The following business incorporations were recorded in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties and are the latest available. They are listed by community.
HSW Inc., 63 Springfield St., Agawam, MA 01001. Abdul S. Chaudhry, 4 White Brook Lane, South Hadley, MA 01075. Retail Sales, home furnishings and merchandise.
Quick Mart Inc., 283 Main St., Agawam, MA 01001. Fawad Khawaja, same. Convenience Store.
Stegall Renovators Inc., 880 Main St., Agawam, MA 01001. Penn Stegall, same. Contractor specializing in rehabilitation of homes.
Elmore Realty Services Inc., 74 Monson Road, Brimfield, MA 01010. Jennifer Elmore, same. Residential and Commercial real estate.
John’s Asphalt Paving & Construction Inc., 900 Chicopee St., second floor, Chicopee, MA 01013. Sherry Kezer, same. Paving concrete excavation
Kaeble Oil Inc., 11 Casey Dr., Chicopee, MA 01020. Michael Kaeble, same. Heating oil sales.
Shine Services Inc., 82 Chestnut St., Chicopee, MA 01013. Clecia Mara Marques, same. Janitorial services.
Faith Builders of New England Inc., 31 Hillside Dr., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Church.
J & B Brush Corp., 44 Harkness Ave., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Jessica L. Imbriglio, 17 Laurelridge Road, Southwick, MA 01077. Salon and spa
Main Street Parking Inc., 301 Pease Road, East Longmeadow, Ma, 01028. Michael Biscaldi, same. Metered parking lot.
Medisize Us Inc., 200 Main St., Unit 1203, East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Eric Kroon, same. Sales and distribution of medical devices.
Sattler Auto Sales Inc., 12 Nottingham Dr., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Edward Sattler, same. Auto sales.
Stratus EMR Inc., 116 Pleasant St., Unit 448, Easthampton, MA 01027. Peter Cleary, same. Computer software development.
The American Dreamer Inc., 4 Chapman Ave., Easthampton, MA 01027. Kevin Sahagian, same. Restaurant.
PS191 Inc., 719 Park Hill Road, Florence MA, 01062. Daniel Touhey, same.
Hamiltonbrooke Corporation, 489 Bernardston Road, Greenfield, MA 01301. Ebony Sterbinski, same. Purchase real estate and solicit government contracts.
Hampshire County Farm Bureau Inc., 30 Roosevelt St., South Hadley, MA 01035. Promote, protect and represent the business, economic and social interests of the farmers of Hampshire County.
Hitpoint Inc., 59 North St., Hatfield, MA 01301. Paul Hake, same. Video game development.
Cell Pavilion Inc., 513 Whitney Ave., #14A Holyoke, MA 01040. Mohammad K. Hossain, same. Retail sales and service of cell phones and accessories.
Down to Earth Excavating Inc., 3 Goss Hill Road, Huntington, MA 01050. Paul LaPointe, same. Excavation services.
Neutral Corner Inc., 36 Belleclaire Ave., Longmeadow, MA 01106. Patrick Ireland, same. Non-profit organization founded to promote good fitness, health, self-esteem through education.
Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Group, PC., 44 Farmington Ave., Longmeadow, 01106. Pediatric medical offices.
TLS Landscaping Inc., 754 Center St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Daniel DeGray, same. Landscaping service.
Northampton Community Arts Trust Inc., 44 Munroe St., Northampton, MA 01060. Kathy Couch, 693 Bridge Road, Northampton, MA 01060. Acquisition of land and buildings suitable for performance, exhibition and development of the arts.
CFR Operating Corp. Inc., 6 Kathy Way, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Chad Mazza, same. Barbershop.
Rolling Studios Inc., 7 Club Circle, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Ed Synder, 7 Peters Path, Pittsfield, MA 01201.
Ib Cleaning Inc., 315 Hadley St., South Hadley, MA 01075. Waldemar Binczyk, same. Cleaning services.
Poltrans Inc., 315 Hadley St., South Hadley, MA 01075. Waldemar Binczyk, same. Truck transportation.
JPC Pet Sales & Marketing Inc., 78 Glenoak, Dr, Springfield, MA 01129. James Carmody, same. Manufacturers representative.
Kenny Tax Services & Company Inc., 510 Armory St., Springfield, MA 01104. Non-transferable.
Safe Futures for Children Foundation Inc., 195 Lang St., Springfield, MA 01104. Maria Huertas, same. Non-profit organization to help better every child’s condition all over the world.
Garfield Inc., 33 Main St., Sturbridge, MA 01566. Robert Cassim, 2 Main St., Sturbridge, MA 01566. Used auto sales.
RHC Community Education Center Inc., 184 Cudworth Road, Worthington, MA 01098. Vanessa Lewis, same. Organization established for charitable, educational and scientific purposes.
STCC/UMass Partnership Created to Take Incubator to
Springfield Technical Community College and UMass Amherst have announced a partnership involving the Springfield Incubator in the Scibelli Enterprise Center on the STCC campus. The collaborative effort is expected to breathe new life into a facility that has struggled — due in large part to the economy and the loss of a $500,000 state subsidy — while also increasing the university’s presence in Springfield.
the Next Level
Marla Michel and Ira Rubenzahl were trying — but not ultimately succeeding — in their efforts to come up with a single word to describe what they’re doing with the Scibelli Enterprise Center in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College.
Both thought ‘reinvent’ was too strong a word and, overall, not accurate, since the basic operating model for the facility won’t change appreciably. Also cast aside were ‘reposition’ and ‘rebrand’ — they don’t really tell the whole story, they said — and while Michel appeared to like ‘rejuvenate,’ the two ultimately decided they would need phrases, not a single word, to convey their intentions.
“We’re going to take things to a much higher level,” said Rubenzahl, STCC’s president, as he talked about the Enterprise Center and the Springfield Incubator it houses, home to a few small businesses (clients) and several business-support agencies, and which will now be operated in partnership with UMass Amherst.
Michel, who works for the university as executive director of Strategic Communications and Outreach, and who also now directs the incubator as a shared executive, went further.
“We want this to be the entrepreneurial hub of Western Mass.,” she said, noting that her broad plan is to take the center, which opened a decade ago but has struggled in recent years with declining occupancy, from being a purely mixed-use facility — meaning that it has incubated ventures across many business sectors — to a ‘modified mixed-use’ center, or home to only IT-enabled companies and different kinds of ‘green’ enterprises.
She’ll start with a venture called Texifter, LLC, a spinoff company based on text-analysis research conducted by Stuart Shulman, a professor of Political Science at UMass Amherst. Describing his business in broad, simple terms, Shulman said they are “power tools for language” that, as the company’s contrived name indicates, allow users to sift through text — large amounts of it.
Texifter software and techniques can help government officials, academic and legal researchers, non-governmental organizations, and corporate employees make searching, sorting, and analyzing large numbers of documents far more manageable, he explained, adding that the company now has a small staff and is moving out of the research-and-development stage and into the contract-procurement stage, said Shulman, who spoke with BusinessWest from Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington after talking with representatives from several government agencies about how his products can help them.
This makes Texifter exactly the kind of venture with which Michel is hoping to fill the many available suites at the incubator.
To grow the tenant population, Michel intends to aggressively market the incubator, which many small businesses, operating in basements, attics, and garages, probably don’t know about. While making them aware through a variety of vehicles, from social-media outlets to direct communication with area colleges whose students and faculty members have become entrepreneurs, Michel will also work to inform them about the benefits of incubation. And she says there are many.
“Research shows that 67% of companies that are incubated succeed, while for those that are not, it’s less than half,” she said. Thus, a part of her job description will be work to convince entrepreneurs looking for space to grow to look for an incubator and not simply square footage in an office building.
For this issue, BusinessWest looks at how the new partnership between STCC and UMass Amherst evolved, and why officials at both schools believe the collaboration will enable Michel to achieve that goal of making this the entrepreneurial hub of Western Mass.
Schools of Thought
Rubenzahl said there were a number of factors that brought the two schools together several months ago in discussions about the enterprise center. Chief among them was the fact that the facility had hit a wall of sorts in its efforts to attract and effectively incubate clients, and for several reasons.
First, STCC lost its $530,000 state subsidy for the center — which paid for staff and operating costs — in the wake of massive budget cuts across the public college system stemming from the economic downturn and its harsh impact on revenues to the Commonwealth. Meanwhile, the recession also took a toll on entrepreneurs trying to take their companies to the proverbial next level; many were slowed in their development due in large part to difficulties obtaining financing, and thus were not willing to take on the costs of moving into commercial real estate, he continued.
“Companies can’t get started without financing,” he said. “We would have more startups if entrepreneurs could get the money they need to get started.”
There were also some staff changes and turnover in leadership positions at the center, said Rubenzahl, adding that, collectively, these factors provided what he called “an opportunity to revisit” the facility and plan its future.
And as he did so, Rubenzahl recalled reading somewhere that in the original legislation for the technology park at STCC, opened in 1996, there was wording to the effect that UMass Amherst should be considered as a potential partner in that venture. This recollection, reinforced with suggestions from others to initiate a dialogue with the state university, prompted Rubenzahl to commence talks with Tim Milligan, executive vice chancellor for University Relations, and John Mullin, dean of the university’s graduate school, director of the Center for Economic Development, and point person for the so-called Springfield Initiative, the university’s ongoing efforts to increase its visibility and impact in the City of Homes.
Mullin told BusinessWest that the incubator project touches on at least a few of the primary goals for the initiative, including the twin desires to be more visible and to bring more of its spinoff companies to Springfield and its suburbs (see related story, page 9).
He recalls meeting last fall with Paul Stelzer, president of Appleton Corp., which manages the SEC and tech park, about ways to partner on the incubator and create momentum there. “Very gradually, a couple of things morphed,” he said, “including the idea of the university directing startups to the incubator, and the other was providing someone who would be a coordinator or manager.”
Fast-forwarding a little, Rubenzahl and Michel said these initial talks eventually led to the creation of a formal partnership that involves a ‘what,’ a ‘who,’ and a ‘how.’ The ‘who’ would be Michel, who has been part of several economic-development-related initiatives at UMass, including efforts to take research from the laboratories to area communities. She will now split her time between the university and the incubator, with the institutions splitting her salary.
The ‘what’ would be a collaborative effort between the college and the university to make the incubator a bigger economic force in the region. Doing so would serve many different purposes, said Michel, listing everything from potential job growth to giving the university a still-greater role in economic-development efforts in the region.
As for the ‘how,’ as in how to make the facility the entrepreneurial hub of Western Mass., Michel says she plans to utilize all the resources and connections available to her to bring more, and higher-quality, clients to the incubator. Creating this critical mass will achieve many goals, from making the facility far more self-sustainable (more on that later) to making the incubator a desired landing spot for entrepreneurs.
Moving forward, the operating model will remain essentially the same, said Michel, noting that this means attracting clients with sound business plans and growth potential, properly incubating them, or giving them the help they need to get to the next level through the agencies in the SEC and three-person advisory boards assigned to each client, and then ‘graduating’ them into the community in two or three years and using their spaces to assist more small businesses.
“This is the model that (former STCC President) Andrew Scibelli created,” said Michel, “and we don’t have to change it; it works.”
Getting Down to Business
What will change, however, is the makeup of the incubator’s clientele. Indeed,
to make her vision for the incubator become reality, Michel wants to recruit more companies like Texifter, which fits the profile for the preferred client in a number of ways. For starters, it can take advantage of the extensive fiber-optic infrastructure that runs through the technology park. Also, it is technology-enabled, has strong growth potential, is ready to move from R&D into the sales and marketing phase, can clearly benefit from being in the incubator and around business-support agencies, and may soon to be in a position to hire STCC students and graduates.
“This is the kind of company we’re trying to attract, and we believe there are many that fit this profile,” Michel said, noting that UMass Amherst probably has several spinoffs that already meet this description or soon will. Technology-related companies are a prime target, as are certain types of ‘green’ ventures, she said, noting that what are known as ‘green-technology companies’ may not be suitable for this type of incubator because of the long periods of time it takes to move products from the drawing board to reality.
Shulman has spent a number of years in the R&D stage, perhaps 10 by his count, but is now ready to move forward. He has one employee at present, but he hopes to have five within a year and perhaps 15 in two years. The growth rate will largely be determined by how many clients, especially government agencies, the company can add as either a primary contractor or subcontractor with other text-analysis companies. That’s why he was in Washington the day he spoke with BusinessWest.
“I was making presentations to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, and others,” he said. “They all have one form or another of a common problem: either large piles of small documents or small piles of large documents. We’re trying to build search engines to get around document piles.”
One challenge facing Michel as she sets out to lease up the incubator is finding such companies. There are many out there, but some keep a low profile, she said, adding that UMass spinoffs like Texifter will obviously be among the primary targets.
Another challenge will then be to convince such companies to come to Springfield and the incubator, she continued, noting that it will be her job to sell the entrepreneurs in question on the benefits of incubation. Overall, she doesn’t think it will be a hard sell.
For starters, she said that, while operating out of one’s basement or garage may be cheap, it’s not an effective way to grow a business. The Springfield Incubator provides clients with facilities they simply couldn’t have in their home, such as a shared receptionist and conference rooms, and close access to agencies such as the Small Business Administration, the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network, and SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
There are also more far-reaching advantages. Quoting statistics provided by the National Business Incubator Assoc. (NBIA), Michel said that incubation substantially reduces the risk of small-business failure. According to a report called “Incubation Works,” “historically, NBIA-member incubators have reported that 87% of all firms that have graduated from their incubators are still in business.”
There are benefits for the community, as well, she continued, citing more MBIA stats showing that, in 2005 alone, “North American incubators assisted more than 27,000 start-up companies that provided full-time employment for more than 100,000 workers and generated annual revenue of more than $17 billion.” Also, research has shown that 84% of incubator graduates stay in their communities.
The primary goal at the SEC will to make the incubator self-sustainable, or at least much more so than it has been historically, said Michel, noting that most incubators receive some sort of support — be it state, federal, or both — and the Springfield facility will certainly be aggressive in pursuit of such support.
And this is a good time to be doing so, she continued, adding that the federal government is putting additional emphasis on supporting innovation, and is making funds available to incubators and also companies like Texifter.
Indeed, Shulman said his venture will soon receive funding from the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which he expects will help the company add staff and gain government contracts.
“The way the program manager describes it, the U.S. governments wants to invest in companies it wants to see succeed, but without taking any equity,” he said. “We’ll get $100,000 on July 1, and that could grow to $150,000 by the end of a six-month period. Then we’ll be eligible to get another $50,000 if we can bring in $50,000 from another source between now and Oct. 15. All told, we can get $200,000 from SBIR that will allow us to hire some programmers and pay lawyers to do something other than borrow cash.”
Meanwhile, Rubenzahl said the timing is also right as far as entrepreneurs stepping forward with new concepts, many of them out of sheer necessity, with the recovery taking on a decidedly jobless look and feel.
Room for Growth
At a packed press conference at the SEC to announce the partnership between STCC and UMass, Shulman was one of the final speakers to reach the podium. He talked at some length about what his company does (always a fairly difficult task), and then about what brought him to the incubator, specifically the physical space, but also, more importantly, the support he’ll find inside the facility.
Then, speaking for every entrepreneur who’s ever signed the front of a paycheck, he said that getting a venture off the ground isn’t anywhere near as easy as it might look.
“It is scary being a startup,” he told those assembled. “I have to admit that there was a month or two there when I woke up every morning sick to my stomach. I suppose it’s only going to get worse, but having this resource here has made it possible to forge on.”
In many ways, those last few words can also be used to describe how the STCC/UMass partnership will breathe new life into a facility that has always had vast potential.
One term won’t suffice, but ‘forge on’ does it nicely.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]
Glenn Edwards Believes the Time Is Right for His Springfield Properties
It took Glenn Edwards a few years to put the entire block of buildings on Main Street in Springfield between Harrison Place and Court Street into his portfolio. Hes enjoyed mixed results since then, with the recession leaving for lease signs in many windows along that stretch. And while the local market remains quite sluggish, he believes the time is right for him to fill some of those vacancies.
Glenn Edwards has his office in New York City, but he keeps close tabs on whats happening in Springfield and he should. After all, he owns all the buildings along the east side of Main Street between Harrison Avenue and Falcon Drive.
And for the most part, Edwards, who acquired those parcels between 2005 and 2007, likes what hes hearing and reading about the City of Homes and especially its central business district. Hes actually pleased that the nearly vacant federal building will soon be almost full with Springfield School Department offices and other tenants (some downtown property owners were miffed that their buildings were not even given an opportunity to vie for that business).
Meanwhile, hes encouraged by progress in Court Square, especially UMass Amhersts decision to take one of the buildings there for one of its programs. Hes buoyed by some anecdotal evidence that the worst appears to be over for both the economy in general and the real estate market in particular, and, while he wasnt thrilled to lose the Dennis Group as a major tenant in Harrison Place, hes even finding something positive about that companys relocation to the Fuller Block and the filling of that structure.
He believes all or most of the recent news bodes well for his efforts to lease up his properties, which include in addition to Harrison Place, which has three vacant floors whats known as the Johnsons Bookstore Building, Marketplace, the so-called Northwestern Mutual Building, and also 1341 and 1319-1331 Main St.
New life for the federal building and Fuller Block will add vitality to the downtown and leave two fewer options for companies that are looking to downsize, rightsize, find a better deal, or take an expansion plan off the back burner its been on since the recession hit high gear, said Edwards, noting that he believes there are many businesses in all these categories.
As the economy improves, we fully expect Springfield to be part of the renaissance, he told BusinessWest. We expect to ride the next wave of real-estate activity.
And within Edwards block of buildings, which together comprise around 45,000 square feet of available space in various shapes and sizes, there is something for just about everyone, said John Williamson, president of Williamson Commercial Properties, which is now handling leasing activities for the properties.
Weve have full floors in Harrison Place, including the first and second, which is some of the most visible space in downtown Springfield, he said. And we have a lot of other spaces with which we can be very creative.
For this issue, BusinessWest talks at length with Edwards and Williamson about why they think they have the right places at the right time.
New Lease on Life?
Williamson joked that his new assignment with Edwards, for whom he handled the Harrison Place transaction in 2007, is essentially to lease his way out of a job, meaning to fill the properties in question.
As he goes about that task, hell face a good number of challenges, especially competition for tenants. Indeed, while some properties, like the Fuller Block and the federal building, are now effectively off the market, there are countless others in or near downtown with for lease signs in their windows.
And, in many respects, this is still very much a tenants market, a phrase used repeatedly by brokers to imply that businesses that are ready and able to make moves can play those landlords with space to lease against one another and get some attractive deals.
But the biggest challenge may be that there are still not enough business owners and nonprofit managers ready to make those moves. In recent months, area brokers have used words like quiet, frozen, and dead to describe the state of the local commercial real-estate market, and some have said that conditions now are even worse than during the prolonged recession of 20 years ago, when brokers could at least stay busy working for banks trying to rid themselves of properties on their OREO (other real estate owned) files.
However, the usually optimistic Edwards is seeing the picture a different way with the glass half full, or at least approaching that level.
He said that activity has picked up in many of the markets in which he owns properties (that list includes municipalities ranging from Lynnbrook, N.Y. to Park City, Kan. to Clifton, Colo.), and that he fully expects that Springfield, home to perhaps the centerpiece of his portfolio, will eventually follow suit.
Its not going to be a tenants market forever, he said, noting that, as bad as this downturn has been, it will be followed, like others before it, by a period when the laws of supply of demand will eventually begin to work in favor of property owners.
And he believes his block is well-positioned for the day when the pendulum starts to swing.
Granted, he has only what would be considered Class B space, or perhaps B+ in the case of Harrison Place, available to lease, but he notes that most Class A space in both the suburbs and downtown Springfield is occupied, and what isnt the vast majority of it is in 1350 Main St. or One Financial Plaza is mostly being reserved for larger tenants.
So he believes this leaves opportunities for those properties across Main Street with the odd numbers, starting with Harrison Place.
Edwards acquired that landmark from the Picknelly family in late 2007, putting the entire block in his portfolio. The building was nearly full at that time, but the scene changed dramatically when Tom Dennis who acquired the property in the late 90s, built out the first two floors for his engineering firm, and later sold the property to the Picknellys desired to once again own his space.
He departed for the rehabbed Fuller block in the summer of 2009, leaving one of those aforementioned for lease signs in the front window at Harrison Place, through which countless pedestrians and motorists look every day.
That visibility, coupled with accessibility and pliable space, has attracted several tire-kickers, said Williamson, including a large law firm. He expects more tours in the weeks and months ahead as businesses look to take advantage of what is still, by and large, a tenants market.
The ultimate goal is to lease the first and second floors, both around 8,000 square feet, to one tenant. The best plan B is to find two full-floor tenants, he said, adding that there is flexibility for a number of other scenarios, but the preference is for larger tenants.
The same goes for the slightly smaller ninth floor, he said, adding that, overall, there is some 25,000 square feet, just over 33% of the total space, available in the building.
Moving south down what could now be called the Edwards Block, there are roughly 5,000 square feet available, or just under one-fifth of the total, in the Johnsons Bookstore building, where Edwards and Williamson want to find more retail and office tenants to join FedEx Kinkos, which moved in on the first floor last year.
There are nearly 6,000 square feet available (one-quarter of the inventory) at 1365 Main St., also called the Marketplace Building; all of the space, 5,298 square feet, in 1341 Main St., most recently occupied by Westfield Bank, which means its been vacant for some time; and just over 3,068 square feet in 1310-1331 Main, also known as the Peerless Building.
Overall, Williamson said his broad strategy for leasing up those buildings is innovative, and by that he means everything from imaginative lease deals that will serve both Edwards and his tenants to efforts to attract some of the many nonprofit groups operating in the Greater Springfield area, especially for the Westfield Bank building, which he believes is perfectly suited for one or, more likely, several such tenants.
That property lends itself well to that kind of use, he said, and there are literally hundreds of these 501 C3s operating in this area.
When asked why hes so bullish on the prospects for Springfield when others seem far less ebullient, Edwards says his attitude stems from seeing clear progress in several of the other markets in which he owns real estate.
Weve signed a number of leases over the past few months theres a lot of activity taking place, he said. Were going to see that here, too. Tenants will be rightsizing and going from class C space to class B. Space will start to be absorbed again.
Time will tell if and when hes right about the Springfield market, but at the moment, Edwards likes what he sees. And he believes hes well-positioned for when the turnaround begins.
George OBrien can be reached at
Experts Predict a Slow, Steady
While there are concerns about a double dip and a largely jobless recovery, the general consensus among economy watchers is that the worst is over and better times are ahead. But better is certainly a relative term, they say, and in this case it refers to what will likely be slow, steady growth, with the accent on slow, with the eventual pace to be impacted by the level of job recovery and, perhaps more importantly, by overall confidence among consumers and business owners alike.
Bob Nakosteen feels like most of those people watching the economy for signs of whats to come. He says hes pretty much convinced that the worst is behind us but hes not at all sure how much better things are going getting to get, or when.
After discussing all the major talking points from the housing market to consumer and business confidence; from the employment scene to the latest, and improved, gross domestic product numbers and whether he believes them (he doesnt) Nakosteen, an Economics professor at UMass Amherst, finally drew an analogy between the current economy and an oil tanker.
You can turn it around, but its not going to happen quickly or easily, he said, projecting that recovery will indeed come in 2010, probably by the second or third quarter by his estimates, making this what he termed a slow-motion process in the Bay State.
Continuing his search for words, phrases, and images to describe his sentiments, he said this region and the state as a whole are due to experience what he called a U-shaped recovery, meaning a pronounced slide (already behind us, by most estimates), followed by a long, relatively flat stretch, which were in now, by most accounts, followed by a sharp tick upward.
But when that ascension will begin is anyones guess, and other economy watchers found words similar to Nakosteens to describe what they see coming in the months and quarters ahead.
I dont see much happening thats going to be terribly vibrant; I dont see a robust recovery coming, was how Richard Collins, president of West Springfield-based United Bank summed up his thoughts. We have money to lend here, but we dont see people knocking on our door demanding it because theyve got more pressing things to do.
Such passive activity is a clear sign that consumer and business confidence, while improving, according to some yardsticks, is still not where it needs to be for a quick, strong recovery, said Collins, who is certainly not alone in his use of the word slow to describe his thoughts on the pace of this much-anticipated recovery.
Andre Meyer used it early and often as well. Hes the senior vice president for Communications and Research at the Associated Industries of Mass. (AIM) He said that while only a few quarters ago, all economic signs were pointing down, some, but not all, are now pointing up. Hes seeing it in AIMs Business Confidence Index, which, at 44.9 for the November reading, is still below the 50 mark (indicating general positiveness about the economy), but it has gained a point or two seven of the past eight months and is now well above the low point of 33.3 recorded this past February.
Hes also seeing it with regards to employment, despite widespread projections for a jobless recovery (see related story, page 22). There hasnt been a marked uptick in hiring, but there are some indications that matters have improved, said Meyer, citing a slight surge in hiring among in an area he called professional business and scientific services.
That tends to be a real bellwether, he explained, because thats money that companies are spending on outside vendors, and its often the kind of thing theyll put off if they dont absolutely need it; you dont need an architect if youre not going to build a building.
Meyer says hes also seeing hints of progress in such things as improving sales figures for some categories of retail, a slight bounce for the housing market, and rising export levels, and that together, the signs validate the heavy use of the words slow and steady with regard to a turnaround
Barring some unforeseen setback, were looking at a year of recovery, but slow growth overall, he told BusinessWest. But things will accelerate as we get into the year.
Just how much theyll accelerate is the question on everyones minds as they prepare to turn the calendar. The consensus seems to be that there are too many related question marks concerning everything from jobs to confidence to the housing market to effectively answer that question.
The Hoard Way
Before looking ahead to 2010, Meyer chose to start with a glance back, to about a year ago, when the dark clouds had gathered and the conjecture focused on just how bad things were going to get.
The last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 were just terrible, said Meyer, stating the obvious. Everyone was hunkered down, and companies werent even filling critical jobs if they became vacant; they just didnt want to make any kind of commitment because there was a sense that almost anything could happen.
In retrospect, 2009 hasnt been the complete meltdown and disaster that a lot of people thought it would be, he continued, adding that, regionally, what has occurred over the past 12 to 15 months is not in most ways unprecedented, and, in fact, not as bad as the last great recession, the one in the early 90s, in terms of duration and the impact on the financial-services sector.
All that said, the region was hard-hit, especially with regard to employment which came close to but didnt actually hit double figures in Massachusetts as well as construction, residential, and commercial real estate, and companies bottom lines, Meyer continued. But things were much worse in many other parts of the country.
And while there is come concern about whats known as a double dip a recession followed by a slight uptick and then another downturn most experts believe that the worst is in the rear-view mirror and that the nation and the region are in recovery mode.
But how pronounced will the recovery be, and when will business owners see real improvement?
Nakosteen is not particularly optimistic because he doesnt see the requisite fuel he says is needed for a pronounced recovery.
This has been a recession thats killed off a lot more small businesses than most other recessions have, he explained. Couple that with the stagflation were seeing, and I just dont see anything thats going to pull us out of this.
There is still a great deal of stimulus money remaining to be spent, Nakosteen continued, noting that maybe 75% of the nearly $1 trillion package has yet to be allocated. But he has doubts about whether that money will have any real impact on the pace and overall level of recovery.
The only sector thats really spending is the government, he said, but all thats really done is put a bottom on the recession.
Real recovery is only going to come when individuals and business owners possess enough confidence to start spending again, Nakosteen explained, adding quickly that he hasnt seen any solid evidence indicating that day is here, or even close.
For the most part, people are keeping are keeping their wallets in their pocket and their credit cards in their wallet, he explained, noting that both consumers and business owners are hording cash and paying down debt trends that are generally positive, but not when businesses need sales and the national recovery needs that aforementioned fuel.
Collins has witnessed this cash-hoarding first-hand. Like most all bank presidents, hes seen growth in deposits far surpass growth in the loan portfolio.
Part of the reason for this has been a tightening of credit, which has been industry-wide, he continued, but the far bigger factors have been confidence, or a lack thereof, and the fact that many people and businesses dont have the wherewithal, even if they do have the confidence.
Indeed, looking across the board, Collins said his bank has near-historically low rates on mortgages (around 5%), attractive products for new and used cars, and solid commercial packages. But demand for such offerings simply isnt there.
There are people who are really just hanging on, and theyre going to continue to have to hang on for a while, he explained. It gets tough; if youve been laid off, you can continue to pay your mortgage for a while, but if youre out of your job for a long time, it gets more difficult.
Overall, those at the bank are cautiously optimistic about the year ahead, he continued, but all expectations have to be grounded in realism, and the reality, as he sees it, is limited growth potential with regard to the loan portfolio.
Allan Blair, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., sounded similar notes about realistic expectations. He described 2009 as a quiet year in terms of both new-business attraction and growth of existing businesses, and a big year for hunkering down for businesses large and small.
Most all of them have cut their costs; theyre hoarding cash and paying down their debt, he explained. Some have laid off as part of their cost-cutting, but most of the smaller ones have tried to hold onto their people because theyre expecting an uptick and their workers have unique skill sets that theyre trying to preserve. In general, this has been a year of people weathering the storm, and most have done that well.
When asked when business owners will come out of the proverbial storm cellar, Blair said much depends upon the sector in question and the level of confidence reached by decision makers. In health care, he explained, there is widespread concern about the debate on national reform of that sector and the impact it will have (see related story, page 25). Meanwhile, in public higher education, there has been a collision between rising enrollment and budget-cutting on the state level (trends seen in most recessions), which might hamper growth of that important sector.
Springfield Technical Community College President Ira Rubenzahl said his school, like all other public institutions, was helped considerably by stimulus funding, which nearly offset state cutbacks. His concern is that the same level of federal help wont be there for fiscal year 2011, for which STCC is facing what could be a 14% budget cut.
The school has responded to the budget adversity with some fee increases, a hiring freeze, and a number of steps to control costs, said Rubenzahl, adding that recessionary times, and especially this recession, present challenging times for public schools. On one hand, their services are in greater demand, among both those seeking to upgrade their skills and high-school graduates (and their parents) recognizing the value of starting at a community college, but on the other hand, it becomes more difficult to deliver those services.
What were seeing is people recognizing that they need a college education to get a high-paying job these days, he explained. Our mission is more important today than before the recession. But we need adequate funding to deliver a quality product.
Looking at other sectors, and the larger issue of business recruitment, Blair said the EDC has not abandoned those efforts, although 2009 has been a tough year in that regard. And he is seeing signs of what could be light at the tunnel.
Weve seen more interest among European companies in having a U.S. presence than ever before, he explained. Much of this has to do with the favorable exchange rate with the Euro, but a big part of it is a need to get into the big U.S. marketplace. These companies are looking for partnerships and manufacturers representatives.
Weve been busy responding to the interest expressed by European companies, he continued. We havent seen any making any final decisions yet, but there is a lot of interest and a lot of talking.
Meanwhile, Blair said, over the last part of the third quarter, his agency has seen an uptick in searches by national site selectors, an indication that perhaps some of the nations larger companies are looking at expansion opportunities or relocation of distribution facilities.
Thats been a fairly encouraging trend, said Blair, adding that the EDC is watching the distribution sector closely because it is usually a good barometer when it comes to developments in their respective sectors, and also because there is a trend toward decentralization in that industry that may bode well for this region given its strong infrastructure.
Overall, both Meyer and Nakosteen say the Bay State is trailing the nation by at least one-quarter when it comes to recovery.
In fact, a report in the latest issue of MassBenchmarks, the quarterly publication produced by the UMass Donahue Institute in cooperation with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, indicated that the states economy is estimated to have declined at a 1.1% annualized rate in the third quarter, a time when the national economy was, by many accounts, beginning to grow.
The state entered the recession later than the U.S., and so appeared to be performing better than the U.S. through the spring of this year, wrote Alan Clayton-Matthews, MassBenchmarks senior contributing editor and associate professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University. However, recently released income and tax data suggest that the states economy continued to decline through the third quarter, and that recent economic performance may be weaker than that of the nation as a whole.
When and to what degree the state catches up and experiences real recovery depends mostly on two factors jobs and confidence, said Meyer.
Regarding the former, he said he expects to see some turnaround in 2010, at least in several sectors of the economy, and that, long-term, he expects the state will recover all or most of the jobs it lost to the recession, something that didnt happen with the last downturn in 2001.
Theres been some disagreement among economists about how quickly employment comes back, he said. Some people feel that employers actually let too many people go and will need to hire some back.
In many industries, the jobs will come back, but theyll come back slowly, he continued. Its hard to hire the people you want, and its expensive to hire the people you want, and employers are going to be somewhat reluctant to hire people.
Meyer sounded a cautionary note about falling too far behind the rest of the country.
Its very damaging to us here in this state when we lag seriously in the recoveries, as we have in the last two recessions, he explained. A big thing that happens is that people, particularly young, well-educated people, leave. If they think they can get a job somewhere else and not get one here, theyll go to where the jobs are. But so far, the signs look pretty good on that.
But many, including Blair, are somewhat less optimistic when it comes to jobs.
Employers continue to be extremely cautious, he said, and from a broad economic-development point of view, the forecast of a jobless recovery in 2010 continues to be the predominant view. A lot of companies have invested in technology that reduces their reliance on labor, and so theyll be productive as the economys demand increases without having to add workers.
So it may be a a year from now before we see an uptick in job growth, he continued, which is obviously very important to our region.
Returning to h
s comparison between the economy and an oil tanker, Nakosteen said that, for the most part, the change in course has begun.
But it will take some time to turn this ship around, he continued, adding that the so-called Great Recession touched every sector and nearly every business, and the specter of a jobless recession looms large.
It wont be full-speed ahead any time soon, Nakosteen concluded, but the slow-motion process he described is at least underway.
George OBrien can be reached
The following business incorporations were recorded in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties and are the latest available. They are listed by community.
Mehar Inc., 308 Suffield St., Agawam, MA 01001. Rashad Rauf, 41 Royal St., Agawam, MA 01001.
Vita Nova Inc., 55 North Pleasant St., Amherst. MA 01002. Scott Hsu, 15 New Ludlow Road Apt 10, Chicopee, MA 01020. A corporation organized entirely for religious purposes, and with the goal of teaching, preaching, and spreading the gospel of Christ and ministering to the local and worldwide community in the name of Christ Jesus and through The Holy Spirit.
Bertelli Holdings Inc., 328 Parker St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Brent Bertelli, same. To purchase, operate, and control other companies.
Meadows Dental Group Inc., 100 Shaker Road, East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Thomasz A. Chrzan, 89 Pendleton Lane, Longmeadow, MA 01106. Rendering professional dental services.
Art Bar Café Inc., 1 Northampton St., Easthampton, MA 01027. Alexei Levine, 81 Pine Grove, Amherst, MA 01040. Café bar.
Liberty St. Global Enterprises Inc., 56 Liberty St., Florence, MA 01062. Gretchen J. Hendricks, same. eCommerce.
TLJ Realty Corp., 72 Pleasant St., Granby, MA 01033. William E. Johnson, 79 Amherst St., Granby, MA 01033. Retail management of own real estate.
M.J. Norton Security Inc., 25 Pinehurst Road, Holyoke, MA 01040. Robert Allen, Same. Security company.
Runway Corp Inc., 50 Holyoke St., D258, Holyoke, MA 01040. Kenneth Michael Dupuy, 12 Greenfield Ave., Waterbury, CT 06708. Retail clothing chain.
S. Landscaping Inc., 37 Highland Ave., Ludlow, MA 01056. Vania M. Silva. Same. Landscaping, retaining walls.
Truehart Inc., 23 College Highway, Southampton, MA 01073. Paul E. Truhart, same. Ownership, development, and management of commercial real estate.
Allied Drywall Inc., 900 Riverdale St., P.O. Box 146, West Springfield, MA 01089. Geraldine A. Pelc, 17 Forest Dr., South Hadley, MA 01075. Residential and non-residential construction including ceilings and walls.
Pioneer Valley Volleyball Academy Inc., 549 Russell Road Unit 11B, Westfield, MA 01085. George Robert Mulry, same. Organized and operated to offer competitive volleyball team play for all youth age groups and skill levels.
60 Congress St. Gets a Facelift and a Clean Slate
While speculative building is certainly risky in this economy, Zane Mirkin and Jerry Gagliarducci thought they were on solid ground when they acquired 60 Congress St., aka the Hooters Building. Theyre off to a strong start with the signing of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission as lead tenant, and believe they can fill whats left quickly due to the buildings great location and a facelift that is making its past use a distant memory.
Bob Greeley calls it changing the mass.
Thats a development industry term (sort of), he said, that is used to describe the process of dramatically altering a buildings appearance so that no one will know what it was before or care.
To say that the mass has been changed at 60 Congress St. in Springfield would be a real understatement, at least in light of some the anecdotes shared by Greeley, president of the R.J. Greeley Co., who helped orchestrate this highly visible project.
60 Congress St. before, during, and after.
Ive had a lot of people ask me if this a new building, he said of the structure, which was built nearly a century ago and has seen a number of uses, including, most recently, home to a certain chain restaurant noted for its provocatively dressed waitresses. And one person said to me recently, this was the Hooters building?
Thats exactly the kind of comments Greeley and the two partners/developers in this endeavor, Zane Mirkin and Jerry Gagliarducci, had in mind when they demolished one section of the four-story structure, completely gutted what was left, built a small addition, and put on a new façade.
Actually, the real goal was and is to remove the phrase Hooters building from the local lexicon and sooner rather than later.
We certainly dont use that term anymore, said Greeley, referring to those at his firm who call it simply, 60 Congress St. He believes that with time, and perhaps not much of it, that will become the name commonly used in Greater Springfield. And to help move matters along, the developers have affixed the numeral 60 (five feet high) to all four sides of the building.
They can be seen by a great many people, said Mirkin, president of Associated Building Wreckers, who, while offering a tour of the facility along with Greeley, gestured with his hand while looking out huge windows facing south, west, and north. With that view, people can see cars traversing Routes 91 and 291, as well as Main Street and other major arteries. This is a very visible, very accessible site.
It is this attractive location that inspired Mirkin and Gagliarducci to undertake what amounts to speculative development at the height of the worst recession in 70 years, and it prompted optimism from Greeley as he discussed the task of filling the remaining space.
The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) has taken the first two floors, or roughly 60% of the 30,000 square feet available, and Greeley says theres been a good deal of interest in floors three and four, which can accommodate one or several tenants each within their 6,000 square feet.
Weve had some interest from the medical sector, he said, noting that there are many medical offices within a few blocks of the building, as well as the close proximity of Baystate Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center. But were seeing it from many other sectors as well; Ive had a lot of calls.
New Lease on Life
Recalling his Springfield history, Greeley told BusinessWest that 60 Congress St. was long home to the American Linen Supply company and was the only building in a three- or four-block area of the North End not to be razed during what became widely known as the bulldozer era of urban renewal in the early and mid-1960s.
It managed to survive all that somehow, he explained. It was a solid building, in pretty good shape so they let it stand.
More than four decades later, its still there, although no one would recognize it which is exactly the point of the exercise undertaken by Mirkin and Gagliarducci, president of Gagliarducci Construction, with a little coaxing from Greeley.
He has worked with those businessmen on several commercial real estate developments in Greater Springfield, and saw, in 60 Congress St., what he considered another excellent opportunity.
Greeley told BusinessWest that he had been chasing the building for some time, meaning that he had been monitoring the situation the building had been vacant for some time after Hooters and another restaurant on that site closed down and watching for circumstances to come together for practical reuse.
He approached Mirkin and Gagliaducci to discuss what he considered to be vast potential at the site, but said he really didnt have to sell them on the idea.
Instead, it pretty much sold itself, he continued, adding quickly that, despite some structural challenges and the softened economy, the property had what he called all the right ingredients for success, including visibility, accessibility, and abundant on-site parking.
Together, these provided more than enough selling points for Mirkin and Gagliarducci, who prevailed at the second of two auctions on the property roughly a year ago.
This would become latest in a string of real-estate endeavors for the two partners. They came together for a development of an office complex on Dwight Road at the Longmeadow/East Longmeadow line, and also on a property on Brookdale Drive in Springfield that became home to Branford Hall. They also worked together on a project involving a former Peter Pan bus-repair facility on Arnold Avenue in Springfield.
What the two saw in 60 Congress St. was a chance to breathe some life into a North End landmark that had somehow fallen into dormancy, and they took what amounted to a considerable risk given the economy and a soft real-estate market that has flooded the region with vacancies and for-lease signs.
But they were helped tremendously by the plight of the PVPC. The agency had been located on the top floor of the municipal office building in West Springfield for more than 20 years, but was informed in 2007 that the city needed that space. It was only a few months after Mirkin and Gagliaducci purchased the building when talks commenced about the agency about moving to that address.
By then, the partners had already engaged the architectural firm Caolo & Bieniek and Saloomey Construction Co. to design to execute this changing of the mass that Greeley described.
A small portion of the original structure was demolished, and a new entrance element, featuring an elevator, stairwell, and common space, was added. A number of structural changes were made to bring the 99-year-old edifice up to modern building codes (earthquake-proofing it, for example), said Mirkin, and the property was essentially gutted to its four walls.
The signing of the PVPC as the primary tenant provided a real sense of urgency and moved matters along very quickly, said Greeley, noting that the developers set and met an aggressive timetable to have the agency moved in by Sept. 1.
As for the task of filling the remaining space, Greeley told BusinessWest that he had been reluctant to show prospective tenants a work in progress or architects renderings of what a renovated 60 Congress St. would look like. But now that the work is essentially completed, hes making up for lost time.
I wanted to wait until it was finished, he explained. Its hard to sell people on a drawing. Now that people can see whats been done, it will be much easier to sell them on this address.
As he walked across the fourth floor of 60 Congress St., admiring the views of downtown Springfield that it provides, Greeley conjectured that it wouldnt be long before the top two floors of the building which have gone virtually unused for two decades would again be teeming with activity.
And by then, the phrase Hooters Building should be that much closer to being a term out of use.
Thats what happens when a buildings mass is changed not to mention its fortunes.
George OBrien can be reached at
How They Can Impact Gift- and Estate-tax Planning Strategies
The Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) established by the Internal Revenue Service have a substantial impact on various gift- and estate-planning strategies. Each month the IRS determines the interest rate that must be used to measure the present value of annuities, income interests, and remainder interests for gift-tax purposes. This is known as the Section 7520 rate.
Low AFR rates are particularly beneficial to certain gift- and estate-tax planning strategies, and thus create opportunities for transferring assets to the next generation without, or with fewer, gift- and estate-tax consequences. This article discusses strategies for realizing these benefits.
An example of an intra-family loan is when a parent loans money to a child and the child issues the parent a promissory note evidencing the loan. The then-applicable AFR rate is the minimum interest rate the parent must charge on such a loan to avoid potential gift-tax problems. Another example is a similarly structured loan from a grandparent to a grandchild. However, with respect to the intra-family loans, it is important that the payments required under the note actually be paid to the lender. Moreover, any forgiveness of debt by the lender will constitute a gift to the borrower, which could lead to gift- or income-tax consequences.
Generally, the loan proceeds are invested by the borrower with the expectation that the return on those invested assets will be greater than the interest rate on the promissory note. Thus, the net effect of such a loan should be that the future appreciation of the invested assets in excess of the interest rate on the promissory note will go to the borrower as a tax-free gift.
Loan to Grantor Trust
A loan by a parent, for example, to an irrevocable trust that the parent established is also very effective. However, such a trust should have some other assets to repay the loan that is made to the trust. Otherwise, the IRS might contend that the lender retained an interest in the trust for estate-tax purposes.
If it is a grantor trust, it will provide even greater benefits. If the trust is properly drafted and administered, the trust assets will not be subject to estate taxes upon the death of the grantor. Additionally, because of grantor trust status, all the net taxable income of the trust is reported by the grantor on his or her own personal income tax return. This results in the trust being able to grow faster since the income taxes attributable to the trusts taxable income are paid by the grantor and not by the trust.
From an income tax point of view, its as if the grantor had made the loan to himself. The intra-family loan to the grantor trust should have no income-tax consequences since the interest is not taxable to the grantor. The tax laws do not treat the income-tax payment made by the grantor as an indirect gift to the trust. The promissory note from the trustee of the trust should use the minimum AFR rate.
Sale to Grantor Trust
Another type of intra-family loan involves the sale of appreciated assets to a grantor trust in exchange for a promissory note from the trustee of the trust using the minimum AFR rate (unless the lender wants a higher rate). Because of the grantor trust status, there is no income tax on the difference between the value of the asset sold to the trust and its cost basis.
The payment of interest by the trust to the grantor has no income-tax consequences. It is neither deductible by the trust nor treated as interest income by the grantor. With respect to this type of sale, it is very important, however, that the promissory note be paid in full to the grantor before his or her death. Otherwise, the non-recognized gain at the time of the original sale to the trust might be recognized in the event that the trust still has a debt to the grantor at the time of his or her death.
This type of sale can be leveraged if the sale involves a fractional interest in an asset rather than the entire asset. The value of a fractional interest in an asset should be less than its percentage value of the entire asset because a bona fide purchaser would insist on a discount for purchasing a fractional interest.
Grantor Retained Annuity Trust
A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) provides an excellent opportunity for someone who wants to pass wealth to his or her next generation and minimize transfer taxes (e.g., gift or estate taxes). The GRAT is an irrevocable trust for a term of years to which the grantor makes a one-time transfer of property. The grantor retains the right to receive a fixed payment at least annually from the GRAT for the specified term of years.
At the time of the transfer, the grantor makes a gift calculated on the present value of the remainder interest. At the end of the term of years, the trust property is distributed to or held for the benefit of the remainder persons named in the trust.
The grantor-beneficiary of the trust must outlive the term of years in order for the GRAT to remove the trust assets from the grantors estate. As with many of the techniques, the successful use of a GRAT calls for a balance of factors. The longer the term and the larger the annual payment, the lesser the amount of the gift that reverts to the next generation. On the other hand, the longer the term, the greater the risk that the grantor-beneficiary of the trust will predecease that term, in which case the then-value of the GRAT is includable in the deceased grantors estate. However, if the grantor dies during the term of the GRAT, the estate of the deceased grantor is no worse off than if that grantor had never used the GRAT (except for the cost of having set up the GRAT).
Private annuities provide various tax advantages. In a typical transaction, a parent transfers property to his or her child, and the child gives an unsecured promise to pay the parent a fixed amount of periodic income for life. To avoid a gift, it is important to structure the private annuity so that the value of the assets transferred to the child equals the present value of the annuity to be paid. With a lower AFR rate, the amount the child has to pay as an annuity to his or her parent is less.
The private annuity is a good strategy when the parent has a short life expectancy. This is due to the fact that the private annuity automatically terminates upon the annuitants death. If the parent is deemed to be terminally ill, then the mortality component of the IRS valuation tables cannot be used to determine the present value of the annuity. A person is deemed to be terminally ill if there is at least a 50% probability that he or she will die within one year.
However, a private annuity certainly becomes disadvantageous if the annuitant lives beyond his or her life expectancy since the payments must be made for the annuitants lifetime. Moreover, it is important to note that the payer of the private annuity does not get a tax deduction for any of the payments made, which would be the case if the transaction had instead involved a loan by the parent.
Charitable Gift Annuities
An increasingly popular method of benefiting a charity, but with the donor receiving regular payments from the charity, is through a charitable gift annuity. Many charities offer these annuity opportunities. With a low AFR rate, the potential income-tax charitable deduction for the gift annuity will be less, but a lower AFR rate permits a higher portion of the annuity payments to be received income tax-free. This would be particularly valuable to an individual who does not itemize his or her deductions.
Charitable Lead Trust (CLT)
A charitable lead trust (CLT) is a trust that pays income to a charity for a period of years, after which the trust assets revert back to the grantor. If the CLT is established upon the grantors death, then the reversion would be to the individuals and/or trust designated to receive the trust assets upon the expiration of the time period. If the CLT is set up as a grantor trust, the grantor will be taxed on the trust income each year but will receive, in the first year that the trust is funded, a charitable deduction for the present value of the charitys interest over the specified period of years. A low AFR rate results in a lower present value of the reversionary interest to the grantor or other beneficiaries, and thus increases the grantors charitable deduction.
Using a non-grantor CLT, there is no initial charitable deduction, but the grantor is not taxed on the CLT income each year. Instead of the trust assets at the end of the term reverting to the grantor, the assets are distributed to named family members, other third persons, or trusts. The low AFR rate increases the present value of the charitable interest and thus reduces the value of the remainder interest for determining whether there is a gift subject to a gift tax (if the CLT was funded during the grantors lifetime), or whether the value of the remainder interest is subject to an estate tax (if the CLT was funded upon the grantors death).
Charitable Remainder Interest in Personal Residence
An individual can make an outright gift of his personal residence to charity but retain a life estate to continue to use and occupy the personal residence during his or her lifetime. The residence may be the primary or secondary residence. When a low AFR rate is applied, the present value of the charitys remainder interest is higher, and thus the donor receives a larger income-tax charitable deduction.
When a Low AFR is Detrimental
A low AFR rate makes it more difficult to properly structure a charitable remainder trust (CRT). The typical CRT is funded by the grantor and provides for a fixed percentage payment each year to the grantor during the grantors lifetime or for a specific term of years. On the grantors death or the expiration of the term of years, the CRTs assets are distributed to charity. The grantor should get a partial income-tax charitable deduction when he or she funds the CRT. Additionally, appreciated assets can be used to fund a CRT, and the trust in turn can then sell the assets without any tax on the gain. If the payout rate to the beneficiary is greater than the income of the CRT, however, then some of that non-taxed gain will be considered distributed to the beneficiary for that year and thus taxable to the recipient as a capital gain.
A low AFR rate complicates the use of a CRT because it is more difficult to satisfy two of the code requirements for the CRT to be qualified. One requires that the remainder interest to the charity cannot be less than 10% of the initial value of the assets transferred to the trust. Second, the possibility for exhausting the CRT assets before the end of the CRT cannot be more than a 5% probability at the time the trust is funded. Despite these difficulties, there are certain ways to design a CRT to be able to satisfy these percentage requirements even when a low AFR rate is applied.
Qualified Personal Residence Trust
A qualified personal residence trust (QPRT) generally involves an individual transferring his or her personal residence (either a primary or secondary residence) to a trust for a fixed term of years. The consequences are similar to that of the GRAT discussed above. If the grantor survives the term of years, then the residence in the QPRT is transferred to the designated beneficiaries. If the grantor does not survive the term of years, then the value of the residence is includable in his or her estate for estate-tax purposes.
When the QPRT receives the residential property, a gift to the remainder beneficiary is deemed to have occurred. The value of that gift is based on the value of the retained right to occupy the residence by the grantor during the term of years, the applicable AFR rate, and also the age of the grantor. With a low AFR rate, the value of the retained right to occupy is lower, thus increasing the present value of the gifted remainder interest for gift-tax purposes. Nevertheless, the use of a QPRT can be an effective way to transfer a residence with a lower gift value then an outright gift of the property to that remainder beneficiary. This can be especially effective if the gift involves a fractional interest in the residential property.
With interest rates still low, there are substantial wealth-transfer opportunities available for parents, grandparents, and others who wish to transfer assets to the next generation or beyond and, in the process, minimize or eliminate transfer taxes, whether they be gift or estate taxes. Current economic conditions have resulted in depressed asset values, but when combined with the attractive growth-shielding tools discussed in this article, now is the time to be calling your estate-planning attorney.
As Steven Leimberg, a nationally recognized estate planner, wrote in his April 2009 newsletter, estate planners are witnessing a rare convergence of events favorable to their clients. These events include depressed value of assets, low AFR rates, and significant valuation discount techniques. As with many issues surrounding tax-centered estate planning, however, these factors are vulnerable to economic and legislative change. It is therefore important to take advantage of these opportunities while they are available.
Richard M. Gaberman, Esq. is of counsel to the Springfield law firm Robinson Donovan, P.C. He specializes in estate and trusts, tax and estate planning, corporate and business transactions, and commercial real estate; (413) 732-2301.
Wireless Internet Access Coming to Peter Pan Fleet
SPRINGFIELD — Peter Pan Bus Lines is becoming one of the first inter-city bus lines to have wireless Internet available to passengers through the installation of WiFi technology on its fleet. Peter Pan is in the process of installing the WiFi technology on 150 buses in its motorcoach fleet at a cost of around $75,000, not including Peter Pan’s labor to install the technology. WiFi allows local area networks (LANs) to be deployed without wires for electronic devices such as laptop computers. Wireless network adapters are now built into most laptops. WiFi has become widespread, and the addition of this technology into Peter Pan’s fleet will allow passengers to easily access the Internet while traveling. “We’re proud or our reputation for being on the leading edge of technology in the inter-city bus industry,” said Peter A. Picknelly, president of Peter Pan. “We were among the first in the bus industry to include video monitors on our motor coaches. Other technological advances such as a real-time monitoring system that records the speed and the operation of the vehicle by our operator and a GPS tracking system are routinely retrofitted into all of our coaches. Our goal is to continue to improve the traveling experience on Peter Pan and respond to customer needs and preferences. Passengers want to use laptop computers, accessing the Internet to do work or to check E-mail, and the installation of the WiFi wireless compatibility on our coaches gives Peter Pan an advantage over air travel or travel by auto. Our passengers have indicated they want Internet access, and we always move aggressively when it comes to adding technological advances ”
Plotkin & Associates Launches New Web Site
SPRINGFIELD — NAI Samuel D. Plotkin & Associates Inc. recently launched a new Web site. The site was redesigned with a new look and feel for increased ease of navigation. In addition to an enhanced design, the Web site offers detailed information on services, current company news, client testimonials, a blog, and several regional and local commercial real-estate resources. The site also displays its footprint of managing more than 1 million square feet of commercial real estate in downtown Springfield alone.
Big Y Awards More Than $250,000 in Local Scholarships
SPRINGFIELD — Big Y World Class Markets has selected more than 325 academically outstanding students from communities surrounding its stores to receive a total of over $250,000 in college scholarships for the 2009-10 academic year. Unlike most area scholarships, these awards are based on academic merit, regardless of financial need. With Big Y’s assistance, students from all over Massachusetts and Connecticut will be attending schools such as Columbia University, Elms College, Yale University, Brown University, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute this fall. Top recipients were honored at a Scholarship Awards Ceremony held at the Big Y Store Support Center in Springfield in May. Big Y’s Scholarship Program reflects its longstanding commitment to education and is considered to be one of the most competitive in New England, with thousands of students applying each year. Since this program was founded in 1984, more than $2.2 million has been awarded to more than 3,000 students. “We are grateful to be in a position to fill a real need in the communities we serve by recognizing the hard work, dedication to excellence, and outstanding academic achievement of so many fine young men and women who are our neighbors in our marketing area,” said Donald H. D’Amour, Big Y chairman and CEO. “This exercise also serves as a humbling reminder to us all to continue to strive for excellence. My personal congratulations go out to all of our winners.” What also sets Big Y’s Scholarship program apart from others is that it is open to all customers and customers’ dependents as well as employees, and employees’ dependents. Awards are given to students in the categories of high school graduate, undergraduate, community college, graduate, and non-traditional. There is also a special category within the Big Y Scholarship program that honors dependents of the law-enforcement officers and firefighters who risk their lives every day to protect and serve local communities. This year, 17 scholarships have been awarded to dependents of police officers and firefighters.
Florence Savings Bank Continues Strong Growth
NORTHAMPTON — Florence Savings Bank recently released first-quarter results that indicate a continuation of the bank’s strong growth trend. FSB’s total assets on March 31 were $1.1 billion, up $46 million, or 4.3%, from the corresponding period last year. The asset growth was the result of continued growth in the bank’s loan portfolio. Total loans ended the quarter at $688 million, up $35.9 million, or 5.5%, from March 2008 levels. The loan growth was spurred by residential mortgage loans, which increased $24.8 million, or 5.8%, allowing FSB to remain the number-one mortgage lender in Hampshire County, and commercial loans that grew $14.6 million, or 10.4%, in the year-to-year comparison. Total deposits were $761.2 million at the end of March, up $41.3 million, or 5.7%, from March 2008 levels. This deposit growth was the result of the success of FSB’s Rewards Checking program, which accounted for $31.1 million of the deposit growth.
Tighe & Bond Moves Up on List of Top Design Firms
WESTFIELD — Tighe & Bond was recently ranked among the top 500 design firms in the nation, according to Engineering News-Record. The company ranked 335, up from 392 in 2008. Companies were ranked based on gross revenue reported in 2008 for providing services and products to domestic and international markets. Tighe & Bond provides engineering and environmental services to public and private clients in government, industry, health care, education, real estate, and power-utility markets.
Hampden Bank Charitable Foundation Donates $5,000 to Gray House
SPRINGFIELD — The Hampden Bank Charitable Foundation recently donated $5,000 to the Gray House. The Gray House is a small, neighborhood human-service agency located on Sheldon Street in the North End of Springfield. In 1984, the Gray House Agency opened to provide for the civic, social, and educational needs of the people in the neighborhood. The mandate of the original founders is that “the Gray House is a place where peace is lived and learned and hope is shared.” Dena Calvanese, executive director of the Gray House, said that “the support from the Hampden Bank Charitable Foundation means so much to us, especially the children we serve. We appreciate their generosity and belief in our work.” Hector F. Toledo, vice president of Hampden Bank, added, “when I visited the Gray House, I saw first-hand all the good work they do for the community, specifically the attention they give the children in the after-school program. Agencies like the Gray House need the support desperately, and we are proud to continue supporting them.”
Bidwell ID Shares Success at CASE Awards
NORTHAMPTON — Marketing agency Bidwell ID, working with Emma Willard School, won five gold circles of excellence for the school’s magazine, Emma, at the recent CASE awards. CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education is a nonprofit education association and awards the circle of excellence annually to recognize accomplishments that have lasting impact and deliver exceptional results. Emma magazine won five gold awards in the following categories: excellence in design, magazine publishing improvement; best articles of the year; independent schools; independent-school magazines; and a grand gold for independent-school periodicals. The judges who presided over the overall excellence category called it “a magazine I could settle in with and spend a great deal of time” and said the magazine has “great concept and execution, and inspiring writing and design.” Out of all the awards Emma garnered the most notable is the grand gold for independent-school periodicals. This award is considered the equivalent to ‘best in show.’ Award-winning editor Rachel Morton of Morton Associates, along with Bidwell ID art director Lily Pereira, are responsible for the successful redesign of Emma.
JMP Forges Partnership with Design Professionals
WARE — JMP Environmental Consulting Inc. announced a new partnership with South Windsor, Conn.-based Design Professionals Inc. Together, the two companies offer land-development services to meet a wide range of client needs, including civil engineering, land surveying, GIS analysis, landscape architecture, due diligence/permitting, wetland science, aquatic-wildlife and fisheries science, stream restorations, and invasive-species control.
Dawn Creighton has been named Regional Director of Member Relations for Western Mass. by Associated Industries of Mass. (AIM), based in Boston. In her new position, Creighton will work with AIM-member firms and organizations to ensure they are fully aware of the range of resources and services that are available to them, and to serve as a liaison with a number of civic and business groups operating throughout the Pioneer Valley that are concerned about the state’s economic prospects for the future.
•••••Dr. Jeanne S. Steffes has been named Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Western New England College in Springfield.
•••••Tighe & Bond in Westfield announced the following:
• Paul Fiejdasz, P.E., LEED AP, CEM has joined the company as a Mechanical Engineer. He adds 15 years of experience in all aspects of mechanical building systems including HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection; and
• Amy Lane, P.E., was the winner of the Young Professionals Fresh Ideas Contest for the best presentation given by a young professional at New England Water Works Association’s 2009 Spring Regional Conference and Exhibition in Worcester. Her presentation, titled “Water System Improvements in the Town of Amherst,” discussed the challenges coordinating upgrades to one of the town’s wells and its surface-water-treatment plant with the unique seasonal demand patterns of a college town.
•••••Greenfield Co-operative Bank announced the following:
• William F. Ahlemeyer has been promoted to Senior Vice President-Commercial Lending;
• Christine M. Eugin has been promoted to Senior Vice President-Residential Lending;
• Deborah J. Falcon has been promoted to Senior Vice President-Retail Banking;
• Eric A. Marsh has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Treasurer, and CFO; and
• Mary J. Rawls has been promoted to Compliance Officer.
•••••Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP has elected William E. Hart as Partner. Hart has been counsel to the firm during 2007 and 2008. He practices in the areas of estate planning and probate, taxation, real estate, and business matters, and has been named co-chairman of the firm’s Estate Planning and Administration Department. Hart practices from the firm’s offices in Amherst at 21A Pray St. and in Springfield at 1500 Main St.
•••••The Women’s Partnership, a division of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, has named Nancy Mirkin of Hampden Bank as its 2009 Woman of the Year recipient. Mirkin is Vice President in the Business Banking Division at Hampden Bank, where she has worked for 13 years. Mirkin has also been involved with several organizations over the years, and currently volunteers with the Credit for Life-Financial Literacy Program and Habitat for Humanity Women Build II. The annual Woman of the Year Banquet is planned for June 23 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.
•••••Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., TD Banknorth, and Moriarty & Primack, P.C., recently co-sponsored a seminar titled “Fraud Prevention” at the Springfield office of TD Banknorth. Speakers included Michael O’Reilly, special agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Gene Griffin, postal inspector, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Susan Chamberlain, director of Cash Management of TD Banknorth, who shared the sophistication of fraudulent activities of current times and the proactive solutions to protecting personal data.
•••••The American Council on Education (ACE) Board of Directors has named Evan S. Dobelle, president of Westfield State College, to serve on the council’s Commission on Effective Leadership. The national commission advises ACE and also guides the ongoing development of Center for Effective Leadership programs and directs new initiatives. It serves as a forum for member presidents to explore issues related to leadership and institutional development in higher education.
John R. Cristoforo has joined the Insurance Center of New England in West Springfield as an Account Executive in the personal lines division.
•••••Kathleen P. Mullin has been appointed Vice President and Credit Risk Manager at PeoplesBank.
•••••Lori A. Siedlarczyk-Nadeau has joined TD Insurance in West Springfield as a Sales Executive in the small-business division. She consults on employee benefit plans to small businesses.
•••••Martin Kane recently completed 80 hours of training as an Auctioneer at the International Auction School in South Deerfield. He is now a licensed auctioneer in Massachusetts. Kane is also a commercial real estate broker with King & Newton, LLC Commercial Real Estate in Springfield. In addition, he is a board member of the new Realtors Commercial Alliance, and president of Sanford Management Services Inc.
•••••Dr. Catherine Spath, a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon, has joined the Cooley Dickinson Hospital medical staff in Northampton.
•••••David J. Martel, a Partner in the law firm of Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, has been honored with the Leadership Institute’s Community Service Award for exceptional commitment to the Greater Springfield community.
•••••Adrienne M. Connolly, co-owner of Stinky Cakes in Springfield, has been recognized as one of the top 200 mom-owned businesses in StartupNation’s 2009 Leading Moms in Business Competition. VerticalResponse sponsored the competition, which recognizes the achievements of mothers across the country who run outstanding businesses.
•••••Gail Young, Breakfast Hostess at the Hampton Inn Hadley-Amherst, was recently honored by Hampton Hotels with the Spirit of Hampton Award, signifying Young as a top performer within Hampton Hotels.
What You Need to Know to Profit in the Current Real-estate Market
As commercial vacancy rates continue to increase and property values decrease, the region is faced with more commercial real estate on the market. These properties may become distressed if property owners dont address the hard realities of their real-estate holdings and enter into sometimes difficult discussions with their lenders and/or sources of capital.
Nationally and in our region, certain industries are being hit harder than others. Three that come to mind are hospitality, retail, and financial services. Here are some of the reasons why.
Companies are controlling costs by decreasing travel budgets, while individuals are reducing leisure travel to save money. Both of these situations translate into reduced occupancy rates at hotels.
Certain retailers are focusing on top-producing locations and closing locations that dont contribute enough to the bottom line. Other retailers have already disappeared from the landscape and are unlikely to return.
Financial-services companies are trimming human resources and searching to reduce operating costs. Do they still need the same amount of office space?
Overall, most businesses are looking for ways to reduce operating expenses. To do so, many are renegotiating rental rates.
As a whole, the hospitality, retail, and financial-services sectors are substantial users of real estate. When they contract space to maintain their operations, the market can be left with a variety of empty buildings. On the other hand, property owners of certain types of real estate may be more immune to some of the downward drafts caused by the regions economy. But they still need to keep a watchful eye.
The contractions in todays market are stressing the real-estate industry in the form of lower rental revenues and property values. Complicating the matter is the difficulty some property owners and developers have accessing cash and credit.
Property owners who borrowed money for a project based upon a specific value of the property at that time and who have an interest in selling the property or restructuring the debt may be upside-down. In other words, they may owe far more on their mortgage than the property is worth today.
The Cap-rate Factor
Many of the financial problems inherent in our economy, such as reduced consumer confidence and spending as well as reductions in employment, contribute greatly to contractions in rental income and net operating income (NOI) for income-producing real estate. However, another factor that has significantly affected the fair market value of these properties is the increase in capitalization or cap rates.
A cap rate is based on the rate of return that an acquirer of a property is looking to earn (assuming no debt on the property). The most common way that income-producing properties are valued (and therefore sold or purchased) is by applying the cap rate to a propertys net operating income. Changes in cap rates are based on market factors and can have significant impact on the ultimate value of a property.
For example, if a property generates $800,000 in annual net operating income and the market cap rate for this property is 8%, then the value of the property would be equal to $10 million ($800,000/8%). However, if cap rates increase (which they have) and the new cap rate is 10%, this property would now be worth $8 million. Additionally, if the NOI decreases by 20% to $640,000, the value of this property now becomes $6.4 million.
As illustrated by this example, what we see today are rising cap rates and decreasing income from properties, which fuels declining property values. This combination creates challenges for property owners with loans to repay and lenders with decreasing values of loan portfolios. In short, property owners may be left holding undervalued real estate when compared to the original purchase price and the outstanding debt on the property.
Some lenders are looking to divest themselves of non-performing, undervalued notes discounting them by as much as 60% in some parts of the country. However, even at deeply discounted rates, some properties may not be a good value. For instance, if a lender applies a 25% discount to a $4 million note written in 2002 and the current value (because of credit issues with tenants, contraction of net operating income, and increased cap rates) of the property collateralizing it is less than $3 million, this may not be such a great deal.
The decreasing value of property is one of the characteristics leading to the credit crunch. Even though local and regional lenders are writing commercial real-estate loans to creditworthy clients, national lenders are most often looking to establish and strengthen relationships with the most-experienced and financially sound real-estate companies. Many investors still need access to capital to restructure debt and finance new projects.
Profiting with Distressed Properties
For clients with cash and access to credit, there are opportunities to pursue in the region. However, it must be patient money. If youre acquiring a distressed property with pre-existing tenants, do your research. When evaluating a potential acquisition, the final decision is as much a marketing decision as a financial one. Here are some questions to consider:
This whole scenario, unless intelligently discussed, can be fraught with confusion, frustration, dead ends, and unique circumstances.
If property owners and managers can look forward and realistically project their ability to retain their tenants, attract new tenants, negotiate their operating costs, and maintain a flow of capital, they will be better able to weather the storm and build a solid foundation for the future.
When charting a course through todays economic obstacles, a seasoned real-estate accountant is invaluable. Such an individual can anticipate challenges before they arise and revise business and financial models to position the organization for success. For instance, if a client is going through debt restructuring, its important that their accountant communicate with lenders to evaluate acquisitions and divestitures and help them minimize tax consequences.
As real-estate companies and lending institutions throughout the region find themselves adjusting to the distressed commercial real-estate market, we advise working together in a spirited effort. By doing so, we will position our region for economic growth and prosperity.v
Ed Kindelan is Real Estate Services Group leader at Kostin, Ruffkess & Co., LLC, a certified-public-accounting and business-advisory firm. Beyond traditional accounting, auditing, and tax consulting, the firm also specializes in employee benefit plan audits, litigation support, business valuation, succession-planning business consulting, forensic accounting, wealth management, estate planning, fraud prevention, and information-technology assurance. The company has offices in Springfield, as well as Farmington and New London, Conn.; (860) 678-6000;www.kostin.com
Economic Stresses Threaten Bank Profits
Banks have plenty to worry about as they navigate the current choppy economic waters. The ongoing lending crisis, caused by some $1 trillion in losses due largely to defaults on risky mortgage loans, is an ongoing story, to be sure. But banks are also dealing with decreased profit margins due to a historically narrow net interest spread. While the regions financial institutions remain relatively healthy, the profitability issue is yet another obstacle to overcome in a year that has posed far too many already.
How does a bank not make money?
Its a question plenty of Americans have certainly asked. One answer can be found on the margins.
At issue is something called net interest spread, which is essentially the difference between the interest yield that banks earn on loans and other assets, and the interest rates they pay on funds they borrow from the government and other banks.
That spread gives a good idea of how profitable the industry is at any given time, and right now, the margin is razor-thin another wrench at a time when many banks are struggling simply to remain afloat.
The federal funds rate today is as low as its ever been, said William Hogan Jr., president of Easthampton Savings Bank. But deposit rates have fallen as lending rates have fallen, and the difference between the two is tight today.
The spread is the difference between the cost of funds and earning assets, explained Richard Collins, president of United Bank. The rates go down and up all the time. Our job as bankers is to do our best to balance the impact and make a profit. But the yields on earning assets stayed flat this year, and thats now starting to affect our portfolio. That puts pressure on the margins for a lot of banks.
Its pressure many executives say they dont need right now, in the midst of a banking crisis that saw some two dozen institutions go under last year, and credit markets seize up after banks took more than $1 trillion in writedowns and credit-market losses since 2007, driven largely by record subprime loan defaults.
Im always an optimist, but a careful one, said David Glidden, regional president of TD Banknorth, adding that he believes the economy will worsen, at least in the short term. I think were going through historic times, and really uncharted waters, so to speak.
Im optimistic that the economy is resilient, and the credit markets are resilient and will come back, he continued. But I do not think weve hit bottom, and were going to see things get worse before they get better.
Profits and Loss
Hogan said a whole host of factors can put unusual pressures on bank profitability, but they tend to be more apparent during a recession.
When times are good, you can overlook some of these factors, he said. But theres a cumulative effect from all the issues that the financial-service business is dealing with today, from the economy to the new and increased regulations.
One such factor, said Hogan, is suddenly increased premiums from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), which protects consumers deposit and savings accounts, due to the rash of bank failures over the past several months.
The problems of Wall Street are reaching Main Street, so to speak, and were all painted with the same brush. In a lot of ways, were paying for the sins of our financial brothers; FDIC insurance premiums are up dramatically because of the need to clean up bank failures. Weve got to kick in to help fund that.
It doesnt help that banks are facing a significant loss of confidence, said Glidden, which makes him even more relieved at the relative health of his own institution.
We are still actively lending, he said. Fortunately, we avoided a lot of the credit problems that have plagued the larger money-center banks.
Like anybody, were being prudent because of the economy and whats going on in the market, he added. Nationally, lending overall is clearly still restricted. But hopefully, some of the things the federal government is doing will unclog the financial system, which is really clogged up.
One key obstacle, he explained, is bank-to-bank lending, a generally robust activity during better economic times. Theres just none of that going on right now, Glidden said, because banks dont trust other banks balance sheets. Theres no confidence in the system.
Thats understandable, said Collins. A lot of banks are taking writedowns on securities they hold. Other banks hold these exotic mortgage-backed securities toxic securities and if you own those, your major problem is profitability. A few bad securities can wipe out a lot of interest margin.
That continues to be true all over, he added, but we havent seen that story here. Our bank has not been hurt by subprime loans and toxic securities.
Thats a trend thats true throughout Western Mass., in fact, as many regional banks tout their freedom from the sort of bad loans that have sent so many banks reeling.
Were very busy, and the message weve been telling people is that we have money to lend and, by and large, were doing that, and at the same terms and conditions we were years ago, Hogan said. We really havent tightened our restrictions or made it more difficult, generally, for people to get loans, and we have an active pipeline of loans in process right now, from home mortgages to consumer loans to commercial real estate and lines of credit for businesses.
The main reason, he explained, is that the bank is not only well-capitalized its capital ratio is 11.3%, more than twice the level suggested by the FDIC but, like other Western Mass.-based banks, totally unencumbered by toxic securities.
Weve never made a subprime loan; we never did these wild and crazy loans with no documentation or income certification, with little or no down payments, he said. Weve never ventured into those, and we havent swayed from business as usual.
Back in the Saddle
Confidence in the financial-services industry has affected consumers in more ways than one. Consider, for example, the yield spread when it comes to mortgages.
At press time, the spread between 30-year mortgages and 10-year Treasury notes was the largest in two decades, even though the average 30-year fixed-rate home loan was below 5%, the lowest in at least 40 years.
Spreads are even wider for adjustable-rate mortgages; the average 1-year ARM is almost 5.8% above three-month Treasury bill yields, almost three times the typical spread.
Those trends have given rise to consumer calls for further mortgage rate reductions, but economists say banks are skittish after taking that aforementioned $1 trillion in credit losses.
Underwriting criteria have been tightened considerably, and that is a real issue, said Douglas Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae, in Finance and Commerce, an online business news source. Mortgages could well be close to 4% if they reflected traditional spreads. Its not greed or things like that. Its the real risks the banks see.
Even a healthy bank like TD Banknorth its one of only four AAA-rated banks worldwide, when only recently there were 27 such institutions in the U.S. alone isnt immune to such anxieties, Glidden said, but neither is it time to panic.
We have plenty of liquidity and strong capital. Were a profitable company, but in this marketplace, were trying to focus on our customers, our core franchise, and prudent growth, he said.
In this environment, he continued, you can still grow, but I think you have to be very measured in finding your opportunities and executing a plan, because its the furthest thing from business as usual right now and some boats are going to be lost in this tide.
Many already have. For those that remain afloat, maximizing profits remains a delicate balancing act, as they wait for the economy and industry confidence to return.
Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]
Business Owners Should Never Overlook Springfield’s Central Business District
Economic cycles come and go (at least so far). However, parking, safety, and competition from suburban properties are the three ever-present factors that impact the downtown Springfield Class A office market. And, as is so often the case with commercial real estate and urban central business districts, perception is not exactly reality.
Indeed, while these matters of parking and safety certainly constitute challenges, they are not as formidable as some make them out to be. Meanwhile, space in the suburbs does not come free of issues or with free parking, either. In other words, there is some fiction that needs to be separated from fact on these matters.
Lets start with parking. It was getting a bad rap long before I came to the area in 1985. And while enormous progress has been made with the addition of the I-91 North and South garages, companies still maintain that they have trouble attracting employees, especially females, due in part to the cost (which has remained nearly constant for the last 10 years) and safety issues related to parking.
Ironically, the cost of parking in downtown Springfield is a bargain when compared to other office markets in New England. Monthly parking in the City of Homes runs on average $80 per month in one of several covered garages or surface lots. Similar parking in Hartford is $200 or more per month, and in Boston its $400, or about as much as a car payment.
Meanwhile, Hartfords downtown environment isnt any safer than Springfields, and neither is Bostons. The fact is that some people simply have a parking-garage phobia. Its the earthbound version of a fear of flying.
One possible way to assuage this inherent aversion to parking garages might be to seek the help of the Springfield Business Improvement District. This seems like the logical organization to turn to, with such a perfect name for the job. The BID is supported by a special tax assessed on certain property owners in the designated district to improve the quality of the downtown business environment. For example, the Sovereign Bank Building makes an annual tax payment to the BID in excess of $50,000 a year. This is over and above the real property taxes it pays to the City of Springfield. All landlords, including the Class A and B office buildings, pay this tax in varying amounts.
Some of this revenue could be directed toward improving the collective sense of well-being as it pertains to parking. The BID has numerous uniformed officers, intended to be high-profile, who could, when requested, serve from time to time as escorts between the office buildings and garages. It seems like the most fundamental service for the BID to provide.
I dont believe the primary objection to parking is really the cost. Parking translates into an additional cost of occupancy to a tenant of between $2 and $3 per square foot in rent if, in the extreme, the employer pays for 100% of every employees parking. Class A lease rates in the CBD top out at about $18 per square foot. With parking factored in, the rents are at $21 per square foot. In the prime suburban locations, the land of so-called free parking, rents peak in the $25-per-square-foot range with parking.
Viewed in this light, free seems to have lost some of its meaning.
Overall, the suburban office market has a significant impact on the downtown Springfield market. The suburban multi-tenant properties have been traditionally very close to capacity. When, on occasion, the suburban market experiences a sizeable vacancy, as was the case recently when ISO New England vacated 330 Whitney Ave. in Holyoke for newly built nearby quarters, a gold rush of sorts ensues. Two notable companies with downtown roots going back 20 years made commitments to the vacated space.
Monarch Life Insurance left, as did the Novak Insurance Agency leaving Tower Square. The combined square footage left behind in downtown amounts to more than 30,000 square feet. Fortunately, most of this has already been absorbed.
Liberty Mutuals recent decision to locate at the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College, as opposed to staking a downtown presence, plugs a 30,000-square-foot hole there that could have eventually lured away other CBD tenants. So, for the time being at least, the downtown area is the only game in the region for office users in need of large blocks of available space.
Time will tell, but there is some optimism that business owners can look past downtowns challenges and the often-misleading perceptions about that area, and help generate some real momentum in the CBD.
Downtown Springfield is, has been, and always will be the center of culture, commerce, and government in the region. For many companies, it is the only place to be. The David L. Babson Company, Court Square Data, and Western Mass Legal Services have all re-upped their commitment to downtown. The Premier Education Group (Branford Hall) recently moved its executive offices from East Springfield to Monarch Place.
These companies dont need to be downtown technology enables businesses to locate virtually anywhere but they saw some of the inherent advantages to being in that area, and found space that will enable their companies to grow.
Other business owners can do the same if they can look past challenges and some lingering misperceptions, and see opportunity.
John Williamson is the president of Williamson Commercial Properties in downtown Springfield; (413) 736-9400.
Flexible Arrangements Are Gaining Attention, Acceptance
Paraphrasing Mark Twain, most business owners and managers today would say that the death of the traditional five-day workweek has been greatly exaggerated. That being said, the so-called flexible work arrangement, of FWA, seems to gaining more acceptance as it garners headlines and attention from the academic community. Some of that study is inconclusive, but much of it suggests that such flexibility yields happier, more productive employees, while helping companies attract and retain top talent.
Bill Ferris says the acronym FWA hasnt yet worked its way into the mainstream at most companies or business-related organizations, but its probably only a matter of time before it does.
It stands for flexible work arrangement, said Ferris, a professor of Management at Western New England College who has studied the subject extensively, and as that name suggests, it connotes work schedules or conditions that are, well, flexible, as opposed to inflexible, which is the word that ruled in corporate America for decades. Its a term that now covers everything from telecommuting to variable scheduling to compressed workweeks, he explained, and although it is hardly a recent phenomenon progressive companies have been employing the concept, if not exactly the acronym, for many years now it is gaining more attention, and more headlines.
The state of Utah recently went to a four-day workweek, for example, while France abruptly and unceremoniously abandoned its experiment with that concept and went back to the five-day variety. Meanwhile, as gas prices soared above the $4 barrier there was much talk, and some action, among employers about compressing the workweek, offering more telecommuting opportunities, or both to help their workers save at the pump. And the airline JetBlue has been drawing considerable attention from the press, academia, and the business community for deploying an army of stay-at-home moms to handle its ticket-reservation work, and with apparent success.
They just log in and log out according to specific hours, and all seems to work JetBlue apparently has a much more responsive network than many its competitors, said Alan Robinson, a professor of Management at UMass Amherst. He noted that the companys workforce is also more diverse than many others, because it can hire women with young children, and the airline, like other companies, can free up or not lease tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of square feet of prime commercial real estate by having people work at home.
But in the end, flexible work arrangements shouldnt be about, or all about, gas prices or real-estate costs, said Debra Palermino, vice president of Corporate Human Resources at MassMutual. Instead, flexibility with schedules is more about productivity, recruitment, and retention, she explained.
These are the things that are driving what we do here, she said, noting the financial services giant has been utilizing flexible work arrangements, if not exactly calling them that, for many years now in several different departments. This is a matter of work design for us; its not a commuter-cost issue here. It concerns how we can do our work in the most efficient way and in the way that is most attractive to the kinds of employees were going to need to do that kind of work.
We ultimately have a vision to have as much flexibility as the company can afford and can manage, she continued, adding that this phenomenon includes arranging for a valued employee to stay with the company after relocating to Florida.
He had been here many years, was a top performer and an excellent employee, and we just didnt want to lose him, Palermino explained. We worked out an arrangement whereby he could continue to work for us in Florida, and it its been quite successful.
There are some issues and shortcomings to address when it comes to FWAs not everyone can work at home, most companies need to staff the office and the phones five days a week, not four, and the FedEx bills can get excessive with many employees working remotely. Meanwhile, for those who can and do work at home, for example, there are matters of isolation and socialization (or lack thereof) to contend with. And there is always the matter of productivity to measure and re-measure, as well as lingering skepticism among many employers.
Meredith Wise, executive director of the Employers Association of the NorthEast, told BusinessWest that soaring gas prices which have been retreating but always threaten to skyrocket again have prompted some of her agencys members to visit or revisit the subject of flexible work arrangements, and especially the four-day workweek.
Some are hesitant, she explained, because of studies and anecdotal evidence indicating that productivity declines when people work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days, and additional concern about rising health care claims from such arrangements as minds and bodies tire with a longer day.
For many businesses, there are too many challenges to overcome and too many questions with regard to a four-day or four-and-a-half-day workweek, she explained, noting that this sentiment seems to apply to other types of flexibility with regard to work, especially among smaller companies.
But Ferris says there is gathering evidence that with such flexibility comes generally happier employers and improved productivity. So much evidence, in fact, that he believes the traditional five-day workweek is, or will soon be, obsolete.
Its dead its gone, he said, noting, for starters, that people in many professions work, or are on call, literally or figuratively, almost 24/7. Meanwhile, technology enables people to work when and often where they want, and progressive companies must recognize and take full advantage of this phenomenon is they want to compete.
In this issue, BusinessWest looks at the concept of work, the increasing prevalence of FWAs, and what it all means for companies and their employees.
Ferris told BusinessWest that the concept of the flexible work arrangement, like distance learning and its potential and limitations, has become the subject of considerable study, debate, and conjecture within academia and Corporate America, as well and hes one of those involved in such activity … sort of.
Some of his current students are involved in such study, he said, noting that one, a graduate student, is conducting whats known as evidence-based management research to test her hypothesis that telecommuting workers who want to telecommute (thats an important distinction) are more productive than workers who toil in the corporate office.
She believes thats what shell find, and theres reason for her to think shes right, said Ferris, who told BusinessWest that many of his current and former students, ages 21 to 30 or so, are working increasingly in flexible work arrangements, giving him a test group, if you will, to monitor and measure.
Theyre in all kinds of different businesses, he said of his charges. Theyre working at home, and their companies are looking for ways to have more of their people working at home.
Study results, not to mention anecdotal evidence, are varied, said Ferris, but some trends are emerging, with many of them pointing toward FLAs being beneficial to companies and employees alike.
What has been discovered, by and large, is that people who want to be on flexible work arrangements are happy about it, and typically produce better or as well as people who are not, he said. People even report that theyre sick less and call in sick less, because theyre already home doing their work. They put in more hours per week, typically, than people who go to work.
Theyre healthier, they work more, and they bill more hours, he continued, noting that that this healthier state results from not being around sick people at work. And theyre more productive, he conjectured, because theyre not interrupted or sitting in meetings all day that accomplish little if anything.
Robinson told BusinessWest that, from his view, most of the studies on this matter are in progress, and that he relies mostly on anecdotal evidence or his own experiences when weighing the matter of flexible work arrangements.
Im much more productive at home, and part of the reason for that is that you cant hang a do-not-disturb sign on your office door for three hours, he said. There are studies that show that every time youre distracted, it takes you 15 minutes to get back to you where you were.
For these reasons and others, he said, it makes sense for companies to permit telecommuting when and if the technology and the circumstances permit.
But while the academic community continues to study the various aspects of the flexible arrangements, work as it is now defined or carried out goes on in the real laboratory, the workplace.
This includes corporations like Mass-Mutual, where flexibility has been part of the equation for many years now, said Angela Derouin, a human resources business partner at the company. She noted that, while some departments cant really offer such arrangements security and call-center operations, for example most can and do, with the extent of the programs typically determined by the manager in question.
Derouin estimated that roughly 400 of the companys 5,000-odd employees have some form of flexible work arrangement (matching industry averages), and the number is rising, due to both the popularity of such programs and the companys degree of satisfaction with what it has seen and heard.
We hope that in certain areas where we know the work can be done at home and we can accelerate the technology support it, we can put more people to work in their home, she said, referring to just one piece of the efforts with regard to FWAs.
Indeed, flexibility includes telecommuting locally; working in Florida, as that one producer does, or other states; compressed schedules; and flexible schedules people coming in later and leaving later, for example. I come in really early, but the person next to me arrives at 9, she explained.
Generally, said Derouin, people working in such arrangements are as productive or more productive than they might be in a traditional work arrangement. Why? Because theyre happy to have that flexibility and want to keep it.
We find that when people are successful while working at home and want that arrangement to continue because they like it and it benefits them in many ways, theyre wiling to work hard and make sure theyre available on the phone or via E-mail. They work very hard to make the arrangement successful so they can keep it.
We want everyone to be productive, whether theyre working here or working remotely, she continued. But we see those in flexible arrangements doing whatever they can to make it work, because their ability to work in that way is dependent on business needs, and its at the discretion of the company.
Ferris said this trend is prevalent elsewhere; those granted flexible work arrangements view them as a priviledge, not a right or something they can take for granted. So they put in the effort to maintain that privilege.
Beyond productivity and morale issues, however, another benefit to FWAs is the ability to recruit and retain employees most of whom work in and around Springfield, but some others dont.
We have employees spread out across the country, and it has worked out very well, said Palermino, adding that this ability to have people work in Florida, California, and even overseas will prove valuable as companies across all sectors face the challenge of finding enough qualified workers in the years and decades ahead.
But as FWAs become more popular, there are issues and challenges that companies must contend with, said said Derouin, who cited isolation as one possible problem. She said the term gaining acceptance in corporate America is social distancing.
Those companies that have done it in a big way are dealing with this now, she explained. Theyre asking themselves, how do you maintain espirit de corps? and how do you maintain your sense of an entity if youre so isolated? Companies are responding by forming agreements where there are certain times in a week or month when people have to come in.
Overall, experts say that an array of potential problems and issues from isolation to distractions from young children can be overcome (see related story, page 28).
As for skeptical managers, Palermino acknowledged that there are some gray areas when it comes to productivity within some departments meaning that its not all numbers on a balance sheet which makes it challenging to gauge whether people are more or less successful in a flexible work arrangement. But in most cases, performance is outcome-based, giving most managers a fairly clearly read on whether something is working or not.
Meanwhile, not everyone desires flexible work arrangements, said Ferris, noting that many individuals want and need interaction with others in the workplace.
Thats why the traditional five-day workweek wont disappear from the landscape any time soon, he noted, adding, however, that flexible work models are becoming more prevalent where and when they are applicable.
Ferris told BusinessWest that, in time, and probably not much of it, the term telecommuting will eventually fade from the business lexicon, as will flex time and other phrases that seem destined to replaced by FWA or something like it.
Thats because flexible work arrangement typically means you spend some time in the office and some time out of the office doing office work, so it covers all those terms, he explained, adding quickly that the issue for business owners and managers certainly isnt terminology.
Instead, its recognizing that, in many respects and in a great many professions, work is changing, and the old rules which add up to inflexibility no longer apply.
George OBrien can be reached at[email protected]
Westmass Unveils Ambitious Plans for a Ludlow Mill Complex
Westmass Area Development Corp. is finalizing acquisition of the sprawling Ludlow Manufacturing Associates complex, which was once the largest jute-making facility in the world. Westmass administrators say the ambitious initiative, which blends elements of greenfield and brownfield development, could, over the next 15 to 20 years, attract perhaps $300 million in private-sector investments and create more than 2,000 jobs.
Its a powerful image a lithograph (date unknown) th.at depicts the sprawling Ludlow Manufacturing Associates complex that gave the community its identity both literally and figuratively.
Indeed, Ludlow has been known throughout most of its 234-year existence as a mill town, and it was known as Jute City thats the product (twine) that was made at the complex. Meanwhile, the clock tower on the northwest corner of what was known years ago as Mill No. 8 has become perhaps the towns most identifiable landmark. It appears on the town seal, the masthead of the local weekly newspaper, the Register, Ludlow High School class rings, and many other places.
The mill complex along the banks of the Chicopee River, including several buildings that are no longer standing, certainly dominates the lithograph, first published in a 1928 book on the making of jute, but thats not the only thing that catches Kenneth Deludes eye.
Look at all the housing, on both sides of the river, that was built by the mill and because of the mill, said Delude, president of Westmass Area Development Corp., who also referenced streets, parks, and the town library as current fixtures that came about as a direct result of the mill complex and its ownership.
At one time, there were about 8,000 people living in Ludlow and 4,000 people working at the mill complex, he said as he moved his hands in a circular motion across the image. When I look at this picture, I think of the enormous regional impact that this complex had the jobs it created were part of the economic fabric of the community. And thats what we hope to do again.
Indeed, Delude sees history repeating itself, albeit on a certainly smaller scale, if an ambitious Westmass project currently in the formative stage unfolds as he expects that it will. The agency, part of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., is in the process of acquiring what remains of the mill complex some 1.6 million square feet of floor space on a 170-acre parcel, nearly half of it undeveloped and create a mixed-use complex on the site. Preliminary estimates (and they are very preliminary) indicate that such reuse and new development could create perhaps 2,000 or more new jobs, generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, and spur additional economic development much of it in the form of businesses that would support those 2,000 workers.
The business plan for the project, known for the moment as at Rivers Edge (more on that later), is still very much a work in progress, said Delude, who used an enlarged version of the lithograph and some aerial photographs of the site to show what could happen there.
Gesturing toward what is now known as the clock tower building, he said its ground floor could house a bank, a restaurant or two, and other enterprises that would support workers in the redeveloped complex, while its upper floors could house fledgling businesses. Tapping a large, five-story mill building now largely vacant, he said it could be retrofitted into elderly or market-rate housing.
Meanwhile, a currently undeveloped section of the complex could be put toward development of smaller buildings (10,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet) for growing businesses, he continued, while the 79 acres of undeveloped, wooded land could become an industrial park. Several dozen small stockhouses, used to store raw materials for jute making, could be put to imaginative uses, perhaps as incubator spaces, said Delude, adding that many will likely be razed.
All these coulds will be more thoroughly explored over the next 18 months or so, said Delude, adding that the hope is to retain as many of the current buildings as possible to preserve a sense of character and history, while also creating a business park that will help retain existing companies and attract new ones.
The Ludlow project, as envisioned, would be the most ambitious project to date for Westmass, which has developed industrial parks in Agawam, Westfield, Hadley, and East Longmeadow (in that order) and its first true brownfield project meaning development of former industrial space that has environmental issues to be addressed.
Such brownfield development was deemed a priority by the Westmass board of directors, said Stephen Roberts, thats bodys president, both out of necessity and a sense of civic responsibility.
Elaborating, he said the region has many potential brownfield development sites most of them former mills that produced everything from paper to tires and Westmass has committed itself to blending that type of development with the more-traditional greenfield variety that has defined the agencys past and present. Meanwhile, there are simply fewer of those greenfields to be developed, making projects like the one in Ludlow more of a necessity than an option.
In this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the Ludlow project, as currently conceived, and how this elaborate plan might come together.
Name of the Game Project India.
That was the first, and quite unofficial, name given to the Ludlow project, said Delude, noting that, like most large-scale commercial real estate initiatives these days, this one involved a high level of discretion and thus needed a code name.
This one was chosen because the raw materials that went into making jute came from India, he explained, adding quickly that, now that word is out, Project India is more or less obsolete, and those within Westmass have moved on, sort of. The organization wants to use at Rivers Edge somehow in the name, but hasnt determined yet what to put before those words hence the three dots that currently precede them in large part because the vision of the final product is still being shaped.
That Project India code name was in use for more than a year, or since the start of talks between Westmass and the current owner of the mill complex, Ludlow Industrial Realties Inc. negotiations that were brokered by Doug Macmillan, second-generation owner and president of Springfield-based Macmillan & Son Inc., which has been handling some leasing and other real estate-related matters at the mill complex since it was purchased by Arthur Fastenberg in the late 60s.
Fastenberg eventually acquired several other commercial properties in the region, including the former Westinghouse plant on Page Boulevard in Springfield, which is slated for conversion into a retail complex, said Macmillan. In Ludlow, Fastenberg arranged a sale-leaseback of the property with Ludlow Manufacturing Associates, thus ensuring a prominent, long-term anchor, and many other tenants, large and small, were added over the years.
When I first saw that site back in the 80s, it was really humming, said Macmillan, adding that, until perhaps a decade or so ago, the mill complex was 80% occupied, or more. Over the past several years, that percentage has fallen, reflecting a decline in manufacturing across the region, and the continual downsizing of Ludlow Manufacturing, later to be known as Ludlow Textiles, which moved out completely about 18 months ago.
At or around that time, at the behest of several of Fastenbergs descendents, who now control Ludlow Industrial Industrial Realties Inc., Macmillan approached Westmass about potential interest in the complex.
Initial discussions centered around the undeveloped, wooded portion of the property, said Macmillan, but ownership wanted to sell the entire complex, and quickly convinced Westmass to take that course. More formal discussions took place in New York earlier this year, and, over the course of the past several months, a purchase-and-sale agreement was reached, with the price still undisclosed.
Thus, the Ludlow project becomes what Delude believes is the largest mill-reuse development initiative in New England, and one that will be somewhat unique in that it will focus more on commercial and industrial development than residential, although there will likely be housing components.
This uniqueness makes it hard to find models to follow, said Delude, but there are some.
One is the former Digital complex in Maynard, Mass., which is similar to the Ludlow site, right down to the clock tower, which gives it its name Clock Tower Place. Located along the Assabet River, the 1.1 million-square-foot complex was originally home to the Assabet Manufacturing Co., which made carpets and yarn, and later to DEC, which started as one of many smaller tenants to inhabit the mill in the 1950s, and later occupied the entire complex as Ken Olsens enterprise became one of the leading makers of minicomputers.
But Olsens failure to grasp the concept of the personal computer led to DECs demise, and by the late 90s, the mill complex was almost entirely vacant. It has been rejuvenated with new ownership, and is now home to Monster, the Yacobian Group, and many other tenants.
Another potential model is the Bates Mill Complex in Lewiston, Maine, a 1.2 million-square-foot series of mills that once produced uniforms for the Union army during the Civil War, and is now home to a number of diverse businesses. The list includes the loan-processing operations center for Peoples Heritage Corp., but also dozens of start-up businesses and support services.
Delude, who plans to visit still another potential model in Rhode Island later this month, said Westmass hopes to take lessons and inspiration from these projects as it goes about writing the next chapter in the history of the Ludlow mills.
If we dont have to reinvent the wheel, then we wont, he said. Theres a lot that we can take away from whats happened before.
As he gave BusinessWest a tour of the Ludlow complex, Delude stopped the car at several locations to point out both opportunities and challenges, and there are several of both.
In the latter category, he referenced a warehouse, circa 1914, that housed finished product and was, in its day, the largest jute warehouse in the world. It is eight stories high, but shorter than the neighboring five-story mill because each level outfitted with some of the first concrete floors used in this country due to the excessive weight of the twine is only eight feet high.
This will limit re-use possibilities, but there are several options, said Delude, who said the building is one of many he would like to preserve if possible.
The stockhouses present another challenge for reuse, he continued, noting that their size (roughly 6,000 square feet each) and shape do not lend themselves to easy re-use. Meanwhile, they stand between the mill complex and the riverfront, and one of Deludes goals with this project is to make more and better use of the river.
For more than a century now, access to the river has been blocked, he said as he pulled the car to a spot along the bank. People can see it, but they cant get to it; we want to change that.
Development opportunities abound at the site, said Delude as he drove down State Street to the large, undeveloped stretch of the mill property, which winds along the river and eventually abuts Ludlow Country Club. The 70-acre site sits across from an attractive residential neighborhood, but Westmass industrial parks have shown they can live in harmony with such areas, he explained.
This is the case in Agawam, where a business park built on what was once Bowles Municipal Airport abuts several residential streets. Weve shown that we can successfully co-exist with neighborhoods like this one.
There are more than 60 buildings on the Ludlow site, said Roberts, who told BusinessWest that Westmass will attempt to reuse all those where preservation makes sense. In those cases where it doesnt, the agency will pursue what he called deconstruction a word he preferred to demolition and reuse the bricks and other building materials in a broad effort to maintain the look and feel of the historic jute-making complex.
The next steps in the process of making the vision for the site reality are to finalize purchase of the property which is expected to take place over roughly the next year and complete what Delude called a business plan for the project.
This involves gauging what is feasible with regard to what he considers to be perhaps five distinct phases, and coordinating a plan for how and when to proceed with each one. Were going to spend the next 18 months testing theories and principles, he explained. Were going to determine what we can do, and what we should do to create jobs and opportunities for this region.
Overall, Delude said the sites location only a few minutes from Turnpike exit 7 in Ludlow and various amenities add up to an attractive, and sustainable, economic-development initiative that will make the clock tower building as much a part of the towns present and future as its past.
Its such a significant feature of the town, he said of the landmark. But what it meant for the region, not just Ludlow, was vitality and energy, and it can be that again.
Not a Run-of-the-mill Project
As he talked about the Ludlow initiative and how he envisions it progressing, Delude compared it in many ways to the Agawam Industrial Park.
Although much different in nature, the sites are similar in size, at least with regard to how many square feet of industrial and commercial space each can accommodate. Meanwhile, the Agawam project has taken roughly 20 years to develop and reach near-full occupancy and roughly the same is expected for the Ludlow site and both locations necessitate industrial park development in a mostly residential setting.
The Agawam park now boasts more than 2,000 jobs and contributes millions in tax revenue to the community, said Delude, adding that, if this rate of performance can be matched in Ludlow, Westmass will go a long way toward making an impact that will be on a smaller scale than that made by Ludlow Manufacturing Associates, but perhaps just as significant.
An image to rival that lithograph will probably be two decades in the making and thats if all goes as planned but if things develop as Delude believes they will, it might be just as powerful.
George OBrien can be reached at[email protected]
Age 38: Attorney (Associate), Bacon Wilson, P.C.
Jeff Fialky had several options when he was job-hunting a few years ago, near the end of his stint with Adelphia Communications in Andover.
A few of them were with Boston-based law firms, and they were certainly attractive, he told BusinessWest. But another was with Springfield-based Bacon Wilson, where his father happened to be a partner. He eventually chose the latter, in part because it meant returning to an area he grew up in and loved. But there was more; he really wanted to get involved in the community and “make a difference,” and knew that the opportunities to do so — and the need to do so — were here in the Pioneer Valley.
“In Boston, they don’t really need people to raise their hand and volunteer,” he explained. “Here, they do; here, you can make an impact.”
And since joining Bacon Wilson nearly two years ago, Fialky has committed himself to “walking the walk.” Indeed, while building a law practice focused on business and commercial real estate, he has been active in the community on several levels.
He’s a board member with a number of organizations, including the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the American Red Cross of the Pioneer Valley, and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, or YPS. He’s also on the Advisory Committee at the Springfield Enterprise Center at STCC.
Fialky said his involvement with the Chamber, YPS, and enterprise center helps satisfy his desire to foster economic development in the region. He told BusinessWest that the Valley provides an attractive quality of life, but to attract and keep more young people it must also offer career opportunities.
Fialky is devoting considerable energy to YPS, a group formed in 2007. He is one of many shaping a mission for the growing fellowship of young leaders, and helping it make a significant impact — there’s that word again — in the Pioneer Valley.
Perhaps his biggest challenge at the moment is finding time to grow his practice and serve those nonprofit groups, and that test will become even sterner this summer, when Fialky and his wife, Emily, are expecting their first child, a boy.
“This is something I’ve looked forward to for a long time,” he said of fatherhood, adding that it will soon be the most important line on his resume — and still another opportunity to make a difference.
The Many Issues in Negotiating Commercial Real Estate Leases
Commercial leases are not simply contracts; they are often roadmaps to both a landlord’s and a tenant’s future business plan for a particular premises.
Thus, both parties should exercise due diligence and take ample time to contemplate, discuss, and include within the lease all such matters that could arise during tenancy. If one distills the complexities of commercial real estate leasing to the most basic notion, the most important thing to remember is that nearly everything is negotiable for both sides.
Unlike residential real estate leases that are strictly governed by statutes and case law, the world of commercial real estate leasing is generally left to the landlord and tenant to decide. As a result, the commercial lease agreement is the bible when it comes to the landlord’s and tenant’s respective rights and responsibilities for the lease term.
How much of a ‘template’ lease is negotiable by each respective party? That often depends upon the leverage of the market and of the property being leased. For example, if the market has a significant amount of space for lease, the tenant will likely have more ability to dictate lease terms. Conversely, in a market where one particular piece of property is unique, or where the market has high occupancy rates and thus a smaller inventory of available space, a prospective tenant may find itself with less bargaining power.
Here are some considerations relative to issues that tend to emerge during lease negotiations.
Use of the Property
Regardless of market conditions, it is essential that the landlord and tenant contemplate each aspect of the tenant’s business, what the tenant’s needs will be during the lease term, and how the tenant’s use will comply with the rights, requirements, and remedies of the landlord.
For instance, if the prospective tenant intends to operate a retail store or anticipates significant customer visits, the lease should contain a specific provision governing parking spaces reserved for the tenant’s customers’ use.
In addition, if a tenant is operating, for example, a coffeehouse and bookstore, then perhaps the landlord and tenant should re-evaluate leasing the adjoining space for use as a home theater/electronics demonstration business. Since the use of the leased premises is often restricted by the terms of the lease, the tenant should ensure that the intended use is specified and permitted.
The term (length) of a commercial lease is determined by its starting date (commencement date) and its date of expiration. While a lease may have a specific commencement date, it is not uncommon for a tenant’s obligation to pay rent to be delayed for a month or two, which may be referred to as the “rent-commencement date.” The lease term may consist of an initial term with optional renewal terms of an equal or shorter duration than the initial term. To avoid any misunderstandings, is often helpful to set forth actual calendar dates, including day, month, and year.
Operating Expenses, Taxes, and Utilities
Each lease should specify the party responsible for the operating expenses, e.g. maintenance of the leased premises, taxes (or tax escalator), and utilities. These costs, both individually and collectively, can be significant, and should be discussed by the landlord and tenant at the beginning of negotiations to ensure that all parties are in agreement from a budgetary standpoint.
What are the landlord’s maintenance obligations? Are they restricted to structural issues? How about the HVAC system, snow removal, and landscaping? These are just some of the issues that should be specified in the lease, including a clear understanding of which party is responsible, and at what cost, if any, to the tenant.
Very often, a tenant will pay a proportionate share of common operating costs in a building with multiple tenants. In this case, the lease should include the proportionate share as a numerical percentage (e.g. tenant’s proportionate share shall be 43%) of the total leaseable space in the premises, to avoid ambiguity.
As an offshoot to operating expenses, the lease should also clarify the party responsible for providing and maintaining building systems. In New England, where both summer and winter represent extreme temperatures, a tenant should ensure that the HVAC system in the leased premises is sufficient to support its needs.
Also, if the tenant will have an ongoing obligation to maintain the system, he may consider having an inspection performed prior to the execution of the lease to evaluate efficacy.
It is common for a tenant to perform some customization prior to opening the leased premises for business. This could be minor, like painting, or significant, such as installing a kitchen or other trade fixtures. The tenant should bear in mind that, during this period, he could conceivably be paying rent, even when the business is not open for business and there is no incoming revenue. With this in mind, the tenant should consider negotiating postponement of the rent commencement date during his renovation/improvement period.
A major consideration for each party to be mindful of relative to rent is the consideration of the rent that will be paid over multiple “terms.”
For instance, if a lease is five years in duration with rent fixed at $1,000 per month, and the lease allows for two renewal periods of 10 years, the rent may be fixed for the entire 25-year period. Such a lease could ultimately end up being impractical to a landlord who may have the space leased for less than market rate. Accordingly, a lease should contemplate the potential need for a rent escalator after a certain period of time so that the landlord is assured that the rent obligations of the tenant remain consistent with the appreciating value of the leased premises.
While at the time the lease is negotiated, a tenant expects to occupy the leased premises for the full period of the lease, it is often the case that unforeseen events in the tenant’s business modify reality. For instance, a tenant may merge with or sell its business to another party, or it may have a need for less space in year five than it had in year one.
A tenant should realistically contemplate its business needs on a going-forward basis, and negotiate the lease terms accordingly. If there is a likelihood that the tenant’s space needs may be less at some point, the ability of the tenant to sublease a portion of the leased premises to another subtenant is ideal. Also, if a tenant merges with or sells its assets to a third party, the tenant will want the ability to assign its rights in the lease to that third party.
This summation is certainly not exhaustive, but it serves to illustrate that commercial leases are not merely contracts, but truly roadmaps, which must be read and understood so that both parties can get where they want to go, and without getting lost.
Jeffrey Fialky is an associate with the regional law firm Bacon & Wilson, P.C., who specializes in business, corporate, municipal, and real estate law; (413) 781-0560;[email protected]
Seven Proposals Received for Union Station
SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) has received seven proposals for transportation and redevelopment planning for Union Station, according to Mary MacInnes, PVTA administrator. MacInnes said the proposals show that the Union Station project “is back on track.” The next step in the process is a due diligence review by the Selection Committee to ensure submitted responses contain the information required from the request for qualifications (RFQ). The committee will review the proposals, rank them, and select at least three finalists who then may be interviewed, according to MacInnes. The finalists will be ranked in order of qualification, and the committee will present the ranking to MacInnes. Members of the selection committee include industry and business professionals from Amtrak, Greyhound, the New England Black Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and the PVTA. MacInnes expects the award to be made by the end of September. Firms submitting proposals were Lozano, Baskins & Associates, Watertown; HDR Architecture Inc., Boston; Finegold Alexander, Boston; SEA Consultants Inc., Cambridge; STV Inc., Boston; Nelson/ Nygard Consulting Associates, San Francisco, Calif.; and HR&A Advisors Inc., New York.
Near-term Home Sales Hold in Modest Range
WASHINGTON — The housing market will probably hold close to present levels in the months ahead, according to the latest forecast by the National Assoc. of Realtors. Existing-home sales are forecast at 6.04 million in 2007 and 6.38 million next year, below the 6.48 million recorded in 2006. New-home sales are expected to total 852,000 this year and 848,000 in 2008, down from 1.05 million in 2006. Housing starts, including multi-family units, are likely to total 1.43 million in 2007 and 1.40 million next year, below the 1.8 million units started in 2006. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is forecast to average 6.7% in the fourth quarter and then ease to the 6.5% range next year. The National Assoc. of Realtors represents more than 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.
AIM’s Confidence Index Back Up in July
BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 3.4 points in July to 57.6, more than recouping June’s decline, according to Raymond G. Torto, co-chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors, and principal CBRE Torto Wheaton. Since April, the Index has followed an up-down-up pattern, with June’s loss virtually cancelling out May’s gain, and July’s rise returning to the higher level — above a year before (55.4), and close to the reading of July 2005 (57.8). However, the July survey was conducted before the new wave of uncertainties, particularly around the mortgage situation, that produced sharp drops in the equity markets, added Torto. Confidence levels were virtually identical in July among manufacturers (57.5, up 3.3) and non-manufacturers (57.8, up 3.6), with manufacturers more positive than others about conditions for their own firms and sales trends, but less so about recent hiring. A strong gain in confidence outside Greater Boston (+5.2) and a lesser rise within the metro area (+1.9) similarly left that split close to even (57.4-57.7). Larger firms were more optimistic than small and medium-sized employers.
Nominations Sought for ‘Super 60’
SPRINGFIELD — The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield Inc. is seeking nominations for its annual Super 60 awards program. The aim of the program is to celebrate the success of the fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the region which continue to make significant contributions to the strength of the regional economy. Nomination forms are available at the Chamber offices, 1441 Main St., Suite 136. Completed nomination forms must be received at the Chamber offices by Aug. 31. The Super 60 awards will be presented at the annual luncheon and recognition program on Oct. 26 at Chez Josef in Agawam. For more information on the nomination process, call the chamber at (413) 787-1555.
Eatery Closes Downtown Location
SPRINGFIELD — Gus & Paul’s restaurant recently closed its doors after 10 years at Tower Square, while the original Gus & Paul’s Delicatessen and Bakery on Sumner Avenue remains open. Lee L. Weissman, a co-owner of the downtown eatery, expressed his regret in having to close the restaurant in a letter to the city, and noted he hoped to sell the business. Weissman added he has begun a new career as a professional fundraiser and found it difficult to also oversee the restaurant operations. More than 20 employees lost their jobs in the closing; however, Weissman said with his family’s connections in the restaurant business, he is anticipating helping most or all of them find new jobs. Fred G. Christensen, senior property manager of Tower Square for CB Richard Ellis, said he is optimistic a new tenant can be found in the near future to take over the Gus & Paul’s site.
Study: More Employees Working Remotely Today Than Five Years Ago
MENLO PARK, Calif. — The proliferation of wireless technologies and feature-rich Internet applications is making it easier for information technology (IT) professionals to work outside of the office. A new study by Robert Half Technology shows that telecommuting is becoming more commonplace among IT professionals. Nearly half (44%) of chief information officers (CIOs) surveyed said their companies’ IT workforce is telecommuting at a rate that is the same or higher than five years ago; only 3% said IT staff work remotely less frequently today than five years ago. Improved retention and morale and increased productivity were cited as the greatest benefits among firms that allow telecommuting. While telecommuting can benefit employers and employees alike, it’s important that companies have the appropriate infrastructure in place to facilitate staff working remotely. For example, nearly a third of CIO’s (31%) surveyed felt that telecommuting employees generate too many security risks because they need to access elements such as corporate networks, systems, and intellectual property off-site. The national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.
Ivanhoe Restaurant Closes
WEST SPRINGFIELD — Steve and Ron Abdow, owners of the Ivanhoe, recently announced the closing of the landmark restaurant on Riverdale Street. According to the Abdows, a recent decision by their abutter to no longer lease parking spaces to the Ivanhoe was the catalyst in the decision to close. Since its inception, the Ivanhoe had 113 parking spaces at its disposal; however, 62 spaces would soon no longer be available as the abutter plans for future development of its site. The Ivanhoe was opened in 1967, and the theme was based on the time of Sir Ivanhoe and the Knights of the Round Table, with gothic arches and features reflective of that period.
Small Business Applications Sought for Law and Business Clinic
SPRINGFIELD — The Western New England College Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship is now accepting applications from entrepreneurs seeking law or graduate business students to serve as consultants for their business during the fall semester. The opportunity for this free service is limited to those businesses that need consultation regarding a discrete topic. This service does not include litigation needs. For more information, contact Aimee Munnings at the Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship at (413) 736-8462, or E-mail [email protected]
Survey: Companies Ineffective at Rewarding Good Performance
MENLO PARK, Calif. — Workers who feel their good work often goes unnoticed may have a case. More than one-third (35%) of professionals polled recently said businesses are ineffective at rewarding their employees’ strong performance. Meanwhile, 30% of managers surveyed agreed. Businesses need to make retention an ongoing priority, according to Diane Domeyer, executive director of Office Team. Rewarding employees for their accomplishments enhances productivity, reinforces positive behavior, and builds staff morale and loyalty, she added. Domeyer noted that firms that fail to reward great work risk losing employees to businesses that do invest in recognition programs. The surveys were developed by Office Team and reflect responses from 150 senior executives at the nation’s 1,000 largest companies, and 534 full- or part-time workers 18 years of age or older and employed in office environments.
Dr. Seuss, Merriam Brothers Among Entrepreneurship Hall Inductees
Tom Goodrow talked of “putting more entrepreneurs in the pipeline.”
That’s how he described the broad goal for the many entrepreneurship programs at Springfield Technical Community College, which he serves as vice president of Economic and Business Development.
Like nurses, radiologists, and precision machinists, entrepreneurs are in somewhat short supply — and also crucial to the future of the Pioneer Valley economy, Goodrow told BusinessWest, adding that, as with those professions, increasing the number of entrepreneurs is a challenge. The process starts, he continued, with introducing people to the notion that entrepreneurship is viable career pathway, and continues with efforts to caress ideas into successful ventures.
The Western Mass. Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, located at the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center (SEC) in the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park, has helped with this mission in several ways, said Goodrow. For starters, the annual inductees — including the recently announced Class of ’07 — provide ample doses of inspiration, he noted, adding that the banquet staged each fall to recognize those inductees raises more than $50,000 each year for a host of entrepreneuship programs.
These include the YES (Young Entrepreneurial Scholars) program, which serves more than 1,000 young men and women in two dozen area high schools, as well as the Community Foundation of Western Mass. student business incubator in the SEC. That facility hosts up to nine fledgling businesses, with current tenants ranging from a gift basket venture to a company that stages events.
Those businesses will be on display at the Oct. 4 induction ceremony for the Class of ’07, which has a literary pattern to it — sort of. Among the honorees are the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, who reinvented the genre of children’s books, and George and Charles Merriam, brothers and Springfield print shop owners who would merge their name with that of the father of the American dictionary, Noah Webster, to create the publishing icon Merriam Webster.
The other inductees, all families that started successful ventures that are still thriving in the Pioneer Valley, are: the Falcone family, founders and owners of the Rocky’s Hardware chain; the Roberts family, founders and owners of the F.L. Roberts chain of gas stations, car washes, and quick lubes; the Bassett Family, which started Bassett Boat Company; and the Gordenstein family, which started Broadway Office Supply, now known as Broadway Office Interiors.
“The Class of ’07 includes some of the most famous names from Springfield’s business and cultural history,” said Goodrow, one of the lead organizers of the induction ceremonies. “These businesses and individuals reflect the region’s strong entrepreneurial heritage, a tradition that we’re working to continue through YES, the student business incubator, and other programs.”
Here’s a look at the Class of ’07.
Theodor Seuss Geisel
He created some of the most unforgettable characters in children’s literature — the Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, Horton the Elephant, the Grinch, and of course, the Cat in the Hat.
But Theodor Seuss Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, as the world would come to know him, did much more that. He redefined a genre, children’s literature, by insisting that books need not merely educate: they could also entertain. And he also showed that the word entrepreneur needn’t be saved exclusively for captains of industry; it could also be applied to writers and artisans.
While Geisel, a Springfield native, made his mark with strange creatures from far-away places, he actually started with a different kind of monster; one of his first jobs was with the Standard Oil Company, for which he drew grotesque, enormous insects to help that company sell a pesticide called Flit. During World War II, Geisel drew editorial cartoons that attacked American isolationism and later made documentary films about Hitler and the Japanese war effort.
But he is of course best known for his children’s books, which started with And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Seuss continued writing children’s books, such as the The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, and others, before his breakthrough in 1957 called The Cat in the Hat. Using only 223 different words, he crafted a rhyming masterpiece still regarded by many critics as the best, and most important, children’s book ever written.
Geisel would go on to write more than 50 children’s books, published in 20 languages, selling more than 200 million copies. Many of them have been turned into television shows and, more recently, movies. Geisel, who died in 1991, lives on through the characters he created — many of them immortalized, along with the artist himself, in a statue garden in the Quadrangle that brings thousands of people to Springfield every year.
The Cat in the Hat, the character, turned 50 this year, a milestone that was celebrated in March in ceremonies at the Springfield City Library.
The Falcone Family
The name Rocky’s has been part of the Pioneer Valley lexicon for 81 years now.
It has become synonymous with good customer service and a friendly retail environment. But there are some other words for which that corporate name would be a synonym — perseverance, imagination, and entrepreneurship.
Indeed, while many small, family-owned hardware chains went out of business when the giant big-box retailers invaded the region in the early ’90s, Rocky’s is still here.
Better than that, it is growing — expanding its reach geographically with stores across Massachusetts and now beyond, and diversifying into commercial real estate with projects like the East Longmeadow Center Plaza, a mix of retail, office, hospitality, and municipal facilities.
It all started in 1926, when Rocco (Rocky) J. Falcone opened a small hardware store at the corner of Main and Union Streets in downtown Springfield. A few years later, he took a second entrepreneurial risk; knowing that people needed to use power tools but couldn’t afford them, he started a rental business that thrived for decades. He later opened a second hardware store in Springfield.
Rocky’s is a family business, and each generation has taken the company to a higher level. In 1966, Jim Falcone took over after his father passed away, and eventually took the Rocky’s name beyond Springfield and into many surrounding communities while forging a national affiliation with the ACE Co-op.
It was the third generation of the family, especially Rocco II, that created a survival plan for the company when Home Depot and Lowe’s arrived on the scene. Instead of surrendering, as other chains did, Rocky’s dug in, redecorating its stores, making them cleaner, brighter, and even more customer-friendly. The strategy was simple: concede some of the decorating, home improvement, and major appliance aspects of the business to the huge chains, and step up in the areas in which it could compete. And Rocky’s has thrived with that model.
In recent years, the company has added many stores — it is now up to more than two dozen — and it has diversified into commercial estate, a division led by Jayson Falcone, with the East Longmeadow complex and many other projects on the drawing board.
The Falcone family was recently recognized collectively by BusinessWest magazine as its ‘Top Entrepreneur for 2006.’
George and Charles Merriam
It’s one of the most repeated phrases in education, journalism, and politics.
“According to Webster…” it starts, and people have filled in the blank with hundreds, if not thousands, of different words.
The people now managing one of Springfield’s most famous, but also quiet, companies would prefer that speech-givers amend that phrase slightly and say, “According to Merriam-Webster.” That’s because there are many dictionaries that borrow the name Noah Webster, known as the creator of America’s first dictionary, A Compendius Dictionary of the English Language, but Merriam-Webster is the only one that has direct ties to that pioneer in lexicography.
Charles and George Merriam, who grew up in their father’s printing office in West Brookfield, Mass., opened a printing and bookselling shop in Springfield in 1831 called G. & C. Merriam Co. They inherited the Webster legacy when they purchased the unsold copies of the 1841 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language, Corrected and Enlarged from Webster’s heirs after the great man’s death in 1843. At the same time, they secured the rights to create revised editions of that work.
The two, who are credited with popularizing, or democratizing, the dictionary, thus began a publishing tradition that has given the world some of the most famous dictionaries ever made, including the groundbreaking Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, or simply Webster’s Third, in 1961, and the popular Collegiate, now in its 11th edition, which was introduced in 1898.
Today, while researchers and editors continue the ongoing process of adding to the dictionary and refining definitions, they are also delivering the dictionary in ways Noah Webster may not have imagined — then again, he was a visionary. Today, people can check spellings, definitions, and usage via Web sites, CD-ROMs, portable hand-held devices, and even their cell phones.
While research and development continues on new ways to bring the dictionary to users, editors also continue to add new words. Among the latest additions to the Collegiate: ringtone, phishing, bird flu, cybersecurity, text messaging, and google.
The Gordenstein Family
It all started when six brothers decided to go into business together.
The year was 1910, the brothers were from the Gordenstein family, and the venture was called Broadway Office Supply. The company made deliveries on Indian Motorcycles, and supplied businesses with everything from paper to safes to slide rules.
The traditional business office and the technology used in it have changed considerably since World War I, and Broadway has changed right along with it. The company now handles office furniture and interior design work, which led to a name change to Broadway Office Interiors. The mix of services has also changed; in addition to selling office furniture and accessories, the company also assists businesses with making workspaces ergonomically correct, while also conducive to effective communication between people and departments.
Today, Broadway is led by Ron Gordenstein, the third-generation president of the company, who continues to expand and diversify the business, mixing extensive lines of office furniture with a growing office design component that uses state-of-the-art software to help businesses design their spaces and then see what they’ll look like before any furniture is moved.
Talking about the past, Gordenstein has said that the name Broadway was chosen in 1910 because at the time, Broadway was king, and the six brothers wanted to stress that their company had star power. And for a time, the company was actually located on Springfield’s Broadway.
Today, the street address, the company’s name, and its overall mission have changed. But the focus on the customer hasn’t, and that’s why this company is still going strong in this, its 90th year.
The Bassett Family
Today, Bassett Boat is one of the Northeast’s leading dealers of Sea Ray boats, and is also one of the largest women-led businesses in Massachusetts.
But to say it had humble beginnings would be an understatement.
It was in 1943, when World War II was at its height, that Louis Bassett Sr. started a business selling bait — shiners he netted in the Connecticut River. Bassett and his wife, Norma, would later diversify into small rowboats made for fishermen and, eventually, a broad range of customers including many state parks. How that business would become one of the region’s leading dealers of recreational boats is an inspiring story that involves two generations of the Bassett family.
It was Louis and Norma Bassett who grew the business, made it into one of the region’s first dealers of Sea Ray boats, and established dealerships in Springfield, Westbrook, Conn., and Warwick, R.I., as well as a large service center in Ludlow. It was their daughter, Diane Bassett Zable, who came back to Springfield from the family’s Connecticut location in 1992, after her father died, to take the helm of the Springfield dealership, located near the North End Bridge.
Bassett Zable has led the company to designation as a master Sea Ray dealership, with sales of more than 300 boats a year, or nearly $30 million in annual sales. She has also found what seems like a permanent home on the list of the largest women-run businesses in Massachusetts, as compiled by Center for Women’s Leadership at Babson College and the Commonwealth Institute.
Bassett Zable and her husband, Paul Zable, have charted an aggressive course for the company, and they’ve encountered some rough seas — including a few recessions and a luxury tax, repealed years ago, that put some dents in leisure boat sales.
They’ve survived all that, and guided the company to steady growth since.
The Roberts Family
They call him “Grandpa Frank.”
That’s how members of the third generation to run another family business in the Class of ’07 refer to F.L. Roberts, the man who started it all and whose initials now grace dozens of convenience stores, car washes, and Jiffy Lubes in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
F.L. Roberts & Company was started in 1920 as an automotive and tire store at the corner of Main and Adams streets in Springfield. Texaco motor oils and gasoline pumps were added soon after opening the first store, and by the mid-’30s, there were 15 more stations in Springfield and surrounding communities.
Along with geographic expansion came diversity, a process helped along by the next generation in the family, Frank Roberts’ son, Abbott. In the 1940s and ’50s, he expanded both the fuel and motor oil components of the business, and made F.L. Roberts part of the local business landscape.
By the 1970s, that name was being seen in more places, and over the doors of many types of businesses. By then, third-generation members Steve and Seth Roberts had opened new businesses that would complement gas stations and convenience stores. These included a chain of car washes, a chain of quick-lube facilities, two diners, and even a small hotel and a discount tobacco shop. In the late ’80s, the company’s principals embarked on several commercial real estate developments, including a complex in Springfield’s North End, and the Riverdale Shops in West Springfield.
Today, F.L. Roberts and Co. is still a family-owned business. It has expanded to more than 500 employees and more than 70 sites. The locations look much different than the one Grandpa Frank started with, 87 years ago, but the mission remains the same — to serve the motoring public. The fact that F.L. Roberts is now a household name speaks to how well they’ve accomplished that mission.
Today, there are several members of the fourth generation of the Roberts family now working for the company, which continues to extend its reach in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
More than 450 civic and business leaders are expected to attend the Oct. 4 banquet at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke; for information or to order tickets, call (413) 755-4500.
The Local Commercial Real Estate Market is Defined by Stability
“How’s the market?”
That’s a question that area commercial real estate brokers are asked on an almost daily basis, sometimes several times a day. It’s a simple query, designed to gain insight into both the regional and national scenes — and often the answer comes in two parts, because sometimes, but not always, what’s happening on the larger stage doesn’t reflect what’s going on locally.
As for the Western Mass. market, my response is almost always, “good … stable … steady.” That’s because that’s what this market is like, with rare exceptions, and for reasons to be outlined here.
The ‘market’ is an amalgam of subsets that tend to function somewhat independently of one another. While they share very much in common, various factors impact some market segments differently than they do others. For example, the investment sales market is in lock step with interest rates, which in turn have little immediate effect on the office-leasing market.
When considered in the aggregate, the Western Mass. commercial market has a fairly solid history of stability. Over the past 15 years, since the disastrous market crash of the late ’80s and early ’90s (commercial real estate’s Ice Age), it has behaved somewhat like a missing link somewhere between a bear and a bull.
When the markets are hot in the New England region, conditions are pretty good here. And when the markets turn sluggish … it remains pretty good here. We enjoy an enviable insular equilibrium due to a combination of factors. These include our location, a comparatively attractive cost of living, the combined economic engines of MassMutual, Baystate Health, the region’s other major employers, and maybe the White Hut.
When dissected, the regional commercial real estate market component parts can be, and often are, in divergent conditions of health. The segments comprising the market include:
- The sale of tenanted properties as investments, such as shopping centers; single- and multi-tenant office, warehouse and manufacturing buildings; and multi-family housing;
- Office property leasing, which has subsets, including downtown and suburban areas, and their respective sub-markets of Class A, B, and C space;
- The development markets, both public and private, such as the pending redevelopment of the former Basketball Hall of Fame and the new federal courthouse; and
- The combination of retail leasing, warehouse and industrial leasing, and hotels and other hospitality properties, which play an important role as well.
This diversity within the realm of the commercial real estate market has a balancing effect on the sector as a whole, where the hot potato of risk is being continuously passed around.
While the real estate market is volatile like any commodity market, traditionally it is a lagging economic indicator. It’s like the last car in a multi-car fender bender. You can see the crash coming, but have no ability to avoid it. Therefore, while the commercial real estate sector may temporarily avoid the inevitable when the economy is in decline, the price it pays is often the heaviest.
The current overall stable and steady market is the result of the outstanding performance of some very hearty segments, others that are in economic cruise control, and lastly that portion on extended stay in the doldrums.
The investment sales market continues to be extremely robust. Due to the availability of investment opportunities with comparatively higher rates of return in the Western Mass. market, the area has experienced a surge of interest from investors outside of the market. The most notable examples are the sale/lease back of the Yankee Candle corporate headquarters in South Deerfield, the Potpourri Plaza office complex sale in Northampton, and the purchase of a large block of class B office properties in the Springfield central business district.
The most immediate factor that could calm this segment’s ferocity is a dwindling supply of investment property opportunities. For the time being, however, the push continues, and several pending transactions of significance will conclude in the next few months.
The vibrancy of the region’s hospitality sector is visible to everyone. Several new hotels have sprung up along I-91 recently. New hotels are planned for Northampton and Amherst. Judging by the always-packed parking lots at the Hilton Garden Inn and its neighbor, Uno Chicago Grill, business appears to be blistering.
Without question, the benchmark used most commonly to judge the overall condition of region’s commercial real estate market is the office component. Collectively the Class A office properties command the most attention because visually they dominate the landscape, symbolic of the region’s wealth and prosperity.
The office market is, and has been, controlled by two forces; one is the never-ending, musical-chair-like movement of office tenants from one building to another. While this has little beneficial impact upon market occupancy rates, it does create a nice ripple of new economic activity that beneficially impacts the building trades, the banking and legal communities, and a myriad of other enterprises, including, of course, real estate brokers.
The other compelling force is the absorption of vacant space by existing local companies expanding, new start-ups, and companies locating here for the first time. It’s the rare 100,000-square-foot lease that gets the media coverage, but it’s the small, 2,000-square-foot deals that are the foundation of the office market.
Overall, too much emphasis is placed on the office segment as a bellwether for the market in general. It just seems to get all the attention.
So, when asked, “how’s the market?” my answer will be, “solidly good, getting better, and always aspiring to be great.”
John Williamson is president of Williamson Commercial Properties; (413) 736-9400.
Memorial Drive Remains Poised for New Development Opportunities
Chicopee’s planners are learning some new verbiage as development continues on Memorial Drive, a.k.a Route 33, the city’s main retail corridor.
Terms like ‘linger zone,’ ‘redemising,’ and ‘alternative hospitality options’ are being tossed around more often as the thoroughfare evolves — proof of some new, innovative changes both in the works and on the horizon.
That said, change is not coming at an explosive pace along Memorial Drive: ‘gradual’ is a better description of the additions to its growing legion of businesses.
However, it’s an area that Mayor Mike Bissonnette said is currently garnering some real interest in Western Mass., and with that interest comes a new focus on further diversifying the roadway to include a greater mix of retail and restaurant establishments. The end goal, he said, is to make Memorial Drive a destination, and not a throughway.
“This is one of the hottest areas for commercial real estate in Western Mass. right now,” said Bissonette, who attributes that to a number of inherent traits that have existed in the area for some time, including the thousands of employees working out of Westover Air Reserve Base and the Chicopee Industrial Park, as well as Memorial Drive’s close proximity to the Mass Pike.
But there are new variables that are adding to the surge of activity on Route 33, including a $110 million construction project at Westover that will add new buildings and, subsequently, new jobs. The revival of some key parcels on Memorial Drive, such as the former Fairfield Mall site (now called Chicopee Marketplace) has also created new interest and confidence in the strip among developers.
“The Fairfield Mall project really seemed to spur what I call the second generation of Route 33,” said Bissonnette. “The first generation was the housing, commercial, and retail real estate boom we saw in the 1960s following the construction of Westover.
“I also think we have a quick permitting process,” he continued. “We can get things moving usually within two months, and overall, I think developers like working with us.”
Follow the Franchises
Today, the mix on Memorial Drive is primarily casual dining franchises like Applebee’s and the 99 Restaurant; fast-food chain locations such as Arby’s, Subway, Quiznos, KFC, and McDonald’s; discount retail stores including Marshall’s and Payless Shoes; a smattering of auto dealers and local businesses including the landmark Hu Ke Lau; and big boxes like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Two hotels — a Days Inn and Hampton Inn — round out the mix.
Moving forward, Bissonnette said he’d like to see a greater mix of retail and restaurant choices, and a greater percentage of higher-end establishments, those he says carry “a little cache.”
Some success has already been observed in the higher-end stratum, including the addition of a Starbucks across from Chicopee Marketplace. In addition, the McDonald’s on the roadway was recently one of 30,000 franchises across the country to get a facelift and image redesign, now including wi-fi access, premium coffee, and that aforementioned ‘linger zone,’ complete with plasma televisions and sofas, designed to keep people in the restaurant longer.
Bissonnette said he’ll keep a close watch for any other opportunities to make Memorial Drive more diverse, especially within the retail and hospitality sectors. “We’re still getting a lot of inquiries from chains, which is fine, but there is a need, for instance, for an additional hotel,” he said.
Still, while new opportunities are being mulled constantly for Memorial Drive, Bissonnette said he doesn’t discount the importance current retailers, franchises, and other businesses have had on the street’s overall health.
“It’s important to point out the jobs these places create,” he said. “They aren’t the kinds of jobs that you can necessarily build a future on, but they fill a vacuum in this area’s economy, and also keep dollars in Chicopee.”
Bissonnette cited one example as proof of the need for such jobs in retail and the food and hospitality sectors. When one of Memorial Drive’s more popular spots, Applebee’s, opened in 2006, the mayor said 1,200 applications were received for employment.
“We tend to talk about ‘meds and eds’ a lot,” he added, “but 1,200 applications — 600 of them completed online — shows that people are looking for these jobs, and moreover that they’re very important.”
On the Drawing Board
Kate Brown, Chicopee’s city planner, agreed, noting that there is already some interest among developers that suggests a new hotel might not be far off for Route 33.
“There’s been some interest from various types of outfits,” she said. “We’re still in the early days of that, but I think people are recognizing that this is a great location for spill-over from the Springfield market, for Six Flags visitors, or for travelers going east or west to other destinations.”
Brown said that while she, too, worried at one time that Memorial Drive would become a sea of fast-food restaurants, bank branches, and discount retailers, that trend is slowly changing. Further, she said existing businesses on the roadway have created a base from which to grow that, before 1996, was non-existent.
“Today, it’s very competitive,” she said. “The boom started in 1996, with an auto parts store and a Taco Bell, and it mushroomed from there. For a while all I saw were auto parts stores and banks, and I started to bite my fingernails a little.
“We’d still like to be able to orchestrate things a little better,” she added, “but I’m seeing a move toward businesses that better fill the needs of the community.”
Brown also agreed that the redevelopment of the former Fairfield Mall parcel that created what is now the Chicopee Marketplace has been one of the driving forces for growth on Memorial Drive, and that trend continues.
“Wal-Mart will soon be expanding, and the Ocean State Job Lot property is redemising, which is a new word I’ve been introduced to of late.”
In short, this is a 50-cent term for restructuring; the site will soon be home to seven different stores of varying sizes, creating what Brown calls a ‘plaza environment’ with the possibility of outdoor dining space.
“Buildout of the Chicopee Marketplace has made other undeveloped properties along Route 33 more attractive,” said Brown, noting that in particular, activity directly surrounding the parcel, which is also near the on-ramp to the Mass Pike, has been brisk. “Everyone wants to be near the Pike, which actually creates an interesting problem — there’s limited land available in that particular area of Memorial Drive, and it will be interesting to see who wins that race.”
Adding to that area’s draw is a $750,000 renovation of the Days Inn at 450 Memorial Drive now underway, spearheaded by the property’s owner, Dinesh Patel, who also owns the Hampton Inn on the other side of the Turnpike off-ramp.
To capitalize further on those positive developments, Brown said she’d like to see the area augmented by stores that could elevate the city’s shifting retail identity.
“Chicopee has never really been on the front line in terms of retailer choice,” she said. “I think that has a lot to do with base income in the city, and I think that has shaped what Memorial Drive looks like.
“But with the existing mix of discounters on the drive, having upper-scale goods at lower prices would be a great addition; I also wouldn’t mind seeing a bookstore,” she said.
Outlet for Greatness?
Bissonnette offered another option for growth, proposing that the area could be suitable for outlet shopping.
The model has already seen success in Lee and in the eastern part of the state in Wrentham; however, Bissonnette concedes that making it work in Chicopee may be problematic. Most retailers require that their discounted stores be placed a certain geographical distance away from existing stores, and with the Holyoke and Eastfield malls bookending Chicopee, that’s a high hurdle to clear. But Bissonnette said with existing discount clothing stores such as Marshall’s, Fashion Bug, and Payless Shoes already in operation, as well as a strong mix of casual dining establishments, the infrastructure is there for further development of destination shopping, rather than the ‘passing-through’ variety that is now more common to Route 33.
And Brown said that, while large parcels of land are becoming more scarce on the strip, there are many smaller development opportunities remaining, as well as a few sites that city officials are keeping a close eye on.
One such parcel is about 60 acres owned by the Springfield Diocese, located across the street from the Arbors assisted living facility at 929 Memorial Drive. The plot of land has yet to go up for sale, but Brown said it’s being watched closely.
“That’s the last big piece of real estate left on Memorial Drive,” she said.
Whether it will be redemised for an alternative hospitality venue or a hip, new eatery outfitted with a linger zone remains to be seen. Those are, after all, just some of the trends on a street that is definitely in the fast lane of progress.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]
Aelan B. Tierney of Kuhn Riddle Architects in Amherst has completed the Architectural Registration Exams and is a licensed architect in Massachusetts. She specializes in commercial and residential projects at the firm.
Kleer Lumber, LLC of Westfield announced the following:
Christy Hedgpeth has been promoted to Director of Branding and Licensing at Spalding in Springfield. She will be responsible for brand consistency across all of the Spalding businesses and will also manage existing licensees, establish new licensing partnerships with strategically aligned companies, and manage the new initiative of licensing patented technologies.
Franklin County Home Care has hired Pam Kelly as its Development Director.
Mario Godbout has been promoted to Vice President of Ball Operations at Top-Flite Golf Co. in Chicopee.
Commerce Bank & Trust Co. in Worcester has appointed John S. Kelley as Senior Vice President-Commercial Real Estate.
Northampton Attorney Harry L. Miles has received a letter of thanks from the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program in Washington, D.C., for his handling of a pro bono appeal for a veteran. Miles is a partner in the law firm of Green, Miles, Lipton & Fitz-Gibbon.
Friendly Ice Cream Corp. in Wilbraham announced the following:
Springfield Technical Community College announced the following:
• Michael D. Niziolek, Vice President for Human Resources at Hasbro Games, has been appointed to the Board of Trustees, and
• Bret F. Coughlin, M.D., Vice Chairman of the Department of Radiology, and Division Chief of Abdominal Imaging at Baystate Medical Center, has been appointed to the Board of Trustees.
Debra Guy-Akers has joined Training Resources of America Inc. as Western Massachusetts regional manager with oversight of education and training sites in Holyoke and Springfield.
Abraham J. Macutkiewicz has joined the Westfield office of Carlson GMAC Real Estate as a Sales Agent.
Patrick Hughes has been named Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Fallon Community Health Plan.
Brenda S. Doherty of the law firm Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy in Springfield, recently earned an LL.M, Master of Laws in Taxation, from Boston University. She practices in the areas of corporate law, estate planning and taxation.
Joy Chipman has joined Steenburgh Real Estate as an Associate.
Patti Affeldt has joined Witalisz & Associates Inc. of Westfield as a Real Estate Sales Consultant.
UMass Amherst announced the following:
The how and the why are often hard to peg, but Mass MoCA has spurred a rebirth in North Adams that is undeniable, if not always quantifiable. The fact of the matter is that, after years of economic strife and waning confidence, the old mill town in the Berkshires is entering a new age through the power of new art.
Mayor John Barrett III has led North Adams, the Commonwealth’s smallest city, for 23 years, and he knows the drill: when any community begins to show signs of new life, people want to see the proof of how and why in black and white.
And when it comes to arts and culture as an economic driver, the trend nationwide is to essentially prove a cultural venture’s worth through exhaustive studies, charting new dollars that a given entity brings into a community.
Those dollars are measured and classified in myriad ways, placed into columns with titles like ‘direct,’ ‘indirect, and ‘induced.’ Taxes are scrutinized, new business catalogued, housing trends tracked, and numbers of visitors tallied, all in the name of bringing some weight to the notion of art as a tool for struggling communities.
Barrett says he’s seen it all, and he doesn’t need those stacks of reports that typically cover his desk.
“The attention is wonderful, but I don’t need studies to tell me what’s happening here is working,” he said. “You can see it in the people. They’re … happy.”
What’s happening in North Adams is a ongoing rebirth, brought on primarily by the creation and building success of its cultural juggernaut, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, most often referred to as Mass MoCA.
The museum, dedicated to contemporary art in all its forms – visual, music, dance, and film among them – opened its doors to the public in 1999, a decade after the state Legislature announced its support for the project. The economic health of the Commonwealth, or lack thereof, during that decade threatened Mass MoCA’s creation more than once, and community-based and private-sector contributions totaling more than $15 million for construction and programming were integral to the ambitious development plan that amounted to $31.4 million (state grants took care of the rest).
Today, Mass MoCA is the largest center for contemporary visual and performance art in the country, including about 600,000-square-feet of developable space and providing office and loft space for a number of diverse businesses on its campus as well. Its executive director, Joseph Thompson, has been at his post since 1987, before he even had a museum to lead, and today oversees the creation of intriguing exhibits and events that herald the changes afoot. Sometimes, it’s a Latin dance party in the facility’s courtyard that pulsates into the evening. Other times, it’s a piece of art like Dave Cole’s ‘knitting machine,’ which enlisted the help of cranes to create a massive American flag, weaving patriotism and history with the undeniable proof that there’s a new mill in town.
“There are enough interesting things happening here to keep people engaged,” said Thompson. “I’d say every few months, something strange is going to happen.”
That alone has attracted attention to the complex and its goings-on, but with a significant turnaround being seen and felt in its host city, the economic effects of Mass MoCA are also being studied closely.
As Barrett points out, many of the improvements in the city are hard to quantify, but all can be documented, and at the top of the list is that sense of well-being within North Adams.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Barrett, “and it’s all about creating an atmosphere, which in and of itself is hard to trace. But there was a time when businesses didn’t even want to attach the name of the city to their company, because they were ashamed.
“Now,” he said simply, “they’re not.”
The site where Mass MoCA now stands has been an economic force in Western Mass. for more than 200 years, though prior to the museum’s development it threatened to become a massive black hole in the northern Berkshires. The 13-acre, 26-building complex occupies nearly a third of the city’s downtown business district, and has a rich history that dates back to the Revolutionary War. However, it also has a history of prosperous rises and dramatic falls, and when plans for the new venture began, it was that mercurial uncertainty that Barrett and others hoped to avoid.
Throughout the past four centuries, the site has served as home to a shoe manufacturer, a saw mill, a sleigh maker, a brick yard, a marble works, and an iron works that forged armor plates for the Civil War ship Monitor, among many other businesses.
Its history is highlighted in particular by three industrial periods: from 1860 to 1942, when Arnold Print Works dominated the complex and employed upwards of 3,200 people at its peak; from 1942 to 1985, when the Sprague Electric Company operated a booming electronics plant, and from 1986 to today, the developmental and early operational years of Mass MoCA.
Thompson said natural downturns in the economy were usually the culprit as the mill buildings’ many residents came and went, and said as preliminary ideas for a contemporary arts center were discussed, the downtown landmark was presented early on as a potential site.
“The building was really the genesis of the idea,” Thompson said. “It was space that could hold some really great art that was looking for a home – new art, and also complicated installations that require space.
“Plus, the complete lack of activity in the downtown business district cast a shadow across all of Berkshire County,” he continued. “There was a great need for the town to redevelop itself, and there was more than enough space here.”
Several cities and towns in the region are well-acquainted with economic rise and fall, as major manufacturing mills brought boom years in their heydays, and later brought dark times as they downsized and closed.
As North Adams settles into its new identity as a small city in the midst of a rebirth, many similar communities are turning their attention to the reasons why, and hoping to spur a similar outcome for themselves.
“Any New England town that tied its fate to one company was, or is, in trouble, and looking for a magic bullet,” Thompson said, cautioning quickly that Mass MoCA is not such a quick fix, but rather succeeds through diversity, which in turn guards against history repeating itself. Over time, he said, the museum will prove to be a symbol and a starting point for North Adams, rather than a crutch.
“This is not a magic bullet – the museum itself only employs 58 people,” he said, going on to note that as a relatively young non-profit, Mass MoCA isn’t without its challenges. The museum’s budget hasn’t changed significantly since its first year in business, hovering around $5 million. As utility and insurance costs have risen, Thompson said, the complex has reduced programming to help close the gap, and is only now in the very early stages of planning an endowment-building campaign to augment the capital raised from the leasing of the property’s commercial space.
“But, ours is a story of diversification,” he said. “We’re a museum and a performing arts venue. We’re home to many mid-sized and small businesses, we’ve developed new commercial real estate and a new destination within North Adams, and we’ve also tried to be careful not to promise too much. Museums are fragile by nature; we’re getting stronger, but we still have a long way to go.”
A Study in Pen and Ink
Still, conversations regarding Mass MoCA’s successes to date continue. Locally, the Center for Creative Community Development (C3D), a joint project of Mass MoCA and Williams College made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation, has completed several lengthy studies of art centers and museums and their effects on the economy, including Dia:Beacon in Beacon, N.Y., Swamp Gravy in Colquitt, Ga., and Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conn.
C3D’s study of its home base at Mass MoCA found that among other positives, the museum attracts about 95,000 additional visitors to North Adams each year and spurred an estimated $9.4 million boost to the local economy in 2002, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. The report also states that tourism-dependent industries including restaurants, hotels, and retail have seen increases in business, as have service-based ventures that receive steady business from the museum, such as commercial printers and computer repair and networking providers.
In short, C3D concluded that Mass MoCA had made the city of North Adams a more desirable place to live, work, and visit through a number of channels, and even the data-heavy report concedes that the reasons why are not always easily identifiable.
“Even in cases where the community and the cultural arts organization work in collaboration, and where the project is a success, there has been an absence of tools for collecting and analyzing data and articulating its meaning,” the report states.
For Barrett, the belief that Mass MoCA is the origin of much of North Adams’ success is unwavering.
“Mass MoCA has become the poster child for the creative economy and the impact the arts can have on a community,” Barrett said. “It’s been a catalyst for growth for seven years, and it hasn’t even come close to reaching its full potential.”
Still, that belief can be bolstered by what numbers are gleaned from studies like that of the C3D.
Specifically, some of the most promising growth has been in areas the city has been struggling to improve for many years, such as the entertainment sector. The museum has led to new growth in this realm in the form of eight new cinemas and a planned renovation of the historic Mohawk Theatre downtown, which Barrett believes will lead to a ripple effect in the hospitality and retail climate downtown.
The city’s housing market on both sales and rental levels is also gaining speed, and the C3D report backs that claim, noting that housing values have improved city-wide and properties nearest to Mass MoCA have increased in value the most, by about $11,000 on average.
“We’re seeing condos being created out of apartment space and greater housing developments in the downtown area, including a use of previously vacant space,” Barrett said. “That’s something we’ve been trying to do for years.”
Further, the study estimates that Mass MoCA has increased the community’s assets by about $14 million and by about the same in new business activity, though Thompson argued that figure could be even higher.
“I argue that’s about $6 million short,” said Thompson. “It’s short because it doesn’t take into account the businesses that are located here, 14 of them, which employ about 320 people.”
Those businesses include a film special-effects producer, two major law firms, two restaurants, a publisher, a photography studio, and the corporate offices of the Steeple Cats minor league baseball team, and speak to the diversity that Thompson believes is the crux of Mass MoCA’s multi-faceted success.
“The most interesting effects are still those that are hard to identify,” said Thompson, returning to the common theme. “Downtown was at 25% capacity before we opened, and now it’s at 75%. That’s undeniable, but if you take the analysis one step further to look at how those businesses have changed downtown, it’s harder to articulate, yet it suggests that North Adams still has a developing economy, which is something the hard numbers don’t show.”
Thompson noted other positive signs in the city, among them a decrease in unemployment rates and a softening of the once-defined lines between North Adams and other Berkshire communities.
“North Adams was once on the top of many a ‘worst’ list,” said Thompson, “but we’re not on the top of those anymore. There also used to be some major lines of demarcation between North Adams and other towns, like Williamstown, but those and that ‘town and gown’ separation between commerce and academia are also modulating. Overall, there’s a much healthier flow of ideas and capital. All of that is hard to pin down, but those improvements are also the goal at the end of the day.”
He mused that North Adams’ return to health is also having a positive impact on the region as a whole, equalizing tourism business across the northern communities as well as the historically robust southern Berkshire towns, such as Lenox.
“For years the power of the Berkshires was highly concentrated in the south,” said Thompson, “and now, Berkshire County is in a position to market itself like Napa Valley, the Hamptons, or Santa Fe, with respect to its mix of natural and cultural attractions. Mass MoCA has definitely helped position the Northern Berkshires in that constellation.”
In closing, Thompson said Mass MoCA’s effect on North Adams has added significant weight to the cultural economy model, and as the museum grows and commercial and developable space continues to garner interest, the location will only increase in value.
“In creating an invigorating, interesting atmosphere, a dose of creativity is valuable,” he said, “and also an important part of the financial picture.”
Framework for Success
Barrett echoed those sentiments, but when referring to the city he’s led for nearly a quarter of a century, the mayor is wont to add a little chutzpah to the equation.
“Overall, the climate and attitude in North Adams continue to improve,” he said.
“This city has been beaten up for years and years. But now, we’re fighting back.”
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]
By most accounts, Springfield is starting to rebound.
The Finance Control Board has stabilized the city’s finances and brought about relative peace and harmony to the labor front. The Urban Land Institute study of the city has established some priority areas for the community, and there is already movement on some of these fronts. We’ve seen momentum in the business community and the commercial real estate market, and the promise of more activity and jobs.
As the new year dawns, many in the community would like to add to this list by putting the scandals that have rocked Springfield in the rear-view mirror. Some have suggested that the FBI, which has successfully ferreted out wrongdoing on the part of many city officials, including most members of the Asselin family, should consider its work here done.
The FBI shouldn’t close the book on Springfield until its work is finished, and that won’t be accomplished until former Mayor Michael Albano, who was ringmaster for the circus that his administration became, is made to account for his many misdeeds.
While several members of his administration have been indicted, tried, found guilty, and incarcerated, Albano has thus far escaped the same fate. Maybe there’s nothing the Feds can pin on him, but we suspect that there may be other reasons for the FBI’s reluctance to act on the former mayor.
Albano has suggested to many that the FBI’s crackdown, similar in some ways to the well-documented Operation Plunderdome that took down Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, is part and parcel to “being an Italian American” who assumes a leadership position in this country. This is nonsense.
Albano’s assertions are offensive to all Americans, especially to those of Italian descent, and are being compounded by Albano’s opining that the FBI’s interest in Springfield and his administration is motivated by actions he took 24 years ago.
Albano, a former member of the state Parole Board, recently testified in a U.S. Civil Court trial that the FBI never provided him with information that three men convicted of murder were innocent. The testimony came in a trial in which two men and the families of two deceased men are suing the government for than $100 million for wrongly putting them in prison.
The two living individuals, who were freed after 25 years in prison, were exonerated after documents were released indicating that the FBI knew the men were innocent but set them up to protect an informant who committed the murder of a mob member.
Outside the courtroom, Albano told reporters that when the Parole Board was considering whether to commute the sentence of one of those convicted, he was told by two FBI agents that voting for the commutation — which he eventually did — would not be a good career move for him.
It appears that Albano is trying to use these events, and his ancestry, to suggest that the FBI has no good reason for being in Springfield and turning City Hall, the Housing Authority, the Mass. Career Development Institute, and other once-corrupt agencies upside down looking for wrongdoing.
The truth is that the FBI has every reason to be here, as evidenced by the convictions already won, and it should stay here until its job is finished. More importantly, it should not be intimidated by Albano’s posturing about being bullied by the bureau two decades ago.
Former members of the Albano administration have hinted privately that the best defense against the FBI is a good offense. The former mayor has been saying for years that the bureau has an ax to grind and that this explains why the Feds have set up camp in Springfield.
The truth is that the mayor presided over a City Hall that was corrupt, out of control, and an embarrassment to the community. And that’s why we believe the FBI’s work, as damaging as it has been the city’s reputation, must continue until all the questions are answered. Then, it will be appropriate to move on.
Holyoke-based PeoplesBank announced two key promotions at the executive level: Douglas A. Bowen has been promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer from his current role as Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer.
Current President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph D. LoBello is taking on the new role of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. The announcement follows a Nov. 15 unanimous vote of the Board of Directors of PeoplesBank. “Doug Bowen and I have worked side by side to make this institution the premier community bank in Western Mass.,” said LoBello. “He is a results-driven, strategic, and creative leader with over 30 years of progressive banking experience. Doug also has a strong connection to our community and has dedicated countless hours of volunteer service toward enhancing the quality of life in our region.” In his former position of Chief Lending Officer, Bowen was directly responsible for the PeoplesBank commercial and consumer-lending portfolio of over $1 billion, with much of this growth attributable to the Commercial Lending Division that he started in the late 1980s. LoBello will continue to remain active in the overall management of PeoplesBank in his new role as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. He joined Peoples Savings Bank in 1992 as President and Chief Executive Officer when the Bank had assets of approximately $400 million. Since that time, he has led the planning efforts and the management team that have grown the bank into a market leader with over $1.4 billion in assets today.
Attorney Heather G. Beattie has been appointed a Partner of Morrison Mahoney LLP in Springfield. Her practice is concentrated in the areas of general liability defense including medical malpractice, professional liability, and health law. Beattie has more than 32 years of combined experience in the health care and law fields.
William F. Steplar has been promoted to Investment Services Officer at Easthampton Savings Bank.
Ruth Moriarty has been appointed Activities Director at Sarawood Assisted Living in Holyoke.
The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau has appointed Jennifer M. Marion as Convention Center Sales Manager for the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
Steven G. Budd, Assistant Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Springfield Technical Community College, has been elected President of the National Council for Resource Development. Based in Washington, the council serves more than 1,550 members at two-year colleges throughout the United States. In addition, the council focuses on professional development for fundraising professionals and develops leaders in the field.
The Springfield-based law firm of Bacon & Wilson, P.C. recently announced its merge with Monsein & MacConnell in Amherst. Bacon & Wilson wanted to expand its reach across the river in Hampshire County, and Monsein and MacConnell’s well-established real estate and litigation practice is complimentary to Bacon & Wilson’s ideals and goals. The newest members of the Bacon & Wilson team are:
• Stephen B. Monsein, a member of the domestic relations and litigation departments. His work is primarily concentrated on divorce cases, but he also handles personal injury cases and does a significant amount of OUI defense work each year. He is a Fellow with the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy and Matrimonial Lawyers and has been active in Pelham Town Government and UMass activities for many years.
• Peter W. MacConnell, a member of the real estate department handling both residential and commercial transactions. He also spends a considerable amount of time on zoning and land-use issues, almost exclusively on the developer side. In addition, he also does estate planning and corporate legal work.
• In addition, Bacon & Wilson recently hired Stacey D.C. Brock. She will split her time between the Amherst and Springfield offices. Brock is a member of the litigation department with a strong background in education law and both criminal and civil litigation. She is a former staff attorney in the Special Education Division of the New York City Department of Education, where she focused primarily on IDEA and Section 504 compliance. She has also represented parents of children with special needs in their attempts to seek appropriate services from their school districts. Brock is an Amherst Town Meeting member and a member of the Board of Directors of Berkshire Art and Technology Charter School.
Thomas Manzi, a financial advisor in Springfield, has been elected to his second term as President of the Exchange Club of Springfield.
Bank of America’s Global Wealth & Investment Management division has named Nina Charnley as Northeast Regional President for The Private Bank of Bank of America.
Terry Bartus has joined Century 21 Pioneer Valley Associates as a Sales Associate.
David E. Pelkey, Director of Manufacturing at Merriam-Webster Inc. in Springfield, has been inducted into the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame, an honor given to leading publishing executives in book, magazine, catalog, and advertising promotion.
Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. of Holyoke and Greenfield announced the following:
TD Banknorth Massachusetts in Springfield announced the following:
The Bank of Western Massachusetts in Springfield announced the following:
• Sandra J. Batura has been appointed Assistant Vice President and Private Banker with responsibility for the development of new business via financial planning as well as providing personal banking and credit solutions for clients;
• Erin L. Couture has been appointed Credit Officer and Portfolio Manager with responsibility for the coordination of, and analytical support for, all commercial loans and assisting commercial lenders in administering a portfolio of commercial loans and renewals as well as monitoring lines of credit;
• Michele A. Lindenmuth has been appointed Assistant Vice President and Small Business Lender/Market Manager with responsibility for the overall day-to-day operations of the State Street, Springfield branch, and
• Cathy A. Roberts has been promoted to Assistant Vice President and Mortgage Officer with continued responsibility for developing and maintaining new mortgage business.
The law firm of Graham and Albano, P.C. in Hadley has hired Patricia A. Szumowski as a Partner. The firm will be known as Albano and Szumowski, P.C. Szumowski’s practice will focus on litigation in federal and state courts.
Dave Boisselle has been promoted to Vice President of Operations for J. Polep Distribution Services in Chicopee.
Dr. Stephen A. Wolman, an endodontist, has joined the team at Valley Dental Eastfield at 1655 Boston Road in Springfield.
John Majercak, Director of the ReStore Home Improvement Center in Springfield, has been elected to the Board of Directors for the Building Materials Reuse Association.
Dr. Adnan Dahdul, Medical Director of HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Mass. in Ludlow, recently received HealthSouth Corporation’s ‘Outstanding Medical Leadership Award.’ Dahdul was chosen as the 2006 award recipient from among more than 100 HealthSouth medical directors throughout the country.
Countrywide Home Loans has promoted Kathleen Dancy to Branch Operations Manager. She will manage the West Springfield operations department.
Hay Creek Hospitality LLC has named Victor Cappadona as General Manager of the Orchards Hotel in Williamstown.
Dr. Joseph P. Coppola, Medical Director of Amherst Medical Associates, has completed and passed the examination for recertification in Internal Medicine.
David M. Orfalea has been promoted to District Manager for Modern Woodmen of America, which offers financial services and fraternal member benefits to individuals and families throughout the country.
The Ludlow Chapter of Business Networking International recently presented Tani Dugger, owner of Insight Photography, with a certificate of achievement for passing the highest number of referrals at its October meeting.
Weiner Law Firm, P.C. has elected Gary M. Weiner to a three-year term as attorney member of the Board of Governors of the Commercial Law League of America.
Raymond Glick of Glick’s Lawns of Huntington has joined the Professional Landcare Network, which provides ongoing educational and safety programs.
Cashman and Katz Integrated Communications of Glastonbury, Conn., has hired Preston Oliver as Assistant Art Director and Web Developer, and Kate Guerin as Public Relations Associate.
The following business incorporations were recorded in Hampden and Hampshire counties and are the latest available. They are listed by community.
P&M Advertising Inc.,
D. J. Provisions Inc.,
The Christine Giera Polish Heritage Trust Inc.,
New England Termite and Structural Repair Inc.,
Western Massachusetts Anthroposophical
SNOW SPORTS Inc.,
Wealth Preservation Group Inc.,
NSS Contracting Inc.,
A & B Essentials Ltd.,
C&J Motor Cars Inc.,
Extra Mile Inc.,
Laurence Associates Consulting Inc.,
Northeast Towing and Recovery Inc.,
Gonzalez Used Auto Sales Inc.,
H & E Affordable Kitchens and Baths Inc.,
Springfield Homeowners Association Inc.,
Allstate Hood & Duct Inc.,
Park River Market Inc.,
Star of Hope Missions Inc.,
Time-Bandwidth Products Inc.,
Michael’s Pasta in-the-Pan Inc.,
TD Banknorth Massachusetts in Springfield announced the following:
• Kenneth F. Tobias has been promoted to Assistant Vice President in Merchant Services. He will continue to serve as a merchant sales representative serving Western Mass., and
Marie Lisewski, owner and principal designer at Laurel Mountain Basket Company in Easthampton, recently earned an award of excellence at the National Gift Convention in Boston. She won the award in the Holiday Corporate Gift Designs category.
Stephen Gallagher of the Insurance Center of New England Inc. in West Springfield was recently honored by the Society of Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC) for his 20 years of leadership and continued participation in the CIC program. The Society of CIC is an organization recognized nationally as a leading continuing education program for insurance professionals.
Shepard D. Rainie has joined Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. in Pittsfield as Senior Vice President and Chief Risk Officer. Rainie is a member of the bank’s senior management team and is responsible for credit risk, loan review, loan documentation, internal audit, and compliance.
The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau has appointed Gregory M. Pudlo as Convention Center Sales Manager for the MassMutual Center in Springfield. Pudlo will be part of a two-person sales team responsible for implementing strategies to promote and sell the MassMutual Center and the Pioneer Valley 18 months and out to conventions, meetings and trade shows.
Norman Lipsitz, PLS has been named Senior Project Manager at Coler & Colantonio Inc. in Norwell.
Gregory E. Deavens has been appointed Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for the U.S. Insurance Group of MassMutual. He will be responsible for leading the financial management activities within the U.S. Insurance Group.
Monson Savings Bank announced the following:
Hampden Bank announced the following:
Dr. Lindsay E. Rockwell has joined Hampshire Hematology Oncology and the medical practice of Dr. George Bowers in Northampton. She specializes in cancer care for women.
Stevens Design Studio in Westfield has named Justin Friend as Senior Web Developer.
Westfield Bank announced the following:
Bryan P. Portier has joined Meyers Brothers Kalicka of Holyoke and Greenfield as an Associate in the Holyoke office.
Eric Schweighoffer has been named Director of Advertising for Better Bedding, which has stores in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Michael Supranowicz has been named President and Chief Executive of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce in Pittsfield.
Phyllis Thane has been appointed Dining Center Manager for the meals program at Franklin County Home Care’s Shelburne Senior Center.
Anh N. Cameron has been promoted to Branch Officer at the Sixteen Acres branch of PeoplesBank in Springfield.
TD Banknorth Insurance Agency has promoted Anthony E. Szwez to Senior Vice President. He will oversee the Springfield-based FutureComp division covering claims across New England.
Control Board Chief Says the Mission is Not Yet Accomplished
Phil Puccia says it’s one thing to make changes. To institutionalize change is something else altogether.
And this disparity explains why the Springfield Finance Control Board, which Puccia directs and which started its three-year assignment in August 2004, will need at least another two or three years to complete its work, by his estimate.
“That’s how long we’ll need to do our work thoroughly and completely,” he said in an interview with BusinessWest to discuss what the board has accomplished in 24 months at the helm of city governance — and what remains to be done.
With regard to the former, Puccia listed many forms of progress, starting with city finances. When the board started its work, the deficit was $41 million, nearly twice what was projected, he said. That number was cut in half the first year, and will be down to $2 million or $3 million when the final fiscal ’06 numbers are tallied and certified. By the end of fiscal ’07 (next June 30), the budget is expected to be balanced.
Meanwhile, the city has greatly improved its tax-collection efforts as part of a broad initiative to improve the revenue side of the equation, while also hammering away at the expense column through a number of initiatives, including changes to health insurance coverage for city employees.
Beyond finances, the control board will soon complete long and often painful contract negotiations with city unions that have yielded long-term pacts that provide economic stability and some emotional relief. Meanwhile, the city’s Economic Development Department has been overhauled and enlarged, and many other city departments have been consolidated.
As for the work still to do, Puccia there are many specific projects for which he believes control board oversight is necessary, including efforts to improve a beleaguered school system, install a new accounting system for city finances, implement an expedited permitting process for development proposals, and build a new Putnam High School. But the broad assignment remaining falls under the category of institutionalizing those important changes that have been made.
“We need to keep the hammer down on financial management,” he said, “and we need to make the changes we’ve made part of the culture of Springfield.
“We have a good story to tell — the question is, what will the ending be?” he continued, adding that several more years of control board influence will likely help script a better scenario for a city still very much on the mend.
When asked about what his first two years of essentially running Springfield have been like personally and professionally, Puccia flashed back to a conversation he had with a friend while he was mulling whether to take on the assignment.
“I was telling him what was involved and all the challenges the city was facing,” he recalled, implying that there were some questions about whether this would be a career choice he would later come to regret. “He told me, ‘you have to take this job.’
“And he was right. Looking back, I think not accepting this job is something I would regret,” he continued. “This has been the most interesting and challenging work I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
That doesn’t mean any of it has been easy, he said, glancing skyward as he reflected on the hard choices and difficult steps taken, especially the often rancorous contract negotiations.
“This was not easy, it’s emotionally draining and very challenging,” he explained. “It’s tough stuff.”
Looking back over the past two years, Puccia said the control board’s work to date has come in several phases, or steps. The first was to quantify and qualify the scope of the problems, he said, noting that the city was in greater fiscal disarray than was anticipated. “We found that the deficit wasn’t $22 million, it was $40 million,” he said. “and we got a sense for how dysfunctional the communication system and the management structure were.”
What followed was roughly 18 months of what Puccia described as “fiscal triage” to stop the hemorrhaging of fiscal mismanagement and to begin to put in place new management structures and procedures.
Steps in this process included everything from consolidating city departments and reducing the number of direct reports to the mayor from 31 to 11 to making substantive changes to the health plan for municipal workers such as higher co-pays. “There was an effort to begin to institute some financial and management discipline,” he said, “because we had no choice; we were borrowing money to meet payroll and we couldn’t pay all our vendors on time.”
Several new cash-management steps, including aggressive collection of current and back taxes, and more-conservative budget-setting procedures helped quickly improve the bottom line, he said.
“When you start saying to the management team, ‘you better manage your budget, because we have no choice but to manage the budget and we’re going to hold you accountable,’ things will improve,” he explained. “When you start finding nickels, dimes, quarters, and sometimes dollars in a budget like that, you start saving money.”
Budgetary stability and other improvements could only have been accomplished with the cooperation of city officials, especially Mayor Charles Ryan, said Puccia.
“It’s like two guys were thrown into a lifeboat on a raging sea,” he said of his work, and relationship, with the mayor. “We found a way to row in the same direction.”
Part of the triage process was negotiating new labor contracts, he said, adding that the control board entered talks with the mindset that terms of those pacts would reflect fiscal realities in the city — an approach he deemed different than what had transpired in years prior.
He likened the negotiated contracts, and the process for obtaining them, to the settlement of a will. “In the end, no one is completely happy, but everyone agrees that the process was fair.”
Part of the reason those on the control board sought long-term (generally seven years) contracts with the unions, said Puccia was to gain a measure of fiscal stability, or predictability. But there is also the emotional side of the equation.
“A city can’t grow and recover if there’s constant labor turmoil,” he explained, adding that a tentative agreement on a teachers contract may soon bring an end to that long struggle, leaving only a few small unions with which to negotiate new pacts.
Puccia acknowledged that there may be some battle scars remaining from the often-contentious labor negotiations, but he ultimately expects teachers and other employees to focus on the future — and on making Springfield a stronger, more livable city — and not the past.
Change of Pace
With general labor peace soon to be achieved, and noted progress on the budget front, Puccia said the control board will be putting greater focus on several other priorities, including public safety, improving the school system, and economic development — and he believes all three go hand in hand. Meanwhile, it will also move forward with institutionalizing the many changes it has incorporated with regard to city management.
Elaborating, he said the city is primed for economic growth — there is pent-up demand for commercial real estate and many businesses are looking to expand — and developers are seeking assurances that the streets are safe and the public schools are good.
“We need to give people reasons to invest in Springfield,” Puccia explained, adding that he expects continued progress on reducing crime and improving the quality and image of the schools. “If you can’t say to the development community that you’re city is safe and that it’s not corrupt and that everyone gets a fair deal, you’ll never get development.
“We’re putting together a track record that says the city of Springfield can manage its budget, it can deliver on services, it can maintain its buildings, it can educate children, and it can catch crooks,” he continued. “With all that, you’ll have a reason to come to Springfield, or at least to give us a look, and we’re starting to see that.”
Solidifying such a track record will take time, perhaps several years, said Puccia, as will the work to make systemic changes in city management.
These include incorporation of an integrated financial-management system for the city and school department, he said, noting that the software is on order, but the process of incorporating it is probably a two-year assignment.
“That’s the average for a city of this size,” he said, noting that most well-run municipalities now use the Microsoft product. “It will allow us to integrate accounting, payroll, performance budgeting, tax collection, fees, and licenses all in one place.
“These are the kinds of things the board needs to stay on for and make sure they happen and are done right, he continued, adding that the same is true for the Putnam project, which has a projected $90 million price tag. “We need to stay on another two to three years if we’re going to successfully institutionalize change.”
Overall, Puccia said an extension of the control board’s oversight — something he says can be accomplished through legislation or a simple vote of the board — should be viewed as a positive for Springfield, not a negative.
“That’s how developers see it, and that’s how the bond rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s see it, too,” he explained. “They like the fact there’s a control board here helping to manage the place.
“And they ask questions like, ‘have you settled your labor contracts and can you afford to pay them?’ and ‘how do you manage your financials?’ and ‘how are you spending your free cash?’” he continued. “Those are very specific questions on how you’re running your government.”
And the current answers should enable the city to yield an upgrade for its bond rating in time for a $50 million bond issue in the next few months for capital projects, he said. “I think we’re going to do very well.”
As he wrapped up his talk with BusinessWest, Puccia pointed to the front page of that day’s newspaper to offer some perspective on Springfield and its plight. The lead story about was about New Orleans one year after Katrina slammed into the city.
“These people have a challenge,” he said. “We’ve got it tough, but not like they do; we’ve got some things still to do, but we can see many hopeful signs. This city is coming back.”
George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]
EDC Appointments Expected to Advance Agency’s Mission
Alan Blair says a transition in leadership at Westmass Area Development Corp. has been in the talking stages for some time now.
“We wanted to make the change when it made sense to do so,” said Blair, referring to his recent decision to step down as president of that agency, an affiliate of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass. (which he also serves as president), and hand the reins over to his long-time lieutenant, Kenneth Delude. “And that time is now.”
By that, he was referring to both the 10-year anniversary of the creation of the EDC (see related story, page 6), what Blair considered a logical time to take stock of the corporation and its affiliates, but also the state of Westmass, the private, non-profit organization that has developed industrial parks in several area communities.
Westmass, like its sister organization, Westover Metropolitan Development Corp., the non-profit group created by the state Legislature to oversee development of former Westover Air Force Base property into what has become four industrial parks, is a vital cog in regional economic development efforts, said Blair. For Westmass to better carry out its role of job creation, he continued, it was decided that Delude, who has served that agency as senior vice president for several years, would assume the presidency and that additions to the staff would be made.
The move also gives Blair, who will remain in his role as president of Westover, more time and energy to devote to the EDC as it enters its second decade of operation.
“There is a strong imperative to continue Westmass’s mission, which is to continue to find ways to work with area communities to bring jobs to this region,” said Blair, noting that the changes in staffing will help with that assignment. “If we don’t continue to provide space for new development, growth in this region will begin to slow.”
Delude’s promotion is one of two appointments announced by the EDC this month. The other is the naming of Michael Graney, most recently director of the Springfield Business Development Corp. (SBDC) as senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development for the EDC.
Graney succeeds Ralph Carlson, the recently retired vice president of Marketing for the EDC, but he will have a broader and somewhat different role than his predecessor, said Blair. That new job description will also include work in what he called “prospect management.”
Elaborating, he said this is work that takes leads for development in the region — both new ventures and job-retention efforts — and works them through what can be a lengthy, complicated process.
Prospect-management has always been an organization-wide function within the EDC, Blair, continued, and it will continue to be, but Graney, in the ‘business development’ role included on his business card, will play an active role in those efforts.
Delude has been part of the team at Westover/Westmass for nearly 25 years. A former engineer for the city of Chicopee, he has worked for both agencies in all aspects of development, in a capacity that essentially matches prospects with suitable sites in the agencies’ industrial parks.
His responsibilities have included everything from working out purchase and sale agreements and closings for individual parcels, to representing the EDC before boards and commissions in communities where the agency has conducted business. In his capacity as president he will maintain some of the duties, but will mostly be tasked with the broad assignment of making sure Westmass can continue its mission for the long term.
Looking forward, Delude told BusinessWest that his agency has several tasks at hand.
The first involves staffing issues, he said, noting that in addition to securing his successor, he will also look to hire another individual to handle a combination of sales and closing duties.
Those staff additions will help Westmass make some progress with its two primary assignments — filling remaining space in existing parks and developing new parks to ensure that the region has an adequate inventory of land for development.
As for existing parks, some are filled or near that point, said Delude, referring to facilities in Westfield and Agawam, while a recently developed park in East Longmeadow has a few parcels remaining. University Park in Hadley has approximately a third of its 76 acres remaining, he continued, while the Chicopee River Business Park, which has one current tenant and a second deal in the works, will have 10 remaining sites and roughly half its developable acreage left after that second deal is inked.
This fairly limited inventory — the Westover parks are also nearing capacity — makes the development of new industrial parks a priority, said Delude, noting that Westmass officials have been exploring both urban and surburban sites in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. There are some options, he continued, but mostly smaller parcels, at least when compared to the two large parks Westmass developed in Westfield and Agawam.
“We may never see a 300-acre park again,” said Delude, referring to the Agawam Regional Industrial Park, built on the site of the former Bowles Airport. “But there are opportunities for smaller developments, and we’re looking at both greenfields and brownfields sites in several communities.”
Graney brings a diverse resume to his new position, one he told BusinessWest he lobbied for as part of his pursuit of a new challenge.
He had spent the previous decade at the helm of the SBDC, an agency now with no personnel and an uncertain future. During that time, the agency contributed to formation of the Springfield Business Improvement District, created a new management model for Symphony Hall and StageWest (now City Stage), and worked unsuccessfully to bring minor league baseball to Springfield, among other initiatives.
Prior to that, Graney managed the Springfield Civic Center, as well as other area arenas and theaters, including the CTNow.com Meadows Music Theatre (Meadows Music Center) in Connecticut, and before that worked on commercial real estate, particularly specialty retail centers.
It was that broad depth of experience that appealed to Blair.
“As it developed, the job description for this position was not pure marketing,” he told BusinessWest, adding that there was no formal search for Carlson’s replacement. “We’re trying to attract investors; we needed someone who understands marketing, but also someone who understands real estate and this region. We realized that this isn’t someone you find on the street.”
The new challenge that Graney has assumed involves equal parts marketing, education, and the management of prospects for the region’s industrial parks, said Blair, noting that, a decade after its creation, the EDC, a unique management model, remains a difficult concept for many in the region to grasp.
Thus, marketing will involve initiatives both inside the region and outside it, said Blair, noting that the EDC takes part in a number of trade shows and conventions involving developers and site selectors. Graney took part in his first, a medical device manufacturers show staged in New York, earlier this month.
As for prospect-management, Graney described it as the process of “turning leads into deals,” and said his background in real estate, building management, and in working with other agencies to get things done, will assist him in that assignment.
“Leads can come from a variety of places, from trade shows to state agencies — there’s a whole alphabet soup of them out there,” he said. “We want to take those leads and work with whomever we need to work with to turn them into deals.”
Steady Job Market Anticipated for Springfield Area
SPRINGFIELD — Springfield-area employers expect to hire at a respectable pace during the third quarter of 2006, according to a new Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. From July to September, 32% of the companies interviewed plan to hire more employees, while 21% expect to reduce their payrolls, according to Manpower spokesperson Cathy Paige from the Springfield office. Another 22% expect to maintain their current staff levels and 25% are not certain of their hiring plans, added Paige. For the coming quarter, job prospects appear best in non-durable goods manufacturing, finance, insurance and real estate, education, services, and public administration. Employers in construction, durable goods manufacturing, and transportation/public utilities plan to reduce staffing levels, while those in wholesale/retail trade voice mixed hiring intentions. According to the national seasonally adjusted results of the survey, U.S. employers still won’t budge on hiring plans for the third quarter of 2006. Of the 16,000 U.S. employers surveyed, 31% expect to add to their payrolls during the third quarter, while 6% expect to reduce staff levels. Fifty-seven percent expect no change in the hiring pace, while 6% are undecided about their July-September hiring plans.
Westfield State President Resigns
WESTFIELD — Vicky L. Carwein, the first woman president at Westfield State College (WSC), recently announced her resignation to accept the chancellor position at Washington State University. Carwein said that the opportunity was too good to pass up since her husband also has a new position in the same area. Carwein will continue to serve as president at WSC through the summer and will assume her new position in the fall. The college’s Board of Trustees will soon embark on a national search for a successor to Carwein.
Hayden Tapped For Kittredge Center Post
HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) President William F. Messner has recommended the appointment of Jeffrey P. Hayden to vice president for business and community services and executive director of the Kittredge Center. Hayden’s nomination must be formally approved by the college’s Board of Trustees, which next meets on June 27. If approved, Hayden will begin the position in early July. Hayden has worked in the Office of Economic and Industrial Development for Holyoke for 12 years, and most recently as its director. Hayden was one of 38 candidates for the position, which was left vacant last summer when long-time HCC administrator Paul Raverta assumed the interim presidency of Berkshire Community College. Named after Yankee Candle founder and HCC alum Michael Kittredge, the Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development houses the college’s academic and community focused business services. The $18 million complex is home to the WISER (World Institute for Economic Research) Center, as well as the Center for Business and Professional Development.
Springfield Has Pros, Cons to Economic Profile
SPRINGFIELD — Twelve cities recently participated in a study by the Northeastern University Center for Urban and Regional Policy, with Springfield ranking in the middle of the pack. Springfield has been the only city to publicly release its information about the comparison, according to Donald Walsh, a senior fellow at Northeastern University, who also supervised the survey project. The participating cities answered 194 questions relating to the economic profile and municipal infrastructure, and then a survey of 4,000 site selectors, industrial and commercial real estate brokers, and developers ranked the importance of various measures of community performance. Springfield scored well on several issues ranging from modest traffic and the proximity of higher education to relatively low rental rates. Areas that ranked poorly in Springfield included limited parking near development sites, crime rates that are higher than average, and scores on standardized tests of students are lower than average. Mayor Charles Ryan noted that the city has been diligently working to improve results in several of the key areas cited in the survey. Other cities that participated in the survey were Attleboro, Brockton, Chelsea, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Pittsfield, New Bedford, Revere, and Worcester. The cities were chosen because they elected to pay the costs of participating, according to Walsh. The survey was co-sponsored by the National Assoc. of Industrial and Office Properties, the Mass. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, and electric utility NSTAR.
You can’t get by on chotchkes. That’s a mantra that Roland Desrochers, president of Monson Savings Bank, subscribes to in this competitive banking market – the days of wooing new customers with toasters are quite over.
Monson Savings, a three-branch institution in operation in Western Mass. since 1872, has taken steps to offer what Desrochers says people really want and need – low fees or no fees, a wide range of services, and sometimes, cold hard cash.
The cash comes into play as part of some of the bank’s ongoing programs to attract and retain customers, such as a referral program that awards $50 to current customers that bring new business to MSB.
But the real emphasis is on convenience and the ability to cater to the bank’s core audience, Desrochers added, and that has lead to continued growth within the community bank and set the stage for more progress in 2006.
By All Accounts
In addition to its flagship branch in Monson and a facility in Hampden, the bank opened its third branch in Wilbraham on Boston Road two years ago, in part to serve a growing number of customers from that town, and a free-standing loan center on Main Street in Monson, as well, opened in 2004.
“Soon, we’re going to have to expand here,” said Desrochers, waving a hand around his Monson office. “We’re busting at the seams.”
The need for physical growth is a reflection of the strong patterns set in recent years at MSB. Those include an 11% increase in assets in 2005, up from the 9% growth the bank has averaged over the past five years.
Desrochers said the bank’s successes, small and large, are the products of quick, aggressive implementation of new services geared toward the needs of its customer base.
In recent years, the bank has focused on customer convenience as the driver for several new initiatives, in addition to developing programs geared toward diverse audiences, from kids to business owners, and keeping fees to a minimum. And once an idea has been accepted in the boardroom, the bank is quick to introduce it to the public.
“Obviously, in this state, there are plenty of banks and we’re all beating each other up to get one new customer through the door,” he said. “We’re focused on that. But we’re also focused on what we, as a community bank, can bring to the table. Convenience is the number one concern, and pricing is a close second.”
Some of those new services Monson Savings has put in place include extended drive-through hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and the installation of an ATM in a strategic spot in downtown Wilbraham, making banking easier for customers living on the outskirts of all three towns directly served by MSB, which abut near Wilbraham center.
It also has a suite of services that fall under the title of ‘family banking.’
Those products include Monson Savings for Kids and Teens, which offers special incentives for children, such as ice cream cone gift certificates – the occasional give-away doesn’t hurt, Desrochers said – after saving accounts reach certain benchmarks. Teenagers can take advantage of free checking accounts and personalized checks, debit cards, and online banking access, as well as tiered interest rates based on balance, instructions on balancing a checkbook, and dos and don’ts for financial independence.
In part to increase awareness of Monson Savings’ online bill pay program, the bank also instituted a promotion that pays $100 toward a new customer’s Internet service after three bills are paid online. The bank has made strides in online banking and services tailored to small businesses in recent years, Desrochers said, offering no-fee online bill pay and e-statements, and no-fee small business checking accounts.
“The no-fee small business accounts began to attract more people, and we continued the trend with the no-fee online banking,” said Desrochers. “I think it’s proof that in these competitive times, banks just can’t afford to charge people. We saw a 500% increase in the number of small business checking accounts and a 32% increase in online banking sign-ups in 2005.
“The drive-through hours and the ATM in Wilbraham have really been home-runs for us,” he continued, noting that even small additions like those can have a profound impact on a community bank’s bottom line.
“You have to be very aware of your market as a community bank,” said Desrochers. “When I think of some of the smaller banks that have set up branches in certain towns, thinking they can directly compete against those large banks … I shudder. For us, it’s about building strong relationships within the market we know and serve.”
And that includes, as it does for most banks, a strong philanthropic component. Monson Savings Bank contributes to a number of organizations and causes throughout the year, but with a special emphasis on those that operate in Monson, Hampden, and Wilbraham.
“We’ve increased our community investment as a percentage of income before taxes in each of the past three years,” said Desrochers, noting that much of that funding goes to smaller, local outfits. “You’re not necessarily going to see Bank of America giving to organizations like the Monson Arts Council, and that’s where the importance of community banks really comes into play. That’s why we need to survive.”
Desrochers said that Monson Savings is jumping into 2006 after a great year, and that has allowed the bank to give back in some substantial ways to the communities in which the bank operates.
“We’re thrilled with the way things are going,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, the financial environment is just as challenging as everyone says it is. But we are pleased to report some pretty exciting numbers.”
In addition to that 11% growth in assets, Desrochers said deposits have also grown by 11%, and the number of checking accounts at the bank has seen a 10% boost.
“That’s something we’re pretty proud of in this competitive market,” he said.
In terms of the bank’s three branches, Desrochers said the Monson branch continues to hold steady, while the bank’s newest location in Wilbraham, eight months away from its third year in operation, is progressing on target. The branch recorded $16 million in deposits at the close of 2005, growth that is on par with the bank’s projections.
Growth in Wilbraham is slowed somewhat by the competition in the Boston Road corridor, Desrochers said, which is currently home to branches of Hampden Bank, Country Bank, First Pioneer Credit Union in Wilbraham, TD Banknorth just over the town line in Springfield, and soon, a Webster Bank branch will also open in Springfield, close to the Boston Road and Parker Street intersection.
But in neighboring Hampden, Monson Savings is proving, as he put it, that “you don’t have to go to Route 20 to make a buck.”
“The Hampden branch is doing extremely well,” he said, “and advancing faster than its counterparts from a growth perspective. The community is very supportive and appreciative that we were the bank that stepped forward to serve their needs.”
The bank has also reported continued growth in the loan department – a steady trend at Monson Savings that led to the creation of the loan center.
“There are 190 residential lenders in Hampden County alone,” said Desrochers, noting that as one might expect, MSB ranks number one in residential lending in Monson and Hampden, but more notably, comes in at number 17 in the entire county. Desrochers said one goal for 2006 is to improve upon that ranking by four slots – lucky 13.
“Interest rates increased steadily throughout the year, so we’re particularly pleased with our current success in this area,” he said. “And growth was spread out across all categories, with 11% growth in commercial real estate loans, 23% in commercial loans, and 14% in residential real estate loans.”
The bank is also up by 46% over 2004 in terms of construction loans, a particular niche for the bank that brings customers from Western Mass. and more eastern parts of the state as well, Desrochers said.
“I think we have a strength here, particularly with builders, in part because of our size,” he said. “We’re more responsive. When someone is finished with a certain phase of a project and needs an advance to continue, we try to be as accommodating as possible, and that has created a good name for us in this arena.”
Interest Rates and iPods
The most important thing the team at MSB does is to always try to think like the customer,” Desrochers concluded. “People are extremely pressed for time these days. They need convenience, choice, and expertise … we believe the trick is to offer a unique blend of technology, financial sophistication, and genuine, personalized, outstanding service.”
And in thinking like the customer, Desrochers said while he won’t rely on chotchkes, he understands the power of want as well as need. MSB recently offered a Dell laptop drawing for new online bill-pay customers, and has plans to offer new iPod Nanos to the first 50 people to sign up for a new checking account this spring
“You have to be aggressive with what you’re doing out there,” he said, “on all fronts.”
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]
Mike Oleksak, a veteran commercial lender most recently with TD Banknorth, has been named regional president for Berkshire Bancorp’s Pioneer Valley operations. His charge is to aggressively pursue market share in the region and to clear a bar that has been set very high.
Mike Oleksak remembers his first job in banking. He was 19, and working as a teller in the main branch of Westfield Savings Bank.
He remembers watching then-president Art Knapp, vice-president Don Williams, and other officers of the bank, and trying to learn from how they conducted themselves and interacted with customers.
“I wasn’t really sure what they did,” he recalled with a laugh. “I just knew that I wanted to be one of them.
“Art Knapp was a real inspiration,” he continued. “Whenever anyone in the community talked about him, they did it with deep respect in their voice. And he handled every customer, from the smallest to the largest, with the same degree of gentleness and kindness.”
That’s an operating style that Oleksak has adopted during a 28-year career that has taken him to several positions at a number of institutions (many of which don’t exist anymore) and ultimately to the rank of senior vice president and co-regional executive at TD Banknorth.
And it’s one he’ll apply in a position that ultimately pried him from his attractive post at Banknorth — that of regional president for Berkshire Hills Bancorp’s Pioneer Valley operations, which, the bank announced recently, will be managed as a separate business unit with local commercial lending decisions.
The assignment, which he assumed late last month, brings Oleksak back to his native Westfield (home to Woronoco Bancorp, which Berkshire acquired last year), and makes him point person for the Pittsfield-based institution’s efforts to continually grow its presence — and asset and deposit totals — in the Pioneer Valley.
Berkshire acquired Woronoco and its 10 branches roughly a year ago, and has spent the ensuing months melding Woronoco’s strong track record in consumer products and mortgage lending with Berkshire’s recent success in commercial lending and wealth-management products.
Thus far, the results have far exceeded what were considered lofty expectations, said Michael Daly, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hills.
He told BusinessWest that deposits in the Pioneer Valley have risen by $42 million — to $416 million — since the merger last June, which is an annualized rate of 20%. And he believes the bank can match that number again in each of the next several years.
“That’s an aggressive goal, for sure,” he said, noting that most community and regional banks would be content with 4% or 5% annual deposit growth. “But one we certainly feel we can achieve.”
Oleksak agreed. He told BusinessWest that the strong showing in Berkshire’s first year in Hampden and Hampshire counties results from the enthusiasm of employees and ongoing efforts to monitor and continuously improve service.
For the future, Oleksak’s primary goals will be to bolster the commercial lending side of Berkshire’s ledger, while working with Daly and other members of the management team to expand the bank’s footprint through additional branches and perhaps further acquisitions.
He’ll do all that while acting as what Daly called the ‘face,’ of the Western Mass. operations, providing visibility and leadership within the region.
BusinessWest looks this issue at Oleksak’s appointment and how he’ll approach his charge to lead the bank’s efforts to gain market share in the Pioneer Valley.
As he talked about Oleksak’s ascension to the position of regional president, Daly said this was an appointment that certainly didn’t happen quickly.
That’s because the bank took its time finding the right individual for the assignment, he explained, and because Oleksak took some more time making up his mind to take it.
“It really was a difficult decision for me to make in some ways,” said Oleksak. “I was very happy at Banknorth and had no real reason to look for another job.”
But when he was approached by Daly about the position, he was convinced to at least explore the opportunity. He did, and with some encouragement from Berkshire’s chairman of the board, Larry Bossidy, a former executive with General Electric and CEO of Honeywell and Allied Signal, he became convinced that this was the next logical step in his career.
“What ultimately helped convince me was Mike Daly’s passion for making this bank grow,” said Oleksak. “It’s infectious, and it made me want to come here and help him get to the finish line.”
Daly said Berkshire was drawn to Oleksak by the level of respect he commanded from individual customers, and by the business community as a whole.
“We intend to continue to build this team,” he explained, “and the best way to build a team of high performers is to have someone leading that group that others respect.”
Oleksak has built up that respect, and a large Rolodex of contacts, through a lengthy career focused mostly in commercial real estate and commercial lending.
After a seven-year stay at Westfield Savings Bank, which culminated as branch manager in West Springfield and Agawam, he moved to MultiBank (one of those institutions swallowed by merger), where he held several positions, including credit analyst. He became a junior loan officer at Vanguard Bank in Holyoke in 1988, and was later promoted to assistant vice president and, then, interim senior lender, a post he held until the bank was closed by the FDIC in 1993.
He eventually rose to the position of vice president and commercial & industrial lender at Shawmut, and remained in that capacity through that institution’s merger with Fleet in 1998. From there, he moved to what was then SIS, starting as a vice president of commercial lending and team leader of the Commercial Real Estate Department. Over the next eight years, he took a portfolio of $125 million and a staff of two lenders, and grew it to $650 million and eight lenders.
It was those numbers that drew the attention of Daly, who told BusinessWest that, moving forward, one of Berkshire’s primary goals is to grow its commercial loan volume.
To do that, the bank will take the same approach it has with other initiatives, broad and specific, said Daly, and that it is to be aggressive.
Such an attitude is certainly necessary in a highly competitive commercial market in which a host of local players, joined recently by Berkshire (which had only a minor presence in the Valley before acquiring Woronoco) and a growing list of Connecticut banks, are vying for business in what is considered a a low- or no-growth area.
To succeed in such an environment, banks need experienced lenders who know the market and the businesses in it, quality products, including attractive rates, local decision-making ability, and a game plan grounded in smart growth, said Oleksak, adding that Berkshire is putting those ingredients together.
A commercial lending team is being assembled, he told BusinessWest, adding that additional lenders will be added to the current team of four. Meanwhile, the designation of Berkshire’s Pioneer Valley operations as a separate business unit gives Oleksak and the team he assembles lending authority over roughly 80% to 90% of the deals that emerge.
As for smart growth, Oleksak said the bank will take a steady, responsible approach to expanding its portfolio, working to do what is best for both the bank and its stockholders — as well as the customers.
“Fundamentally, I’m not going to do anything different than I did at Banknorth or at Fleet,” he said. “It’s about treating people the right way and making a consistent calling effort; it’s about being attentive when they need something and getting back to them right away.
“And sometimes ‘no’ isn’t the worst answer you can give a client,” he continued. “They can respect you just as much for saying ‘no’ as saying ‘yes,’ or for finding another way to get them what they need.”
As for the consumer products side of the ledger, Berkshire and Oleksak plan to be equally aggressive. This is apparent in Daly’s stated goal for the next three years — growing deposits by 60% in the Pioneer Valley.
That projection comes at a time when another newcomer (Connecticut-based Webster) has arrived in Westfield — soon to be joined by Holyoke-based PeoplesBank, which is opening a facility directly across East Main Street from Webster — and new branches are opening on seemingly a monthly basis across the Valley.
And Berkshire, which currently has locations in Westfield (2), Southwick (2), Chicopee Falls, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Agawam, Ludlow, and South Hadley, will be joining the fray. It has a stated goal of opening four new branches in the region over the next year (specific locations were not identified) and another four or more in the year or two after.
Such increased presence, especially in communities where the bank currently doesn’t have facilities, will certainly help in the efforts to meet Daly’s aggressive goals for deposits, which obviously must be matched with loan and total asset growth, said Oleksak, adding quickly that it goes well beyond bricks and mortar.
Customers are drawn by quality products and service, he said, which brings him back to the impressive numbers posted by Berkshire in its first year in the Pioneer Valley.
“Remember, this was at a time of great uncertainty, when we were melding one bank’s culture with another, and when we didn’t have a regional president,” he said. “To post those kinds of numbers under those circumstances is remarkable, and it all comes back to the enthusiasm of the staff.
“Looking ahead, we do have some aggressive goals,” he continued, “but that’s exciting; it’s going to be fun to go out and accomplish them.”
The Bottom Line
Assessing his latest career move, Oleksak said that, in some ways, he has come full circle.
He is back in the community where he started, and he is now the one young tellers will look across the room at and, ultimately, attempt to learn the business from.
As he takes on the assignment, he’ll apply the same basic approach as Art Knapp — treating every customer the same way. By doing so, he believes he and his team can meet or even exceed those aggressive goals for growth.
George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]
After more than 30 years in business, the commercial real estate development firm of Development Associates has a keen understanding of the Western Mass. market, the emerging business sectors, and challenges facing area business owners. Armed with that knowledge, DA is forging ahead with a number of projects, many speculative in nature, designed to give new and evolving businesses the space to grow.
Fanning a stack of four-color postcards like a hand in a poker game, Ken Vincunas, general manager of Development Associates, said the cards are a small representation of DA’s growing presence in the region; they announce newly completed building projects and new space for lease across Western Mass.
“We have so many things going on right now that it can be hard to see what, if any, areas we’re missing,” he said.
Indeed, the company has its fingers spread across a large portion of the local landscape, and is continually expanding an already broad portfolio that includes the construction, renovation, brokerage, leasing, and management of properties from Connecticut to the Berkshires and beyond.
Based in Agawam, DA operates as a commercial and industrial real estate, construction, and development firm. Vincunas represents the second-generation management of a company started by his father and partner Edward J. O’Leary.
For the past 15 years, Development Associates has developed a strong foothold in the development of build-to-suit and multi-tenant lease facilities across the region. The company currently owns and manages several properties in Western Mass. and more than 1.1 million square feet of leased space in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
Today, business is brisk at DA. Several projects are in various stages of development across the region, ranging from new construction of office and industrial facilities — such as two projects underway in Agawam and Chicopee — to renovations to the leasing and management of existing properties.
The company’s diversity, both in terms of the types of work it handles and the wide array of business sectors it serves, has yielded keen insight into the state of the local economy, current trends and challenges, and prospects for future growth and economic development.
Overall, Vincunas sees strong organic growth in a number of sectors, especially health care, retail, and education, but also recent struggles in efforts by area economic development leaders to bring new employers to the area.
BusinessWest looks this issue at DA’s strong track record in property development and management, and how it is responding to recent trends and growth opportunities with confidence, in for the form of spec building that many developers shy from, and imagination.
Vincunas doesn’t take the old Field of Dreams outlook — ‘If you build it, they will come.’ But he does believe that if he builds the right facility in the right location, then business owners will come, look, and often lease several thousand square feet of space.
This is what the company is currently doing in two area industrial parks in Agawam and Chicopee, and what it has done through much of history.
“We have space of all kinds for all people in all areas,” he said. “We have a commitment to the area and its businesses, and we’ve been able to serve those businesses well … many tenants in our buildings will work with us when they’re ready to expand, and relocate into other buildings that we own or have recently constructed.”
And that’s an area that is also strong for DA – the construction and renovation of buildings at some new, key locations. One will be located at Silver and Suffield streets in Agawam, near the Agawam Regional Industrial Park, and will include 25,000 square feet for lease. The project, dubbed the Agawam Crossing Professional Center, is expected to commence in June, with space available for professional offices and specialty retail.
Also under construction in Agawam is a 20,000-square-foot industrial flex building on Gold Street that Vincunas has targeted for light industrial, manufacturing, service, R&D, or distribution uses.
In addition, DA is building a 42,500-square-foot facility in Westover Airpark North on Griffith Road in Chicopee, which is geared toward office and light industrial uses, and has development sites available on about 25 acres of land on Route 10 and 202 in Westfield near Barnes Municipal Airport.
A Finger on the Pulse
All of the buildings are expected to house several tenants across a wide spectrum of industries, but as the health care sector strengthens in Western Mass., so do the numbers of businesses moving into larger office spaces. The Agawam Crossing site, for instance, is expected to house several medical offices – either physicians, dentists, and other health care professionals or satellite businesses such as legal services, medical equipment firms, or staffing firms.
“The interior can be finished to suit, and we hope to attract medical businesses because Agawam is in need of a purely professional building,” explained Vincunas, adding that other sites are also seeing strong interest from the medical community, including the Griffith Road site in Chicopee, which is slated to become the new home for Hudson Home Health Care, currently located in Agawam.
On a larger scale, New England Medical Practice Management (NEMPM) recently signed a three-year lease at the Greenfield Corporate Center earlier this month; 2,550 square feet will be used as office space where NEMPM provides medical practice billing services. A veteran’s outpatient medical clinic, as well as the Visiting Nurse Association have also located in the 145,000 square foot Greenfield Corporate Center, and some office space remains for lease.
In the future, Vincunas said he hopes to beckon more health care and medical businesses to Western Mass., by providing them with appropriate space for their needs — be it getting started or taking a venture to the next level.
In South Deerfield, for instance, an industrial center adjacent to route 116 has ‘high technology’ space available, appropriate for office, lab assembly, clean manufacturing, or medical production.
“We hope to bring some of the biotech industry to the area with properties like the one in South Deerfield,” he said, referring to a sector that many economic and regional planning groups, including the Regional Employment Board (REB), MassDevelopment, and the Economic Development Council (EDC), have targeted as possible areas for new growth in Western Mass.
Overall, Vincunas said most of the growth in the region has been organic, a trend area development leaders would like to change.
“One trend we see is that people aren’t generally coming to Western Mass. from other places looking for industrial space,” said Vincunas. “We’re just not attracting people from other areas right now.”
What’s more, the cost of doing business – from fuel costs to engineering expenses – is rising, and that’s putting a crunch on the entire commercial real estate industry.
“High commercial tax rates are also having an impact in many communities,” he said, noting that this has spurred a trend toward development in outlying suburbs, such as Greenfield, East Longmeadow, and Southwick, where tax rates and the cost of real estate is often lower.
A Hand in the Future
“We have to keep our eye on potential new uses and new creative ways to fill and manage our properties,” said Vincunas, noting that this helps DA-owned and managed properties remain viable and relevant in various economic climates and to many industries. “A lot of factors might keep people from coming here, but with good buildings in good locations, there is always at least some healthy turnover within those buildings regardless of the economic climate.
“We have many resources for many industrial opportunities,” he continued, “so a primary focus for us now is to continue to serve and invest in the area by providing quality space and bucking the negative trends.”
Fanning that set of announcement cards on the table in front of him, Vincunas said DA’s hand looks good … but as far as its role in the region goes, they’ll continue to aim for a full house.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]