was a little girl, probably since I was 4 or 5, playing with Lincoln Logs and Legos,” she told BusinessWest. Her route to that career was a circuitous one.

“I went to vocational school and learned the trade, but when I got out, it was difficult to find a job,” she said. “Being a woman, a lot of companies took one look and said I wasn’t needed or wanted, so I got a little discouraged.”

After serving in the Navy for a time before getting a medical discharge and then studying business administration at Holyoke Community College, she again became interested in carpentry, and after a professor handed her a pamphlet for the carpenter’s union, she applied.

“The job can be difficult mentally and physically, and sometimes I think the mental struggle is harder than the physical struggle,” she said. “But if building and working with your hands is something you love to do, you should follow your dreams.”

Katurah Holiness

Katurah Holiness, here pictured at the MGM Springfield site, says she appreciates the different avenues of training available in her union.

Lisa Clauson, director of Strategic Partnerships for the union’s Carpenter’s Labor Management Program, loves testimonials like that one.

“We’ve been working aggressively over the past two years to expand our union’s diversity and ensure we reflect the communities we work in and our members live in,” she said, noting that this effort includes bringing in more men of color, but in particular has focused on recruiting women of all backgrounds.

Tradeswomen, Clauson noted, represent fewer than 3% of the construction industry nationally, and closer to 2% in Springfield. “We, and many other building trades, all have very successful tradeswomen, so it is not an issue of women not being physically capable, but it is an issue of women being recruited and encouraged to do this work — and an issue of contractors being willing to employ them. The construction trades are one of the last industries to diversify opportunities for women.”

Indeed, while female representation in the construction trades rose steadily between the 1980s and 2007, the number then leveled off and has decreased ever since. One factor was certainly the Great Recession, which hit construction hard and chased many professionals out of the field — women at a higher rate.

They should come back, Thompson said, with opportunities on the rise.

“I’ve been doing this almost 16 years,” she said. “The pay and benefits are great, and I work with a great group of people. It’s something I like to do, versus sitting at a desk. I tried making sandwiches and was a receptionist in a hair salon, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be.”

Test of Time

Thompson graduated from Franklin County Technical School in 2001, and decided to focus on carpentry after trying out some trades — auto-body and electrical work, to name two — that she found less appealing.

“I like building things, and seeing things that are long-lasting. You get to look at it and have pride in your work for years to come,” she said, noting that her skills translate well to her personal life, too; she and her husband, a mechanic, bought a run-down property 12 years ago and worked to turn it into a home.

A home is something Katurah Holiness didn’t have when she entered the world of carpentry. An Air Force veteran, she was driving for Uber and sleeping on a series of friends’ couches, and when she got tired of hopping around, she went to stay at Soldier On in Leeds, where she lived for much of 2016 and 2017.

She had never had much interest in carpentry, but one day she gave a union carpenter a ride, and chatting with him piqued her interest. She applied with the union and quickly became an apprentice and got hired on the MGM Springfield job.

“With the carpenter’s union, there are so many avenues you can go as far as interest,” she said. “You can take a welding course, learn about framing and sheetrock … the avenues don’t end. There are a number of things you can get into, specialties and certifications you can train for.”

Her car broke down shortly before she started as a carpenter, and Holiness initially was able to get to work through getting rides with other members and sometimes from other women who lived at Soldier On. Steady work at the union apprentice rate enabled her to save, pay off some of her debts, and eventually move to an apartment.

Besides those pluses, she enjoys the work, and feels at home working alongside almost all men.

“I came from a male-dominated background in the military, so it’s not new to me in the least,” she said. “I can vouch for the men I’ve worked with; they’re for the most part good guys, and they’re willing to train you and educate you if you’re willing to learn.”

That’s not to say some stereotypes of the field aren’t occasionally true, Thompson said, including ribald or condescending teasing.

“I just put in my imaginary earplugs. Its ‘hey, you’ve got your sexy jeans on today,’ or ‘where did you get your boots from, the kids’ section?’ You take it with a grain of salt — smile, wave, give some s–t back when it comes down to it. As for the physical part, well, if you’re active in life and don’t want to go to the gym every day, come give this a whirl.”

The union has been trying to motivate more of that whirl-giving among women in several ways, Clauson said. One is recruiting aggressively from members’ networks, community organizations, career centers and job-training programs, vocational schools, and other sources.

“We’re spreading the word about the opportunities for this work and letting women know that, when this work is done union, they can earn living wages, be fully trained in the craft for free, and get great benefits. Our recruitment work has involved intensive outreach in the vocational schools throughout Western Mass. as well.”

Meanwhile, to retain women in the trade, the union has created a ‘Sisters in the Brotherhood’ chapter for its women to come together regularly to network and support each other.

“We have mentorship programs and are working to educate our members on the value of diversity and the need for harassment-free worksites. We are also working with our contractors on these issues,” she explained.

Finally, the union has been persuading developers to require diversity in their contractors.

“This last step is key to ensuring women get hired and get work,” she said. “Contractors are slow to change their hiring practices, but if owners of construction work require them to bring in a diverse workforce, they will do so. This often gives women — and people of color — a foot in the door to demonstrate their work ethic and skills, and many are then kept for other jobs that don’t have requirements.”

Success stories in this realm have included MGM, with women accounting for at least 6.9% of all work hours, people of color 15.3%, and veterans 8% — minimums that are consistently being exceeded. “MGM is a remarkably different worksite than most,” Clauson said. “Our women constantly talk about how different it is to be seeing other tradeswomen all around them.”

Lily Thompson

Lily Thompson takes a break from work renovating Blanchard Hall at Mount Holyoke College.

Meanwhile, the UMass Amherst Building Authority has also set work-hour goals of 6.9% for women and 15.3% for people of color. Three years ago, she added, these goals existed but were ignored, but a compliance officer started enforcing them in 2015, and now the all jobs are exceeding these numbers.

Mount Holyoke College recently completed its first project (a renovation of Blanchard Hall) with work-hour requirements of 7% for women and 16% for people of color. And Smith College recently announced it will require the same percentages on its $100 million Neilson Library project.

Finally, the city of Springfield is reworking the Springfield Responsible Employer Ordinance, which requires city construction contractors to employ 35% Springfield residents, 20% people of color, 6.9% women, and 5% veterans.

“It has largely been unenforced, and they are now creating a new enforcement plan and have recently hired a compliance officer to oversee it,” Clauson said.

Small Steps

Boucher said every additional woman on a job site makes the environment healthier for all women. That’s partly why she coordinates the training center of the union’s apprenticeship mentoring program and helped launched its Sisters in the Brotherhood chapter.

“I naturally wanted to help other people; that’s in my blood,” she said. “I started a mentorship program at my local because I know how important it is to have that support. I wanted to be there for the apprentices coming in and help guide them in any way I can. Not all apprentices want mentoring, but the ones that do, I try to provide a support system for them. We have a great team of mentors to help out.”

The progress achieved in diversifying the construction workforce regionally is exciting, Clauson said, but much more needs to be done.

“Women historically have done many physically demanding and dirty jobs, but traditionally they are doing work of this type in low-wage and low-skilled industries,” she said, citing jobs in cleaning, food service, and personal care. “Construction careers, in contrast, are higher-paid, skilled, and, when unionized, have good wages, free training, and strong benefits. Women need to be able to access these opportunities.”

And be treated equally on the job site, Boucher said.

“There are companies that allow me to do my job, and then companies that don’t allow me to do my job, in the sense that I’ll get put on menial tasks, easy tasks, because my foreman or journeyman I’m working with don’t think I’m capable of doing it. I wish I was challenged a little more. Let me do the framing; let me handle drywall. But that’s not always the case.”

It helps that the union supports workforce training, she added. For example, Boucher earned a construction management degree at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, and the local paid for one-third of the tuition; most of the classes were held at Springfield Technical Community College through an exchange between the two institutions.

Thompson said women are ultimately responsible for taking such opportunities to better their careers. “Women today want to be 50-50, want to feel like they’re equal partners,” she noted. “Whether just out of college or age 50, as long as you’re physically able, there are lots of positions in construction. I didn’t see myself doing this full-time, but it works. I’m much happier than I’d be in an office.”

Holiness agreed. “A lot of people think it’s only for males because they’re stronger, but that’s not true,” she said. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s nothing you can’t do.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

As we bid farewell to 2017, we can say it’s been a very interesting year on many levels. Locally, it was a time to see a number of projects, some of which had been in the works for years or even decades, as was the case with Union Station, come to fruition.

It was a also a year to put down some foundations, as they say in the building trades, and also for creating the proverbial framework for future progress, as was the case with MGM Springfield, I-91 reconstruction, and efforts to add new layers to the region’s entrepreneurial infrastructure.

Nationally, of course, it was a year of unprecedented divisiveness and discord on virtually every front, with the lone bright spot being the manner in which women finally — and forcefully — came forward on the matter of sexual harassment and literally changed the landscape on that topic.

As for 2018 … well, aside from the very obvious, including an end to headlines detailing mass shootings, more saber rattling, or worse, with North Korea, and endless discord on Capitol Hill, here are some of things we’d like to see in 2018:

• More progress on the opioid epidemic. We say ‘more’ because we believe some has been achieved when it comes to this brutal epidemic with regard to prescription-control measures, the addition of more treatment beds, and, most importantly, the number of overdose deaths.

It’s fair to say that no family, no street, and no business has been left untouched by this scourge. The cost has been enormous, in every way calculable, especially the most precious — human lives. Much of the talk now concerns whether we have turned a corner on this epidemic and whether the picture is brightening. In 2108, we would hope to, at the very least, end any doubt that this is the case.

• A smooth, strong start for MGM Springfield. In about nine months, the waiting and the anticipation will be over, and the casino era will officially begin in Springfield and this region. What will it be like? No one really knows, because this is something completely new for this region.

Some have doubts about whether the casino can deliver everything that backers promise it can. And the best advice we can give — and we’ve given it before — is to consider the casino a piece to a bigger economic-development puzzle. Just a piece.

However, no one wants — or no one should want — this $950 million venture to fail. It needs to succeed for Springfield and for the region as a whole. It needs to bring people here; it needs to spur new business opportunities; it needs to create additional momentum for the City of Homes.

• Even more entrepreneurial energy. We say ‘even more’ because there is already quite a bit. More is needed, though, because good jobs are the lifeblood of every city, region, state, and country. They are a precious commodity, and, in case you hadn’t heard, they are being imperiled by rapidly advancing technology and a host of societal changes.

In short, we’re going to need places for people to work beyond the casino and Amazon distribution centers. And the best hope we have for more jobs is the creation of new ventures right here in Western Mass.

• Still more innovation. We say ‘still more’ because a region noted as being a hub of innovation continues to live up to that name. Most recent examples aren’t as visible as the ice skate, the parking meter, and the monkey wrench, but it’s happening, with everything from wearable medical devices to coatings that will clear fog from eyeglasses, to bringing your dog to work.

Wait, what was the last one? Yes, bringing your dog to work (see story, page 6). It’s not just a matter of convenience and companionship, although it’s both of those. It’s also an innovative way to create a better, less stressful, probably more efficient workplace. And we need more of all of that.

With that, all of us at BusinessWest wish you a happy, prosperous new year.

Daily News

GREAT BARRINGTON — Members of the Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc. of Western Massachusetts (HBRAWM) can now automatically support their own educational foundation under a new agreement with GoodWorks Insurance. The insurance agency will donate 20% of its commissions to the Home Builders Foundation of Western Massachusetts on all business and personal insurance policies members buy from it.

The Springfield-based contractors’ association has nearly 500 members in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. GoodWorks Insurance is an independent insurance agency with offices in Great Barrington and Worcester.

“It’s a creative arrangement. Our members will be able to support our foundation without spending an extra cent,” said Brad Campbell, executive director of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts. “GoodWorks has shown professionalism and commitment to work with our members.”

Just as important are the variety of services and solutions GoodWorks Insurance can offer to association members, he added. “It gives us more top-notch products and services in our holster to offer our members.”

Over the years, HBRAWM has provided $500,000 in scholarships and other grants to support the building trades. Besides college scholarships, the foundation offers $500 tool scholarships to vocational-school graduates to help them get started in their careers.

GoodWorks Insurance donates half its operating profits to local nonprofits that support education, healthcare, and public safety. Besides its Massachusetts offices, it has Connecticut offices in Avon, Columbia, Glastonbury, and New Milford. Serving more than 10,000 clients, GoodWorks has special expertise serving building contractors, nonprofits, fuel dealers, aerospace firms, and manufacturers, providing both insurance and surety bonds.

Briefcase Departments

Tishman Construction, Fontaine Brothers Win MGM Garage Contract

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield, the urban announced it has awarded a construction contract to Tishman Construction, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AECOM, in partnership with Springfield-based construction manager Fontaine Brothers Inc. Together these companies will be responsible for erecting the seven-level, 3,400-space parking garage structure. Construction is set to begin this month and be completed in approximately 20 months. “We are delighted about our continuous progress toward building MGM Springfield. Today’s announcement is yet another example of how we are engaging top global companies and local businesses to develop this tremendous project,” said Michael Mathis, president and COO, MGM Springfield. “We are excited to see construction on the garage move forward as the foundation is poured and we watch this structure rise out of the ground over the coming months.” MGM Springfield is expected to open in fall 2018, and is currently the largest construction project under development in Western Mass. The resort will feature a luxury hotel and a variety of entertainment offerings, including dining, shopping, gaming, and amusements, expected to attract millions of visitors and locals to downtown Springfield. “We are thrilled to be part of another iconic MGM Resorts development and excited to continue our work with the city of Springfield, Pioneer Valley Building Trades, and Fontaine Brothers Inc. to bring the vision of MGM Springfield to life,” said Edward Cettina, COO of AECOM’s building construction group. MGM Springfield is committed to engaging the community and maintaining diversity across its workforce, partners, and supply chain. In alignment with this commitment, Tishman Construction will host information sessions for diverse companies interested in working as subcontractors on the project. Tishman is partnering with Fontaine Brothers to manage the parking-garage project, including solicitation of subcontractors and other procurement efforts. Fontaine Brothers is a local, fourth-generation, family-owned construction firm. In Springfield, Fontaine is best-known for its work on major construction and renovation projects including Symphony Hall, the MassMutual Center, Hilton Garden Inn, and dozens of educational institutions. “Fontaine Brothers is elated to partner with Tishman Construction and MGM Springfield on this exciting project,” said David Fontaine Jr., vice president, Fontaine Bros. “We are thrilled to join this world-class team and to play an active role in the continuing revitalization of the city we call home. We look forward to working with Tishman to manage the construction effort while continuing to help the team connect and partner with talented contractors based here in Western Massachusetts.”

Business Leaders Purchase South Hadley Plaza

SOUTH HADLEY — South Hadley Plaza, located at 501 Newton St., is officially under new ownership. The new owners are a triumvirate of local business leaders: Rocco Falcone of Rocky’s Hardware, Peter Picknelly of Peter Pan Bus Lines, and the Yee Family, whose other South Hadley businesses include Johnny’s Bar and Grille, Johnny’s Taproom, and IYA Sushi & Noodle Kitchen. The plaza is home to Rocky’s Hardware, Friendly’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, General Cleaners, and Mandarin Gourmet. There are currently vacancies in the former Movie Gallery and Big Y locations. That is due to change under the new ownership. “We’re in a great position to attract a mix of local and national businesses,” Falcone said. “This is a vibrant community, and we want to deliver some exciting options and breathe new life into South Hadley Plaza. The former Big Y site in particular, with its 60,000 square feet of space, is a unique offering that we’re exploring some interesting ideas for.” The new owners bring the resources and pedigree to draw new business and connect with the South Hadley community. Rocky’s Hardware has 31 stores in New England and four in Florida. Meanwhile, this will be the second collaboration for Picknelly and the Yee Family, who purchased and revitalized Springfield’s historic Student Prince restaurant in 2014. “It’s essentially three family businesses coming together — big families with big businesses, but families all the same,” Falcone said. “We look forward to expanding the horizons of this space and being a great resource for the community.”

State Unemployment Drops to 4.2% in April

BOSTON — The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.2% in April from the March rate of 4.4%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts continues to gain jobs, with 13,900 added in April. The April gain follows March’s revised gain of 6,600 jobs. From December 2015 to April 2016, Massachusetts has added 35,600 jobs. In April, over-the-month job gains occurred in the professional, scientific, and business services; leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; other services; information; financial activities; and manufacturing sectors. The April state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 5.0% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “We see continued strong job gains in many of the traditional economic drivers for the state,” Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Ronald Walker II said. “The strong job gains in April are on the heels of 6,600 jobs added in March and 13,900 jobs added in February.” The labor force increased by 15,400 from 3,581,500 in March, as 19,000 more residents were employed and 3,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped 0.8% from 5.0% in April 2015. There were 27,100 fewer unemployed people and 404,000 more employed people over the year compared to April 2015. The state’s labor force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — increased 0.3% to 65% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased 0.3% compared to April 2015. Over the year, the largest private-sector percentage job gains were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; information; and education and health services.

State Launches Campaign for Good Samaritan Law

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey announced a new public-information campaign to encourage people to call 911 for emergency medical services at the first signs of a drug overdose. Along with Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, and members of the law-enforcement community, state officials launched the $250,000 Make the Right Call campaign to promote the Massachusetts 911 Good Samaritan Law. This law provides protection to individuals seeking medical assistance for themselves or someone else experiencing a drug-related overdose, including opioid-related overdoses, without the risk of charges of possession of a controlled substance. “Today we’re proud to announce, along with the attorney general, a partnership for a $250,000 campaign to encourage people to call 911 at the first sign of a drug overdose,” Baker said. Added Healey, “what the Good Samaritan Law says is that, if you see someone overdosing, or if you’re with someone who is overdosing, call 911. Get them help. And if you do call 911 to save that person’s, life you will not be prosecuted for drug use or possession.” Sudders noted that addiction is a disease, and “just like if we saw someone on the side of the street who had collapsed from a heart attack, we would stop, and we would call 911, and that is what this campaign is about.” Baker added that “this 911 Good Samaritan Law, will reinforce to bystanders and first responders alike that the most important step to take when someone is having an overdose is to save their life, and that someone shouldn’t face legal consequences for taking that step.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield, the urban announced it has awarded a construction contract to Tishman Construction, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AECOM, in partnership with Springfield-based construction manager Fontaine Brothers Inc. Together these companies will be responsible for erecting the seven-level, 3,400-space parking garage structure. Construction is set to begin this month and be completed in approximately 20 months.

“We are delighted about our continuous progress toward building MGM Springfield. Today’s announcement is yet another example of how we are engaging top global companies and local businesses to develop this tremendous project,” said Michael Mathis, president and COO, MGM Springfield. “We are excited to see construction on the garage move forward as the foundation is poured and we watch this structure rise out of the ground over the coming months.”

MGM Springfield is expected to open in fall 2018, and is currently the largest construction project under development in Western Mass. The resort will feature a luxury hotel and a variety of entertainment offerings, including dining, shopping, gaming, and amusements, expected to attract millions of visitors and locals to downtown Springfield.

“We are thrilled to be part of another iconic MGM Resorts development and excited to continue our work with the city of Springfield, Pioneer Valley Building Trades, and Fontaine Brothers Inc. to bring the vision of MGM Springfield to life,” said Edward Cettina, COO of AECOM’s building construction group.

MGM Springfield is committed to engaging the community and maintaining diversity across its workforce, partners, and supply chain. In alignment with this commitment, Tishman Construction will host information sessions for diverse companies interested in working as subcontractors on the project.

Tishman is partnering with Fontaine Brothers to manage the parking-garage project, including solicitation of subcontractors and other procurement efforts. Fontaine Brothers is a local, fourth-generation, family-owned construction firm. In Springfield, Fontaine is best-known for its work on major construction and renovation projects including Symphony Hall, the MassMutual Center, Hilton Garden Inn, and dozens of educational institutions.

“Fontaine Brothers is elated to partner with Tishman Construction and MGM Springfield on this exciting project,” said David Fontaine Jr., vice president, Fontaine Bros. “We are thrilled to join this world-class team and to play an active role in the continuing revitalization of the city we call home. We look forward to working with Tishman to manage the construction effort while continuing to help the team connect and partner with talented contractors based here in Western Massachusetts.”

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Continuing the Momentum

Glenn Welch

Glenn Welch says the community-focused culture at Freedom Credit Union is similar to what he experienced in his previous president’s role at Hampden Bank.

Under 12 years of Barry Crosby’s leadership, Freedom Credit Union dramatically expanded its assets, employee base, membership, lending reach — pretty much all the metrics by which a financial institution is measured. So former Hampden Bank President Glenn Welch, recently chosen to succeed the retiring Crosby, is taking the reins at a time of significant momentum for Freedom. He says the institution will continue to seek out growth opportunities, while maintaining its emphasis on commercial lending and community involvement.

Glenn Welch’s move from Berkshire Bank to Freedom Credit Union wasn’t very far geographically — just a half-mile north on Main Street in Springfield — and, to hear him tell it, perhaps even less of a move culture-wise.

“One of the things I heard before coming here — from at least four people who used to work at Hampden Bank was that Freedom reminded them very much of Hampden with its community orientation,” said Welch, a 17-year veteran of Springfield-based Hampden Bank and its president from 2013 until its acquisition by Berkshire Bank last year.

“You can’t just take people’s money and make loans these days,” he added. “If you’re a community institution, you have to be involved and doing things in the community. That’s how you generate goodwill and increase your customer base.”

After the Berkshire merger, Welch stayed on for several months as executive vice president. But after Freedom Credit Union President Barry Crosby announced his retirement last June and Freedom hired a Boston-based recruiting firm to find the institution’s next president, Welch was among the names chosen as possibilities.

“It was a long process, and we were very thorough,” said Lawrence Bouley, who chairs Freedom’s board of directors. “We brought other candidates forward as well, but found Glenn best fits with our organization, with the commercial background he has, as well as being a local banking leader; he knows the area and knows its people.”

Welch, who spoke with BusinessWest on Jan. 4, his first day on the job at Freedom, agreed that the match is a good one. “Fortunately, I was the one they chose,” he said. “Freedom Credit Union is a very community-minded organization, the same as Hampden Bank was. Plus, they’ve had a real push forward into business lending.”

Specifically, its designation as a low-income credit union allows it to avoid the cap on commercial lending — 12.5% of assets — that most credit unions must adhere to. This, and an aggressive commercial-loan push in recent years, has seen the institution recognized as a top SBA lender in the region, a shift that mirrors Hampden Bank’s commercial-loan growth during Welch’s days at the reins there. “With a real focus on commercial loans here,” he said, “it seemed like a good fit on both sides.”

Specifically, Crosby added, in the past five and a half years, Freedom has gone from no commercial loans to more than $36 million. “It has been slow, steady growth. We’ve grown the department from one individual to five positions.”

That reflects the overall growth of the credit union during Crosby’s tenure. When he came on board in 2003, the bank had one office and 38 employees; today, it boasts 11 locations and 135 employees. Meanwhile, membership has grown in the past 10 years from roughly 16,000 to more than 27,000.

Steady Growth

That growth came both organically and through a series of strategic acquisitions. The credit union’s second branch, in Northampton, came about through a merger with Franklin Hampshire Building Trades Credit Union in May 2004, followed by the opening of a Chicopee branch that November. The following year, a merger with Four Rivers Federal Credit Union brought Freedom offices to South Deerfield and Turners Falls.

Two more branches — in Greenfield and Feeding Hills — opened in 2009, and expansion to Easthampton followed in 2010. A year later, a second Springfield branch opened in Sixteen Acres, and 2012 saw the tenth site open in Ludlow. The most recent office is located in Putnam Academy in Springfield, and is staffed in part by high-school students, many of whom, once they graduate and move on to college, return to work there over winter break. Currently, 12 Freedom employees are Putnam students or graduates.

“With the continued consolidation in the industry,” Welch said, “Freedom having branches up and down I-91 provides a lot of opportunity across the Valley for local decision making.”


Go HERE to download a PDF chart of area credit unions


The broader resources that come with being a larger institution also make it easier to introduce retail and commercial products, Crosby added, from the [email protected] online banking platform to a program known as CUPs, or Credit Union Partners, which offers local businesses and organizations a no-cost benefit package for their employees and retirees, including special promotions for checking and savings accounts and several types of loans.

Freedom has placed much importance on financial education as well, educating area youth at schools and colleges from Springfield to Greenfield through its youth-banking and financial-literacy programs.

For each elementary school in the youth-banking program, employees visit schools to accept deposits, review monthly statements, and explain the fundamentals of saving. Meanwhile, high-school students learn about topics like the importance of maintaining good credit and the process of getting a car loan. Freedom also participates in area Credit for Life financial-literacy fairs — a collaborative effort with other institutions — that teach teens about budgeting and making life decisions with their finances.

The credit union has also conducted new-homebuyer seminars through the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and the New North Citizens Council. Welch again pointed out similarities with Hampden Bank’s activities during his tenure, which included Credit for Life and new-homeowner seminars, among other financial-education efforts.

Deep Roots

Freedom Credit Union was chartered in 1922 as the Western Mass. Telephone Workers Credit Union.  From a small office in the telephone company building on Worthington Street in Springfield, the institution grew until it had to find a new, larger home on Main Street.

As a result of telephone-company downsizing and reorganization, the credit union eventually expanded to include select employee groups. But growth was incremental until January 2001, when the institution applied for a community charter, and membership eligibility was expanded to include anyone who lives or works in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, or Berkshire county. In January 2004, just after Crosby took over as president, the membership voted to change the name to Freedom Credit Union.

Barry Crosby, left, and Lawrence Bouley

Barry Crosby, left, and Lawrence Bouley agree that Glenn Welch’s experience, community ties, and commercial-lending acumen make him a good fit to lead Freedom.

“When I took over as president 12 years ago, we were still the Western Mass. Telephone Workers Credit Union, but we changed the name to reflect the broader community, and we are now known up and down the Pioneer Valley,” Crosby said.

Indeed, deposits in Franklin County grew from $10 million to $66 million in that time, and from $17 million to $75 million in Hampshire County. Today, Freedom is a $522 million institution.

“We’ve more than doubled our assets and membership in that time,” he went on, emphasizing the importance of a physical presence in communities, even in an age when online banking is extremely popular. “In my opinion, you need brick and mortar in key locations in the market you want to be in. You cannot just do everything online. Even Millennials need to see bricks and mortar to recognize your name.”

He cited the example of Realtors Federal Credit Union, which launched in Maryland as an online-only enterprise. “It didn’t succeed. They thought they’d run that place with 20 people nationwide, but you can’t replace bricks and mortar in key locations.”

Welch agreed. “When the Internet became popular, some people at Hampden thought we didn’t have to build any more branches. But we doubled our branches to 10. People want to come into a bank and recognize the person behind the counter and know the branch manager. Finance is very personal for people. When you don’t have a high level of touch, it just doesn’t work.”

Efforts to broaden that ‘touch’ at Freedom include financial education targeted at the region’s expansive Hispanic population — Springfield is 38% Hispanic, and Holyoke 48%, and the numbers are larger in the school systems — with efforts like Spanish-language financial-literacy articles in regional Latino publications as well as targeted messaging on TV and radio.

Future Look

Welch, who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance at Western New England University and his MBA from UMass Amherst, held a number of positions at Hampden Bank before becoming president there, including chief operating officer, executive vice president, and senior vice president of business banking. Before that, he served as vice president of the Middle Market Banking Group at Fleet Bank.

His deep roots in the region are also reflected by his civic volunteerism in the Pioneer Valley, including serving on the boards of HAPHousing, the Assoc. for Community Living, the Business School Advisory Board at Western New England University, DevelopSpringfield, and Springfield Business Leaders for Education.

He arrives at a growing credit union that continues to expand its services and recently put its staff through additional training to help them better identify member needs and match them with available products and services — an effort to create more members for life.

“We’ve built a great base for the future,” Crosby said. “We have strong capital, we’re regulatory-compliant, and we see great opportunities over the next few years.”

For his part, Welch said Freedom will continue to examine potential expansion of its geographic footprint while broading its commercial-lending reach and cross-selling services to its existing membership base.

“We see a lot of opportunity here,” he told BusinessWest — and a likelihood of continuing more than a decade of strong momentum.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Construction Sections
N. Riley Construction Builds on Its Early Success

Company President Nick Riley

Company President Nick Riley

Nick Riley had never been one to turn down challenges, and he wasn’t about to turn down this one.

It was the summer of 2011, and he had opened his own construction business five years earlier. It was mainly repairs and remodeling work at first, but the goal was always to get into new-home construction. So he accepted a big request — to build a house in the Upper Hill neighborhood of Springfield.

Oh, and it would have to be done in a week.

Almost three years after accepting that challenge from the producers of TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, his company, N. Riley Construction, has managed to procure more new-construction jobs, in addition to expanding the remodeling — especially kitchens and bathrooms — that have always been his bread and butter. And he sees that crazy week in 2011, and the preparation that led up to it, as a net positive when it came to taking his business to the next level.

“We ended up turning a lot of work away for that project,” he told BusinessWest. “Initially, going into it, we had many reservations about taking on a project of that size with a company my size. We certainly had never built a house in a week. But looking back at it, accepting that project was probably the best move I have made. It was gratifying personally to be able to help a family out on that scale, and as a business owner, the contacts that I made throughout that project — and the experience we gained from that project overnight — helped our business grow.”

Today, Riley is preparing to tackle three or four new-home builds this year, with one already under construction, and a slowly improving economy is bringing more remodeling business to his door as well.

“Our goal going forward is to build more new homes, but I think the market will dictate how that grows,” he said. “We’ve been busy, though. We’re pretty fortunate that we do all types of services, from small repairs right up to new construction and light commercial. That way, we’re able to adapt to different changes in the economy; if commercial is doing a little bit better, we do more commercial. We’re trying to stay flexible, not be bound to one thing.”

For this issue’s focus on construction, Riley talks about how his eight-year-old company has continued to evolve, the lessons he learned from the Extreme Makeover project, and how he’s giving back to the community — and helping to raise up the next generation of builders — in some unique ways.

One Big Week

Riley started out in the construction business working for his uncle, Andrew Crane, president of A. Crane Construction in Chicopee.

“My family has always been around construction, and I’d been around it all my life,” he said, adding that, with Crane, “I learned a lot of hands-on parts of the job. I found I really enjoyed this business, this industry. Then I started a family and decided to start my own business.”

That was a challenge, he said, but he intentionally started small, focusing on home repairs and gradually ramping up to larger remodeling projects and whole-home renovations. When the Great Recession began, construction was among the hardest-hit industries, but home remodeling took less of a dip, and Riley stayed busy.

And then ABC came calling, just four weeks before the planned blitz build in Springfield. Riley was recommended to Extreme Makeover producers by the Home Builders Assoc. of Western Mass. and other contractors, including Crane — even though he had never actually built an entire house.

The homeowner was Sirdeaner Walker, a single mother who lived on Northampton Avenue with two daughters, a sister, her mother, and her grandmother. A seventh person used to live there — her son, Carl Walker-Hoover, who took his own life in 2009 after being incessantly bullied by peers at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield.

Nick Riley

Nick Riley on site at the one-week Extreme Makeover project in September 2011.

In the months following the tragedy, Walker became a strong advocate against school bullying, successfully pushing for anti-bullying legislation in Massachusetts, meeting with federal lawmakers and President Obama, and establishing a foundation in her son’s name that raises awareness of the bullying issue and scholarships for area students. But her house, in the Upper Hill neighborhood close to Springfield College, was run down and riddled with plumbing and electrical issues — in short, the kind of need, coupled with an emotional story, that the show specialized in.

“The family was amazing — and they’ve really maintained the house,” Riley said, noting that not every Extreme Makeover beneficiary has done so. “They’re amazing owners, with the things they’ve done and continue to do. It was well worth our time. Everyone involved agreed that the project went extremely well.”

Riley was starting work on another new-home build at the time, and since then, he’s expanded into other such projects, he said. “We’ve been adding more and more new construction as the economy gets a little better and the housing market starts to regain a little strength. But we haven’t gotten away from what we started out doing, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. That’s what we most enjoy doing. We like working on people’s houses and making them into homes.”

The recession did scale back some homeowners’ plans, he noted. “It was smaller repairs and remodeling. People weren’t spending money on big-ticket items — kitchens, really ornate bathrooms — but they were still remodeling their homes. Fortunately, insurance work propped that up.”

He referred specifically to the freak weather year that was 2011, which started with an epidemic of ice dams and leaking roofs, included the June tornadoes and the August tropical storm and flooding, and concluded with a freak snowstorm two days before Halloween. BusinessWest has spoken with many contractors who said insurance work stemming from those events carried them through a rough year or two, and Riley was no exception.

Today, though, he sees an improving economy starting to make a positive difference in home building and remodeling.

“It’s far better than five years ago. I think the housing market has a lot of hurdles to overcome, but it’s definitely improving,” he said. “I’m not an economist, but I see very slow improvement over the next 10 years. In my opinion, we’ve still got a lot of negatives to overcome. Regulations, material prices, and land costs are really three keys slowing things down. I think the demand for new housing is there; the challenge is building it at prices someone can afford.”

Next Generation

With his company’s success, Riley said, has come an increased civic involvement, efforts that go far beyond financially supporting community organizations and getting involved with Rebuilding Together Springfield, which was formed in the wake of the tornadoes.

It also extends to Student Builders, an effort N. Riley launched to help young people gain experience in the building trades.

“It’s something we set up to help out vocational kids at Chicopee Comp,” he explained. “Two years ago, we built a house on McKinstry Avenue. Well, we didn’t build it — we just facilitated the financing and worked out the logistics and coordination, so students at Chicopee Comp were able to have a real hands-on project, able to build a house from start to finish.

“It was a great project to help the students figure out if that’s what they want to do for a living,” he continued. “It was a good project to train the kids and develop a better workforce, because in this industry, it’s hard to find quality employees. It’s so hard to find the workforce for what we do.”

A second build is scheduled for 2015, and he’d like to see a project begin every two years. “Whatever proceeds come from the house, if it ends up making money, goes right back to the kids in the form of tools or scholarships or into the next project. The idea of doing it every other year or so is that, over four years, the kids are able to at least see part of a project.”

As for his own business development, Riley has seen an evolution in the way customers approach projects, and said the change has probably been more dramatic for contractors who have been in the game a lot longer. In short, it has to do with the expectations of clients and the ideas they come with.

“With social media and things like Pinterest, people are able to find ideas and pictures and things like that,” he said. “Years ago, it was, ‘it’s a bathroom; can you put in a toilet and sink?’ Now, there are hundreds, thousands of sinks, bathtubs, and tile configurations they can visualize on sites like Pinterest.”

Personally, he doesn’t mind the more detailed input. “It certainly helps with the design aspect. A lot more creativity is going into these projects,” he said, whether it’s a client seeking an ultra-modern look or the recent customer in Chicopee who wanted the bathroom design to reflect the 1880s when the house was built, complete with a claw-foot tub and hardwood floors instead of tile.

“The best part about this job is being able to have a customer say, ‘this what I want; this is my vision,’ and you’re able to put it together for them,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re doing something different every day in this industry. That’s one of the main reasons why I love doing what I do — it’s something different every day.”

Of course, it’s still a challenging profession, one still crawling slowly from the tough years of the recession. Even so, Riley said, he managed to avoid the lows some builders experienced and keep making families happy — although it usually takes more than a week to do so. “We’ve been able to grow consistently every year. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

 

Banking and Financial Services Sections
Freedom Credit Union Continues Its Growth Trend

Barry Crosby

Barry Crosby says it’s important for Freedom Credit Union to have a strong presence both on the street corner and online.

In the past decade, Freedom Credit Union has expanded its footprint from just one branch to 10, with another on the way. But Barry Crosby is especially excited about the branch with no street address.
“Online banking is our busiest branch; it gets the most volume,” said Crosby, the institution’s president and CEO. “We firmly believe we need bricks and mortar in strategic locations to have visibility in the community and be involved in the community, but clearly, the online branch network is huge for us as well. We have to recognize — and we do recognize — that technology is so important to the younger generations, and we’ve reached out to meet their needs.”
Indeed, while many financial institutions continue to expand their bricks-and-mortar footprint across the region — and Freedom is no exception — industry leaders increasingly say that computers and smartphones are now the primary banking tools for a generation of younger customers, and many older ones as well.
“They’re buying everything online,” Crosby said. “Many of the younger generation are not inclined to go to bricks and mortar, be it for financial services or purchasing other kinds of products. They’re buying online and having it delivered to them directly. So we’ve had to change as well.”
As a result, more than 7,000 members now utilize the online banking platform [email protected] to manage their accounts and pay bills. Meanwhile, Freedom recently launched two new services — mobile banking and online account opening — to assist customers who prefer to bank on the go. The credit union has also developed mobile apps for both iPhone and Android devices so members can view their account activity, transfer funds, and find branch and ATM locations on their phones.
“My kids have smartphones; they’ve grown up with technology,” noted William Russo-Appel, Freedom’s marketing officer. “For me, computers just came on board when I was in high school. But today, more and more smartphones are being utilized. Our members are on their smartphones a lot. We need to be there too, and now we are.”
It’s another sign — and there are many — that Freedom is in a serious growth pattern, as reflected in its branch expansion, its recognition by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as a top regional lender, and its educational and cultural outreaches into the communities it calls home.
Through it all, Crosby said, “our culture — the credit-union culture — has always been to serve all our members for all of their financial needs, be they small, medium, or large. We’ve never lost sight of those roots.”

Approaching a Century

Those roots originate in 1922, when Freedom Credit Union was chartered as the Western Mass. Telephone Workers Credit Union. From a small office in the telephone company building on Worthington Street in Springfield, the institution grew until it had to find a new, larger home on Main Street.
As a result of telephone-company downsizing and reorganization, the credit union eventually expanded to include select employee groups. But growth was incremental until January 2001, when the institution applied for a community charter, and membership eligibility was expanded to include anyone who lives or works in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, or Berkshire county. In January 2004, around the time Crosby took over as president, the membership voted to change the name to Freedom Credit Union.
“At that time, we began a roughly 10-year strategic plan for growth,” he told BusinessWest. “At that time, there was just one office and 38 employees, but the board had a plan to better serve existing members and develop new membership through a branch network, and over the course of the last nine years, we established eight additional branches,” with a ninth coming on this fall at Putnam Academy in Springfield.
The credit union’s Northampton branch came about through a merger with Franklin Hampshire Building Trades Credit Union in May 2004, followed by the opening of a Chicopee branch that November. The following year, a merger with Four Rivers Federal Credit Union brought Freedom offices to South Deerfield and Turners Falls.
Two more branches — in Greenfield and Feeding Hills — opened in 2009, and expansion to Easthampton followed in 2010. A year later, a second Springfield branch opened in Sixteen Acres, and 2012 saw the tenth site open in Ludlow.
These days, Crosby noted, Freedom boasts about 155 employees in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, and membership has grown in the past 10 years from roughly 16,000 to around 26,000.
“As we’ve expanded the membership base during that period, we started adding new products and services, including member business loans four years ago,” he explained. “We began the process with the focus on serving existing members who might have small businesses, as well as other small businesses in the Pioneer Valley, and we’ve been very successful.”
Two and a half years ago, the bank brought on Gary Grodzicki as vice president and chief lending officer. “He has overseen the growth of the commercial department from a couple million to approximately $20 million,” Crosby said. “We’ve served a lot of small businesses that have really had a difficult time obtaining financing at some of the larger national banking organizations.”
That success has not gone unnoticed. Last year, Freedom was recognized as the top SBA lender in Western Mass. after approving seven loans worth $2.8 million. “The award was a wonderful accomplishment for us because the award category included all financial institutions in Western Mass.,” he said, noting that more than 40 banks and credit unions were eligible for the award. “The fact that Freedom topped the list is a tremendous achievement for us.
“So we’re definitely seeing growth there,” Crosby added. “In addition, on the lending side, we’ve really expanded our automobile loan portfolio. We’re finding today that a lot of financial institutions don’t offer as competitive a rate or products as we do.”

CUPs Runneth Over

Grodzinski said customer service has always been at the heart of how Freedom operates, and that includes striving to identify additional products or services customers could use. “Members are appreciative of that.”
For instance, Freedom offers a program called CUPs, or Credit Union Partners, through which it provides local businesses and organizations a no-cost benefit package for their employees and retirees, which includes special promotions for checking and savings accounts and several types of loans. To date, more than 175 entities throughout the Pioneer Valley have signed up for the program.
As a growing credit union, Freedom places high value on community involvement, from its donation last year of $45,000 to local nonprofits to its promotion of volunteerism among employees.
But civic responsibility goes beyond donations of money and time, Crosby said, noting that Freedom has increased its focus on educating area youth on the importance of saving money, budgeting, and credit. Fifteen schools from Greenfield to Springfield participate in the institution’s youth-banking and financial-literacy programs.
“We’re looking for the next generation of credit-union members,” he noted, “and it’s important that we assist the schools in any way we can in educating students about real-life finances.”
For each elementary school in the youth-banking program, employees visit schools to accept deposits, review monthly statements, and explain the fundamentals of saving. Meanwhile, high-school students learn about financial-literacy topics such as the importance of maintaining good credit and the process of getting a car loan. Freedom also participates in area Credit for Life financial-literacy fairs — a collaborative effort with other institutions — that teach teens about budgeting and making life decisions with their finances.
“We firmly believe in this,” he said of Freedom’s community involvement and educational programs. “The bottom line is, we enjoy meeting with residents and workers in the Pioneer Valley and hearing what their financial needs are, and we try to accommodate them. We can’t do everything for everyone — nor can anyone else — but we certainly listen.”
Meanwhile, the credit union continues to work on a 10-year strategy that takes into account the shifting demographics of the region. For example, Crosby noted, Springfield is 38% Hispanic, and Holyoke 48% — and the numbers are larger in the school systems. So he’s looking to target the needs of those communities, including preparing Spanish-language financial-literacy articles in regional Latino publications as well as targeted messaging on TV and radio. “As a credit union, we need to serve all of our community.”
To that end, Freedom has employees who speak Spanish, Russian, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Greek, and Polish. “We have members who come to us because of our diversity, and our employees are as diverse as the credit union’s membership.”

Lessons from the Past

And Crosby knows, from first-hand experience, that everyone can reach their financial goals.
“One hundred years ago, my maternal grandparents came to the U.S. and didn’t speak English,” he said. “My mother was born here, and when she went to first grade, she couldn’t speak English, because the Slavic language was spoken at home. Yet, in their lifetime, she ended up being a homeowner and a professional. And the next generation — I’m president of a financial institution, and my sister has a Ph.D.”
The lesson? It’s that Freedom, he said, has to look to the future while taking lessons from centuries past, when people from different cultures and backgrounds came to Massachusetts from Europe to man the mills and managed to build lives and legacies.
“We need to look at the next generation coming to America — how do we serve them, but also their children and their grandchildren, the generations to follow? Let’s not only look forward, but backward as well. That’s how we got where we are today.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections
Baystate Project Lifted a Troubled Construction Sector

BaystateDPartLate in 2008, just as the economy began to slide into the Great Recession, officials at Baystate Health were having second thoughts about moving forward with their planned $250 million Hospital of the Future expansion. They eventually decided to press on, much to the relief of hundreds of workers in the construction trades — most of them local — who found the project a lifeline at a time when opportunities were scarce.

When the economy fell off a cliff late in 2008, the construction industry was already suffering — and the region’s largest health system had a big decision to make.
The issue before Baystate Health was whether to move forward with a $250 million expansion and renovation project dubbed the Hospital of the Future. Project executive Stanley Hunter said there was real anxiety about breaking ground when the economy was on such shaky ground.

Stephen Hunter

Stephen Hunter says more than two-thirds of construction jobs on the Hospital of the Future went to people who live in Springfield or the surrounding region.

“We were at the point in 2008 when we were set to start construction, and that was the time — in September and October — when the economy took a real dive, and we really thought it through, as a campus, whether we should continue the project or not,” Hunter told BusinessWest.
“We went back to reassess the finances and the long-term medical impact, and through the course of a four-month evaluation, in early 2009, we decided to stay with the project,” he went on. “We held off on going to financing and making a final decision until the board decided to move forward with it, but that was a big decision, and it has really proven to be a huge benefit for the community that we went forward.”
The first beneficiaries — long before patients will reap the benefits of a new, state-of-the-art Heart and Vascular Center and, later this year, a new Emergency Department — were the builders and tradesmen — and women — who have reaped the benefits of steady work for almost three years, at a time when their industry really needed the jobs.
“As the project came along, a lot of the construction industry — union and non-union — was at an all-time high in unemployment,” said Fiore Grassetti, business agent and industry analyst with the Ironworkers Local Union No. 7. “This came at the perfect time for the building trades.”
That’s clear from a look at the numbers.
“Obviously, the crews there were different at various times, but we consistently had 250 to 300 construction workers on the site for more than two years,” Hunter said. “That’s a huge amount of jobs, and what we’ve been able to do is focus on using as much of the local workforce as possible.”

Hire Ground
That was certainly important for Grassetti.
“We wanted to protect our labor agreement with the hospital and guarantee that local workers were put on this project, as well as responsible contractors, meaning companies with health insurance and pension plans, and who actually train with apprenticeship programs,” he said. “The hospital really went out of its way to make sure the reps were contacted and local workers got the jobs.”
To break it down, Hunter tracked four categories of workers who labored on the project: those based in Springfield, those from outside the city but within the Pioneer Valley region, females, and minorities. Two-thirds of all workers over the course of the project to date have hailed from the city or surrounding region — “well beyond the expectations we had at the beginning of the project,” he said — while women and minorities comprised 15% of the workforce.
“That was something we were very pleased with, seeing those jobs stay local,” Hunter added. “We worked with local trade organizations to set that as a priority at the very outset of the project. And they were responsive to that; they wanted to help us, to really emphasize that as an important part of this project.”
Baystate also tracked the businesses it hired to work on the Hospital of the Future, and 40% of them are headquartered locally, while 55% of employers fall into one of the four aforementioned categories (Springfield-based, regional, female, minority).
“It’s been interesting; some guys — and women — worked on the job the whole three and a half years, like the company that did the site work and landscaping, Northeast Contractors out of Ludlow,” Hunter said. “They were here in the beginning, doing excavation, and are still here now doing landscaping.”
Meanwhile, Adams and Ruxton of West Springfield was brought on for casework, millwork, and general carpentry for the project. “They’re a small company that we’ve used before this project on smaller jobs, and when this larger job came up, they were able to help out with part of it.”
Baystate also hired Harry Grodsky & Co. for HVAC work. “Grodsky did mechanical systems and plumbing systems; they’re a pretty common name here, a Springfield company,” Hunter said. “They’ve been a great partner on this job, but also on many jobs.”
The new building is 640,000 square feet in size, which Baystate is fitting out in phases. Just under half the building will house the Heart and Vascular Program, which comprises an ICU floor for the most serious patients, two regular inpatient floors, space for outpatient procedures, and a spacious operating suite with cutting-edge technology and large monitors looming above the surgical tables.
Later this year, Baystate will unveil a much larger, state-of-the-art Emergency Department in the new building, replacing a current ER that was designed to handle much less traffic than it does. Other floors have been left unfinished as shell space so that the hospital can meet future needs that may not be apparent right now — hence, the Hospital of the Future moniker.

Kid Stuff
Hunter said many workers take pride in helping to build a facility they might have visited in the past, or might need in the future.
“This is the hospital they’d go to if there was an issue with their health or their family’s health,” he said. “To have worked here for that amount of time, they’re very proud of that.”
For many of the ironworkers, the project got personal when they started working under the watchful eye of patients and staff at Baystate’s Children’s Hospital. The kids would watch the workers, who in turn started communicating with hospital staff.
“The steward was talking to the nurse and heard a Wii game got broken or stolen from the hospital, so the guys took up a collection to replace the game,” Grassetti said. “it just snowballed from there.”
Indeed, not only did the workers supply a new Wii, but they added a new Xbox for older pediatric patients, several other donations of presents, and about $1,000 from their pockets to purchase whatever else the kids might want. Later, workers discovered that the chidren’s play area was outdated, “so we hit other contractors up, other unions, and some side organizations I worked with, and we collected about $10,000 to help fix up the children’s room.”
“From there,” Grassetti added, “it snowballed even more.”
He was referring to the beams.
Those started with a sign, one of many the children had set to making for the ironworkers. It read, “hello down there from the kids up here.”
The kids started using the signs to introduce themselves, and the workers started spray-painting their patients’ names on the steel beams they sent up into the grid — similar to the well-documented beam-painting effort at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute during one of its expansions several years ago.
“Every day, we’d get a couple new names and put them on the beams, and fly the beams up,” he recalled. “It was all about putting smiles on kids’ faces. Something as simple as a name on a beam could do that.”
The effort even extended to the topping-off ceremony, which incorporated a white beam decorated with the kids’ painted handprints, as well as a pillowcase fashioned into an American flag, teddy bears, and other items.
“It was pretty exciting to be part of that project, to work with the nurses and see the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Grassetti said. “We don’t get a lot of those opportunities, to give back to the community quite like that.”
Hunter appreciates those gestures. “They made some major donations to the Children’s Hospital and made several collections for gifts around Christmas. It was a really positive experience.”
Still, it all comes back to having the opportunity to work at a time when so many in the construction industry are still struggling.
“We had high unemployment in our industry, across the building trades,” Grassetti said, “and this put a lot of our members back to work, in many cases just as their unemployment benefits were running out. Baystate really did the right thing by working with us and with all the building trades and giving us the opportunity to work with them. We formed a good relationship.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Green Business Sections
Initiatives Strive for Success Far Beyond the Classroom

Bill Woolridge

Bill Woolridge says the management curriculum at UMass has become more attuned to green issues.

As the chief coordinator of Greenfield Community College’s Renewable Energy/ Energy Efficiency Program, Teresa Jones told BusinessWest that these are exciting times to be in higher education.
Speaking to the ‘community’ component of her school, where she is also an associate professor, Jones said that “our economy in Greenfield and the surrounding area is a step ahead of many other areas with regard to sustainability and green thinking.
“But as an educator,” she continued, “I think the question I always go back to is, how does a community college contribute to job growth and economic development?”
GCC is one of the Pioneer Valley’s green beacons in developing student programs that strive for a role not just in the evolving green economy, but also in the much-needed pragmatism of job creation.
UMass Amherst has embraced sustainability on all levels, from the administration to the student body. The university has set a goal to become carbon-neutral by the year 2050, and over the last decade has reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by 30%. Within the academic departments, a notable example is the Green Building program in the Department of Environmental Conservation, which has been actively involved with students and the region’s construction sector.
At the Isenberg School of Management, Bill Woolridge is the chair of the Management Department, and he told BusinessWest how the class he teaches has evolved over the years to become more attuned to the changing priorities of green consciousness.
He carefully stressed the Amherst campus’s thorough approach to sustainability. But his department is aware of what he called “the bigger picture.”
“In most schools’ management curriculum,” he explained, “there’s that course that speaks to the role of business in the broader social environment.
“I hadn’t taught that in quite a while,” he went on, “and about six years ago decided that I would. As I started to become reacquainted with that material, I realized that addressing sustainable issues is really the challenge of the current generation of students.”
Keith Hensley

Keith Hensley says green-business programs, at their most effective, will drive job opportunities in the regional economy.

The area’s ivory towers don’t envision a role in a green economy that is relegated only to the classroom, however. At Holyoke Community College, Keith Hensley is the executive director of Workforce and Economic Development, and he has designs on nothing short of transformative educational roles for both the school and its students.
HCC has partnered with two organizations to broaden the school’s certificate and training programs within a green economy — with both real-time results for jobs in the marketplace and opportunities for businesses to embrace sustainable practices that also help the bottom line.
For this article, BusinessWest asked people within these schools to explain their own green report cards. Jones was speaking of her own school specifically, but could just as easily been including the goals of her colleagues at other colleges, when she noted that “GCC, above all, serves as a convener for the community. We bring together diverse interests, talents, energies, concerns, ideas, and insights.” It’s that type of thinking that’s making this green curriculum as successful in the job market as it is in the classroom.

Certifiably Green
Hensley said that HCC’s current roster of green programs took root a few years back.
“About two years ago, we partnered with the Hampden County Regional Employment Board,” he explained. “They had applied for a workforce grant from the state for energy conservation — for certain types of training, such as weatherization and insulation, solar-boiler technician training, and energy-auditor training.”
The projected outcomes for the grant were job placements, he said. While the school charted the most success of any institution in the Commonwealth also receiving those funds, “it still wasn’t as much as I would have liked to see.
“What that told us, when everything shook out, is that there currently are not enough jobs in those particular occupations in the state,” he said. “And what we did was take a look at the entire sustainable, energy-efficiency, renewable-energy field as it stands right now, and we homed in on a few things.”
The Green Communities Program, from the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, strives for signatory cities and towns to reduce their overall carbon footprint. Among 72 others, Holyoke and Springfield have signed on. Hensley cited that legislation, as well as an overall environmentally minded population in the Pioneer Valley, as two factors in HCC’s redesign of its green programming.
“And we also looked at the economy as it stands right now,” he said. “Unlike other parts of the country, our manufacturing base is still there. So, with decreased product demand that comes from a bad economy, it’s pushing manufacturing employers to think innovatively, figure out how they can cut costs.”
To meet these needs, HCC has forged partnerships with two organizations: HospitalityGreen LLC, a New York-based consulting firm, and the Energy Conservation Training Co., which specializes in numerous aspects of professional training and certification.
With HospitalityGreen, there are four short yet intensive courses: “Green Facilities Training for Managers,” “Introduction to Green Purchasing,” “Getting to Sustainability Through Changes in Waste Contracting,” and a “Green Custodial and Janitorial” course.
“Participants get a ton of online tools when they go back to their own facilities,” Hensley added. “And we also advise them on how to approach owners and managers of the company, to get their suggestions through.”
Also with HospitalityGreen are two full-day classes for the restaurant and hospitality industries. A core of information will tell participants what it means to be green, and how sustainability affects business.
“The attendees from the companies will get a few days of training, and they go back out to their employers and start doing their audit,” he said. “The bottom line here is to save the businesses money, but also to get a designation as a green restaurant or a green hotel. That has huge implications, especially in this area, where people are environmentally conscious.”
With ECONTC, Holyoke Community College has implemented a series of courses for the building trades. Using metrics set by the Building Performance Institute, a national organization for energy-efficient standards, the classes include “BPI Building Analyst/Envelope Training,” “BPI Heating Professional Training and Certification,” and “Residential Energy Services Network and Home Energy Rating Systems Rater Training and Certification.”
“For all this new programming,” Hensley said, “our mission is twofold. It’s to help companies save money, or make more money, in the case of green-lodging and green-restaurant certification. We expect that those companies who get certified will get more business. And on the other hand, it’s to help companies and homeowners who will be impacted by these trained people, to be included in what it means to be a green community in this region.”

Talkin’ ’bout an Evolution
Back in the 1970s, Woolridge said, when he was the age of his students now, environmental issues were an academic niche in business schools.
“We would talk about EPA rules and so forth,” he said. “It was seen as a compliance issue — an obligation. One of the costs of doing business was to adhere to these government strictures. But that has all moved to the front burner. It’s something we can’t put off anymore.”
Meanwhile, the class he has been teaching is constantly evolving. “The way I teach the course, and the way many others around the country do, is that it’s more an opportunity than an obligation,” he explained. “This is a challenge for this generation and the next generation of business leaders as to what is going to fuel economic growth over the next decades — solving our social and environmental problems on a global scale.”
When asked the name of the class, Woolridge laughed. “Even that’s in flux. It has officially this year been called ‘Social Responsibility and Sustainability.’ This semester on the syllabus, I’m tweaking it, though, looking for the right label. Some of us are calling this ‘Sustainable Enterprise.’
“It has some historic analysis,” he explained, “but it has more of what I would call an examination of sustainable business practices. We use something known as the Socrates database that has 2,500 large businesses profiled, and they have done pretty comprehensive analysis in many areas, particularly with regard to the natural environment, social issues, their governing structures, and so forth. So we look there to get a sense of how industries are doing, relative to these dimensions, and how specific businesses within those industries are doing.
The other important component in the class is to identify the business opportunities presented by these challenges, he added. “This is the challenge for the next generation of business leaders.”
Ideally, Woolridge envisions a certificate program in the undergraduate Business school for Sustainable Practices. “Fairly soon,” he said. “Maybe at the beginning of the next academic year.”
Add to that a class in social entrepreneurship. “This concept is generally about creating new enterprises to solve social issues. Overall, our goal here is to give students perspective, skills, and, for those students going on to small business or entrepreneurship, a sense of the opportunities that do exist.”
UMass Amherst has the critical mass of demand for classes in this field, he said, and a labor market which will support this in future job placements. “It’s impossible to quantify in any real numbers,” he said, “but I know, if we build it, they will come.”

Community Action Plan
An important aspect of GCC’s green classwork translating into actual jobs, Jones said, is that those same employers were part of the original team helping to create the program.
The RE/EE Program at GCC originally started as a $372,000 Workforce Competitive Trust Fund grant, in partnership with the Franklin/Hampshire Regional Employment Board. However, more than 40 regional organizations, from nonprofits to small businesses, also collaborated on the course design for certificate and degree programs.
“The businesses know the program intimately, but also the people that are coming through it,” she explained. “My husband is a small-business owner, and I know for a fact that this is absolutely critical. Here, a business knows who they’re getting, what they know academically, and what their capacities are. A lot of businesses in our area are pretty small, so in the hiring of even one employee, you want to make sure that the match is pretty good.”
Jones cited two examples of substantial outcomes from the GCC program. NorthEast Solar Design Associates in Hatfield started out, she said, with “a really smart husband-and-wife team.” They were one of the businesses involved in developing the school’s curriculum and, in short time, hired students from the program. In the last five years they have expanded to six full-time workers.
“Prior to their involvement here,” Jones said, “they were an established solar company, but not really growing. They are doing major commercial photovoltaic installations. And when in short time you grow to six employees, that is huge growth for a small company. Even though it may be small for some people, this amounts to a massive repositioning of their company.” And the business is expected to hire three more in the near future.
Another key partner with GCC has been the 82-year old Sandri Companies, based in Greenfield. A number of GCC students have gone on to work for Sandri, and Jones cited the company as an example of keeping up with the changing face of a traditional industry.
“They are adding whole new divisions to their enterprise, from wood-pellet burners, weatherization, and solar to energy audits,” Jones explained. “When a company of their size looks into the future to determine how they will continue to stay relevant, this is how you do it. You bring people into your company who know these technologies. You don’t just pay lip service, but get people who can manage these technologies and continue to expand your market.”
And that same logic, she said, applies to her department at GCC. “As we head into the future, it’s a much broader market than I think anyone could have thought.”
Expanding on the role her school plays in the realm of sustainable practices and green initiatives, Jones gives GCC good marks. But the work continues to evolve, and to stay successful and viable in the unfolding green economy, schools need to be as responsive as the business community.
“We listen for where there are places we might contribute directly, for ways that our faculty, staff, and administration can catalyze the creative and entrepreneurial energy that resides in our region,” she said. “Our program is a reflection of that vibrant energy, and continues to respond and change with the rapidly emerging green industries of the 21st century.”

Features
Area Architects Have Designs on Business Improvement in 2010
Rough Drafts

Christopher Riddle, left, and John Kuhn say the recession has altered the landscape for architects in a number of ways.

The economic downturn hit the construction sector across the board, from builders all the way back to the architects themselves. While the historic effects are reportedly on the wane for this industry, local architects draw up their own tales of the Great Recession, and offer some thoughts on how they will recognize the signs of recovery.

Growing numbers of competitors from outside of the region, private-sector financing not readily available for new construction, and cutbacks in staff numbers and workdays … wait, wasn’t this just reported about the construction sector?

Recently BusinessWest spoke to the people holding the hammers about the nature of the building trades and how the economy was affecting them in unprecedented ways. While area tradesmen knew the news wasn’t very good, most reported on how they are successfully navigating these turbulent times.

However, another key component of the construction sector, the architecture industry, has also been finding its business hit, and hit hard, by many of those same forces, and they too have undertaken measures for successfully riding out the economic downturn.

John MacMillan is president of Rheinhardt Associates in Agawam. Like construction workers out in the field, he said that competitors from outside the area have been bidding on design jobs in numbers he’s never seen in his 25 years in the industry. “It’s very fierce,” he told BusinessWest.

But while industry analysts foresee the potential for grim times ahead in the construction sector, architects and those who monitor the industry have designs on a much better 2010.

Kermit Baker is the chief economist for the American Institute of Architects, and in that organization’s Billings Index, a monthly measurement of the number of projects ‘on the boards’ for architectural firms, he reported that, while billings were “at historically depressed levels in March,” that month’s confidence index of 46.1 reflected an increase from February’s 44.8.

This figure is the highest recorded since August 2008, and while an index rating over 50 is a mark of growth in the industry, March’s numbers indicate a four-point increase over the previous two months.

“We could be moving closer to a recovery phase,” Baker reported, expressing that old faithful known as cautious optimism. But he added that firms “are still reporting an unusual amount of variation in the level of demand for design services, from ‘improving’ to ‘poor’ to ‘virtually nonexistent.’”

It’s a familiar story for architects in Western Mass., who say their firms have faced challenges like nothing they’ve seen before. For this issue, BusinessWest looks at the blueprints for the business of architecture, and what designs some area firms have for a hopeful 2010.

Big Fish in a Small Pond

Leon Pernice has been designing buildings from his home office in West Springfield for close to 50 years — office buildings at the Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, several area churches, the municipal center of Brimfield, and numerous senior residential facilities.

Like everyone else, he said that competition has reached numbers that he’s never seen.

For such competition, he added, the number of jobs that his firm usually bids has dropped in reverse proportion. “There’s work out there,” he said, “but much less private work and more public. And when I say more public work, that doesn’t mean there’s a lot of it, though.”

For smaller projects, he said, firms are coming from far afield, which was once only the case for the largest regional jobs.

While large, high-profile projects typically had drawn architectural firms from all over the nation, something that Pernice said was perfectly understandable, “the top-tier projects are often financed by boards of directors or trustees who have different criteria for their selection process,” he said diplomatically, adding that he is unsettled by the fact that the smallest jobs also now see bidders from outside the area.

“When you have municipalities assigning their smallest work to architects out of the area … I don’t know how that works,” he said while shaking his head.

MacMillan agreed, noting that his firm has faced competition from outfits that never went after this market, meaning mid-scale to larger scale projects such as the Berkshire Medical Center, Belchertown Fire Department, Agawam police station, and currently the Holyoke Multi-Modal facility, among others.

“A lot of those offices are Boston-based or, in some cases, from New York. We never used to see them before,” he said. “We’re getting firms that used to work at a different tier — high-design firms from Boston or Cambridge, 100-plus offices with business-development staff and marketers.

“For ourselves, having this competition, with the bigger guys bottom feeding,” he continued, “we’ve had to shift some focus onto projects that used to be too small for us. That’s where we are now.”

Rheinhardt Associates has been designing for the public sector for more than 50 years, he said, and with stimulus projects and municipal upgrades that can’t be put off, that sector is where design work is holding steady.

In order to compete for the larger projects that come to bid, MacMillan said that his firm has taken a cue from the competition to remain a key player.

“We’ve teamed with larger firms,” he explained. “We realize that is what we have to do, because the day is not here where we can land the largest projects on our own, especially not with the competition.

“When the projects are local,” he continued, “that regional expertise is what we can bring to the table. Sure, it’s a smaller piece of the pie, but at the end of the day, we are supporting this firm competing against other large firms. This is unusual for us. In a better climate, the locals might carry the day entirely, but these are not the times for that.”

Back to School

As the current principal of Juster Pope Frazier Architects in Northampton, Kevin Chrobak said that some words of wisdom from one of the founders sketches out a winning plan for his firm.

“Jack Frazier used to have this saying, ‘you have to learn to enjoy the slow times as well as the fast times,’” he said.

As a means to that end, Chrobak said that JPF has a policy of “flex time” for employees, one of its techniques for riding out the economy. “It’s a win-win situation here,” he explained, “which gives people the ability to deal with their own schedules as they see fit. People have used flex time to spend more time with their families without really impacting our ability to do projects. It also makes them a bit more appreciative of working here.”

And during straightened times, he added, the firm doesn’t sweat the bottom line on a 40-hour workweek.

But JPF is fortunate as a smaller firm, with only six employees, not to be facing tough decisions at their drafting tables or their accounting ledgers.

“We have a strong portfolio of repeat clients, with decent projects,” he said. “But our size allows us to stay largely outside the harsh effects of the downturn. The bigger firms might feel the need to constantly bring in new projects, but we don’t really feel that burden.”

For a small office, Chrobak’s firm is responsible for numerous big-ticket projects, such as the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, the Longmeadow Fire Station, and the Springfield Visitor Information Center, to name just a few. He says that repeat clientele has been a major player in JPF’s strength and vitality through the recession.

“Having diverse clients and a diverse portfolio has helped us very well,” he said. But while his office stays busy with numerous projects, Chrobak said that he is aware that the number of projects in the area is small. “There’s just not a lot of new construction out there.”

UMass Amherst is consistently a source for much of the area’s vitality in design and construction, Chrobak said, adding that “they are a real boon to our firm as a source of design work for us, and the construction industry in general. They’re one of the few organizations that are doing any construction work on that scale. I don’t think they get enough credit for that.”

Christopher Riddle, a principal with Kuhn Riddle Architects in Amherst, made a wave-like motion with his hand to describe the variation he sees for this area’s architectural business, specifically addressing the market for educational work that has neither real highs nor lows. UMass and the overall strength of higher education has been a great lifeline for the region’s architects, he said.

“They have fluctuations, to be sure,” he said, “but they don’t go away altogether. They don’t go up and down with a great amplitude, but stay fairly regular with a consistent volume. A lot of our business is either directly or indirectly associated with the health of the education industry in Western Mass.”

Other sectors that are engaging projects are also known for their overall stability. Health care continues to draw new business, as does the transportation industry, which MacMillan said is responsible for a large part of his firm’s current planning.

In addition to the Maple Street project for the Holyoke transportation center, MacMillan said the PVTA is responsible for a good volume of work in rehabilitating many of its older structures. That repair and renovation market, he said, is a source of a lot of design work for many architects in the area.

Crediting UMass Amherst again, Chrobak applauded its House Doctor renovation program as a good source of work for many area firms, including his own for the past 20 years. Essentially it is a program whereby a small group of architects are hired on retainer to work on an equal number of projects for renovation.

“A lot of local firms really rely on that,” he said.

Sketching It Out

Riddle’s partner, John Kuhn, expects this recession to have a lasting impact on architecture.

“There is a shift toward sustainability and green systems,” he said. “And I think the days of subdivisions with McMansions on cul-de-sacs with funny names is over. That’s a completely dead market.”

In agreement, Riddle said that clients have had a renewed focus on buildings’ systems, with an eye towards energy efficiency and alternative means of making a building economically viable, not just at the ribbon cutting, but for a longer span of time.

Since the recession officially started in the fall of 2008, he said that KR has tackled four LEED-certified projects totaling $17 million. Its design for New England Environmental, an Amherst-based consulting firm, aims to be a LEED platinum structure, the highest level of certification.

Riddle said that energy systems are a particular interest of his, and he hopes this renewed enthusiasm drives more design projects in the future. “We spend a lot of time trying to optimize new construction,” he said, “trying to keep the energy consumption of new buildings down. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated new buildings are now. That’s easy. What you have to do is try to figure out how to deal with the enormous, vast numbers of existing buildings.”

Opting to look at the current market in a positive light, Kuhn said that “this recession brought a lot of creative change to the industry.

“It’s a very exciting time, in many ways, for architecture,” he continued. “The types of buildings that we’re working on, and the way we deliver projects, are all changing. The key is to stay nimble.”

Architectural Rendering

Responding to the positive forecast from the AIA, Kuhn said that he reads the industry reports, but he doesn’t take them too seriously.

“I don’t track the stock market,” he explained, “nor do I take to heart what I read on the front page of the paper. What I think of as indicators are the people you run into every day on a job site, what you hear from them at the coffee shops. What is the housepainter or carpenter or building owner seeing and saying?”

Those field notes are one way to find hope for an industry-wide turnaround, he said, but when all is said and done, he’ll know that business is picking up when the phones start ringing again.

Drawing upon the experience of increased firms at public bids, Pernice said that, for him, recovery will be manifest in smaller numbers of those competitors from out of the area.

“I’ll know it when you go to an open review session for a project to find eight people there instead of 28,” he said.

MacMillan said that his projections are for a flat quarter ahead, with his firm staying busy, but with smaller-scale and shorter-term projects than he is used to.

“We usually carry a backlog that’s anywhere from five to eight months,” he said, “and that’s very healthy. Today, it’s down to two months, max. When I start seeing a bigger backlog, I’ll feel comfortable.”

But echoing the hopeful uncertainty from most in this industry, he said that all it takes is one significant project to turn the tide altogether.

“That would be a huge bump for us,” he said. “So, it could be next week, or next month.”

Features
Integrity Development & Construction Builds a Name for Itself
Strong Foundation

Peter Jessop, president of Integrity Development & Construction

A summer job more than 30 years ago turned into a career for Peter Jessop, who launched Integrity Development & Construction in Hartford and later moved the business to Amherst. In those three decades of building homes and businesses, he has seen abundant change in his industry, from a computer revolution to an increased focus on environmental impact. Throughout it all, he says he’s tried to build a reputation that lives up to his company’s name.

Construction wasn’t exactly Peter Jessop’s first plan for his life.

In fact, back in the 1970s, he was working at Hartford Hospital, partway through a master’s degree in hospital administration, when that field started to seem unsatisfying.

“I had a lot of ideas about how a hospital should be organized and run, but I realized I was trying to shift the Titanic; it wasn’t going to move very much,” he said. “Between government regulations and the general inertia of a 3,000-employee operation, I couldn’t move it the way I wanted.”

Meanwhile, Jessop had worked as a carpenter during summer breaks from college, and he always enjoyed the experience. From there, an idea — and a construction business — eventually grew.

“It took me a little while, but I started working on some smaller projects with people I knew in the Hartford area, and it blossomed into a slightly bigger operation, and that blossomed into an even bigger operation,” he said. “I did a lot of low-income housing, tax-credit deals in Hartford, Bridgeport, even Arizona.”

That proved to be a bit too much travel, he decided. “Fortunately, we’ve enjoyed good success working within an hour of our office.”

That was the case for more than a decade working in Hartford, and remained true when he moved his operation, Integrity Development & Construction, to Amherst in 1992.

His first project there was Pioneer Valley Co-housing, a living community that melds private condos with communal space to create a unique sort of planned neighborhood in North Amherst. Jessop lives in the complex, too, and built his company’s headquarters there as well.

As in Hartford, Jessop has balanced residential building and remodeling with commercial, industrial, and institutional projects, from Northampton Brewery to a new building at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley.

“The wonderful thing about this business is the tremendous amount of variety,” he said. “Every project we do is different, and we always get to meet new and interesting people. It’s wonderfully varied that way — which wasn’t the case early in my career.”

Indeed, while hospital management left him feeling stifled and bored, as president of Integrity, “I feel we make a difference in people’s lives in terms of the way they live.”

In this issue, Jessop talks with BusinessWest about Integrity’s steady growth, how the construction industry has changed over the years, and those difference-making moments that convince him that he made the right career decision three decades ago.

Greener Pastures

One example of making a difference is energy efficiency, which has long been a priority for Integrity and has since become industry dogma. All the units in that first co-housing project were designed as Energy Crafted homes, a status that preceded today’s Energy Star designation.

“There’s an emphasis on energy efficiency in the building trades,” Jessop said. “We’re pretty conscientious about air seals, insulation, window packages, appliances — everything that goes into making a building as energy-efficient as possible. A lot more people are doing photovoltaic and solar-related projects; that continues to be strong, and that’s a good thing.

“I think this is a very exciting time to be in business,” he continued. “We have a lot of opportunities to raise people’s consciousness about energy use and siting of buildings. The whole field is changing, moving toward a greater awareness of how building affects the global environment.

“Some people think driving cars is a horrible thing,” he continued, “but a much greater percentage of greenhouse gases come from buildings than cars, so making our buildings more efficient, thinking about things like deep energy retrofits, will make a difference for our children and our children’s children.”

This increased focus on the environment is only one way the building trades have shifted in the past 30 years.

“The industry has changed a lot since 1979,” Jessop said, noting, as one example, that materials are different, with much more engineered lumber being used, offering higher performance and a healthier ecological impact.

“And, certainly, the use of computers and the amount of information generated digitally has radically changed the business,” he said. “We’ve moved from doing everything on paper and pencil to a digital world. Of course, every industry has seen that, and contracting is no different.

“It’s been a blessing,” he continued. “Everything from accounting to drawings to project management and communications with clients — we still produce paper, obviously, but much of our work is done digitally. That saves a lot of time and makes us more efficient and makes the industry more professional.”

Jessop came back to the notion of professionalism more than once during the interview. It’s an element he said is reflected in the company’s name, and also echoes a more-savvy clientele.

“Customers are more sophisticated, which forces us to be more professional,” he told BusinessWest. “And we certainly take pride in our level of professionalism — in our presentations to clients, our contracts and documents, and our knowledge of the industry.”

Even professional journals, he noted, have become more sophisticated. And, not surprisingly, “I think tradespeople are more knowledgeable than they were 30 years ago. They’re more cutting-edge —from the technological point of view, obviously, but also just in general knowledge. These kids seem brighter, more on top of things than they were 30 years ago.”

What does that all mean for builders? “You can’t relax,” Jessop said. “People know better what they want, and the Internet has opened up a whole host of opportunities for folks to learn about things.

“Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” he added, “and we’ve occasionally had to set clients straight on information they learned on the Internet that might not be accurate as our take on the situation. But there’s nothing wrong with an informed consumer. They help us stay on track, help us stay professional.”

Work and Play

Integrity tackles plenty of design-build work, but also works with local architects, reflecting a willingness to work within a client’s needs and budget, Jessop said.

“We have a great respect for architects and do many projects with an architect; I’m a believer in good architectural services. But some projects don’t need the services of a full-scale architectural firm.”

Many home-remodeling projects fall into that category. “Renovations have always been a strong part of our mix,” he said. “We find it a wonderful challenge working with older buildings, adding on or making interior spaces more functional. We enjoy that process. Some builders don’t have the patience for that; it’s a slightly different animal.”

For one thing, unlike new construction, there’s the issue of working around a family who actually lives in the space, kids and pets often included. But it’s an expertise that has proven valuable in the Hampshire County region, where new building space is at a premium.

“In this area, land is relatively costly, and there aren’t tons of land available to build new construction,” he said. “A lot of people are finding that an investment in their current homes is a much better way to go. They may like their neighborhood, they like the school system, but they need more space. So they reconfigure the space they have, put in a new kitchen or new bathrooms.”

The ability to take on many different kinds of projects allows a builder key flexibility during an economic downturn when all contractors need to be nimble, Jessop said. “We’re in the midsize of construction companies — not big, but not two guys in a pickup truck, either. The ability to be flexible, and be able to do anything from smaller projects to $2 million to $3 million projects, is certainly a benefit.”

As for that recession, Jessop said the Western Mass. region is fortunate not to experience the economic peaks and valleys — and the resulting rollercoaster of real-estate valuations — seen in other parts of the country, and added that the many colleges and universities clustered in and around Amherst also provide some stability for his industry, as people are constantly moving into and out of the area.

“There has been enough work to go around, and although the last year or two has been tough on everybody, we’ll turn the corner on that,” he said. “We’re proceeding apace, booking work for the spring and summer.”

Indeed, while business could certainly be better across the industry, Jessop is confident that his company’s diversity and reputation will continue to see it through.

“There are a lot of good builders around here, but I don’t think you can work here in the Valley without having a decent reputation,” he said. “People know we’re trustworthy, and that word gets around and helps you stay in business.

Even the need for modern tools such as a Web site hasn’t changed that.

“Our Web page is nice, but it’s a bit of a glorified electronic yellow pages,” Jessop said. “Our work comes from architects who know us, people in the community who know us, past clients who refer us, and other personal contacts we make.”

He believes in that personal touch, and doesn’t think a Web site can tell everything about how a company does business anyway.

“You might find a doctor online, but would you stay with him just because you found him on the Internet — or because you like this person and trust him? When people work with us, they understand they can trust us.”

That’s a reputation to build on.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]

Uncategorized

Organizers of the Clean Energy Connections Conference and Opportunity Fair staged the second edition of the still-fledgling event earlier this month. The conference provided job seekers with an opportunity to see what the field has to offer, and for business owners to recruit new talent. But for most attendees, the event offered a chance to see, hear, and experience the size and diversity of the region’s ‘green’ sector, and to ponder what the future might hold for this intriguing industry

On a Tuesday earlier this month at the MassMutual Center, you could find everything from energy-saving window shades to solar power providers; from green energy consultants to pioneering biofuel technology.

The Clean Energy Connections Conference and Opportunity Fair is in its second year. “Last year was a bit of an experiment, and folks didn’t know what to expect,” said Loren Walker, associate director of Research Liaison and Development at UMass Amherst. “This year it was affirmed that what we’ve organized is truly unique. It’s way more than a job fair. Many connections were made between businesses, between students and colleges, and between businesses and future employees.”

Walker is the associate director in the Office of Research, and is one of the organizers of the event. This year, he said, the goals for the conference were to create those connections in the business and research communities to advance the ‘green,’ clean-energy technology sector in the region.

The event was staged on a weekday this year in the hopes of increasing a corporate role at the convention, Walker said. “By keeping it inclusive, for educators, financiers, business leaders and owners, community leaders, and public agencies, we increase the chances that we’ll have an impact on developing the pipeline of trained workers, placing workers locally, and growing clean-energy-related businesses in the Commonwealth that will be socially responsible.”

Walking through the exhibition hall, the broad scope of the conference was evident: schools, architectural firms, biofuel industries, banks, environmental entrepreneurs, and consulting firms, all representing a commitment to a solid green sector for this region, were in attendance.

“The clean-energy sector is going to grow by these folks coming together,” Walker continued.  “The green economy touches so many issues — social justice, business development, technology, workforce development. It’s still so broad, but the communication needs to be there, or else we’ll end up with a fragmented economy.”

BusinessWest talked with some of the event’s exhibitors, some familiar names and some not-so-familiar, to gain some perspective on just where the region’s green sector is, and where a diverse group of players think it can go.

Onward and Upward

When JMP Environmental Consulting opened a second office in Springfield, having originally operated in Ware, the move was a perfect example of the role Western Mass. plays for the green sector.

Exhibiting at the conference for the first time, owner John Prenosil said that his hopes were to raise awareness for land-development issues. “Our goal is to educate and guide our clients interested in alternative energy sources as they relate to site selection,” he told BusinessWest.

Springfield is important as the largest city in the region, and he said that his decision to locate another office here was based on a lack of others in his field.

“In our experience, people seem to be more receptive to alternative energy sources and green alternatives,” he said. ”As a business, we strive to be as green as we can. We are involved with more residential and commercial projects that involve alternative energy and greener development techniques this year than in the past, and hope to see this trend continue and increase in the future.”

Around the corner, Chris Kilfoyle welcomed people to the booth representing his company, Berkshire Photovoltaic Services. Admiring the crowds of students, fellow exhibitors, and interested visitors, he spoke highly of the gathered talent.

“Number one, we want to make sure that companies who may have come to the conference looking at the region as a place to brand their manufacturing facility, or their service industry, can see that there’s an active educational component here as well as a network of professionals already in place,” he said. “The industry can grow here, and we all would love to be part of that growth.”

Already a recognized leader in the region’s solar-energy field, Kilfoyle said he did get some good leads for new business at the conference, but the issues the gathering raised were of far greater significance.

Kilfoyle had high marks for the organizers at UMass, citing them as leaders for the green sectors in the area. He was impressed by the students he’d encountered, whom he spoke of as giving renewed optimism for the future. While the conference gives business owners a chance to look at the region for its role in green initiatives, it can also give rise to enthusiasm for the succeeding generations destined for roles within that economy.

“For many students,” he said, “we gave them a pep talk. They are asking about what courses of study should they be looking at, what is the job growth, what are the job prospects. We collected résumés from people who are unemployed but highly qualified in electronics and electricity, and in that regard, it’s even better for us than making contacts to sell systems. The main impetus of the conference is to show, ‘hey, there are companies out there that will be hiring, that are hiring, and this is the place to meet them.’”

Map Quest

John Laux is the president and CEO of Greendustry Park of Florence, and the creator of the Green Gateway Guides Map, an all-in-one look at the green industry for the four counties of Western Mass. While the Greendustry Park had been a contributor at the earlier convention, the map made its debut this year.

The map represents a strategic step forward in identifying all things and organizations green, looking at agriculture, building trades, education, energy systems and services, environmental services, manufacturing, organized groups, retail, and support services. Laux said that there had been many other compendiums and guides out there, but usually there is a charge for inclusion in such information banks.

“We found that there are many Web sites with a smattering of these different companies in the region,” he explained, “but there isn’t one clearinghouse of data, because everyone’s model is about how to make money off of selling positions and listings.

“That wasn’t accessible to the public or anyone doing research in the region or outside of the region,” he continued. “So we decided that what we needed to do was to build a model that wasn’t money-centric, that was built on a framework of neutrality. We’re not looking for money, we’re looking to be able to put this information together for anyone who needs it.”

According to Laux, an important aspect in creating the map is to raise awareness of what is green, and how that could be applied to one’s daily life. The map itemizes businesses and services that are green by their nature, offering environmentally minded products, or are green behind the scenes, with practices, systems, or policies that situate them as proponents of the green ethos.

What Laux plans to do next is use the data compiled to create baseline metrics for the local green community. “What it does,” he explained, “is measure companies based on performance, so that people get rated, above and beyond standard business practices. What we are trying to do is to create a neutral metric, to encourage companies to strive for added status.”

As one of those people showcasing the green industry from within, Laux said the conference this year highlighted the emergence of a consciousness for the sector outside the region. “Last year the conference was very centered on Western Mass. to show everything that was going on here. This year, the conference pulled in a lot of people from the east.”

Most important, he said, is a growing recognition of the area for all that it offers. UMass has pioneering laboratories working on biofuels, as reported widely in the media, but also groundbreaking work on agriculture for that energy technology, as well as one of the more important wind-energy laboratories in the world. “It’s been there for 20-plus years. Their technology is being used throughout the world for wind technology, but who really knows that?” he asked.

“I gave a presentation to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission recently,” he continued. “I’m on the green strategy group there, and went over all the data that we had compiled for the map, and they were fascinated by it. Their response was, ‘we knew things were going on, but not at this level.’ It really gave them a sense; you could almost see them bubbling over with, ‘wow, this is really happening.’

“In trying to figure out what ‘green’ is,” he concluded, “you need to stop and look at the data that we’ve compiled, and know that this region is way up there. It was an awakening for the PVPC, and that’s what this conference is about. We’re trying to get the word out that it is happening here, and we are players. And we want the rest of the state and beyond to know that.”

Sections Supplements
Training for ‘Green-collar’ Jobs Moves to the Forefront on Campuses and in Communities

As new opportunities present themselves in so-called ‘green industries,’ the need for a new workforce to fill these positions is building. The region could have a new economic stimulus in environment- and energy-based fields, and while these sectors are still a small part of the business landscape, they’re also a bright spot on the horizon in terms of the jobs of tomorrow.

Nancy Bair is currently focused on the opportunities she sees in the creation of what are called ‘green-collar jobs.’

“I did some research, and that phrase is being thrown around like crazy,” said Bair, director of the Office of Workforce Development at Greenfield Community College. “We’re at the very beginning of a new field, and it’s only going to grow and change, so that’s part of our job — to grow and change with it.”

GCC ramped up its sustainable- and renewable-energy curriculum last year to provide more training for these jobs, which range from the manufacture of wind turbines to installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to energy auditing, not to mention a growing number of more-traditional jobs being expanded with environmentally friendly components. The college has been helped along in part by a workforce-sustainability grant, which helped partner the college with dozens of other businesses and organizations across Western Mass., slowly making ‘green-collar’ a more recognized (and welcomed) term in the region.

In turn, jobs in environmentally based or sustainable-energy fields of service are under the watch of many as they emerge. Alexandra Risely Shroeder’s title alone speaks volumes about her work, for instance. She’s the ‘green jobs coach’ for the Franklin Hampshire Career Center and Regional Employment Board.

“We are looking at how to support the growth of renewable and sustainable practices, such as energy efficiency and green construction,” she said. “Sometimes, the economy grows, and a trained workforce doesn’t grow at the same time. We’re trying to synchronize this, and we also want to avoid training for a job that isn’t here.”

Meanwhile, Mike Kocsmiersky, vice president of research and development with SolarWrights Inc., a renewable-energy company that designs, sells, installs, and services renewable-energy systems across the Northeast, is paying close attention to the needs of his industry as it continues to evolve as an economic engine locally and across the nation.

“The industry is small, so right now there are only a handful of jobs compared to those in more-traditional fields like HVAC or plumbing,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we will prevail. It’s viable technology, it’s cost-effective, and energy conservation has an outstanding return on investment.”

The New Recruits

Despite their different views of the vast ‘green’ industry, all three of these professionals see the importance of finding, training, and employing the people who will populate the emerging green-collar workforce. It’s being culled from many different places; some are making a career change to green industries, while others are adding new skills to existing jobs. Construction outfits, for example, are looking to expand their services by recruiting employees with a background in green design and materials, while electricians and HVAC workers are learning how to properly wire solar-powered water heaters.

Still others still are choosing ‘green majors’ or certificate programs at community colleges, or learning about job opportunities as early as elementary school.

Schroeder said that, essentially, her job is to help residents in Western Mass. — and particularly in Franklin and Hampshire counties — identify career opportunities locally, thus stimulating the economy as well as creating important career ladders. She works with various literacy programs for adults, including those learning English as a second language; develops curricula for high-school and college courses to spread awareness of green economies; and also partners with the Franklin County House of Correction promoting new job opportunities.

However, much of her work as a ‘green’ careers coach is focused on younger populations, and developing a pipeline of trained workers to staff these emerging industries.

“I work with students from literacy programs, career centers, those who aren’t in school and perhaps are vulnerable,” said Schroeder. “I conduct youth workshops and have conversations with them about green careers, so they can explore their interests and skills to see if there’s a career match.”

She added that it’s an important part of the Franklin County REB’s overall economic development plan to create jobs that are available to high-school graduates, those who have earned a GED, and those holding associate degrees.

“One of the commitments of the REB is that, as we grow, the economy can create career pathways that are accessible at the entry level,” she explained. “That creates opportunities for advancement over time, and our vision is that the economy will be large enough to accommodate these over time, as well.”

The jobs Schroeder often explains to potential green-collar workers are wide-ranging, suggesting an industry that’s not relegated to any one type of training or work. They include solar-energy equipment installers, energy auditors, insulation installers, green construction workers, and a wide array of more-traditional jobs, such as in the fields of plumbing and home building, which can be augmented with an understanding of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly systems.

Looking ahead, Schroeder said she’s working with instructors at both the high-school and collegiate levels (including at GCC) to create a curriculum for teachers looking at some of the issues that are driving green-collar jobs forward, such as peak oil usage, fossil-fuel conservation, and the benefits of a green economy.

“The idea is to create an introductory awareness that relates to both the economy and the planet,” she said.

Sustainable Education

Bair said GCC is also in the midst of developing a comprehensive career-preparation program focused on sustainable and renewable energy and energy policy. The endeavor has been helped by a three-year, $373,000 grant from the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (WCTF), an arm of the Commonwealth Corp., a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts focused on workforce development.

“We applied for the grant to develop a workforce around renewable energy — but we already had a sustainable-energy course in place when the grant opportunity came along,” said Bair, adding that the grant gave GCC a chance to build on an existing strength, as well as a jumping-off point to create new inroads to a greener economy in Franklin County. “We said, ‘let’s get local partners and start offering courses.’ That started a year ago, and people have been coming out of the woodwork to take these classes.”

In fact, the demand has been so great that Bair said GCC has already accounted for and exceeded the amount of the WCTF grant, but plans to move forward with green programming and make it a permanent part of the curriculum.

“We will figure out the last two years in a modified kind of way because we’re a little over, but we added courses due to demand,” she said. “GCC is expecting this to be an active program forever; the three-year grant should be just the beginning.”

GCC created a one-year certificate program in renewable energy and energy policy that is up and running now, and in two years, the college expects to launch a two-year degree program. Students now enrolled include those earning college credit as well as professionals looking to boost their skills through non-credit, professional-development classes, sometimes sponsored by employers.

Both groups attend classes together, creating an exchange of ideas and networking opportunities that are positive byproducts, Bair noted.

And partners have also come in abundance.

Bair said that because Franklin County is still a relatively rural area, there is no single, large company involved with the new green programming at GCC, but rather several smaller outfits ranging from nonprofits to community organizations to privately-owned businesses, and even a union: the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 108.

“We partner with contractors, plumbers, HVAC professionals, housing authorities, and they’re all from the local area,” she said. “We have several small partners, and they’re all the right people.”

These partnerships allow for assistance in teaching and planning courses, a pool of employees from which to draw, and a snapshot of what the needs of the region are in these industries, Bair added, especially in the area of energy conservation.

They’ve also been integral in illustrating just how broad the reach of green-collar jobs can be in the future, and that has been a learning experience for GCC as it unveils its new suite of courses catering to this employee set.

“We started figuring out what energy efficiency is, and what the demand is,” said Bair. “Photovoltaics, solar hot water, and energy audits are the biggest areas for us right now, but the job opportunities are seemingly endless.”

She explained that GCC has identified three categories of green-collar jobs that could all benefit from additional training at a collegiate level, for a degree or otherwise.

The first is a group of traditional jobs in new fields: store managers, sales and marketing professionals, Web designers, and even franchisees are all a burgeoning aspect of the green industry as new businesses are created in this arena. The second is trade jobs to which additional skills can be added, and the third is new jobs created as a part of the green movement. Policy leaders, biofuel chemists, certificate coordinators for green-building councils, and an increasing number of agricultural jobs are among these, in addition to those sustainable-energy jobs GCC has already recognized as an area of growth.

“We may need to continue to research these fields in the future to stay current, but our long-term goals are to create new jobs and necessitate new hires for those jobs,” said Bair, noting that, while GCC is only at the beginning of this process, some positive signs are already being seen, and recorded carefully.

“We’re at the beginning in terms of filling jobs, and it’s more complicated than just putting a person into an open spot,” she said. “Some of our students are unemployed, some are in different occupations, and some are taking on new responsibilities at existing jobs.

“We’re focused on creating pay increases as one byproduct we want to see across the board, and fostering more successful businesses is another,” she continued. “We’re hoping this training will start bringing in more money that is related to renewable energy, and we’re tracking business outcomes, and so far they’re looking good.”

It’s Not Easy Being Green

That said, the planning and design of courses to prepare a new green-collar workforce are ongoing tasks on many college campuses, which are navigating a fast-changing set of industries as they simultaneously devise the best academic approach to teaching green skills.

Kocsmiersky, who is the former owner of Kosmo Solar, bought by Rhode Island-based SolarWrights Inc. this past January, has been immersed in the solar trade (most specifically in the design and installation of photovoltaic systems, which serve as a conduit for solar power, and solar-heating systems) for more than a decade. He has maintained offices in Springfield, now serving as SolarWright’s Massachusetts branch, and has also been tapped by Springfield Technical Community College to assist in the development of its own green-collar curriculum.

When planning these courses, the needs of his industry are never far from Kocsmiersky’s mind. The paperwork alone, he said, is onerous for green businesses, which depend largely on state and federal tax credits and rebates to stem the costs associated with many of the products they sell and install, including PV systems.

He added that the skills necessary to thrive in this still-small yet growing sector are much more broad than learning how to install a solar panel on a roof. Rather, green-collar jobs like those in the photovoltaic industry draw from a number of disciplines, ranging from an understanding of building trades to legislative literacy.

“Presently, there seems to be a strong undercurrent at community colleges in the region trying to develop training programs,” said Kocsmiersky. “That’s where they’re running into difficulty, because very few have funding to develop classes. Curriculum developers are trying to consult people like me regarding what to teach.

“Another aspect of this ongoing conversation is asking ourselves what we should teach,” added Kocsmiersky, noting that he thinks courses should be broken into four categories.

These would include ‘solar principles’ — everything from looking at the effects the sun’s rays have on a property at different times of the day to solar thermal and electrical design; a designer’s class, examining the planning components necessary to install a wide array of green structures such as solar panels and wind generators; a practicum, offering experience in the hands-on aspects of green jobs, such as the proper way to mount solar panels to structures and wire systems, or how to prevent leaks; and, finally, an administrative track, designed to explain how complicated rebate programs work, how to process paperwork, and what legislation is driving the industry.

This last matter is a big, fundamental issue affecting green jobs, said Kocsmiersky — and employees at all levels in green industries must be charged with understanding the role politics plays now and will play later in the health of their sector.

“All things come back to political willpower,” he said. “The whole industry will continue to grow at the same numbers we’re seeing now, but if we start seeing a real commitment and less political football, there are huge opportunities for growth.”

Kocsmiersky also noted that tax credits are a big piece of this political puzzle.

“These are expensive systems, and that creates a need for green businesses to carry a certain amount of credit until rebates kick in,” he said. “People can’t a run business when they can’t get their cash flow under control or secure bank loans without certainty.”

He added that, on the other side of the coin, when rebates for homeowners and businesses installing energy-efficient electrical, cooling, or heating systems are reduced, they’ll be less likely to take the plunge.

“If you’re a business considering alternative energy, you might not get them installed until the following year, and that makes the lag in green industries, particularly the photovoltaic industry, even worse,” he said.

Time for Change

Still, Kocsmiersky said that main driver behind the green industry is the technology by which it’s defined, and the increasing acceptance of it, especially as electricity, oil, and gas prices soar.

“The industry is moving fast, and it’s sometimes hard to stay on top of it,” he said. “Six years ago, I knew everyone. Now, there are a lot of new players. The growth rate in my industry last year was about 60% in terms of gross sales — PV gets the lion’s share of the press, and is one of the more financially feasible, proven technologies for consumers. But at the end of the day, things like wind farms and geothermal technology will be even bigger industries — they’re just not talked about as much.

“We may be small,” Kocsmiersky concluded, “but the potential for big, a
nual growth is huge.”

And when that day comes, it’s hoped that a line of green-collar workers will be ready to punch their time cards.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Departments

The following business incorporations were recently recorded in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties and are the latest available. They are listed by community.

CHESTER

Mobius Sciences Inc., 14 Main St., Chester 01011. Marc S. Newkirk, same. (Foreign corp.; DE) Destressing services and manufacture of distressed environments.

EAST LONGMEADOW

D & B Mechanical Inc., 631 North Main St., East Longmeadow 01028. Daniel B. Murray, 20 Colonial Road, Wilbraham 01095. Automobile repairs and sales.

FEEDING HILLS

F. J. Gaylor Photography Inc., 110 Forest Hill Road, Feeding Hills 01030. Fred Gaylor, same. Landscape photography.

Turnbull Electric Inc., 252 Northwest St., Feeding Hills 01030. Gary Turnbull, same. Electrical services and repairs.

FLORENCE

Drong-Ba Western Tibet Foundation Inc., 106 Sandy Hill Road, Florence 01062. Pema Tseyang Rangdol, same. (Nonprofit) Provide charitable and educational services in Western Tibet where needs arise, etc.

GRANBY

Western Mass Technology Associates Inc., 111 West St., Granby 01033. Eric J. Gagne, same. To provide information technology services and products.

HADLEY

The Workhorse Group Inc., 115 River Dr., Hadley 01035. R. Susan Woods, same. Building trades, real estate.

LEEDS

Sandy Flag Cars Inc., 182 Main St., Leeds 01053. Sandy Lee Ryan, same. Truck escort.

LUDLOW

MyBike Electric Inc., 393 East St., Ludlow 01056. Glen Jusczyk, same. To deal in electric bikes.

Putters Inc., 27 Amherst St., Ludlow 01056. William Kubinski, same. Restaurant and bar.

MILLERS FALLS

Sveikas Inc., 6 Bangs St., Millers Falls 01349. Jeffrey P. Warren-Pukis, same. Production and sale of fermented beverages.

MONSON

Monson Basketball Association Inc., 39 Crest Road, Monson 01057. Timothy Pascale, same. (Nonprofit) To foster interest in recreational and competitive basketball, etc.

NORTHAMPTON

Alter Ego Salon Inc., 58 Pleasant St., Northampton 01060. Lisa Fusco, 149 Elm St., Northampton 01060. To operate a hair salon and related activities.

 

Funtastic Venture Ltd., 33 Hawley St., Northampton 01060. Elizabeth J. Cole, same. Children’s recreation and education center.

K & H Transportation Center Inc., One Round House Plaza, Northampton 01060. Katherine E. Hogan, 486 Cold Spring Ave., West Springfield 01089. Transportation.

SKM Leasing Company Inc., 150 Main St., Ste. 310, Northampton 01060. Sharon K. Moynahan, 22 Conz St., Northampton 01060. Sale and leasing of real estate.

SPRINGFIELD

Baystate Vascular Services Inc., 759 Chestnut St., Springfield 01199. Loring Flint, M.D., 174 Twin Hills Dr., Longmeadow 01199. (Nonprofit) Aiding and advancing the education and training of medical students, physicians in graduate medical education, other health care professions, etc.

Bellas Reptile Rescue Inc., 112 Surrey Road, Springfield 01116. Michael M. Dakin, 70 Surrey Road, Springfield 01116. (Nonprofit) To rescue, rehabilitate and find new homes for abandoned, injured and abused reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, etc.

Bemeg Inc., 1391 Main St., Ste. 600, Springfield 01103. Donald F. Cimini, 251 Mapleshade Ave., East Longmeadow 01028. To own and operate a package store.

Hampden Eye Physicians and Surgeons, P.C., 28 Yorktown Dr., Springfield 01108. Susan Batlan, same. Eye surgeon.

L & S Enclosures Inc., 906 Boston Road, Springfield 01118. Albert M. Leger, 165 Sawmill Road, Springfield 01118. Construction of sunroom enclosures.

WARE

Messer Power Systems Inc., 181 Monson Turnpike Road, Ware 01082. Charles K. Messer, same. Sales and service of power systems.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Soupy For Loopy Foundation Inc., 156 Woodbrook Terrace, West Springfield 01089. Sandra J. Kosko, same. (Nonprofit) To raise funds for the research of a cure for neuroblastona, etc.

WESTFIELD

American Paper & Pallet Inc., 866 East Mountain Road, Westfield 01085. Karen M. Corliss, same. Paper and pallet sales/brokerage.

Billie’s Baked Potatoes Inc., 264 Union St., Westfield 01085. George R. Martin, 19 West View Lane, Feeding Hills 01001. Sale of baked potatoes.

WILBRAHAM

Major & Major Inc., 4 Bridle Path Road, Wilbraham 01095. Anna M. Major, same. Tanning salon.

The Jeffery Thomas Kace NBD Foundation Inc., Wilbraham 01095. Charles Kace, II, same. (Nonprofit) Fundraising and charitable distribution

Sections Supplements
The Local Commercial Real Estate Market is Defined by Stability

“How’s the market?”

That’s a question that area commercial real estate brokers are asked on an almost daily basis, sometimes several times a day. It’s a simple query, designed to gain insight into both the regional and national scenes — and often the answer comes in two parts, because sometimes, but not always, what’s happening on the larger stage doesn’t reflect what’s going on locally.

As for the Western Mass. market, my response is almost always, “good … stable … steady.” That’s because that’s what this market is like, with rare exceptions, and for reasons to be outlined here.

The ‘market’ is an amalgam of subsets that tend to function somewhat independently of one another. While they share very much in common, various factors impact some market segments differently than they do others. For example, the investment sales market is in lock step with interest rates, which in turn have little immediate effect on the office-leasing market.

When considered in the aggregate, the Western Mass. commercial market has a fairly solid history of stability. Over the past 15 years, since the disastrous market crash of the late ’80s and early ’90s (commercial real estate’s Ice Age), it has behaved somewhat like a missing link somewhere between a bear and a bull.

When the markets are hot in the New England region, conditions are pretty good here. And when the markets turn sluggish … it remains pretty good here. We enjoy an enviable insular equilibrium due to a combination of factors. These include our location, a comparatively attractive cost of living, the combined economic engines of MassMutual, Baystate Health, the region’s other major employers, and maybe the White Hut.

When dissected, the regional commercial real estate market component parts can be, and often are, in divergent conditions of health. The segments comprising the market include:

  • The sale of tenanted properties as investments, such as shopping centers; single- and multi-tenant office, warehouse and manufacturing buildings; and multi-family housing;
  • Office property leasing, which has subsets, including downtown and suburban areas, and their respective sub-markets of Class A, B, and C space;
  • The development markets, both public and private, such as the pending redevelopment of the former Basketball Hall of Fame and the new federal courthouse; and
  • The combination of retail leasing, warehouse and industrial leasing, and hotels and other hospitality properties, which play an important role as well.

This diversity within the realm of the commercial real estate market has a balancing effect on the sector as a whole, where the hot potato of risk is being continuously passed around.

While the real estate market is volatile like any commodity market, traditionally it is a lagging economic indicator. It’s like the last car in a multi-car fender bender. You can see the crash coming, but have no ability to avoid it. Therefore, while the commercial real estate sector may temporarily avoid the inevitable when the economy is in decline, the price it pays is often the heaviest.

The current overall stable and steady market is the result of the outstanding performance of some very hearty segments, others that are in economic cruise control, and lastly that portion on extended stay in the doldrums.

The investment sales market continues to be extremely robust. Due to the availability of investment opportunities with comparatively higher rates of return in the Western Mass. market, the area has experienced a surge of interest from investors outside of the market. The most notable examples are the sale/lease back of the Yankee Candle corporate headquarters in South Deerfield, the Potpourri Plaza office complex sale in Northampton, and the purchase of a large block of class B office properties in the Springfield central business district.

The most immediate factor that could calm this segment’s ferocity is a dwindling supply of investment property opportunities. For the time being, however, the push continues, and several pending transactions of significance will conclude in the next few months.

The vibrancy of the region’s hospitality sector is visible to everyone. Several new hotels have sprung up along I-91 recently. New hotels are planned for Northampton and Amherst. Judging by the always-packed parking lots at the Hilton Garden Inn and its neighbor, Uno Chicago Grill, business appears to be blistering.

Without question, the benchmark used most commonly to judge the overall condition of region’s commercial real estate market is the office component. Collectively the Class A office properties command the most attention because visually they dominate the landscape, symbolic of the region’s wealth and prosperity.

The office market is, and has been, controlled by two forces; one is the never-ending, musical-chair-like movement of office tenants from one building to another. While this has little beneficial impact upon market occupancy rates, it does create a nice ripple of new economic activity that beneficially impacts the building trades, the banking and legal communities, and a myriad of other enterprises, including, of course, real estate brokers.

The other compelling force is the absorption of vacant space by existing local companies expanding, new start-ups, and companies locating here for the first time. It’s the rare 100,000-square-foot lease that gets the media coverage, but it’s the small, 2,000-square-foot deals that are the foundation of the office market.

Overall, too much emphasis is placed on the office segment as a bellwether for the market in general. It just seems to get all the attention.

So, when asked, “how’s the market?” my answer will be, “solidly good, getting better, and always aspiring to be great.”

John Williamson is president of Williamson Commercial Properties; (413) 736-9400.

Features
The Construction Institute at the University of Hartford is technically a networking group for those in the building trades — and also businesses with facilities management issues and concerns. But its directors say its mission goes well beyond the pressing of flesh and, as the name suggests, focuses on education.

Bob Gonyeau draws a clear distinction between education and intelligence.
“Education is learning how to do something,” he told BusinessWest. “Intelligence is learning about things that you need to know about, getting the information you need to do your business better.”

Both processes are at the heart of the mission of the 31-year-old Construction Institute, which Gonyeau serves as assistant executive director. Based at the University of Hartford, but now serving a membership base that stretches from New York City to Boston, the institute was created to serve businesses in what is known as the ‘built environment.’

This means general contractors, architects, and engineering firms, obviously, said Gonyeau, but it also includes companies — like MassMutual, Baystate Health, area colleges, and other businesses — that have vast operational facilities and need to know how to manage them efficiently and cost-effectively.

And, in a broad sense, it includes virtually any business that will be impacted by skyrocketing energy prices this winter and wants to develop strategies to minimize those costs.

“It appears that these higher energy costs will be here for a while — they’re becoming a fact of life,” he said. “In that environment, it just makes sense to build smart and find ways to conserve energy and control your costs; we want to help people understand how to do that.”

This is what Gonyeau means by intelligence, and he says the institute provides it through a number of formal and informal gatherings — meetings of the minds, as he called them, involving people from across the broad spectrum of the built environment.

Such programs include the ‘North-Central Conn. & Western Mass. Construction Forecast,’ set for Jan. 26 at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Titled Bridging the Borders … There’s Work for Everyone!, the program will explore the challenges and opportunities for design and construction in North Central Connecticut and Western Mass., or the I-91 corridor, as it’s called, said Gonyeau, noting that it is one of many regional forecasts staged by the institute to inform members and potential members of opportunities within both the public and private sectors and to provide a sense of what the future holds for the construction sector.

The forecasts are just some of the institute’s many attempts at outreach, said Gonyeau, noting that the most significant of such efforts is the upcoming, two-day ConstruCT 2006, the 9th Annual New England Construction & Facilities Management Conference & Exhibition. Set for March 21st and 22nd at the recently opened Connecticut Convention Center, the event will feature a number of educational sessions to, as organizers put it, “improve the process of construction.”

Such process-improvement efforts are at the very heart of the institute’s mission, said Gonyeau, adding that beyond its basic goal of bringing a diverse set of professionals together to discuss common issues and concerns, the institute wants to help enable those in this sector to do what they do better.

“When that happens, everyone benefits,” he said, noting that ConstruCT 2006 and the annual construction forecasts represent just some of the many ways the Construction Institute moves beyond the realm of the traditional networking group.

Another example is its extensive educational component, which includes continuing education programs in the form of half-day workshops offered by the University of Hartford. Workshops are conducted on a wide range of subjects, from construction management to building codes and regulations.

Designed to fill educational gaps within the industry, the workshops help individuals earn certificates and advance within the industry. It’s all part of the institute’s global efforts to inform, enlighten, and develop business leaders.

In two words, Gonyeau told BusinessWest, the institute is all about building relationships.

Solid Foundation

A look at the agenda for ConstruCT 2006 reveals both some of the issues facing the ‘built community’ and the overall mission of the institute.
Individual educational sessions are slated in such topics as:

  • Energy management, conservation, and sustainable design;
  • Emergency preparedness, safety, and critical response;
  • Design and construction issues in higher education, municipalities, and public schools;
  • Marketing, business development, and customer satisfaction;
  • Successful negotiations, construction claims, and dispute resolution; and
  • “How to Succeed in the Connecticut DPW Design and Construction Process.”

The last of those items is a nod to one of the institute’s original charges said Gonyeau — helping firms across the construction sector understand the rules of the road in the Nutmeg State and successfully attain business there. The others? Well, they speak to the seemingly constant change that defines the built environment, and how the institute has continuously evolved in response.

“The industry is constantly changing, and we want to help people keep pace,” he explained. “You can’t be stagnant in this business — if you do, you’ll be left behind.”

The institute was created in the mid-’70s, said Gonyeau, in response to an emerging need for a forum, in which people in businesses across the construction industry could share experiences and knowledge, stimulate growth within the industry, and, in many ways, create opportunities through relationship-building.

This is the essence of any networking group, he said, adding that the mission has grown and evolved over the years, and the institute, while still Connecticut-based and, in many ways, Connecticut-focused, has broadened its geographical reach.

The institute was created at a time of turmoil and challenge for the Connecticut construction community, said Gonyeau, noting that in the mid-’70s, the industry was fragmented and many projects became bogged down by logistical problems and tangled lines of communication. The institute, a non-profit, non-partisan professional organization and one of the few organizations of its kind in the country, was seen as a mechanism for streamlining and strengthening what was then an industry in disarray.

Within a few years of the institute’s creation, there was a deadly collapse of a section of highway bridge in Southern Connecticut and the nearly tragic collapse of the Hartford Civic Center’s roof, said Gonyeau, noting that these events and others helped inspire the many educational components of the institute.

“Those events helped give the institute a sense of purpose — and some credibility,” he explained. “They provided a sense of urgency within the industry to focus attention on issues and improving communication.”

In other words, the institute helped create a dialogue among professionals within the construction community that simply didn’t exist before. Today, that dialogue continues, shaped by emerging trends, economic conditions, and factors that impact builders and end-users alike.

Things like energy costs.

“They touch everyone who owns a building or is thinking about building one,” said Gonyeau, noting that the institute recently staged a seminar, in conjunction with Northeast Utilities, on soaring energy costs and what can be done about them.

“We addressed it from a design standpoint, a construction standpoint, and an operational standpoint,” he explained, “and discussed what people can do, from materials for building, sensible design, and sustainable building.

“When you make a capital investment in a property you intend on keeping, the life-cycle costing is very important,” he continued. “You need to address matters such as where your windows face, how well the building is insulated, how your connections are made in the construction process so you don’t have a lot of air loss; these are all issues to be considered.”

Shedding light on such issues is part of the institute’s broad efforts to educate and disseminate information, said Gonyeau, noting that the educational component continues to grow. Indeed, several hundred students enroll each year in the workshops, administered by the University of Hartford’s Office of Continuing & Professional Education.

Workshop subjects are designed to address specific industry needs, he explained, and involve a hands-on, learn-by-doing style of training. The list of offerings includes subjects that are broad — “Environmental Health and Safety for Facility Managers” is one example — and also quite specific — “Construction on Contaminated Land: How to Prepare and How to Respond.”

Concrete Examples

And while the institute strives to widen the scope of its educational and informational initiatives, it is also working to broaden its audience.

The institute now boasts roughly 375 members, which represent every facet of the built environment. More than two-thirds of those members are from Connecticut, said Gonyeau, but the number of those from out-of-state has grown steadily in recent years.

A number of firms based in Western Mass. or with regional offices there have joined, including Holyoke-based Daniel O’Connell’s Sons Inc., the Mount Vernon Group, a Chicopee-based architectural firm, Tighe & Bond, an environmental engineering firm with headquarters in Westfield, and B-G Mechanical Contractors, also in Chicopee.

Efforts to recruit more companies in this region continue on both a formal and informal basis, said Gonyeau, noting that the institute stages a number of programs over the course of the year during which attendees can learn about the many benefits it offers.

New members have been recruited from New York and Rhode Island, he said, but the natural direction for expansion is north, to the Pioneer Valley. This initiative parallels other efforts, such as the creation of the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partner-ship, to bridge the border between the states — or effectively erase it.

The economic partnership is a now five-year-old effort designed to market the region from Amherst to Storrs, Conn. as one economic region. By combining the demographics of the two major cities and the region between them, organizers believe they can create more economic development opportunities for businesses and residents in both states.

Gonyeau added that the institute takes has adopted a similar philosophy, noting that development in Connecticut could yield opportunities for construction-related businesses in Massachusetts, and vice versa.

“There will always be some measure of territoriality,” he explained, noting that construction and architecture firms in some cities and regions aren’t enamored with the thought of companies from other area codes taking work that could go to them. “But, as the name of our forecast suggests, we really believe there is enough work for everyone.”

Attendees at the Jan. 26 North-Central Conn. & Western Mass. Construction Forecast can find out about some of that work, said Gonyeau, adding that they will hear about opportunities on both sides of the border.

Indeed, among the speakers will be Oz Griebel, president & CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, and Sandra Johnson, vice president of Business Development for the alliance. They will address current revitalization efforts in Hartford, including the broad Andrien’s Landing initiative on the riverfront.

Meanwhile, Peter Pappas, an East Longmeadow-based real estate developer, one of two partners who have forwarded a $9 million proposal to renovate and expand the old Basketball of Fame Hall building into an integrated sports, fitness, and entertainment complex, is scheduled to talk about that specific project and also the broad subject of riverfront development in Springfield.

Also on the agenda is Westfield Community Development Director James Boardman, who will detail a series of public (a new bridge over the Westfield River, for example) and private construction projects slated in that community.

The institute stages a number of regional forecasts each year, said Gonyeau, all designed to keep members and potential members informed about what’s happening, and also foster the relationship-building efforts that make the group successful.

Hard Hat Area

As he talked about the construction sector, Gonyeau said that large projects, and even smaller initiatives, are marvels of coordination and communication.

Fast Facts

Agency:The Construction Institute

Address:University of Hartford, 312 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, Conn. 06117

Phone:(860) 768-4459

Web Site:www.construction.org

Bringing a project to successful completion requires organization and a step-by-step approach to getting the job done, he explained. “It can be very complex … one hand has to know what the other is doing.”

Bringing together elements of the built environment can be equally complicated, he continued, but such efforts are vital to moving that sector forward and creating opportunities for companies and individuals.

The Construction Institute is succeeding in that mission because it has created a solid foundation and continues to build on it.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]