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40 Under 40
The Seventh Annual 40 Under Forty Competition

This year’s nominations were scored by a panel of five judges, who accepted the daunting challenge of reviewing more than 100 nominations and scoring individuals based on several factors, ranging from achievements in business to work within the community. BusinessWest would like to thank these outstanding members of the Western Mass. business community for volunteering their time to the seventh annual 40 Under Forty competition. They are:

Jeffrey Fialky

Jeffrey Fialky

• Jeffrey Fialky, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2008 and a shareholder of the regional law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C., and member of the firm’s corporate, commercial, and municipal departments, where he specializes in all aspects of corporate and business law, banking, commercial real estate, and sophisticated commercial transactions. He joined the firm in 2006 after nearly a decade of living in Eastern Mass., where he held senior commercial attorney positions within some of the country’s most prominent publicly traded telecommunications and cable television companies. He previously served as an assistant district attorney in Hampden County.

Fialky is also active in the community, having served on a number of nonprofit and economic-development-related organizations. They include the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Springfield Museums, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Jewish Federation of Pioneer Valley, the Springfield Technical Community College Scibelli Enterprise Center Advisory Board, the Alden Credit Union board of directors, the Community Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Leadership Pioneer Valley, OnBoard, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, the Mason Wright Foundation, the EDC Tourism Development Committee; and the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter.

Brendon Hutchins

Brendon Hutchins

• Brendon Hutchins, CFP, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2012, and senior vice president of Account Management for St. Germain Investment Management. Prior to joing the firm in 2003, he was vice president and financial advisor for the FleetBoston Financial Corp. Private Clients Group in Springfield. His prior experience includes eight years with Fidelity Investments as a vice president in the retirement division, with responsibilities across multiple locations during his tenure there.

In addition to being a certified financial planner, Hutchins holds NASD series 7 and 65 licenses for securities representation and investment-advisor services. He currently serves on the board of directors for the New England office of the March of Dimes, the Greater Springfield YMCA, and the Basketball Hall of Fame, and has also served on the board for the Springfield School Volunteers.

Mark O’Connell

Mark O’Connell

• Mark O’Connell, president and chief executive officer of Wolf & Co., providing audit and financial reporting services to both privately held and publicly traded financial institutions and holding companies across New England, including community banks and mortgage banking institutions. In his current capacity, he is responsible for the strategic direction of the firm, while also providing audit and advisory services to financial institutions. His experience also includes consultation on audit and accounting issues related to mergers and acquisitions and with respect to debt and security offerings filed with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

O’Connell has been involved with a number of industry and nonprofit organizations, including the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Massachusetts and Connecticut Societies of Certified Public Accountants, and the Children’s Study Home in Springfield. In 2010, he won the Human Services Forum Board Member Award.

Myra Smith

Myra Smith

• Myra Smith, vice president of Human Resources and Multicultural Affairs at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Joining the college in 1978, Smith has helped transform the STCC community into one of inclusiveness that celebrates cultural diversity. Among her many accomplishments is the creation of the STCC Diversity Council and its event series, which brings national and international speakers and artists to the campus. Smith also was responsible for the creation of the STCC “Think Tank” series, which brings community leaders together to assist with the retention and graduation rate of young men of color.

Smith is also active in the community, serving on many local boards, including People’sBank, the National Conference for Community Justice of Western Mass., and the STCC Foundation. Smith is a founding trustee of the Martin Luther King Charter School of Excellence and a trustee for the Non-Unit Health and Welfare Trust Fund for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Smith was recognized in 2007 by Unity First with a Women of Leadership Award, and received a Women of Vision Award from the Elms College Step Forward Program in 2005.

Jeff Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan

• Jeff Sullivan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of United Bank. In that capacity, which he assumed Jan. 1, Sullivan is responsible for the bank’s retail deposit and operations division, advancements in technology and electronic banking, and franchise expansion efforts. In addition, he also oversees the Information Systems and Facilities Departments and the United Wealth Management Group, and is also responsible for the company’s enterprise risk management program. He previously served the bank as executive vice president and chief lending officer and, prior to arriving at United, served in commercial-lending capacities for the Bank of Western Mass. and BayBank.

Sullivan has been involved with a number of area nonprofit and economic-development-related organizations, including DevelopSpringfield, Better Homes Inc., Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, Briana Fund for Children with Physical Disabilities, OnBoard, the Pioneer Valley Plan for Progress, the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Council of Western Mass.

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Northampton Commercial Real Estate Market Remains Resilient

Patrick Goggins

Patrick Goggins, owner of Goggins Real Estate, says the resiliency of the Northampton commercial real estate market is no accident — it results from the city’s welcoming atmosphere.

John Williamson says Northampton has a magnetic quality that draws a broad spectrum of people to its businesses, restaurants, retail shops, and entertainment venues. And that quality has allowed commercial real estate not only to weather the economic downturn, but register unprecedented growth over the past two years.
“It’s so far and away from other markets, there really is no comparison,” said the president of Williamson Commercial Properties LLC in Springfield.
Steve Jasinski agrees. “The Northampton area seems to have been isolated from the downturn in the economy, it didn’t suffer the same pitfalls that occurred in other areas,” said the broker at Delap Real Estate LLC in Northampton and Amherst, explaining that the city’s economic and social diversity, strong employment base, and unique character of its downtown have provided a formula for success that is reflected in the value of commercial property.
But Patrick Goggins, owner of Goggins Real Estate in Florence, who has been in this business for more than 40 years, says the steadiness of the market is no accident. Instead, it results from a collective commitment on the part of business owners who have devoted time, energy, and thought to creating an atmosphere that is personal and welcoming to visitors.
He told BusinessWest the reason for Northampton’s success is fairly simple. “People are doing their own thing, but many businesses on Main Street are run and managed by owners who are here day in and day out. It adds a personal touch, which brings with it personal attention and gives them a better chance of succeeding and understanding the community and its needs. They know that connecting the dots is important, so they are a very active group, and when they see something is needed, they pitch in.”
Officials at Smith College have also joined forces with business owners to keep downtown vibrant, and have played a significant role in its financial success. “The town and gown works well here,” Goggins said, adding that the college has supported the Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement District, Academy of Music, the new fire station under construction, and other organizations that play a role in the city’s unfalteringly robust economic climate.
Brokers John Williamson, left, and Steve Jasinski

Brokers John Williamson, left, and Steve Jasinski say downtown Northampton offers people a place to shop and dine in an intimate, personal setting.

Jasinski said the five colleges and the fact that many Smith College graduates choose to return to the area, adds to the vitality.
“People leave here and talk about the diversity of Northampton — we’re known throughout the country and you can go to different parts of the world and mention the city and people recognize the name,” he noted. “But people have been key to its success and keep the economy going.”
Downtown and King Street are home to most of the commercial real estate, and two new banks, three car dealerships and other businesses recently opened their doors or are under construction on King Street. “It’s our commercial strip,” Jasinski explained. “And it isn’t just growing, it’s booming.”
Williamson agrees, and points to new developments such as Northampton Crossing, (the former Hill and Dale Mall), which sat vacant for about 20 years, but was purchased two years ago and is being re-developed into medical offices and retail shops. “King Street plays an important role in the balance of the Northampton commercial market,” he said.
Signs of vitality can also be seen at the gateway to the city, which officials designate as the area off Exit 18 from I-91 near the Clarion Hotel. A new 30,000-square-foot office building was completed there about a year ago.
“It was fully leased three months later,” said Williamson, adding that a second, similarly sized building is under construction. “There is not another office market anywhere in Western Mass that has this amount of positive absorption.”

New Frontiers
Goggins said that when he was a student at UMass Amherst, the businesses in downtown Northampton existed to serve the needs of the local community.
“In the late 60s, there were five men’s clothing shops and five hardware stores downtown,” he recalled, adding that the marketplace catered to men.
Fast forward to the early ’70s, when Fitzwilly’s restaurant opened and proved that it was possible to have a business that could cater to both college students and their parents.
“It was a new marketing concept for the area,” Goggins said, noting that it was the catalyst that changed the complexion of the downtown landscape. “But the interesting part is that it was not something that was promoted or orchestrated. There was no magic plan; it just evolved naturally through entrepreneurship. But it took people with nerve to open businesses here.”
In time, it became fashionable to have an office downtown, which led to a demand for housing there, Goggins recalled.
Jasinski said the large number of residences in and around Main Street contribute to the economy and strength of the city. “One of the key components to the success of downtown is that it is a neighborhood,” he told BusinessWest.
However, Goggins said the character of the buildings has remained the same for generations. He noted that in the mid ’70s the city council voted 5-4 against urban renewal at a time when other communities were embracing it and knocking down buildings in blighted areas.
“It was a very, very important vote and presented the base from where we have grown,” Goggins said. So, although apartments and condominiums were carved out of underutilized space on the upper floors of buildings, “they never changed architecturally, although they have been enhanced.”
He cites education as the primary economic driver in the city and said it has been a steadying force.
Jasinski concurs, and adds healthcare to the conversation. “We have great employers here, and jobs create a strong economy,” he said, as he talked about the five colleges and Cooley Dickinson Hospital. “And anyone who comes to Northampton seems to fall in love with the city due to our diversity, uniqueness, and the warmth of the community. You can walk down Main Street to Smith College and go through the gardens and greenhouse and around Paradise Pond. There is a lot to do and people are key to the success of the economy as they keep it going.”
It is also significant that rents have not risen significantly. “I am renting some spaces for the same price per square foot that they went for 10 years ago,” Goggins said.
But that doesn’t mean they are low. Downtown rents range from $25 to $40 per square foot, with locations closest to Thornes Market on Main Street capturing the high end of the market.
“The average is about $25 per square foot, which is comparable to what you would find in much larger cities,” Goggins said. “There isn’t even a close comparison anywhere else in the area.”

Changing Landscape
King Street is experiencing rapid commercial growth due to zoning changes instituted two years ago. “It was the only area where there was available land, but it was not conducive to commercial development so in the past people couldn’t take advantage of it,” Goggins said.
The change resulted from efforts on the part of the City Planning Department, the chamber, a group of residents, and a number of individuals, including Goggins, to position that area for growth.
Since that time, auto dealerships and other businesses have sprung up and continue to grow. “There are really only two parcels left that are right for development,” Goggins said. “The growth there has been a real eye opener for people.”
Williamson said King Street plays an important role in the balance of Northampton’s commercial market and allows institutions such as banks to have drive-up windows, something that’s not possible downtown. “There are two new auto dealerships under construction and Baystate Medical Center plans to have a medical clinic at Northampton Crossing. Most of the space there has already been pre-leased,” he said.
Another development that has been well received is the River Valley Co-op at the extreme north end of King Street. “It does a really bustling business,” Williamson said.
Goggins told BusinessWest that the city Planning Department is also interested in developing the corridor off Exit 18 on I-91. Cooley Dickinson Hospital is one of the primary tenants in the new office building there, and he expects the site that is under construction to be dominated by medical offices.
Meanwhile, property on Village Hill, built on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital, has also been in demand. L-3 KEO (formerly Kollmorgen) relocated there from King Street, a boutique hotel is being created in a building that once housed male attendants at the state hospital, and 9,000 square feet in a new 12,000-square-foot office building under construction are already under lease.
Goggins played a role in the revitalization, and said 150 of the 300 housing units planned for the site are complete and there are plans for several more buildings, which will contain a combination of office, industrial, and retail space.
The site is only three quarters of a mile from downtown, and although most tenants and building owners have been downtown for a long time, real estate opportunities do exist. The building on Main Street that housed the Mountain Goat is for sale, and a building across the street was recently sold to an individual who plans to renovate it.
“There is a lot of demand for property to lease as well as buy,” Jasinski said, adding that businesses often open on side streets, then add a second location on Main Street or eventually move there.
But real estate doesn’t come cheap. “A high end multi-tenant building in downtown Springfield that was fully occupied recently sold for $41.25 per square foot, where a similar building in Northampton would cost in excess of $200 per square foot,” Williamson said. “That really illustrates the difference between the Northampton market and other central area district markets. But the amount of availability is just about perfect, and there is just the right amount of churn. There is not so much vacancy that it is a deterrent to the market, but there is enough to satisfy the requirements of businesses as they come into Northampton for the first time.”

Bright Outlook
Williamson said the demand for commercial space indicates there will be a need for additional construction in the city. “The future bodes well for continued office development, and people can expect to see the announcement of other developments in the next year. Plus, values on Main Street will continue to appreciate at very respectable rates,” he predicted.
Goggins agreed. “The image of Northampton is consistent as it is an oasis that people like to come to,” he said. “So, the value of property has held up, which is an indication of how solid the community is. It has been able to prosper and ride out the cyclical downturns because the real estate market is directly related to the perception of Northampton from the outside in.”
Which continues to be a magnetic force that lures visitors from the local area and beyond.

Features
Mohegan Sun Believes It’s Still Holding a Winning Hand

An architect’s rendering of Mohegan Sun Massachusetts.

An architect’s rendering of Mohegan Sun Massachusetts.

Mitchell Etess says that, even when its plan for a casino in Palmer was essentially the only one on the table, Mohegan Sun knew there would be competition for a license in this part of the state, and probably lots of it.

But now that this competition has materialized — three other proposals: two for downtown Springfield and the other at the Big E in West Springfield — the company is approaching its work in much the same way that it did in 2009, 2010, and 2011, when it had the only colorful architects’ renderings in the local newspapers, and the subjects of conversation were if and when casino legislation would ever be passed.

That approach is to focus primarily on the one word — or three words, depending on how one looks at it — that shape most discussions involving commercial real estate: location, location, location.

 

“We’ve been in this marketplace [New England] for some time, and we looked all over the Western Mass. region — we always wanted to be in the west,” said Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, referring to the company’s prolonged search for a casino location. “We looked at every single site, including some in Springfield. But we ultimately chose our site because it is, without question, the best location in the west, in our opinion.”

Elaborating, he said the parcel directly off exit 8 of the Turnpike represents a true, and desirable, destination, something he believes cannot be said for the other Western Mass. proposals, and especially those in Springfield.

Mitchell Etess

Mitchell Etess says the Palmer location brings a number of benefits for the Commonwealth as a true destination.

“Our location is someplace where people would want to go spend a few days,” he said. “I don’t say that to disparage Springfield, but the fact is, this is what people think about when they consider getting away for a few days — a place on a mountain, in the country — and not in the middle of a city.”

Meanwhile, this particular location may well have a huge advantage over the other three with regard to an emerging issue in this contest — the looming overhaul of an elevated section of I-91 that runs through downtown Springfield. If and when it happens, that project, estimated to cost $300 million to $400 million, would likely impact access to all three rival casino sites, said Etess.

“There’s a tremendous amount of congestion involved with an urban casino,” he said, “and we just don’t have that; we have people getting right off the turnpike and right onto our property.”

But while he did discuss the plight of his competitors to some degree, Etess chose to focus mostly on Mohegan’s project — now known as Mohegan Sun Massachusetts (more on that later) — and its strategic plan moving forward.

In essence, he said, this comes down to getting across the company’s main message: that a true destination resort casino is what the public wants, it’s what will best serve the state in terms of revenue, and it’s what Mohegan does.

“The reason there’s going to be gaming in Massachusetts is because of the success of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods,” he explained. “What people in New England are used to is this rural gaming experience; we don’t believe people want to go downtown to go to the casino in New England, and we think people are very comfortable with what is known and successful.

“And, quite frankly, we know how to it,” he continued. “At the end of the day, we have the model that people are used to, we have the rural setting, we have access off the Turnpike, and we have 152 acres — we’re not pigeonholed into a few city blocks.”

For this issue, BusinessWest continues its series of stories on the players in the ongoing casino competition with another look at the Palmer project, which is now part of a crowded field, but a venture that those at Mohegan believe still stands alone.

 

Placing Its Chips

Much has happened since BusinessWest last talked at length with Etess and others involved with the Palmer casino proposal in the fall of 2011, just after gaming legislation was passed by the Legislature.

In short, Western Mass., and especially Springfield, became by far the most intense casino battleground in the Commonwealth. Over the span of a few months in the second half of 2012, three proposals were announced for Springfield, with one — Ameristar’s plan for a parcel off Route 291 — eventually shelved. In December, plans were announced for a project that would be built in a corner of the sprawling Big E complex on Memorial Drive in West Springfield. And in Holyoke, Mayor Alex Morse first announced he would consider a casino proposal for his community (after he campaigned against the concept when seeking the office in 2011), and then reversed course again and said such a facility wasn’t the answer for his city.

Through all that, the Palmer casino plan lost large amounts of attention in the press it once dominated, and, in the minds of some, lost some momentum as well.

But Etess doesn’t see it that way.

He acknowledged that his plan did lose some visibility as the press trained its cameras and microphones on the CEOs of rival casino developers as they stood in front of elaborate visual displays of their concepts. However, he said the Mohegan Sun plan never lost what he believes it has always had — a few important legs up on the competition, even before it materialized.

And this brings him back to that notion of location, but also Mohegan’s longstanding presence in the New England market, its track record with the resort-destination model, and the database of area customers it has at its disposal.

“If you ask people in this business to identify the biggest asset a casino has today, and they say anything other than their database, then they’re not being completely honest,” he explained. “Our casino will begin with a database of customers, and the ability to market directly to customers who are familiar with our brand, and that we know everything about, is something that no other competitor in the west can offer, and that’s a huge advantage.”

While watching MGM, Penn National, and Hard Rock International roll out their plans in 2012, Mohegan Sun officials were tweaking and, in their opinion, improving their proposal and making it more battle-ready.

New renderings of the project, including those on pages 6, 8, and 9, were released, and the name change — from Mohegan Sun Palmer to Mohegan Sun Massachusetts — was made official.

Mitchell Etess says the Palmer site offers many advantages

Mitchell Etess says the Palmer site offers many advantages, starting with its location off Turnpike exit 8.

Meanwhile, the company struck a partnership with the New York investment group Brigade Capital Management to bankroll the development, an accord that Etess believes will give the project another edge.

“We believe our project is on the soundest financial platform of anyone in the west,” he said, adding that this footing, coupled with a solid brand that is well-known in the region and the Palmer location, puts the project in a position to effectively compete for the license.

Overall, the Mohegan proposal is currently projected to cost $735 million and include a casino, hotel, and retail, said Etess, adding that the company is looking for a third-party developer to create other amenities to ensure the property has what he called “complete synergy.”

“We’re very comfortable that our casino and the additional third-party retail development is a very sound business model,” he continued, adding that be believes the proposal is right-sized for this location and that the market it is intended to serve is certainly strong enough to support it.

Groups supporting the casino, especially Citizens for Jobs & Growth in Palmer, have been anxious for details on the project and its latest developments, said Jennifer Baruffaldi, spokesperson for the organization, noting that a referendum on the plan could come as early as June, but is more likely to happen in September.

Etess said the existence of competition will impact the amount and nature of the information released on the project, but specifics will certainly be known before the referendum vote.

 

Odds Are

Etess told BusinessWest that he takes comfort in the fact that the competition that will unfold over the next 10 to 12 months and end with the Gaming Commission’s decisions on which operators will be awarded licenses for the three regions will not be a popularity contest decided by the public or the press.

It will come down to a simple, mostly objective contest to see which party can best convince the Gaming Commission that its project is the best bet for the Commonwealth, he said, adding that there are obviously many factors that will go into that decision beyond the urban-versus-rural casino debate — although that will be part of the discussion.

“This is about five people deciding what they believe is best for the state,” he explained, adding that he has been through similar competitions in other states and understands their vagaries and complexities. “They have to decide what will provide the most revenue for the Commonwealth and what brings the most to the table for the Commonwealth, because that’s what this is.

“It’s jobs, it’s community, it’s revenues you can drive, it’s creating out-of-state revenue … and we have a compelling case,” he went on, adding that it is summed up in the new name and logo for the Palmer project.

Etess told BusinessWest that the name was chosen carefully, to convey that this is a project that will have benefits for the entire state, not a city, such as Springfield, or the area surrounding it.

“This project benefits the Commonwealth,” he said. “This isn’t something that’s just going to benefit an urban area in downtown Springfield; it will bring jobs to Springfield, it will bring jobs to Worcester, it will bring jobs to the four-county area, and we believe that makes for a compelling case.

“Our goals and those of the [casino players] in Springfield are very different,” he went on. “They’re going to beat themselves up trying to argue what’s best for Springfield; our goal now is only to make a case about what’s best for the Commonwealth.”

Etess brushed aside comments from some observers of the casino contest that Mohegan Sun chose Palmer, and not a location further west, to minimize the impact on its operation in Connecticut. That theory holds that residents of some regions of Connecticut would be more likely to drive to Mohegan’s operation in that state (or to Springfield) than to Palmer.

Etess said that any operation in Western Mass. would draw patrons away from the Connecticut casinos, including one in Palmer, but the more relevant point is that a Palmer casino would more easily draw residents from across the Bay State and also Vermont, New Hampshire, and beyond than an operation in Springfield would.

“We don’t believe that people in New York, Vermont, or Albany who think about a vacation that includes gaming would go to downtown Springfield for that vacation,” he explained. “We believe that our location is much more realistic for that kind of vacation and presents a much bigger opportunity to benefit the Commonwealth.”

When asked about the company’s plans moving forward into the next stage of the competition, Etess said Mohegan will be doing mostly what it’s been doing since it set up a storefront on Main Street in Palmer in 2009.

“We’ve been planning, we’ve been part of the community, and we’ve continued to build relationships and have conversations within the community while watching the landscape unfold in front of us as we anticipated it would,” he said. “And we’re going to continue doing those things.”

 

Bottom Line

Etess told BusinessWest that he’s not sure if the Palmer proposal will benefit in any way from being the first proposal introduced to the Western Mass. region. And he acknowledges that many believe there are no advantages from such standing.

Such talk is mostly irrelevant now, he said, because the goal never really was to be the first one in, but to be the last project standing when it comes to the Western Mass. region.

He believes Mohegan Sun Massachusetts has some trump cards at its disposal — from location to brand to experience serving this region — that can enable it to win the jackpot.

 

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

Features
And Five Judges Will Now Score the 40 Under Forty Hopefuls

40under40-LOGO2012A flurry of last-minute nominations has produced a near-record number of entries for BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty program.

A total of 99 individuals have been nominated for the honor of joining the class of 2013, the seventh since the program was initiated in 2007.

The daunting, yet rewarding, task of scoring these individuals now falls to five judges (including two previous winners), who represent fields ranging from law to accounting; from education to financial services. They will be returning their scores later this week, and the winners will be notified in the days that follow.

The class of 2013 will be profiled in the April 22 issue of BusinessWest, one of the most popular issues of the year, and the annual 40 Under Forty gala is scheduled for June 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Here are those who will be scoring this year’s nominees:

Jeffrey Fialky

Jeffrey Fialky

• Jeffrey Fialky, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2008 and a shareholder of the regional law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C., and member of the firm’s corporate, commercial, and municipal departments, where he specializes in all aspects of corporate and business law, banking, commercial real estate, and sophisticated commercial transactions. He joined the firm in 2006 after nearly a decade of living in Eastern Mass., where he held senior commercial attorney positions within some of the country’s most prominent publicly traded telecommunications and cable television companies. He previously served as an assistant district attorney in Hampden County.

Fialky is also active in the community, having served on a number of nonprofit and economic-development-related organizations. They include the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Springfield Museums, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Jewish Federation of Pioneer Valley, the Springfield Technical Community College Scibelli Enterprise Center Advisory Board, the Alden Credit Union board of directors, the Community Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Leadership Pioneer Valley, OnBoard, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, the Mason Wright Foundation, the EDC Tourism Development Committee; and the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter.

Brendon Hutchins

Brendon Hutchins

• Brendon Hutchins, CFP, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2012, and senior vice president of Account Management for St. Germain Investment Management. Prior to joing the firm in 2003, he was vice president and financial advisor for the FleetBoston Financial Corp. Private Clients Group in Springfield. His prior experience includes eight years with Fidelity Investments as a vice president in the retirement division, with responsibilities across multiple locations during his tenure there.

In addition to being a certified financial planner, Hutchins holds NASD series 7 and 65 licenses for securities representation and investment-advisor services. He currently serves on the board of directors for the New England office of the March of Dimes, the Greater Springfield YMCA, and the Basketball Hall of Fame, and has also served on the board for the Springfield School Volunteers.

Mark O’Connell

Mark O’Connell

• Mark O’Connell, president and chief executive officer of Wolf & Co., providing audit and financial reporting services to both privately held and publicly traded financial institutions and holding companies across New England, including community banks and mortgage banking institutions. In his current capacity, he is responsible for the strategic direction of the firm, while also providing audit and advisory services to financial institutions. His experience also includes consultation on audit and accounting issues related to mergers and acquisitions and with respect to debt and security offerings filed with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

O’Connell has been involved with a number of industry and nonprofit organizations, including the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Massachusetts and Connecticut Societies of Certified Public Accountants, and the Children’s Study Home in Springfield. In 2010, he won the Human Services Forum Board Member Award.

Myra Smith

Myra Smith

• Myra Smith, vice president of Human Resources and Multicultural Affairs at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Joining the college in 1978, Smith has helped transform the STCC community into one of inclusiveness that celebrates cultural diversity. Among her many accomplishments is the creation of the STCC Diversity Council and its event series, which brings national and international speakers and artists to the campus. Smith also was responsible for the creation of the STCC “Think Tank” series, which brings community leaders together to assist with the retention and graduation rate of young men of color.

Smith is also active in the community, serving on many local boards, including People’sBank, the National Conference for Community Justice of Western Mass., and the STCC Foundation. Smith is a founding trustee of the Martin Luther King Charter School of Excellence and a trustee for the Non-Unit Health and Welfare Trust Fund for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Smith was recognized in 2007 by Unity First with a Women of Leadership Award, and received a Women of Vision Award from the Elms College Step Forward Program in 2005.

Jeff Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan

• Jeff Sullivan, executive vice president and chief operating officer of United Bank. In that capacity, which he assumed Jan. 1, Sullivan is responsible for the bank’s retail deposit and operations division, advancements in technology and electronic banking, and franchise expansion efforts. In addition, he also oversees the Information Systems and Facilities Departments and the United Wealth Management Group, and is also responsible for the company’s enterprise risk management program. He previously served the bank as executive vice president and chief lending officer and, prior to arriving at United, served in commercial-lending capacities for the Bank of Western Mass. and BayBank.

Sullivan has been involved with a number of area nonprofit and economic-development-related organizations, including DevelopSpringfield, Better Homes Inc., Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, Briana Fund for Children with Physical Disabilities, OnBoard, the Pioneer Valley Plan for Progress, the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Council of Western Mass.

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Unique Sports Facility May Become a Game Winner for Agawam Site

Sean Provost

Sean Provost says the Stick Time Sports training facility will meet a recognized need in the region.

A little more than two years ago, Sean Provost, a local software salesman, was sitting in his car having lunch on the road between sales stops when he looked over at a ‘for-lease’ sign on a building in the Agawam Towne Center complex.

He remembers thinking to himself, “hmm … I wonder if that could work?”

‘That’ was a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to the Dave’s Soda & Pet Food City facility in the former Ames department store location. When Provost saw it, it was being used as warehouse space for dog food and other products, but he immediately saw the potential it presented as the home for a dream he’d been trying to make reality for roughly a decade.

This dream involved creating what he called a “sports training center,” focused on hockey, which he’s played and coached, but also other sports. The concept calls for a facility where young people can learn a sport and develop their skills through practice. This vision required a large amount of open space, a good deal of flexibility, and an affordable price — three things he couldn’t find at dozens of other sites he considered, but a combination he encountered at the Agawam location.

Fast-forward those two years, and Provost, recently laid off from that sales job, is set to take a dramatic career turn as president of something called Stick Time Sports (STS), which will feature two mini-ice rinks — both 45 feet by 82 feet — as well as two 45-by-85-foot synthetic turf fields that can be used for a variety of sports, including lacrosse and field hockey. There is also an area for strength training and conditioning with machines and weights; a facility for conferences, birthday parties, and other events; locker  rooms; and space for additional expansion.

All this fulfills one of Provost’s ambitions, but also creates some needed momentum in a large retail center that has struggled to reinvent itself since a FoodMart supermarket closed after its roof collapsed more than a decade ago. There are some new tenants moving into the complex, including a satellite facility for the YMCA of Greater Springfield, and it is hoped that those initiatives and Stick Time Sports can create greater vibrancy in that location.

Those were some of the sentiments expressed by Dave Ratner, owner of the former Ames building and Dave’s Soda & Pet City.

“I had to get some new warehouse space,” he said with a laugh in reference to the new development, “but this [venture] increases the value of the building, it will bring more potential customers to my store, and it will make the center more viable so new people might want to move in to the other side of the center. So all in all, it’s a win-win.

“Traffic gets traffic,” Ratner added. “The more places we get there, the more people will say, ‘I want to be there.’”

Meanwhile, STS is one of many sports-related business ventures taking shape in Agawam. In addition to STS and the Y’s facility, there are plans for something called the Plex Sports Park, a $7 million, indoor-outdoor complex to be built at the former Crowley’s Sales Barn and Stables site off Shoemaker Lane.

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest takes a look at the STS project and how it may help bring more life to a once thriving retail section of Agawam.

 

Goal-oriented Venture

Using some of his trademark humor, Ratner described his efforts over the past several years to lease out the 20,000 square feet next to his retail operation.

“The fact of the matter is, we had a lot of interest, but because the real-estate market isn’t real strong, people thought they were going to come in and we were going to pay them to take the space,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, while he wanted to find a tenant, he also liked having the space as a warehouse facility, so he wasn’t going to pull the trigger on a deal unless it really worked for both sides.

And in many ways, STS fits that description.

Ratner said it won’t be a huge revenue source, but it will potentially drive more traffic to his store while creating more momentum in the still-struggling retail plaza. “This is a huge deal,” he noted. “I think his business is going to explode more than he thinks it’s going to explode, and I think he’s going to need every bit of space over there.”

And that’s why he worked with Provost to not only ink a lease, but get his venture off the ground.

“I sat down with him and I said, ‘I think it’s a home run, but you have to get your business plan together,’” said Ratner, adding that he ran though the lengthy process of taking a concept from the drawing board to reality, essentially becoming Provost’s ‘Mr. Murphy,’ a reference to Murphy’s Law.

“Whenever you do anything in business, Murphy’s Law — Mr. Murphy — moves in right next to you,” said Ratner.

Having been a partner years ago in a group that owned and operated the Mushie’s Driving Range on Main Street in Agawam, Provost said he learned a good bit about what not to do in business, and eventually got out of that relationship (that property is now being turned into a solar farm).

And for his second foray into commercial real estate, Provost began working with the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network in Springfield, where he received assistance to finalize his business plan, along with help to secure two business partners: Daryl Devillier, associate vice president with Raymond James, and partner Sal LaBella. The partners eventually secured bank financing for the estimated $1 million buildout of the property.

Provost said STS is going to be dedicated to providing athletes of all ages from Western Mass. and Northern Conn. the opportunity to practice, train, improve their skills, and just have fun in a positive atmosphere.

Provost explained that there’s really no facility in the region where parents or coaches can rent some ice and enable young people to get some invaluable practice time and hone their skills. “For instance, baseball players can warm up anywhere, but hockey is different, and now, two kids can share a half-hour to shoot a few hundred pucks at $15 apiece.”

He added that the site will also fill a void in the region for full-year, under-14 and under-16 boys hockey, and its location, just a few miles from both the Connecticut line and several Western Mass. population centers, enables it to tap into both markets.

Richard Cohen, Agawam’s mayor and also an avid former hockey player and coach, is a strong supporter of the STS concept, and told BusinessWest it’s a perfect fit for the town’s growing inventory of sports-related businesses.

“It goes along with what we’re trying to put together … a sports complex that was originally going to go in Chicopee” but couldn’t get special permit approval for a site there, said Cohen, referring to the Plex Sports Park, an indoor-outdoor facility with an 80-foot-high, inflatable dome.

Cohen also noted that one of the other Agawam Towne Center building owners is looking into indoor karting as an addition to the retail area that now includes Dave’s and STS, Slot Car Speedway, Friendly’s Restaurant, and the soon-to-open, 8,500-square-foot Y Express Wellness & Program Center.

And just a few hundred feet from Agawam Towne Center, the long-vacant Games and Lanes building is in the subject of a $50,000 site assessment, funded by MassDevelopment, to determine the scope of needed environmental remediation, an important first step in putting the property back in use.

“There is a developer who wants to do business retail there,” said Cohen, “so my goal is to help get that project finalized for that entire area.”

 

Winning Approach

Looking to the future, Provost and his partners purchased a ‘chiller,’ the compressor that makes and maintains the ice, which is larger than they actually need and will allow them to build a third mini-rink on a portion of the turf area.

Meanwhile, the idea of expansion elsewhere is also being discussed.

“There’s no room to physically expand, but we think if this works here, it can certainly work in other places,” he said, adding that there is still a sizeable inventory of former warehouse and retail facilities that could become home to such ventures.

For now, though, he’s focused on making STS the win-win proposition that he, Ratner, Cohen, and others believe it can become. And he believes there will be net results in many forms.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at  [email protected]

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Springfield Offers Substantial Tax Incentives to Residential Developers

The ability to attract developers of market-rate housing to Springfield has just been made easier thanks to a new tax-incentive program being administered by the Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development.

This effort, known as the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP), allows developers to apply for local and state tax incentives for the rehabilitation of multi-family properties for sale or lease primarily as market-rate units if located within a ‘housing development incentive zone,’ or HDIP zone. The program is available only in ‘gateway municipalities’ that have successfully registered as an HDIP zone with the Commonwealth. Springfield is now one such municipality.

On Dec. 3, 2012, the Springfield City Council approved an HDIP zone pursuant to a housing development zone plan, as recommended by the Springfield Office of Planning and Economic Development. The plan establishes a zone encompassing sections of the city’s downtown, North End, and South End. Included in the HDIP zone are three projects that the city believes could potentially have a market-rate housing component: Chestnut Street School, the Student Prince, and State Street Lofts.

The plan is purported to be consistent with the Urban Land Institute plan of 2006, which encouraged more downtown middle-income housing; the Zimmerman Volk Downtown Market Rate Housing Study of 2006, which indicated a market demand for such housing; and the 2012 UMass Medical District Report, which indicated that there is a significant number of medical professionals currently choosing to live outside of the city.

The Commonwealth’s recent approval of the Springfield HDIP zone represents a significant business opportunity for developers and a possible rebirth for the city’s struggling downtown.

The HDIP provides two major tax incentives for developers of multi-unit market rate housing:

• A local real-estate tax exemption in an amount not less than 10% and not more than 100% of the incremental value of the market-rate units for a period of not fewer than five years and not more than 20 years. Previously, these agreements could only be offered to commercial developments; and

• A state investment tax credit of up to 10% on all qualified expenditures in creating and constructing new market-rate housing units.

To qualify for these tax benefits, the development must have between two and 50 units, 80% or more of which are targeted for market-rate residential use and priced for households with incomes above 110% of the area’s household median income. Preliminary estimates for Springfield indicate the median income to be around $49,084 per year. There are no ceilings on the pricing of sales or rents or for the income of occupants.

Qualifying projects can be proposed in the Springfield HDIP zone, and require approval from the city and the Commonwealth.

The approval by the Commonwealth is a three-step process. First, based upon an application containing basic information about the property, the developer must seek preliminary approval that the building meets the standards of a certified housing-development project.

After receiving preliminary approval, based on a more extensive application, which includes construction documents and a marketing plan, the Commonwealth will consider the issuance of a conditional certification of the project. Once all of the certificates of occupancy have been issued for the housing-development project and 80% of the market-rate units have been leased or sold, the Commonwealth will consider issuing a final certification which designates the project eligible for the tax incentives.

According to the plan, the city envisions that the implementation of the HDIP will help to eliminate vacancy and blight conditions of some of the city’s commercial buildings by converting underutilized upper floors to attractive market-rate apartments; increasing foot traffic, which is a critical component for neighborhood viability; retaining local talent as well as recruiting talent from other areas by providing attractive housing opportunities for young professionals who work in and around the HDIP zone; promoting historic preservation; and strengthening the city’s ability to attract high-quality development to Springfield.

 

Ellen W. Freyman is a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C., who concentrates her practice in all aspects of commercial real-estate acquisitions and sales, development, leasing, and financing. She has an extensive land-use practice that includes zoning, subdivision, project permitting, and environmental matters; [email protected] Michael A. Fenton is an associate with Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin who concentrates his practice in the areas of business planning, commercial real estate, estate planning, and elder law. He represents principals in business formation and succession planning, businesses in the purchase and sale of enterprises, developers in the acquisition and permitting of projects, and high-net-worth individuals in establishing comprehensive and sophisticated estate plans; [email protected]

Cover Story
Doctors Express Franchisees Are Our Top Entrepreneurs for 2012

Neither Rick Crews nor Jim Brennan remembers many of the specific details from that lunch they had together at Max’s Tavern in the late fall of 2009.

What they do recall is that, by the time the check came, they had a plan — or at least the resolve to begin the process of putting one together.

And it was certainly an ambitious plan.

Indeed, instead of going into business together and operating a single franchise of a growing national chain of urgent-care centers called Doctors Express — which was one of the options they discussed at that lunch — they decided instead to become what’s known as master franchisees, overseeing not a location of this chain, which offers an alternative to crowded emergency rooms and the primary-care physician’s office when it’s closed, but a region, in this case most of New England.

Taking that step would be a radical career departure for both Crews, who was essentially downsized from his job running the Springfield office for the financial-services giant UBS and looking for his next opportunity, and Brennan, who owned an investment-management company bearing his name that specialized in small-business investment, mezzanine financing, and commercial real estate.

But they believed they had the necessary ingredients — from entrepreneurial drive to trust in one another’s instincts and abilities — to take the plunge.

“The enthusiasm that we both showed for the idea was a big factor in allowing us to move forward,” said Crews. “We both saw a great opportunity, and we were on the same page on a lot of different things; we had, and still have, a shared vision of where we can go.”

Fast-forward roughly two and a half years from when they opened the doors to their first location on Cooley Street in Springfield. The two partners now have two locations locally (the other is in West Springfield), with plans for others in the formative stage. They also have two locations in the Greater Boston area (with three more on the way) opened as part of a large initiative funded by a capital raise in 2011, as well as five other Eastern Mass. sites now operated by franchisees. And there are plans being considered to take the brand into a number of other markets, from Central Mass. to New Hampshire and Maine.

Brennan said the goal is to have perhaps 30 locations throughout their New England territory within two or three years.

Beyond the physical expansion, though, what has been equally impressive is the trailblazing nature of this enterprise, which operates in a field, urgent care, that is still a relative unknown in some parts of the state and the New England region. The two partners have become a model operation for others exploring the Doctors Express franchise with regard to everything from marketing and generating press to finding new and different ways to improve the patient experience.

These include everything from high-definition TVs in examination rooms at some locations, to help ease the wait for the physician, to water bottles and cookies for all patients.

In recognition of the speed and efficiency with which Crews and Brennan have taken the Doctors Express brand across the state, and for the aggressive yet calculated way in which they carried out the plan they outlined over lunch, Crews and Brennan have been named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneurs for 2012.

Thus, they are the latest recipients of an award the magazine initiated in 1995 to pay homage to this region’s long history of entrepreneurship and to recognize those who are adding to that legacy and writing new chapters for an ongoing story. They join an eclectic roster of winners that includes Balise Motor Sales President Jeb Balise, former Springfield Technical Community College President Andrew Scibelli, Maybury Material Handling President John Maybury, Cooley Dickinson Hospital President Craig Melin, the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department, and last year’s honoree, Herbie Flores, director of the New England Farm Workers’ Council and aggressive investor in downtown Springfield.

“Rick Crews and Jim Brennan embody the true spirit of entrepreneurship,” said BusinessWest Publisher John Gormally. “They’ve dared to dream big and, in the process of doing so, have assumed a great deal of risk. They’re ambitious, confident, and imaginative, but above all else, they’re determined to succeed.

“And their impressive track record to date and promise for continued expansion makes them worthy recipients of our Top Entrepreneur award,” he went on. “Together, they’re a great addition to a long list of inspiring entrepreneurs and those who run their organizations with a decidedly entrepreneurial mindset.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at how far Crews and Brennan have already taken their joint venture, and where they want to take it next.

 

Taking the Pulse of a Business

The front lobby of the West Springfield Doctors Express location was crowded on this Friday afternoon, with most of the two dozen chairs occupied by people of different ages and with varying degrees of discomfort.

Most were exhibiting flu-like symptoms, said Brennan as he sat down with BusinessWest for this interview. Both he and Crews would then go on to quote both newspaper articles and medical-industry reports about what was already a heavy flu season and would likely get worse as the winter wore on.

“With this epidemic of the flu, we’ve had to adjust our staffing model and put on more providers and healthcare staff,” said Brennan. “These are things that weren’t planned on and forecasted, but they’re part of doing business in healthcare today; you adjust to the need that’s out there.”

This subject matter is a world or two away from what Crews and Brennan knew professionally only four years ago. It’s certainly a far cry from what they might have been talking about had things gone differently when Crews took his search for a new career path to a higher level in the summer of 2009 after opting to leave UBS and take a severance package rather than go from full-time to part-time.

By then, he had logged several meetings with Steven Rosenkrantz, owner of the local office of a franchise called Entrepreneur’s Source, which, as the name suggests (sort of), matches aspiring entrepreneurs with franchises.

“I was looking for something where I could be the boss, and also run a business where people would leave happier than when they came in — those were the two priorities,” said Crews, adding that Rosenkrantz put a number of possibilities in front of him, from Cartridge World, a toner-cartridge sales enterprise, to Sports Clips, a haircutting chain. He even looked at opening a sports bar in South Hartford.

“I’m really glad I didn’t go that route,” he told BusinessWest, adding that Rosenkrantz eventually put Doctors Express, a chain started in Baltimore by an emergency-room physician, on the table for consideration.

Actually, there were two proposals — a single location of that franchise, or the master-franchisee designation, which would involve Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and a portion of Connecticut.

“I liked the master-franchisee concept, but I’d knew I’d need a partner to do that, and Jim was the first person I thought of,” Crews explained, while setting the scene for that aforementioned lunch on Springfield’s riverfront.

The two had known each other for years by then and done some business together, and there was also the requisite comfort level and shared vision needed to create a business partnership.

“He coached my son in basketball, and I coached his son in baseball,” said Crews. “We had a good friendship prior to this, and we would often talk about going into business together someday.

“We got along, and we had a lot in common,” he continued. “We’re great dads, good husbands, we’re family-oriented and community-oriented … we coached sports. We made for a good team.”

Equally important, though, were the things they didn’t have in common, said Brennan, noting that their vastly different business skill sets have meshed nicely.

“Rick has been with a Fortune 500 company and managed 30 type-A personalities plus administrative staff, and that’s not my forte,” he explained. “I’m more independent, and while I don’t want to say I’m more creative, my skill set would be creative financing, expansion of a growing business, mezzanine financing, real estate, and small-business speculation. Having these skills and putting them together with Rick’s has made for an outstanding relationship, and that’s the key to our success.”

 

In the Right Vein

As they talked about all that’s happened since they became business partners, Brennan and Crews said that, while success has seemingly come quickly and easily, there have been some intriguing learning curves and growing pains to contend with, and that process is ongoing.

It has involved everything from honing the art and science of choosing locations — the basic theory is to choose a site with 50,000 people within three miles of the front door, but it’s far more complex than that — to the process of educating patients and healthcare professionals about the emergence of urgent-care facilities, especially in the Boston area, where it is still very much a foreign concept.

And then, there was simply the matter of learning the business of providing healthcare itself, which was outwardly daunting, because neither had anything approaching experience in medicine.

Crews took on that assignment aggressively and creatively, making himself chief administrator of the Cooley Street location for the first nine months of its existence. When asked what he learned on that job, he glanced toward the ceiling, offered a heavy sigh, and said, “what didn’t I learn?”

As he explained, “I wanted to learn the ins and outs of the business, and what better way to do that to actually run the center? I learned about healthcare — about insurance companies, coding, billing, staffing, scheduling challenges, working with doctors … how to run an urgent-care center.

“It was challenging, but it was also fun,” he continued. “Every day I was learning something new.”

Tracing the progression of their venture, or franchise territory, Crews and Brennan said that, even as they were cutting the ribbon on the Cooley Street location, there were discussions taking place about where to go next.

And ultimately, those decisions involved both ends of the state. Locally, after consideration of several locations, the decision was made to expand into West Springfield, with a facility that could draw residents from several neighboring communities, including Agawam, Westfield, and Holyoke; that location opened in 2012.

Meanwhile, only a few months after the Springfield facility opened its doors, the partners embarked on a capital raise aimed at netting $4 million to fuel a push into the Greater Boston area. That offering attracted the attention of investors locally, but also from across the country, said Brennan, adding that the first location funded by that group opened in Saugus early last month. Another, in Dedham, will open soon, and a letter of intent for a third, in Arlington, was recently inked. Eventually, there will be five sites sprung from that Boston offering, for which Crews and Brennan are general partners, with a 50% stake.

In addition, the partners operate a management company with five Boston-area franchisees under it. Those locations are in Braintree, Natick, Waltham, and North Andover, with another facility to open soon in Watertown.

This growth has necessitated expansion of the company’s corporate offices in Longmeadow, said Crews, adding that the team now includes Project Manager Melissa Nelson, charged with helping franchisees get their operations off the ground and running efficiently, as well as Controller Tim Sterett, who helps the partners plan and forecast for the future.

There are also people on the ground in various markets, including Western Mass., but especially the Greater Boston area, educating various constituencies about urgent care, how it is cost-effective for those who seek it, and how it can reduce congestion in the emergency room while also becoming a feeder service for hospitals.

“We have a business-development manager who is out in the community every day talking about urgent care,” said Crews. “We’ve also formed a co-op amongst all our franchisees, with the money to be spent monthly on advertising. Starting in a week, we’ll be doing our first TV commercials in Boston; we’ve been doing radio for the past month.”

 

Charting Results

Together, the team that Crews and Brennan has put together is scouting new locations in several areas of Massachusetts and a few bordering states, while also continuing that process of educating the public and the healthcare community about the concept of urgent care, and also striving to constantly improve the patient experience.

Which brings Crews back to those TVs in the examination rooms — now standard equipment in the Boston-area facilities and likely to be added at local locations.

“When someone goes into an exam room, they don’t like to wait for a doctor,” he explained. “So we have a policy that no one is supposed to wait more than 10 minutes for a doctor. However, depending on what you’re there for, you could be in the exam room for a long period of time. Having a TV in there helps to distract them from thinking about how long they’ve been there, and that’s especially true if you have children; it’s nice if they can put on Spongebob or the Disney Channel.”

Such attention to detail and the patient experience has helped Doctors Express gain acceptance and solid word-of-mouth referrals, said Brennan, adding that, from a big-picture perspective, success has come by creating relationships and making connections on a number of levels.

“When we go into a market, it’s important for us to create relationships not only with the primary-care physicians and hospitals, but also the medical groups in those areas,” Brennan explained. “There’s a new world of ACOs [accountable-care organizations] out there, and it’s important that we stay in contact with them and provide our services to those groups.

“Whether it’s Boston or Worcester, or wherever we go, one of the first things we do is reach out,” he continued. “We need to explain our story and what our plans are, and to date, we’ve been received very well. Originally, it was ‘who are you guys?’ because no one had ever heard of us, not just in our marketplace or in Boston, but in general. Now, most people have at least heard of Doctors Express.”

Looking ahead, the two partners said they are exploring a number of growth options. Locally, they’re looking for a location north of Springfield, perhaps in Chicopee. Meanwhile, they’re eyeing the Worcester market as the next possible expansion point, but also looking at potential opportunities in New Hampshire and Maine.

And from a bigger-picture perspective, they’re considering the possibility of taking their territory public, a move that would provide the infusion of capital needed to place dozens of proverbial push pins on a map of New England.

“That’s an aspiration, and there’s a way to get there,” said Brennan. “It all starts with the success we’re having, and we need to keep growing — it’s a snowball effect. I don’t think we’re there yet, though; we need to expand our business and get a good handle on what our revenues will be. If we continue to grow the way we are, maybe in a year we’ll know a lot more about whether that’s something we want to do.”

But the success of this venture can’t be measured simply by how many, and how quickly, locations can opened, said Crews, adding that there must be a balance between physical growth and maintaining high standards of quality in the locations already up and running. And the partners work hard to achieve that balance.

“You can’t just open center after center after center,” he told BusinessWest. “You have to make sure each location is successful and doing things properly, and that the service you’re providing is consistent and excellent. So there’s a lot of detail involved with every center that we open, and we also have to make sure our franchisees are opening with the same level of detail, service, and everything else. You have to spend the time and make sure you’re doing it right with each one — and it does take time.”

“And that’s the great thing about the master-franchisee concept,” he went on. “We can bring in great people under us to replicate exactly what we’re doing.”

Evidence that they are doing things right comes from the steady stream of phone calls from current and potential Doctors Express franchisees looking for advice and guidance about everything from marketing to staffing levels.

“I think I field at least two calls a week from people around the country, either current franchisees or potential franchisees,” said Crews. “They’re interested in what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and why we’re so successful.”

Added Brennan, “with continued success, opportunities arise. Our goal is just to keep moving forward, continue growing, and keep our focus on what has made us successful and not deviate from that.”

 

Polishing the Script

Looking back, both Crews and Brennan are quite happy that they didn’t take the Cartridge World route or open that sports bar in Greater Hartford — not that they wouldn’t have been successful with either entrepreneurial gambit.

They just believe that, in Doctors Express, they’ve found a perfect match between a potential-laden business opportunity and their own talents and entrepreneurial drive.

“There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t gotten out of bed and looked forward to going to work — I love it,” said Crews. “I love the challenges — getting pulled in a million directions is where I thrive, and as we get bigger and busier, I get pulled in more directions. Yes, there are a lot of challenges that we face, but it’s exciting to work through them.”

Listening to that, it’s clear that the prognosis is continued progress for BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneurs for 2012.

Previous Top Entrepreneurs

• 2011: Heriberto Flores, director of the New England Farm Workers’ Council and Partners for Community
• 2010: Bob Bolduc, founder and CEO of Pride
• 2009: The Holyoke Gas & Electric Department
• 2008: Arlene Kelly and Kim Sanborn, founders of Human Resource Solutions and Convergent Solutions Inc.
• 2007: John Maybury, president of Maybury Material Handling
• 2006: Rocco, Jim, and Jayson Falcone, principals of Rocky’s Hardware Stores and Falcone Retail Properties
• 2005: James (Jeb) Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales
• 2004: Craig Melin, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital
• 2003: Tony Dolphin, president of Springboard Technologies
• 2002: Timm Tobin, then-president of Tobin Systems Inc.
• 2001: Dan Kelley, then-president of Equal Access Partners
• 2000: Jim Ross, Doug Brown, and Richard DiGeronimo, then-principals of Concourse Communications
• 1999: Andrew Scibelli, then-president of Springfield Technical Community College
• 1998: Eric Suher, president of E.S. Sports in Holyoke
• 1997: Peter Rosskothen and Larry Perreault, co-owners of the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House
• 1996: David Epstein, president and co-founder of JavaNet and the JavaNet Café

 

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

Commercial Real Estate Sections
High-profile Ludlow Mills Project Takes Big Steps Forward

Westmass President Kenn Delude

Westmass President Kenn Delude

Kenn Delude hadn’t seen — or heard — anything quite like it, and he had been in the industrial-park development business for more than 30 years by then.

It was the time just before, during, and since the Great Recession of 2008, and in some respects, it’s still ongoing.

“It was painfully slow,” Delude, president of Westmass Area Development Corp., recalled, looking back (although he alternated between the past and present tenses) on that time when the phone literally didn’t ring for weeks and sales of industrial-park parcels were extremely few and very far between. “I’ve seen many downturns in the economy, but nothing as broad-based as that, nothing that severe.”

But it was at the height of this development drought that Westmass started putting together the most ambitious project in its 52-year existence — redevelopment of the sprawling Ludlow Mills complex in the center of that community. And despite the hardships and the realization that the slump would continue into 2014 and probably beyond, the Westmass board never wavered in its pursuit of the mill property, said Delude, and for two very good reasons.

The first was the realization that, eventually, the development climate would change and there would once again be demand for land and space in which companies could expand, he said, noting that, while Westmass and Westover Metropolitan Development Corp. have adequate supplies of property at the moment, both organizations must think decades out. The second reason was that the mills provided a unique opportunity for Westmass to do something groundbreaking — in both a literal and figurative sense.

“Strategically, this was a decision made by the board to take on a brownfield project, to get involved in a community, and obviously get involved and deal with the issues concerning preservation,” he explained during an interview in the Westmass office within the complex. “Overall, we wanted to create a model for property like this that could be used elsewhere or inspire other parties such as municipalities to take on something like this.

“We have countless mills throughout our region, and they’re located, like this one, by beautiful rivers,” he continued. “They have prime locations from many perspectives, but they’re underutilized, or they’ve fallen into disrepair.”

Westmass is roughly 18 months into what will probably be at least a 20-year endeavor to redevelop the mills and fill the adjoining 170 acres of greenfield property. But already there is a good deal of momentum, despite the still-sluggish economy.

Indeed, the steel is due to be delivered within days for the next phase of construction of a new, $27 million HealthSouth rehabilitation hospital on a parcel in the center of the mill complex. And in conjunction with that project, plans are being developed for the first stage of a riverwalk that will connect the site with the nearby Chicopee River in ways that could promote further development. Meanwhile, plans are moving forward for a senior-housing complex to be created in what’s known as Mill 10.

At the same time, the phone has actually started to ring again in the Westmass office, said Delude, noting that there has been interest expressed in some of the larger green parcels within the mill complex.

And in another development that is expected to create still more momentum, the project was recently included in the third round of funding for the state’s Brownfield Support Team (BST) initiative. Launched in 2008 by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, the BST brings together local, state, and federal agencies to help advance and accelerate redevelopment efforts involving brownfield sites.

Such designation has triggered progress at both the former Uniroyal site in Chicopee and the former Chapman Valve complex in Indian Orchard, said Delude, adding that BST involvement will bring needed resources and expertise to the matter of readying sites for future new construction or reuse.

“This gives us access to a team that can help us understand and perhaps deal with some of the challenges a developer and a community face when trying to redevelop property like this,” he said. “You have very stringent energy codes and greenhouse-gas analyses, and goals you’re trying to achieve, and, at the same time, you’ve got historic-preservation regulations to contend with. There are a number of issues to address, and these consultants can help us find answers.”

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Ludlow Mills project and how a picture is starting to develop across the vast, blank canvas it represents.

 

Milling About

As he talked with BusinessWest about the mill project — something he’s done on several occasions since it was first put on the drawing board in 2009 — Delude said it does many things for Westmass.

For starters, it gives the agency an immediate, and always welcome, revenue source.

Indeed, the agency is now a landlord and property manager, collecting rent from nearly three dozen tenants. This additional income, especially at a time when the many business owners are still hesitant about taking on new construction and the cost of such work is considerably more than retrofitting existing space, provides the agency with needed stability.

Meanwhile, it also provides much greater diversity, he said, noting that, in addition to developable, often shovel-ready land that is currently not in high demand, Westmass now has former mill property in its portfolio, and it comes in many shapes and sizes, and with myriad potential uses. The development corporation also gains needed acreage for larger-scale projects, and even 6,000-square-foot stockhouses — dozens of them were used to store raw materials at the jute-manufacturing complex — that could serve effectively as incubator facilities for startups and next-stage companies.

HealthSouth facility

An architect’s rendering of the new HealthSouth facility now starting to take shape at the Ludlow Mills complex.

“That’s an interesting market because it’s very expensive to build a 6,000-square-foot facility — there are no scales of economy working for you, and it’s often difficult for a developer to create a parcel and dedicate the needed frontage for a 6,000-square-foot building,” he explained. “So this gives us the mechanism to attract and capture businesses that need such a facility and help them grow.

“The perfect scenario would be to have someone as a lease tenant,” he continued, “and as they became successful and grew, they would be able to build new at Ludlow Mills on another location. There would be a natural continuity there, and people wouldn’t have to leave the area, or even the community, to grow.”

All this, or at least much of it, was envisioned by Delude and the Westmass board as the Ludlow Mills acquisition started to take shape in the midst of that deep downturn that Delude described.

Retelling the story of how this project came to be, Delude said the nearly 1.5 million-square-foot mill complex was once the very heart of Ludlow’s economy — so much so that the clock tower at the corner of one of the mills has become the unofficial symbol of Ludlow, used on the town seal as well as the masthead of the weekly Ludlow Register.

After the mill operations shut down, the complex became home to a host to a number of businesses across several sectors, including manufacturing and distribution. The maze of buildings and adjacent undeveloped land, totaling more than 1,000 acres, caught the attention of Westmass officials as they scouted opportunities to expand the agency’s reach, portfolio of developable land, and roster of business opportunities.

Delude acknowledged that the project is seemingly far removed from the agency’s primary business model — creating, marketing, and, eventually, filling business parks (it now has five across Hampden and Hampshire counties) — but is firmly in keeping with the Westmass mission of creating opportunities for economic development in the region.

 

Building Momentum

The vast potential of the Ludlow Mills for creating different kinds of development opportunities is driven home by the first two announced projects for the site.

One is a $20 million plan forwarded by WinnDevelopment to build 83 units of senior housing on four floors of what’s known as Mill 10, built in 1907. It represents one of many forms of possible reuse of an existing structure, said Delude, adding that this proposal also meets a recognized need for such a facility in Ludlow, and thus presents an opportunity for many long-time residents to continue living in that community.

The second project, the new HealthSouth rehabilitation hospital, is new construction, and represents an opportunity for Westmass and the mill complex to enable a business to expand and stay within the region or, in this case, in the town of Ludlow itself.

“We wanted to stay in Ludlow, but at the same time we knew we couldn’t stay here,” said HealthSouth president Scott Keen, referring to the old Ludlow Hospital, which currently houses his facility and is only a few hundred yards from the mill complex. “From a business perspective, if you’re in a town that’s supported you for many years, and the community supports you, and you’ve had a successful business, it makes no sense to do anything but try to find a way to stay, and that the mill gave us an opportunity to do.”

Elaborating, he said the complex provided the acreage and the location the growing venture needed to take an operation inconveniently spaced over five floors of the old community hospital and move it to a facility with nearly 20,000 additional square feet all on one floor.

Moving forward, Westmass wants to create more of both types of development opportunities, said Delude, adding that the mill complex offers the size, flexibility, and existing facilities to meet almost any need.

To prove it, he went to a large, aerial photo of the complex, complete with blocks of yellow designed to show what could potentially be built in certain areas of the parcel.

For example, the area around the site of the new HealthSouth facility is suitable for buildings 10,000 to 40,000 square feet in size, while the greenfield further to the east is suitable for buildings of 60,000 to 150,000 square feet. Meanwhile, those aforementioned stockhouses can accommodate smaller ventures, and the existing mill structures can house a wide range of business and residential ventures.

“The broad goal for us is to be as flexible to the market-driven demand as possible,” said Delude.

And this is where the potential to create a working model for other communities and development agencies to emulate comes into focus, he continued, adding that there are similar mill complexes (although not as large) across the state that present the same set of challenges and potential opportunities.

“When we met with legislators on Beacon Hill to discuss funding for this project, there were a number who identified with this project and the challenges and were encouraging us to forward, because they had their own mill experiences,” said Delude, referring to officials from Haverhill, Lawrence, and other former manufacturing centers.

This connection, coupled with the large scale of the project, were certainly factors that led the Ludlow initiative to be chosen for assistance from the Brownfield Support Team, he went on, adding that the technical support from the BST will help facilitate and accelerate efforts to make the site ready for the various kinds of development it can support.

Meetings with the team will commence later this month, he went on, adding that the expertise provided by team members may help remove some of the potential roadblocks to the development, specifically the need to balance historic-preservation efforts with increasing demands — both at the legislative level and within the business community — for buildings that are energy-efficient.

“These buildings were built in the early 1900s — they’re energy-inefficient by nature,” said Delude. “For the first time, the Department of Energy Resources will be on a round of Brownfield Support Team intiative projects, and they’re interested in use of renewable energies and sustainability, and that hits the sweet spot with us and these older buildings.”

 

Progress in Site

Delude said the high-profile nature of the Ludlow Mills project brings with it a certain amount of pressure to succeed, but overall, the fact that high-ranking state officials, including Gov. Deval Patrick, are watching this project is a very positive thing.

“They want us to succeed, and they’re giving us the tools to succeed,” he said of state officials. “If there is any pressure, it’s internal to ourselves; we want to succeed, and we want to do it as quickly as possible, but there is a natural process that has to take place, and it starts with infrastructure, and it starts with preparing for the development that we’ve modeled and that we hope to achieve.

“We have a lot of people behind this project and enthusiastically supporting this project,” he went on, adding quickly, “it would nice if the economy would support it as well.”

It will — eventually — but even now, the sluggish times are not enough to dampen enthusiasm for a project that promises to be historic on a number of levels.

 

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

Departments People on the Move

American International College announced the following:

Mark Mastroianni

Mark Mastroianni

• Mark Mastroianni, Hampden County District Attorney, has been named to the Board of Trustees. Mastroianni received his bachelor’s degree from AIC and his juris doctorate from Western New England University. He was admitted to the Massachusetts State Bar in 1990 and the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts in 1991, and served as an assistant district attorney from 1990 to 1995, where he prosecuted cases and supervised District Court staff attorneys on matters of law, trial technique, and sentencing, authorized increases and reductions in charges, and implemented and maintained office policies and procedures; and
Daniel Warwick

Daniel Warwick

• Daniel Warwick, Springfield Superintendent of Schools, has been named to the Board of Trustees. A lifelong Springfield resident, he holds a certificate of advanced graduate studies and a master’s degree in Education, both from AIC, a bachelor’s degree in Education from Westfield State University, and fellowships for advanced educational learning from Harvard University, the University of Pittsburgh, and American International College. Appointed superintendent in 2012, Warwick began his career with Springfield Public Schools nearly 40 years ago and has a wealth of experience as a teacher, principal, and administrator.
•••••
The Springfield-based law firm Bulkley Richardson announced that nine of the firm’s lawyers have been named to the 2012 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list. They are:
• Mark Cress, whose practice areas include bonds/government finance, banking, and bankruptcy, and creditor/debtor rights;
• Francis Dibble Jr., business litigation, health law, and antitrust litigation;
• Patrick Kennedy, business litigation, banking, and intellectual-property litigation;
• Mary Kennedy, employment and labor, and schools and education;
• Kelly McCarthy, health law;
• David Parke, business/corporate and mergers and acquisitions;
• John Pucci, also included in the Top 100 list of Massachusetts Super Lawyers, whose practice areas include business litigation and criminal defense (white collar);
• Donn Randall, banking and business litigation; and
• Ellen Randle, family law.
Also, two lawyers were named to the 2012 Massachusetts Rising Stars list:
• Matthew Kane, whose practice areas include banking, business litigation, and general litigation; and
• Kelly Koch, family law and estate planning and probate.
•••••
Jules Gaudreau, President of The Gaudreau Group Inc. Insurance and Financial Services Agency, was voted Best Insurance Agent, and Werner Maiwald was voted Best Financial Advisor, in the Best of Boston Road ceremony at Ludlow Country Club. The Wilbraham-based agency also won Best Overall Professional Services and Most Philanthropic. More than 1,600 votes were submitted to the Boston Road Business Assoc. during this year’s competition.
•••••
Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. announced that Best Lawyers, the oldest and most respected peer-review publication in the legal profession, has named Jay Presser as the 2013 Springfield Labor Law – Management Lawyer of the Year. Presser has been a member of the firm since 1977 and is head of the firm’s litigation practice. He has more than 35 years of experience litigating employment cases before administrative agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board, the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination, and the State Labor Relations Commission. Only a single lawyer in each practice area in each community is being honored as the Lawyer of the Year for 2013. Presser has been selected in the 10th anniversary edition of The Best Lawyers in America because he has been included in that esteemed list for the past 10 years. In addition, Presser has been chosen by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as one of its Lawyers of the Year, and was recently selected as a Massachusetts Super Lawyer.
•••••
Donald Frydryk

Donald Frydryk

Monson Savings Bank has announced the appointment of Donald Frydryk to the bank’s Board of Trustees. He is also a Corporator and a customer of the bank. Frydryk, Managing Partner of Sherman & Frydryk, a land-surveying and engineering firm based in Palmer, is a professional engineer and a pofessional land surveyor.
•••••
Michael Fenton recently joined the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C. Fenton is admitted to practice law in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and his practice will focus on business law, commercial real estate, and estate planning. At 25, Fenton is the youngest city councilor in the Springfield’s history, having been elected twice since his first term at 22. A graduate of Cathedral High School and a cum-laude honors graduate of Providence College, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Fenton received his MBA and JD from Western New England University, where he served as publishing editor of the Law Review and was an Oliver Wendell Holmes Scholar. Fenton clerked at Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., and Bacon Wilson, P.C., and is a BusinessWest 40 Under Forty honoree in the class of 2012.
•••••
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced recently that James Leydon, formerly Director of Constituent Services, has replaced Attorney Thomas Walsh, former Director of Communications. In addition, William Baker joined the Mayor’s staff as the new Director of Constituent Services.
•••••
STCU Credit Union recently hired Maria Lopez as Assistant Vice President, Westfield branch. Lopez, who speaks Spanish and English, brings over 23 years experience, including 13 years in mortgage lending.

•••••

Michael Jonnes

Michael Jonnes

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) announced the departure of Executive Director Michael Jonnes, effective Dec. 31. Jonnes, whose career with SSO began in 1998, was instrumental in helping to acquire a distinguished roster of soloists and developing a wide range of collaborative efforts with community groups and nonprofits throughout the region. He also led the search that brought Kevin Rhodes on as music director. Jonnes has more than 30 years of experience in nonprofit management in the orchestral realm. Prior to the SSO, he was the executive director of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra in Jackson, Tenn. Jonnes and his wife will relocate to be closer to family. A national search is currently underway to find his successor, and Peter Salerno will serve as Interim Executive Director during the search. The SSO will honor Jonnes with an audience reception following the Jan. 12, 2013 concert, “Scheherazade.”
•••••
Jeffrey Pierce

Jeffrey Pierce

TD Bank recently named Jeffrey Pierce as Vice President, Business Development Officer in Small Business Administration (SBA) Lending in Hartford, Conn. With 27 years of experience in banking, finance, and lending, Pierce will be responsible for providing SBA financing to qualified small businesses throughout a two-state region that includes Hartford as well as the Springfield and Worcester areas in Massachusetts.
•••••
Shirley Stephens recently joined the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) as Housing Coordinator, where she will work in the Community Development section of the agency and will be involved in the application intake and outreach process for various PVPC-administered housing-rehabilitation programs throughout Western and Central Massachusetts. Stephens is a licensed realtor with RR & Co. Realty Inc., helping distressed homeowners in Springfield.
•••••
Members of the WGBY Board of Tribunes have voted to accept three new members to join the 2013 roster. Merricka Breuer, Patricia Crutchfield, and Norma Friedman were named as the newest members of WGBY’s board at the station’s recent annual meeting. Breuer is director of Marketing and Business Development at Ink & Toner Solutions in Northampton, Friedman is an adjunct professor at UMass Amherst’s University Without Walls, and Crutchfield is director of Human Resources at the Gandara Mental Health Center in Springfield.

Law Sections
Annino Draper & Moore Charts a Growth Strategy

From left, Louis Moore, Tracie Kester, Cal Annino, Mark Draper, and Trant Campbell.

From left, Louis Moore, Tracie Kester, Cal Annino, Mark Draper, and Trant Campbell.

Cal Annino says most law firms, especially smaller boutique operations like his, don’t traditionally embrace those proverbial five-year operating plans.

“Things change much too quickly in this business for that,” he explained, referencing all that’s happened over the past half-decade to get his point across. But this doesn’t mean that firms can’t undertake strategic planning, he stressed repeatedly.

At Springfield-based Annino Draper & Moore, or ADM, as it’s called, the firm he started with Mark Draper and Louis Moore (former colleagues at the firm Ryan & White) in 1990, planning is a year-round assignment usually focused on the shorter term, said Annino. And often, track is laid at a year-end meeting of the minds, or planning session, in the firm’s conference room.

At the most recent one, last December, the partners decided to move ahead with everything from a larger and more visible satellite office in Westfield (it has another, similar facility in Northampton) to more extensive marketing, including a revamped and expanded Web site and an electronic newsletter, to a hard push into the realm of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR.

“We’ve jumped with two feet into the arbitration and mediation aspects of alternative dispute resolution,” said Annino, the firm’s managing partner, adding that the creation of the ADR Group was an aggressive step taken in response to ongoing trends toward greater use of ADR and thus less work in the courts, and the recognized need to fill voids in business in such areas as estate planning, family law, and others.

Draper is a certified arbitrator who has handled a number of cases, and others at the firm have taken mediation training, Annino noted, adding that ADR services could become a strong growth area for the firm moving forward, especially if marketed aggressively, which ADM intends to do.

“With the reputation that this firm has in the marketplace now, once we let people know that we’re in the mediation and arbitration business, this will be a good source of business for us,” he explained, adding that, with ADM’s expertise across many areas of the law, it could mediate or arbitrate a wide range of matters.

The past several months have been spent putting the ADR Group and other strategic initiatives into effect, said Annino, adding that these steps, coupled with the firm’s wide diversity of specialties — covering everything from construction law to estate planning; environmental law to general business law — has Annino Draper & Moore positioned for continued growth.

For this issue and its focus on business law, BusinessWest turns the spotlight on a two-decade-old firm that is shedding its comparatively low profile and taking intriguing steps in response to changes in the legal profession, as well as the local business community.

 

Firm Resolve

Tracing the history of the firm, Annino said it is one of several that were essentially spun off from Ryan White, which at one time had more than two dozen lawyers and was one of the largest firms in the area.

Lawyers in that firm were “compartmentalized” into certain practice groups, he continued, adding that, with their backgrounds in diverse areas, the three individuals with the names now over the door decided there was proper chemistry and synergy for a partnership.

The firm had a solid foundation in the form of clients that stayed with the three partners after they left Ryan & White, and continuously built on that foundation over the years.

“We’ve been able to grow because many of the clients who came with us when we left Ryan & White are still with us,” he continued. “We have very loyal clients, and, frankly, we do a great job for them. We do excellent work, and we’re responsive; that’s what a small firm has to do in order to compete.”

Trant Campbell, who specializes in everything from family law to dispute resolution, joined the firm in 2007, and the latest addition is Tracie Kester, Annino’s one-time assistant and paralegal, who earned her J.D. at Western New England Law School, became an associate at the firm soon thereafter, and was named partner earlier this year.

From the beginning, the firm’s success has been attributed to its diversity and ability to provide a wide range of services to specific clients.

Annino, the firm’s managing partner, focuses on corporate law, municipal and health care law, banking and finance, commercial and residential real estate, estate planning, and elder law, while Draper specializes in construction law and civil litigation. Moore’s areas of practice include environmental law, land-use issues, municipal law, insurance law, civil litigation, and dispute resolution, while Campbell focuses on family law and domestic relations, estate planning, business and corporate law, and dispute resolution, and Kester specializes in business and corporate law, commercial and residential real estate, estate planning and elder law, and civil litigation.

“The work I do in residential and commercial real estate works out well with Mark’s construction practice and Lou’s environmental practice,” said Kester, offering just one example of the synergies within the company and how the various specialties complement one another and improve the overall quality of service. “Any time I have a hint of an environmental problem with one of my real-estate deals, I go down to hall — I don’t pass ‘Go,’ don’t collect $200, and go straight to Lou’s office.”

There is similar synergy between estate-planning work and real estate, noted Campbell, adding that ADM can handle a full range of client needs, and often without having to go outside the firm for an expert.

“Clients’ legal needs don’t necessarily fall in one area,” he explained. “If there was an estate administration going on, there may be a piece of real estate involved, and there may be some environmental issues and some title issues. What I found when I came here was a willingness and a desire on the part of the other members of the firm to help us reach a solution; it’s a great level of comfort.”

Moore agreed. “We don’t do everything that the large firms do,” he said, “but the things we do, we do well and more cost-effectively than most other firms.

“It’s not unusual, especially in some more complex matters, when you’re dealing with a larger firm on the other side, to see them have two or three lawyers in a meeting or at a hearing,” he continued. “And maybe not in every instance, but many of them, clients are getting billed for that.”

The firm’s diversity and cost-effective service have served the company well during the recent — and in many ways still ongoing — economic downturn, he continued, adding that the firm, like most all others, struggled during the leanest of times, especially in hard-hit fields like construction, where most activity came to a grinding halt, but persevered without cutbacks or salary cuts because of its broad range of specialties.

 

Case in Point

Looking ahead, Annino said the business community, and society in general, are moving increasingly in the direction of ADR, and the firm is responding accordingly — and proactively — with its new ADR Group.

He noted that in addition to divorce and other areas where ADR has been used effectively for many years, there is vast potential for the firm to gain business in such areas as environmental law, construction law, and family law.

“When people find out that we’re doing environmental, family, and contract mediation and arbitration — and we really haven’t told them yet, but we’re starting to — I think we’re going to be very busy,” he said. “I see the family-mediation piece as one where there is growth potential — I’m not aware of it being done extensively now.

“You look at a case where the parents die and now there’s an issue with the estate,” he continued, offering an example of the type of work he anticipates. “You’ve got four children, and everyone is going to get a lawyer. If you’re well-thought-of as being able to mediate or arbitrate those types of issues, rather than fighting them out in the courtroom, that would seem like the perfect venue to resolve family disputes — privately, quietly, and less expensively.”

When asked how a firm, or a specific individual, gains a solid reputation in the realm of ADR, Draper said it does so by becoming known for both expertise and fairness, which can only be attained through time, experience, and thoughtful resolutions.

“The first thing you need to do is get the word out, which we’re trying to do,” he told BusinessWest, noting the use of the firm’s Web site and other vehicles to introduce the service. “Beyond that, it’s just like any aspect of a legal practice — if the parties in the mediation or arbitration perceive you to be fair, then I think you’ll get a good recommendation from the parties and the attorneys. On the other hand, if you’re perceived as being unfair or biased toward one party or the other, you’re not going to get a good recommendation from either side.

“If I see someone who has a bias as an arbitrator, I’m disinclined to use that person,” he continued, “because I’m not sure where the bias is going to fall next time. So it’s just like building any other kind of practice.”

While working to build its portfolio in ADR, the firm is making strides with many of the other strategic initiatives identified last December.

For example, the firm has relocated into larger quarters on Broad Street in Westfield, providing improved visibility. Annino and Kester (both Westfield residents) spend at least one day in a week in that city, which has recorded significant residential and business expansion in recent years and offers strong growth opportunities.

Meanwhile, the firm is moving ahead with plans to market itself more aggressively and become much more visible than it has been in the past.

Specific steps include the revamped Web site, which will, in addition to offering information about the firm, its lawyers, and their areas of expertise, provide visitors with information on timely issues of the day, as well as a new e-newsletter sent to hundreds of clients and prospective clients.

The first edition, which came out in June, chronicles the Westfield relocation, announces Kester’s new status as partner, introduces the new ADR services, and even offers a bit of commentary on the economy.

“We have definitely noticed an uptick in business and consumer confidence and a resulting demand for legal services,” it reads. “There is also new optimism in our clients. Much of our new work results from clients expanding business operations or taking advantage of new business opportunities. It is exciting to be part of this emerging vitality, and to see long-time clients optimistic again about the future for their families and businesses.”

 

Closing Argument

Whether this perceived uptick and rise in optimism translates into new growth opportunities for ADM remains to be seen. But it’s clear that the firm is taking solid steps to effectively position itself within a changing economic and legal landscape.

As Annino noted, five-year plans don’t generally work out in the legal industry. But firms still need to look down the road and anticipate where opportunities will be found and take proactive steps to capitalize on them.

And ADM has a firm resolve — both literally and figuratively — to do just that.

 

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

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Pittsfield Strives to Generate Interest in Business Park at GE Site

Above, the GE Pittsfield Works in 1946. At top, an aerial shot of the portion of that same property that has become the William Stanley Business Park.

Cory Thurston says the name William Stanley Business Park was chosen to recognize the power of innovation, in this case the work of an inventor credited with, among other things, the development of the induction coil, or transformer.
Stanley, a long-time engineer with Westinghouse, created his prototype in 1886, in Great Barrington, but his concept, which made it possible to spread electric service over a wide area, would most dramatically change the landscape — and in many different ways — in nearby Pittsfield. It was there that he started the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Co., the venture eventually purchased by General Electric and later renamed the GE Pittsfield Works, a sprawling large-transformer-manufacturing complex that, at its height in the 1960s, employed more than 13,000 people.
Today, Thurston, executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA), is hoping that innovation can again transform this property near Silver Lake more than a quarter-century after GE announced that it was closing the massive plant. The 52-acre business park, created on roughly a dozen various-sized parcels, transferred to the city by GE in recent years, officially opened in early June with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Mountain One Financial Center in a corner of the property off East Street.
The facility, a 6,735-square-foot, LEED-certified structure dominated by glass, is catching the attention of the city and the region, said Thurston, who is confident that it will also capture the imagination of the business and development communities, and eventually help repopulate the mostly barren acreage with a broad mix of businesses.
“It showed the naysayers, who didn’t believe anything would ever happen here, what can be done,” he explained, adding that the quick timeline for the project — it was announced in April 2011, ground was broken that August, and construction was completed on March 30 — demonstrates how the city is committed to making things happen on the property.
Moving forward, one possible catalyst for redevelopment could be a planned 20,000-square-foot life-sciences building, said Thurston, adding that the venture could be funded through a $6.5 million earmark granted to Pittsfield as part of the Commonwealth’s Life Sciences Bond Bill.
Intended as a stage-two facility for companies looking for room to get to the next stage, the 20,000-square-foot center would be a facility that could house and foster the kind of innovation that gave the park its name.
Beyond that initiative, though, the park could become home to anything from retail to light industrial; from green-energy ventures (there’s already a 1.8-magawatt solar power array on the property) to municipal facilities.
“We’re optimistic,” said Thurston. “Typically, in the Northeast, 70% of your economic development comes from within, from expansion of companies in the market already. We’re focusing quite a bit on making sure that our existing businesses have opportunities to grow, while we’re also looking at other options such as government facilities.”
There are a number of challenges involved with redeveloping the former GE complex, said Thurston, listing everything from the stigma attached to brownfield sites, even though this one has been cleaned, to competition in the form of perhaps 1 million square feet of former mill space in Berkshire County vying for the attention of startups and established businesses alike. But he is optimistic that the park can soon become a center for both innovation and jobs, as it was decades ago.
“We believe that this is a model for cooperative remediation and redevelopment efforts across the country,” he told BusnessWest while looking over a large aerial photograph of the GE complex taken decades ago. “There is enormous potential here.”
For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest ventured to Pittsfield to learn how officials there hope to transform the landscape in this section of the city and, in some ways, have history repeat itself.

Current Events
Thurston said it’s difficult to quantify or even qualify the impact GE’s operation had — and still has — on the city.

This view from the northeast shows some of the vast open space now available for redevelopment with the transfer of the former GE property to the city of Pittsfield.

“Let’s just say GE made Pittsfield,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the manufacturing complex certainly contributed to the social and economic fabric of the community. But there was considerable controversy as well, especially in the form of environmental contamination involving land at the site, Silver Lake, and the nearby Housatonic River (GE agreed to pay $250 million to clean it up). Meanwhile, the demise of the transformer plant also led to years of economic struggle, outmigration (many young people left the city when GE did), and ongoing, often-painful efforts to reinvent and diversify the city’s economy.
And part of that reinvention is the redevelopment of the property on which Stanley Electric and then GE operated for close to a century, a project that has been ongoing for more than 13 years now and is defined by both challenges and opportunities.
Fast-forwarding through the years since a definitive economic-development agreement between GE, the city, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other parties was inked, Thurston said the 52 acres now under PEDA’s control have been remediated and transferred to the city for redevelopment. The pace of progress has often been frustratingly slow — the last parcels were not transferred until earlier this year — but significant momentum has been generated in recent months.
Standing outside the front door of PEDA’s office on Kellogg Street, which has a commanding 360-degree view of the site, Thurston hit the highlights. Pointing to his far right, toward Silver Lake, he referenced the solar installation completed by Western Mass. Electric Co. in 2010, as well as Mountain One’s project.
Turning to his far left, he pointed out a large 16-acre parcel on which several GE buildings once stood. It is, to the best of Thurston’s knowledge, the largest open, developable (“unimpeded” was the word he chose) tract in Pittsfield, and land that could be subdivided any number of ways to suit the needs of developers.
And, sweeping his hand to the right, he pointed out Woodlawn Avenue and the now-closed bridge (built in 1906) over the railroad tracks that run through the middle of the complex. The street, formerly a private way that bisected GE’s plant, will be repaired and made a public road, and a new bridge will be constructed by the state, said Thurston.
“This will hopefully be a real catalyst for our rebuild,” he said, noting that the site, hemmed in by residential neighborhoods and narrow, winding side streets, will need a secondary form of access in the form of an open Woodlawn Avenue to reach its full potential. “Finishing up these key infrastructure pieces is very crucial for us and our ability to put a large manufacturing facility or retail center that employs a large number of people on one of these sites.”
As he talked about that process, Thurston said the plan has several basic components, all designed to increase awareness of the site and its many amenities, and then bringing prospective tenants to PEDA’s door.
At present, the city is conducting some target marketing, while also working to connect with a host of public and private partners on the project, he continued, noting that this constituency includes a number of players.
Cory Thurston, seen in front of a map of the new business park

Cory Thurston, seen in front of a map of the new business park, says the site has amenities that could attract ventures from across several sectors of the economy.

For starters, there are state agencies that assist businesses in efforts to expand or relocate within the Commonwealth, he noted, listing the Mass. Office of Business Development and the Mass. Alliance for Economic Development, among others. There are also regional agencies such as the chambers of commerce serving the Berkshires, as well as 1Berkshire, which exists to stimulate new job growth and economic opportunity in the region by sparking collaboration between artists, designers, cultural institutions, and businesses.
Meanwhile, another potential partner, and major asset, as Thurston described it, is CSX Corp., which has a rail line that runs through the middle of the site and, with Woodlawn Avenue, creates four sectors of redevelopment.
“We’re working with their economic-development team to identify rail-friendly tenants that might be interested in an opportunity in downtown Pittsfield,” he explained. “They’re in a large growth mode, and rail service could be an important factor in drawing people to this site.”

Watts Next?
PEDA and these various partners have what Thurston considers a very salable product, one with amenities attractive to businesses in a variety of sectors.
At the top of this list is developable land that is in many cases ‘shovel-ready,’ a technical term used to describe land that is clean, fully permitted, and, as the phrase suggests, ready for a shovel.
Other parcels don’t quite fit that description, said Thurston, listing that aforementioned 16-acre parcel, for example, which has elevation changes and old foundations as the primary but still minor challenges to be overcome.
Another amenity, he told BusinessWest, is location, which is driven home in promotional aerial photographs of the site that prominently feature Crystal Lake and the nearby Berkshire mountains.
Beyond scenery, though, Pittsfield is located roughly halfway between Albany and Boston, said Thurston, and thus could be an attractive option for emerging technology and life-sciences companies operating or doing business in both markets. There is also the Berkshires’ still-affordable high quality of life, he went on, adding that this mix of selling points should turn some heads.
However, there are some challenges as well, including an economy still in recovery mode, that aforementioned stigma about brownfield sites, especially one with such a high profile, and a huge glut of former mill space in Pittsfield and surrounding communities that offers an attractive alternative to business owners, and one that usually carries a lower price tag than new construction.
“We’re confronting the same challenges being faced from a manufacturing and industrial perspective across the Northeast,” he explained. “New construction is difficult, and we have a lot of wonderful facilities in Pittsfield and across Berkshire County, like some of the old paper mills that have been repurposed, where businesses can grow and expand; there’s a lot of competitive real estate that still stands.”
But overall, Thurston believes the business park is the proverbial right place at the right time, and he thinks the planned life-sciences building is a potential-laden project that could drive that point home, while also creating some potential future tenants.
As currently conceived, the center would go beyond a typical incubator, providing next-stage companies with the shared lab space, broadband capacity, and other amenities needed to make that jump to where they’re ready to begin production and take on employees.
“This would be a nice, low-cost, quality-of-life facility that they could move their venture to and continue their growth and development,” he said, adding that the next phase in the project is convincing the state to release the earmark, a process that is already underway. “We want to create something new and exciting in Pittsfield.”
Overall, PEDA will be patient with the broad redevelopment process, said Thurston, adding that, in every way possible, it will “leave its options open.”
That sentiment applies to everything from potential reuses — the site has been mentioned as home to everything from retail complexes to municipal facilities, including a new courthouse and police station — to individual parcels.
Indeed, while it is likely that the 16-acre parcel mentioned earlier will be subdivided, PEDA will not do that until options for one larger user have been explored and exhausted.

Getting Amped Up
While it’s extremely unlikely that the former GE site will again be home to 13,000 jobs, said Thurston, the business park created there has vast potential to again play a lead role in shaping the economy of Pittsfield and the surrounding area.
What that shape will be is anyone’s guess, he noted, adding that it will take years to fill in the canvas.
But the process is well underway, momentum is building, and there are clear signs that this facility can live up to the name it’s been given.

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

Cover Story
Roger Crandall Shapes a Vision for MassMutual

The six-foot-long fish mounted over Roger Crandall’s desk certainly looks real.
But in fact, this work of art, as he calls it, is a wood carving fashioned with the help of several dozen photographs of the 140-pound tarpon that Crandall hooked, battled for more than an hour and a half, landed, and then released off the Florida keys in 2006.
“I was looking through a fishing magazine, and found this woman in New Hampshire who does wood carvings of what are usually trout or salmon,” Crandall, the chairman, president, and CEO of MassMutual explained. “I sent her 50 pictures, she did some research on tarpon to get the dimensions right, and it took her three years to do it.”
Like just about everything else assuming floor, wall, and shelf space in Crandall’s large office at MassMutual, which he jokingly refers to as the hall of dinosaurs, the wood carving has meaning and tells a story — or several of them. In this case, the fish, which he admits probably wouldn’t fit anywhere else, relates his passion for the sport, which he enjoys for the challenge of fights like he had with the tarpon, but more for the relaxation it provides as well as the opportunity to get away from the numbers that have dominated his life and career.
“In a world, and a job in particular, where information is constantly coming at you, getting out onto a river or a flat is great,” he explained. “For that two, three, of four hours, there’s no Blackberry, there’s no crisis in Greece, there’s no low interest rates, no unclear regulatory policy, none of the things I deal with on a day-to-day basis; it’s a great way for me to de-stress and relax.”
Moving around the room, one will find dozens of objects that speak volumes about Crandall’s work and the mindset he brings to it. For example, there’s the 107-year-old grandfather clock, presented as a gift to a former president of MassMutual by the general agents association. Still keeping good time, the clock is there as a reminder of the importance of the relationship between the company and its agents and general agents, he said.
Hanging on a wall a few feet away, meanwhile, is a framed copy of an insurance policy sold in 1894. “We literally sell the same type of policy today,” said Crandall, adding that the document is a reminder that the foundations on which the company was built haven’t really changed — and won’t. “One of our best-selling products in the 1890s was also one of the best-selling products in 2011.”
And then, there are the model planes, or what Crandall referred to as “deal toys.” There are more than a dozen of them in total, and they represent individual aircraft or airlines that MassMutual has owned or invested in over the decades, he explained, noting a few that he’s particularly proud of. One would be a model of a jet owned by Morris Air, a small outfit started by David Neeleman in Salt Lake City that caught Crandall’s attention when he was an analyst for MassMutual in the early ’90s.
The company tripled its investment in Morris Air in just over 18 months when that venture was sold to Southwest Airlines, Crandall recalled, adding that the story got better — and the deal-toy collection grew significantly — when, after his non-compete agreement with Southwest expired, Neeleman started another airline that MassMutual became an original private equity investor in — JetBlue. “I think we made $80 million on a $15 million investment,” he said.
Although it would outwardly appear that Crandall’s office is outfitted as a way to salute past achievements, he described it collectively as an inspiration for the future — the tense that certainly occupies most of his time and attention.
He told BusinessWest that he’s focused on the year 2040, for example. That’s the year the U.S. is expected to be a nonwhite majority, and while that’s 28 years away, he’s already taking steps to position the company for that time, with steps ranging from a comprehensive effort to change the demographic mix of the company’s roster of agents to the introduction of many new products, to aggressive marketing to target groups ranging from African Americans to gays and lesbians.
A big part of getting the company positioned for the future is to remind customers and potential customers of the need to secure their futures — and then provide the products and services to help them do it, Crandall said, summing up matters by first borrowing an old Mandarin proverb — “when you’re safe, think about danger” — and then a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Crandall about tarpon, investments in airlines, and company history — but mostly about the future and how he intends to position the 161-year-old company to be fully ready for it.

On a Grand Scale
Crandall remembers that while he was in grade school, he would often go to the office on Saturdays with his father, a group life and health salesperson for MassMutual.
“I would stuff envelopes for him so he could do mailings, and got a penny an envelope,” he said, adding that he eventually took on more far-reaching duties. Indeed, when personal computing came into prominence, he would use an early spreadsheet program called VisiCalc (which predated Lotus and Excel) to help his father show prospective clients how much the premiums would be for group life insurance.
“Later, during summers when I was in college, I would go out on sales calls with him and sit in on meetings with MassMutual pension customers … that’s how I got a serious introduction to MassMutual,” he said, adding that while his father spent 34 years with the company, he didn’t picture himself following in those footsteps, let alone becoming CEO.
However, a series of circumstances, starting with the economic landscape he encountered upon graduating from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in 1988, put him on course that eventually led to that office on the second floor of the company’s State Street headquarters.
“I started in the real estate investment department, and it was the perfect time to get into that sector,” he recalled, “because we were about to have the biggest commercial real estate collapse since the Great Depression; it was actually a wonderful learning experience.”
MassMutual gave him the opportunity to take the charter financial analysts exam, and he eventually moved from real estate to the investment division to the securities investment division, where, fortuitously for him, the analyst assigned to watch the airline industry had just retired.
“At that time, my uncle, Bob Crandall, was president of American Airlines,” he explained. “So the guy I worked for said, ‘at least you’ll have one person to call,’ and told me to watch the airline industry.”
With a little guidance from his uncle, but mostly a keen eye for potential-laden ventures, Crandall steered MassMutual toward the Morris Air, JetBlue, and other deals now commemorated in his office. In 2000, he joined Babson Capital Management, LLCV, a MassMutual subsidiary, and in 2002 was named managing director of that company and head of its Corporate Bond Management, Public Bond Trading, and Institutional Fixed Income units.
In 2005, he was appointed chairman of Babson Capital and executive vice president of chief investment officer of MassMutual, eventually becoming president and CEO in January of 2010, and later named chairman as well.
He took those final steps to his current post at the height of the Great Recession, a downturn that severely tested all financial services institutions, but also brought a number of opportunities for MassMutual.
“The company is much stronger today than it was at the end of 2007,” he explained. “Our sales are higher, our earnings are higher, and our capital is higher. It was Rahm Emanuel (President Obama’s former chief of staff) who said, ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste,’ and from our perspective, it became a great opportunity to remind people about the strength of a mutual company and how we differ from a stock company.
“It was also a time to remind people of the inherent strength that the mutual life insurance company products have,” he continued. “So we’ve actually been able to take market share as well as grow over the past three or four years.”

Dollars and Sense
Elaborating, he said MassMutual has done so essentially by focusing on what he called the “basics.”
And by this he means the three main pillars of the company’s operations — providing customers with financial security, paying the best dividends, and providing exceptional customer service.
For example, the company has “doubled down” on its roster of agents, going from 3,700 a few years ago to more than 5,000 today, he said, while also investing in new products, including a number of creative life insurance options, designed to meet the various needs of customers.
Such steps are part of those aforementioned efforts to position MassMutual for both today (and those opportunities from the fiscal crisis Crandall described) and the much different look and feel that this country — and the world — will have two, three, and four decades from now.
And with that, he turned to another item in his office, a framed commemorative photo, a gift from a Chinese entity that MassMutual has partnered with on a utility venture.
“My guess is that 20 or 30 years from now, someone’s going to look at that and say, ‘wow, MassMutual was thinking not five years ahead, but 10 and 20 years ahead in dealing with China. So I put that there to remind whoever’s sitting here in the future of that.”
To further explain his mindset, he referenced that acquired skill attributed to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. “He said he would skate not to where the puck was, but to where he thought he would be,” said Crandall. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
And in a figurative sense, the puck is going to a place and time, not far off, and in some cases, already here, where the demographic picture will be much different. The company has responded in a number of ways, he said.
“One of the big things we did was realize that the face of America is changing, and we needed a much more aggressive diversity strategy,” he explained. “So we’ve gone from having maybe 100 of our agents being multicultural to perhaps 1,000 over the past four years.
“Meanwhile, we’ve gone from having no dedicated multicultural marketing campaigns,” he continued, “to having dedicated campaigns for Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, the gay and lesbian markets … we’ve really embraced diversity in a big way, and it’s making a huge difference for us. And we’ve only scratched the surface of the opportunities there.”

It’s not Foreign Policy
Another component of the company’s ‘getting back to basics’ strategic initiative is using marketing and other vehicles to emphasize the inherent advantages from doing business with a mutual company, Crandall continued.
“We’re owned by our policy holders, so we don’t get torn between two opposing views,” he explained. “Shareholders, we believe, are inherently, and rightly, more willing to take more risk than the policy holder is. Since we have just one constituency, we think that’s a huge advantage over having two, and you have to look no further than to a few public companies that are undergoing very sigfificant changes because their shareholders are pushing them to do that — their policy holders are not a big part of that public discussion.
“We’ve spent a lot of time redoing our advertising and marketing to remind people about mutuality,” he went on, pointing to a recent ad now framed and on his wall as one example. “We’re reminding people that we’re 160 years old (now 161) and we’ve been focused on policy holders since we were founded.”
These various pieces, from investment in new products to bolstering and greatly diversifying the roster of agents, to more aggressive marketing have all helped the company, said Crandall, noting that in 2011, MassMutual set records for sales of whole life insurance products and retirement products, and ended the year with record capital. And those trends have continued into the first half of 2012.
Looking ahead, he said there are tremendous opportunities to build on that recent progress, as evidenced by what many would describe as alarming statistics regarding Americans and how little they’ve done to secure a solid financial future.
“There are 50 million Americans who don’t have any life insurance, and that’s a huge opportunity for us,” he explained, adding that this is one of the reasons why, in addition to taking market share from competitors, the company can grow simply from what will, or should be, a much larger pie. “The other huge opportunity stems from the fact that Americans simply haven’t been saving enough money for probably the past 25 years.
“They’ve suddenly realized that they haven’t saved enough, and also realized that their house isn’t worth what they thought it was,” he continued. “So savings rates have tipped up, and we’ve done what I think is a very good job in our 401(k) business of reminding people how effective it is to save for retirement in that way, how steps taken in your 30s and 40s can make a difference when you’re in your 60s.”
Which brings him back to Albert Einstein and his comment on compound interest.
“Fundamentally, if you start saving early enough, you can solve all these problems,” he said, referring to the possibility of not having enough money for retirement, health care, or long-term care. “It’s very hard to take care of those things if you wait until you’re 60, and we want to help people understand that and start saving early.”

The Bottom Line
Among the myriad artifacts in Crandall’s office is a photograph of himself with David Neeleman in front of a JetBlue plane at New York’s JFK Airport.
Like the grandfather clock, framed insurance policy, and assorted deal toys, it is, as he said, a celebration of a past achievement, but also serves as inspiration for future success.
And it’s yet another example, said MassMutual’s top executive, of how even a company with 160 years of history to look back on, can only succeed if both eyes are on the future — and especially the distant future.

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

Law Sections
Crear, Chadwell & Dos Santos Charts an Ambitious Course

From left, Tony Dos Santos, Kimberly Davis Crear, and Jim Chadwell.

From left, Tony Dos Santos, Kimberly Davis Crear, and Jim Chadwell.

Tony Dos Santos remembers thinking — actually, the word he used was knowing — that it was definitely time for a career course change.
And as he talked about the thought process that led him to that conclusion that he needed to leave the larger-law-firm environment — in this case the Springfield-based firm Robinson Donovan — and find an opportunity to put his name over the door, he struggled somewhat in his efforts to describe it before eventually finding the terminology he was looking for.
“I just wanted to be in much greater control of my destiny,” he told BusinessWest. “I realized that being more of my own boss, being in a smaller place where there’s more flexibility and less structure, was what I was looking for at this stage in my career.”
Kimberly Davis Crear and Jim Chadwell could certainly relate.
They had come to the same basic conclusion about their careers several years earlier, and decided, separately, to leave Robinson Donovan and start their own firm. Crear did so in 2003, when she partnered with two former Robinson Donovan partners, and Chadwell joined that firm a few years later. He and Crear have remained together (the two other partners left to start their own venture), and built a solid reputation — and sizable portfolio of clients — in the realm of workers compensation defense work.
Late last year, the partners began talking with Dos Santos about broadening the base of their firm by adding his name to the letterhead and his expertise — commercial real estate and general business law — to the resume.
Those talks, which coincided with Crear and Chadwell’s need to find new quarters — their lease was up in space within the Fuller Block that will become the new home to WFCR — concluded that this was a good fit on many levels.
“We all knew each other, we’ve all worked together … we had a lot of history together,” said Dos Santos. “It’s helpful when you’re making a move to know the people you’re going to be working with and respect them.”
Chadwell agreed, and noted that the three lawyers, who have been referring clients to each other steadily for years, complement one another, and together offer a base of specialties that provides strong growth potential.
On April 1, the three partners and seven additional staff members settled into 3,500 square feet on the third floor of Monarch Place. And with the settling in period behind them, they’re focused on continued growth of their own practices and, in Dos Santos’ making that transition from lawyer to business co-owner.
For this issue and its focus on business law, BusinessWest talks with the three partners about where they eventually want to take this firm, but mostly about that notion of controlling not only their destiny — but that of their business venture.

Making Their Case
As she talked with BusinessWest about the feel of a small boutique firm and what she likes most about it, Crear pointed to the logo on her new business card.
The square image featuring three initials (‘C,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D’) as well as the ampersand, was selected after input from all three partners, who had an active role in the design process, which went fairly smoothly, she said, adding that such democracy — not to mention quick decision-making — doesn’t generally prevail at most large firms.
“I have a comfort level with this setting that I just didn’t have in a larger firm,” she explained, noting that over the past decade or so, she and Chadwell have become well versed in what both described as the “business side” of law — meaning everything from hiring personnel to handling a payroll to leasing a copier — and out of necessity.
Dos Santos, meanwhile, is still negotiating a learning curve.
“When you’re in a large firm, you don’t deal with any of the real day-to-day issues,” he said, referring to everything from IT matters to lease agreements, which he handled in this case. “You have either an executive committee or a professional executive who’s making all those decisions, and you’re just focused on practicing law; now, you’re more of a business person practicing law.”
While that transition process continues, the three partners are working to build the business they’ve formed. And for Crear and Chadwell, that means efforts to grow their already substantial portfolio in workers compensation defense work.
Both benefited substantially from the tutelage of former Robinson Donovan partner Jim Turtollotte, said Chadwell, describing him as the dean of the local workers comp defense bar, and have steadily expanded their client base over the years.
It now includes most all of the major workers comp providers, as well as self insured companies and groups, not only in Western Mass. but across the state as well.
And while such defense work generally involves the carriers, there is considerable employer involvement in such matters, said Crear, and thus the opportunity for referrals and a chance to do more and different types of work for those on the client list.
“I often have someone from the corporate piece of the company with me watching the workers comp claim,” she explained, “and as a result, we’ve been able to establish a number of relationships.”
And this is why Dos Santos is an important addition for the firm.
A partner at Robinson Donovan when he left that firm, Dos Santos specializes in all facets of commercial real estate, commercial finance, and general business law. He has significant experience representing developers, investors, and lenders regarding complex commercial real estate transactions, including acquisitions, dispositions, leasing, financing, zoning, and permitting, and recently has cultivated a niche involving affordable housing initiatives for formerly homeless veterans, including work with the nonprofit work Soldier On.
“They’re expanding exponentially, and I’ve done a lot for them,” he said of Soldier On, adding that one current project involves the former police training facility in Agawam, while another involves Veterans Administration property in Leeds.
When asked if there was anything approaching a five-year plan for the firm, Chadwell laughed and said, “we signed a five-year lease here — that’s our strategic plan.”
Elaborating, and turning more serious, he said the new venture, with its broader range of specialties, has solid growth potential. Where, when, and how that growth takes place is a function of how the three partners are able to expand their portfolios — possibly necessitating the need for more help — and whether there are logical additions to the roster of specialties that would bring more lawyers to the firm.
One possible avenue for growth is the broad realm of employment law, said Chadwell, adding that it would be a natural fit given the general business law work handled by Dos Santos and the workers comp defense services that he and Crear provide.
“I could see employment law being a tremendous fit going into the future with the nature our practices,” said Chadwell, noting that all three partners already refer out a considerable amount of work in that area. “And it’s an ever-growing practice area.”
The firm has the right of first refusal on some additional space on the third floor, said Chadwell, adding that it is hope — and expectation — that there will be need to exercise that right in the near future.

Final Arguments
As she gave a quick tour of the firm’s new offices, Crear noted that she swung a swift, mutually beneficial deal with Chadwell to take what would be considered the corner office. Dos Santos, meanwhile, got a consolation prize of sorts — the office closest to the conference room.
Such quick, easy decisions usually don’t happen at larger firms, where bureaucracy and rules often dictate such matters.
But they are part and parcel to life in a small boutique firm, where the principals are firmly in control of their destiny — and determined to make the most of that opportunity.

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

Departments People on the Move

Westfield-based engineering firm Tighe & Bond announced the following:

Eric Fontaine

Eric Fontaine

• Eric Fontaine, LEED AP has joined the staff as a Mechanical Engineer. He has more than 10 years of mechanical-engineering experience in heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems. His expertise includes sustainable and integrated system designs for education, government, commercial, industrial, and residential buildings. He is a member the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers and the U.S. Green Building Council; and

Jean Christy

Jean Christy

• Jean Christy, PE has joined the staff as a Civil Engineer. She has more than 10 years of experience in the management, design, permitting, and construction of civil-engineering design projects that range from site and roadway design to complex stormwater-management analyses. She is also a licensed soil evaluator.

•••••

The law firm Annino, Draper & Moore, P.C. announced that Attorney Tracie Kester has been made a Partner. Kester focuses her practice on residential and commercial real estate, estate planning and administration, elder law, and small-business representation.

•••••

Easthampton-based Hogan Technology announced that Sean Hogan, President of the company that is a provider of unified communications, has been invited by Technology Assurance Group, an international organization representing nearly $350 million in product and services, to speak at its national convention in New Orleans on Sept. 9-12. He will share his vision of the future of unified communications with some of the industry’s top manufacturers, vendors, suppliers, and resellers.

•••••

Patrick J. Willcutts

Patrick J. Willcutts

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney announced that Patrick J. Willcutts, Vice President, Financial Advisor, Certified Financial Planner Practitioner, and Certified Investment Management Analyst Professional in the Springfield office, has earned the Certified Private Wealth Advisor designation. Willcutts has been a member of the firm since 2008.

•••••

Glenmeadow Retirement announced the appointment of Allan J. Ouimet to the position of Director of the Glenmeadow at Home program. Ouimet has 20 years experience in human services, including various senior-director-level positions at the Stetson School in Barre, Mass.

•••••

Garvey Communications Associates announced two recent appointments:

Kelsey C. Vella

Kelsey C. Vella

• Kelsey C. Vella has been named Public Relations Analyst and will create search-engine-optimized content for new media, social networks, and organic searches. She will also manage 30 different social-media platforms for public relations and advertising purposes; and

Jamie M. Dunkan

Jamie M. Dunkan

• Jamie M. Dunkan has been named accounts analyst and will insure contract compliance for more than $1 million in financial transactions annually. She will also support the agency’s online advertising and content-management efforts.

•••••

Big Y Foods Floral Manager John Heon has been honored by United Fresh Foundation’s Center for Leadership Excellence. Heon was among 25 outstanding produce managers representing 20 different supermarket chains, commissaries, and independent retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.

•••••

Epstein Financial Group announced the addition of Brian N. Caine, ChFC as Director of Retirement Income Planning. Caine will provide EFG clients with his expertise and knowledge in creating successful retirement outcomes customized for each individual’s unique objectives.

40 Under 40 The Class of 2012
President, Jennings Real Estate

Jennings-KevinLooking back nearly a decade, to the day he decided to open his own business, Kevin Jennings recalls that it was an exciting, but also quite scary, time.
He had one young child, and a second on the way. Meanwhile, the commercial real estate market, which had been enjoying relative prosperity 10 years after its precipitous fall, was in what amounted to a holding pattern after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“It probably wasn’t the ideal time to leave the comfort of a job and go out on your own,” Jennings told BusinessWest. “But I had that entrepreneurial spirit within me; this was something I thought I could do — and something I had to do.”
So he left the comfort of the R.J. Greeley Company, and has never had any reason to look back. And while this entrepreneurial spirit is one of the big reasons why Jennings is a member of the 40 Under Class for 2012, there are many others, including his success with that venture he called Jennings Real Estate.
Indeed, starting with the sale of a small bakery building in downtown Holyoke within just a few weeks of setting up shop ‘— a modest sale that nonetheless provided Jennings with the needed cash flow to get a firm footing — he’s enjoyed steady growth, and had his best year in 2011, when the market was still struggling to recover from the lingering aftereffects of the Great Recession. He’s also handled  a number of significant transactions, including the deals that brought Home Depot and Preferred Freezer to the Campenelli Industrial Park in Westfield.
But there’s also his contributions of time and talent to the community, especially his work on the board of directors for Gray House in Springfield’s North End, an organization that provides services ranging from literacy programs to a food bank; from after-school programs to citizenship preparation. He’s also on the board of the Alden Credit Union, and supports a number of charitable organizations, including the American Cancer Society and Chicopee Boys & Club.
— George O’Brien

Law Sections
Bulkley Richardson Stakes Out New Ground

John Pucci, left, and Andrew Levchuk

John Pucci, left, and Andrew Levchuk bring expertise to Bulkley Richardson in some key, growing niches of law.

John Pucci has amassed a considerable record in white-collar crime. No, not that kind of record.
Specifically, he prosecuted criminal cases for the government as chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Springfield before moving into private practice as a partner at Fierst, Pucci & Kane in Northampton.
For Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, the Springfield-based law firm that brought him on board as a partner earlier this year, his experience on both sides of white-collar-crime and other specialties make him a valuable asset. As part of his role, he’ll handle federal tax-evasion cases, public-corruption claims, and cases involving companies and individuals under pharmaceutical investigation — but, this time, fighting for the defense.
“It’s an enormous advantage for a practitioner in the white-collar crime arena to have worked inside government, because you really get a feel for how and why cases are prosecuted, where the fault lines are in terms of evaluating the case, and how the bureaucracy works — and doesn’t work,” Pucci said.
“Dealing internally with the IRS and FBI is a bit of an art form which takes years to learn,” he added. “When you come to the defense side, you have an ingrained sense of how the government is evaluating the same documents you’re looking at for a client.”
Pucci’s not the only new attorney at Bulkley Richardson. He actually hired Andrew Levchuk at the U.S. Attorney’s Office 20 years ago, “and we find ourselves back here, together, in 2012 by virtue of a collection of circumstances that were surely unforeseeable when I hired him,” Pucci told BusinessWest.
Levchuk, who also joined the firm earlier this year, most recently worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, serving as deputy chief of the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the Criminal Division.
“I had spent part of my time in Washington as senior counsel at the computer crime and intellectual property section, and we worked on computer issues like data theft and data privacy, and also worked with international groups focused on those issues,” he told BusinessWest.
“That’s now a big issue here in Massachusetts and across the country,” he added. “Massachusetts has very strict data-privacy and data-protection regulations that apply not only to large institutions, but medium-sized businesses as well. In addition, these are very important concerns for health care clients.”
Pucci — who also brought to Bulkley Richardson his associate at Fierst, Pucci & Kane, Lizette Richards — is happy to be reunited with Levchuk. “By chance, we had a discussion, and Andy was interested in coming here.” Pucci said. “I told him he’d be a great addition, and at my suggestion, he came down to talk to the folks here, and here we are.”

Ahead of the Curve
Here they are, indeed — along with a diverse assemblage of fellow attorneys. As a law firm that traces its roots back to the 1920s and has grown to a roster of 45 lawyers with a wide diversity of specialties, Bulkley Richardson doesn’t want to stand pat, instead always considering what the current trends are in law, and trying to meet them, said Sandy Dibble, chair of the firm’s executive committee.
“Our size is incidental to what we are and what we can do,” he said, noting that it’s actually a relatively small firm when compared to some metropolitan and international firms.
The company expanded into Boston 10 years ago, an office that has thrived while focusing largely on representation of financial institutions. No one, Dibble said, could foresee the scope of the crisis that engulfed the financial-services industry in 2008.
“That turmoil has produced lots of litigation for banks. We represent mutual funds and most major banks. We rarely do foreclosures, but we do defend banks and other financial institutions when they’re sued,” he explained. “Banks like Sovereign, Bank of America, Citizens, JPMorgan Chase are big clients, and we do work for them in multiple states in New England through the Boston office. We have good lawyers out there, and it has been very successful.”
Bulkley Richardson has also seen plenty of growth in its health care specialty, particularly at a time when local and national health-insurance reform, and generally increasing compliance demands, require skilled legal aid.
“That’s a hugely active field from a legal perspective, with a tremendous amount of new legislation at the state and federal level, lots of new regulation, lots of new regulatory activity among the clients we represent,” Dibble said — among them Baystate Health and several other hospitals in Western Mass.
“We’re certainly not the only law firm representing these clients, but we do work with them in various areas of expertise,” he continued. “We do a lot of work involving government and how to structure organizations, how to manage them so they have a high level of compliance and ethical behavior. We also interact with the government agencies that supervise health care institutions.”
Among its other strengths, Dibble said, the firm handles plenty of litigation work and boasts a strong business and corporate practice, ranging from the purchase and sale of businesses and real estate to representing nonprofits and foundations in all facets of their operations; from drafting contracts for construction projects to that aforementioned advisory role for health care institutions.
Those efforts included handling financing for Baystate Medical Center’s $296 million expansion project. “That was a pretty challenging undertaking because we were putting it together right at the time the economy was collapsing,” he said. “So we were happy to be able to get that accomplished.”
The firm also represents many individual clients, including business owners and public figures; Bill and Camille Cosby are among the firm’s valued longtime clients, Dibble said.
Not every specialty thrives at any given time, he noted — for example, commercial real estate work has experienced an overall decline in the past few years. “Diversity is helpful to a firm, which is why we’ve made some significant additions, bringing in some additional resources in areas we weren’t as strong in.”

Keeping Secrets
Among those is corporate data security, one of Levchuk’s strong suits.
“Five years ago,” he said, “the big data-security issues involved large computer networks and hacking into banks of health care institutions, and by people seeking to obtain personal information which they could then use to steal identities, credit-card numbers, and so on.
“Now,” he continued, “that has evolved into data theft from a variety of other devices. We all walk around with handheld computers; that’s what smartphones are. Think about the data a smartphone contains. And from an employer’s perspective, think about the data that employees send and receive on smartphones, and you can see how security is now a major issue. Breaches can lead to serious civil liability — and occasionally criminal liability — so it’s important that companies have the right policies in place and get up to speed on these issues.”
For his part, Pucci said he’s built up a strong résumé of complex civil and complex criminal cases, but, having gotten to know Dibble and others at Bulkley Richardson, “I was desiring to make a change and get into a larger environment, a richer environment. I had a discussion that led to my decision to come here. There had not been a white-collar practice here for at least a decade, maybe never.
“This firm is an ideal place for us to settle into because it’s got a lot of rich history,” Pucci continued, as Levchuk nodded agreement. “It’s been here 80 years, which means it’s got a solidity to it and a sense of permanence. It’s got a lot of depth in its resources; just from among the lawyers who walk the hallways, you can get an answer to almost any question in any area, which is helpful.
“And on the service side,” he added, “we employ people who don’t exist in a smaller firm without our resources, and that allows you to lawyer instead of having to manage. Back in my old firm, as co-managing partner, I spent a lot of time managing issues and day-to-day problems, not practicing law. This is a great environment to practice law.”
That distinction is important, he said, for clients who, in many cases, are facing one of the more difficult situations in their life.
“It’s very important that we as lawyers keep in mind that our clients have a problem, and we should try to be problem-solvers,” Pucci said. “And the problem-solving process, working through the legal system, is a complex matter. Here, all our essential focus is on being a lawyer.”
But Dibble was quick to add that the firm’s attorneys are dedicated to helping people outside of work, too.
“We have a lot of people on the boards of dozens of organizations, people who volunteer their time, and we as a firm contribute financially to a lot of organizations,” he said. “That’s important to our culture. We want our people to recognize that we’re all part of a community — especially in a smaller city like this. That’s not to say that people in big cities don’t take part, but in a place like this, there aren’t so many people available to help out that you can skip it.”

Building a Case
With the Great Recession hopefully fading, Dibble said, Bulkley Richardson is hoping to build on a very strong 2011 — which followed a slightly-off 2010 — as it continues to diversify and grow.
“It’s a very competitive market out there; there are some very good firms in Western Mass. and some very good lawyers,” he said. “But the competition is not just local; there’s also a lot of competition from Boston and New York firms, national and international firms, who would like to do some of the work we do.”
And have been doing for more than 80 years.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion
A Victory on Many Levels

The recent announcement that Thing5 LLC will be creating a new call center in One Financial Plaza, thus bringing 500 new jobs to Springfield, is a positive story for the city and the region — on a number of levels.
Let’s start with the jobs. That’s priority No. 1 in the Greater Springfield area, and it has been for many years now. Some might look at this and say, ‘it’s only call-center jobs,’ or words to that effect, but these opportunities come on many levels, from entry positions to management slots, and, in many cases, they can be handled by those who do not possess a college education. The region needs those high-quality jobs (call them white-collar, if you like), but it also needs employment opportunities like these, especially in such large volume.
Beyond the employment factor, there are many other aspects to this story, all of them positive. First, this company started here, in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College — which was created to spur this kind of tech-related enterprise — and thus provides solid evidence that we can incubate ventures and grow them into major employers.
Also, this company stayed here. Indeed, when it reached that proverbial next level, there were, quite obviously, opportunities to take Thing5 almost anywhere — because there isn’t a city or town in the Commonwealth or well beyond it that wouldn’t fight, and fight hard, for 500 jobs. But management chose to stay in the City of Homes, largely because of the lower cost of living, available workforce, access, quality of life, and affordable commercial real estate.
This shows that our various assets are tangible — and sellable.
But perhaps the biggest benefit will come in the form of greater momentum downtown. First, this move gives a substantial boost to the office tower known as One Financial Plaza, which has had several dark floors for many years, but has been staging something of a comeback recently.
Beyond that, though, the 500 new employees working downtown will provide a larger critical mass of people needed to spur additional investments, be they in support businesses, hospitality-related ventures such as restaurants and clubs, or badly needed retail.
And there is another component — the possibility that some of these employees may soon be working and living downtown, thanks to a program that will offer reduced lease rates to Thing5 employees at the nearby Morgan Square apartments, managed by the same company (Samuel D. Plotkin) that also manages One Financial Plaza. This additional residential piece could further stimulate investment in the central business district and be a key contributor to the kind of vibrancy that other Northeast cities have enjoyed.
As we said, there are many angles to this positive story for Springfield and its downtown. The headlines were all about the jobs coming to the city — and that’s an important aspect of this — but there are many other elements that bode well for the City of Homes.

Opinion
Thing5 Move Downtown Spurs Momentum in Springfield

The recent announcement that Thing5 LLC will be creating a new call center in One Financial Plaza, thus bringing 500 new jobs to Springfield, is a positive story for the city and the region — on a number of levels.
Let’s start with the jobs. That’s priority No. 1 in the Greater Springfield area, and it has been for many years now. Some might look at this and say, ‘it’s only call-center jobs,’ or words to that effect, but these opportunities come on many levels, from entry positions to management slots, and, in many cases, they can be handled by those who do not possess a college education. The region needs those high-quality jobs (call them white-collar, if you like), but it also needs employment opportunities like these, especially in such large volume.
Beyond the employment factor, there are many other aspects to this story, all of them positive. First, this company started here, in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College — which was created to spur this kind of tech-related enterprise — and thus provides solid evidence that we can incubate ventures and grow them into major employers.
Also, this company stayed here. Indeed, when it reached that proverbial next level, there were, quite obviously, opportunities to take Thing5 almost anywhere — because there isn’t a city or town in the Commonwealth or well beyond it that wouldn’t fight, and fight hard, for 500 jobs. But management chose to stay in the City of Homes, largely because of the lower cost of living, available workforce, access, quality of life, and affordable commercial real estate.
This shows that our various assets are tangible — and sellable.
But perhaps the biggest benefit will come in the form of greater momentum downtown. First, this move gives a substantial boost to the office tower known as One Financial Plaza, which has had several dark floors for many years, but has been staging something of a comeback recently.
Beyond that, though, the 500 new employees working downtown will provide a larger critical mass of people needed to spur additional investments, be they in support businesses, hospitality-related ventures such as restaurants and clubs, or badly needed retail.
And there is another component — the possibility that some of these employees may soon be working and living downtown, thanks to a program that will offer reduced lease rates to Thing5 employees at the nearby Morgan Square apartments, managed by the same company (Samuel D. Plotkin) that also manages One Financial Plaza. This additional residential piece could further stimulate investment in the central business district and be a key contributor to the kind of vibrancy that other Northeast cities have enjoyed.
As we said, there are many angles to this positive story for Springfield and its downtown. The headlines were all about the jobs coming to the city — and that’s an important aspect of this — but there are many other elements that bode well for the City of Homes.

Opinion
Thing5 Move Downtown Spurs Momentum in Springfield

The recent announcement that Thing5 LLC will be creating a new call center in One Financial Plaza, thus bringing 500 new jobs to Springfield, is a positive story for the city and the region — on a number of levels.
Let’s start with the jobs. That’s priority No. 1 in the Greater Springfield area, and it has been for many years now. Some might look at this and say, ‘it’s only call-center jobs,’ or words to that effect, but these opportunities come on many levels, from entry positions to management slots, and, in many cases, they can be handled by those who do not possess a college education. The region needs those high-quality jobs (call them white-collar, if you like), but it also needs employment opportunities like these, especially in such large volume.
Beyond the employment factor, there are many other aspects to this story, all of them positive. First, this company started here, in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College — which was created to spur this kind of tech-related enterprise — and thus provides solid evidence that we can incubate ventures and grow them into major employers.
Also, this company stayed here. Indeed, when it reached that proverbial next level, there were, quite obviously, opportunities to take Thing5 almost anywhere — because there isn’t a city or town in the Commonwealth or well beyond it that wouldn’t fight, and fight hard, for 500 jobs. But management chose to stay in the City of Homes, largely because of the lower cost of living, available workforce, access, quality of life, and affordable commercial real estate.
This shows that our various assets are tangible — and sellable.
But perhaps the biggest benefit will come in the form of greater momentum downtown. First, this move gives a substantial boost to the office tower known as One Financial Plaza, which has had several dark floors for many years, but has been staging something of a comeback recently.
Beyond that, though, the 500 new employees working downtown will provide a larger critical mass of people needed to spur additional investments, be they in support businesses, hospitality-related ventures such as restaurants and clubs, or badly needed retail.
And there is another component — the possibility that some of these employees may soon be working and living downtown, thanks to a program that will offer reduced lease rates to Thing5 employees at the nearby Morgan Square apartments, managed by the same company (Samuel D. Plotkin) that also manages One Financial Plaza. This additional residential piece could further stimulate investment in the central business district and be a key contributor to the kind of vibrancy that other Northeast cities have enjoyed.
As we said, there are many angles to this positive story for Springfield and its downtown. The headlines were all about the jobs coming to the city — and that’s an important aspect of this — but there are many other elements that bode well for the City of Homes.

Departments People on the Move

Josiah B. Neiderbach recently joined the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in Springfield as a Land Use and Environment Planner.
•••••

Lynn Brown

Lynn Brown

Lynn Brown has been appointed First Vice President of Commercial Banking at PeoplesBank in Holyoke. Brown joins PeoplesBank with more than 26 years of experience in the financial-services industry. She is a seasoned commercial banking professional who has worked in the area for the majority of her career. At her previous position, Brown was responsible for managing a commercial-loan portfolio totaling more than $85 million. She is the chair of the board of directors for the Behavioral Health Network and is a member the board of directors for the East Longmeadow Education Endowment Fund.
•••••
Amy B. Royal has been named a Director of Aditus Inc., a community-based education and employment agency serving individuals with developmental disabilities. She is a Senior Partner at Royal LLP, a management-side labor- and employment-law firm.
•••••
Nancy Milkey

Nancy Milkey

Nancy Milkey, PG, LSP, has been named Tighe & Bond’s Technical Practice Leader for the Environmental Practice Group. In this role, she coordinates and champions the Westfield firm’s extensive environmental-assessment capabilities and ensures the group stays abreast of local, state, and federal regulations that impact clients. She is a registered brownfields professional, a Massachusetts-licensed site professional, and a professional geologist in New Hampshire.
•••••
Alicia M. Szenda has been appointed Director of Sales at the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. She previously served as Group Sales Manager. In her new position, Szenda manages convention and meetings sales for all member properties in the Pioneer Valley, and serves as the hotel liaison for the TEAM Springfield sales strategy for conventions. She will also coordinate group tour activities for the bureau.
•••••
Elisabeth E. Johnson has been appointed by TD Bank as Vice President, Portfolio Manager in Commercial Real Estate in Springfield. She is responsible for managing a $280 million portfolio of commercial mortgages and lines of credit, as well as credit administration, risk management, and compliance of existing loans.
•••••
Katya Cerar has been named Director of Transition Aged Youth Services at ServiceNet.
•••••
United Bank, based in West Springfield, announced the following:
Donna George-Ebbeling

Donna George-Ebbeling

• Donna George-Ebbeling has been named Senior Vice President and Chief Credit Officer. She brings with her more than 25 years of banking experience in credit administration, most recently with People’s United Bank and previously with the former Bank of Boston. Her experience includes credit analysis, management of regional credit departments, and risk-management responsibilities.
• Donna Easton-Vicalvi has been promoted to Vice President, Government Banking. A former town treasurer with more than 15 years experience in municipal government and banking when she joined United Bank in 2008 as assistant vice president of government banking, Easton-Vicalvi has since built and maintained significant customer relationships with numerous municipalities in the surrounding area. She also plays an active role with various industry and community organizations.

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Holyoke Project is a Study in Perseverance

Mike Crowley, left, and Bob Schwarz

Mike Crowley, left, and Bob Schwarz in front of the Holyoke Transportation Center, a unique project that overcame innumerable hurdles.

The concept initially came together nearly a decade ago. It was a unique and ambitious plan — to combine a transportation center with adult basic education programs and a childcare facility — but it made sense on many levels. So much so, that the Holyoke Transportation Center was able to withstand myriad challenges, many of them capable of scuttling the initiative. The end result is what one of the private-equity investors calls “a one-stop shop to improve your life.”

Mike Crowley says that from a strict bottom-line perspective, the initiative that became known as the Holyoke Transportation Center never really made complete sense, and always came complete with a large amount of risk.
Indeed, when asked when and if this unique commercial real estate venture will become a financial success, Crowley laughed and then offered an expression that seemed to say, ‘who knows?’ — a reaction that essentially told the story. Well, not really.
That’s because this project was never about economics — or all about economics, said Crowley, a commercial real estate consultant, developer, and eventual partner with members of the Picknelly family and a host of public entities in this initiative that transformed the old central fire station on Maple Street in Holyoke into a transportation and education complex that those involved say should become a model for other communities.
Instead, it was about fulfilling a commitment made by Peter L. Picknelly more than a decade ago to create a groundbreaking public-private partnership that would blueprint and then build a unique facility that would become both a transportation hub and center for adult basic education programs — two passions for Picknelly, who was still conceptualizing the facility when he died in 2004.
And it was essentially the unwavering desire on the part of his son, Peter A. Picknelly, to honor this commitment that enabled the project to overcome a lengthy laundry list of challenges and the temptation on the part of any or all of the various players — the Commonwealth, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, the Federal Transportation Administration, Holyoke Community College, and other entities — to say that this project just wasn’t doable.
“Every time we were faced with a 10-foot wall with barbed wire on top, we somehow found a way get over it,” said Crowley, who has a number of successful real estate ventures, including several medical offices, on his portfolio, and has worked with the Picknelly family on several of its projects over the years.
He said the barriers in Holyoke were both bureaucratic — an inevitable scenario when one considers the alphabet soup of federal, state, and local agencies involved (from HCC to the PVTA to the FTA), as well as the leadership changes that took place within some of these agencies— and construction logistics he summed up neatly and succinctly when he joked, “they told us this building had great bones; well … they lied.”

The Holyoke Transportation project

The Holyoke Transportation project was a complicated endeavor that involved a number of federal, state, and local agencies.

Indeed, detailed inspections revealed serious problems ranging from asbestos in the flooring (originally thought to be concrete), removal of which added $500,000 to the pricetag, to greatly deteriorated steel under the main floor, where the weight of fire trucks and the corrosive effects of road salt took their toll.
Eventually, state funds were secured to cover some of the additional costs, imaginative solutions were found for each of the construction challenges, and the parties involved essentially drew their own map for navigating uncharted waters in the form of an unprecedented public-private collaboration to create the center.
“We were essentially paving new ground; this was the first joint-development agreement undertaken in the country under the new FTA rules and regulations,” said Bob Schwarz, executive vice president of Communications for Peter Pan Bus Lines, and an individual Crowley credited with keeping the project on the rails during the innumerable times it appeared to heading off the tracks. “So we had nothing to go on; no one had ever done this before; we were laying the road.”
And as result of all this imagination and determination, the participatinbg parties were able to cut the ribbon last fall on a facility that Picknelly says makes a great deal of sense for the community.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind concept that has received national attention,” he said. “The components come together naturally — adult basic education, transportation to take people to those programs, and a childcare center for those with children.
“This is a one-stop shop to improve your life,” he continued, referring specifically to the many programs taking place in the Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center, named for his father. “It’s a place where people can make connections that can change their life.”
For this issue, BusinessWest chronicles the Holyoke Transportation project, a triumph over adversity in many respects, and now a working model that other communities may be looking to emulate.

Route of the Problems
As Crowley retold the story of how the center eventually came to fruition, he said that by the time Picknelly called him in 2006 and asked him to get involved, the project had been effectively dormant for some time.
There had been a memorandum of understanding inked between the Picknelly family and the PVTA in 2003 that outlined the partnership and the main battle plan for building the center, said Crowley, and many additional partners, from HCC to Head Start, to the city of Holyoke (which provided the real estate), had come on board, and thanks to the ardent support of U.S. Rep. John Olver, the various components of the project, and needed funding sources, were coming together nicely.
“They visualized a multi-modal transportation facility that would link inter-city and intra-city bus services involving carriers like the PVTA and Peter Pan, that would provide superior transportations services for the people ot Holyoke and the surrounding communities,”Crowley explained. “But what they also recognized was an absence of critical adult basic education services in the community, and looking at the demographics, this was a glaring problem — the fact that none of these services were being provided in a cohesive fashion.”
“What Peter (Picknelly), Bob (Schwarz), and Congressman Olver realized was that many of the people who needed adult basic education needed transportation to those services,” he continued. “Further, they understood that many of them also had kids, and in most cases, couldn’t leave those children to receive these education services — so Head Start became another critical element in the equation.”
This apparently solid game plan gained the support of the FTA and the state Executive Office of Transportation), which together had committed grants covering two-thirds of the project’s cost, and HCC had agreed to become anchor tenant and provide the adult basic education services.
But due to a series of circumstances — from the death of the elder Picknelly, who was providing the private equity for the project ($1 million) to turmoil at the PVTA and a subsequent change in leadership at the agency — the ambitious plans had been effectively back-burnered, although certainly not forgotten, said Crowley.
Indeed, by 2006, the PVTA, then being led by Mary MacInnes and determined to upgrade its facilities in Holyoke, one of the larger communities served by the agency, generated some dialogue about getting the initiative back on track.
But the landscape had changed considerably since 2003, said Crowley, noting that by then, the commercial real estate market was booming and construction costs were soaring, which meant that that the agreements between the parties would have to be renegotiated.
“When I looked at the development proposal that Peter had agreed to, and looked at the agreements that Head Start and Holyoke Community College had agreed to as tenants, and looked at the agreement that the PVTA had, it was evident to me that the project was financially unfeasible, and I indicated that (to the younger) Peter,” he explained. “But Peter, who recognized and appreciated that this was one of his father’s principle goals in life — to create this adult basic education center — didn’t want to give it up.”
Fast-forwarding a little, Crowley said the various agreements with the parties involved were revisited, and those leading the initiative went to Olver in the hopes of securing additional funding from the FTA to cover those escalating costs; a revised budget from the architect had moved the pricetag from the $7.5 million in 2003 to roughly $9.3 million (for both the building and an adjoining parking garage that was never built).
However, by this time (late 2006), the country was starting to slide into recession, and the federal government was putting the brakes on a number of projects, including many that were transportation related. So the parties involved with the Holyoke project agreed to essentially move forward knowing that there was a significant funding gap, said Crowley, adding that this was only one many serious problems lying in wait for this initiative.
“There were a number of points in the JDA where I think all the stakeholders, at one point or another, and for various reasons, almost threw in the towel,” he explained. “It was a daunting, daunting process. There was a ton of agencies involved — at the federal level, the state level, the city level … it was incredibly complex.”

Miles to Go …
Meanwhile, close inspections of the old central fire station revealed that those claims of ‘great bones,’ were untrue, or at least greatly exaggerated, and this meant that the recently revised budget was certainly imperiled.
For starters, the building, vacated at the start of the decade but still used for some training programs, had been exposed to the elements for seven years before construction was due to begin. This led the developers to do their own structural and environmental analyses — earlier reports indicated that the building was ‘clean’ — that found a number of large and costly problems.
Chief among them was the asbestos-based coating on the floors on the second, third, and fourth levels, a material applied 70 years earlier. “Everyone thought it was concrete, and we planned to just skim-coat over it,” Crowley explained. “And there was no way to get it up, other than with jackhammers and hand demolition.
“We had two options — encapsulating it, or removing it,” he continued. “But knowing that we were going to have Head Start and their children, and knowing the level of traffic this building was going to get from the general public, we made the decision to remediate it in its entirety, and if we couldn’t remediate it, we were going to scrap the plan.”
A subsequent inspection revealed that the deterioration of the I-beams that were carrying the first floor was so significant that they would have to be replaced, adding another $250,000 to the project’s cost.
“So now, we’re $770,000 behind the 8-ball, and this is before we’ve gone to bid to find out what it’s going to cost us to do the building,” he went on. “So that delayed us probably four months, because we, as the private-equity investors said, ‘we’re not going forward this — this is crazy; there are just too many unknowns.’”
But eventually, the many delays in negotiating agreements, securing the needed funds, inspecting the building, and resolving construction issues, turned out to be a blessing, because the rapidly deteriorating economy served to bring down the constructions costs associated with the project — and in a dramatic fashion.
“In most cases, time is you enemy with projects like this; in this instance, it was our friend,” said Schwarz, adding quickly that even with the attractive bids that would eventually be recived, the project would likely have been scuttled if state legislators had not secured a $750,000 grant from the EOT to handle the asbestos-removal efforts and floor replacement.
Construction wound up coming in two phases — demolition, handled by Kurtz Inc., in Southampton, and then reconstruction, undertaken by Western Builders in Granby, a subsidiary of Daniel O’Connell’s Sons in Holyoke — and there were myriad challenges in both cases.
Indeed, demolition of the floors proved to be a formidable obstacle, said Crowley, noting that due the composition of the concrete under the asbestos coating (sand mixed with large stones), the demolition efforts left a scarred, pitted surface that “looked like the surface of the moon.”
Rectifying the situation would require roughly three inches of new concrete, he continued, but the structural steel wouldn’t support that much weight. So a silicon-based substance, five times more expensive than concrete, had to be used.
Eventually, officials at HCC were able to secure a $550,000 federal grant that effectively enabled the developers to absorb ballooning expenses from the construction challenges and bring the project to completion, said Crowley, who stressed repeatedly, that there many figurative 10-foot walls with barbed wire that appeared to be insurmountable barriers, but solutions were ultimately found.
As they provided BusinessWest with a tour of the center, Crowley, Schwarz, and George Kohout, who directs the System for Adult Basic Education Support (SABES) for Holyoke Community College, at the Picknelly Center, all implied on numerous occasions that the facility was certainly worth all the aggravation, and that the unique model is working as those who blueprinted it intended.
Kohout said there are a number of programs conducted on the third and fourth floors of the facility, involving a number of agencies, from HCC to the New England Farmworkers Council; from the HALO (Holyoke Adult Learning Opportunities) Center to the Community Education Project; from the Holyoke Public Schools to CareerPoint.
Together, these partners offer services that include English as a Second language classes, GED testing, MCAS preparation, career counseling, “fast-track math,” English writing and composition, and computer training.
The central location, coupled with the accompanying transportation and childcare elements, not to mention the modern facilities, have all contributed to high enrollment and attendance levels that are certainly not coincidences, Kohout continued.
“Attendance has gone off the charts,” he explained. “And part of the reason for that is that many of these programs have been offered in places like the basements of churches or in other buildings with used furniture; when people come here and see the modern facilities, the state-of-art technology, bright colors, and the clean walls, it really ramps up what we call their ‘persistence’ in classes.”
In the big-picture perspective, that’s a word that can be applied to every aspect of this project.

Passing the Test
Looking back on all that transpired since that conversation with Peter Picknelly back in 2006, Crowley shook his head and said, “had I known then, what I know now …”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but the implication was certainly clear enough, and if it wasn’t, he then made it so by adding, “was this a labor of love? Maybe, but mostly, it was a just a labor.”
And mostly because all the parties involved didn’t know then what they know now, this unique project was able to come to fruition, bringing transportation, adult basic education, childcare, and even a coffee shop, together in an historical and improbable setting.
And so, the Holyoke project has become a study in perseverance — in more ways than one.

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

Features
Jack Dill Successfully Manages Time and Space

Jack Dill,  President and Principal,  Colebrook Realty Services

Jack Dill, President and Principal, Colebrook Realty Services


Jack Dill was asked about the currently slumping commercial real estate market, and, more specifically, how this prolonged downturn compares to the one from two decades ago, and if this sector has finally hit bottom and started back up.
He paused and offered a few facial contortions that conveyed the message that this would be an exercise in basic futility, one not really worth his time or energy. And, speaking broadly, he said that while there have been times when the market is more subdued than others, there are few, if any, occasions when conditions in this realm could actually be called ‘good.’
“How do you know what the bottom is until you’re past it?” he asked. “I said this to someone the other day: ‘I never remember a period of time when I was picking up the financial news and reading that we were in a great economy.’
“If you go back and find the high points of the metrics and read the contemporary business literature at the time,” he continued. “I think you’ll see more things that are concerns, worries, and negative comments about the economy; I don’t think you’d see too many articles saying we’re in the tall grass. It is what it is, and you just have to come to terms with it.”
So rather than discuss about how bad things are, or how bad they are now compared to the recession of the early ’90s, Dill talked instead about a sign that he hung in the offices of Colebrook Realty Services — the former wholly owed subsidiary of what is now TD Bank that he acquired in 1998 — during that slump 20 years ago.
“It said, ‘No Whining Zone,’” he recalled, adding that this became a basic operating philosophy for the firm, which has both brokerage and property-management divisions that have grown steadily over the years.
“I had observed to someone at that time that we tried whining as a strategy and it just wasn’t very productive,” he noted, adding that while the sign is long gone, the attitude prevails. Indeed he told BusinessWest that while the current market is slow, the company continues to search out — and find — opportunities to expand its portfolios and gain market share.
The ‘no whining apparoach’ is an attitude that Dill takes with all aspects of his work at Colebrook — and within the community as well. It was much in evidence during his recent, and ongoing, efforts to assist the diocese of Springfield in its efforts to bounce back from the June 1 tornado, especially with regard to the comprehensive search for temporary quarters for Cathedral High School (see related story, page 19). That search ended with the selection of the former Memorial Elementary School in Wilbraham, after a spirited attempt to place the school on two floors of a building at Springfield Technical Community College failed to materialize due to logistics and time constraints.
“That was a fascinating project in and off itself,” Dill said of the relocation efforts, which were both typical in some respects and atypical in many others, of the site-selection work the company handles for clients. “We spent a lot of time on STCC because there was a lot of sentiment to try to keep things in Springfield.
“We had great cooperation from STCC, FEMA, the congressman’s office, the mayor’s office, and from our contractors and architects,” he continued. “It was a full-court press, and we spent four weeks in intensive analysis … at the end of the day, we just ran out of time. We had the elements in place to pull that off, but when we ran the critical paths schedule from that point forward, we would have been starting school Oct. 19, which really doesn’t work.”
Meanwhile, within the community, Dill has spent years on the board at Baystate Health, and was chairman as that institution blueprinted its $250 million Hospital of the Future, and more recently, he’s become involved with efforts to promote early childhood education as an economic development strategy as important to the region as building a new industrial park.
Looking at the sum of everything he’s doing these days, it’s clear to see that his focus is squarely on what’s down the road, and not what’s in the rear-view mirror.
For this, the latest in its profile series, BusinessWest talked with Dill about everything from the state of the real estate market to the importance of child literacy programs. The common denominator in each case is the passion with which he approaches all matters he’s involved with.

Signs of the Times
Dill leaned back in his chair and glanced toward the ceiling, as if the answer might be written there.
He was asked how many times the signs had changed on the building at 1441 Main St.  — where Colebrook, which manages the property, is headquartered — since the brand SIS (Springfield Institution for Savings) disappeared from the local landscape.
“Had we known how the banking business was going to change in the’90s, we would definitely have gone into the sign business,” he started, displaying his trademark dry wit before starting to list off the names that have appeared over the front entranceway, from Peoples Heritage to First Massachusetts, to TD Bank.
Much has changed for Colebrook over the past several years as well, but the same basic operating philosophy hasn’t, said Dill, referencing the ‘No Whining Zone’ without actually saying the words.
Tracing his career path, Dill said he essentially grew up in the real estate financing realm — his father was in the mortgage business on a national level.
“From a very early age, I traveled with him and met his business associates and contacts, said Dill, “and from the age of about 14 on, I could calculate mortgage and bond yields.”
He maintained his interest in finance and real estate, and upon graduating from Williams College in 1974, went to work for SIS, even with opportunities to go to larger institutions in much bigger cities.
“I was sitting in the Friendly’s (in what is now known as Tower Square) on interview day, looking across the street at the bank building, and wondering ‘what am I doing here?’” he recalled. “My offers at the time were in New York and Boston. But SIS had a reputation for a really good management-training program that got people very quickly into the stream of doing things, as opposed to a multi-year credit training program that other people were offering.”
And rise quickly he did. Dill neventually become executive vice president of the bank’s Colebrook Corp. and affiliates, and thus actively engaged in commercial real estate development, finance, brokerage, and consulting work.
“It was highly unusual for a bank to do direct development, rather than just passive financing, so every chance I had when I was in my early career here, I would arrange to be lent to Colebrook, to do consulting work, survey work, or project work,” he said. “I spent time migrating back and forth between the bank and Colebrook.”
Projects initiated by SIS fell into the broad category of community development, he said, adding that initiatives included the Stockbridge Court and Armory Commons apartment projects in downtown Springfield, but also direct investment in high-tech office-park development in the Boston market.
Fast-forwarding a little, he said that over the years, the Colebrook Group, as it came to be called, underwent a steady course of evolution, and is today a multi-faceted service business, with diversity being its strongest asset.
Its individual service areas include brokerage work, property management, asset management, development services, and construction management, he explained, adding that the operating philosophy in each case is to “look at client business like it’s our money.”
The company has enjoyed steady growth across the board, especially in the property-management realm, where a trend toward outsourcing that began in the late ’80s continues in earnest today. As the pictures in the lobby of the Colebrook office attest, the portfolio of managed properties is diversified, including everything from the PeoplesBank building in Holyoke to the the Basketball Hall of Fame complex in Springfield, a contract the company earned last year.
“Our label on a building means something, even if we don’t own it,” Dill continued, “because we’re the day-to-day contact for people.
“That’s part of our value-added, because one thing we’ve learned in 30 years of developing, owning, and managing buildings is that you really cannot afford to lose tenants,” he went on. “A rational owner will try to avoid losing a tenant at all costs, because it’s very hard to make up that cash flow; in an economy like this, good tenants are hard to find.”

Success Stories
Like most people who were in or near the path of the tornadoes on June 1, Dill has little trouble remembering where he was and what he was doing that fateful afternoon.
After the first tornado tore through downtown Springfield — missing 1441 Main St. by just a few hundred yards — he remembers trying to get updates on several clients that were more in harm’s way, such as the Hall of Fame and the Community Music School, for example, and heading out, first on foot and then by car, for some first-hand accounts.
He remembers being “embargoed” at the Hall of Fame as reports of a second tornado approaching from the Northeast starting coming in, and essentially waiting it out there until the skies cleared.
Starting on June 2, however, most of his energies have been directed toward assisting the diocese of Springfield, which had many facilities damaged by the twister, and specifically the efforts to find temporary quarters for Cathedral, as well as the   middle school and a pre-school facility all located at the Surrey Road complex.
“It took 48 hours for people to understand how serious that damage was,” he explained. “The tornado hit on a Wednesday, and by Friday afternoon we were working on solutions. We surveyed the market, and eventually identified about 30 buildings sorted by various criteria that we developed with the diocese.
“About six or eight buildings into the tour, it occurred to me that with the new building codes, adoptive reuse of non-school buildings was going to be a problem,” he continued. “So we shifted gears, with the aphorism I was credited with developing that ‘schools make good schools,’ and that limited the inventory of things that we were considering to schools or buildings that had been schools.”
That list included STCC and the MacDuffie, the latter of which was also extensively damaged by the tornado, he said, adding that for logistical reasons, the former Memorial School made the most sense. And while conducting the search for new quarters, Dill said he’s become inspired by the energy and momentum the Cathedral community has created as it has forged ahead from the disaster.
“This will focus people,” he said of the recovery efforts,” and what I hope it will do is bring the alumni out and get people thinking about how important Cathedral is to this community, and bring resources to bear on this. And I think it will.”
While he admitted that education is not one of his areas of expertise, Dill has nonetheless become involved in many education- and community-oriented endeavors during his career.
In addition to his work with real estate-related groups, such as the Mass. Housing Investment Corp. and the Councilors of Real Estate and its New England and Upstate New York chapter, Dill’s resume includes work (past and present) with the Springfield School Volunteers, Mass. Business Alliance for Higher Education, Greater Springfield YMCA, Community Music School, Springfield Library and Musems Assoc., American International College, for former StageWest, and even the Springfield Parks Commission.
Many of these assignments date back to when he was an SIS employee, he said, adding that in recent years he has scaled back his community work, but remains quite active, especially in the broad realm of education. One current passion is promoting early childhood education and, especially, the importance of literacy, through a project undertaken in conjunction with the Irene E. and George A. David Foundation called “Effective Reading by the Fourth Grade.”
“The research is really clear that if you’re not an effective reader by the fourth grade, the chances of a successful outcome, meaning graduation from high school, are much slimmer,” he said. “The Davis Foundation has reversed engineered education reform in some sense and come to the realization — and they’ve convinced me, at least — that early focus is absolutely critical; the earlier the better.”

The Lease He Can Do
Although somewhat reluctantly, Dill offered some commentary on the state of the local commercial real estate market.
“It’s been a tenant-driven market for 28 of the 30 years I’ve been doing this,” he said. ‘There have been a few very brief periods when landlords had leverage, but for most of that time, it’s been tenants that have had leverage. And in a way, that’s good, because it has a positive impact on the cost of doing business here, and that’s been helpful to growing service businesses and smaller providers of services, and that’s good for the economy.
“We’ve talen some hits with major tenant relocations and consolidations,” he continued. “It’s always great to be dealing with one big transaction with a few hundred employees, but if that goes away, the market has a bigger program. We’ve seen some pretty good growth among smaller, flexible firms, and I think that gives us a better-integrated economy.”
Which led him to again borrow from Bill Bellichick: “it is what it is.”
And with that, he returned to what is still the ‘No Whining Zone,’ even if the sign identifying it as such is gone.

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

Banking and Financial Services Sections
Berkshire Bank Continues Its Ambitious Pattern of Expansion

Sean Gray says Berkshire Bank has become adept at mergers in recent years — not only executing them, but choosing the right ones.
“Acquisition is one of our core competencies. We’re very focused on growth,” said Gray, executive vice president of retail banking for the Pittsfield-based institution.
Indeed, late last month, Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc., the bank’s parent company, completed the acquisition of Legacy Bancorp Inc., also based in Pittsfield, and merged the two banks under the Berkshire Bank banner. The deal leaves Berkshire Hills with more than $4 billion in assets and a branch network of 63 locations in Western Mass., New York, and Vermont. With the Legacy additions, the institution now employs about 845 people.
As part of its overall expansion strategy, Gray said, Berkshire Bank looks to organic growth first — as he put it, “getting the most out of our existing footprint.”
Still, with numerous acquisitions in the past several years — including Woronoco Bancorp of Westfield in 2005 and New York-based Rome Bancorp earlier this year  — “we’re very much seen as a consolidator in our market,” Gray said. “And Legacy was just what we look for in a partner. We always ask, do we share a similar culture? Legacy is a very community-based institution, very customer-centric. And because of their proximity to us, we’re very familiar with them and the talent there.”
Michael Daly, president and CEO of Berkshire Hills, said the merger will benefit not only the bank’s bottom line, but customers, through strengthened retail and business services.
“This acquisition results in improved market share and an expanded footprint in our attractive northeastern markets,” he said. “It contributes to our strong momentum in revenue and earnings growth. This partnership enhances our resources to support the needs of our regions and to provide exceptional, locally based service.”

Growing Footprint
Berkshire Bank had been in a strong position in its market well before acquiring Legacy, boasting $3.2 billion in assets and 48 branches in Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont before adding 15 of Legacy’s 19 branches in the Bay State and Eastern N.Y.
As part of federal approval of the merger, the two banks agreed to sell four Legacy branches — in Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Lee, and North Adams — to a third institution, NBT Bank, to resolve anticompetitive concerns in those markets. Those four branches, with deposits totaling $158 million, will operate as usual under the merger until being transferred to NBT by the end of October.

Sean Gray

Sean Gray

“When we announced our merger agreement with Legacy last December, we indicated that we expected to conduct a branch divestiture, and we are pleased with the financial terms we have achieved,” Daly said.
With 85% of Legacy’s branches located in Berkshire County, “there’s a lot of synergy” between the two institutions, Gray said. When you have someone so close, you have an intimate knowledge of the players and processes. We can take the best of both worlds from each company and deliver better, faster services to our customer base” — especially people who bank at Legacy.
For example, “Berkshire Bank is a larger institution than Legacy, and this [merger] affords us the ability to invest in things like larger insurance operations for our Legacy customers,” he explained. “We have more cash-management sophistication that Legacy customers can take advantage of. With this partnership, we can bring those things to their membership.”
As the eighth-largest bank in Western Mass. by assets, “Berkshire has all the services and sophistication of a large bank,” Gray said. “Some of the larger institutions are foreign-owned, and you see what’s going on in the global economy, the volatility on that front. But a bank of our size has all the products and services you’d need and a tremendous amount of talent — people with large-bank experience — at a community bank with local decisioning.
“So any customer can get what they need,” he added, “but we’re very active in the community and very committed to the communities we serve. Everything a big bank can do, we can do; we have big-bank services but the feel of a small institution.”
Even after the merger, the Berkshire Bank Foundation and the Legacy Banks Foundation will continue to provide charitable contributions to communities served by Berkshire Bank.
“We’ve got our foundation, and in this economically troubled time, we continue to invest in our communities,” Gray said. “We’re on pace to give out more than $1 million to charitable organizations this year, and we’ll continue that very active pace.”
Berkshire Bank officials saw some of those needs up close this year when tornadoes struck the region; the institution was one of the initial wave of companies — many of them banks — that quickly responded with financial relief efforts.
“And, unbeknownst to a lot of people, our Springfield branch was directly hit, and we suffered through some of that alongside the community and the customers we serve,” Gray noted.
The bank’s emphasis on community involvement extends to the employee level as well.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is the very distinct volunteer culture in the bank,” he said. “If an employee wants to take a day off and is really passionate about volunteering for a charitable organization, we’ll pay them for the day and let them out to work. We’ve contributed more than 17,000 hours in that way, and that’s a definitive value; we’re paying those folks, and they’re making an impact on the organizations they’re helping.”

Loan Stars
Like many locally based banks in Western Mass., Berkshire touts its strong bottom line and healthy lending capabilities, even as demand for new loans remains suppressed by a lingering economic downturn — one that might be further roiled by the recent debt crisis in Washington and the downgrade in the country’s credit rating.
“Demand has definitely slowed for much of commercial real estate, and we have seen a slowdown in the market,” Gray said. “But we’re proud that we’ve organically grown our commercial loans by double digits for the last three years,” through acquisitions and by attracting customers from other banks.
“That’s a tribute to the people we have and our value proposition, that we’re seeing good assets come from larger institutions to a bank where they’re going to have more of a relationship,” Gray said. “We’ve been able to to steal our share of business and grow and expand the portfolio by double digits although we’ve seen a slowdown.
National analysts sound a similar chord. “Revenue growth really is a challenge if you are not growing your loan portfolio organically,” Bob Ramsey, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, told BankDirector.com. “If you don’t grow your assets, it’s difficult to grow your earnings unless you are able to do acquisitions.”
Berkshire Bank has managed to both successfully, and Gray said that all comes back to a strategy of finding partners that mesh with the institution’s culture.
“We bring an organizational foundation [to acquisitions] and base them on similar cultures and local decision-making,” he reiterated. “We’re very much community-oriented, and from a financial perspective, we look for partners believe in the Berkshire Bank story and understand the value of our currency and their future value as a part of it.”
And that’s a legacy that only continues to grow.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Sections
Chicopee Savings Seeks to Soar on the Wings of Creativity

CSB President Bill Wagner

CSB President Bill Wagner

Like all financial institutions in the region, Chicopee Savings Bank is struggling to grow in a challenging environment marked by historically low interest rates, razor-thin margins, and unparalleled competition. Despite the hurdles, the institution has managed to grow market share, increase deposits, and, in general, position itself for when there is less turbulence.

Bill Wagner says that the last time Chicopee Savings Bank drew out a five-year plan was as it was making its conversion to a publicly traded institution in late 2006.
It was solid in most respects, he said, but it couldn’t possibly have taken into account the events that would trigger the so-called Great Recession less than two years later, not to mention a string of governmental actions to stem its impact. These steps have brought interest rates to historic lows, cut bank margins to razor-thin levels, and, ultimately, made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for financial institutions to post the kind of solid growth that was commonplace in the decade preceding the crash.
It didn’t anticipate the housing bubble, which was aggravated significantly more than past housing bubbles by the failure of certain types of financial institutions that engaged in the secondary mortgage market, he explained. “There were two years of extremely high unemployment that weren’t in the plan, either, and we didn’t anticipate the unprecedented interference in the free-market cost of money by the Fed and the Treasury Department.
“We don’t do five-year plans anymore,” Wagner added with a wry smile. “That’s too far ahead to plan; we do three years now; every year we do a three-year plan.”
And even three years is a virtual eternity in the current environment, marked by challenging conditions, a lack of confidence among business owners, virtually non-existent organic growth in the business community, and spiraling competition in all areas, especially commercial lending.
In this climate, said Wagner, the dean of the local bank presidents now in his 27th year at the helm at CSB, the goals are to take advantage of the opportunities that do arise, work diligently to create new opportunities, and properly position the institution for the time when conditions improve. Meanwhile, the bank needs to remain true to its mission, be a positive force within the community, and, in a word, be creative.
And CSB is doing all of that, he said, listing, as evidence, everything from positive gains in market share in commercial lending across the region to some new products and services, such as a rewards checking program, and even the fiberglass replica C-5 Galaxy transport plane now sitting in the bank’s headquarters on Center Street.
It is one of three planes sponsored by the Chicopee Savings Bank Foundation in a program to raise funds for a new senior center in the city. Like Springfield’s sneakers, West Springfield’s terriers, and Easthampton’s bears, the planes, with 7-foot wingspans, are themed artistically, and sponsored by area businesses and individuals. The plane in the lobby is called “In Your Honor,” and features the likenesses of Chicopee veterans who have fought in each of the nation’s wars.
“This is what it means to be part of the community,” Wagner said of the bank’s contributions to the program as he looked over the plane and pointed out veterans of various conflicts. “We’ve been here for nearly 170 years, and we’re going to keep on being here.”
And CSB will keep on slugging it out in a difficult environment where the choppy air is persistent and gaining altitude is a real challenge.

He’s Not Winging It
As he wrapped up his talk with BusinessWest, Wagner gave a quick tour of the Central Street facilities, focusing on the C-5 model and the many pieces of artwork hanging in his office, the hallways, and especially the ground-level conference room, which was the last stop.
There, among several framed pieces, are paintings by local artist Ted Fijal of Chicopee landmarks. There’s one of the main administration building at Elms College that dominates the back wall, and another looking down the hill on Springfield Street past the old Rivoli Theater and City Hall to the massive Cabotville Industrial Park, which has played such a big role in the city’s business history, dating back to the days when Civil War uniforms were manufactured there.
The artwork, along with the plane in the lobby, provide evidence of CSB’s devotion to the city that’s been its home since 1854, said Wagner, as does the fact that, while other institutions have removed geographic references from their names, this one hasn’t.
Nor has it struck the word ‘savings’ from the name either, years after most all other institutions thought it prudent to remove the adjective in a nod toward their institutions’ broader mission.
Rather than acknowledge change with new signage, CSB has done it with action, said Wagner, noting everything from the bank’s conversion to a public institution five years ago to its geographic expansion efforts (most recently in South Hadley and Ware; more on that later) to its ongoing evolution from a savings bank to an institution with a host of commercial and consumer products.
And that evolution continues, even in this current, ultra-challenging environment, said Wagner, adding that the bank continues to make solid gains in the realms of commercial lending and commercial real estate.
Indeed, as he looked over the latest statistics concerning commercial loan volume in individual communities, especially in the $100,000-to-$3 million range, or what he called the bank’s “sweet spot,” Wagner said CSB continues to grow market share.
“We’ve been pretty successful, in spite of the environment we’re in, in growing our commercial-loan department and maintaining asset quality,” he said, noting that, in many area cities and towns, the bank is at or near the top in volume of those sweet-spot-sized loans, and total volume of outstanding loans has gone from $51 million in 2008 to $75 million in 2010 and past $80 million this year. In the area of commercial real-estate loans, the numbers have risen from $150 million outstanding in 2008 to $178 million through the first half of this year.
It has been helped in these efforts, he continued, by continuing consolidation in the banking community (Berkshire Bank’s merger with Legacy is the latest example; see story on page 32) and movement away from such institutions and toward smaller community banks on the part of many business owners. But he also credits the bank’s team of experienced lenders that have enabled CSB to grow market share at a time when there has been marginal business growth across the region.
“It’s very difficult to grow as we have,” Wagner explained. “We have a solid, seasoned commercial lending team, we have a lot of technical skills, and we have the ability to service commercial accounts at a level business owners are comfortable with. We seldom lose a good commercial account, and we certainly gain a good deal more a year than we lose.”
And beyond sheer volume, the commercial portfolio boasts great diversity, he said, adding that this has been another asset during the recession and modest recovery. “It’s enabled us to go through this environment, knock on wood, without too many bruises and cuts; we’ve had higher-than-normal losses, but they’re still well within industry averages.”

Taking Flight
When asked what was in the bank’s latest three-year plan, Wagner said he wasn’t at liberty to reveal any specific details — in keeping with the rules governing the dissemination of information involving publicly traded institutions.
Speaking in general terms, though, he said there are no immediate plans for additional territorial expansion, and that one of the immediate goals is to grow the South Hadley and Ware branches, both opened in 2009, which are off to decent starts given the conditions.
Those branches represent the bank’s first foray in Hampshire County (although South Hadley borders Chicopee), and the Ware office represents its deepest move east. It was a common-sense move, said Wagner, adding that the location — near the Wal-Mart that serves the Greater Palmer area and not far from turnpike exit 8 — is ideal, and Ware, although headquarters to Country Bank, is not in the ‘overbanked’ category as so many area communities are.
“I went out to Ware one day to look at a piece of property and went by the Wal-Mart, and the place was packed,” he said while recounting how the journey to Ware started. “I drove through the shopping center and said to myself, ‘in this whole 10- or 12-town area, this has to be the busiest place.
“We thought that this would be the place to put a bank, and thus far, it’s worked out for us,” he continued. “It’s probably going to take a little longer than most branches, but it’s still progressing at an acceptable rate.”
While building up deposits in the new branches and gaining market share in commercial lending and deposits, the bank is taking other steps that would fall into the realm of building volume and effectively positioning itself for the day — whenever it comes (the Fed recently announced that it would keep its interest rate at nearly zero through the middle of 2013) — when interest rates start to rise and paper-thin margins start to increase.
“We’re going to continue to operate our franchise in the best interest of our stockholders and our customers,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to try the commercial sector as well as the retail sector, and try to be creative and differentiate ourselves from other banks.”
Rewards checking is one example of this creativity, Wagner said, adding that the product, rolled out several months ago, pays interest on accounts that maintain a certain level of activity in electronic banking services. It has helped the bank grow its retail portfolio in the same manner it has registered gains on the commercial side of the ledger.
“As a result of that and other efforts, we increased our demand deposits by $11 million over the past three months,” he explained. “This is part of our plan to continue to develop a high percentage of core deposits so that, when rates do go up, we have cheap money on our books.”
Meanwhile, the bank will continue its mission within the community, he said, adding that, beyond the planes purchased to help build the new senior center in Chicopee, the institution has been aggressive in its efforts to help victims of the recent tornadoes.
The bank has partnered with Salvation Army, the O’Connell Oil Co., and Channel 22 to assist in tornado-relief efforts. As of late July, more than $60,000 had been raised at CSB’s nine branches, and through parallel efforts involving the bank’s foundation and O’Connell’s convenience stores, the total has exceeded more than $120,000.

Soft Landing
Through nearly a half-century in banking (48 years to be exact, starting at the old Security National Bank in downtown Springfield), Wagner says he has been through six major bank crises by his count.
That includes the so-called ‘machine-shop recession’ of 1972, he said, recalling that, with severe cutbacks in defense spending as the Vietnam War was winding down, most of the machine shops in the area were hurt, and many didn’t survive. There was also the housing bubble of 1976, the deep recession of the early ’90s, which was particularly hard on banks, and others to follow. Comparing the current crisis to the one 20 years ago, he said the earlier one claimed more banks, obviously, “but this one has been very painful; it’s like comparing a broken arm to a broken leg — it all depends on whether you’re sitting or standing as to which one hurts more.”
Though they were all different in some respects, he went on, the common denominator with each crisis was the need for creativity and cautious aggressiveness to maneuver through the choppy air and be better positioned for when the skies cleared.
This time of challenge is no different, continued Wagner, who was exercising some plane speaking — literally and figuratively.

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

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Race Street Project Embodies Progress in Holyoke’s Innovation District

Martin Kane

Martin Kane says the Race Street building that has become the Holyoke Professional Arts Center has “great bones.”

It’s called the Holyoke Professional Arts Center, or PAC, a retrofitted old mill building on Race Street in Holyoke that was once home to a company that made slitter knives. Soon, the Providence Prenatal Center of Holyoke and Tapestry Health will be tenants and thus part of a revitalization that is helping to change the look and feel of the city’s downtown and a section known as the Innovation District.

The banner gracing the front of the building at 306 Race St. in Holyoke is 25 feet wide, and it needs every bit of that length to contain all the information crammed onto it.
If one has the time and inclination, he or she could stop, read, and learn that the more-than-century-old, two-story, 18,000-square-foot building is now called the Holyoke Professional Arts Center (PAC) at Mahoney Place, with the latter part of that name referring to family members of the property’s owner, Jeff Cunningham. One could also see the creative logo for this facility, with a flywheel, similar to the ones that can be seen in the ceiling on the second floor, inside the ‘C’ in PAC.
Reading on, one could learn that the Providence Prenatal Center of Holyoke, a component of the Sisters of Providence Health System, and Tapestry Health, an agency that provides a wide range of health services to women through several locations in Western Mass., will be the first new tenants in the center. And, when seeing the name of the brokerage firm (King & Newton) handling the building — as well as a phone number and Web site — one could surmise that there is still space to be leased — roughly 10,000 square feet of it, to be more specific. Reading still further, one would note that Southbridge Savings Bank financed this endeavor, and also see some commentary in the form of a line that announces this project as “a new era in the rebirth of Holyoke.”
But while this banner tells much of the story concerning this downtown landmark and what its reuse means in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t tell it all. Indeed, there is a lot of history to this building, and an intriguing series of developments that led to an elaborate construction kick-off ceremony on April 7, said Martin Kane, the broker with King & Newton who has handled the building for years and worked with Cunningham to give it a new start.
Meanwhile, this project is just one of several that are changing the look and feel of this section of downtown Holyoke — a few nearby buildings have been converted into artists lofts and a new convenience store recently opened — and there is the promise of much more to come.
That’s because 306 Race St. sits directly across the canal from the property that will be transformed into the Green High Performance Computing Center that is expected to fuel additional development in the downtown area, across Holyoke, and perhaps well beyond.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in properties in that section of the city,” said Kathy Anderson, director of the Holyoke Office of Planning and Development. “We’re meeting with people and talking, and in the meantime we’re looking at what we need to do to spark private development there.”
Anderson said there are more developments — from new stages of the city’s canal walk project to the possible reintroduction of commuter rail service after a more-than-40-year absence, that could spur more progress in the central business district of the Paper City and a section now known as the Innovation District. Taken together, the initiatives are a classic case of public-sector investments designed to inspire private-sector spending.
“There’s private development happening, and that’s what we were hoping for,” she said of the Race Street project and others like it. “The Innovation District Task Force is charged with creating ways to leverage the high-performance computing center, to take advantage of it and make something more happen in Holyoke and the region because of it.
“This is just one small project taking shape across the canal,” she said of the PAC. “They’ll be seeing what’s going on outside their windows; people are getting excited about this — there’s a lot of interest in downtown Holyoke.”
For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the Race Street project and how it is just one small example of progress in Holyoke’s downtown, and evidence of that new era in the rebirth of Holyoke that the banner announces.

Building Momentum
“Great bones.”
That was the descriptive phrase Kane used at least a few times to describe the L-shaped Race Street building as he gave BusinessWest a tour of all three levels. “Rock solid” was also tossed out a few times for emphasis.
Such language was deployed to convey the sentiment that while this property has seen better days, it certainly has intriguing ones ahead of it, and has the foundation, in more ways than one, for new and intriguing uses.
Tracing the history of the property, Kane said it dates back to the late 19th century, and has housed a number of different manufacturing operations over the years. Most recently, it was home to Service Machine, an outfit that made slitter knives, which was purchased by Cunningham, a Worcester-based real estate developer, several years ago.
After that business and its equipment were moved to another facility owned by Cunningham, the property stood vacant for some time, said Kane, adding that Cunningham approached him in early 2008 to explore new options for filling the square footage.
“He asked me what I thought the highest, best use was,” Kane recalled, “ and I told him I thought it would be a good location for offices and service businesses.”
Plans to lease out the property for such purposes hit a brick wall in the form of the Great Recession, which created a huge glut of manufacturing, office, and warehouse space in Holyoke and across the region. But when Kane offered the site as a possible option for administrators at the Providence Prenatal Center of Holyoke, who were looking to trade up from space on High Street, there was strong interest.
“We explored it, and it got to the stage where there were lease negotiations, but nothing came from them,” said Kane, adding that by the spring of 2010, Cunningham was ready to put the property on the market, when the SPHS was approached one more time.
This time, a deal was struck, he said, adding that several months later, Tapestry Health, which has an office on Main Street in Holyoke, signed a letter of intent to relocate to the Race Street facility. Those two agencies will occupy the first floor of the building, said Kane, adding that the 6,000 square feet on the second floor and roughly 4,000 square feet in the lower level have a number of potential uses.
As he gave his tour, Kane gestured out an open window on the second floor to the buildings across the canal that will become the high-performance computing center, and expressed the hope — and expectation — that the much-anticipated project would attract a number of technology-related ventures to the downtown area.
“This would be an ideal site for a Web-development company,” he said of the longer leg of the ‘L,’ which has several of those aforementioned flywheels in the ceiling. “The computing center could generate a lot of interest in this space.”
The same could be said for the whole of Holyoke’s so-called Innovation District, said Anderson, adding that the HPCC is the largest of several developments that could bring new businesses — and greater vibrancy — to the downtown.
Another is the potential for the return of commuter rail, last seen in Holyoke in the late 1960s, she said, adding that the Paper City would be part of service that would run from New Haven into Southern Vermont.
City officials are currently looking at two options for a train station — the former station on Bowers Street, designed by HH Richardson, built in 1883, now owned by the Holyoke G&E, and vacant for some time, and a site for new construction at the corner of Dwight and Main Streets.
“We’re trying to get a train station up and running by the time the train goes by,” said Anderson, adding that the larger mission is to make infrastructure improvements that will connect the recently opened intermodal transporation center on Maple Street, as well as the canal walk, to that train station, wherever it is located.
Meanwhile, the canal walk project is bringing more vibrancy to the downtown area, said Anderson, adding that open studios conducted by groups of artists now located in buildings on nearby Dwight Street are creating more foot traffic in the area. One goal, long term, is to utilize a section of Race Street between Appleton and Dwight Streets for open-air festivals.
Overall, city planning officials are talking with developers now making inquiries about downtown Holyoke and its Innovation District, while also working to determine what additional steps can be taken to inspire and facilitate private-sector spending.
“We’re looking at it from the prospective of what we need to do to create more growth in that area,” she explained. “What type of public investments do we have to make in order to spur private development? We’re looking under the street, on top of the street — do we need to work on our water-supply system or fiber optic infrastructure? We’re preparing for the future growth of the city for the next 30 to 50 years.”

Positive Sign
The banner across the front of the Race Street building provides some good reading, and the expectation is that there will be more of these to appear on downtown properties in the months and years to come.
In many ways, it is a sign of the times, a sign of progress, and a sign of how public investment can spur private development — in both a figurative and very literal way.

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

Briefcase Departments

Denver Stepping Down as Chamber President
SPRINGFIELD — After 14 years as president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, Russell F. Denver recently announced he is leaving that post in the coming weeks to pursue other professional opportunities. Denver, an attorney, noted that he feels now is the opportune time to step down and bring in someone else with a fresh perspective. Citing his accomplishments, Denver noted in particular the Urban Land Institute’s work that has been done in the city. Before leaving his post, Denver plans to complete work on zoning revisions for the city, as well as the new “Make It Happen” marketing campaign for Springfield. Jeffrey S. Ciuffreda, vice president of government affairs for the Affiliated Chambers, will serve as interim president. Currently, the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce have approximately 1,200 members and an annual budget of $300,000. The Affiliated Chambers include the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the West of the River Chamber of Commerce, the East of the River Chamber of Commerce, and the Professional Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

Springfield Leadership Institute Registration Underway
SPRINGFIELD — Registration is underway for this year’s Springfield Leadership Institute (SLI), which represents a 37-plus-year collaboration between the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield and the Western New England College School of Business. Institute alumni represent many accomplished and distinguished leaders in business, education, government, and nonprofit communities. The 2011 Springfield Leadership Institute, which begins on Feb. 17, will challenge participants to think in new ways and to analyze their own strengths and organizational challenges within a dynamic economy. SLI is taught by Western New England College faculty, who will introduce participants to emerging leadership theory and best practices. A segment on ‘Leadership Presence’ is being added this year along with the institute’s continued emphasis on problem-solving at the executive level. Case studies have also been updated for the 2011 program. The program meets every Thursday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St. Participants in SLI learn how to be more effective leaders and how to have the power to make an important difference both in the workplace and in the community. Contact Lynn Johnson at (413) 755-1310 or at [email protected] for more information.

2011 Woman of the Year Nominations Sought
SPRINGFIELD — The Professional Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a division of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, is seeking nominations for the 2011 Woman of the Year Award. The award has been presented annually since 1954 to a woman in the Western Mass. area who exemplifies outstanding leadership, professional accomplishment, and service to the community. The nominee’s achievements can be representative of a lifetime’s work or for more recent successes. Any woman in the Pioneer Valley is eligible for nomination, and a chamber affiliation is not required. To obtain a nomination form, visit www.professionalwomenschamber.com or e-mail committee chair Michelle Cayo at [email protected] The deadline for nominations is Feb. 11.

Call for ADDY Award Submissions
SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts (ACWM) welcomes submissions for its 2011 ADDY Awards from individuals and organizations throughout Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. The annual competition recognizes creative excellence in all media, including print, broadcast, interactive, out-of-home, and public-service advertising. The ADDY Awards competition is a three-tier (local, regional, and national) competition conducted annually by the American Advertising Federation (AAF). ACWM is the only AAF-member club in the New England district. A panel of advertising experts will select winners in Springfield on Feb. 11. All entries must be registered online. For information on submission guidelines and a direct link to commence the submission process, visit www.submitandrepresent.com. The deadline for mail submission is Jan. 31. In-person submissions will be accepted on Feb. 4 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Berkshire Bank community room, 1259 East Columbus Ave., Springfield. For more information, call the Ad Club at (413) 736-2582.

Unemployment Hits 20.7% in Construction Sector
WASHINGTON — Despite a slight drop in the nation’s unemployment rate, the construction industry ended 2010 with a jobless rate of 20.7%, according to the Jan. 7 report by the U.S. Labor Department. The construction industry lost 16,000 jobs last month and 93,000 jobs, or 1.6%, compared to December 2009. While the unemployment rate was up from 18.8% last November, it is down from 22.7% in December 2009. The average annual unemployment rate for the construction industry in 2010 was 20.6%, compared to 19.0% in 2009 and 10.6% in 2008. The non-residential building construction sector lost 400 jobs in December, but was up by 5,700 jobs, or 0.8%, from the same time one year ago — the first year-over-year growth since August 2008. Employment in that sector was 688,300 in December on a seasonally adjusted basis. Employment in heavy and civil engineering construction decreased for the second straight month, down 12,700 in December. However, employment in that sector was up by 18,100 jobs, or 2.3%, from December 2009. Specialty trade contractors gained 3,300 jobs last month, but the segment is down 79,000 jobs, or 2.2%, from the same time last year. The residential-building construction sector shed 5,900 jobs for the month and 37,000, or 6.2%, for the year. The nation gained 103,000 jobs in all industries in December, with the bulk of job growth in leisure and hospitality, up 47,000 jobs; education and health services, up 44,000 jobs; and trade, transportation, and utilities, up 31,000 jobs. Year-over-year, the nation has gained 1,124,000 jobs, or 0.9%. The nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.4% in December from 9.8% the previous month. “The nation’s construction industry should be glad to see 2010 in the rearview mirror, as the sector ended the year on a dismal note,” said Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu in a prepared statement. “It is noteworthy that heavy and civil engineering has lost jobs for two consecutive months, which may be a reflection of the steadily slowing impact of federal stimulus spending. For much of the past year, that segment had been adding jobs. The expectation is that the nation will continue to add jobs. However, the construction sector is poised to underperform in the year ahead due to a number of factors, including dwindling direct impact from stimulus spending and the ongoing malaise in commercial real estate. With a national unemployment rate now at 9.4% — the lowest rate since May 2009 — this is an indication that the labor market is improving reasonably quickly. However, this does not seem to be the case with the construction industry, as today’s numbers may be a reflection of numerous factors in the economy, including still-subdued confidence among business owners and decision-makers.”

Uptick in Car Sales Sends Optimistic Sign
DETROIT — U.S. automakers will take a victory lap at the Detroit auto show this month after a measurable recovery from years of losses, a shrinking of market share to Asian rivals, and the bankruptcy troubles of Chrysler and General Motors (GM), according to Edmunds.com. GM posted a $2 billion third-quarter profit and then launched a public stock offering in November, while Chrysler increased its market share in 2010 and will introduce two new models this month at the auto show. Also, Ford was able to regain the number-two spot in the U.S. market from Toyota in 2010 when it saw its share grow for the second consecutive year. Overall, U.S. auto sales rose 11% last year to 11.6 million vehicles. Sales forecasts predict sales of 12.5 to 13.5 million units in 2011, and Toyota hopes its prospects are good for big gains despite its recent recalls. “If [the Detroit Three] can make money at depression-level sales, it tells you something dramatic has changed,” said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., in a prepared statement. “If we get back to 13, 14, 15 million units, this is going to be an astonishingly profitable business.” In the coming months, automakers are also expected to revamp their lineups with ‘green’ cars that will meet new emissions standards. Toyota will be expanding its Prius hybrid with the introduction of a new wagon, Tesla will be showing a luxury electric sedan, and GM launches its subcompact, the Chevy Sonic, as well as a compact Buick and the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt. However, “the risk to the marketplace is that consumers aren’t asking for these,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive. Hybrid auto sales fell last year to 2.4% of the U.S. market from 2.8% in 2009, according to Autodata. The North American International Auto Show is open to the public Jan. 15-23.

Link to Libraries Receives Grant
EAST LONGMEADOW — The Service League of Springfield (Philanthropic Management–Bank of America) has made a $1,000 grant to Link to Libraries Inc. The organization will use the grant to offer Senior Connections, a Link to Libraries read-aloud program for children in the Holyoke and Springfield areas who are enrolled in preschool programs. The program is conducted in collaboration with Loomis Communities and Reeds Landing residents. The residents will team up with Link to Libraries educators and volunteers to offer preschool-age children reading programs locally during the spring and fall. Susan Jaye-Kaplan, co-founder of Link to Libraries, noted in a statement, “this collaboration is yet another partnership with local residents and agencies to enhance the reading skills of children of all ages and to make a connection with talented adults who reside in our community and want to remain active.” The Link to Libraries Senior Connection will be managed by Roberta Hillenberg-Gang of Longmeadow, who serves on the organization’s advisory committee. For more information, visit www.linktolibraries.org or call (413) 224-1031.

Departments Incorporations

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

AGAWAM

Bronner Monitor Inc., 7 Old Mill Road, Agawam, MA 01001. Raymond Bronner, same. Gas leak detection and prevention shut-off devices.
 
EAST LONGMEADOW

Bach Trucking & Transportation Inc., 174 Shaker Road, East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Leonard Eremento, III, same. Towing company.
 
FRANKLIN

Ben Finn Consulting Inc., One Elizabeth Ave., Franklin, MA 02038. Benjamin Finn, same. Software consulting.
 
Concierge Clinical Solutions Inc., 7 Ledge St., Franklin, MA 02038. Jennifer Conley, same. Management consulting.
 
HADLEY

Jhype Marketing Inc., 35 Hockanum Road, Hadley, MA 01035. Fjodor Agranat, same. Internet advertising and marketing.
 
HAMPDEN

The Hampden Theater Guild Inc., 3 Hillside Lane, Hampden, MA 01036. Mark Giza, same. Community theater.

HOLYOKE

Casa DeFe Yhwh Jireh Inc., 508 South St., Holyoke, MA 01040. Ramon Antonio Crespo, 10 center St., Holyoke, MA 01040. Nonprofit established to preach the word of God.
 
Gringo Motorsports Inc., 452 Main St., Holyoke, MA 01040. Cory Taylor, 313 Silver Lane, Sunderland, MA 01375. Sales and service of automobiles and motor vehicles.
 
LPCR Sound Inc., 10 Hospital Dr., Holyoke, MA 01040. James Swierzewski, same. Rental equipment.
 
LEE

Grapes & Grains Inc., 205 Mandalay Road, Lee, MA 01238. Steven Hamilton Dixon, same. Liquor store.
 
LUDLOW
 
Defenders of the Defenseless Inc., 889 East St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Anna Maria Ribas-Dias, same.
 
NORTHAMPTON

Bamyan Media Inc., 184 Main St., Apt. 3BR, Northampton, MA 01060. Anna Elliot, same. Educational non-profit organization.
 
G.A.R. Trucking Inc., 30 Riverview, West Apt. 11, Pittsfield, MA 01202. Trucking company.
 
Holyoke Commercial Real Estate Inc., 5 Cedar St., Unit B, Northampton, MA 01060. Timothy Bay Thompson, same. Commercial real estate for sale or lease.
 
SOUTH HADLEY
 
Bedside Books Inc., 18 Susan Ave., South Hadley, MA 01075. Sarah Dybizbanski, 26 Susan Ave. 01075. Nonprofit organization established to provide books to neonatal care hospitals for parents to read to their children.
 
Furry Friends Pet Sitting Inc., 7 Lamb St., South Hadley, MA 01075. Mark Chapin, same. Pet sitting service.
 
SPRINGFIELD

Drapeau’s Inc., 40 Peekskill Ave., Springfield, MA 0119. Norman Drapeau, same. Transportation and delivery of freight goods and packages by common carrier.
 
E-Z Grocery & Fruit Market Corp., 68 Appleton St., Springfield, MA 011008. Guillermo Negron, same. Retail and wholesale of groceries and fruit.
 
Harris Contractor Inc., 86 Massreco St., Springfield, MA 01109. Diolinda Harris, same. Reconstruction, alteration and renovation.
 
I and U Corporation, 20 East St., Springfield, MA 01104. Umar Chaudhry, 228 Ramblewood Dr., Springfield., MA 01118. Gas station and convenience store.
 
M.A. Smith Investments Inc., 64 Tyler St., Springfield, MA 01109. Michael Smith, same. Properties for rent or lease.
 
WEST SPRINGFIELD
 
KS Cash Flow Consulting Inc., 41 Chester St., West Springfield, MA 01089. Kelley Schuhlen, same. Locating investors to purchase promissory notes and like documents held by individuals, and corporations.
 
WESTFIELD
 
Morray Inc., 9 Glenwood Dr., Westfield, MA 01028. Homer Foucher, same. Real estate investment.