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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]