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Agenda

Winter Farmers’ Market

Every Saturday: Hampshire Mall has welcomed back the Winter Farmers’ Market this season. It will run every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Target wing, through April 2. The market will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. All winter long, fresh vegetables and fruit, meat, cheese, bread, crafts, and more will be available from local farmers and artisans. Some of the vendors participating this season include Atlas Farm, Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Chase Hill Farm, Quabbin Hill Farm, and many more. EBT/SNAP and HIP benefits are accepted. A list of participating vendors will be updated at wfmhm.com/our-vendors.

 

 

The Fort Carolers

Through Dec. 24: The famous Fort Carolers have returned to the Student Prince and the Fort Restaurant, where Christmas caroling will take place every night in the dining area through Christmas Eve. For more than eight decades, Christmas caroling has been part of the holiday festivities at 8 Fort St. For many families, friends, and companies, it has become an annual tradition to visit the Student Prince and the Fort this time of year to hear the Fort Carolers sing the classics while enjoying the restaurant’s authentic German and American fare, along with lots of good cheer. This year they are back with ‘snow’ bubbles and lights. The Student Prince and the Fort Restaurant has hosted Christmas caroling for more than 80 years. What once started out as a few carolers at the door has turned into an annual nightly performance of Christmas caroling for the many generations of customers who visit Springfield’s landmark restaurant for the holidays. Reservations are necessary, and can be made by calling (413) 734-7475.

 

Asnuntuck Wintersession

Dec. 27 to Jan. 14: Asnuntuck Community College (ACC) is once again offering a three-week wintersession. Registration is currently underway for 15 online accelerated courses that will be taught during the college’s winter break. The courses include Art Appreciation, Art History II, Introduction to Nutrition, Principles of Genetics, Principles of Management, Introduction to Software Applications, Spreadsheet Applications, Leadership in Early Childhood Programs, Introduction to Human Services, Massage Theory & Practice, Medical Terminology, Law and Ethics for Health Careers, General Psychology I, General Psychology II, and Principles of Sociology. Art History II and Principles of Sociology require either no or a low-cost ($40 or less) textbook. Phlebotomy Externship is also being offered. Visit the website www.asnuntuck.edu for more information. Current non-students can click ‘Become a Student’ at the top of the page to begin. The session provides a way for students at other colleges to earn credit to be transferred back to their home institution. Students are advised to check with their college regarding transferability of courses.

 

Agenda

Women of Impact

Dec. 9: BusinessWest will honor its fourth annual class of Women of Impact at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel. This year’s class, like the first three, demonstrates the sheer diversity of the ways women leaders in our region are making an impact on the worlds of business, nonprofits, health, and the community. Profiled the Oct. 27 issue of BusinessWest, they are: Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts; Elizabeth Dineen, CEO of the YWCA of Western Masachusetts; Charlene Elvers, director of the Center for Service and Leadership at Springfield College; Karin Jeffers, president and CEO of Clinical and Support Options; Elizabeth Keen, owner of Indian Line Farm; Madeline Landrau, Program Engagement manager at MassMutual; Shannon Mumblo, executive director of Christina’s House; and Tracye Whitfield, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer for the town of West Springfield and Springfield city councilor. The event is sponsored by Country Bank and TommyCar Auto Group (presenting sponsors) and Comcast Business and Health New England (supporting sponsors). Tickets cost $65 per person (tables of 10 are available). For more information, visit www.businesswest.com or call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

 

Difference Makers Nominations

Through Dec. 9: Do you know someone who is truly making a difference in the Western Mass. region? BusinessWest invites you to nominate an individual or group for its 14th annual Difference Makers program. Nominations for the class of 2022 must be received by the end of the business day (5 p.m.) on Thursday, Dec. 9. Difference Makers was launched in 2009 as a way to recognize the contributions of agencies and individuals who are contributing to quality of life in this region. Past honorees have come from dozens of business and nonprofit sectors, proving there’s no limit to the ways people can impact their communities. So, let us know who you think deserves to be recognized as a Difference Maker in our upcoming class by visiting businesswest.com/difference-makers-nomination-form to complete the nomination form. Honorees will be profiled in an upcoming issue of BusinessWest and celebrated at a gala in the spring.

 

Holiday Brass Concert

Dec. 14: The Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO) will present a family-friendly performance, “MOSSO and Friends Holiday Brass Concert,” at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Church on 335 Longmeadow St., Longmeadow. According to Stephen Perry, MOSSO’s co-founder and concert organizer, the program will include the “Carol of the Bells,” traditional holiday songs from Russia and France, holiday music from Hollywood to Springfield, the “Hanukkah Suite,” and jazz interpretations of traditional holiday songs. The concert will feature the Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s principal trombonist Brian Diehl, French hornist Robert Hoyle, and principal tubist Stephen Perry. They also happen to be members of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO), and will be joined by their HSO colleagues, trumpeters John Charles Thomas and Scott McIntosh, in this performance. General-admission tickets cost $20 for adults and $10 for children of high-school age and younger. Tickets must be purchased in advance at springfieldsymphonymusicians.com. No door sales will be available. Only a limited number of tickets will be sold to permit social distancing. All ticket holders will be required to wear masks, and all ticket holders over age 12 must show proof of vaccination.

Features Special Coverage

A Changing Dynamic

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the business landscape in countless ways — from where and how employees work to how people communicate. It has also prompted businesses large and small to stop, think about that phrase ‘corporate stewardship’ and what it means to them, and perhaps re-evaluate this all-important concept. We put together a panel of local business and nonprofit managers to discuss the broad topic of corporate stewardship and how COVID may have provided new definition — in every aspect of that phrase — to this issue. For businesses, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to revisit the matter of community involvement and often find new and different ways to give back.
For nonprofits, missions have been broadened, and there has some been pivoting, out of both necessity and a desire to serve in different ways. The panelists are: Paul Scully, president and CEO of Country Bank; Theresa Jasmin, chief financial officer at Big Y Foods; Amy Scribner, partnership director at East School-to-Career Inc., a nonprofit that provides internships, or work-based learning opportunities and other career-education initiatives, for students; Jack Verducci, vice president of Corporate Partnership for the Worcester Red Sox; Dexter Johnson, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Springfield; and Michelle D’Amore, executive director of Ronald McDonald House. Scully may have set the tone for the discission when he said, “I think the pandemic has been exhausting and aging, but it’s also been reflective, and I think it’s prompting people to be reflective about how to live your life and how to make a difference.”

BusinessWest: Let’s start by getting your take on — and your working definition of — those phrases ‘corporate stewardship’ and ‘being a good corporate citizen.’

Scully: “Country Bank has been around for 172 years, and its legacy for all those years has been the belief that healthy communities thrive. We’re all in business for our companies to do well, but from a community perspective, we need communities that are healthy — healthy economically, heathy demographically, educationally, with regard to healthcare. So giving back has always been a focus here, and in recent years we’ve taken it to a higher level, both with writing checks and having people on the street giving back and being part of the community. And it differs, depending on what the needs are. There can be very significant multi-year pledges — we just pledged $1 million for hunger awareness in June, with $500,000 for food banks in both Central and Western Mass., because if people have good nutrition, healthy communities will thrive — or having 14 people at Habitat for Humanity helping to build a house. It’s a focus that we do big and small.”

Jasmin: “Being involved in the community is part of the fabric of our company; we consider ourselves a family, we have a culture of caring, and we focus on personal connection, whether that’s with our customers, our employees, or throughout the community. And that manifests itself in many different ways, from large donations to capital campaigns to investments in time and talent. For us, though, it’s about relationships and creating strong vibrant communities; that’s what corporate stewardship means to us.”

Scribner: “For our organization, it’s not so much the money; it’s about organizations allowing these students to come in for semester and do a work-based learning opportunity, and that has long been a challenge for us. We’re trying to create a pipeline for employment, and to do that, we need businesses to assist us and open their doors to students. Often, it’s not about just writing a check, but getting involved on a deeper level.”

D’Amore: “We as a nonprofit are always seeking — and grateful to receive — financial support from the community. But we also rely on our volunteer base. Our organization was built on volunteers; it is the foundation of what we do. For us, we’re continuing our outreach and working with the community to ensure that what we receive is supporting the families who are with us — and there are many forms that this support can take.”

Verducci: “Our WooSox Foundation is a new foundation and not heavily funded, but what we do have is a platform to provide valuable and equitable experiences to the community; specifically, we tend to focus on pediatric oncology, recreation, education, and social justice. So while we love to donate the funds that we do have, we tend to be able to do the most good through corporate partners and partnerships within the community.”

BusinessWest: Has the pandemic changed the dynamic when it comes to corporate stewardship, and if so, how?

Jasmin: “What changed was how urgent the need was and the need to move quickly to respond to those needs. We have a pretty structured mechanism for people who are looking for financial assistance. But during the pandemic, that was accelerated because there was a high sense of urgency. For example, within a week of the shelter-in-place order in March of 2020, we gave some sizable donations to each of the five food banks in our operating area because businesses were shutting down, and people were out of work; the social structure to support those people was not in place yet, so food banks were being taxed. We made that gift quickly, and we made a second gift four weeks later when the need was continuing. That’s one of the ways we adjusted — moving more quickly to meet needs.”

Theresa Jasmin

Theresa Jasmin

“What changed was how urgent the need was and the need to move quickly to respond to those needs.”

Scully: “The urgency absolutely was escalated, but so has the dynamic. When I think of the nonprofits I sit on, so many of them rely on not only corporate giving, but some type of event or two over the course of the year. We’ve all been to a million chicken dinners; what I say to my group is that, when the auction is there, bid high and bid often, because that’s what it’s all about. The big piece that we saw was that people weren’t going to events because they weren’t being held. And it was a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ unfortunately. The money was needed, the funding was needed, but the money wasn’t coming in, and yet all of those organizations had a more dire need than is typical because there were so many people impacted by the pandemic. We looked at it and said, ‘yeah, we can stay with our traditional model of what we do, but there’s a big need to step in here.’ When we look at corporate stewardship and how things have changed over the past 20 months, the need has increased exponentially. So many were hoping that this was the year — we all had our calendars ready for events, and then, they had to switch to virtual events, which don’t raise enough money. So the corporate community needs to realize that, even if there isn’t an event, the needs are so great, and they need to get out there and make a difference.”

D’Amore: “From a nonprofit perspective, we had to figure out how we could support our mission differently. When the pandemic was creeping, we were mandated by our global entity, which holds our licensing agreement, that we could no longer accept new families. And when the last of the families went home, we actually turned it around to provide support to frontline healthcare workers. We opened the house to workers at Baystate to give them an opportunity — if they needed a place to stay, if they needed to take a shower or get a cup of coffee. So our team was committed to support healthcare and support our partner hospitals who are there for us all the time. The tables turned a little bit, but we are able to continue to support our mission in this time of need, and you saw many organizations doing similar things. We pivoted and reinvented ourselves.”

Scribner: “Last year was a real struggle for students; 20% of those students in the Commonwealth just fell off the radar. So we had to change our mindset and pivot, just to help these students communicate how they were feeling. We would have speakers come in an talk about that — how they’re dealing with it, how their companies and themselves personally are dealing with COVID and being on Zoom meetings and not being in school and not being at work. Kids, while resilient, really had a tough time; they missed going to work and interacting with people. It’s those little things that we don’t think about — like going to a company or going to UMass on a field trip. We’re slowly getting back to whatever the new normal is. But last year, we had to have an open mindset and be really flexible about what we could do for the students and also about what we can learn from all these experiences and take those best practices.”

Amy Scribner

Amy Scribner

“Last year, we had to have an open mindset and be really flexible about what we could do for the students and also about what we can learn from all these experiences and take those best practices.”

Johnson: “With the pivot in funding that happened when a lot of companies started steering dollars toward COVID-related things, we also steered a lot of what we were doing toward COVID-related things; we were one of the few places that didn’t really close. When childcare was shut down for the Commonwealth essentially, and then an emergency first-responder-type childcare reopened for those working in retail or transportation or hospitals, we pivoted; our centers closed for one week and then reopened as an emergency childcare facility. We did continue to operate during that time, and on the youth-development side, there were still a lot of great opportunities from a funding standpoint to continue to be involved with some of our corporate sponsors that were changing direction and focusing on COVID.”

Verducci: “We essentially became volunteers; we turned our ballpark in Rhode Island, where we were still based until May, into a food-distribution network. Food insecurity became a huge issue in the region, so we were able to partner with Ocean State Job Lot, which would donate the food, and we would use McCoy Stadium as a vehicle to get that food to people who needed it. We also did coat drives, and we turned the park over to the state to become a testing facility. We tried to use our resources to help where it would do the most good. And once we transitioned to Worcester, we again became volunteers, going to Worcester State University to do food drives and coat drives, and most of those partnerships were with our corporate partners that we’ve had long-time relationships with. We all came together and said, ‘how can we do the best thing for the community, and what do we have at our disposal to move quickly in this challenging environment?’”

Jack Verducci

Jack Verducci

“We all came together and said, ‘how can we do the best thing for the community, and what do we have at our disposal to move quickly in this challenging environment?’”

Scully: “It was suddenly about putting on a different pair of glasses and switching gears when it comes to how you do things. It’s all about, as everyone has talked about, switching gears and saying ‘how do we adapt?’ much like we’ve all had to adapt to how we run our businesses remotely and attend meetings via Zoom.”

BusinessWest: What are the lessons we’ve learned from all this, from having to put a different pair of glasses, and how will this carry over into the future in terms of how we look at corporate stewardship and giving back?

Scully: “If we say that this is the end of the pandemic — and that’s a stretch, certainly — I think what all this has done for us is provide reassurance about how just how good people are and that everyone wants to be a part of something greater. We have a big building here, and for a while there, about four of us were here. You weren’t connecting with people. But as soon as the opportunity came for people to come back, not only to the office, but to get involved with volunteering again, they really wanted to. I think the pandemic has been exhausting and aging, but it’s also been reflective, and I think it’s prompting people to be reflective about how to live your life and how to make a difference. I think people want to be part of something greater, so I think that stewardship will be stronger than ever because this has almost been that switch that has prompted us all to rethink what’s important. There’s a silver lining to everything, and sometimes it’s hard to find, but I think this is it.”

Paul Scully

Paul Scully

“If we say that this is the end of the pandemic — and that’s a stretch, certainly — I think what all this has done for us is provide reassurance about how just how good people are and that everyone wants to be a part of something greater.”

Jasmin: “It was reinforcing for us in terms of our viewpoint on our being involved in the community. We took a look at what our philosophy was and really came out with an even greater understanding that these are the pillars we want to focus on. We’re a food company, first and foremost, and one of our pillars is hunger relief and helping with food insecurity. And that was reinforced for us — this is a continuing need, and we should be involved with it. And just in general, it’s also reinforced that we should continue to be involved — that our investment that we’re making in time and money and people is needed and is valuable. What this has taught us is that we need to be invested continuously, so when a crisis occurs, you can react quickly. It’s not something you can develop from scratch. Overall, it was reinforcing.”

Verducci: “I think the pandemic was a catalyst for empathy amongst companies; it was shared experience that was totally unprecedented, so people were empathetic with each other, and they really did understand what was happening with everyone. Instead of people saying ‘maybe not this year’ when we reached out, everyone we contacted over the past 18 months was willing to help in some way. The other thing we realized was that even the best-laid plans are not going to go the way we anticipate, so you need to be flexible and, more importantly, creative, and this will carry forward.”

D’Amore: “As challenging as the pandemic has been, I think a lot of good has come from it in terms of pausing. Whether as an individual, business, or nonprofit, we all took the time to pause, re-evaluate, and say, ‘what’s the need? How can we help each other?’ Sometimes, prior to the pandemic, we were very focused on our own business model or our own mission, and where it was going. But we were all in the same boat essentially wanting to row in the same direction, so we collectively said, ‘how can we do this together?’”

Michelle D’Amour

Michelle D’Amore

“As challenging as the pandemic has been, I think a lot of good has come from it in terms of pausing. Whether as an individual, business, or nonprofit, we all took the time to pause, re-evaluate, and say, ‘what’s the need? How can we help each other?’”

Johnson: “I think the pandemic pushed us [nonprofits] to work closer together in different ways, such as going after joint funding as one large organization rather than individually, so it has definitely had that benefit.”

BusinessWest: Going forward, how do we maintain this new spirit of cooperation, this new sense of urgency, when it comes to giving back?

Jasmin: “One of the things we lost during the pandemic was that personal connection. We missed seeing our colleagues, our families, and people in the community at large; through corporate stewardship and giving back, we can create those personal connections, and people are recognizing how important this is. The community is us, so when you’re giving back to the community, you’re giving back to yourself, your family, your friends, and your co-workers.”

Scully: It starts with all of us — the leaders or organizations — to set the pace. The pandemic may not be over, but I think that what is over is the hunker-down mentality of being locked up at home in the basement on a computer talking to your colleagues all day. It’s time to get on with life. It won’t be the old normal, it will be the new normal, and the new normal is going to be dependent on so many of us to set that tone — that it’s time to get back out there for a Habitat event, with getting over to the Ronald McDonald House to help prepare a dinner when that becomes available to do. It’s dependent on the leadership or organizations to reinforce that tone.”

Scribner: “This pandemic has really allowed people to take time to reflect on their own lives and what’s important to them and their priorities. And when you’re given that time, I think you realize what’s important in life. When it comes to being hunkered down, I think the pandemic provided time and opportunity for people to say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore; I want to get out, and I want to be part of my community. I want to be part of making a difference.’ People are realizing just how precious things are now, whether it’s shoveling the sidewalk for a neighbor or providing food for a food bank.”

Dexter Johnson

Dexter Johnson

“I think the pandemic pushed us [nonprofits] to work closer together in different ways, such as going after joint funding as one large organization rather than individually, so it has definitely had that benefit.”

Johnson: “In the normal ebb and flow of things, we get hyped up because something’s happened, whether it’s 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina or the tornado — things that bring us together for a short time. And then, life gets back to normal, and human nature tends to make us drift back to how we were. I think COVID is very different … it impacted everyone, every state, every city — we all know someone who has lost their life or lost their job because of it. It’s had a more far-reaching impact than any of those other tragedies, and, hopefully, that will allow it to stick with us and keep that mentality of realizing how fragile life can be.”

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

Law Special Coverage

A Changing Dynamic

Like all businesses, law firms have had to make adjustments in the wake of the pandemic, which has created both new opportunities and new challenges. Overall, firms have seen obvious changes in where people work and how. But there also may be new dynamics when it comes to recruiting and from where firms can attract new business.

Tim Mulhern in the ‘Zoom room’ at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin.

Tim Mulhern in the ‘Zoom room’ at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin.

 

They call it the ‘Zoom room.’ And for obvious reasons.

It’s the office of a retired partner with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin that’s been converted into a small conference room equipped with a 60-inch screen for, or mostly for, Zoom meetings with clients that involve at least a few of the firm’s attorneys.

“If we have several of us who want to meet with a client or a couple of clients, we can have a multi-person meeting and have a few people in the room,” said Tim Mulhern, the firm’s managing partner, who said that, prior to the pandemic, there was obviously no need for a Zoom room. And the creation of one is just one of the many adjustments — that’s a word he and others we spoke with would use early and often — that law firms have made over the past 20 or so months. And some of them are more permanent in nature than temporary.

That can likely be said of the receptionist at Shatz — or the lack thereof, to be more precise. No one sits at that desk any longer, and, in fact, the door that leads to the reception area is now locked; a sign taped to it provides a number to call for people with inquiries.

The biggest change, though, is the number of lawyers to be found on the other side of the door — roughly half that from the days before the pandemic.

The rest are working remotely all or most of the time, something that took some getting used to — lawyers, especially, like the office setting, said Mulhern — but most have gotten over that hump.

“A number of our lawyers have learned how to work at home, myself included — I couldn’t have worked at home at all before, and I figured it out now. We’ve made that adjustment, and we have some lawyers who, either because of compromised health issues or simply because they have a long commute, are working predominantly from home.”

Ken Albano, managing partner at Springfield-based Bacon Wilson, agreed. He noted that it’s not uncommon to check his phone in the morning and hear from one or more of the firm’s attorneys letting him know they will be working remotely that day. As other firms have, Bacon Wilson has adjusted — there’s that word again — and become more flexible out of necessity, he said, adding quickly that the firm wants its lawyers and paralegals in the office at least some of the time.

“I’m old school,” he said. “I like the idea of being with a young lawyer or a young paralegal who needs mentoring and advice and has questions. It’s better for me to meet with them one-on-one, in person, with a mask on, as opposed to doing it via Zoom.”

In the grander scheme of things, though, where lawyers work, and whether there’s a receptionist or not, may well turn out to be some of the less significant adjustments, or changes, to result from the pandemic. The larger ones could involve recruiting young lawyers and the potential to add business as a result of the changing landscape.

Ken Albano says the pandemic has exacerbated an already-difficult situation

Ken Albano says the pandemic has exacerbated an already-difficult situation when it comes to hiring lawyers and paralegals.

Starting with the latter, Seth Stratton, managing partner of East Longmeadow-based Fitzgerald Attorneys at Law, summed things up effectively and succinctly when he said “we sell time.” And with some of the changes brought about by the pandemic — including less time commuting to work and less time traveling to meet clients — there is, in theory, at least, more time to sell.

Also, now that clients of all kinds, but especially business clients, have become accustomed to meeting with clients via Zoom and the telephone, there is potential to have such sessions with law firms based in the 413, which charge, on average, anywhere from one-half to two-thirds what lawyers in Boston and New York charge, and less than those in Hartford as well.

“COVID has resulted in more efficiencies, and, generally, efficiencies mean things take less time, and we sell time, so that means we’re selling less per client,” Stratton explained. “But it allows us to potentially work with more clients and work with clients who are more distant — we can expand the footprint of who we’re comfortable working with and who’s comfortable working with us.”

As for recruiting … the pandemic brings both opportunity and challenge, said Betsey Quick, executive director of Springfield-based Bulkley Richardson. She noted, as others have over the years, that it is difficult to recruit young lawyers to Western Mass. law firms, and it often takes a family connection to do so. With the pandemic and the ability to work remotely, there is now the possibility of recruiting lawyers not to Western Mass., necessarily, but to firms based here — and the young lawyers can live where they want.

But — and this is a significant ‘but’ — young lawyers who might want to come to Western Mass. because of the quality of life and comparatively low cost of living can now come here, but not necessarily to work for a firm based here — again, because of the options now available to them.

“Remote working options can help and hurt recruiting efforts,” Quick said. “We are now hearing from attorneys with great résumés who prefer more of a remote schedule. It has opened the doors to new prospects. The concept of urban flight is real, and professionals are considering their options. On the other hand, with remote work, attorneys who once flocked to big-city firms may now have the option to remain at that firm, with the big city salary, and relocated to a rural area.”

Seth Stratton says the changing dynamics

Seth Stratton says the changing dynamics presented by the pandemic could provide area firms with more opportunities to secure work from clients based outside the 413.

For this issue and its focus on law, BusinessWest looks at all of the various ways the pandemic has brought change to a sector that hasn’t seen very much of it over the past several decades.

 

Case in Point

Mulhern remembers when, at the height of the pandemic in mid-2020, he used to carry a small, foldable table in his car. It was for what came to be known as ‘driveway signings,’ among other names — the inking of documents in outdoor settings, including driveways, but also parking lots and parking garages, where each party would bring their own pen and bottle of hand sanitizer.

Those days seem like a long time ago, and in many respects they are, he said, adding that a large degree of normalcy has returned to the practice of law, although things are, in many ways, not at all like they were in February 2020.

As an example, Albano noted the recent end to Springfield’s mask mandate. While the city took that course, Bacon Wilson has decided to still require masks within its offices, a difference of opinion that has resulted in some confusion and even some harsh words for the receptionist from visitors not inclined to mask up.

Overall, changes have come to where lawyers work, how firms communicate (with clients and employees alike), how and to what extent they use paper (much less now), and how they show community support and engagement (turning out for auctions and golf tournaments has been replaced by other, more pandemic-friendly methods).

Changes have come to where lawyers work, how firms communicate (with clients and employees alike), how and to what extent they use paper (much less now), and how they show community support and engagement (turning out for auctions and golf tournaments has been replaced by other, more pandemic-friendly methods).

“You need to be in the office if you’re going to work in Springfield; if you’re a full-time person working remotely, it doesn’t work out, and it wouldn’t work out — not for us.”

Going back to that word used earlier, firms have been adjusting to a changed world, and the adjustment process is ongoing, especially when it comes to where and how people work.

At Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, as noted, maybe half the lawyers continue to work remotely, said Mulhern, adding that the firm has not rushed anyone back, and it won’t, at least for the foreseeable future, in large part because the current work policies, if they can be called that, are working.

“A number of our lawyers have learned how to work at home, myself included — I couldn’t have worked at home at all before, and I figured it out now,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ve made that adjustment, and we have some lawyers who, either because of compromised health issues or simply because they have a long commute, are working predominantly from home.”

And there are variations on the theme, he said, noting that some lawyers work a portion of their day at the office and the rest at home.

At other firms, most if not all lawyers are back in the office. That’s certainly the case at Bulkley Richardson, which implemented a vaccine policy on Oct. 1, said Quick, noting that the firm recognizes the importance of in-person interaction with colleagues and the need for human connection.

That said, Bulkley Richardson and other firms have learned that remote working can and does work, and there is certainly room for — and, even more importantly, a need for — flexibility.

Betsey Quick says there has been a “transformation of the practice of law”

Betsey Quick says there has been a “transformation of the practice of law” because of COVID, and she believes there are many positives amid a host of disruptions.

“The transition to remote work was unprecedented, but what we learned by the unexpected lockdown was that flexibility is a viable option,” Quick said. “We have always offered attorneys some degree of flexibility and have worked with them to find an agreeable working model; until the pandemic, most attorneys worked traditional hours within a traditional office setting. But now, with the remote working more acceptable, and sometimes necessary, we have seen no change in productivity or efficiency doing work.”

Stratton agreed, noting that his firm, like most, had a degree of flexibility when it came to working remotely and allowed lawyers to do so; most didn’t, except when they had to (during snowstorms or when they were home sick), because they preferred to be in the office. Now that they’re used to it, and like it, more are taking advantage of the flexibility they have.

Indeed, before COVID, perhaps 10% to 15% of work was done remotely, and now the number is perhaps 25%, said Stratton, adding that this represents a new normal.

And the new ways of doing things have produced greater efficiency, he added, a dynamic that creates the potential for more billable hours in a business that, as he said, sells time.

Meanwhile, the pandemic and the resulting changes in how lawyers interact with clients present new opportunities for firms in the 413 to do business with those well outside it, Stratton noted.

Before, to get such business, firms would need a physical office in Worcester or Boston. Now, for many types of business law, where personal interaction is less necessary, services could be secured from lawyers in this market at rates far below those charged in those larger markets.

“With the increased use of remote communication and remote meetings, you can more easily tap those markets,” he said, adding that the firm is starting to market itself to such clients through professional networking.

 

Moving Target

Beyond where and how people work, the pandemic may have changed another important dynamic for local firms — the all-important work to attract and retain young talent.

As noted, it has long been a challenge to bring young lawyers to this market unless there is a connection, said Stratton, who offered himself as an example. He and his wife are both from this area, and it was a desire to return here (especially on his wife’s part) after some time spent in Boston that eventually brought him back to the 413.

Summing up the landscape as it has existed for some time, Stratton said the region has long faced what he called “depth of bench” challenges.

Elaborating, he said this is a “top-heavy” market when it comes to lawyers, with many of the leading players in their 60s or even their 70s. There are some rising stars coming up behind them, but not as many as the firms would like.

The reasons for this are many, said those we spoke with, but largely, it comes down to the fact that this market is not the big city — which means it doesn’t have the big-city lifestyle and, more importantly to most young lawyers, it doesn’t have big-city rates for legal services — or big-city salaries.

“Like many cities, Springfield is a proud community with historic charm and continued growth.  And yet, it is not Boston, New York, or Washington, D.C., and in most circumstances, one major difference may be the salaries,” Quick said. “As a Western Mass. firm, we are able to offer a healthier work/life balance and a unique geographic landscape. The challenge is communicating this value to candidates because, if they are not familiar with the business climate in Western Mass. and all it has to offer, attracting new talent to the area can be difficult.”

Stratton agreed. “If I were to have a job posting tomorrow for a junior lawyer with one to three years of experience that fits our practice and say, ‘you come to East Longmeadow, Mass., Monday through Friday, 9 to 5,’ I would get zero applications of qualified attorneys. That might be an exaggeration, but it would be close to zero.”

Albano agreed. He said the pandemic has exacerbated an already-difficult situation when it comes to attracting lawyers to Western Mass. He told BusinessWest the same thing he told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly when it asked him the same question.

“It’s been very difficult to hire quality lawyers and paralegals during this COVID pandemic,” he explained. “The quality of résumés we’re getting in from people in Western Massachusetts and also outside the area is very weak.”

Moving forward, he noted, the number could be much higher because that lawyer doesn’t need to be in East Longmeadow, at least not Monday through Friday, 9-5, meaning recruiting might become easier — that’s might — because of the pandemic and the manner in which it has changed how people work. It’s also changed some opinions about urban living.

“Many lawyers are growing tired of the city life,” Quick noted. “They want to find a reputable firm where they can advance their career and continue to work with high-level clients. At the same time, they are realizing that work/life balance matters. Western Mass. offers the best of both worlds — a growing, professional city surrounded by the landscape of mountains, rivers, and forests right at your fingertips.”

These qualities may well help attract people to Western Mass., but will it attract them to Western Mass. firms? This is a big question moving forward as remote work becomes plausible and more attractive for those toting law degrees in their briefcases.

“You need to compete with markets that you didn’t have to compete with before for talent,” said Stratton, noting that someone drawn to the Western Mass. lifestyle, or who has family here and wants to stay here, no longer has to limit his or her options to Western Mass. firms. “As a young lawyer, you can, potentially, work out of the Boston or Washington, D.C. markets primarily, and the legal rates charged in those markets are higher, and the pay is higher.”

That’s the downside of the changing dynamic, he went on, adding that there is plenty of upside as well, including the ability to look well beyond the 25-mile circle around Springfield that most young lawyers are currently recruited from.

Much of this is speculation right now, he went on, adding that, over the next six to 12 months, firms like his will have a far better understanding of just how — and how much — the recruiting picture has changed.

Albano agreed, noting that, overall, Bacon Wilson will entertain a hybrid schedule, to one degree or another, but it would certainly prefer its lawyers and paralegals to be in this market.

“I got an e-mail with a résumé from a young man in New York, indicating that he was looking to apply for a job here, but he plans on living in Boston,” he recalled. “First of all, his résumé didn’t coincide with what we were advertising — and we’re seeing a lot of that — and, number two, there needs to be that one-on-one connection. You need to be in the office if you’re going to work in Springfield; if you’re a full-time person working remotely, it doesn’t work out, and it wouldn’t work out — not for us.”

 

Bottom Line

Looking ahead, those we spoke with said the process of adjusting to everything COVID-19 has wrought is ongoing. That includes looking at the amount of space being rented and whether downsizing might be in order.

“We’re talking about what the future looks like in terms of physical space,” Mulhern said. “And that’s one of the things we’ll talk about — do we still still need all the space we have?”

The firm has more than two years left on its lease, he went on, adding that the answer to that question will come at another time. The answers to some of the questions, especially those regarding recruitment and gaining additional business, including some from other markets, might be answered much sooner.

Overall, this is a time of change and looking at things differently than they been looked at for decades.

“There has undoubtedly been a transformation of the practice of law, and we believe that there are many positives amid all of the disruption,” said Quick, referring to those at Bulkely Richardson while also speaking effectively for all those we spoke with. “The pandemic taught us many things, including how to work more efficiently, utilize available resources, and communicate better to keep teams connected. I anticipate many changes will remain with us in a post-pandemic world.”

 

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

Opinion

Opinion

By Allison Ebner

 

I read an article recently about Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who started the business with about $5,000. The recent acquisition of Spanx by Blackstone now positions the company’s value at about $1.2 billion — a staggering transformation. To reward her employees for helping her create this amazing company, Blakely gave each of her 500 employees two first-class airline tickets to a destination of their choice and $10,000 in spending money for their trip.

So how did a woman with barely any means accomplish this phenomenal business venture? There are quite a few strategies and decisions that contributed to her success, but one of the biggest things that stood out to me was the message I saw on the careers page on its website. Here it is, in part:

“We are a high-growth, digital company with an iconic brand that earned its reputation for over 20 years by delivering amazing products and staying true to our greater mission of supporting and elevating women. We don’t believe ‘pain is beauty,’ and we don’t believe ‘business is war.’ We run our business with kindness, empathy, intuition, creativity, integrity … and fun. We don’t believe you have to act serious to be taken seriously. We dream big, think forward, and give back. We challenge the status quo, aim high, and celebrate our ‘oops’ moments. We test and learn and we aren’t afraid of failure. We think like entrepreneurs in everything we do, and we look for people who are self-starters, kind, creative, and out-of-the box-thinkers. If this sounds like you, join us! And help us make the world a better place … one butt at a time.”

Spanx has an excellent track record of being an employer of choice with great retention numbers and pathways for advancement across the organization. So, what helps them drive a robust and engaging company culture? They follow some of the same principles that many other successful organizations employ to create a great employee experience:

• Build trust. In fact, start with trust and go from there. Don’t make new employees earn trust. Start from a place where they have your trust, and manage the relationship from there.

• Empower your employees to make decisions. Don’t create a culture of micromanaging. Allow team members to make decisions, collaborate, and generate new ideas.

• Set clear, transparent goals. Your employees need to know the big picture and their role in that path to success. Work with them to set clear goals and expectations. Train your managers to have coaching conversations regularly, not just once a year at their annual performance review. Set goals, coach, redirect, and repeat.

• Show appreciation — especially now. If your company has successfully navigated this pandemic, at least some of that success is due to the work and dedication of your staff. Be sure to say ‘thank you’ and celebrate the wins with your entire team.

• Invest in their well-being. A paycheck is great, but you have to do more. Take a genuine interest in your people. Offer wellness resources and train managers and leaders to show empathy with accountability.

• Allow freedom to make mistakes. Don’t punish the team for failures. Bold moves lead to big successes. If your team is afraid of making mistakes, you’ll miss the big moments of greatness.

Not sure where your company stands on the journey to create a thriving company culture? That’s OK. Grab your leadership team and review the key elements of a successful strategy listed above. You may also want to consider asking your employees for their feedback through an employee-engagement survey. Whether your company is trying to improve communication between individuals and teams, gauge morale after a merger or downsizing, or obtain feedback on programs and policies, a customized employee-engagement survey gathers employee feedback via a core set of questions, options for narrative responses, and special areas of focus. Results typically come with a detailed analysis of results, management debriefs, and a clear action plan that will help you address some of your biggest areas for improvement.

 

Allison Ebner is director of member services at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast; [email protected] This article first appeared on EANE’s blog.

Employment Special Coverage

Coping with the ‘Great Resignation’

By Sarah Rose Stack

 

You’ve just woken up. As you sip your morning coffee, you open your e-mail and give it a quick glance. Wedged in between your work and personal mail, you have several e-mails with the subject line ‘We’re Hiring’ or ‘Join Our Team.’ You switch over to social media and see that your neighbor just announced she’s left her place of employment for a new opportunity. There are few more posts from friends who are frustrated with their employers’ lack of communication or insistence on returning to the office.

How many ‘We’re Hiring’ signs have you seen or talked about today?

There has been much discussion about the current hiring crisis, and while many thought that this would be resolved once Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ended, that has not been the case. In fact, the Bureau of Labor (BOL) recorded the highest number of people who quit their jobs in August 2021, with 2.9% of people quitting (4.3 million people). This is the highest number of quits since the BOL started recording this data in 2000. Probably even more concerning is that August was the sixth consecutive month of massive quitting numbers.

Coined the ‘Great Resignation’ by Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M, people are leaving their jobs at record-breaking rates as the pandemic is waning. This is only expected to be amplified as 2021 comes to an end and people reflect on what they want in life. Employees are demanding more from their current and potential employers. Companies should be very careful to pay attention to the change in dynamics if they want to retain or attract new talent to their workforces.

“Employees are demanding more from their current and potential employers. Companies should be very careful to pay attention to the change in dynamics if they want to retain or attract new talent to their workforces.”

As part of my position at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, I assist clients with finding new talent, such as controllers, accountants, HR, marketing, and other administrative professionals, for their organizations. Prior to the pandemic, I would see 50 to 100 applications from people in Western Mass. applying for every posted job opportunity. That number has drastically declined, the geographical representation has widened, and the questions and concerns from potential employees have also significantly changed.

So, what are employees expressing that they want? Here’s a hint: it’s not just about salary. People had a lot of time to reflect during the pandemic about what work means to them and what role they want their careers to play in their overall lives.

 

Work-life Balance

Prior to the pandemic, Americans were obsessed with ‘hustle culture.’ People were happy to rise and grind and wear their burnout like a badge of honor. Perhaps people were too distracted working around the clock to ever consider what they truly wanted. You’ve probably noticed the shift in sentiment in social media from #hustle to the idea that inner peace is the new success.

Working through the pandemic came with its own unique set of stresses. Some workers had to compensate for poorly staffed jobs, while others lost a feeling of security at their jobs, causing them to work even harder to show their value. Indeed recently posted a study that surveyed 1,500 employees about burnout, and a shocking 80% of people said the pandemic made the burnout worse.

As a result, potential employees have been asking:

• What is your company’s view on work/life balance?

• Does management regularly e-mail or call after hours or on weekends?

• Is the schedule flexible if I have a family event or event for my child?

• Do people actually take their paid time off?

According to PR Newswire, “poor work-life balance tops the list of job-seeker deal breakers, ranking above other immediate turnoffs, including lower salary (50%) and a company’s decreasing profits and lack of stability (48%)”.

 

Flexibility and Remote Work

Employees are actively seeking remote or hybrid work opportunities just as many companies are now demanding that employees return to in-person work. Some have even pre-emptively started seeking flexible work opportunities out of fear that their current remote-work situation might change.

Many are expressing that the ability to work from home and have more flexible work schedules in general have helped to prevent burnout. People have enjoyed ditching the morning commute and 5 p.m. rush hour. The returned pockets of time have come with myriad benefits, including more sleep, more time with family before and after work, less wear and tear on vehicles, more time with pets, and an overall more comfortable environment.

It isn’t all hypothetical, either. Stanford conducted a study of 16,000 remote workers over a period of nine months and showed that productivity increased by 13%. Further, with more workers reporting they were happier working from home, attrition rates were cut by 50%.

Time is the only non-renewable commodity, so when employers are demanding that their people return to in-person work, employees are asking themselves, “at what cost?” The most-asked question I have received from potential employees over the last year is: “can this position be done fully or partially remote?” If the answer was no, most candidates politely declined to continue in the application process, presumably in favor of remote opportunities.

I would also attribute the increase of applicants from other regions to the normalization of remote work. I’ve seen applications from all over the country because most people in professional positions are now of the mindset that they can work for anyone, from anywhere.

 

Company Culture and Shared Values

At its core, company culture is its identity. It’s how the company’s values, attitude, approach, and ideals dictate the inner workings of the organization. Generally, this is set and modeled by the leadership and then mirrored by the people within the organization, driving the way the company does everything.

Companies with attractive corporate culture actively value their people in ways that are both tangible and intangible. They may have perks such as food, drink, cocktail hours, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, and professional-development opportunities. More than that, they will also have a solid mentorship program, encourage open communication, speak to each other with respect, and show clear indicators that the work and growth of their people are valued.

As part of corporate culture, shared values are another important consideration for many job seekers today. Whether they are directly impacted by certain causes or not, they are looking to work for companies who have values that align with their own. Employers need to understand that potential employees are doing as much vetting and interviewing of the organization as the organization is doing of them.

Employees want to know what your company culture is like and what your values are. They are asking direct questions such as:

• What is the company’s leadership like?

• Describe the company’s culture.

• Does your company have a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program?

• How does your company implement its DEI statement?

• How involved is your company in the community?

• How does your company handle discourse among employees?

 

Pandemic Protocols in General

While we all have pandemic fatigue and want the pandemic to be over, there are still so many open issues that need to be faced head-on. Potential employees are very concerned with how companies handle current guidelines regarding masking, social distancing, quarantine, and vaccination.

This would be simple if everyone had the same passionate stance on the subject, but they don’t. Employees tend to be divided into three camps: Those who wants the strictest protocols in place, those who prefer more lax protocols, and those who are indifferent and will simply follow whatever protocols are set. Regardless of which camp your organization falls into, companies should be aware that their response to these questions will either encourage or deter certain prospects from continuing with the interview process.

I’ve found that most candidates were generally satisfied to hear that the organization is simply following the current federal, state, and municipal guidelines. In addition to the actual protocols, candidates have been very concerned with how those protocols are communicated. They routinely ask:

• Does the leadership communicate changes to protocols in a timely manner?

• Have they listened to employees’ questions and concerns?

• Are protocols safe, fair, and reasonable?

 

In Conclusion

We are in an employee market, and employees want the best of it all. They want work-life balance and more remote-work opportunities, but also want to feel connected with their company’s mission and their colleagues.

This may feel like an impossible balance to achieve, but I believe it can be done. People want to work, they want to feel connected, and they want their work to mean something. That’s the good news. Companies who understand these needs can take action and translate them into powerful employment opportunities that almost certainly will yield happier and more productive workers, better products and services, and stronger businesses.

 

Sarah Rose Stack is the Marketing and Recruiting manager for the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.

 

Features

Doing More with Less

 

At a recent virtual seminar, Delcie Bean asked attendees to think back 20 years and ask themselves, did they foresee a time when phone books and yellow pages would not be a thing?

After all, he asked, every home had one, and they were the primary way small businesses advertised and shared their contact information with the public.

Now, “look at what’s happened to that world,” said Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT. “That’s the pace at which technology is changing. These things we took for granted, that we felt were never going to change, that were part of the fabric of our ecosystem, have changed. And it’s not just phone books. Think of all the landfills that are chock full of technology that, at one point in time, we didn’t think we could live without.”

And it’s not just tools, but the way we do business, he said, pointing out the short jumps between dominant communication methods over the past century. That idea was one jumping-off point for Bean’s virtual seminar on Sept. 15, titled “Automation: the Time Is Now,” and subtitled “How Automation Can Streamline Your Business and Offset the Labor Shortage.”

At this event, presented by BusinessWest and Comcast Business, he said everyone should ask themselves a simple question: “What’s my phone book? What’s the thing in my business that is still antiquated and should have been replaced by now?

“What’s my phone book? What’s the thing in my business that is still antiquated and should have been replaced by now?”

For example, he went on, “do I have employees entering data into a system that could easily be automated? Am I still doing things on paper forms that then need to be scanned into a system or, God forbid, typed in manually into another system? Do I have antiquated processes that require people to get manual approval and shuffle things around and put things in inboxes and outboxes, and do I still have tasks being done manually that are just ripe to automate?”

The 60-minute presentation focused on the benefits of automation and the ways it can be utilized to save businesses time, trouble, and expense — anything from onboarding a new employee or client to gathering information when someone signs up for something on a website, to the steps involved in the approval process when employees want to request a new computer. All of this, and more, can be automated, Bean said.

One common tool helping businesses do that today is the Microsoft 365 platform, an evolution of the Microsoft Office suite that offers subscription tiers and features including secure cloud storage, business e-mail, advanced cyberthreat protection, and the popular Microsoft Teams program.

“Microsoft has made a very deliberate, very intelligent decision to be the leader in small-business workforce automation, and they have invested infinite money in trying to do that,” Bean said. “And it’s actually paid off.”

 

Perfect Storm

The need to streamline processes through automation impacts most businesses and, as such, is a timely topic of discussion, Bean said — “maybe more than we’d want it to be.” And that’s partly because of the unique set of economic stressors that have emerged over the past 18 months.

“We’re probably all feeling busier right now than we’ve ever felt,” he said. “I know there’s a lot going on that’s causing us to have a lot more on our plates, a lot more challenges to solve, a lot more obstacles to overcome than we’ve had to in the past. So why are we taking time out of our day to have this conversation?”

Well, first of all, businesses are being forced to do more with less. Roughly 3.5 million Americans are not in the workforce but used to be — largely because of the pandemic, but not totally. Population growth has slowed, and the massive exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce has accelerated somewhat.

“That has a huge impact on the ecomomy, one we cannot minimize,” Bean noted — and one that will continue to ripple throughout organizations of all sizes at a time when everyone seems to be wearing more hats than before, juggling more tasks, and trying to keep up with less help. And that leads to more stress in the workforce.

“We’re seeing more employees comment that they feel overwhelmed, people are leaving their jobs, looking for new jobs, changing industries,” he said. “Or they’re managing the working-remote, working-in-the-office challenges, healthcare challenges … it’s a lot of stress and pressure on the workforce that’s still working.”

On the other hand, the workforce crunch has also created a talent shortage and one of the best-ever markets for job seekers, who have more leverage than before, Bean said, making it harder to hire and retain employees.

Wage growth has accelerated, and so have employee demands regarding everything from remote work to more autonomy to relaxed dress codes, he noted. “Employers are working really hard to try to manage and keep up with those demands while also managing the business.”

It’s an incredibly difficult economy, he added, and just for small employers; the situation is really trickling up to larger and higher-paying employers as well. “It’s not ignoring anybody.”

And it comes, Bean explained, in the midst of what’s known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which builds on the third (which began in the mid-20th century and was known as the digital revolution, marked by the rise of computerization). This fourth revolution is melding technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing, augmented reality, smart sensors, 3D printing, and many other advances, and promises to transform the way people live and work.

“There’s a lot going on right now that is digitizing and changing the way we interact with pretty much every aspect of our life,” he said. “And it’s happening at a rate we are very unaccustomed to handle.”

As noted, businesses trying to adapt to this fast-changing world are doing so amid all the recent challenges stemming from the pandemic and the labor situation. Small businesses also lament the growing culture of acquisition, and find it difficult to compete with larger companies with more resources, more innovation, and the ability to pay more for talent.

“All in all, it makes you feel like, if you’re a small firm, you’re in a race that’s a losing battle,” Bean said. “Exhausted? I don’t blame you.”

 

No Standing Still

But exhaustion is no excuse for inaction, he argued, before refuting the common myths around automation: that it’s too expensive, too complicated, and takes too long to implement. All are untrue, he explained during the virtual seminar, and again during a sit-down with BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien during a recent edition of the magazine’s podcast, Business Talk (businesswest.com/blog/businesstalk-with-delcie-bean-ceo-of-paragus-strategic-it).

In other words, there’s no excuse for any business to avoid this conversation any longer.

“We don’t want to be the next Blockbuster,” Bean told the seminar attendees. “We don’t want to be the company that could see that things were changing, stuck to our guns, hung on, and ultimately worked their way into oblivion.”

 

—Joseph Bednar

Agenda

HCC Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series

Sept. 29, Oct. 27, Nov. 24: Holyoke Community College (HCC) will continue its monthly Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series this fall. During each session, participants will join prominent women leaders for discussions on relevant topics and ideas to help their leadership development. They will also have the opportunity to form a supportive network to help navigate their own careers. The fall dates and topics are:

• Sept. 29: “Do Something Every Day that Scares You” with Pattie Hallberg, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts;

• Oct. 27: “Just Go for It,” with Helen Gomez Andrews, co-founder and CEO of the High End; and

• Nov. 24: “Journey to and from Exit Zero,” with Sharale Mathis, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at HCC.

The cost of each session is $25, with the exception of the three-part Vision Board class with Turner, which costs $99. The cost for the full, six-session series is $120. Cost, however, will not be a barrier to participation. If pricing is an issue, contact Michele Cabral, HCC’s executive director of Business, Corporate and Professional Development, at [email protected] Space is limited, and advance registration is required. To register, visit hcc.edu/womens-leadership.

 

Northampton Jazz Festival

Oct. 1-2: The Northampton Jazz Festival will kick off on Friday, Oct. 1 with a Jazz Strut in downtown Northampton, and free performances are scheduled that first weekend of October in the event’s return after a pandemic-year hiatus. The headliner for this year’s event is the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration, performing at the Academy of Music on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Festival attendees will be required to wear masks, following pandemic protocols as per the city of Northampton. In a collaboration between the Northampton Jazz Festival and the Downtown Northampton Assoc., patrons sporting a new Jazz Fest tote on Saturday, Jazz Fest Day, will receive a discount at participating downtown merchants; totes will be available for purchase at all festival performance venues on Oct. 2. The Oct. 1 Jazz Strut will run from 5 to 10:30 p.m., starting at Pulaski Park. Local and regional trios and quartets will perform at the following venues: Wursthaus, 6:30 p.m.; the Dirty Truth, 7 p.m.; Spoleto, 7:30 p.m.; Progression Brewing Co., 8 p.m.; and the Deck Bar, 8:30 p.m. Each band plays for two hours, and the schedule is subject to change without notice. The full lineup of festival performances on Oct. 2 is as follows: the Alex Hamburger Quartet, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Northampton Center for the Arts; Sullivan Fortner Solo Piano, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at CLICK Workspace; Northampton Expandable Brass Band, 1:30 to 1:55 p.m., marching from Bridge and Market Streets to Pulaski Park; Manduca Sexta, 2 to 3 p.m. at Pulaski Park; the ZT Amplifiers Artist Showcase, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Northampton Center for the Arts; Lioness, 3 to 5 p.m., First Churches of Northampton; Cocomama, 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Pulaski Park; and the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration, the only ticketed event, 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Music, $15 to $50 at aomtheatre.com. The festival’s headliner, the Art Blakey Centennial Celebration, is a multi-generational ensemble of musicians led by members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. The five messengers, and the eras they performed in the group, are: alto saxophonist Bobby Watson (1977-81), tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce (1980-82), trumpeter Brian Lynch (1988-90), trombonist Robin Eubanks (1987-88), and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet (1989-90). Joining them are pianist Zaccai Curtis and drummer Jerome Gillespie, the latter with the responsibility — and talent — to ‘channel’ Blakey, according to the ensemble’s bio.

 

Free Educational Webinar for Businesses

Oct. 5: The Springfield Regional Chamber (SRC) will partner with MassHire BizWorks, a division of the MassHire Department of Career Services’ Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, to offer a free educational webinar for businesses. From 8:30 to 10 a.m., participants will meet leading authorities and learn how the state’s economic-development programs can be applied to their businesses. SRC will offer the webinar in collaboration with all chambers throughout Western Mass., and the webinar will outline the tools and resources that are available through MassHire BizWorks and local chambers of commerce to assist business owners. Since its inception in 2012, MassHire BizWorks has enhanced and aligned the resources and services available to businesses throughout Massachusetts. BizWorks partners with agencies in workforce development, economic development, and education to help businesses grow and thrive. The BizWorks model offers assistance to employers for every stage of the business cycle. Services are available for business growth, expansion, maintenance, and downsizing. Ken Messina, of both BizWorks and the Department of Labor’s National Rapid Response Workgroup, will lead the webinar’s presentation. To register, visit dev.springfieldregionalchamber.com/events/details/bizworks-6144.

Company Notebook

Area Colleges, Univerties Recognized in U.S. News & World Report Listings

WESTERN MASS. — Several area colleges and universities were recognized recently in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings.

• Elms College was named to the list of Best Regional Universities – North. The college moved to 85th out of 171 other northern regional colleges and universities, up from 93rd in 2021. On a new list of Undergraduate Nursing Programs, Elms College School of Nursing ranked 288th out of 694 schools. On the Top Performers on Social Mobility list, Elms ranked 11th among 86 northern regional colleges and universities. This category measures the extent to which schools enrolled and graduated students who received federal Pell Grants (those typically coming from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually).

• For the seventh consecutive year, Springfield College is ranked in the top 30 in the Best Regional Universities – North category. The college is also ranked 16th in the Best Value category of the report, up 10 spots from last year. The consistent ranking in the top tier is spurred by improved graduation rates and improved retention of first-year students.

• Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts rose to seventh on the list of Top Public Colleges, and to 21st as a Top Performer on Social Mobility, first in Massachusetts. MCLA also continues to appear on the list of Top National Liberal Arts Colleges, and has appeared on the list of Top Public Colleges for nine of the past 11 years.

• Western New England University has been ranked fourth in Top Performers on Social Mobility among National Universities in Massachusetts. The university improved its overall ranking to 213th in the nation this year, moving up 14 places from last year. Western New England University College of Engineering continues to be top-ranked in the Undergraduate Engineering (no doctorate) program category.

• Finally, Bay Path University is ranked 26th in Social Mobility, increasing its standing by 42 spots from last year. Bay Path also ranks ninth, moving up three spots, on the list of Most Innovative Universities in the North Region. In 2020, 58.3% of Bay Path’s traditional undergraduate students were identified as Pell-eligible.

 

The Dowd Agencies Acquires Wilcox Insurance Agency

HOLYOKE — The Dowd Agencies, a leading insurance provider serving New England for more than 120 years, has acquired the Wilcox Insurance Agency, founded in 1923. The two organizations have merged their operations and will now be known as Wilcox-Dowd Insurance. This acquisition adds two more branches in Westfield and Feeding Hills, expanding Dowd’s locations throughout the Pioneer Valley to eight offices. Wilcox Insurance Agency was founded as Westfield Mutual Insurance Agency in 1923 by Raymond Wilcox, who was eventually joined by son Malcolm, grandson Scott, and great-grandson Robert, who now leads the agency under the Dowd Agencies umbrella. The offices in Westfield and Feeding Hills are full-service insurance agencies providing personal, commercial, wealth-management, and employee-benefits products and services.

 

Hampden Papers Building Sold to Green Thumb Industries Inc.

HOLYOKE — Colebrook Realty Services Inc. announced the sale of the 326,664-square-foot industrial mill building at 100 Water St. in Holyoke from Hampden Glazed Paper + Card Co. to Green Thumb Industries Inc., a cannabis grower and retailer. Green Thumb Industries (GTI) is a national marijuana producer headquartered in Chicago with various brands and business units to its name. The company, which has 13 manufacturing locations and 97 retail sites across the U.S., is growing its footprint in Holyoke. The company was established in 2014 and boasts more than 2,300 employees. The acquisition of 100 Water St. reflects its continued plans for expansion and the positive environment the city of Holyoke has created for cannabis growers, manufacturers, and retailers. The 100 Water St. property was the headquarters of Hampden Papers, a 140-year-old family business that sold in 2020. The company specialized in specialty coated, laminated, printed, and embossed paper products. The mill complex is comprised of five interconnected industrial buildings, some multi-level and others single-story warehouses with high ceilings and several loading docks. The property features convenient access to major interstates, including the Mass Pike and I-91. Mitch Bolotin, vice president of Colebrook Realty Services, represented the seller, and Kevin Jennings of Jennings Real Estate represented the buyer.

 

Western New England University to Launch Women’s Wrestling Team

SPRINGFIELD — The Department of Athletics at Western New England University (WNE) recently announced the addition of women’s wrestling to its athletics program. This will be the University’s 21st varsity sport and the first NCAA DIII women’s wrestling team in New England. The women’s wrestling program is planned to begin its inaugural season in the fall of the 2022-23 academic year with Mike Sugermeyer, head coach for men’s wrestling, tasked with recruiting the first official class. The university will hire a women’s head coach prior to the start of the season. There are currently only 25 women’s wrestling programs at the NCAA DIII level. WNE will be the first in Massachusetts, compared to the 140 high-school programs in the state.

 

Hazen Holography Brings to Life Basketball Hall of Fame Dome

HOLYOKE — The cover of the 2021 Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony yearbook appears electrified, the projection-LED-illuminated nine-story dome lit three-dimensionally on the page. To distinguish its ninth time producing the yearbook cover, Hazen Paper Co. used custom holography to illuminate the iconic symbol of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Hazen’s edgeless Hazen-Lens technology was used to create the pulsating play of light in front of a brilliant radial burst of two-channel holography, which refracts ambient light to generate the impression of movement as the book is opened. In front of the dome, the Basketball Hall of Fame logo is rendered three-dimensional with holography that emphasizes the basketball’s pebbled texture, juxtaposed with the sleek, reflective sphere of the dome. The back cover also features a custom hologram to telegraph the excitement of the Mohegan Sun Arena, mimicking the strobe-like effect of lighting washing over the audience in color from the concert stage. Detailed custom holography requires precise registration to deliver a crisp final product through the printing process. The unique Hazen Holography for both sides was registered to a tolerance of 1/16” for near-perfect alignment during printing. Hazen originated the holography completely within its vertically integrated facility. The custom holograms were created in Hazen’s holographic laser lab, then micro-embossed and transfer-metallized onto smooth, 12-point WestRock Crescendo C2S using Hazen’s environmentally friendly Envirofoil process. The yearbook cover was designed by agency GO of Hartford, Conn., and printed and individually numbered for authenticity on an HP Indigo digital press by Starburst Printing of Holliston.

 

PeoplesBank Recognize in Reader’s Choice Survey

HOLYOKE — Thousands of voters chimed in recently for the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Readers’ Choice consumer polls, and PeoplesBank was named a winner in several categories, including Best Local Bank, Best Local Online Banking, Best Mortgage/Home Loan Provider, Best Green Business, and Best Place to Work. PeoplesBank has made significant investments in customer service in recent years, adding new digital and contactless banking opportunities such as VideoBankerITMs as well as expanding its banking-center network in Northern and Central Connecticut. In each market it serves, the bank is well-known for its charitable and civic support. Meanwhile, at the other end of Massachusetts, the Boston Business Journal named PeoplesBank a Top Corporate Charitable Contributor again in 2021.

 

Rachel’s Table, Food Bank Join Forces to Fight Hunger

SPRINGFIELD — Rachel’s Table, the food rescue and redistribution program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts are joining forces to fight hunger. Rachel’s Table, with its 200 volunteer drivers, will transport food directly from designated grocery stores to Food Bank agencies, filling the gap where agencies lacked transportation or when its volunteers were needed elsewhere. Rachel’s Table’s partnership with the Food Bank began pre-pandemic in Westfield and has become revitalized during the past several months. Together, Rachel’s Table and the Food Bank are serving seven agencies, with 13 volunteer drivers from Rachel’s Table rescuing nutritious food from eight donors in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Starting slowly but deliberately, more than 15,000 pounds of healthy meat, produce, and dairy have been delivered since the program began, and there is more to come. People interested in driving for Rachel’s Table, or who know of food from a local restaurant, bakery, or grocery store that is going to waste, can contact the organization at www.rachelstablepv.org.

 

American Eagle Donates $5,000 to Hampden County Organizations

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — American Eagle Financial Credit Union (AEFCU) announced $5,000 in total donations for two organizations based in Hampden County. The Ronald McDonald House of Springfield and Springfield Partners for Community Action have each been selected to receive $2,500 grants from American Eagle’s donor-advised fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. “The Ronald McDonald House of Springfield and Springfield Partners for Community Action provide tremendous assistance, care, and resources to Hampden County families,” said Dean Marchessault, president and CEO of AEFCU. “It’s our hope these grants will bolster their efforts and serve as a reminder of our team’s admiration for the organizations.”

 

Agenda

Rally in the Alley

Every Thursday: Downtown Springfield will be the site for Rally in the Alley, a month-long outdoor ping-pong points league held on Market Street in collaboration with the Springfield Thunderbirds, NOSH Café, and Sweet Ideas Café. The first event of its kind hosted in the heart of the city, it will take place every Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The event is free to participate in, and open to all ages. The matches will be round-robin style, one-on-one. Prizes will be given out each week, including Springfield Thunderbirds game tickets, downtown restaurant gift cards, Springfield merch, and much more. NOSH and Sweet Ideas Café will be open, serving dinner and drinks. Participants can sign up beforehand by visiting springfielddowntown.com or at the event. The Springfield Thunderbirds are the presenting sponsor, and Blue Haus Group is co-hosting the event.

 

Willie Ross School Grand Reopening

Sept. 17: Willie Ross School for the Deaf (WRSD) will hold a grand reopening and ribbon cutting for the newly completed renovation and expansion to its Sidney Cooley Administration Building from 10 a.m. to noon at 32 Norway St., Longmeadow. WRSD President and CEO Bert Carter; Dr. J. Robert Kirkwood, chair of the WRSD board of trustees; and George Balsley, vice chair of the board, will offer remarks at the event, which will also offer light refreshments and tours of the new space. The $2.5 million renovation and expansion took two years to complete and added a second story to its administration building that features new space for interpreters, an updated audiology center, a redesigned main entrance, improved wheelchair access, new space for the school’s Work Study Program, and upgraded administrative technology. The comprehensive renovation also included new landscaping of the property and replacement of windows and insulation to increase energy efficiency.

 

Community Shred Day

Sept. 18: Freedom Credit Union will once again to offer the opportunity for Western Mass. residents to securely purge unwanted paperwork. In cooperation with PROSHRED Springfield, Freedom is offering a free community shred day at two of its branches in Springfield and West Springfield. The event is slated for 9 to 10 a.m. at 296 Cooley St. in Springfield, and 11 a.m. to noon at 58 Union St. in West Springfield. The public is invited to bring old bills, bank statements, tax returns, and other sensitive documents for free, quick, and secure on-site shredding. Members and non-members alike may bring up to five file boxes or paper bags (per vehicle) to the events. Masks are not required for those who are vaccinated.

 

YMCA of Greater Springfield Golf Tournament

Sept. 21: The YMCA of Greater Springfield announced it will hold a golf tournament at the Longmeadow Country Club. The funds raised will support youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility through access to the YMCA. In addition to a round of golf, golfers will enjoy a grilled lunch at 11 a.m. and a dinner following the tournament. To learn more about registration and sponsorship opportunities, e-mail Donna Sittard, Development director at the YMCA, at [email protected], call (413) 739-6951, ext. 3110, or visit www.springfieldy.org.

 

Golden Bear Athletics Golf Classic

Sept. 20: The Department of Athletics at Western New England University will host the 22nd annual Golden Bear Athletics Golf Classic at Twin Hills Country Club in Longmeadow at 12:30 p.m. The cost for individual participation is $175 per person. Foursomes are welcome. The tournament will be a scramble format, and golf carts will be provided. Competitions during the day will include closest to the pin, straightest drive, and longest drive. There will also be mulligan tickets, a raffle, and a putting contest throughout the day. Each year, the Classic honors outstanding individuals who have made a positive impact on Western New England University and its athletics family. This year’s honoree will be WNEU President Robert Johnson. A cocktail reception and luncheon honoring him will take place upon tournament completion. For more information and registration or to learn about sponsorship opportunities, visit wnegoldenbears.com/landing/index.

 

40 Under Forty Gala

Sept. 23: BusinessWest’s 15th annual 40 Under Forty gala will take place at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The class of 2021 was introduced to the region in the magazine’s May 12 issue, and the profiles may be read online at businesswest.com. Event sponsors include Comcast Business, Health New England, the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, PeoplesBank, and Venture X..

 

United Way Day of Caring

Sept. 24: The United Way of Pioneer Valley has opened volunteer signups for Day of Caring 2021. Volunteers may sign up at uwpv.org/doc21-events. “There is a greater need than ever for kindness, good deeds, and building our sense of community this year,” said Paul Mina, president and CEO of the United Way of Pioneer Valley. “I implore anyone with free time on or around Day of Caring 2021 to sign up and do good with us. Help our nonprofits, who have struggled greatly through the COVID-19 pandemic, and you will start your last weekend of September with the best night’s sleep you can find — knowing you’ve done a good thing when it was needed most.” Learn more about the United Way Day of Caring at uwpv.org/day-of-caring, or donate at uwpv.org/donate.

 

Brew at the Zoo

Sept. 25: The Zoo in Forest Park will host its fourth annual Brew at the Zoo, presented by PDC Inc., from 1 to 5 p.m. Beer enthusiasts will enjoy a day at the zoo complete with unlimited beer samples from local craft breweries, a home-brew competition, food trucks, live music, games, and animal interactions. All the money raised through this event goes directly to support the 250 animals that call the zoo their home year-round. The event, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic, offers three ticket types: VIP, general admission, and designated driver. Attendees with a VIP ticket will enjoy an extra hour of sampling beginning at noon, the opportunity to participate in up-close animal encounters, and grain to feed the animals. This event is 21+. The zoo will be closed to the public on Sept. 25. Advance tickets are required, and IDs will be checked at the door. For a list of participating breweries and to purchase tickets, visit www.forestparkzoo.org/brew. Limited tickets are available.

 

Leadership Training Program

Sept. 28-30: Giombetti Associates, a leadership institute providing behaviorally based talent-development and acquisition services, will host the second of three three-day leadership training programs for 2021 at the Delaney House in Holyoke. This intensive course covers the power of Performance Dynamics and how it can help participants know themselves better; different leadership styles and what makes them effective or ineffective; the importance of being vulnerable and transparent; how to build interpersonal relationships; what effective onboarding is and how it will help participants’ organizations and employees; how to be an efficient communicator; the best way to deliver developmental feedback; building teamwork and the value of team building; and trust, integrity, and more. Prior to training, each participant goes through Performance Dynamics, an assessment that consists of three personality inventories designed to identify 17 different traits that drive personality and behavior. Then, in an interactive, one-on-one feedback session, the participant develops a newfound self-awareness of their behavioral strengths, learns how to manage their personality more effectively, and gains an understanding of how their personality impacts others. Throughout the three-day training, the participant is encouraged to constantly refer to and link their personality to the leadership issue being discussed. All the subject matter is wrapped around individual personality and how it affects behavior in different situations, yielding a unique experience of self-exploration. To learn more about the three-day leadership program, which has an additional session scheduled in November, visit giombettiassoc.com/three-day-leadership-training-program. Registration is now open for both sessions.

 

HCC Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series

Sept. 29, Oct. 27, Nov. 24: Holyoke Community College (HCC) will continue its monthly Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series this fall. During each session, participants will join prominent women leaders for discussions on relevant topics and ideas to help their leadership development. They will also have the opportunity to form a supportive network to help navigate their own careers. The fall dates and topics are:

• Sept. 29: “Do Something Every Day that Scares You” with Pattie Hallberg, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts;

• Oct. 27: “Just Go for It,” with Helen Gomez Andrews, co-founder and CEO of the High End; and

• Nov. 24: “Journey to and from Exit Zero,” with Sharale Mathis, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at HCC.

The cost of each session is $25, with the exception of the three-part Vision Board class with Turner, which costs $99. The cost for the full, six-session series is $120. Cost, however, will not be a barrier to participation. If pricing is an issue, contact Michele Cabral, HCC’s executive director of Business, Corporate and Professional Development, at [email protected] Space is limited, and advance registration is required. To register, visit hcc.edu/womens-leadership.

 

Company Notebook

Gift of $50 Million from Robert and Donna Manning Is Largest in UMass History

BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts announced it will receive a cash gift of $50 million from Robert and Donna Manning. The gift, the largest of any kind in the university’s history, is aimed at increasing access and opportunity across the five-campus university system. The first distribution of the $50 million will be $15 million to endow the UMass Boston Nursing program, which will become the Robert and Donna Manning College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The funds will be focused on supporting student diversity and ensuring that the new cohort of nursing professionals are champions of equitable patient care. Donna Manning’s 35-year career as an oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center inspired the decision to focus the gift on nursing at UMass Boston. Known for her dedication to patients, Manning donated her salary to the hospital each year. The College of Nursing and Health Sciences is the fastest-growing college at UMass Boston and offers the only four-year public programs in Nursing and Exercise and Health Sciences in the Greater Boston area. The undergraduate and graduate population of approximately 2,100 students in the college is 19% black, 12% Latinx, and 11% Asian-American Pacific Islander. In the coming months, the Mannings plan to announce distributions from the overall gift to improve access and opportunity on the other UMass campuses in Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell, and Worcester. Robert Manning is chairman of MFS Investment Management and the long-time chair of the UMass board of trustees. The Mannings were already among UMass’ greatest supporters, having committed more than $11 million to UMass Lowell, where the Manning School of Business bears their name. On the Lowell campus, they have endowed several faculty chairs, sponsored a nursing simulation lab, and established the Robert and Donna Manning Endowed Scholarship Fund. The Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching is awarded to faculty on all five UMass campuses for high-impact teaching.

 

MGM Unveils Two Sports Lounges

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield marked its third anniversary by unveiling two widescreen luxury sports lounges. MGM Springfield President Chris Kelley recently led a tour of the new lounges, which he said reinforces the resort’s position and commitment as the market’s leading destination for sports and entertainment. The new, multi-million-dollar MGM Springfield Sports Lounge will be positioned on the casino floor and feature a 45-foot, state-of-the-art HD viewing wall, inviting fans to watch multiple sporting events at once, along with more than 70 individual lounge seats. The venue is designed to seamlessly incorporate sports betting via the BetMGM platform should Massachusetts lawmakers pass future legislation. The property also unveiled a new VIP Sports Lounge within TAP Sports Bar. This second viewing destination will offer a more intimate experience with an HDTV wall, couches, and a special culinary menu crafted by TAP chefs.

 

UMass Announces $175 Million Gift to Its Medical School

WORCESTER — The University of Massachusetts has announced a history-making $175 million donation from the Morningside Foundation to UMass Medical School. The transformational gift is unrestricted and will more than double the medical school’s endowment. It comes as the medical school celebrates its 50th year of educating future physicians, nursing leaders, and biomedical scientists and as its Nobel Prize-winning research enterprise has grown to $400 million. In recognition of the gift and of the commitment to education, research, and healthcare by the Chan family of investors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists, UMass Medical School will be renamed the UMass Chan Medical School. Its three graduate schools will be renamed the T.H. Chan School of Medicine, the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing, and the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. T.H. Chan, for whom the School of Medicine will be named, is the late patriarch of the Chan family, who was deeply committed to supporting higher education. The Graduate School of Nursing will be named for the family’s matriarch, Tan Chingfen, a nurse who, the family recalled, administered vaccines to neighborhood children in the 1950s. The choice of Morningside for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences reflects the name of the family’s investment group and foundation.

 

EforAll/EparaTodos Holyoke Looking for Volunteers

HOLYOKE — EforAll/EparaTodos Holyoke is actively seeking both English- and Spanish-speaking volunteers to participate as mentors in the winter 2022 business accelerator program. Accelerator mentors come from a variety of backgrounds and use their business and leadership experience to guide new entrepreneurs through the process of turning their idea into a growing business. Mentors work in teams of three and are matched with an entrepreneur based on schedule availability and the desire to work together. The team meets as a group to help reaffirm topics and themes raised during classes, while also strategizing with the entrepreneur on how to reach their specific goals during the program. This is a high-touch, year-long commitment. Mentor teams have weekly 90-minute virtual meetings for three months and then meet once a month for the following nine months. Spanish speakers are especially needed. Anyone looking for an interactive and meaningful volunteer opportunity and interested in learning more about EforAll should e-mail [email protected]

 

SERVPRO of Hampshire County Celebrates 25 Years in Community

BELCHERTOWN — SERVPRO of Hampshire County, a cleanup and restoration company, is recognizing its 25th anniversary in the local business community. The company will celebrate its milestone with an open house on Thursday, Sept. 16 at its offices at 50 Depot St. in Belchertown. Fall has been in business since Aug. 16, 1996. SERVPRO clients include insurance companies seeking restoration services, as well as commercial and residential property owners who require routine cleaning services. With more than 50 years of experience, the SERVPRO system’s time-tested techniques and proprietary cleaning products have earned its franchises a spot as a leader in the restoration and cleaning industry. SERVPRO of Hampshire County is capable of cleaning and restoring a fire-, mold-, or water-damaged building and its contents, including wall, ceiling, and floor surfaces; furniture; fabric; fixtures; and more. Many franchisees also offer cleaning and restoration of special items, such as HVAC duct systems; building exteriors; electronic equipment, including computers; and documents that have sustained water damage.

 

Freedom Credit Union Raises $2,710 for Food Bank

SPRINGFIELD — Throughout June and July, Freedom Credit Union collected cash donations at its branches throughout Western Mass. to benefit the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which leads the fight against food insecurity throughout Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. It raised $2,710 thanks to the generosity of members and staff. Since 1982, the Food Bank has helped provide much-sneeded food to area residents. It sources its products from donations and then supplies it to participating pantries, meal sites, and shelters throughout the region.

 

Whalley Computer Associates Announces Partnership with Cynet

SOUTHWICK — Whalley Computer Associates has joined forces with cyberattack defender Cynet to offer customers an enhanced layer of protection with an autonomous breach platform. The joint venture between the two IT solution providers offers customers another cybersecurity option to keep data safe with state-of-the-art prevention and detection. Cynet pioneered the autonomous breach-protection platform and offers cybersecurity to organizational security teams already stretched thin by the resources demanded to integrate and employ disparate solutions across frequently complex and wide-ranging security needs. The Cynet 360 platform secures organizations of every size, deploying and integrating across thousands of endpoints in hours, and providing all the fundamental capabilities of NGAV, EDR, UEBA, Network Analytics, and Deception solutions, plus backing through its frontline CyOps, a team made up of SOC experts available 24/7.

 

Paragus IT Named to Channel Futures MSP 501 List

HADLEY — The Channel Futures annual MSP 501 list is a definitive ranking of the most influential and fastest-growing managed service providers (MSPs) around the world. This year, Paragus IT ranked seventh in Massachusetts and 15th in New England, making it one of the top-ranked MSPs in Western and Central Mass. Channel Futures is a media and events platform serving companies in the information and communication technologies channel industry with insights, analysis, information, and in-person events. Its annual 501 list serves as a critical benchmarking tool and speaks to the rapidly evolving IT-channel ecosystem and its diversity of business models.

 

Monson Savings Donates $1,000 to Town’s Christmas Lights

MONSON — Monson Savings Bank recently donated $1,000 to the town of Monson’s Christmas lights display to honor the hard work and long careers of John Malo and John Morrell. Malo recently was recognized by the town of Monson for his 50 years of service to the town’s post office, and he has no plans to retire. On July 23, family members, friends, and town residents gathered together at the Post Office to celebrate his long and successful career. In November 2020, Morrell celebrated 53 years of service to the Monson Highway Department as the Monson highway surveyor. He started his career with the town in 1968 as a truck driver and spent many years working hard to keep the townspeople safe.

 

Rachel’s Table, Food Bank Join Forces to Fight Hunger

SPRINGFIELD — Rachel’s Table, the food rescue and redistribution program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts are joining forces to fight hunger. Rachel’s Table, with its 200 volunteer drivers, will transport food directly from designated grocery stores to Food Bank agencies, filling the gap where agencies lacked transportation or when its volunteers were needed elsewhere. Rachel’s Table’s partnership with the Food Bank began pre-pandemic in Westfield and has become revitalized during the past several months. Together, Rachel’s Table and the Food Bank are serving seven agencies, with 13 volunteer drivers from Rachel’s Table rescuing nutritious food from eight donors in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Starting slowly but deliberately, more than 15,000 pounds of healthy meat, produce, and dairy have been delivered since the program began, and there is more to come. People interested in driving for Rachel’s Table, or who know of food from a local restaurant, bakery, or grocery store that is going to waste, can contact the organization at www.rachelstablepv.org.

 

New Community Center, Housing Coming to Carriage Grove

BELCHERTOWN — MassDevelopment and the Belchertown Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (BEDIC) announced the selection of Brisa Ventures, LLC to develop a 12-acre parcel of land at Carriage Grove into a new mixed-income residential community featuring approximately 100 units of housing. Brisa Ventures will also preserve and redevelop the existing former Belchertown State School administration building into a community center, museum, cultural space, meeting space, and either a restaurant, brewery, or distillery. Construction of the development is projected to begin by the end of 2022 and is expected to be complete within 18 to 24 months. The sale of this BEDIC-owned parcel and building to Brisa Ventures will represent the first phase of a multi-phased, mixed-use project under negotiation with the company intended to include additional commercial, residential, and community-oriented investments. The new rental housing units will be designed as a mix of two- and three-story apartment- and townhome-style residences and built to ultra-low energy-use standards; they are planned to use solar energy to meet net-zero energy use. The development will also include extensive common green areas with play areas, community gathering spaces, and pathways that connect the housing units to each other and to the neighboring trail network.

 

Home City Development Secures Permit for Affordable-housing Development in Pelham

PELHAM — Home City Development Inc., a Springfield-based affordable-housing developer, has received a comprehensive permit from the Pelham Zoning Board of Appeals for the construction of 34 mixed-income rental units. On Aug. 10, the Zoning Board approved the comprehensive permit for the property to be known as Amethyst Brook . This is the first affordable-housing development approved in the town of Pelham and the first time the Zoning Board of Appeals has awarded this type of permit. Two new buildings will be constructed at 20-22 Amherst Road; 22 Amherst Road will be designed to ‘passive house’ standards, which includes energy-efficiency specifications that drastically reduce the building’s ecological footprint. Notable additions to the site construction include a stormwater-management system and electric-vehicle charging stations. Next, Home City Development will finalize project financing, and construction is expected to be completed within 12 to 14 months after the start date, to be announced. The design team is led by Architecture Environment Life of East Longmeadow. Berkshire Design Group of Northampton will conduct civil engineering and landscape design.

 

Incorporations

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

AGAWAM

Palms of Peace Inc., 27 River Ave., Agawam, MA 01001. Joshua Palmer, same address. Builds tiny homes for the homeless and provides agricultural jobs.

BELCHERTOWN

Rhynia Inc., 51 Oasis Dr., Belchertown, MA 01007. Lindsey M. Matarazzo, same address. Supports women entrepreneurship, education, and community service.

EAST LONGMEADOW

All Access Music Inc., 155 Kibbe Road, East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Stephanie Platzer, same address. Provides music therapy services.

East Longmeadow Foundation Inc., 328 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Jessica Stacy, 244 Maple St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Fundraising to help maintain and develop open space and recreation facilities.

EASTHAMPTON

JJ Dushane Memorial Fund Inc., 97 Glendale St., Easthampton, MA 01027. Joseph Dushane, same address. Memorial fund to support local area youth and young adults.

LONGMEADOW

Longmeadow Softball Association Inc., 55 Morningside Dr., Longmeadow, MA 01106. Shawn Schrager, same address. Provides female youth the opportunity to learn and play softball.

Reiff Dental, P.C., 214 Captain Road, Longmeadow, MA 01106. Zachary Reiff, same address. Dentistry practice.

LUDLOW

Bak Precision Inc., 71 Highland Ave., Ludlow, MA 01056. Krzysztof Checiek, same address. Parts manufacturing.

JR Butcher Shoppe Inc., 276 East St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Jose A. Cordeiro, 26 Cady St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Retail groceries sales.

PITTSFIELD

The New England Museum of Firefighting Inc., 84 Adelaide Ave., Pittsfield, MA 01201. Michael P. Nugai, same address. Preservation and promotion of historical contributions of New England to the American Fire Service.

Vistabizhub Advisory Services Inc., 82 Wendell Ave., Ste. 100, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Hicham Ennaimi, 59 West Eagle St., Apt. 2, Boston, MA 02128. Cloud computing managed service provider.

SPRINGFIELD

Grit and Gratitude Wrestling Academy Inc., 2 Birnie Ave., Springfield, MA 01107. Steven L. Graham, 124 Stonehill Dr., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Wrestling Club.

WESTFIELD

Fenway Westfield Inc., 237 Fowler Road., Westfield, MA 01085. Christopher M. Dolan, same address. Engage in various charitable activities through sports and tournaments.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Jeeya and Shruti, Corp., 560 Riverdale St., West Springfield, MA 01089. Tejash Patel, 63 Therese Marie Dr., West Springfield, MA 01089. Hotel.

Company Notebook

Belt Technologies Receives $45,600 Workforce Training Fund Grant

AGAWAM — Belt Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of custom metal belt conveyer solutions and conveyor systems for more than five decades, has been awarded a $45,600 grant to assist in the training of 24 workers and the creation of at least two new jobs before 2023. This project is funded by a Workforce Training Fund grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The grant program is administered by Commonwealth Corp. More than $8 million was awarded to companies all across Massachusetts, investing in companies from a variety of different industries. Belt plans to use the funds to help employees complete several training programs which will improve their proficiency with tooling, planned maintenance, and lean-manufacturing principles. The company currently employs 39 people in Agawam and plans to add two new manufacturing positions to increase capacity.

 

The Dowd Agencies Restructures Financial-services Division

HOLYOKE — The Dowd Agencies, LLC, a leading insurance provider serving New England for more than 120 years, has restructured its financial-services division to provide more focused services to its clients. The former Dowd Financial Services has been divided into two divisions: Dowd Wealth Management and Dowd Employee Benefits. Dowd Wealth Management will replace the financial arm of Dowd Financial Services, offering financial consultation relative to retirement planning and investments. Dowd Employee Benefits will center around both group and individual health, dental, life, and an assortment of ancillary products. Both divisions will serve individuals and businesses.

 

Canary Blomstrom Insurance Merges with GoodWorks

AGAWAM — Canary Blomstrom Insurance Agency recently became a member of GoodWorks Financial Group, a national network of insurance agencies, according to Canary Blomstrom President Sandy Brodeur. The agency will retain its name, staff, and Agawam location, and Brodeur will continue to serve as president. By joining GoodWorks, Canary Blomstrom will partner with Wheeler & Taylor Insurance of Great Barrington to broaden its insurance offerings locally, regionally, and nationally. Wheeler & Taylor is GoodWorks Financial’s flagship national agency. Canary Blomstrom offers all types of personal insurance, including home, auto, renters’, and boat insurance. It sells life, long-term-care, and disability insurance and annuities. Products for businesses and nonprofits include all types of commercial property and casualty insurance and employee-benefits insurance, including group health and dental plans and voluntary benefits.

 

 

Partner Consulting Joins Pixel Health Family of Companies

HOLYOKE — Partner Consulting has been acquired by Massachusetts-based Pixel Health as part of the company’s continued expansion of its national healthcare technology ecosystem. Headquartered in Middlefield, Conn., Partner joins VertitechIT (infrastructure design and implementation), Nectar (digital health strategy consulting), baytechIT (managed services), Liberty Fox Technologies (software-application development) and akiro (healthcare financial and business-advisory services) as part of the Pixel Health brand. Turning ordinary phone systems into a unified communications tool with bottom-line impact on productivity and collaboration has been the hallmark of Partner Consulting for more than two decades. With experience in assessment, design, implementation, and management of unified communications, mobility, contact-center, and telecom expense-management methodologies, Partner consultants work with healthcare systems, Fortune 500 businesses, utility companies, and state governments in the sourcing and management of telecommunications and mobility platforms. Partner Consulting will continue to service healthcare and enterprise clients from its Connecticut headquarters. Pixel Health is based in Western Mass., with consulting offices in Philadelphia and central Pennsylvania, Vermont, Florida, Tennessee, and Washington.

 

Coca-Cola to Close Bottling Plant in 2023

NORTHAMPTON — Coca-Cola announced it will close its bottling plant at 45 Industrial Dr. in Northampton in the summer of 2023, leaving its 319 employees to find new jobs. “After careful consideration, the Coca-Cola Company has decided to close our production facility in Northampton, Massachusetts,” the company, headquartered in Atlanta, said in a statement. “We did not make this decision lightly and are grateful to have had the opportunity to have been a part of the Northampton community.” The statement added that workers “will be encouraged to apply and be considered for jobs that they are qualified to perform within the Coca-Cola system and at other third-party manufacturer locations. The facility is targeting closure in the second quarter of 2023, and we will support our associates throughout the challenging transition.”

 

Girls Inc. Awarded $10 Million for Equality Can’t Wait Challenge

HOLYOKE — Girls Inc., the national organization that inspires girls to be strong, smart, and bold, has received $10 million in funding as one of four awardees selected by the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge to benefit its Project Accelerate program. Project Accelerate aims to expand the power and influence of women in the U.S. by 2030. Building on Girls Inc.’s evidence-based programming, Project Accelerate addresses inequality in the workplace, particularly the absence of women of color in positions of influence and leadership. The program will accelerate young women’s trajectories through college and career entry, leveraging partnerships with corporations and social-impact organizations to ensure both their preparation and their access to positions of influence. Project Accelerate will also reduce the gender gap by working with young women starting as early as their junior year in high school to ensure they have the resources and support to thrive as leaders. Through a network of 78 affiliates, including here in the Pioneer Valley, Project Accelerate aims to lift 5,400 diverse women into corporate positions of power and influence, shifting the equity landscape for generations.

 

Finck & Perras Supports Restoration of Old Town Hall

EASTHAMPTON — Finck and Perras Insurance donated $15,000 to CitySpace in a multi-year pledge for support of the restoration of Easthampton Old Town Hall into a center of the arts for Western Mass. In 2006, beginning with Old Town Hall’s first floor, CitySpace embarked on an effort to create affordable space for arts organizations and creative businesses under one roof in Easthampton’s Main Street Historic District. Now, CitySpace is raising funds to convert the unused second-floor, 3500-square-foot hall into a flexible, accessible, 350-seat space for performances, concerts, and community events. Renovations also will include a new box office, elevator, entryway, theatrical lighting, and sound and projection systems. To date, more than $4.2 million in grants and contributions have been received for the $6.9 million project. CitySpace plans to begin renovations in late 2022 and seeks further support for the project.

 

MCLA to Receive $1.9 Million in ARP Funding for Students

NORTH ADAMS — MCLA will receive $1.9 million to distribute directly to enrolled students from Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) that are part of the federal Ameri can Rescue Plan (ARP). One of the largest investments ever made in American higher education, ARP allocates $40 billion to colleges in order to mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. A third round of pandemic relief for higher-education institutions, the ARP funds are more than double the first two COVID recovery packages combined. HEERF funding, which exists under the umbrella of ARP, is meant specifically for students. MCLA students with the highest need, demonstrated via FAFSA information, will receive the majority of this funding, but all enrolled students will receive a check or the option to use the funds to pay off student debt or pay for future semesters of college. The first disbursement of funds will be to MCLA undergraduates and graduate students who are enrolled for summer classes as well as for the fall 2021 semester. The next disbursement will be to students enrolled for fall 2021. The remainder of this funding will be disbursed to enrolled students in spring 2022.

 

Breeze Airways Launches Three New Non-stop Flights at Bradley

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority announced that Bradley International Airport has launched new, non-stop service to Columbus, Ohio; Norfolk, Va; and Pittsburgh with Breeze Airways. These three launches follow the airline’s recent debut at Bradley and its inaugural non-stop service to Charleston, S.C. The new non-stops will operate on Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday on single-class Embraer aircraft with a two-by-two seat configuration. Flights are available for booking at www.flybreeze.com.

 

Accounting and Tax Planning

Where There’s Smoke…

By Kristina Drzal Houghton, CPA, MST

 

Kristina Drzal Houghton

Kristina Drzal Houghton

The production and distribution of cannabis, once known to many only as marijuana, is the newest and most variegated industry in America. Some would even say it is one of the toughest industries in America in which to do business. This article will discuss a few unique challenges from a financial perspective faced by the industry.

The first complexity starts with the difference between cannabis and CBD. When you look at a cannabis plant and a hemp plant side by side, the plants themselves look identical to an untrained eye, making it a bit challenging to identify, as the real difference lies in the chemistry of the plants.

CBD can be extracted from hemp or marijuana. Hemp plants are cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3% THC (the compound that creates the ‘high’ sensation), while marijuana plants are cannabis plants that contain higher concentrations of THC. This article will refer to all products containing more than 0.3% THC as cannabis, while products with less will be referred to as CBD.

So, basically, the only difference from a scientific standpoint is the level of one chemical. However, things are much more complex from a legal and tax perspective. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD and hemp are now legal, and not on the schedule I list of controlled narcotics right up there with heroin and LSD. In 2016, Massachusetts passed a law making all cannabis legal, and all but five other states have passed laws making it either fully legalized, decriminalized, or medically authorized. While cannabis is federally illegal, the Internal Revenue Service is perfectly willing to collect taxes on companies that handle the product.

Federal tax law is very punitive on the cannabis industry. Internal Revenue Code Section 280E is a very short part of the tax code (just one sentence) and states:

“No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by federal law or the law of any state in which such trade or business is conducted.”

Under 280E, you’re not allowed any deductions or credits on your return, but you can deduct the cost of goods sold, as that is part of the definition of taxable income. A cannabis farm will only be allowed to allocate various costs, direct and indirect, into cost of goods sold and inventory. Section 280E will affect only cannabis entities. CBD companies, since they are legal, are allowed all normal business deductions and credits available to other non-cannabis companies. This provides many more opportunities to reduce taxable income to a hemp/CBD company.

It is not only the federal tax difference which significantly attributes to the disproportionate cost of cannabis versus CBD. Due to discrepancies between state and federal law, legal cannabis businesses are forced to operate almost entirely in cash, with very little access to financial services, since most banks are federally insured and therefore unable to establish accounts for this federally illegal business. This leaves thousands of dollars stored in backroom safes and transported in shoeboxes and backpacks, creating a prime target for crime. Another banking challenge that cannabis businesses regularly face is exorbitant monthly account fees, or banks that take a percentage of each deposit.

The industry faces many other challenges as well. For example, most states have a mandated ‘seed to sale’ software-tracking system that must be used and accurate (daily), and must be reconciled with POS (point of sale) systems and accounting systems. Additionally, because this is a new industry, many of the tools other industries use are simply not readily available, including a cannabis-tailored chart of accounts, QB POS systems, reliable inventory software, and common merchant service platforms.

There is an opportunity for dispensaries to separate some revenue streams outside of the cannabis division, meaning normal business deductions are allowed for the non-cannabis division. These might include clothing, paraphernalia, coffee, CBD, and other goods. While this is good news for the industry, it only creates even more complexities when allocating selling and administrative expenses.

A recent report from the U.S. Treasury inspector general for Tax Administration recommends increased audits by the IRS of cannabis businesses to identify potential non-filers and returns that are not 280E-compliant. For this as well as the above reasons, cannabis businesses need to find an accounting firm that really knows what it’s doing. The cannabis accountant has to not only understand Section 280E, but also know how to treat a business that deals strictly (and necessarily) in cash. Many cannabis companies have bad books because their bookkeepers do not understand the special accounting and therefore didn’t properly categorize expenses. It can be time-consuming to fix them.

So, while the many layers of regulatory control and reporting may be of utmost importance to those operating in the cannabis industry, overlooking the complexities in the finance area of the business can lead to the proverbial perfect storm — or the business going up in smoke.

 

Kristina Drzal Houghton, CPA, MST is a partner at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.

Opinion

Editorial

 

It takes only a few months, even a few weeks, to establish a habit.

And in under 18 months, some new habits have completely altered the work world. The question now is, for how long?

It’s a well-told story at this point how companies across the U.S. sent their employees home in mid-March 2020 for what they figured would be a few weeks at most. Many worried whether their teams could be productive at home, relying on remote technology they had never used before.

Both instincts were largely wrong. A few weeks quickly became a few months and then well over a year. Now, almost a year and a half later, tens of millions of Americans are still working from home, and in many cases making remote work a requirement, or at least a strong request, when they apply for jobs. In other words, since the work-from-home habit set in, it has proven difficult to shake.

But employers were also wrong — at least in most cases — when they assumed the transition to remote work would be rocky. Thanks to a raft of tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and IT companies that stayed incredibly busy through the first half of 2020 making sure clients’ employees had the equipment they needed — most businesses have found their remote colleagues as productive as they had been in the office, and in many cases happier and less stressed out.

So why not make remote work the new status quo, right?

The main problem lies in company culture and camaraderie — specifically, the fact that it’s difficult to maintain any when everyone is working in a different place; even regular Zoom meetings can’t replace face-to-face collaboration. Employee onboarding is harder, too — it’s tougher for a newcomer to feel assimilated and comfortable on a team when that team is scattered far and wide.

All of which is why hybrid scheduling makes so much sense, and why many companies — those that don’t require their employees to see customers and clients in person, anyway — are moving to a hybrid model (see story on page 25). In short, employees who like the home setting can work there some days, but are required to come in on other days. That way, they still feel less stress and can balance work and life, but can also meet their employer’s collaborative needs.

Some companies are establishing set at-home and on-site days, while others allow their employees to decide each week where they will be, as long as they meet the minimum on-site requirements. Others have their staffs in house most of the time, but allow them to stay home on days when they feel they would work better there.

Formal or informal, hybrid work models are becoming the norm — and might completely transform workplace culture across the U.S., not to mention the trickle-down effects on industries like commercial real estate, office furniture, IT, and even restaurants that cater to lunch crowds.

It’s a transformation that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago, and it took a worldwide health crisis to unlock the door. But when Americans figure out that something works well, they tend to stick with it. How permanent will this shift be? Stay tuned.

Employment Special Coverage

Questions, Questions

 

At a time when most companies and nonprofit institutions in the region are hiring, or trying to, many area business owners, managers, and HR directors are sitting across the table from job candidates trying to determine if that individual is the proverbial ‘right one.’

Given this climate, BusinessWest asked a number of area business leaders to identify one of their favorite, most effective interview questions. We asked them to explain why they ask that question and what it reveals to them about the candidate.

Suffice it to say, their responses provide some food for thought on a very important part of business.

 

 

Sara Rose Stack

Sara Rose Stack

Sara Rose Stack, Marketing & Recruiting Manager, Meyers Brothers Kalicka

The question: “Tell me something that you would do differently than your current boss at your current job.”

I ask this question to learn more about candidate’s awareness of people around them, their creative problem-solving skills, their desire to improve and grow, and their level of tact. A candidate’s answer to this question will reveal a lot about his/her ability to solve problems, but what I am most interested in is how they communicate their proposed solution. The question itself has a somewhat negative connotation because it is asking for the candidate to share something that their boss could do better or differently. My experience has shown that, if someone will bash a supervisor or competitor to you, then they will repeat the behavior to others. Further, anyone that can share suggestions for improvement in a positive way is a great addition to the team. Tact and diplomacy are powerful tools for making improvements, contributing ideas, and working in a team.

 

Sandra Doran

Sandra Doran

Sandra Doran, President, Bay Path University

The question: A two-parter: “How will this position help you grow your career?” “Tell me about an experience or work project where you had to work across departments to accomplish the goal(s).”

 

In the first part of the question, I am looking for authenticity of the candidate and the ability to be introspective and share their current strengths as well as their vulnerabilities. As their experience grows, their value as contributors to Bay Path will also increase. The second question provides insights to their capacity to be a team player and team leader within our organization. Today, 40% of Bay Path students are students of color, and we are striving to increase the diversity of our employees. As a result, as the candidate explains the project, I am looking for how they respect and handle other opinions and perspectives, value diversity of thought, and exhibit multi-cultural competencies. Above all, the candidate must be both mission- and student-centered.

 

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk

Brenda Olesuk, President, Graduate Pest Solutions Inc.

The question: “What do you consider to be your professional and personal strengths, and, conversely, what areas do you struggle with or are not interested in doing professionally?”

 

This is a mainstay question in all of my interviews since it encourages the applicant to be introspective and reflective about themselves — and this tells me a lot about them. Learning what they consider to be their professional strengths and how they’ve applied those strengths often creates context for what they can and will bring to the table in the position they are applying for. Perhaps more important to me is the level of candor with which they communicate areas of struggle or lack of interest and how they have managed this in their career. This question often leads to an additional discussion that unveils the applicant’s openness to coaching and development, which is a trait that is important to me as a leader, manager, and employer.

 

 

Ellen Freyman

Ellen Freyman

Ellen Freyman, Esq., Partner, Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C.

The question: “What would make you satisfied in this job?”

 

This question lets the applicant know that we care whether our employees are happy working for us, and at the same time, it helps us determine if this applicant will be a good fit. It is also another way of finding out the applicant’s strengths without asking directly, and discloses what part of the job they may not care to do. The answer to this question can reveal why the applicant hasn’t stayed in previous jobs and potentially lead us to rethink some of the things we are doing in our office. The question helps us determine if the applicant understands the position they have applied for and if they have the right skill set. Getting an honest answer to this question helps both the applicant and us know whether hiring this person will be satisfying to both of us.

 

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi, President, TommyCar Auto Group

The question: “How do you delegate responsibilities to team members?”

 

I ask this question to potential hiring candidates because most managers fail at delegation. As a good leader, it is their responsibility to be clear about what they are delegating and their expectations. In our company, it is our manager’s responsibility to offer their team the tools they need to succeed by encouraging and supporting the decision-making environment. The effective delegation and empowerment of their employees is essential for their success as a manager. By asking this question, I am able to learn if a potential candidate is able to release control and effectively delegate, empower, and hold accountable their future team members.

 

Pia Kumar

Pia Kumar

Pia Kumar, Chief Strategy Officer, Universal Plastics

The question: “Why did you leave your last job?” Or, if they are still employed, “Why are you looking to leave this job?”

 

As an employer, I value continuity and longevity in job history. However, the résumé is just a piece of paper. The interview is the opportunity to either rise above what the piece of paper says or minimize it. How someone discusses a job change tells me whether they are a team player, whether they are growth-mindset-oriented, and what kinds of cultures, people, and attributes they either enjoy or don’t. In short, it is the ‘heart’ (as opposed to the ‘head’) part of the interview, which answers the most important question of all for me — do I want this person on my team?

It is never easy to leave a job, whether you do it on your own terms or have been asked to do so. So, how you answer this question brings up your response to a difficult situation, which may even involve conflict or confrontation. As an employer, I want to know how you handle difficult situations. At Universal Plastics, we believe in giving people chances, lots of them, but it has to start from a place of candor and commitment to our culture and the values we espouse, and this question aims to ascertain exactly that.

 

Michael Matty

Michael Matty

Michael Matty, President, St. Germain Investments

The question: “What did your parents do?”

 

I like to ask this because we are all a product of our background, and it is a great opportunity to gain some insight into the person. If, for example, the parents ran their own business, the candidate probably has a good understanding of the needs of a small business and what it takes to make it work. It is also a good opportunity to ask why the candidate doesn’t want to work there. Conversely, the mom may have been stay-at-home, and dad worked in a factory job in a blue-collar role. The candidate may be first-generation college and first-generation in a professional role — sometimes a bit less polished in presentation, but likely with good reason. And if they are smart, energetic, and willing to learn, I’d potentially think they were a good hire. Overall, it’s a good, open-ended question that can lead to some good conversation.

 

Jane Albert

Jane Albert

Jane Albert, Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer, Baystate Health

The question: “What impact has the pandemic had on you?

 

This is a newer question I ask because it opens the door to conversation about a current topic of significance with many pathways to get to know the candidate. Asking a broad, open-ended question provides the candidate with a choice to respond with an orientation toward their personal life or their work experiences. like to provide that option to make it most comfortable for the candidate during the interview. This question enables conversation about how they handled changes and challenges related to the pandemic and offers glimpses into how they may handle and adjust to changes within our healthcare environment and their potential new work responsibilities. It also opens the door to learning about the candidate’s priorities, relationships, engagements, and abilities to adapt to change, along with how they handled this in their daily life as well as throughout their work experiences.

 

 

Kate Campiti

Kate Campiti

Kate Campiti, Associate Publisher and Sales Manager, BusinessWest

The question: “Have you had experience in the service industry?”

 

When I interview for sales, I look for — and ask about — experience in the service industry. If the candidate has it, I ask how they’ve handled a tough customer or table and how they turned it around or were able to shake it off to continue successfully serving the rest of the shift. If candidates can wait tables or bartend successfully, it shows they have what it takes to think on their feet, appeal to customers, and provide high-level service to earn tips. It also shows they are driven by both money and customer service, which bodes well for a sales position with BusinessWest. For other positions, I typically ask what motivates them, what they do to unwind, if they have tactics for stress relief inside and outside the office, and what they think their best assets and weaknesses are and what they think their current or previous employers would say.

Business of Aging Special Coverage

House Calls

While the pandemic may have challenged the home-care industry, it certainly didn’t suppress the need for such services. In fact, demographic trends in the U.S. — where about 10,000 Baby Boomers reach age 65 every day — speak to continued, and growing, demand for care services delivered in the home. That means opportunities both for agencies who specialize in this field and job seekers looking for a rewarding role and steady work.

Michele Anstett says business was like “falling off a cliff” when COVID hit, but client volume has returned to normal.

Michele Anstett says business was like “falling off a cliff” when COVID hit, but client volume has returned to normal.

By Mark Morris

In early 2020, Michele Anstett, president and owner of Visiting Angels in West Springfield, was pleased because her business was doing well. As a provider of senior home care, she managed 80 caregivers for 50 clients.

“We were going along just fine,” she said. “And when COVID hit, it was like falling off a cliff.”

The business model for companies like Visiting Angels involves interacting with people in their homes, so when early mandates encouraged people to keep away from anyone outside their immediate ‘bubble,’ it hit the industry hard.

Even though caregivers were designated as essential workers, Anstett saw her numbers shrink to 39 caregivers who were now responsible for only 19 clients. In order for her business to survive, she continued to provide services for her clients who needed personal-care services around the clock and for those who had no family members in the area.

“Where possible, we asked family members to step in to help out,” she told BusinessWest. “At the beginning of the pandemic, there was less risk to everyone when a family member could be involved with their loved one’s care.”

Anstett also incorporated a detailed checklist of risk factors for each caregiver to review to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to them or their clients.

“I thought patients weren’t following up because of a language barrier. As it turns out, they weren’t responding because they didn’t understand the severity of the situation.”

“We talked with caregivers about the people in their circle,” Anstett said. “It was similar to contact tracing, but we did it beforehand, so people would understand what they had to consider to protect themselves, their families, and their clients.”

A Better Life Homecare in Springfield runs two home-care programs. In one, it provides personal-care services such as helping seniors with grooming, cooking, laundry, and more. The other program provides low-income patients with medical care in the home, such as skilled nursing services, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

On the medical side of the business, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) handle many of the home visits, while certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and patient care assistants (PCAs) are the main frontline workers on the personal-care side. A Better Life also employs case workers to supervise PCAs and CNAs and to set up other resources a patient may need, such as Meals on Wheels and support groups.

When COVID hit, said Claudia Lora, community outreach director for A Better Life, she and her staff made patient communication a top priority.

Claudia Lora

Claudia Lora says communication with clients was key to navigating the pandemic.

“We implemented daily phone calls to our patients that also served as wellness check-ins,” she recalled. Because a majority of the company’s clients are Spanish speakers, A Better Life employs many bilingual staff. At the beginning of their outreach efforts, Lora became concerned when some patients didn’t seem to follow up and respond to communications.

“I thought patients weren’t following up because of a language barrier,” she said. “As it turns out, they weren’t responding because they didn’t understand the severity of the situation.”

On the other hand, she said some patients temporarily stopped their home-care service out of concern about interacting with anyone in person. The system of daily phone calls helped address patient concerns and keep them current on their treatments. In addition, patients received whimsical postcards to lift their spirits and care packages of hygiene products and food staples.

“The pandemic opened our eyes in different ways,” Lora said. “It made us aware that we needed a system of daily phone calls in both programs, which we will continue even after the pandemic is no longer a concern.”

 

Growing Need

The lessons home-care agencies learned from the pandemic — some of which, as noted, will lead to changes in how care is provided — come at a time when the need for home-based services is only increasing.

That growing need is due in part to people living longer, of course. According to government data, once a couple with average health reaches age 65, there is a 50% chance one of them will live to age 93, and a 25% chance one of them will see age 97. With the increased longevity, there is also a greater chance these seniors will need some type of assistance with daily chores or treating a malady.

Receiving care at home, with an average cost nationally of $3,800 per month, is less expensive than moving into a nursing home (approximately $7,000 per month), and nearly everyone would rather stay in their home. When seniors need assistance, Anstett said, they often rely on family members out of fear of having an outside person come into their home.

Now that concerns about COVID are easing, she reports that people are increasingly more willing to have someone come in to their home to help, but there are still some who resist. “I wish they could understand we are not there to take away their independence, but to give them more independence.”

Lora said some of her patients were reluctant to allow people to come into their homes until they considered the alternatives.

“The only other option for people receiving medical care would have been checking into a skilled-nursing facility or a nursing home,” she noted. “I knew that was the last place they wanted to go.”

She added that the extensive news coverage of high rates of COVID in nursing homes and the high case rate locally at the Holyoke Soldiers Home convinced most people that care at home was a wise choice.

Anstett and Lora both pointed out that their companies always make sure anyone providing home care wears appropriate personal protective equipment and follows the latest guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID. Anstett said she encourages her caregivers to get vaccinated, but doesn’t force the issue because she recognizes some people have health issues.

“However,” she added, “I make it clear to the unvaccinated folks that the pool of clients willing to see a caregiver who is not vaccinated is fairly small.”

While the pandemic may have slowed down business in the short term, demographic trends still remain strong for the years ahead. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 10,000 people reach age 65 every day. This trend is expected to continue until 2030, when all living Baby Boomers will be at least 65 years old.

 

Looking Ahead

Fifteen months after the chaotic early days of the pandemic and with many people now vaccinated, Lora said A Better Life is busier today than before the pandemic.

“In the last six months, admissions have increased by around 50%,” she noted. “That’s more than I have seen in the past three years; it’s been insane.”

She added that her company is now short-staffed because of the rapid growth it is seeing and has been offering incentives to try to bring more CNAs and PCAs on board.

Anstett said her client numbers and caregiver numbers are back to where they were before the pandemic and noted that she has not had any problem filling open positions.

“I just cut 80 paychecks, and we are anticipating even more growth,” she said, adding that her secret to hiring is treating caregivers with respect and encouraging them to grow in their careers. “I stay in touch with every one of our caregivers. They’re the reason I’m working, so I treat them with the utmost respect.”

While many professions look to push out older workers, Anstett said she appreciates more seasoned workers and looks forward to hiring them. “Caregiving is an opportunity to keep working for those who want to, and we welcome their experience.”

Pointing out that she hired another case manager last week, Lora added that, while her organization is expanding, it has not forgotten its mission.

“Even with our growth,” she said, “we see our patients as part of a family and a community, not just a number.”

Picture This

Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]

 


 

Grand Opening

On June 23, Bacon Wilson welcomed clients, neighbors, and friends to a grand-opening reception at its new facility at 99 Springfield Road in Westfield. The event, which included a ribbon-cutting ceremony officiated by Westfield Mayor Donald Humason, was the firm’s first opportunity for in-person festivities since the pandemic began. Pictured, from left: Attorney Chip Smith, Attorney Daniel McKellick, Managing Partner Kenneth Albano, and Attorney Jonathan Breton.

 


White Lion Roars

White Lion Brewing celebrated the grand opening of its Tower Square facility on June 26. Here, White Lion founder Ray Berry (left) joins several staff members behind the counter during the event.

 


 

Caring for the Community

UMassFive College Federal Credit Union collected 350 pounds of personal-care items during the month of May and donated them to the pantries of Amherst Survival Center and Northampton Survival Center. Donations were collected at the credit union’s Hadley and Northampton branch locations. Pictured: Sez Morales (left), Amherst Survival Center pantry coordinator, and Cait Murray, UMassFive Community Outreach manager, with some of the donations.

 

Agenda

Golf Tournament to Benefit Surrendered Farm Animals

July 17: The Whip City Animal Sanctuary will be hosting its inaugural golf tournament on Saturday, July 17 at East Mountain Country Club in Westfield. Whip City Animal Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides a stable, forever home for rescued and surrendered farm animals, many of whom have been neglected or abused. The tournament will begin with a shotgun start at 1 p.m. Play is a four-person, best-ball scramble. The entry fee is $100 per person and includes cart, green fees, and dinner following the tournament at 5:30 p.m. There will be prizes for closest to the hole and closest to the line, along with a raffle. Various levels of corporate sponsorship are still available for those who would like to contribute. For more information about player registration and sponsorship opportunities, contact Sonia Henderson at (413) 627-6192 or [email protected].

 

Amtrak Valley Flyer

Starting July 26: Amtrak and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will restart the Valley Flyer round-trip train service between Greenfield and New Haven, Conn., which suspended three trains on March 30, 2020 due to fewer travelers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2019, Amtrak and MassDOT launched a new, state-supported passenger train called the Valley Flyer, which travels between Greenfield and New Haven with intermediate station stops. In New Haven, the train connects with Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service and Metro-North’s New Haven Line service. Valley Flyer station stops Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield, Mass.; and Windsor Locks, Windsor, Hartford, Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford, and New Haven, Conn.

 

RVCC Golf Tournament

Sept. 10: River Valley Counseling Center (RVCC), a multi-faceted mental-health agency, will hold its sixth annual golf tournament fundraiser at East Mountain Country Club in Westfield. The event is presented by Action Ambulance Service Inc. Funds raised will support the programs RVCC provides to children and teens in the community, in schools, and through local partnerships. The cost per golfer is $100 and includes greens fees, a golf cart, a gift bag, lunch, and dinner. Golfers will also be able to participate in course contests and a raffle. Registration will begin at 9 a.m. with a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. Sponsorship opportunities are available. Visit rvccinc.org/golf for more information and to register or sponsor online.

 

Free Concerts at the Big E

Sept. 17 to Oct. 3: The lineup for the Big E’s Court of Honor Stage has been announced. The tented venue, located in front of the iconic Coliseum at the heart of the fairgrounds, hosts more than 85 shows over the 17-day run of the Big E. All events on the Court of Honor Stage are free with admission to the fair. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Concerts include Modern English (Sept. 17-19, 3 p.m.), Jesse McCartney (Sept. 17, 8 p.m.), Tom Franek (Sept. 17-26, 11 a.m, 1 and 6 p.m.), Foghat (Sept. 19, 8 p.m.), Rainere Martin in the Donna Summer Experience (Sept. 20-21, 3 p.m.), the Yardbirds (Sept. 20-21, 8 p.m.), Exile (Sept. 22-23, 3 p.m.), Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Sept. 22, 8 p.m.), 10,000 Maniacs (Sept. 23, 8 p.m.), the Bar-Kays: Soul 2 Soul Revue (Sept. 24-26, 3 p.m.), Ying Yang Twins (Sept. 25, 8 p.m.), Don McLean (Sept. 26, 8 p.m.), the Outlaws (Sept. 27-28, 8 p.m.), the Everly Set (Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, 11 a.m., 1 and 6 p.m.), Big Brother and the Holding Company (Sept. 29-30, 3 p.m.), Lisa Lisa (Sept. 29, 8 p.m.), Tribute to the King featuring Taylor Rodriguez (Oct. 1-3, 3 p.m.), Hoobastank (Oct. 2, 8 p.m.), and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC (Oct. 3, 8 p.m.). Look for more concert announcements at thebige.com.

 

40 Under Forty Gala

Sept. 23: BusinessWest’s 15th annual 40 Under Forty gala will take place at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The class of 2021 was introduced to the region in the magazine’s May 12 issue, and the profiles may be read online at businesswest.com. Tickets cost $80 per person. This is expected to be a sellout event, and tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, or e-mail [email protected].

Picture This

Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]


Open to Making Connections

On June 9, Berkshire Bank hosted a ribbon cutting for its Reevx Labs at 270-272 Bridge St. in Springfield. Reevx Labs are collaboration spaces for the community where entrepreneurs and nonprofits can connect with peers and resources to achieve their missions. Pictured, from left: Lori Gazzillo Kiely, Berkshire Bank Foundation director and the bank’s Berkshire County regional president; Ronald Molina-Brantley, vice president, relationship manager, and team leader at Berkshire Bank; Sean Gray, the bank’s president and chief operating officer; Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno; state Sen. Adam Gomez; and Jim Hickson, managing director, middle market, and regional president of the bank’s Pioneer Valley and Connecticut region.

 


Spring Cleanup

On June 11, a team of volunteers from MassMutual participated in a spring cleanup of the Square One site at the Christian Life Center on Sumner Avenue in Springfield. They prepared garden beds, built shade tents, raked, organized, and more. It was the first time this team has been together in person since the beginning of the pandemic.


Remembering a Legend

While many are mourning the loss of legendary restaurateur Andy Yee, the Student Prince & the Fort celebrated his life with a 60th birthday bash on June 11. The event kicked off with a proclamation by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, a welcome by Yee’s restaurant partner and friend Peter Picknelly, and a word from Rudi Scherff, longtime former owner of the Fort. The menu included Yee’s favorite dishes from the Fort kitchen, while the Fort bar served his favorite drink menu, and, because Yee loved music, guests enjoyed a lineup of live music with no cover charge.

 


Fresh Paint Springfield

The Fresh Paint Springfield mural festival recently transformed 10 large exterior walls into art in Mason Square and downtown. The locations and lead muralists include: top to bottom (below): 232 Worthington St., above the existing BLM mural, by Jeff Henriquez; 1106 State St., by Ryan Murray; Springfield City Library, Mason Square branch, 765 State St., by Betsy Casanas; and the corner of Dwight Street and Harrison Avenue, by Eric Okdeh; next page, clockwise from top left: 827 State St., by WMass Portrait Artists; Mosque 13, 727 State St., by Kay Douglas; 595 Main St., by Wane One; La Fiorentina, 883 Main St., by ARCY; Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, 3 Rutland St., by Nero and SoulsNYC; and the Worthington Street side of the Taylor Street Parking Garage, by Stash. About 1,000 community members pitched in to create the murals, while the Community Mural Apprentice program paired 10 local artists with established muralists to learn how to engage with the community in designing and painting large, professional murals.

Agenda

Healthcare Heroes Nominations

Through June 24: In the spring of 2017, the Healthcare News and its sister publication, BusinessWest, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes. It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. Nominations will be accepted in seven different categories: Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider, Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration, Emerging Leader, Community Health, Innovation in Health/Wellness, Collaboration in Health/Wellness, and Lifetime Achievement. The Healthcare Heroes event is presented by Elms College. Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations. For more information, call (413) 781-8600.

 

Blue Sox Youth Baseball Clinics

June 28 to July 1; July 5-8; July 12-15: The Valley Blue Sox of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, in coordination with presenting sponsor Holyoke Medical Group, announced three youth baseball clinic dates. At these clinics, to be held in three different locations around Western Mass., participants will hone their hitting, pitching, and fielding skills with instruction from Blue Sox players and coaches. The dates and locations are as follows: June 28 to July 1, 9 a.m. to noon, Hadley Elementary School fields (rain date July 2); July 5-8, 9 a.m. to noon, Mackenzie Stadium, Holyoke (rain date July 9); and July 12-15, 9 a.m. to noon, Spec Pond Recreation Area, Wilbraham (rain date July 16). The registration cost for each clinic is $120. The clinics are open to children ages 6-13. Every child who participates in the youth clinic will receive two tickets to the Blue Sox Clinic Night on Wednesday, July 21. This night is a way to commemorate the work put in during the clinics, and every child will have the opportunity to take the field with the Blue Sox during the pregame ceremonies. To register for these youth clinics, click www.bluesoxcamps.com for the Hadley or Holyoke clinic, or www.wilbrahamrec.com for the Wilbraham clinic. For more information, visit www.valleybluesox.com and select ‘Youth Clinics’ from the drop-down menu.

 

Golf Tournament to Benefit Surrendered Farm Animals

July 17: The Whip City Animal Sanctuary will be hosting its inaugural golf tournament on Saturday, July 17 at East Mountain Country Club in Westfield. Whip City Animal Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides a stable, forever home for rescued and surrendered farm animals, many of whom have been neglected or abused. The tournament will begin with a shotgun start at 1 p.m. Play is a four-person, best-ball scramble. The entry fee is $100 per person and includes cart, green fees, and dinner following the tournament at 5:30 p.m. There will be prizes for closest to the hole and closest to the line, along with a raffle. Various levels of corporate sponsorship are still available for those who would like to contribute. For more information about player registration and sponsorship opportunities, contact Sonia Henderson at (413) 627-6192 or [email protected].

 

RVCC Golf Tournament

Sept. 10: River Valley Counseling Center (RVCC), a multi-faceted mental-health agency, will hold its sixth annual golf tournament fundraiser at East Mountain Country Club in Westfield. The event is presented by Action Ambulance Service Inc. Funds raised will support the programs RVCC provides to children and teens in the community, in schools, and through local partnerships. The cost per golfer is $100 and includes greens fees, a golf cart, a gift bag, lunch, and dinner. Golfers will also be able to participate in course contests and a raffle. Registration will begin at 9 a.m. with a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. Sponsorship opportunities are available. Visit rvccinc.org/golf for more information and to register or sponsor online.

 

40 Under Forty Gala

Sept. 23: BusinessWest’s 15th annual 40 Under Forty gala will take place at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The class of 2021 was introduced to the region in the magazine’s May 12 issue, and the profiles may be read online at businesswest.com. Tickets cost $80 per person. This is expected to be a sellout event, and tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, or e-mail [email protected].

 

Incorporations

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

AGAWAM

Husar Arms, Inc., 104 Ramah Circle South, Agawam, MA 01001. David N. Moore, 257 Mountain Road, Hampden, MA 01036. Manufacturing.

AMHERST

New Hadley Cleaners Inc., 358 College St., Amherst, MA 01002. Hak Yong Jang, 12 Riviera Dr. Amherst, MA 01001. Dry Cleaners.

BELCHERTOWN

Hum Inc., 545 State St. Belchertown, MA 01007. Tahira Khatoon, same. Convenience Store.

CHICOPEE

Gutter Cleaning USA Inc., 543 Springfield St., Chicopee, MA 01013. Alex John Korotich, same. Gutter Cleaning, Repair, Installation.

Trafa Trade Inc., 140 Padgette St., Unit D, Chicopee, MA 01022. Shahid Habib, 19 Spring Meadows South Hadley, MA 01075. Investments.

EASTHAMPTON

S&W Excavation Inc., 56 Adams St., Easthampton, MA 01027. Symon Dastoli, same. Excavation and Site Work Services.

HOLYOKE

Cajun Ladies Inc., 5 Columbia St., Holyoke, MA 01040. Araceli Lopez-Rivera, same. Restaurant serving Creole and Cajun food.

PITTSFIELD

About Fate, Inc., 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 100, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Sergei Bespalov, 221 River St. 9th Fl., Hoboken, N.J. 07030. Film production.

Beastfair Inc., 41 Noblehurst Ave., Pittsfield, MA 01201. John Garcia, same. E-commerce.

SPRINGFIELD

Arham Inc., 305 Walnut St., Springfield, MA 01109. Muhammed Rafiq, 311 E. Middle TPKE, Manchester, CT 06040. Fast food restaurant.

WESTFIELD

Shiva Laxmi Inc., 54 Pleasant St., Westfield, MA 01085. Umeshkumar Patel, same. Liquor Store.

Company Notebook

Wahlburgers Opens at MGM Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — Wahlburgers announced that its restaurant at MGM Springfield is now open to the public and ready to serve guests. The Wahlburgers MGM Springfield team is looking forward to becoming a part of the community and providing guests with an exciting dine-in experience as well as offering takeout. The popular casual dining concept founded by brothers Mark, Donnie, and Executive Chef Paul Wahlberg, and the subject of A&E Network’s Emmy-nominated reality show for 10 seasons, will feature a chef-inspired menu that brings guests its signature lineup of burgers along with entrée salads, sandwiches, and more. The restaurant’s full bar will offer a large selection of craft cocktails, wines, and local beers. Wahlburgers Springfield MGM is located at 1028 Main St., at the corner of Main and Union streets in downtown Springfield. The 4,900-square-foot restaurant will be open daily for lunch and dinner. In honor of the late family matriarch, Alma Wahlberg, the chain’s Springfield location includes a special ‘Alma’s table.’ This design element is adorned with photos from her childhood through her adult life, along with snapshots of her family members. Those who join the WahlClub rewards program by downloading the Wahlburgers app will have access to exclusive promotions, earn points for every dollar spent, and redeem rewards for free food and merchandise. Online ordering and delivery are also available via the Wahlburgers app.

 

One-day HCC Campaign Raises $122K for Student-support Programs

HOLYOKE — Led by auto dealer Gary Rome, trustees, alumni, and friends, Holyoke Community College raised $122,000 for student-support programs last month during its one-day “Together HCC: Drive to Change Lives” campaign. Organizers had set a goal of 150 donors for the 24-hour fund drive on April 27. The final tally was 295. Rome, an HCC Foundation board member, had issued a donation challenge of $10,000 if the campaign met its goals of securing 150 new donors and 1,000 social-media posts using the hashtag #TogetherHCC. He presented a check to HCC officials at his Holyoke dealership on May 4. In addition to Rome, Peg Wendlandt and Gary Wendlandt, Jim Izatt, Dylan Pilon, trustees Robert Gilbert and Charlie Epstein, HCC Foundation board member Mike Roundy, and the HCC Alumni Council all posed match and challenge gifts for the campaign. Alumnus Myke Connolly, owner of Stand Out Truck, donated the use of his mobile billboard. In addition to his #TogetherHCC donation, Connolly created the Stand Out Truck Celeste Berger Annual Scholarship at HCC to be awarded this spring to a current HCC student of marketing, business, or entrepreneurship.

 

Monson Savings Bank Supports Shriners Mini Golf Tournament

MONSON — As part of its efforts to support the health, happiness, and overall well-being of local children, Monson Savings Bank has embraced Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield as a continued community partner, with MSB making its second donation to the children’s hospital this year. Monson Savings Bank President and CEO Dan Moriarty met with Stacey Perlmutter, director of Development for the hospital, and special guest Fezzy Bear, the Springfield Shriners’ adored ambassador, to present the bank’s $1,500 donation to the Shriners’ Putting for a Purpose Mini Golf Tournament. Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield is a pediatric hospital that specializes in treating orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal-cord injuries, urology, cleft lip, and cleft palate. The children’s hospital offers both inpatient and outpatient levels of care, with services including rehabilitation, fracture care, and sports health and medicine. Shriners provides treatment to children regardless of families’ financial capabilities and relies on donations from events, like its fund-raising Putting for a Purpose Mini Golf Tournament, to provide expert care to children. This year’s event is set to take place Sept. 9-11 at Stony Falls Miniature Golf at McCray’s Farm in South Hadley.

 

Healthtrax Physical Therapy Opens in West Springfield

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Healthtrax Physical Therapy recently opened its third clinic combining restorative clinical treatments inside Healthtrax Fitness, 155 Ashley Ave., West Springfield. Treatments are provided by physical therapist Brian Ferreira. Working as a physical therapist since 2006, he is a certified in manual therapy and earned his master’s degree in physical therapy at the University of Hartford. He is experienced in advanced manual-therapy skills and outpatient orthopedics. Services not only target the current issues (pain, weakness, etc.), but address underlying movement impairments, and treating these biomechanical dysfunctions results in better, more sustainable outcomes for each patient based on medical history, co-morbidities, and goals of therapy, Ferreira noted. The scope of diagnoses the center can treat includes low back and neck pain, rotator-cuff tendinitis, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow, knee and hip pain, plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, spinal stenosis, hand and thumb pain, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc and joint disease of the spine, nerve pain and sciatica, poor balance and unsteady gait, and general deconditioning due to disease or illness. Open to the public and Healthtrax Fitness members, Healthtrax Physical Therapy treats patients of all ages and abilities, including adult and youth athletes, pre- and post-operative patients, workers’ comp injury patients, motor-vehicle accident patients, children with orthopedic conditions, and those needing work conditioning or hardening.

 

BFAIR Partners with Boston College School of Social Work on Project

NORTH ADAMS — BFAIR partnered with the Boston College School of Social Work on a project with graduate students this spring as part of its “Creating and Sustaining Social Enterprises” course. This course focuses on important concepts and stages in considering revenue-producing programs in a nonprofit setting to add financial stability. Students are involved in basic data gathering and analysis and organize their conclusions in a business plan for the enterprise effort. As such, they conducted a brief survey to provide BFAIR with information regarding its service that provides employment for people with disabilities and is beneficial to the environment. BFAIR’s Bottle and Can Redemption Center, located in North Adams, helps the community by providing residents with a way to exchange redeemable bottles and cans for cash while remaining true to its mission. The culmination of the course resulted in an expansion of BFAIR’s Bottle and Can Redemption Center in the form of a pop-up service working with the North Adams Housing Authority, Berkshire Housing, and the city of North Adams. The pop-up service will give these locations the opportunity to redeem or donate their bottles during certain timeframes during the week at six different locations in North County starting in June.

 

Bradley International Airport Adds New Non-stop Destinations

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) announced that Bradley International Airport is one of the launch airports for Breeze Airways. The newly founded carrier announced its official, national debut with the rollout of a route network across the U.S. At Bradley, it will launch four new non-stop destinations this summer, including Charleston, S.C. (currently operating), and Columbus, Ohio; Norfolk, Va.; and Pittsburgh (all beginning July 22). The new non-stops will operate on a single-class Embraer aircraft, with a two-by-two seat configuration. Breeze Airways offers booking flexibility that includes no change or cancellation fees for flights changed or canceled up to 15 minutes before scheduled departure. The CAA also announced that Bradley has launched new non-stop service to Minneapolis with Sun Country Airlines. The service to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport operates twice a week. In September, Sun Country Airlines will also be launching new non-stop service from Bradley International Airport to Orlando, Fla.

 

Carr Hardware TV Spots Win Gold Telly Award

PITTSFIELD — Carr Hardware announced that its “Dewitts” advertising campaign, created by Clayson Creative, has won a Gold Telly Award for 2021 in the business-to-consumer category. In the ads, the Dewitts are the world’s worst do-it-yourselfers and are in constant need of help from the experts at Carr Hardware. See their latest videos at shop.carrhardware.com/the-dewitts. The Telly Awards, the world’s largest honor for video and television content across all screens, has announced this year’s winners, including Jennifer Garner’s “Pretend Cooking Show” series, RadicalMedia’s “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” documentary series, Partizan’s “Fantastic Voyage” campaign, and the Clayson Creative/Carr Hardware “Dewitts” campaign. Founded in 1979, the Telly Awards are judged by the Telly Award Judging Council, a group of leading video and television experts from some of the most prestigious companies in entertainment, publishing, advertising, and emerging technology, such as WarnerMedia, NBC News, Framestore NY, and Vimeo, to name a few. Carr Hardware plans to bring more Dewitts videos to its customers in the upcoming year.

 

SSO Musicians Say Leaders Show Lack of Commitment to Future

SPRINGFIELD — In a recent letter to supporters and the media, a group representing Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) musicians leveled a number of complaints at SSO leadership, claiming that the lack of a 2021-22 concert schedule, failure to replace departed Executive Director Susan Beaudry or renew the contract of Music Director Kevin Rhodes, and a dispute over the musicians’ collective bargaining agreement have put the future of the organization in doubt. Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO) alleges that the SSO board of directors’ executive management committee has effectively shut down the organization. MOSSO noted that the SSO board has essentially eliminated artistic leadership by minimizing Rhodes’ role and putting off renewing his contract, which expired on May 31, and has launched no national search for Beaudry’s successor. For the time being, Development Director John Anz is serving as interim executive director. According to MOSSO, the SSO board’s solution to current financial challenges has been to eliminate staff positions and drastically reduce the number of performances and players performing. MOSSO maintains that the board’s own endowment and fundraising reports show that SSO finances are improving and that, instead of cutting performances, the SSO should continue growing its successful development program, start applying for grant funding (as have similar performing organizations), and turn over management of the SSO to an executive director with a proven track record of success. The SSO board claims that the 2021-22 season cannot be planned in the absence of a successor to the 2017-20 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), but MOSSO notes that federal law requires that the terms of an expired CBA remain in effect until a new agreement is reached.

 

River Valley Counseling Center Wins $50,000 Technology Makeover

HOLYOKE — River Valley Counseling Center (RVCC) announced it has been awarded a $50,000 technology makeover from Insight Enterprises and Intel. RVCC is one of three winners in the Connected Workplace Makeover Contest, which was created to help businesses address the effects of aging technology. As a winner, RVCC will receive IT consultation from Insight and $50,000 worth of new 11th Gen Intel Core Processor devices, including Intel vPro Platform PCs built for business. The contest targeted small and mid-sized companies of fewer than 1,000 employees that have been particularly strapped for resources or may be struggling to adapt IT systems and processes to the shifting marketplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The contest focused on three areas of critical IT needs: productivity; updating tools, particularly for remote work; security; and total cost of ownership. More than 1,200 U.S. organizations submitted contest entries sharing why they needed a workplace makeover. RVCC was named the winner in the productivity category. Intel Evo vPro PCs will allow RVCC to service clients in a timelier manner, roll out better telehealth options, stay secure, and be HIPAA-compliant. Over the next month, Insight and Intel will be conducting on-site consultations with RVCC to help the team identify the best technology upgrades for their clinic located at 303 Beech St. in Holyoke. It is expected that productivity based at this location could improve by up to 25% by replacing poorly running computers, including some still running on Windows Vista.

 

Holyoke Medical Center Opens Two New Behavioral-health Units

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Medical Center opened and began providing care in two new behavioral-health units on June 1. The new units are located in the main hospital at 575 Beech St., Holyoke, and consist of one 16-bed adult behavioral-health unit and one 18-bed geriatric behavioral-health unit. These units are in addition to the 20-bed adult behavioral-health unit that has been serving the community since 1989. “Holyoke Medical Center has always been committed to providing the care and services that meet the needs of our community. As an independent community hospital, we are also able to adapt quickly as those needs change,” said Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems. “The construction for these two units started in January of this year, when the veterans staying with us since April 2020 were able to return to the Soldiers’ Home. In less than five months, our team was able to transform and build two state-of-the-art units, designed specifically to support the needs of the growing number of behavioral-health patients throughout our region.”

Cover Story

The Rising Cost of … Everything

To understand what’s happening in today’s global economy, one UMass economist said it’s helpful to picture it as a grid filled with connected nodes. When one of those nodes — manufacturing, distribution, shipping, you name it — is disrupted, the impact is felt by everyone. These days, those disruptions are occurring across the supply chain, and for many different reasons, causing costs to soar — both for businesses and their customers. It’s a major concern with no simple solution, and some worry that rising prices may derail what is otherwise looking like an economy in recovery.

When people sit down at a restaurant, Bryan Graham says, they don’t usually consider how their favorite meals and ingredients get there. They just expect them to be there.

It’s not always a smooth process, and the last couple months, especially, have been a challenge.

“There have been shortages on everything — things you wouldn’t think about, everything from the beverage side to the food side,” said Graham, regional manager for the Bean Restaurant Group, which boasts a family of 11 eateries throughout the region, from Johnny’s Tavern in Amherst to the Boathouse in South Hadley to the Student Prince in Springfield.

And those shortages have a financial impact, he went on. “Increases in prices have gone through the roof — to the point where we’ve moved some things off the menu because we can’t keep up with the prices; we’re losing money.”

The company has taken to switching menu items or brands of ingredients to keep up with price fluctuations, Graham added. “We’d always purchase one brand of canned tomatoes or one brand of ketchup, but we’re seeing brands being short, so we have to switch brands to get by without running out of product day to day.”

It makes for an odd market, he said. “You place your order, and you don’t really know if it’s all coming in until you open the truck and you’re short one or two items.”

It’s not something customers typically notice — until their favorite appetizer is suddenly unavailable. “Ninety percent of our customers are really understanding. The other 10% are like, ‘what do you mean I can’t have this?’ Unfortunately, we don’t want to charge you $40 for 10 chicken wings. Most people are pretty good about it.”

Bryan Graham says high food prices have forced the occasional menu change

Bryan Graham says high food prices have forced the occasional menu change because the Bean Restaurant Group doesn’t want to pass exorbitant costs to customers.

Nationally, food prices rose 0.4% in April, both at restaurants and on grocery shelves. Prices are up 2.4% from May 2020.

But it’s not just food. Rising prices for … well, almost everything have become one of the leading economic stories of 2021. One reason is a positive of sorts — the economy is reopening at high speed. Unfortunately, in some cases, supply chains have been slow to respond to growing consumer demand.

For example, American steel manufacturers all but shut down production last spring as the pandemic took hold and the economy imploded. But as the recovery ramped up, mills were slow to resume full production, creating a massive steel shortage, one that has severely impacted building costs.

Meanwhile, sawmills also shut down lumber production last spring to brace for a housing slump that never arrived — and now, with the housing market on fire, both in new construction and home improvement, lumber shortages have sent consumer prices soaring. In fact, the median sale price of existing homes nationwide surged by 17.2% in March to a record $329,100.

Anna Nagurney, the Eugene M. Isenberg chair in Integrative Studies at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, said soaring prices in construction are a natural result of home-improvement activity increasing during the pandemic, while home buying never really slowed.

“People haven’t been traveling or anything, so they’ve been improving their homes, building decks, and so on,” she said. “Now we’ve seen the price of lumber has escalated dramatically in the last couple of months.”

The pandemic messed with supply and demand in unexpected ways, but now that the economy is reopening and consumers want to go out and spend (and, in many cases, have been saving those stimulus checks for that purpose), supply has run into a number of roadblocks, from the slow ramp-up of the lumber and steel industries to serious delays in freight shipping (more on that later) to a shortage of workers putting additional strain on businesses.

“People want bigger homes, better homes, they have more money, the federal government has been pretty good to people … there’s just much more demand for products,” Nagurney said.

Anna Nagurney

Anna Nagurney

“People haven’t been traveling or anything, so they’ve been improving their homes, building decks, and so on. Now we’ve seen the price of lumber has escalated dramatically in the last couple of months.”

She noted that the Trump administration was more overt about pursuing trade wars, and while back-and-forth tariffs haven’t been as much of an issue lately, the U.S. is still not on great terms with China, which significantly impacts the cost of steel, aluminum, and rare-earth metals. “The geopolitics is scary.”

Gas prices are on the rise as well, which impacts every sector of the economy, said Peter Picknelly, chairman and CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines.

“Rising fuel has an effect on everyone — people have to ship things, produce things … it’s not just gas, but everything we buy,” he said. “Chicken and beef and produce, they all need machinery to harvest; that’s all fuel. You have to transport it; that’s all fuel. Rising fuel costs are a significant hit to the average consumer.”

 

Easing the Burden

In the case of lumber, the shortage has been exacerbated by existing tariffs. In the spring of 2017, the Trump administration hit Canada with tariffs of up to 24% on lumber. During the final months of his presidency, those tariffs were slashed to 9%, but the National Assoc. of Home Builders is calling on the Biden administration to temporarily remove the 9% tariff on Canadian lumber to help ease price volatility.

Supply-chain issues aren’t helping, from the six-day Suez Canal shutdown in March to clear the container ship Ever Given to the cyberattack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline earlier this month, to a critical shortage of shipping containers worldwide, particularly in Asia. Companies are waiting weeks for containers to become available and paying premium rates to secure them, causing shipping costs to skyrocket.

Peter Picknelly says fuel prices affect more than the transportation sector he works in

Peter Picknelly says fuel prices affect more than the transportation sector he works in, impacting everything from manufactured goods to the processing and delivery of food.

“The containers are not where they’re supposed to be,” Nagurney said. “It’s like a puzzle. We need to move them. That’s one of the reasons we can’t get some of the goods from China, like furniture. The prices of shipping containers have gone up as a result because they’re not where they should be.”

Margeaux MacDonald knows that well. As imports manager for East Coast Tile, which supplies Best Tile in Springfield, she is dealing with significant delays in bringing material in from Europe and Asia.

“There are huge delays right now,” she said. “We could have a booking on an actual boat and might not have a container to put the material in. Or, we’ve been bumped from boats because the vessel is overbooked. It’s frustrating — it’s taking four weeks, depending on where the stuff is. In Portugal, the booking is awful; it’s taking forever to get on the boat.”

The backups are affecting shipping costs — significantly. As one example, she cited a container from Turkey that currently costs four times as much to book as it did only a few months ago. “That’s just to pay for the container to get on the ocean carrier.”

Not all locations have gone up as dramatically, MacDonald added, noting that rates from Italy have more or less doubled — not as bad as the Turkey situation, but not ideal. “And we’re not the only ones seeing delays,” she said, citing a company she works with that’s trying to get a container of material from Brazil to New York, and has been delayed more than a month.

“I’m relatively new in this position, but I’ve definitely picked the brains of veterans across the industry, and a lot of people have said to me, ‘I’ve never seen this — I’ve been in the industry for 25 years, and I’ve never seen the volume and delays coming right now.’”

“I’m relatively new in this position, but I’ve definitely picked the brains of veterans across the industry, and a lot of people have said to me, ‘I’ve never seen this — I’ve been in the industry for 25 years, and I’ve never seen the volume and delays coming right now.’”

The problem doesn’t end when the product is shipped, she added. With huge backups in ports, truckers are sometimes waiting hours to load, and instead of hauling two or three loads a day, they might get only one. And returning empty containers to port has become more difficult as well. All these factors raise prices down the supply line. “There are a lot of moving pieces.”

It’s helpful to think about supply chains holistically to convey what’s going on, Nagurney said, describing the global economy as a grid of connected nodes representing manufacturing sites, warehouses, freight service providers, distribution centers, and demand points. A disruption at any of those nodes reverberates throughout the grid — and the economy has endured many such disruptions over the past year, on both the supply and demand sides.

“We’ve seen all sorts of shocks — supply shocks, different kinds of demand shocks, and, more recently, what’s happening with freight issues, from port congestion to the Ever Given blocking freight in the Suez Canal.

“With lumber, some of it has to do with higher tariffs on Canadian lumber,” she went on. “We don’t have containers in the right places to ship lumber. Freight costs are going up, and there’s all sorts of demand on imports from Europe.”

In short, things are chaotic right now, and that globally connected grid is under plenty of stress.

 

Inflation Spikes

Which brings us back to rising prices on, again, almost everything. U.S. consumer prices in April increased 4.2% from a year earlier, more than the 3.6% economists had predicted, and the largest 12-month increase since September 2008.

The biggest driver of last month’s inflation jump, CNN reported, was a 10% increase in used cars and trucks, which accounted for more than one-third of the overall inflation increase. Over the past year, used-car prices rose 21%, due in large part to a spike in demand — as people sought to travel last year without relying on public transit — just as car manufacturers were closed or running at diminished capacity.

Other factors in April’s inflation report include rising costs for furniture — a casualty of the shipping backlog — and hotels, airline tickets, and recreational activities, a trend that speaks to growing demand among Americans to get back to normal life.

Restaurants are feeling that demand, and are struggling, in many cases, to staff up to meet it.

“More places are reopening, and restrictions are being lifted,” Graham said. “That goes to supply and demand — demand was down for so long, and now it’s back up.”

However, he noted, federal unemployment benefits have kept service workers — who are in some cases, being paid more for not working — away from available jobs.

Bob Bolduc knows this story well. The CEO of Pride Stores said he recently shuttered four stores because he didn’t have anyone to staff them — and he blames unrealistically generous unemployment benefits.

“We’ve been competing with the government for 15 months now, and we’re not getting through to them,” he said. “The real story is how much the government is paying, and how that’s driving prices up unrealistically.

“We’re all paying the same people, for the same labor, two to five dollars an hour more than we normally do, and the definition of inflation is when you pay a lot more but don’t get anything more for it,” he went on. “The biggest factor is that we’re competing with the government for labor — the government is paying people to stay home, and we’re trying to get them to come back to work.”

The frustration is palpable, Bolduc said. “People say they can’t get a job, but we offer them jobs, and they don’t show up. They just want to come in and apply to say they applied. And nobody checks; they’re just giving it away. It’s been that way for 15 months now, and it’s worse than you realize. People have no idea.”

State officials have heard such complaints from business owners, however, and announced last week that, starting in mid-June, Massachusetts will more diligently require proof of genuine job-search activity as a condition of accessing unemployment benefits.

At the same time, Bolduc said, “other prices are going crazy — on everything. Convenience items and food are up at least 10%, maybe pushing 15%, and I don’t see an end in sight.”

For some industries, rising prices can be a benefit.

“We always view our largest competitor as passenger automobiles,” Peter Pan’s Picknelly said. “Historically, when fuel starts going over $3.50, we see a significant increase in passengers because it’s just too expensive for people to travel, so they look for alternatives in the bus.”

If anything, rising fuel prices — married to a desire among people to get away this summer — has benefited Peter Pan’s business, Picknelly explained, noting that Cape Cod trips are almost 100% booked, while he sees similar interest in destinations like New York and Washington, D.C. The reason is that people are looking to travel a little closer to home — in range of a drive, not a flight — and see bus travel as an affordable, low-stress option.

High gas prices should also benefit the company’s commuter buses by making public transit more attractive, he said, noting that the average city bus gets about 280 passenger miles to the gallon, as opposed to about one-tenth of that for cars.

 

The Struggle Continues

That makes for an environmentally friendly byproduct of a challenging economic season. And Nagurney doesn’t separate the economy from the environment — in fact, she believes business and industry leaders need to adopt techniques from disaster management because climate change remains a factor in the global economy.

“Things aren’t going to get better — we’ll see more storms, more floods, more hurricanes, sea levels rising, even more things like the fires we had on the West Coast. Climate change will lead to a greater frequency of natural disasters, and that will affect global supply chains, and it’ll take longer to get products.”

For now, though, most businesses are just focused on when the short-term stress will end. And no one really knows the answer to that.

“In January, we thought this will probably last until March,” MacDonald said of the shipping delays. “In March, we heard it might fizzle out by the summer. We’re almost to summertime, and I’m releasing things from Spain that can’t get a booking until the beginning of July.

“And we’re seeing a huge increase in sales, too,” she added. “There’s a huge need in the United States, and we’re trying to pump as much material as we can into the States, but it’s a struggle.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

Agenda

Junior Achievement Golf Tournament

June 4: Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts (JAWM) announced it will hold its 23rd annual golf tournament at the Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston. In addition to the golf tournament, participants can enjoy online bidding for the auction through June 3 and live bidding at the event on June 4. Social-distancing regulations will include requiring players to wear masks in common areas, providing each player with their own cart, and a scramble format with all putts inside three feet conceded, with flags remaining in the holes. Businesses can sponsor the tournament and will receive a prize package valued at over $200. The package includes a $100 gift card to the pro shop, buy-two/get-two passes for Crumpin-Fox or Fox Hopyard Golf Club in Connecticut good through the 2022 season, and other gifts, such as Yankee Candle items. If they prefer, sponsors can opt to receive a voucher for their foursome valid through the 2022 season. In addition to a round of golf, an auction, and a raffle, golfers will enjoy a gourmet boxed breakfast at 10 a.m. and lunch served on the course around noon. To learn more about registration and sponsorship opportunities, visit jawm.org/annual-golf-tournament.

 

Fresh Paint Springfield

June 5-13: Fresh Paint Springfield, the mural festival that began in 2019 in downtown Springfield and transformed large, exterior walls into art, will be returning to Springfield on June 5-13. This year’s festival will feature new murals in downtown Springfield and in Mason Square. Among the murals that will be part of Fresh Paint 2021 are “Pioneers Past and Present,” which will be painted by local portrait painters in Mason Square, and the repainting of a historic mural on the Mosque 13 building on State Street. For news and updates about this year’s festival, visit www.freshpaintspringfield.com.

 

Asnuntuck Foundation Golf Tournament

June 15: Asnuntuck Community College’s foundation and Aerospace Components Manufacturers will host a golf tournament fundraiser — the program’s 13th annual tournament and the first year the fundraiser will be held at Tunxis Country Club in Farmington, Conn. Proceeds from the event will benefit to the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center at Asnuntuck, which features leading-edge technology and has educated more than 9,000 students since 1998. Additional sponsors committed to the tournament include Air Industries Group/Sterling Engineering, Aerospace Alloys Inc., Aeroswiss, Advance Welding, Pilot Precision Products, Kaman Precision Products, Willington Nameplate, Accu-Rite Tool and Manufacturing Co. Inc., and Jarvis Surgical Inc. Golfers will pay $150 for 18 holes of golf. The entry fee also includes a cart, goody bags, and two drink tickets. The day will also include a barbecue lunch and fountain drink, along with dinner and an ice cream sundae bar. Golfers will have a chance at door prizes, and awards will be presented to top golfers during the dinner portion of the evening. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. with tee-off at 1 p.m. Golfers will play with a ‘shamble,’ which is a modified scramble. This format has each golfer hit their tee shot, and the group picks the best one and plays their own ball from there. The best score on the hole is recorded, allowing everyone to feel like they contributed and not putting pressure on any one golfer. Visit birdease.com/amtgolf to register and learn about sponsorship opportunities. For more information, contact event coordinator Joshua Ware at [email protected] or (203) 228-2768.

 

Healthcare Heroes Nominations

Through June 24: In the spring of 2017, the Healthcare News and its sister publication, BusinessWest, created a new and exciting recognition program called Healthcare Heroes. It was launched with the theory that there are heroes working all across this region’s wide, deep, and all-important healthcare sector, and that there was no shortage of fascinating stories to tell and individuals and groups to honor. That theory has certainly been validated. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of heroes whose stories we still need to tell, especially in these times, when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many types of heroes to the forefront. Nominations will be accepted in seven different categories: Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider, Health/Wellness Administrator/Administration, Emerging Leader, Community Health, Innovation in Health/Wellness, Collaboration in Health/Wellness, and Lifetime Achievement. The Healthcare Heroes event is presented by Elms College. Nominations can be submitted at businesswest.com/healthcare-heroes/nominations. For more information, contact Jennifer Godaire, Marketing and Events Director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or [email protected]

 

40 Under Forty Gala

Sept. 23: In light of Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent announcement that most, if not all, restrictions on events will be lifted effective Aug. 1, BusinessWest has made the decision to move its annual 40 Under Forty gala, originally scheduled for late June, to Thursday, Sept. 23 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The class of 2021 was introduced to the region in the magazine’s May 12 issue, and the profiles may read online at businesswest.com. Additional details on the Sept. 23 gala will be forthcoming. Tickets, which will go on sale in June, will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

Special Coverage Technology

Bringing a Message to Life

From left, Kathryn Taccone, Karen Webb, and Will Colón discuss a project.

From left, Kathryn Taccone, Karen Webb, and Will Colón discuss a project.

Will Colón, Kathryn Taccone, and Karen Webb all took different paths to a career in animation, but when the opportunity arose to launch their own company, they were certainly of one mind. That’s because they’re believers not only in the potential of animation in the business and nonprofit worlds, but that it’s still an underused tool, with plenty of room to grow. Four years after its inception, Open Pixel Studios is proving their conviction to be true.

Remote work might be all the rage right now, but it’s nothing new to the three partners at Open Pixel Studios.

“The future of work is working remotely, having the systems to do that, working with multiple people across different disciplines across the same project — all in a remote environment,” said Will Colón, co-owner of the animation studio he, Kathryn Taccone, and Karen Webb opened in 2017. These days, they work with freelancers across the U.S. to create content for business and nonprofit clients.

“We were doing the remote thing for quite a while before the pandemic hit,” Colón added. “The pandemic really raised the stakes on whether we were doing this correctly — it put us to the test a little bit. But there was almost no shift; our business did not waver at all.”

In some ways, COVID-19 actually provided more opportunity.

“What ended up happening was more people asked us for more work,” he went on. “Normally, a production requires filming and video and people in a studio or on a production set. Those roles diminished overnight, and everyone said, ‘what else can we do? Instead of having people on a screen, or talking heads, let’s do animation instead.’ It was a really big boost to our company.”

And it’s not all remote, even during the pandemic, Taccone was quick to note. “We pride ourselves on being able to communicate with clients in a way that’s comfortable for them. Sometimes clients prefer to be in person, and sometimes it’s totally fine sending e-mails. We try to match how the project is managed, and the way we communicate, to their personalities, so everyone is comfortable.”

Using animation for marketing and messaging is nothing new, Colón said, citing the well-known example of Walt Disney producing animated shorts for every branch of the U.S. military during World War II, putting beloved characters to work rallying support for the war effort.

“I don’t think the things we’re doing are much different than Walt Disney creating content during World War II. Those were ‘explainer videos,’ talking through the points the military wanted to talk about. So this isn’t new technology. What’s new is the application.”

Meaning, while animation has been a mainstay during the internet age — as part of websites, mobile games, and in movies and television — it remains underused by businesses. Colón, Taccone, and Webb are hoping to change that.

At one of Open Pixel’s production stations, well-communicated concepts become animation.

At one of Open Pixel’s production stations, well-communicated concepts become animation.

“A lot of businesses haven’t realized they can do amazing things,” Colón said. “Our job as a studio is to introduce businesses to animation for the first time.”

And do it, for the most part, remotely.

“We have 20 freelancers across the country, and I’ve met only a few in person,” he noted. “We’ve always been remote, always done Zoom calls, always done projects managed through cloud-based solutions. It’s been a breeze, and that’s a testament to our process. We were one of the first ‘pandemic industries’ pre-pandemic. We were ready for it.”

Now, they’re ready to move the needle even further when it comes to the power of animation in the business world.

 

Crossing Paths

Colón’s journey to the world of animation began at Hampshire College, where, during his first year in 2009, he tried to get into an advanced computer animation class, but was rejected by the instructor, Chris Perry, because he had no experience.

But after Colón excelled at an introductory course in the field, Perry — a Pixar veteran who served as a technical director on A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo — accepted him into the advanced course.

“As I moved from the basics to more advanced stuff, I didn’t know how much I would love it, that I’d lose myself in the work, forget about time, and really enjoy the process more than the results,” Colón recalled. “I knew this was something I could go into.”

After college, he returned to the Boston area and worked at special-effects company Zero VFX, but desired a move back into animation, and landed a job at Anzovin Studio in Florence in 2013.

Characters created for a piece on Behavioral Health Network’s Crisis Healthline.

A project for Amherst College’s bicentennial

Animated messaging advocating for changes in tobacco laws

Webb, who had attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and worked for a time in Los Angeles and San Diego, eventually moved to Western Mass. to work at Perry’s independent studio, Bit Films — and later started working at Anzovin Studio, where she met Colón.

Their company took shape after Anzovin decided to shift his business model into animation tools, while the production team, where Colón and Webb worked, was spun off into a separate entity. The pair then decided to go in a different direction, by launching their own studio.

Taccone’s passion for animation was sparked by a high-school trip to Pixar Animation Studios in California. She later studied animation at UMass Amherst and met Colón while taking class at Hampshire, where he was the teaching assistant. After a stint at HitPoint Studios, she worked at Anzovin from 2014 to 2016, then moved to California to work in the games industry, for EA and Toys for Bob. But in 2017, she returned to Western Mass. to help Colón and Webb launch Open Pixel.

“We decided to go into a different realm, building something new that was going to be ours,” Colón said. “Kathryn came back from California, and that was the beginning of our journey.”

Speaking of journeys, hearing Taccone describe the process of moving a concept to a finished product, it’s striking how much work happens before the actual animation begins.

“A client will come to us with an idea of the message they’re trying to send; typically they’ll have a call to action associated with that message,” she explained. “We take this from the initial script phase — whether we write it ourselves or the client provides it — and bring it into an audio-visual script, which allows us all to be on the same page with what will happen with the story.”

This all happens before visuals are actually created, she added. In other words, clear communication is key — not just with the target audience, but between all the players in creating the animation, and at every stage.

“We make a choice at the concept stage whether or not something should be represented through iconography, text, characters, or just backgrounds,” she added, noting that just using animated words can often be as powerful as talking characters. “Often we’ll use a blend of those things.”

Once the concepts are established, next comes discussion of style, tone, and other elements. Then storyboards are created, laying out the content from start to finish — again, so everyone involved can envision the final piece and make changes before the actual animation begins.

“When we do the animation,” Taccone said, “we hire voice-over artists, we do music and sound effects — again, depending on the client’s needs, but all serving the purpose of matching the tone and style and direction to the story we’re trying to tell.”

While many corporate clients rely on Open Pixel’s work in their employee training videos and modules as well as marketing, a particularly feel-good part of the team’s mission is working with nonprofits on messaging that will draw more attention and support. Nonprofit leaders aren’t always natural salespeople, Colón noted, and he and his team can help them hone their message and educate the public.

“They’re trying to make the world a better place; that’s their mission,” he said. “We’re helping them close the gap between the audience and their mission. We use animation to explain what they’re doing.”

In the end, Taccone said, even the most eye-catching animation isn’t a success if it doesn’t meet the client’s needs. “In a way, the communication is sometimes more important than the art. We’re trying to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

 

Mission Accomplished

For Colón, such work is especially gratifying considering that, early in his career, he never thought about running a business. But his former employer, Raf Anzovin, encouraged that growth — and, in fact, encouraged him and Webb to branch out on their own.

“I feel like the people I met along the way influenced me in continuing this work. If those people weren’t there, we wouldn’t be around,” Colón said.

Achieving the studio’s goals in Western Mass. — a region that has been steadily growing its reputation for innovation and technology — is especially satisfying, he said. Clients run the gamut from large corporations to small outfits, and the remote nature of the work allows Open Pixel to take on projects from Boston to the West Coast.

He’s also particularly proud that the company is certified as a majority women-owned business. Noting that the history of animation has not always been a friendly one for women, he hopes Open Pixel inspires other women to pursue this field.

Through it all, he, Taccone, and Webb hope to continue to expand the work they do, but also become a destination to start a career.

“In the future, we want to be a jumping-off point for folks getting out of college,” he said, noting that it’s natural for talented graduates to depart the Five Colleges and look for jobs in New York, Los Angeles, or Boston. To encourage them to start their careers closer to home, Open Pixel has developed a pipeline of interns from Amherst College and Hampshire College. “Not only can you learn the tools here, this can be an entry point into the field.”

As for those tools, they’re much more affordable and accessible than they once were,” Colón said. “You can get a license and run a studio from your home office. But what makes us special is our process and our back end, our ability to push animation further than where it currently is right now.

“So much of it is in entertainment — games and movies,” he went on, “but we’re seeing a shift toward companies creating advertising campaigns utilizing animation because it’s so limitless. You can create anything you like. That’s what we see — unlimited creative expression.”

And always in the service of the client, Taccone added.

“We pride ourselves on being a studio that takes time to understand the balance between the client’s needs and our artistic identity. That way, we all enjoy the process as we go through it.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Company Notebook

Bulkley Richardson Launches Blockchain, Cryptocurrency Group

SPRINGFIELD — Bulkley Richardson recently launched a Blockchain and Cryptocurrency practice group to provide solutions for businesses adopting blockchain technology in a complex and changing regulatory landscape. The group’s attorneys have broad-based experience in key areas affecting blockchain technologies, including financial services and banking, intellectual property, securities regulation, emerging businesses, corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, taxation, and digital privacy and cybersecurity. Blockchain technologies like cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are changing the way businesses operate. The rise of the blockchain has spurred a wave of innovation that is disrupting the market and spawning new areas of the digital economy. As blockchain innovation continues to grow and evolve, so do the legal, regulatory, and business challenges. The Blockchain and Cryptocurrency practice group includes attorneys Mark Cress, Dan Finnegan, Scott Foster, Bart Galvin, Lauren Ostberg, Ron Weiss, and Sarah Willey. With a cross-disciplinary approach, Bulkley Richardson aims to assist clients in capitalizing on new business opportunities and meeting the challenges in this rapidly evolving industry.

 

Whalley Computer Associates Named One of Tech Elite 250

SOUTHWICK — Whalley Computer Associates (WCA) has once again been named to the Tech Elite 250 list comprised of solution providers in the U.S. and Canada that have made the investments necessary to earn the highest level of certifications from the largest and most prestigious manufacturers of technology products and services, such as Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Nutanix, VMware, HPI, and HPE, to name a few. CRN, a brand of the Channel Company, named WCA to the Tech Elite 250 in 2016 and 2019 as well. WCA’s engineering team has earned about 125 certifications with nearly 30 different manufacturers by numerous dedicated engineers. Founded in 1979, WCA has been providing IT solutions and services to customers throughout New England and upstate New York for 42 years. While it boasts a diverse customer base from small customers to numerous Fortune 100 companies in a wide array of industries, WCA is one of North America’s leading technology solution providers to healthcare, retail, finance, K-12, higher education, and government agencies on both the state and local levels.

 

Darby O’Brien Advertising Launches Catch & Keep Initiative

SOUTH HADLEY — For more than 40 years, Darby O’Brien Advertising has created and executed innovative branding, advertising, and political campaigns. In recent years, clients have increasingly asked the agency to bring its same out-of-step approach to another important area of business: recruiting. Many businesses, especially in technology and manufacturing, are facing unique challenges in today’s job market. Many have plenty of well-paid positions open but are unable to find the right candidates to fill them. Then, when they find the right people, it can be a challenge to keep them. Traditional headhunters and online hiring services often fall short, offering boilerplate approaches to a problem that needs customized solutions — and offering no follow-up. The agency decided to launch Catch & Keep after developing successful recruiting campaigns for clients including VSS CNC Machining, the Mental Health Assoc., Paragus IT, and Berkshire Real Estate. Case studies and more information on Catch & Keep can be found at darbyobrien.com/recruiting.

 

National Science Foundation Grants $649,000 to WNEU

SPRINGFIELD — The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Western New England University (WNEU) $649,111 for a five-year grant to offer scholarships to students. The target populations are students who are high achievers in high school whose family demonstrates they will benefit from financial aid. The grant will create a community-outreach program to increase the number of high-school and middle-school students entering and succeeding in STEM fields. The grant, titled Sustainable Pathways to Success for Low-income STEM Students Emphasizing Research and Innovation, was awarded to Jingru Benner, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and a team of educators from the university including Dean Hossein Cheraghi, Michael Rust, and Anthony Santamaria from the College of Engineering; Raymond Ostendorf from the College of Arts and Sciences; and Bryan Gross, vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing. Benner will serve as principal investigator and project director. The project will increase the number of high-school students who have access to enroll in the WNEU Mechanical Engineering program. The grant provides funding for an annual need-based scholarship that will be added on top of each student’s WNEU merit scholarship and can be combined with the university’s Women in Engineering or FIRST Robotics Scholarships. In addition, the grant will fund critical resources for students in the program to receive targeted support to help them successfully graduate.

 

Elms College Athletics to Join GNAC This Fall

CHICOPEE — Elms College and the Great Northeast Athletic Conference announced that the Blazers’ GNAC core membership will begin this fall with the upcoming 2021-22 academic year. Last October, both the institution and the league office issued a joint announcement indicating Elms would join the GNAC with the 2022-23 academic year; however, that timeline has since been adjusted. Elms had been a member of the New England College Conference since 2007, claiming 19 league championships while leading the way in All-Academic selections. The Blazers’ swimming and diving programs have been associate members of GNAC since 2006, last competing at the 2020 GNAC championships just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Now all 17 sport programs will compete in the same conference, including baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s golf, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, as well as men’s and women’s volleyball. GNAC Commissioner Joe Walsh, the conference office, and current members are working diligently to make scheduling adjustments to accommodate the Blazers’ programs, as Elms will now begin its GNAC journey this fall with men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s golf, and women’s volleyball.

 

MCLA Receives $28,000 Grant from Massachusetts DHE

NORTH ADAMS — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) has received a $28,720 Higher Education Innovation Fund Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE), which recently announced a slate of $1.7 million in grants for the state’s public colleges. These grants fund initiatives that help colleges work toward racial equity in Massachusetts public higher education. The grant will allow the MCLA Department of Public Safety to work with a consulting firm specializing in improving police departments’ relationships with their communities. The consultant will work with MCLA to develop an interactive training module for the Department of Public Safety with the goal of increasing cultural competency and engagement of its officers and staff with the MCLA community. Most of the grant proposals funded by DHE seek to provide faculty and staff equity training for transforming campus pedagogy, syllabi, curriculum, and campus life, with the goal of making the institution a truly nurturing environment for students of color.

 

UMass Board of Trustees Approves In-state Tuition Freeze for 2021-22

BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts board of trustees voted to approve UMass President Marty Meehan’s proposal to freeze tuition for all in-state undergraduate and graduate students at UMass Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell for the 2021-22 academic year. The vote marks the second consecutive year of tuition and mandatory fee freezes at UMass for in-state undergraduate and graduate students. The Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell campuses also froze out-of-state student tuition. The net price of a UMass education — price minus financial aid — remains consistent with other New England public land-grant universities and 31% below peer private institutions. In addition to a tuition freeze, the university increased its institutionally funded financial aid to a record high of $352 million this fiscal year. This aid, which is funded directly by the university, accounts for 40% of the total aid UMass students receive and is comprised primarily of scholarships and grants. Since 2015, institutional aid has increased by $116 million, or 49%. At least 25% of UMass students at each campus receive Pell Grants. The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund is projected to provide $23 million to UMass to further support students, and last year’s CARES Act provided $23 million in direct aid to students. These grants are not considered or included as financial aid.

 

Brenda Cuoco & Associates to Open Second Branch in Longmeadow Shops

LONGMEADOW — Brenda Cuoco & Associates Real Estate Brokerage announced the addition of a new flagship office location opening soon in the Longmeadow Shops. The office is currently under construction, with a target opening date of May 1, and will be located at 714 Bliss Road, adjacent to Starbucks. The addition will support the steady and sustained growth that the brokerage has seen in the last several years and will complement the existing office located at 2442 Boston Road in Wilbraham. The brokerage will also actively recruit top-performing agents to help serve this new community. The firm sold 164 properties last year with a volume of $46.8 million.

 

AIC to Name Renovated Basketball Locker Room in Honor of Frank Oppedisano

SPRINGFIELD — The American International College (AIC) men’s basketball locker room will enjoy a much-needed makeover with help from friends in the community. Earlier this year, a group of alumni expressed an interest in doing something meaningful to help AIC men’s basketball in memory of their friend and former teammate, Frank Oppedisano, class of 1967. In addition to their fundraising effort, AIC Athletics engaged alumni and supporters during Athletics Giving Week last month. Donors were asked to consider giving to a general fund or team of their choice, with proceeds from the campaign earmarked to benefit student-athletes and athletic programs at the college. The new locker room will offer additional locker space, new flooring, and Yellow Jacket branding throughout, and will be named in honor of the Springfield native who was a four-year member of the basketball program. Before his passing in March 2020, Oppedisano was a regular at AIC men’s basketball home games and routinely provided congratulations after a win or unconditional support in defeat.

 

Bradley Debut Non-stop Service to Atlanta on Frontier Airlines

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) announced the debut of non-stop service from Bradley International Airport (BDL) to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) on Frontier Airlines. The service will commence on June 11 and will operate four times per week. To view flight times and booking information, visit www.flyfrontier.com. With the debut of non-stop service to Atlanta, Frontier Airlines will now offer five non-stop destinations from Bradley International Airport this summer. The airline’s other destinations include Denver, Miami, Orlando, and Raleigh-Durham.

 

Incorporations

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

AMHERST

Amity Street Alliance for New Arts Inc., 70 Columbia Dr., Amherst, MA 01002. Roman Yakub, same. It is the intent of this corporation to help artists, musicians, writers, and other creative individuals, to stage performances, display exhibits and carry on other cultural and educational activities for the public, and, in general, to do every other act necessary, incidental or appropriate to accomplishment of any of the above purposes.

CHICOPEE

Massachusetts Truck & Tractor Pullers Association Inc., 150 Fair St., Chicopee, MA 01020. Natalie Cowles, same. To maintain a non-profit organization in order to conduct tractor and trailer pulls and the like at fairs and other venues, including organizing and providing trucks and trailers for all classes, setting up competitions and events, and doing any and all other business related thereto.

NORTH ADAMS

Roots Teen Center Inc., 43 Eagle St. North Adams, MA 01247. Courtney Randall, same. To educate, engage, encourage, and empower youth; and to engage in any other lawful business that a non-profit or charitable corporation is permitted to engage under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

PITTSFIELD

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Professionals Association Inc., 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 100 Pittsfield, MA 01201. Yvette P. Ladd, 2344 Christiansburg Pike NE, PO Box 763 Floyd, VA 24091. The corporation shall be organized and operated exclusively as a business league, not organized for profit, and no part of the net earnings which shall incur to the benefit of any private member thereof, or individual as those terms are used in section 501 (c) (6) of the internal revenue code of 1986, as amended (the “code”). Notwithstanding any provision of these articles, this corporation shall not support or engage in any program or activity not permitted to be carried on by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(6) of the code.

Strong Little Souls Inc., 113 Elaine Dr., Pittsfield, MA 01201. Madison A. Quinn, same. Helping families with children affected by cancer. The corporation is organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, and scientific purposes, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.

Tech Kitchen Inc., 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 100 Pittsfield, MA 01201. Graeson Coughenour, same. The purpose of organization includes but is not limited to: Collection and disassembly of electronic equipment for the purpose recycling all components and materials that can be reused. In addition said organization is organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, and scientific purposes, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under section 501(c) (3) of the internal revenue code, or corresponding section of any future federal tax code.

SPRINGFIELD

Premier Building & Remodeling Inc., 1464 State St., Springfield, MA 01109. Anthony Nelson, same. Construction company.

Ratchette Industries Inc., 483 Forest Hills Road, Springfield, MA 01128. Andrew Racette, same. Plumbing and heating installation.

Shousha Inc., 8 Leyfred Ter., Apt. 1R Springfield, MA 01108. Abdilrahman Abdi, same. Long-distance trucking.

WARREN

SC Peters Restoration Inc., 61 O’Neil Road, Warren, MA 01083. Shaun Christopher Peters, same. Handyman services.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Letendre Painting & Consulting Inc., 28 Herrman Road, West Springfield, MA 01089. Daniel Letendre, same. Professional coating consultants.

Ruslan Express Incorporation, 72 Jenson Circle, West Springfield, MA 01089. Ruslan Shvetsov, same. Transporting goods.

Satellite Auto Delivery Inc., 188 Riverdale St., Floor 2 West Springfield, MA 01089. Ruslan Malancea, same. Trucking.

WILBRAHAM

Unity Tech Solutions, Inc., 5 Sherwin Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095. Kevin Farrell, same. Staffing and recruiting service.

WILLIAMSTOWN

New Europe Review Inc., 54 Hall St. #2 Williamstown, MA 01267. Paul Olchvary, same. This corporation is organized to operate exclusively as a charitable organization with charitable literary and educational purposes.

Spoon Incorporated, 160 Water St. #25 Williamstown, MA 01267. David Little, same. Sale of food and beverages at retail.

Features

NFTs and Cryptocurrency

By Bart Galvin

 

Digital assets such as Bitcoin and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are transforming global capital markets and the art world, with market capitalization reaching $2 trillion and digital artworks packaged through NFTs regularly selling for millions of dollars. As these assets gain prominence in the marketplace, it is increasingly important to understand why these assets appeal to investors, how they represent value, and how they function under the hood.

 

NFTs and Digital Art

NFTs have exploded in popularity in the past year, with notable examples like CryptoPunks, which are collectible, algorithmically generated pixel artworks, as well as the works of Mike Winkelmann (known professionally as Beeple), who recently sold a piece of NFT art at a Christie’s auction for $69 million.

Bart Galvin

An NFT is a unique digital token representing an interest in something else, which could be a piece of art, a share of stock, a stream of royalties, or even, in the case of Unisocks, entitlement to a physical pair of socks. NFTs are ‘non-fungible’ because, unlike cryptocurrencies, they aren’t interchangeable — your NFT corresponds to the specific entitlement or right to the underlying thing.

The eye-popping price tags of many digital-art NFTs poses the question: what exactly are you buying when you purchase an NFT? In its most basic form, an NFT is simply verifiable proof that you are the purchaser of whatever the NFT represents. But the devil is in the details. The rights granted by an NFT are entirely up its creator, so some NFTs have strict terms and conditions that prohibit exhibitions or commercial use of the art, while others might grant you the copyright in the work.

 

Cryptocurrency and the Rise of Bitcoin

Bitcoin has been the most prominent cryptocurrency since its introduction in 2008, but many other cryptocurrencies exist, such as Ethereum, an important part of many ‘smart contracts,’ and Tether, which is pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar. Bitcoin accounts for about half of global cryptocurrency market capitalization.

At the end of March, the price of one Bitcoin was approximately $60,000. Unlike a cryptocurrency like Tether, the value of Bitcoin can fluctuate wildly. Indeed, it has increased tenfold in the past year, dwarfing its previous peak of $17,000 in December 2017. The value of Bitcoin is determined almost entirely by what purchasers believe it is worth, and investors speculate on that value, driving price fluctuations. These price fluctuations can have a snowball effect, whereby widespread speculation in Bitcoin that drives the price upward can lead investors to believe Bitcoin will be adopted more widely, leading to further speculation that its value will increase.

 

Why Do People Care?

Cryptocurrencies and NFTs represent a fundamentally new way of transacting. The reason is in the revolutionary qualities of their underlying technology: the ‘blockchain.’ A blockchain can be thought of as a tamper-resistant digital store of data, constructed using computer cryptography and distributed among participants over the internet. Here’s what makes the blockchain special, and why people are jumping on board.

First, the blockchain allows parties to transact without intermediaries. No banks or clearinghouses are needed to execute or verify transactions since the underlying technology ensures that transfers are reliable, practically irreversible, and publicly verifiable.

“In the world of blockchain technology, Bitcoin and digital-art NFTs are the tip of the iceberg. There are already countless blockchain-based technologies, and new ones are invented every day.”

Second, blockchain transactions are not limited by jurisdictional or national boundaries. The transaction’s terms are dictated by computer code, not local law. Perhaps more importantly, the code is self-enforcing, which limits opportunistic behavior. Parties do not need to appeal to the judicial system to enforce an agreement because it happens automatically.

Third, blockchains are not subject to a central point of control or a central point of failure. Blockchains work by interconnecting users running the same software over a peer-to-peer network on the internet. No one party controls the blockchain. All new transactions are shared over the network, and they become final only when a majority of users determines that the transaction is valid. If a user doesn’t own the digital asset they’re trying to transfer, or tries to transfer it twice, the transaction will be rejected.

Fourth, blockchain transactions are publicly visible and verifiable. A blockchain serves as a ledger of transactions and all the transactions that came before them, allowing anyone to view and verify the trail of activity occurring over the network.

Fifth, blockchains allow parties to transact pseudonymously (not quite anonymously), without needing to trust or even know each other. All you need to know is your counterparty’s digital address or ‘wallet.’ And because transactions are practically irreversible and verified by the consensus of the network, the opportunities for fraud are heavily curtailed.

 

The Future of Blockchain Technologies

In the world of blockchain technology, Bitcoin and digital-art NFTs are the tip of the iceberg. There are already countless blockchain-based technologies, and new ones are invented every day. The blockchain is highly flexible and has tremendous untapped potential for consumer transactions, private contracts, corporate structuring, securities and derivatives, and even public administration. If your business is not using the blockchain yet, it’s only a matter of time.

 

Bart Galvin is an attorney at Bulkley Richardson, where he is a member of the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency practice group; (413) 272-6200.

Sports & Leisure

Buy the Buy

Dave DiRico

Dave DiRico says many people who discovered or rediscovered golf in 2020 are coming back to buy new equipment in 2021.

Dave DiRico says his shop is usually busy in late March and early April as golfers gear up for a new season.

This year, the look and feel have been different, and for many reasons. Golf got an unexpected and much-deserved boost last year when it became one of the few organized sports people could take part in. And it’s received another boost from the fact that Americans have been saving money as perhaps never before, and many of them have also been receiving stimulus checks from the government.

Add it all up, and March and April have been even busier than normal, said DiRico, owner of Dave DiRico’s Golf & Racquet, adding that, for now, he doesn’t see many signs of slowing down.

“We’re seeing it at all levels, all age groups, starting with the seniors,” he said. “They didn’t travel as much over the past year. They haven’t gone out to dinner; they didn’t go on their spring golf trip to Florida. And we’re seeing more of those people buying clubs — and that’s generally not our soft spot.”

That soft spot would be younger professionals and junior golfers, he went on, adding that these people are buying clubs, too, often with the help of the government.

Meanwhile, large numbers of people took up the game last year, or found it again after drifting away from it for whatever reason. Many of these people bought used equipment last year — so much that inventories dwindled significantly — and this year, they’re coming back for new clubs.

“Most of them are deciding to continue to play — they enjoyed it,” DiRico said. “And they’re trading in their used equipment for new stuff — because they intend to stay with it.”

The surge in play and its impact on the retail side of the game is reflected in the numbers. In the third quarter of 2020, for example, retail sales of golf equipment exceeded $1 billion for the first time ever for that period, according to Golf Datatech, an industry research firm. Meanwhile, Callaway Golf Co., which manufactures golf balls in Chicopee, reported a 20% surge in sales in the fourth quarter of 2020.

The problem some players are encountering, though, is limited inventories of new equipment. Indeed, the golf manufacturers, like those who make cars and countless other products, are experiencing supply-chain issues and difficulties getting the materials they need. This has led to sometimes lengthy waits for ordered clubs to be delivered.

“There’s such an increased demand with new golfers across the country that they’re all running out of equipment,” he explained. “They can only manufacture so much, and the demand is far more then they projected. Some companies can’t get shafts, others can’t get grips — you can’t make a golf club unless you have all the components.

“We have a few companies that are great — they’ve managed to stay ahead of this, and they’re doing very well,” he went on. “But then, we have some other companies … you have to wait 15 weeks to get a set of irons.”

Doing some quick math, DiRico said this will translate into delivery sometime in June, far longer than golfers anxious to get their hands on new irons or a new driver want to wait.

But, overall, this would have to be considered a good problem to have — if such things actually exist in business.

Only a few years ago, the golf industry was in a sharp decline, with membership down at most clubs, tee times readily available at public facilities, and racks full of new equipment for which there wasn’t strong demand. Things have changed in a hurry, and DiRico and others hope most of these trends — not the current supply-and-demand issues, certainly — have some permanence to them.

 

—George O’Brien

Estate Planning

Staying Ahead of the Scams

By Julie Quink

 

With the continued intensity created by the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners and individuals have continued to be victims of fraudulent activity as the scams and schemes are continually changing and increasing in number.

At a time of significant economic stress and uncertainty, the barrage of ever-changing fraudulent attempts and attacks becomes increasingly difficult to manage and prevent. Fraudsters have also become very creative in their methods of gathering sensitive information to commit fraud, so it becomes increasingly difficult to predict what might be coming next in the form of an attack.

Since the onset of the pandemic, these schemes have continued to include filing fraudulent unemployment claims. As practitioners, we have also noticed an increase in stolen identities, whether it be by the interception of documents containing personal information or through online access.

As professionals who work with clients to implement best practices and detection techniques, we fall victim to fraud attempts as well. The most recent fraud attempts include continued false unemployment claims and theft of identities through mail interception.

 

Fraudulent Unemployment Claims

The filing of fraudulent unemployment claims is not a new fraud scheme. However, the repeated attempts at compromising employee data and filing of fraudulent claims in other states has increased.

Fraudsters have taken to heart the saying, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ Some businesses have seen repeat attempts at fraudulent claims filed against the business using the same employees but citing different reasons for filing for unemployment, such as break in service or lack of work.

Further, claims are being filed for employees in different states. The fraudster is using an employee’s information to file in a state in which the employee does not live or work to gain access to unemployment benefits in the state where they live. It has become a vicious cycle.

“The most recent fraud attempts include continued false unemployment claims and theft of identities through mail interception.”

States have tightened controls and verifications to try to manage these fraudulent claims, but the tightening of controls comes with a cost. Employees who have been victims of fraudulent claims in the past may have a more challenging time filing for unemployment as their account has now been flagged. The ease of filing online for these people has now become complicated and time-consuming as they try to navigate the unemployment system.

The continued monitoring of a business unemployment account to prevent and detect fraudulent activity and responding to fraudulent claims can be time-consuming. If fraudulent claims are paid against an employer account, it can impact the employer’s experience rate and unemployment account if not identified quickly.

This is not a new area of fraud, but the methods that fraudsters use to gain access and apply is ever-changing.

 

Identify Theft

Fraudulent unemployment claims are an example of identity theft. It is believed that some of the personal information used in filing fraudulent unemployment claims has come from data breaches. However, creative methods of accessing personal information have now encompassed intercepting hard documents.

Another area of data interception, with which we have had personal experience, is through the mail. If a fraudster is not able to access personal information through electronic means, why not try the good old-fashioned way, through the U.S. Postal Service or another carrier?

Intercepting mail is a scheme that seems to be on the rise. In one such case of which we are aware, information was intercepted prior to arrival at its intended location. Between the time it was initially mailed and the time it finally arrived at its location, the sender’s identity was stolen, and a loan was opened in their name, unbeknownst to them. The fraudster intercepted tax documents, which had personal identifying information, and secured a fraudulent loan. Ultimately, the fraudster, realizing that the mail was in a tracked envelope, secured the package with significant amounts of tape and forwarded it to the final destination.

The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service is diligent in investigating suspected mail theft, from both internal and external sources. Because of its commitment to finding and detecting mail fraud, the office has devoted the Office of Investigations to handle complaints and fraud.

The impacts of identity theft for a business owner or an individual can be far-reaching. Significant impacts can include compromising credit and financial hardship, compromising legal relationships and documents, and compromising tax filings.

Perhaps one of the most significant impacts may be the feeling of violation, distrust, betrayal, or even embarrassment created by the theft of identity. The unwinding and unpacking of identity theft can be a time-consuming and emotional process for business owners and individuals.

 

Takeaways

What we know is that fraud schemes are changing faster than business owners, individuals, and technology can keep up. Whether the fraud scheme is a recurring scheme or a new and improved scheme, the importance of diligence, communication, and monitoring should not be discounted.

Communication with employees about fraudulent schemes involving unemployment and mail, along with continued monitoring, are best practices in keeping information safe and secure.

 

Julie Quink is managing partner with West Springfield-based Burkhart Pizzanelli; (413) 734-9040.

Opinion

Cannabis Business Is Riding High

Back in November — only two years after adult-use marijuana became legal in the Commonwealth — the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission reported sales had surpassed $1 billion, and the state had collected some $200 million in taxes from the adult-use windfall. At the time, employment in the adult-use cannabis field in Massachusetts was approaching 6,000. It’s likely significantly higher now.

The COVID-19 impact? Not much, really. Except during those weeks from March through early May 2020, when most businesses of all kinds were closed to the public, dispensaries have reported steady revenues right through the pandemic. While the supply-chain issues and other economic impacts that followed in the wake of COVID did slow the pace of progress at some projects in various stages of development, customers are still lining up to get into the shops currently open.

In short, some industries are more resilient amid shifting economic tides — and public-health emergencies, it turns out — than others, and cannabis has proven, so far, to be one of them.

One lingering question, however, is how the rapid proliferation of dispensaries and other cannabis businesses will impact sales at each individual shop — in other words, will supply begin to outstrip demand and make this a riskier or less desirable industry to enter than it was a year ago?

To hear the business owners themselves tell it, the answer is no. Take Northampton, for example. Both Noho-based business owners we spoke with for this issue’s cannabis focus say that city has become such a destination for cannabis that each new enterprise just adds a little more texture to a robust ecosystem — and draws in even more customers from outside.

After all, if a city is known for its restaurants, no one ever says there are too many, or that it’s a bad idea to open another.

The heightened competition has, of course, forced new business owners to think critically about how to best stand out from the crowd, and the stories starting on page 29 are good examples of how they’re doing exactly that.

Cannabis has been a boon for the state’s coffers, no doubt about it. But it continues to be a strong driver of employment as well, one with a still-undefined ceiling. And it’s begun to add real vibrancy to the economy and lifestyle of communities that have been welcoming hosts.

In short, this is still fertile soil. After a year of economic news that hasn’t always been bright, that’s something to celebrate.

Agenda

‘Friday Focus’ Panel

April 9: The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) master of business administration (MBA) program will present a free virtual panel at noon on entrepreneurship and small business in the time of COVID-19, as part of its “Friday Focus” panel series examining the pandemic’s impact on business and economic development. Moderated by MCLA Director of Corporate Engagement and Strategic Partnerships Joshua Mendel, this series features local business leaders, MBA program alumni, and faculty from MCLA’s Business Department. To register, visit mcla.edu/mba. All events will take place virtually and are free and open to the public. This event will also be streamed to the MCLA Facebook page and will be archived on the MCLA YouTube channel for later viewing. MCLA’s MBA program is a part-time, accelerated program designed to meet the needs of the working adult learner. Most courses meet through a combination of online and face-to-face instruction and blend classroom experience with practical, hands-on fieldwork. In addition, the program offers diverse academic programming and provides a high return on investment. MCLA’s MBA program accepts applications throughout the year, and new students may begin the program in the fall, spring, and summer.

 

‘National Security Priorities in Biden’s First 100 Days’

April 15: “National Security Priorities in Biden’s First 100 Days” will be the topic of a discussion by Western New England University (WNEU) School of Law Dean Sudha Setty on Thursday, April 15 at noon. The cost for this virtual event, presented by the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts, is $10 (free for students). Setty will discuss various national-security priorities of the Biden administration, including investigations into domestic terrorism, anticipated policy changes regarding targeted killings, and foreign-policy priorities. Setty became dean of the School of Law in 2018 and has served on the faculty since 2006. She is the author of National Security Secrecy: Comparative Effects on Democracy and the Rule of Law, the editor of Constitutions, Security, and the Rule of Law), and has written dozens of articles on national-security law and policy. The April 15 event is sponsored by Glenmeadow, Sir Speedy, and Wilbraham & Monson Academy. For more information and to register, visit the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts website at www.wacwestma.org.

 

Alumni Achievement Award Nominations

Through April 23: When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in 2007, it did so to identify rising stars across our region — individuals who were excelling in business and through involvement within the community — and celebrate their accomplishments. In 2015, BusinessWest announced a new award, one that builds on the foundation upon which 40 Under Forty was created. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award (formerly the Continued Excellence Award). As the name suggests, it is presented to the 40 Under Forty honoree who, in the eyes of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively continued and built upon his or her track record of accomplishment. To nominate someone for this award, visit BusinessWest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty-alumni-achievement-award. The deadline is Friday, April 23 at 5 p.m., no exceptions. The 2020 honoree will be announced at the 40 Under Forty gala in June. Candidates must be from 40 Under Forty classes prior to the year of the award — in this case, classes 2007 to 2020. A list of 40 Under Forty Alumni can be found at BusinessWest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty.

 

Springfield Partners for Community Action Scholarships

Through April 23: Springfield Partners for Community Action announced it will award a number of $1,000 scholarships that can help recipients with tuition and alleviate the cost of going back to school and investing in bettering themselves. All applicants must be Springfield residents, and income-eligibility guidelines may apply. Scholarships will be awarded to those attending accredited/licensed schools in Massachusetts. Applications must be received by April 23. Late entries will not be considered. If selected, recipients must be available to attend an awards event (most likely virtual) in June. Visit www.springfieldpartnersinc.com/whatwedo/scholarshipsprogram for the application form and information on how to apply.

 

Series on Workplace Violence Prevention

April 27, May 26, June 30: The Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) and its training partners from Protective Advanced Safety Services (PASS), will present a three-part training series at EANE’s Agawam training center for regional employers on workplace violence prevention. The first workshop is slated for 3 to 5 p.m. Session topics include “Who’s Coming to Work,” “CALM: De-escalation Strategies,” and “Hire Right, Fire Smart.” All three sessions are designed to equip employers with the tools and knowledge they need to keep their workplaces safe from violence, including microaggressions, employee-relations escalations, and the worst-case scenario: an active shooter. Space in this training series is limited to 10 participants as EANE is following state guidelines on social distancing and capacity limits. The cost for the program is $331.50 for all three sessions. Interested parties can reach out to Allison Ebner at [email protected] or call (413) 789-6400 for more information.

 

VA Healthcare Virtual Summit

May 24-26: The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) announced plans for the IDGA VA Healthcare Summit. BusinessWest is sponsoring this event, at which attendees will have the opportunity to meet with the leaders positioned to provide substantive change across the department, with a particular focus on advancing patient advocacy and experience, digital transformation, community and vendor engagement, e-learning, the VA’s innovation ecosystem, and more. IDGA’s summit will highlight these areas across the agenda, as well as include enabling VA initiatives currently underway to advance the most critical needs for veterans across the U.S. This year’s agenda, developed through indepth research by IDGA, covers a range of topics, including VHA innovation ecosystem initiatives, VA telehealth capabilities, financial management and business-transformation efforts, and a deep dive into clinical delivery. For more information and to view the agenda, visit www.idga.org/events-veteransaffairshealthcare-spring. To join and receive a 20% discount, register at bit.ly/3sts2FV and quote code VAH_HCN. All federal, state, and local government, as well as military and law enforcement, can attend at no cost.

 

Incorporations

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

CHICOPEE

Lee’s Taekwondo at Springfield Inc., 82 Main St., Chicopee, MA 01020. Suhyun Lee, 109C Mill St. Springfield, MA 01108. Taekwondo martial arts studio.

EASTHAMPTON

Lamar Audio Inc., 191 Northampton St., Suite 1448, Easthampton, MA 01027. Anthony Timmons, same. Audio recordings for radio, production, education.

EAST LONGMEADOW

Mowen Inc., 185 Millbrook Dr., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Kathleen Sabella, same. Wholesale and retail sales.

PELHAM

Counslr Inc., 46 Arnold Road Pelham, MA 01002. Joseph Leonard, same. Therapist service agency.

PITTSFIELD

Local Touch Tours, Inc., 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 100, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Anne-Marie Mascaro, 108 Cayenne St. West Springfield, MA 01089. Experiential tours through internet platform.

N.A.H.N. Innovations Corp., 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 100, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Nangwaya Wilson, same. Invent and sell advanced innovations.

SOUTH HADLEY

K2K Corp., 17 Bridge St., South Hadley, MA 01075. Vasantlal A. Shah, 188 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA 01108. Gas station with convenience store and package stores.

SOUTHAMPTON

Malanson Excavating Inc., 4 Lead Mine Road, Southampton, MA 01073. Craig Malanson, same. Excavation.

SPRINGFIELD

HL Equity Corp., 2058 Parker St., Springfield, MA 01028. Zhi Huang, same. Online sales and distribution.

Ibrahim Enterprises Inc., 876 State St., Springfield, MA 01109. Ibrahim Aden Mohamed, 33 Lincoln St., Apt. 22, Lynn, MA 01902. Operation of a specialty retail grocery store.

L&G Signs & Designs Corp., 1 Allen St., Suite G3 Springfield, MA 01108. Leroy Davidson, 69 Marshall St. Springfield, MA 01109. Company provides sign designs and installations service.

Metrocare of Springfield Homecare Inc., 125 Liberty St., Suite 402 Springfield, MA 01103. Alex Eydinov, 27 Lyman St. 605 Springfield, MA 01103. Homehealth care.

WARREN

Country Floral & Gift Inc., 5 Knox Trail Warren, MA 01082. Michelle M. Jasmin-Cox, same. Retail sale of floral products.

WESTFIELD

Emirhan Inc., 73 Elm St., Westfield, MA 01085. Doganay Koc, 23 Pine St. Ludlow, MA 01056. Fast food.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

NFP Holdings, Inc., 492 Prospect Ave., West Springfield, MA 01089. Nina D. Fountain, 30 Montgomery Acres Road, Montgomery, MA 01089. Holding company.

WILBRAHAM

Islandgrafics Inc., 393 Main St., Wilbraham, MA 01095. Robert Landgraf, same. Seller of travel and advertising.

 

Cover Story

Lessons Learned from COVID

It’s been said time and again that, for businesses large and small, the pandemic provided a number of learning opportunities. Companies learned new ways to do things — mostly out of necessity — while also learning that the ‘old’ way may not be the best way. Meanwhile, the pandemic provided opportunities that didn’t exist before — especially when it comes to hiring — and accelerated the pace of needed change. All that means the landscape has been altered for the long term.

Drew DiGiorgio, president and CEO of Wellfleet

Drew DiGiorgio, president and CEO of Wellfleet, in the company’s mostly unoccupied space in Tower Square.

They’re called ‘insurance bibles.’

That’s the name those at HUB Insurance have attached to the large binders — some of them containing 700 pages or more, in the case of large commercial accounts — that tell clients everything, as in everything, about what’s in their policy, what’s covered, what isn’t, and on and on.

As he held one up, Timm Marini, president of HUB International New England LLC, noted that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, bibles only came in the printed variety. Now, if a client wants one — and some of them don’t — a digital file is sent, in part because a client can’t pick one up, and HUB can’t drop one off.

And, by and large, things will stay this way, said Marini, noting that COVID has shown those at the company that they don’t need to kill trees and use up expensive toner to provide a client with their insurance bible.

“Now, you can do it all electronically,” he explained. “And you probably could before COVID, but COVID made us do it more.”

This is just one of the many things companies large and small have learned during the pandemic, lessons that will carry over to the time when COVID is referred to in the past tense. Others involve everything from not having to scan documents for tax preparers to not necessarily limiting a candidate search to those living in the 413, to not having people travel to a conference on the other side of the state if they can instead take it in via Zoom.

“It’s a mix, but many certainly want to come back. They’re lonely … they actually want to work in more of a community setting.”

In a word, the pandemic has shown area businesses and nonprofits that they have more options than maybe they thought they had, when it comes to how and where people work and just how things are done.

For this issue and its focus on the modern office, we talked with a number of business owners and managers about what’s been learned over the past 12 months or so and how COVID has actually made companies more efficient and enabled them to reduce costs in some areas. The observations were telling.

“The audit side of our practice generally required teams of people here to go visit on site at other locations,” said Sarah Rose Stack, Marketing & Recruitment manager at the Holyoke-based CPA firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka. “Because of COVID, we learned we could do these remotely, which is something we’ve never done; this was a first-time experience not just for us, but for people in our industry. We’ve learned that it’s fine, it is efficient, and with some businesses, we’ll keep doing it this way moving forward.”

Timm Marini holds up an ‘insurance bible’

Timm Marini holds up an ‘insurance bible’ — the printed variety. Those at HUB have had to send digital documents during the pandemic, and that trend will continue into the future.

For Springfield-based Wellfleet, now with offices in Tower Square, the pandemic has provided ample evidence that employees in many positions can work effectively and remotely, and this enables the company to expand its horizons when it comes to hiring.

“You can expand your pool when it comes to workforce; we can hire someone not from the Springfield area and have them be successful with the tools that we’ve developed,” said Drew DiGiorgio, the company’s CEO, adding that the company has already hired some people from other parts of the country. Meanwhile, it is working on plans to have other employees work a hybrid schedule, with some days in the office and others remotely.

Chuck Leach, president and CEO of Lee Bank, said that, prior to COVID, HR Director Susie Brown and IT Director Drew Weibel were already hard on work on plans to position the bank to be more flexible with its workforce in terms of where and how it worked. The pandemic served to accelerate that process.

“Even though we’re Lee Bank, a lot of our employees come in from other markets,” he noted, adding that these lengthy commutes prompted talk and then creation of plans for remote work and hybrid schedules. “We were already thinking about it, and COVID forced us to be more deliberate in our approach and our policies and procedures.”

But even with these options in place and far more flexibility with work schedules than ever before, the bank is tilting strongly toward having people work on site — with some exceptions — and it’s also seeing most of its employees want to come back, which is another thing companies are learning as they work their way through COVID.

“It’s a mix, but many certainly want to come back,” Weibel said. “They’re lonely … they actually want to work in more of a community setting. They want to come back, but some find it easier to work at home until the school situation is worked out and their children are back in the classroom.”

Stack agreed. “When the shutdown first happened, everyone was excited to work from home, so a lot of people exercised that option, and some people have found they’re more efficient from home, cutting out that commute,” she said. “But while some still work from home, the majority of people, like 97% of the people at MBK, choose to come into the office every day because they don’t want to work from home.”

Work in Progress

DiGiorgio said it’s somewhat frustrating to walk around his company’s offices in Tower Square.

More than 200 employees moved into the well-appointed space covering three full floors in the late summer of 2019, only to see pretty much everyone pack up and go home to work in mid-March.

“We love it — we wish we could be in it more,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great space — open-floor design, all the things you probably don’t want with COVID. It will be great to get back to it.”

Indeed, that’s a lot of fairly expensive (for this market) downtown Springfield real estate that is not being used. But DiGiorgio doesn’t dwell on matters that are out of his control.

Instead, he’s more focused on what the future will look like — and applying all the lessons learned during the pandemic.

As for that real estate … he said this is a growing company that took three floors with the intention of perhaps soon absorbing a fourth. Need for that additional space is less likely now, he acknowledged, but the company will still need the space it’s now leasing because he fully expects most of his employees to be back in that space.

But not all will have to come back, he went on, and some, as he noted, will never have to sit at a desk there.

“We have, over the past year, hired people in Florida, Tennessee, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Upstate New York … we have a pretty remote workforce,” he said, adding that some of these hires took place before COVID because the tools were in place, but the pandemic has highlighted how effective people can be working remotely, and thus, as he said, broadened and deepened the talent pool.

“We have a billing person who’s in Tennessee. I feel more comfortable now that she can hire people in Tennessee or wherever she needs to; they may not need to be in Springfield, which is what our initial thought was. COVID has opened up our thinking to where we hire people.”

Marini agreed. “We have employees in Wisconsin who work for New England,” he explained. “We have people who decided to move to Florida and still work for New England. We had a little of that before COVID, but what we realized was that, with our ability to get our automation up and running, our digital offerings, that really expanded our talent pool; there have been some relocations during COVID and some new hires during COVID that are not Western Mass.-based. And we have some people in Western Mass. who work for some of our Eastern Mass. locations and even one in New York.”

COVID has reinforced this premise, as it has many others, while accelerating some trends and pretty much forcing companies to do some things they never considered before.

Like those virtual audits at Meyers Brothers Kalicka.

Stack said the firm’s teams have undertaken a number of them, while, in other cases, it has adopted a hybrid approach for some audits, going to the client site for some of the work while handing the rest remotely. Thanks in large part to COVID, there are now several options for handling such work, she said, adding that other lessons have been learned and other new ways of doing things revealed.

“On the tax side of our practice, we used to have clients in the building all day, every day, from February 1 through tax day, and now, maybe three people a day drop off their boxes of papers; the vast majority of people just e-mail us their material,” she explained. “They’re happy with it, it’s efficient, and it saves us a step. Instead of having to take tons and tons of paperwork and scan it into our digital system, it’s already coming to us in that format.

“We used to have to hire a scanner for tax season — a whole person whose job was to take all this paper that people would drop off and scan it,” she went on. “We didn’t have to hire a scanner this season, and that was definitely a positive change.”

Will Dávila, executive director and CEO of the Children’s Study Home in Springfield, said the pandemic has led to positive change in many forms at his agency and most all businesses and nonprofits. He echoed others when he said that COVID has served to heighten the awareness of how technology can be used to improve efficiency and save time, such as when traveling to conferences or meetings in other cities.

Will Dávila, executive director of the Children’s Study Home

Will Dávila, executive director of the Children’s Study Home, says his agency has learned a number of lessons during the pandemic, many of them involving better use of technology.

“We now have more of a comfort level with working remotely and working via Zoom,” he said, adding that this technology existed long before COVID, but few businesses took full advantage of it. “The lesson for us, and I’m not sure we have it completely figured out yet — it will likely take us some time — is that we can do more with technology than we thought we could before. I’ve been in places where we would talk about technology and teleconferencing and telehealth, and people would balk at it. And now, we’ve been forced to take another look, and we’ve embraced it.”

Looking ahead, he said that, while most people look forward to the day when they can gather and attend conferences and meetings in person, they know there are options — there’s that word again — and they won’t be hesitant to take full advantage of them if the circumstances permit.

Caution Signs

As he walked with BusinessWest through HUB’s headquarters facility on Shaker Road in East Longmeadow, Marini pointed to a number of unoccupied workstations, some of them marked off with the yellow ‘caution’ tape usually associated with crime scenes and construction sites. Such tape can be seen throughout the suite of offices, he said, noting that the space — which was occupied by just over 50 employees prior to the pandemic — has hosted around seven a day on average, with a high of 14, by his count.

Sectioning off such areas became part of life during COVID, he noted, adding that there are myriad ways the pandemic changed the landscape for the company. Overall, there’s been a huge shift; a place once teeming with employees and visiting customers now sees very few of either.

And that has brought challenges — and some opportunities, mostly in the form of learning how to do things remotely and without reams of paper. As he talked about these opportunities, Marini gave a nod — sort of, anyway — to an organization his business works closely with, obviously: the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

“Even the Registry of Motor Vehicles here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has become more digitized, more automated, and more flexible, and that’s something I never thought I’d see after 33 or 34 years of doing this,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, in some ways, his company has been inspired by the RMV, as it automates and digitizes many processes that once involved paper and in-person sessions.

As for the challenges, they came in waves, Marini explained, from equipping everyone to work at home, which was expensive and difficult logistically, to helping employees cope with everything from feelings of isolation to simply filling their days with work, even though they were home.

CHuck Leach

Chuck Leach

“Even though we’re Lee Bank, a lot of our employees come in from other markets. We were already thinking about it, and COVID forced us to be more deliberate in our approach and our policies and procedures.”

“We were too accessible when we were home, so there were no breaks for our people,” he explained. “We started having big conversations and hiring professionals to come in to coach us to make sure we took breaks and that there was separation between home and work.”

What will things look like several months from now, especially if the pandemic continues to ease? Marini isn’t exactly sure, but he acknowledged that he spends a lot of time thinking about it and working with corporate to prepare for that day.

He does know that more business will be handled virtually in the future, and there will be little, if any, need for those printed insurance bibles.

As for employees, like others we spoke with, he expected that they will come back, because the company wants them back, but also because they want to be back in that office setting.

Such sentiments were echoed by many of those we spoke with. They noted that it seem logical that, after getting a taste of working at home, many employees would prefer that option, but what employers are generally seeing is the opposite reaction.

“People are sick of remote everything,” said Stack, noting that Meyers Brothers Kalicka has a younger team within the audit department that could do its work from home, but instead it has reserved the firm’s huge boardroom for the past six weeks so the members can work together, but safely and well spread out.

“They have music playing on Spotify every time you walk in there,” she said. “They just want to be in the same space — they think they’re more efficient that way, and they can ask questions of each other faster and stay on track better because they’re all together. It’s not something we told them they had to do; they’ve chosen to do it.”

Dávila agreed, although he noted that he has some employees who are quite happy working at home, and are “working on it” when it comes to returning to the office. By that, he meant he’s offering some flexibility on this matter and not rushing anyone back who doesn’t want to rush back.

“I think it’s partly generational — people who have been in the field for 15 or 20 years or more and are used to those in-person interactions, they’re used to having that time by the water cooler when they’re getting a cup of coffee. I consider those valuable interactions that help with morale,” he told BusinessWest. “But we also have younger staff who are very comfortable with technology and embrace the idea of working remotely.”

But, ultimately, they will come back, probably by the end of the calendar year. “I don’t want to say absolutely not,” he said when asked about hybrid arrangements that offer a mix of remote and in-office work. “But my preference is that we get people back to a schedule where they can see each other and interact.”

Lee Bank’s Susie Brown agreed. “When it comes to Lee Bank, I think everyone enjoys being together,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of people who are unwilling to come back; those that are unwilling are those that have other challenges at home with their children.”

Bottom Line

COVID is far from over, and there are certainly more lessons to be learned as companies large and small continue to cope with an unprecedented challenge.

But it’s already evident that this battle has prompted changes that will live on long after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror. As they were forced to do things differently, companies learned that, in many cases, these different ways are better than the old ways.

Like the insurance bible. Clients, at least some of them, will still need one. But they won’t need to thumb through 700 pages of printed material to find an answer.

COVID has changed all that — and it keeps on changing the landscape.

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

Modern Office

Flexible Thinking, Nimble Action

By Susan Robertson

To survive the pandemic, companies were forced to adapt very quickly to radically new circumstances. Even large organizations — where it’s typically difficult to shift directions quickly — managed to accomplish it. Leaders discovered that, when required, their organization could act much more quickly and nimbly than they normally do.

So, the obvious questions are: what was different? And how can you ‘hardwire’ this flexibility into your organization so it continues to be stronger in the future?

 

What Was Different?

All humans have a set of cognitive biases, which are mental shortcuts used for problem solving and decision making.

To be clear, cognitive biases are not individual or personal biases. They are a neuroscience phenomenon that all humans share. It’s also important to understand that they operate subconsciously; they affect your thinking in ways that you don’t realize.

You have two different thinking systems, commonly known as system 1 and system 2, sometimes referred to as thinking fast and thinking slow.

System 1 is the intuitive, quick, and easy thinking that we do most of the time. In fact, it accounts for about 98% of our thinking. It doesn’t require a lot of mental effort; we do it easily, quickly, and without having to think about the fact that we’re thinking.

System 2 thinking is deeper thinking, the kind that’s required for complex problem solving and decision making. This deeper thinking requires more effort and energy; it literally uses more calories. Since it’s less energy-efficient, our brain automatically and subconsciously defaults to the easier system-1 thinking whenever it can to save effort.

Cognitive biases result when our brain tries to stay in system-1 thinking, when perhaps it should be in system 2. The outcome is often sub-optimal solutions and/or poor decision making. But we don’t realize we have sub-optimized because all of this has happened subconsciously.

In typical circumstances, several of these cognitive biases conspire to make us perceive that continuing as we are — with only slower, incremental changes — seems like the best decision. It feels familiar, it feels lower risk … it just feels smarter. Choosing to do nothing different is, very often, simply the default. It frequently doesn’t even feel like we made a decision; instead, it feels like we were really smart for not making a potentially risky decision.

But during the pandemic, changing nothing, or changing very slowly, were simply not options. This particular situation was so unique that our brains didn’t have the choice to stay in short-cut system-1 thinking. System-2 thinking was required. Since we consciously realized we must change — quickly — our brains literally started working harder, in system 2, and the normal cognitive biases weren’t a factor.

 

How Can We Be More Nimble in the Future?

The key to maintaining flexible thinking and nimble behavior is to not allow our brains to fall into the trap of cognitive biases. Obviously, since these are intuitive and subconscious responses, this is not an easy task. But there are proven ways in which we can better manage our brains. Here are a few ways to start.

• Knock Out the Negativity Bias. This is the phenomenon in which negative experiences have a greater impact on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors than positive experiences. So you are much more highly motivated to avoid the negative than you are to seek out positive. The way this manifests in your daily work is that you are much more prone to reject new ideas than to accept them, because rejecting ideas feels like you’re avoiding a potential negative.

Respond to “yes, but…” with “what if…?” This requires a dedicated and conscious mental effort, by everyone on the team, to monitor their own and the team’s response to new ideas. Every time “yes, but…” is uttered, the response needs to be, “what if we could solve for that?” This reframing of the problem into a question will trigger our brains to look for solutions, instead of instantly rejecting the idea.

• Short-circuit the Status-quo Bias. The status-quo bias is a subconscious preference for the current state of affairs. We use ‘current’ as a mental reference point, and any change from that is perceived as a loss. As a result, we frequently overestimate the risk of a change, and dramatically underestimate the risk of business as usual.

When weighing a choice of possible actions, be sure to overtly list “do nothing” as one of the choices, so you are forced to acknowledge it is a choice. Also include “risk” as one of the evaluation criteria, and force the team to list all the possible risks. Then comes the difficult part: remind the team that their subconscious brain is making them perceive the risks of doing nothing to be lower than the reality, so they should multiply the possibility of each of those risks.

• Curtail the Curse of Knowledge. In any subject where we have some expertise, we also have many subconscious assumptions about that subject. Under normal circumstances, this ‘curse of knowledge’ (these latent assumptions) limits our thinking and suppresses our ability to come up with radically new ideas.

Rely on advisors who don’t have the same curse of knowledge. In other words, seek out advice from people outside of your industry. When evaluating ideas or actions, these outsiders won’t have the same blinders that you have, so they will likely have a more clear-eyed view of the benefits and risks.

The bad news is that cognitive biases are always going to be a factor in our problem solving and decision making; they’re hardwired into us. The good news is that, with some dedicated and continuous mental effort, we can mitigate them and become nimbler in the face of change.

 

Susan Robertson empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to more nimbly adapt to change, by transforming thinking from “why we can’t” to “how might we?” She is a creative thinking expert with more than 20 years of experience coaching Fortune 500 companies. As an instructor on applied creativity at Harvard, she brings a scientific foundation to enhancing human creativity; www.susanrobertson.com

Agenda

Difference Makers

April 1: BusinessWest will celebrate its Difference Makers class of 2021 with a virtual celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. The 2021 Difference Makers include Kristin Carlson, president of Peerless Precision; EforAll Holyoke; Janine Fondon, founder of UnityFirst.com and professor at Bay Path University; Harold Grinspoon, philanthropist and founder of Aspen Square Management; Chad Moir, founder and owner of DopaFit Parkinson’s Movement Center; Bill Parks, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield; and Pete Westover, founder and partner at Conservation Works, LLC. Like the Women of Impact celebration in January, this event will be presented using the REMO platform, and will feature networking, videos of the event sponsors, introductions of the honorees, and comments from the Difference Makers themselves. RSVP at live.remo.co/e/difference-makers-2021. The sponsors for this year’s program are Burkhart Pizzanelli, the Royal Law Firm, TommyCar Auto Group, and United Way of Pioneer Valley. The Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament is a nonprofit partner.

 

Institute for Trustees

Starting April 7: Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF) announced it is partnering with the Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) in presenting the 2021 Institute for Trustees, an annual conference inviting nonprofit leaders to gather together for educational workshops and networking opportunities. Building on the success of BTCF’s 2018 Board Leadership Forum and designed for board leaders and executive directors, the event features 24 virtual workshops from leading nonprofit experts and opportunities to connect with hundreds of peers equally committed to their leadership roles. This partnership is part of a broader effort between BTCF and ECCF to leverage resources in support of building capacity and leadership within the nonprofit sector, given the challenges facing organizations due to the pandemic and its economic consequences. The Institute for Trustees kicks off on April 7 with a keynote address by Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, titled “Leading for Nonprofit Impact Amid Unprecedented Challenge.” Beginning April 9, workshops and opportunities to connect with fellow attendees through topic-driven, informal peer discussions will be spread over the course of four weeks. Workshop topics include racial equity, endowment building, crisis planning, governance, advocacy, finance, and much more. To register for the program, visit eccf.org/ift. Registrations will be accepted at a discounted early-bird rate of $110 until March 7. After that, registration will cost $130 and will close April 7.

 

Winnie Film Festival Tour

April 9-11: The Therapeutic Equestrian Center (TEC), located in Holyoke, is hosting a virtual fundraising event featuring the 2021 Winnie Film Festival Tour. This film fest will feature exclusive, world-premiere short documentary films that celebrate the healing powers of the horse. Attendees will enjoy two hours of inspiring and heartwarming films anytime from 5 p.m. on Friday, April 9 until 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 11. A fee of $25 is requested to register, and participants will be provided a link to stream to any smart device, such as phones, tablets, and TVs. Binge in one sitting, or stretch the viewing out over the entire weekend — the choice is yours. To register for this virtual event, visit tecriders.org. Gary Rome Hyundai is the exclusive event sponsor. TEC has been closed during the pandemic but hopes to open later this year. Proceeds from this event will help feed and care for its stable of horses and provide necessary materials needed for a safe reopening. The Therapeutic Equestrian Center empowers children and adults with physical, emotional, and developmental needs to live their best lives. Through a range of individually designed, equine-assisted programs, lessons, and recreational activities, TEV enhances the bodies, minds, and spirits of riders, creating a stronger, more compassionate and inclusive community in which every member is encouraged and able to thrive.

 

Country Bank Shred Day

April 10: Country Bank is partnering with PROSHRED Security for its annual Shred Day to allow the public to discard their documents safely and securely. According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were 1.4 million identity theft reports in 2020, and that number continues to rise. Country Bank offers this free shredding service to the public because it understands the importance of helping consumers keep their identity safe. All visitors are asked to practice social distancing and will be required to wear a mask. Country Bank’s free Community Shred Day will take place at the following branch locations: 155 West Street, Ware, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.; 2379 Boston Road, Wilbraham, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; 1084 Main St., Leicester, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.; and 37 Worcester Road, Charlton, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Items to consider for shredding include old documents, tax returns, bank statements, receipts, bills, or anything that contains personal, identifiable information.

 

‘Establishing Resilience: Building Happiness’

April 10: Holyoke Community College (HCC) is partnering with Pam Victor, president and founder of Happier Valley Comedy, to offer “Establishing Resilience: Building Happiness,” a Zoom workshop, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The cost of the class is $99. To register, visit hcc.edu/happiness. Victor, a comedian and improv facilitator who prefers the title ‘head of happiness,’ will lead participants on an experiential exploration of happiness and resilience building to enhance their joy and ease at work and home. She will share stress-relieving exercises and techniques to help people bring more well-being, laughter, gratitude, and play into their daily lives. Happier Valley Comedy, based in Hadley, is the region’s first and only comedy theater and training program.

 

Nominations for Ad Club Creative Awards

Through April 18: The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts invites the community to apply for its 2021 Creative Awards. The club has simplified the rules and eliminated physical entries entirely, due to COVID-19 restrictions. As always, Ad Club members will receive a discounted rate; members will receive a personalized discount code via e-mail. Participants will have the opportunity to virtually meet the agencies, marketing departments, and freelance artists behind the work. Award winners will be announced at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show scheduled for Thursday, May 20. Categories that qualify participants for entry include advertising, copywriting, design, interactive and web media, photography, video and motion, and student work. Visit www.adclubwm.org/events/creativeawards2021 for the guidelines and application form, or contact the Ad Club at (413) 342-0533 or [email protected].

 

Alumni Achievement Award Nominations

Through April 23: When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in 2007, it did so to identify rising stars across our region — individuals who were excelling in business and through involvement within the community — and celebrate their accomplishments. In 2015, BusinessWest announced a new award, one that builds on the foundation upon which 40 Under Forty was created. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award (formerly the Continued Excellence Award). As the name suggests, it is presented to the 40 Under Forty honoree who, in the eyes of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively continued and built upon his or her track record of accomplishment. To nominate someone for this award, visit businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty-alumni-achievement-award. The deadline is Friday, April 23 at 5 p.m., no exceptions. The 2020 honoree will be announced at the 40 Under Forty gala in June. Candidates must be from 40 Under Forty classes prior to the year of the award — in this case, classes 2007 to 2020. A list of 40 Under Forty Alumni can be found at businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty.

 

Springfield Partners for Community Action Scholarships

Through April 23: Springfield Partners for Community Action announced it will award a number of $1,000 scholarships that can help recipients with tuition and alleviate the cost of going back to school and investing in bettering themselves. All applicants must be Springfield residents, and income-eligibility guidelines may apply. Scholarships will be awarded to those attending accredited/licensed schools in Massachusetts. Applications must be received by April 23. Late entries will not be considered. If selected, recipients must be available to attend an awards event (most likely virtual) in June. Visit www.springfieldpartnersinc.com/whatwedo/scholarshipsprogram for the application form and information on how to apply.

 

VA Healthcare Virtual Summit

May 24-26: The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) announced plans for the IDGA VA Healthcare Summit. HCN is sponsoring this event, at which attendees will have the opportunity to meet with the leaders positioned to provide substantive change across the department, with a particular focus on advancing patient advocacy and experience, digital transformation, community and vendor engagement, e-learning, the VA’s innovation ecosystem, and more. IDGA’s summit will highlight these areas across the agenda, as well as include enabling VA initiatives currently underway to advance the most critical needs for veterans across the U.S. This year’s agenda, developed through indepth research by IDGA, covers a range of topics, including VHA innovation ecosystem initiatives, VA telehealth capabilities, financial management and business-transformation efforts, and a deep dive into clinical delivery. For more information and to view the agenda, visit www.idga.org/events-veteransaffairshealthcare-spring. To join and receive a 20% discount, register at bit.ly/3sts2FV and quote code VAH_HCN. All federal, state, and local government, as well as military and law enforcement, can attend at no cost.

Incorporations

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

EAST LONGMEADOW

Fortini Construction & Remodeling Inc., 46 Center Square East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Mathew L. Fortini, 138 Feeding Hills Road, Westfield, MA 01085. Home construction and remodeling.

Via Appia Ristorante, Inc., 46 Center Square East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Jorge Alexander Gomez, 21 Bruce St. Springfield, MA 01119. Restaurant.

DALTON

My Fantasy Band Inc., 609 Main St. Dalton, MA 01226. Elizabeth A. Sharp, same. Online entertainment.

LANESBORO

Walter Tool Distributor, Inc., 30 Scott Road, Lanesboro, MA 01237. Jeffrey M. Walter, same. Tool sales.

LEE

Hare Krishna Inc., 155 Summer St., Lee, MA 01238. Gaurang Panwala, same. Wholesale.

LENOX

Sadhi Corp., 659 Prospect St., Apt. A1, Chicopee, MA 01020. Ankit Patel, same. Package store.

PITTSFIELD

G.B. Cleaning Services Inc., 483 Tyler St., Pittsfield, MA 01201. Gladis M. Bravo, same. House and office cleaning.

GetLofty Inc., 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 100, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Caribell Burgos, 405 Newbury St., Apt. B Springfield, MA 01104. Bakery.

SANDISFIELD

Charles Pease Plumbing & Heating Inc., 31 South Main St., Sandisfield, MA 01255. Charles A. Pease, 102 South Main St. Sandisfield, MA 01255. Plumbing and heating services.

SPRINGFIELD

J & E Transport Inc., 100 Garvey Dr., Springfield, MA 01109. Anibal Collazo, same. Transportation.

J & L Transport Express Inc., 172 Davis St., Springfield, MA 01104. Maria Pagan, same. Trucking.

Majestic Barber Shop Inc., 51 Willow St., PO Box 2622 Lynn, MA 01901. Misael Colon Andino, 74 Monmouth St., 1st Fl. Springfield, MA 01109. Barber shop.

S & F Investors Inc., 254 Worthington St., Springfield, MA 01103. Dominga Vasquez-Pujols, 63 Wilson St. Springfield, MA 01104. Restaurant.

WESTFIELD

R & W Transport, Corp., 549 Russell Road Unit 6C Westfield, MA 01085. Wilmary Martinez, same. Transportation.

VikVik Transportation Inc., 23 East Silver St. Westfield, MA 01085. Viktor Babinov, same. Trucking.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Best Out of State Movers Inc., 203 Circuit Ave., Suite 104 West Springfield, MA 01089. Michael Peri, same. Moving & storage services.

WILBRAHAM

Firefly Landscapes, Inc., 278 Soule Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095. Brian Tassinari, same. Landscaping.

WILLIAMSBURG

Ambika, Inc., 35 Main St. Williamsburg, MA 01096. Aarti D. Patel, 431 East St. Easthampton, MA 01027. Liquor Store.

Picture This

Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]


 

Supporting Students

Jane Schwartzberg and James Machia, advanced manufacturing and technology students at Asnuntuck Community College, were each awarded a $2,500 scholarship through a 3M grant. The scholarships are available to students entering or currently enrolled in programs in mechatronics, advanced manufacturing technology, robotics, or industrial maintenance. Schwartzberg and Machia are pictured standing behind the Festo Mechatronics Learning System that 3M donated to Asnuntuck.

 


 

Tackling Tough Issues

Springfield College doctor of physical therapy (DPT) student Xavier Gibson was selected as one of two finalists in the annual physical therapy essay contest co-sponsored by the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy Consortium for the Humanities, Ethics, and Professionalism and the Journal for Humanities in Rehabilitation. Gibson’s essay — which highlights his responsibilities and obligations as a DPT student of color, the only student of color in his cohort, to come to terms with addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in society and inequalities in healthcare — will be published in the JHR’s fall 2021 issue.

 


 

In the Bag

JGS Lifecare was selected as the nonprofit beneficiary of the Big Y Community Bag Program for the month of March at the Big Y located in Longmeadow. JGS Lifecare will receive a $1 donation every time the $2.50 reusable “Big Y Cares” Community Bag is purchased at this location during March, unless otherwise directed by the customer through the giving tag attached to the bag. “We are thrilled to receive the support of our local Big Y and our community,” said Susan Kimball Halpern, vice president of Development and Communications at JGS Lifecare (pictured).

 


 

Agenda

Pynchon Award Nominations

Through March 19: The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts is seeking nominations from throughout Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties for the Pynchon Award, which recognizes Western Mass. citizens who have rendered distinguished service to the community. To nominate an individual, submit a one-page letter explaining why the nominee should be considered. Include biographical information, outstanding accomplishments, examples of service to the community, organizations in which the individual is or has been active, and the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of at least three people who can further attest to the nominee’s eligibility for induction into the Order of William Pynchon. Nominations must be submitted by March 19 to William Pynchon Trustees, Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, P.O. Box 1022, West Springfield, MA 01090-1022, or by e-mail to [email protected]. The 2021 recipients will be announced in June, with an awards ceremony tentatively scheduled for the fall.

 

Ubora, Ahadi Award Nominations

Through March 31: The Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the annual Ubora Award and Ahadi Youth Award. These prestigious awards — conferred by the African Hall Subcommittee — are awarded to African-American people from Greater Springfield who have gone above and beyond in demonstrating commitment to the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, and/or the arts. The nomination deadline for both awards is March 31. The Ubora and Ahadi awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in the fall. True to the Swahili word that comprises its name, the Ubora Award recognizes an adult of African heritage who exemplifies excellence in their commitment to creating a better community through service. Named for the Swahili word for promise, the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who excels in academics and performs admirable service to the Greater Springfield community. Eligible candidates must be age 19 or younger, live in or have strong ties to the Greater Springfield area, and be currently enrolled in grades 10, 11, or 12. Nomination forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. Nominations may be e-mailed to [email protected] or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

 

Fundraising Walk in Remembrance of Dave Stawasz

April: Western New England University (WNEU) faculty, colleagues, family members, and students are invited to participate in a commemorative event in memory of Assistant Vice President of Marketing Communications Dave Stawasz, who passed away peacefully on Jan. 28, surrounded by his family, after a courageous two-year battle with stage-4 colorectal cancer. Stawasz was a graduate of South Hadley High School and Syracuse University. His early career was as a news producer at WWLP and then later at WFSB. He joined the university in 2004. Steps for Stawasz is a virtual walk taking place throughout the month of April in his honor. Participants will log as many virtual steps as they can during the month by either walking or running while collecting donations along the way through friends and family sponsorships. By signing up, participants will receive a link to share on social media. From there, participants can create a personal giving page to collect donations and update progress. Details and instructions can be found at runsignup.com/race/ma/springfield/stawasz. Interested individuals can also make a direct donation on the website without participating in the walk. All proceeds will go directly to the Stawasz family.

 

Institute for Trustees

Starting April 7: Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF) announced it is partnering with the Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) in presenting the 2021 Institute for Trustees, an annual conference inviting nonprofit leaders to gather together for educational workshops and networking opportunities. Building on the success of BTCF’s 2018 Board Leadership Forum and designed for board leaders and executive directors, the event features 24 virtual workshops from leading nonprofit experts and opportunities to connect with hundreds of peers equally committed to their leadership roles. This partnership is part of a broader effort between BTCF and ECCF to leverage resources in support of building capacity and leadership within the nonprofit sector, given the challenges facing organizations due to the pandemic and its economic consequences. The Institute for Trustees kicks off on April 7 with a keynote address by Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, titled “Leading for Nonprofit Impact Amid Unprecedented Challenge.” Beginning April 9, workshops and opportunities to connect with fellow attendees through topic-driven, informal peer discussions will be spread over the course of four weeks. Workshop topics include racial equity, endowment building, crisis planning, governance, advocacy, finance, and much more. To register for the program, visit eccf.org/ift. Registrations will be accepted at a discounted early-bird rate of $110 until March 7. After that, registration will cost $130 and will close April 7.

 

Nominations for Ad Club Creative Awards

Through April 18: The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts invites the community to apply for its 2021 Creative Awards. The club has simplified the rules and eliminated physical entries entirely, due to COVID-19 restrictions. As always, Ad Club members will receive a discounted rate; members will receive a personalized discount code via e-mail. Participants will have the opportunity to virtually meet the agencies, marketing departments, and freelance artists behind the work. Award winners will be announced at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show scheduled for Thursday, May 20. Categories that qualify participants for entry include advertising, copywriting, design, interactive and web media, photography, video and motion, and student work. Visit www.adclubwm.org/events/creativeawards2021 for the guidelines and application form, or contact the Ad Club at (413) 342-0533 or [email protected].

 

Alumni Achievement Award Nominations

Through April 23: When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in 2007, it did so to identify rising stars across our region — individuals who were excelling in business and through involvement within the community — and celebrate their accomplishments. In 2015, BusinessWest announced a new award, one that builds on the foundation upon which 40 Under Forty was created. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award (formerly the Continued Excellence Award). As the name suggests, it is presented to the 40 Under Forty honoree who, in the eyes of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively continued and built upon his or her track record of accomplishment. To nominate someone for this award, visit businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty-alumni-achievement-award. The deadline is Friday, April 23 at 5 p.m., no exceptions. The 2020 honoree will be announced at the 40 Under Forty gala in June. Candidates must be from 40 Under Forty classes prior to the year of the award — in this case, classes 2007 to 2020. A list of 40 Under Forty Alumni can be found at businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty (scroll to the bottom). Past winners include: 2020: Carla Cosenzi, president, TommyCar Auto Group (40 Under Forty class of 2012), and Peter DePergola, director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health (class of 2015); 2019: Cinda Jones, president, W.D. Cowls Inc. (class of 2007); 2018: Samalid Hogan, regional director, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (class of 2013); 2017: Scott Foster, attorney, Bulkley Richardson (class of 2011), and Nicole Griffin, owner, ManeHire (class of 2014); 2016: Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president, Allergy & Immunology Associates of New England (class of 2008); 2015: Delcie Bean, president, Paragus Strategic IT (class of 2008).

 

Springfield Partners for Community Action Scholarships

Through April 23: Springfield Partners for Community Action announced it will award a number of $1,000 scholarships that can help recipients with tuition and alleviate the cost of going back to school and investing in bettering themselves. All applicants must be Springfield residents, and income-eligibility guidelines may apply. Scholarships will be awarded to those attending accredited/licensed schools in Massachusetts. Applications must be received by April 23. Late entries will not be considered. If selected, recipients must be available to attend an awards event (most likely virtual) in June. Visit www.springfieldpartnersinc.com/whatwedo/scholarshipsprogram for the application form and information on how to apply.

 

VA Healthcare Virtual Summit

May 24-26: The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) announced plans for the IDGA VA Healthcare Summit. HCN is sponsoring this event, at which attendees will have the opportunity to meet with the leaders positioned to provide substantive change across the department, with a particular focus on advancing patient advocacy and experience, digital transformation, community and vendor engagement, e-learning, the VA’s innovation ecosystem, and more. IDGA’s summit will highlight these areas across the agenda, as well as include enabling VA initiatives currently underway to advance the most critical needs for veterans across the U.S. This year’s agenda, developed through indepth research by IDGA, covers a range of topics, including VHA innovation ecosystem initiatives, VA telehealth capabilities, financial management and business-transformation efforts, and a deep dive into clinical delivery. For more information and to view the agenda, visit www.idga.org/events-veteransaffairshealthcare-spring. To join and receive a 20% discount, register at bit.ly/3sts2FV and quote code VAH_HCN. All federal, state, and local government, as well as military and law enforcement, can attend at no cost.

 

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