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Agenda

Celebrity Bartending Tip-Off Fundraiser

March 7: The Hampden County Legal Clinic (HCLC), an award-winning, nationally recognized pro bono program of the Hampden County Bar Assoc. and the Hampden County Bar Foundation, has provided free legal advice and law-related services to the underserved through a variety of pro bono initiatives and community-based programs for 11 years. The HCLC and its pro bono associate advisory board are delighted to announce the first inaugural Celebrity Bartending Tip-Off Fundraiser to support the Legal Clinic. The event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at Art e’ Pizza, 272 Worthington St., Springfield. Along with food and entertainment, the event will feature local celebrity bartenders and a silent auction. This event is open to all. For more information, call the HCLC at (413) 733-6500.

‘Daniel Shays & America’s First Non-violent Protest’

March 9: Historian and author Dan Bullen will present “Captain Daniel Shays & America’s First Non-violent Protest” at 2 p.m. in the Springfield Armory Museum. The program will take place in the museum theater. Admission is free, but reservations are required due to limited seating. On Jan. 25, 1787, Shays marched 1,200 farmers and veterans to Springfield to seize the federal arsenal’s stockpiles of weapons, to keep them from falling into the hands of the governor’s army, which was coming to impose martial law in the Connecticut River Valley. For five months, Shays and the farmers of Massachusetts had peacefully protested the state’s economic policies, which explicitly favored the merchant elites, but the governor and other leaders saw the people’s opposition as a threat to the state’s authority. Bullen writes that he found this story deeply engaging “not just as a local history, but as an ongoing story of Americans banding together to protect the liberties they’d won in the Revolution.” Bullen will tell the story of the economic, social, and political factors that brought thousands of men in arms to Springfield in 1787 and ultimately led to reforms in Massachusetts and then to the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For further information about the event, call (413) 734-8551.

Difference Makers

March 28: BusinessWest launched its Difference Makers program in 2009 to celebrate individuals, groups, organizations, and families that are positively impacting the Pioneer Valley and are, as the name suggests, making a difference in this region. The class of 2019 was profiled in the Feb. 4 issue and will be feted at the Difference Makers Gala on March 28 at 5 p.m. at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Tickets are on sale now for $75. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or e-mail [email protected] The presenting sponsor is Baystate Health/Health New England, and other event sponsors include Royal, P.C., Burkhart Pizzanelli, P.C., Development Associates, TommyCar Auto Group, and Viability Inc.

Women’s Leadership Conference

March 29: In celebration of women everywhere knocking down doors and breaking through glass ceilings, Bay Path University will host its 24th annual Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC) at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. This one-day event, which has become the region’s prime women’s leadership event for professional networking and enrichment, will challenge women seeking to make career or life changes to look at the power within to make their dreams a reality, and to dare to ask “why not me?” instead of “why me?” Delivering the keynote address will be award-winning actress, dancer, and singer Rita Moreno, one of only four women who have achieved the EGOT, the grand slam of entertainment-industry awards, by winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Mel Robbins, a serial entrepreneur, best-selling author, life strategist, internationally recognized social-media influencer, and one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the world, will deliver the conference’s luncheon keynote. She is the CEO and co-founder of the Confidence Project, a media and digital learning company working with Fortune 500 brands to help employees build habits of confidence and courage. The conference’s opening keynote speaker will be announced soon. In addition to the three keynote speakers, breakout sessions focused on reimagining the narrative around women in leadership will be led by Cy Wakeman, drama researcher, global thought leader, New York Times best-selling author, and president and founder of Reality-Based Leadership; Kim Meninger, certified executive and leadership development coach and president and founder of Executive Career Success; Dr. Kristina Hallet, board-certified clinical psychologist, and associate professor of Psychology at Bay Path, executive coach, and best-selling author; and Kim Lear, founder of Inlay Insights, storyteller, writer, and researcher. For further information on the conference and to register, visit www.baypathconference.com.

EANE Leadership Conference

April 4: The Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) will stage its annual Leadership Conference on Thursday, April 4 at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place with a focus on measuring success while motivating and inspiring one’s team to improve performance. The program will feature Jim McPartlin, vice president of Leadership Development for Forbes Travel Guide. McPartlin’s keynote will challenge attendees to bring integrity to their leadership responsibilities, even when times get tough. A second keynote will be presented by Tim Hebert, a perennial entrepreneur, innovator, author, speaker, and adventurer. Hebert will ignite the leadership spark in attendees in a keynote focused on the choices of leadership and techniques to help live life by design, not by default. Between keynote presentations, conference attendees will have access to dozens of breakout session topics ranging from performance management to diversity and inclusion, to perfecting ‘C-suite speak,’ and more. The cost for the program is $360 per person with discounts for three or more. Register at www.eane.org/leadership-2019 or by calling (877) 662-6444. The program will offer 5.75 credits from the HR Certification Institute and SHRM.

 

Springfield Art Stop

April 26: The Springfield Cultural Partnership (SCP) announced the return of Art Stop, a pop-up gallery/street festival hybrid, from 5 to 8 p.m. The SCP is partnering with venues downtown to open galleries in unexpected spaces simultaneously. Additionally, several existing Springfield art galleries along this year’s route will also participate as stops along the Art Stop. Between the galleries, which will have the typical artist talks and receptions, there will be street performances. Art Stop was designed to activate underutilized community spaces with colorful art, create economic opportunity for artists, and bring communities together. Galleries will all be located in downtown Springfield. Each individual gallery opening will have an reception with the artist on site to both sell and talk about their work. This year, the SCP has also partnered with several downtown restaurants that will offer a discount on food to Art Stop attendees who present their Art Stop ‘passport’ on April 26. The SCP, along with organizing the curation of art in the pop-up spaces, is hiring unique buskers to encourage attendees to walk from place to place. Guides will be strategically placed to guide attendees along the Art Stop route. The performers will showcase an array of dance, music, and entertainment. All locations are within a walkable area.

Bay Path President’s Gala

April 27: Bay Path University has announced its third annual President’s Gala, “Dance a Mile in Their Shoes,” to take place at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel. Lindsay Arnold, a Dancing with the Stars professional and season 25 champion, and So You Think You Can Dance fan favorite, will lend her expertise for her second year in a row as the event’s celebrity judge. Arnold will be joined at the judges’ table by actor, producer, Springfield native, and Bay Path alumna JoAnna Rhinehart, who is currently appearing in My Fair Lady on Broadway. The Bay Path University President’s Gala will feature a Dancing with the Stars-style ballroom dance competition infused with telling the story of the university’s mission — empowering undergraduate women and graduate women and men to flourish in a constantly changing world. Last year’s event netted more than $315,000 in support of the Bold Women’s Scholarship and the Finish Line Fund. These scholarships are awarded to assist students in removing obstacles standing in the way of achieving their goal of receiving a college degree. This year’s featured dancers at the gala are Lamont Clemons, Business Development for Secure Energy Solutions, executive vice President of S-Cel-O Painting, and Bay Path trustee; Erin Hornyak, Bay Path advisory council member and Longmeadow resident; and Jillian Jusko, blogger and Longmeadow resident. Clemons, Hornyak, and Jusko are undergoing training with Daryll and Gunnar Sverrisson, ballroom dance champions and owners of Ballroom Fever in Enfield, Conn., as they prepare to compete to raise scholarship funds and take home the Mirror Ball Trophy. In addition to the performances, the gala will feature an auction, dinner, and live entertainment by the Boston-based band Protégé. The President’s Gala will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception and silent auction, followed by a seated dinner at 7:30 p.m. The dancing competition will begin at 8:30 p.m., and at 9 p.m. guests will be invited to dance the night away. Tickets are on sale now at www.baypath.edu/gala.

Aerosmith Concerts

Aug. 21, 24, 26, and 29: Aerosmith will bring “Deuces Are Wild — East Coast Run,” a special edition of its Las Vegas residency show, to MGM Springfield for four nights. Along with never-before-seen visuals and audio from Aerosmith recording sessions, the performances will be presented in L-ISA Hyperreal sound. The shows will take place at the MassMutual Center. Tickets went on sale to the general public on March 1.

Incorporations

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

BRIMFIELD

Agile Rhythms Inc., 1497 Dunhamtown Brimfield Road, Brimfield, MA 01010. Eric Jaeger, same. Leadership training, process improvements.

FEEDING HILLS

76 Liquors Inc., 228 Coyote Circle, Feeding Hills, MA 01089. Diana Elizabeth Eisenbeiser, same. Retail liquor store.

HUNTINGTON

Animal Control of New England Inc., 266 Goss Hill Road, Huntington, MA 01050. Paul Hewes, same. Animal control.

LONGMEADOW

Alex Freeman Company, 24 Ridge Road, Longmeadow, MA 01106. Alexander G. Freedman, same. Business consulting.

MONTGOMERY

Baystate Concrete Pumping Inc., 37 Main Road, Montgomery, MA 01085. Victor Sinigur, same. Sinigur concrete pumping service.

PITTSFIELD

Berkshire Roots Inc., 100 North St. Suite 405, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Albert S. Wojtkowski, same. Marijuana establishment.

SPRINGFIELD

ACMS Corp., 85 Wait St., Springfield, MA 01104. Robert E. Sullivan, same. General contracting and construction.

Boston Eye Group P.C., One Monarch Place, Suite 310, Springfield, MA 01144. Sam Goldberger, 223 Grant Ave., Newton, MA 02459. Render medical services.

STOCKBRIDGE

Aviva Romm Enterprises Corp., 27 West Alford Road, West Stockbridge, MA 01266. Aviva Romm, 630 Main Road, Monterey, MA 01245. Operating a medically oriented writing, speaking and publishing business.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

420 AU Inc., 4 Wilder Terrace, West Springfield, MA 01089. Michael Anthony Skowron, same. Jewelry, retail, advertising, marketing, and communications.

WESTFIELD

5 Star Logistics Inc., 342 Southwick Road, Apt. 135, Westfield, MA 01085. Islam Agayev, same. Long haul trucking.

WILBRAHAM

Brookline Hair Inc., 31 Glenn Dr., Wilbraham, MA 01095. Maria J. Serra, same. Hair salon, day spa, buy and sell body treatments.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Joseph Bednar

Mayor Linda Tyer

Mayor Linda Tyer says Pittsfield’s leaders remain focused on the needs of its individual neighborhoods in order to generate economic development.

As part of her annual state-of-the-city address recently, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer praised the arrival of Wayfair — the fastest-growing e-commerce home-décor company in the world — on a number of levels.

Perhaps most importantly, by opening a sales and service center, the company has created 300 new jobs in Pittsfield. Wayfair is also a locally grown success story, founded by Pittsfield High School graduate Niraj Shah. And, Tyer said, Wayfair’s presence signals to other major employers that they can be successful in this city of about 45,000 people in the heart of Berkshire County.

But Wayfair’s arrival speaks to a broader success story as well — that of a city-wide development strategy that’s bearing fruit.

“Wayfair choosing Pittsfield wasn’t happenstance,” she said. “Rather, the foundation was set with the alignment of the city’s economic-development strategy. The city joined forces with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation. Together, we created the ‘red-carpet team,’ the Mayor’s Economic Development Council, and a new position of Business Development manager.”

In their discussions with companies looking to set up shop in Pittsfield, Tyer noted, those entities are touting not only the economic benefits of doing business here, but quality of life. And people are listening.

“We prepared our presentation assuming that Wayfair will want to know what incentives we might be able to offer them,” she explained. “As the first session got underway, Wayfair’s representatives said they’re not yet interested in the financial incentives. They’d rather learn about Pittsfield’s lifestyle, our schools, our neighborhoods. They wanted to make sure that our community culture aligned with Wayfair’s culture.”

Pittsfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 44,737
Area: 42.5 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $19.42
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.94
Median Household Income: $35,655
Median family Income: $46,228
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Berkshire Health Systems; General Dynamics; Petricca Industries Inc.; SABIC Innovative Plastics; Berkshire Bank
* Latest information available

The city’s red-carpet team, made up of city and state officials whose purpose is to develop strategies and explore incentives to support business expansion or startups, has been deployed in myriad cases to help companies move and expand in Pittsfield. Another resource Tyer is excited about is the Berkshire Innovation Center, which broke ground in September at the William Stanley Business Park.

This 20,000-square-foot facility that will support and advance the work of small and medium companies in the life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and technology, featuring cutting-edge equipment available to advanced manufacturers for research and development of new products. In partnership with Berkshire Community College, the center will be a place of teaching and learning, creating a pipeline of trained employees that area companies desperately need.

Neighborhoods on the Rise

Meanwhile, Tyer touted a downtown district generating energy through its mix of eateries, boutiques, and urban apartments, not mention a renovation of the historic Beacon Cinema on North Street by new owner Phoenix Theatres, which refreshed the interior, enhanced the seats, and added more showtimes.

“Downtown is Pittsfield’s front porch,” Tyer said. “We must remain watchful, always, to ensure a spirited, vibrant experience for all who live in and visit our city.”

She added that it’s time for the city to build on the successes of the North Street revitalization and focus more attention on the historic Tyler Street artery.

“My grandmother, who just turned 95, grew up on Tyler Street,” the mayor said. “She has fond memories of sitting on the front porch, getting an ice cream, and walking to North Street with her sisters to buy fabric at Newbury’s. Tyler Street can be that again, but with a modern twist.”

Anchored by Berkshire Medical Center, General Dynamics, and the William Stanley Business Park, the neighborhood is ripe for a renaissance, she argued. One development toward that goal is the conversion of the former St. Mary the Morningstar Church to 29 units of market-rate housing, a project that drew on $125,000 in state finding for infrastructure improvements around the building.

In addition, the Baker-Polito administration awarded a $30,000 grant last May to support small businesses in the neighborhood. The funding, Tyer explained, will be applied to Pittsfield’s Storefront Enhancement Program. “This is vital financial assistance for businesses to make façade improvements to boost visibility, attractiveness, and ensure accessibility.”

Work also began last summer on the Tyler Street Streetscape Design Project, which aims to create a curated throughway that addresses the needs of pedestrians and bicycles, improves lighting and landscaping, identifies dedicated bus stops, preserves on-street parking, and elevates public spaces. The completed design work is expected to be unveiled early this year.

Going forward, the city will continue to seek ways to take advantage of private investment in North Street and Tyler Street, both designated as Opportunity Zones, Tyer said. “Alliances with local and state representatives, financial institutions, and developers will spur capital investment and job creation.”

On the public-safety front, the mayor focused on several incidents in the Westside area of town, citing a meeting with neighborhood residents who expressed their fears and shared their ideas on ways to enhance the work of the police department, while they in turn tried to understand police protocols.

One idea — to establish a Police Department community outreach office in Westside — is becoming a reality, she added, thanks to space being offered by Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity in its building on Columbus Avenue.

Meanwhile, a series of high-visibility patrol operations were conducted in November and December. The operation, led by the Police Department’s uniformed patrol and anti-crime unit, brought in reinforcements from the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, Massachusetts State Police, and the state Alcohol Beverages Control Commission, which, in total, netted 32 arrests, including the seizure of approximately 340 grams of cocaine with an estimated value of $34,000 and a variety of illicit pills.

“While we tackle the complex issue of crime, our Police Department has established a strong philosophy of community policing,” Tyer added, noting that officers have hosted free movie events, back-to-school meet and greets, and other community activities. “All of these interactions create trusting relationships that will endure with our kids, their families, and our police officers.”

Collaborative Efforts

Still, making the community a more desirable one — again, a factor in attracting new business — doesn’t end with public safety. To that end, an LED street-light conversion will be complete by the spring, replacing some 5,300 streetlights in all, with the dual goal of brighter streets and lower utility bills. Meanwhile, the Westside Riverway Park, a new outdoor space along the west branch of the Housatonic River, extends from Wahconah Park to Clapp Park.

“Paying attention to what’s happening within our neighborhoods continues to be a primary focus. And our efforts are paying dividends,” Tyer said, noting that a surging housing market has increased home values in the city. Still, she added, vigilance against blight and decay in neighborhoods remains a priority for her administration.

“We have cataloged about 100 problem properties,” she noted. “The city’s code-enforcement team tries to identify and exercise all viable options. Our objective is always to preserve as much as possible. Sometimes, demolition is the only option. We continuously balance the cost of demotion against the very real gains that come with keeping our city appealing.”

Finally, 2018 was the first year of Community Preservation projects, the mayor noted. Drawing from a 1% surcharge on property values, the endeavor resulted in a $580,000 appropriation of funds for investing in historic resources, open space, and recreation. Eleven projects were funded, including the preservation of the Melville Art and Artifacts collection in the Berkshire Athenaeum, the Arrowhead stone wall, restoration of the Springside House, siting and design for pickleball courts, the turf field at Berkshire Community College, and infield restoration at the Pellerin baseball field.

Meanwhile, she said, local partners continue to support improvements in public spaces. This past year, the pavilion at Durant Park went up thanks to a gift from Greylock Federal Credit Union. A Berkshire Bank contribution facilitated the renovation of the basketball court at Lakewood Park, while the Buddy Pellerin Foundation and the Rotary Club are making significant investments in Clapp Park.

The progress Pittsfield has made on these fronts and others are, of course, a collective effort by myriad agencies, businesses, and individuals, Tyer noted. But she wants her administration to set the tone for growth.

“We cultivate an organizational culture that encompasses shared responsibility, proactive long-term planning, dynamic communication and professional development,” she said. “My philosophy around this is simple: when we make decisions that affect the people that we serve, these principles must be in the forefront of our minds.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

Just over a decade ago, BusinessWest launched a new recognition program, Difference Makers. And in many ways, the past 10 years have been a celebration of the many different ways groups and individuals can make a difference in their community, and this region as a whole.

Indeed, those making their way to the podium at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke have included a sheriff of Hampden County, a police chief in Holyoke, the president of UMass Amherst, the founder of Rays of Hope, the director of Junior Achievement, the co-founder of Link to Libraries, the creators of Valley Venture Mentors … the list goes on.

And this year’s additions to that list  provide still more evidence that there are countless ways to make a difference, and they all need to be celebrated:

• Let’s start with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. This Hatfield-based agency, launched in the early ’80s, is a Difference Maker on many levels, from the 11.6 million pounds of food and 9.6 million meals it provides to area shelters and soup kitchens, to its Coalition to End Hunger, which is raising awareness of the problem, attacking the stigma attached to it, and advocating for those in need. For almost 40 years, the Food Bank has been answering the call.

• The same is true of Joe Peters, a businessman who has always had an influence that has extended far beyond the walls of Universal Plastics. It has extended across Chicopee, the city he grew up and still lives in today, with initiatives such as the so-called ‘sandwich ministry,’ a program he helped start to feed the homeless in that city. And it has extended all the way to Guayape, Honduras, where he helped bring a new ambulance to that hurricane-ravaged village. He has always looked for new ways to step in and change lives for the better.

• As has Peter Gagliardi, the long-time president and CEO of Way Finders. He has spent the past 45 years working in the broad realm of housing and the past quarter-century at Way Finders, where he has greatly expanded the mission and, while doing so, has changed lives and helped change the course of entire neighborhoods through the power of collaboration.

• Frederick and Marjorie Hurst have always been catalysts for positive change within their community, especially through the newsmagazine they created called An African American Point of View, a name that speaks volumes about its mission and importance to the community. It blends community news with often-unsparing commentary, and speaks with a powerful voice, just like its founders.

• The Springfield Museums, as a cultural institution, is a different kind of Difference Maker. For more than 160 years, it has helped bring art, science, history, and memories to visitors from across this region and far outside it, a mission that entered a new dimension with the opening of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in 2017. Collectively, the Museums have helped put Springfield on the map and make it far more of a destination.

• Meanwhile, Carla Cosenzi, co-president of the TommyCar Auto Group, has found her own ways to make a difference. First, as a successful business owner and, therefore, role model and mentor to many young women. But also has a warrior in the battle against cancer, the disease that claimed the life of her father, through the Tommy Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament.

As we said, there are no limits on the ways that an individual or group can make a difference here in Western Massachusetts, or in Guayape, Honduras for that matter. That’s what we’ve been celebrating for the past decade, and the celebration continues with the class of 2019.

Picture This

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

Black Tie Gala

The Assoc. of Black Business and Professionals (ABBP) hosted its third annual Black Tie Gala on Jan. 19 at the Aria Ballroom at the MGM hotel in Springfield. During the gala, the association recognized 10 businesses and professionals were that have contributed significantly to the growth and development of the local black business community. The keynote speaker was Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah, ambassador of the Republic of Ghana to the U.S.

Attorney Alesia Days serves as master of ceremonies

Adjei-Barwuah addresses the crowd

Adjei-Barwuah addresses the crowd

Adjei-Barwuah (left) with Jasmine Green, ABBP executive board member

Adjei-Barwuah (left) with Jasmine Green, ABBP executive board member

From left, Jimmy and Toni Hendrix of Smokey Joe’s Cigar Lounge, Lamont Clemens of S-Cel-O Painting, Stefan Davis of I Found Light Against All Odds, Rosemary Tracy Woods of Art for the Soul Gallery, Justin Haynes of Jus10h, Vanessa Hall of Beaute Within, Clarence Thomas of Final Touch Barbershop, and Mychal Connoly of Stinky Cakes

From left, Clemons, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, mayoral aide and ABBP executive board member Darryl Moss, and Lordi Smith of Micro Scalp Clinic.

Open for Business

Florence Bank recently cut the ribbon on its second Hampden County branch, at 1444 Allen St. in Springfield. Bank staff, board members, and corporators were on hand at the ceremony, along with civic leaders.

In the front row, are, from left, Springfield City Councilor Michael Fenton, State Rep. Angelo Puppolo, Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Florence Bank President and CEO John Heaps, Vice President and Branch Manager Nikki Gleason, board member Mansour Ghalibaf, Area Manager/Vice President Elissa Langevin, corporator Tania Barber, Vice President/Director of Facilities Mark Cavanaugh, and Joanne Gould of the Outerbelt Service Assoc

The branch’s staff: from left, Carolyn Ware, community relations director; Candice Somar, assistant branch manager; Mario Nascimento, customer service representative/senior teller; Nikki Gleason, vice president/branch manager; Magdalis (Maggie) Sierra, customer service representative/senior teller; and Bianca Hyde, customer service representative/teller operations manager

 Sarno (left) greeting Heaps and welcoming Florence Bank into the city.

Sarno (left) greeting Heaps and welcoming Florence Bank into the city.

Model Congress at AIC

The 79th annual Model Congress at American International College, the longest-running continuous model congress of its type in the nation and one of the college’s oldest campus traditions, convened at AIC during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Eleven high schools throughout the Northeast came to campus to write, debate, and pass legislation in a weekend-long simulated congress.

The Best Delegation award was presented to (pictured, from left) Alexandria Barnard-Davignon, Rose McCaffrey, Bridget Bushy, and Michael Scoville from SABIS International Charter School. The Best Bill award was given to Chinaly Chanvong and Jada Ficarra, also from SABIS. McCaffrey was named this year’s top delegate, and will receive the Kathryn Mauke Scholarship, a full four-year tuition scholarship to AIC. Second- and third-place delegates were Althea Brennan and Pamela Mountain, respectively, from Chatham High School in New York, who receive a $10,000 and a $5,000 four-year scholarship to AIC.

Agenda

Nomination Deadline for 40 Under Forty

Through Feb. 15: BusinessWest is currently accepting nominations for the 40 Under Forty Class of 2019. The deadline for nominations is Feb. 15. Launched in 2007, the program recognizes rising stars in the four counties of Western Mass. Nominations, which should be detailed in nature, should list an individual’s accomplishments within their profession as well as their work within the community. Nominations can be completed online by visiting www.businesswest.com, clicking on ‘Our Events,’ and then ‘40 Under Forty.’ Nominations will be weighed by a panel of judges. The selected individuals will be profiled in the April 29 issue of BusinessWest and honored at the 40 Under Forty Gala on June 20 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. PeoplesBank will be presenting sponsor of this year’s 40 Under Forty program, and YPS of Greater Springfield is a partner. Additional sponsorships are available.

Application Deadline for Local Farmer Awards

Jan. 31: Farmers in Western Massachusetts are invited to apply for Local Farmer Awards up to $2,500 toward equipment and infrastructure projects to help them complete in the marketplace. The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF), in partnership with Big Y and with the support of other funders, is entering the fifth year of the awards program, which has helped more than 125 farmers carry out a total of 188 projects. The deadline for applying is Jan. 31. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit www.farmerawards.org for more information. “Big Y has been partnering with and supporting local farmers since we began over 80 years ago,” said Big Y president and CEO Charles D’Amour. “Our partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation provides one more way we help the local growers to thrive in our community.” Some examples of how the awards have been used include a high-efficiency vegetable washer, a walk-in cooler aging room, an egg washer, high tunnel irrigation, electric fencing, and a milkplan bulk tank. “Farmers don’t typically ask for help,” said philanthropist and project founder Harold Grinspoon. “They are genuinely appreciative of these awards and use the money in creative ways for projects to help their businesses.” To be eligible, farms must have gross sales of $10,000 or above and either be a member of Berkshire Grown or Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) or reside in one the four counties of Western Mass. Berkshire Grown and CISA share their passion for local farms by providing ongoing guidance and help with promotion of the Local Farmer Awards.

Free Legal Help Hotline

Feb. 7: The Hampden County Bar Assoc. will hold a Legal Help Hotline in conjunction with Western New England University School of Law from 4 to 7 p.m. at Western New England University School of Law, 1215 Wilbraham Road, Springfield. The volunteers will provide legal advice on a variety of topics, including divorce and family law, bankruptcy, business law, landlord/tenant issues, and real estate. Spanish-speaking attorneys will be available. Individuals needing advice should call (413) 796-2057 to speak to a volunteer.

‘DiSC for Sales’ Workshop

Feb. 28: Elms College will host a workshop to help salespeople and business leaders maximize their effectiveness with customers from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Faculty Dining Room in the Dooley College Center. The three-hour “DiSC for Sales” workshop, sponsored by the college’s MBA program and the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL), will be led by Nancy Davis, Business Development specialist at CEL. DiSC for Sales is a model that supports people in sales roles and helps them to recognize and understand their own unique strengths and style, while also helping them build relationships with clients by learning to read each client and adapt to connect with them better. The model offers a concrete method and practical tools to help businesspeople engage with all personality styles. During the interactive workshop, Davis, a certified DiSC facilitator, will offer educational content, examples, activities, and opportunities for sales-oriented people to recognize customer priorities, what to emphasize to customers, and strategies that work with different personality styles. Prior to the event, participants will take an online assessment and receive a full report. The cost to attend is $199 per person, which includes the workshop and dinner. Space is limited. Register by Friday, Feb. 15 by e-mailing [email protected] For more information, e-mail Davis at [email protected]

Springfield Leadership Institute

Feb. 28 to June 6: The 2019 Springfield Leadership Institute will focus on core management and leadership skills for increasing personal and organizational effectiveness. The practical and applied program will equip participants with the knowledge and skills to take their leadership to the next level. The Institute takes place on Thursdays from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and is directed by Robert Kleine III, dean of the Western New England University College of Business, and Associate Professor Stacie Chappell, who has a strong background in leadership development and consulting to a variety of organizations. The program is supported by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation. All sessions will be held at the TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Sessions will focus on managerial leadership, emotional intelligence and self-awareness, powerful communication, building high-performance teams, and leveraging conflict. Participants will actively explore best practices of leaders; analyze their own leadership, learning, and problem-solving styles; and experience the synergies that result from high-performing teams. The emphasis will be on experiential activities that provide opportunities to identify, develop, and refine skill sets for effective leadership. Participants will have the opportunity to apply and extend their learning through a practice-based team project. The program is designed for aspiring managers, new managers, and professionals interested in increasing their effectiveness and/or expanding their impact within or beyond their current role. Upon successful completion of Leadership 2019, participants will be eligible to enroll in a free graduate course offered through the College of Business at Western New England University (subject to certain requirements). Applications must be received by Thursday, Feb. 14. Tuition is $885 per participant and includes a day trip to Beacon Hill and a graduation dinner. For questions about the program or the application process, e-mail Grace Szydziak at [email protected]

Elms Instant Accept Day at GCC

March 6: The School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Elms College will host an Instant Accept Day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the cafeteria at Berkshire Community College, 1350 West St., Pittsfield. Interested students should bring their official transcripts to be considered for admission to bachelor’s degree completion programs in social work or early care and education. Elms College representatives will be on hand to discuss program options, review students’ educational histories, and offer instant acceptance to qualified applicants. In this degree-completion program, classes are held Saturdays on the Berkshire Community College campus, taught by Elms faculty. By completing coursework in 10 eight-week sessions over a 20-month period, students can save thousands of dollars in completing a bachelor’s degree.

‘Building a Company People Crave to Work For’

March 12: The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley is looking for business owners or key managers who would contribute to a presentation called “Building a Company People Crave to Work For.” Several years ago, Jack Stack, father of the Great Game of Business and open-book management, said, “build a great company — because a great company can’t help but make great products.” But what does it take to make a company great? The presentation will be made up of people from businesses with strong policies, attractive cultures, and impressive numbers of high potential employees rising through the ranks. Attendees will hear how they did it, and learn how to adopt anything that would work for their own companies. Get in touch at fambizpv.com.

Difference Makers

March 28: BusinessWest launched its Difference Makers program in 2009 to celebrate individuals, groups, organizations, and families that are positively impacting the Pioneer Valley and are, as the name suggests, making a difference in this region. The class of 2019 will be announced and profiled in the Feb. 4 issue and feted at the Difference Makers Gala on March 28 at 5 p.m. at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Tickets are on sale now for $75. To reserve a spot, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or e-mail [email protected] Event sponsors include presenting sponsor Baystate Health/Health New England, Royal, P.C., Burkhart Pizzanelli, P.C., Development Associates, and Viability.

Springfield Art Stop

April 26: The Springfield Cultural Partnership (SCP) announced the return of Art Stop, a pop-up gallery/street festival hybrid, from 5 to 8 p.m. The SCP is partnering with venues downtown to open galleries in unexpected spaces simultaneously. Additionally, several existing Springfield art galleries along this year’s route will also participate as stops along the Art Stop. Between the galleries, which will have the typical artist talks and receptions, there will be street performances. Art Stop was designed to activate underutilized community spaces with colorful art, create economic opportunity for artists, and bring communities together. Galleries will all be located in downtown Springfield. Each individual gallery opening will have an reception with the artist on site to both sell and talk about their work. This year, the SCP has also partnered with several downtown restaurants that will offer a discount on food to Art Stop attendees who present their Art Stop ‘passport’ on April 26. The SCP, along with organizing the curation of art in the pop-up spaces, is hiring unique buskers to encourage attendees to walk from place to place. Guides will be strategically placed to guide attendees along the Art Stop route. The performers will showcase an array of dance, music, and entertainment. All locations are within a walkable area.

Picture This

Building New Lives

More than two dozen students were recently recognized for completing a five-month ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) program for Puerto Rican evacuees at Holyoke Community College. The Puerto Rican New Arrivals Program started July 23 and concluded Dec. 20 with a recognition ceremony and feast at HCC’s Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center (PAFEC) in downtown Holyoke. The HCC division of Business and Community Services offered the free ESOL program specifically for residents of Puerto Rico who left the island after Hurricane Maria and relocated to Western Mass.

Maria Crespo Santos and Yamilette Gonzalez Caceres share a moment at the ceremony

Students, faculty, and staff from HCC’s Puerto Rican New Arrivals Program celebrate the completion of the program

Investing in Students

An “Introduction to Fire Science” elective class offered at Ware High School and taught by Ware Fire Department Deputy Chief Edward Wloch — one example of project-based learning at the high school — led to an opportunity to take an EMT-B class at the Holyoke Community College satellite located at the Education to Employment (E2E) site in Ware. Students who finished the high-school elective are now exploring careers in fire science and emergency medicine. Area business partners included Baystate Wing Hospital Corp., which provided a matching grant of $640 that covered half the tuition and textbooks for the EMT course. From left: Michael Moran, president of Baystate Mary Lane and Baystate Wing Hospital; students Valentina Towne, Morgan Orszulak, and Joe Gagnon; Wloch; students Seth Bourdeau, Felicity Dineen, and Jordan Trzpit; and Ware Superintendent of Schools Marlene DiLeo.

From left: Michael Moran, president of Baystate Mary Lane and Baystate Wing Hospital; students Valentina Towne, Morgan Orszulak, and Joe Gagnon; Wloch; students Seth Bourdeau, Felicity Dineen, and Jordan Trzpit; and Ware Superintendent of Schools Marlene DiLeo.

From left: Michael Moran, president of Baystate Mary Lane and Baystate Wing Hospital; students Valentina Towne, Morgan Orszulak, and Joe Gagnon; Wloch; students Seth Bourdeau, Felicity Dineen, and Jordan Trzpit; and Ware Superintendent of Schools Marlene DiLeo.

Another Act of Advocacy


The Advocacy Network, a local organization with a mission to promote and protect the health, human rights, and safety of people with developmental disabilities, recently donated $17,000 to Whole Children. The donation was one of the last acts of the group, which announced it is dissolving after more than 60 years of work. “We’re very pleased to support the programs and staff of Whole Children. We know we found the right place,” said Advocacy Network board member Ed Orzechowski. Whole Children was started in 2004 by a group of parents looking for after-school programs for their children with intellectual disabilities or autism. It joined with Springfield-based Pathlight in 2010 and has expanded to serve some 600 adults, teens, and children each year in a variety of recreation, performing-arts, and enrichment programs.

Launching a New Brand


Consolidated Health Plans (CHP), a Springfield-based accident- and health-insurance Berkshire Hathaway company, recently announced the launch of a new brand name and brand identity for three organizations: Consolidated Health Plans, Commercial Casualty Insurance Co., and Atlanta International Insurance Co. The organizations will be branded under the marketing name of Wellfleet, and the company names are changing to Wellfleet Group, Wellfleet Insurance Co., and Wellfleet New York Insurance Co., respectively.
Consolidated Health Plans President and CEO, Drew DiGiorgio, right, with company founder Kevin Saremi at CHP’s recent 25th anniversary celebration at the Basketball Hall of Fame. At left: from left, CHP employees Maureen Brunelle, Karen O’Connor, Susan Daley, and Amanda Noel.

Consolidated Health Plans President and CEO, Drew DiGiorgio, right, with company founder Kevin Saremi at CHP’s recent 25th anniversary celebration at the Basketball Hall of Fame. At left: from left, CHP employees Maureen Brunelle, Karen O’Connor, Susan Daley, and Amanda Noel.

Agenda

40 Under Forty Nominations

Through Feb. 15: BusinessWest is currently accepting nominations for the 40 Under Forty Class of 2019. The deadline for nominations is Feb. 15. Launched in 2007, the program recognizes rising stars in the four counties of Western Mass. Nominations, which should be detailed in nature, should list an individual’s accomplishments within their profession as well as their work within the community. Nominations can be completed online by visiting www.businesswest.com, clicking on ‘Our Events,’ and then ‘40 Under Forty.’ Nominations will be weighed by a panel of judges. The selected individuals will be profiled in the April 29 issue of BusinessWest and honored at the 40 Under Forty Gala on June 20 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

‘A Case Study of a Successful Development Project’

Jan. 17: MGM Springfield is a multi-use entertainment, retail, dining, and resort complex that is transforming downtown Springfield. An upcoming seminar presented by the Massachusetts Bar Assoc. will take a case-study approach to examine some of the critical issues that were successfully handled during development and construction. The event will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at MGM Springfield. The topics to be discussed include land acquisition, consolidation of parcels, and zoning; local and state permitting, including the interplay between the two; the use of G.L. c. 121A, Urban Redevelopment Corporations; coordination with the city of Springfield regarding logistics — access, transportation, and utilities; the nature and structure of contracts to build the complex; and the finished product, including an insider’s tour at the conclusion of the program. A reception will follow this program. Panelists will include attorneys Paul Lane. (program co-chair), Lane McNamara, LLP; Daniel Finnegan (program co-chair), Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas, LLP; John Drost, Fitzgerald Attorneys at Law, P.C.; Seth Stratton, vice president and legal counsel, MGM Springfield; Jane Mantolesky, Fitzgerald Attorneys at Law, P.C.; and Edward Pikula, city of Springfield Law Department; as well as Brian Packer, vice president of Development, MGM Springfield. For more information and registration fees, visit bit.ly/2Ekx0yK.

Western Mass. Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Banquet

Jan. 31: Justine Siegal, the first female coach in the history of Major League Baseball, will be the keynote speaker for the sixth annual Western Massachusetts Baseball Hall of Fame induction banquet. She will also be inducted as part of the class of 2019, along with Dana LeVangie, Karl Oliveira, Mike Laga, Jim Jachym, Mark Belanger, Candy Cummings, and the 2018 Pittsfield Little League team. The ceremony, hosted by the Valley Blue Sox, will take place at 7 p.m. at La Quinta Inn and Suites, 100 Congress St., Springfield. Siegal is the president and founder of Baseball for All, a nonprofit organization that empowers women to play, coach, and lead in baseball. She earned her doctorate in sport and exercise psychology from Springfield College, where she served as an assistant coach for the baseball team from 2008 to 2010. She also coached youth baseball. In 2009, Siegal became the first female coach of a professional men’s team when she worked as the first-base coach of the Brockton Rox in the independent Canadian American Assoc. of Professional Baseball. In 2011, she became the first woman to throw batting practice to a big league team, the Cleveland Indians. She also has served as a batting-practice pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and New York Mets. In October 2015, Oakland invited her to serve a two-week stint as guest instructor in the instructional league in Arizona, making her the first female to coach in the major leagues. Siegal will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2019. This year’s class is the sixth since the inaugural banquet in 2014. Since its inception, 35 individuals and four teams who have represented and served the baseball community of Western Mass. have been honored. Tickets for the banquet are $50, or $450 for a table of 10. Dinner is included, and every guest will receive a pair of tickets to a 2019 Blue Sox home game. To purchase tickets, call (413) 533-1100 or visit valley-blue-sox.ticketleap.com/2019-hof.

‘Building a Company People Crave to Work For’

March 12: The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley is looking for business owners or key managers who would contribute to a presentation called “Building a Company People Crave to Work For.” Several years ago, Jack Stack, father of the Great Game of Business and open-book management, said, “build a great company — because a great company can’t help but make great products.” But what does it take to make a company great? The presentation will be made up of people from businesses with strong policies, attractive cultures, and impressive numbers of high potential employees rising through the ranks. Attendees will hear how they did it, and learn how to adopt anything that would work for their own companies. Get in touch at fambizpv.com.

Incorporations

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

EAST LONGMEADOW

Jenna M. Serra Inc., 36 Frasier Dr., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Jenna M. Serra, same. Applied behavior analysis.

LBH Insurance Inc., 200 North Main St. Suite 7, East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Leon Blake, 21 Oak Grove Ave., Springfield, MA 01109. Insurance sales, services and consulting.

LUDLOW

John A Portelada Electrical Contractor Inc., 168 Lockland Ave., Ludlow, MA 01056. John A. Portelada, same. Electrical contracting.

PITTSFIELD

Marsall Smart Cleaning Inc., 124 E Housatonic St., Apt Back, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Osmar Sales, same. Cleaning and maintenance.

Medialytics Inc. 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 10, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Andrew Waplinger, same. Online software.

SPRINGFIELD

JC Rehab Solutions Inc., 28 Wood End Road, Springfield, MA 01118. Juan Cabrera, same. Asset management.

Laporte Auto Transport Inc., 65 Belmont Ave., Springfield, MA 01108. Carl Laporte, same. Transportation.

Love Nails Inc., 1349 Allen St., Springfield, MA 01118. Chunri Zhao, same. Nail and day spa services.

LT Construction Inc., 18 Fremont St., Apt 1, Springfield, MA 01105. Luis Bano Tixe, same. Construction company.

M & B Tour Inc., 85A Mill St., Springfield, MA 01108. Jian-Hui Li, same. Charter bus.

WESTFIELD

McClellan Construction Inc., 98 Berkshire Dr., Westfield, MA 01085. Donald J. McClellan, same. Commercial construction services.

WILBRAHAM

Law Offices of John F. Soja P.C., 2022 Boston Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095. John F. Soja, same. Law practice.

Briefcase

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Decrease in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts decreased in the first nine months of 2018 compared to the first nine months of 2017, according to the latest quarterly opioid-related deaths report released recently by the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH). In the first nine months of 2018, there were a total of 1,518 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths, as compared with 1,538 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2017. This estimated decrease follows a 4% decline between 2016 and 2017. “The opioid epidemic, fueled by an all-time high level of fentanyl, remains a tragic public-health crisis responsible for taking too many lives in Massachusetts,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “While there is much work left for all of us to do, we are encouraged that overdose deaths and opioid prescriptions continue to decline as searches on the Commonwealth’s Prescription Monitoring Program increase.” The latest report also indicates that the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl present in the toxicology of opioid-related overdose deaths continues to rise and reached an all-time high at 90% in the second quarter of 2018. Meanwhile, the rate of heroin or likely heroin present in those deaths continued to plummet. In 2014, heroin or likely heroin was present in 71% of opioid-related deaths; by the second quarter of this year, that number had fallen to 37%. Last month, the Baker administration filed legislation seeking $5 million to support a regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement by Massachusetts municipal police departments. The funding will supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units engaged, and officers in the field will also work to get buyers into treatment. In addition, last April, Baker signed legislation that included a long-overdue ‘fentanyl fix’ to allow law enforcement to pursue fentanyl traffickers.

Five Colleges, PVTA, Towns Agree to Increase Bus Payments

SPRINGFIELD — A proposal by the Five College Consortium to increase its annual payment to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority by a total of $250,000 over the next four years has been accepted by PVTA and area municipalities. PVTA’s costs are covered with a combination of federal and state subsidies, payments from towns and cities, and passenger fares. Since 1979, Five Colleges has agreed to pay PVTA the town portion of the cost of bus routes that include its campuses. This has been with the understanding that, to encourage bus use, Five College students do not have to pay fares. In recent years, however, the cost of operating buses along Five College routes has expanded beyond what PVTA was charging. When the campuses became aware of the gap last year, the consortium developed a schedule for increasing payments that would provide greater support to PVTA without creating an undue burden for its campuses. Building on the most current charge of $500,000, the agreement has the campuses paying an additional $50,000 each year until total annual payments reach $750,000. The first payment was made in the last fiscal year, and additional payments will be made in each of the coming four years.

Travelers Aid Begins Service at Bradley International Airport

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) and Travelers Aid announced that Travelers Aid International has begun serving the passengers of Bradley International Airport as the operator of the guest-service volunteer program at the airport. Travelers Aid now operates the Information Center in Terminal A on the lower level, which is the baggage-claim level. There are currently 45 volunteers, and Travelers Aid will be recruiting additional volunteers in order to better serve the airport’s passengers. The center’s current hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Mary Kate Doherty, an experienced volunteer manager, has been retained by Travelers Aid to manage and expand the program. Bradley International Airport will be the 18th airport in the Travelers Aid Transportation Network, which also includes four North American railroad stations and a cruise terminal. In the coming months, Travelers Aid will be reaching out to the residents of the region seeking additional volunteers. Doherty said Travelers Aid will be seeking anyone, both students and adults, interested in assisting a traveler with their questions. Anyone interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities should contact Doherty at (860) 500-8582 or [email protected].

ValleyBike Share Touts Inaugural Season Success

SPRINGFIELD — ValleyBike Share recently extended thanks to all users, sponsors, and supporters during its inaugural season. While the system experienced some expected (and unexpected) issues during this year’s startup, users successfully traveled over 88,000 miles together and made the bike-share system a success. People have been using the system instead of their cars for commuting to work and school, running errands, and even just for exercise and fresh air. “We are excited by the enthusiastic response in this first season of bike share, which has exceeded our original ridership projections,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz. “We look forward to Easthampton joining the program next spring and also filling in the gaps in the system to continue expanding this important transportation alternative in the region.” Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, noted that, since ValleyBike has been in existence, residents and visitors of the five founding communities and UMass Amherst have traveled the equivalent of three and half times around the Earth — “something truly worth celebrating as its inaugural season comes to a close.” As originally programmed, the system shut down completely on Nov. 30 and will be re-opened on April 1 (weather permitting). During the time ValleyBike Share bikes are over-wintering, ValleyBike will be working to fix the issues noted in the startup season to provide the public with new and improved riding opportunities next season.

Monson Savings Bank Seeks Input on Charitable Giving

MONSON — For the ninth year in a row, Monson Savings Bank is asking the community to help plan the bank’s community giving activities by inviting people to vote for the organizations they would like the bank to support during 2019. “Every year, we donate over $125,000 to organizations doing important work in the communities we serve,” said Steve Lowell, president of Monson Savings Bank. “For several years now, we’ve been asking the community for input on which groups they’d like us to support. We’ve been so pleased by how many people inquire each year as to when the voting will begin again and how many people actually participate.” To cast their vote, people can go to www.monsonsavings.bank/about-us/vote-community-giving. On that page, they can see a list of organizations the bank has already supported in 2018 and provide up to three names of groups they’d like the bank to donate to in 2019. The only requirement is that the organizations be nonprofit and providing services in Hampden, Monson, Wilbraham, or Ware. The voting ends at 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31. The bank pledges to support the top 10 vote getters and will announce who they are by the middle of January.

Incorporations

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

BARRE

Ishana Inc., 578 Summer St., Barre, MA 01005. Monil Patel, 4 Ralph Ave., Worcester, MA 01604. Liquor store.

J. D. Poulin Electric Inc., 351 Old Petersham Road, Barre, MA 01005. Jason D. Poulin, same. Electrical contractor.

BELCHERTOWN

Imperial Auto Movers Inc., 6 Fox Run Dr., Belchertown, MA 01007. Dmitry Kuzmenok, same. Trucking.

CHESHIRE

J. Richardson Contracting Inc., 135 Stafford Hill, Cheshire, MA 01225. Jason Richardson, same. General contracting.

EASTHAMPTON

Glenn Building Inc., 18 Ashley Circle, Easthampton, MA 01027. Norman F. Glenn, same. Building construction and renovation.

FEEDING HILLS

HD Painting Pros Inc., 960 Springfield St., Unit 12, Feeding Hills, MA 01030. Jesse James Hester, same. Painting.

LUDLOW

JBP Construction Inc., 157 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056. Jamie R. Pio, 343 Woodland Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056. Construction services.

STOCKBRIDGE

Here for the Dogs Inc., 6 Shamrock St., Stockbridge, MA 01262. Nicole Jean Bessey, same. Raise awareness to the potential danger of dog collar use and the safe use of dog harnesses.

WARREN

Hardwick Memorial Handbell Choir Inc., 13 Jones St., Warren, MA 01083. Shawna R. Andrews, 1930 Gilbertville Road, New Braintree, MA 01531. Performing and encouraging the Handbell arts in the greater Hardwick community with performances both public and ecumenical.

WESTFIELD

Hearts to Pawz Project Inc., 24 Camelot Lane, Westfield, MA 01085. Terri Kutayli, same. Support local animal shelters.

WILBRAHAM

Gray Hawk Corp., 13 Cottage Ave., Wilbraham, MA 01095. Radu Moraru, same. Construction.

Cover Story

Supporting a Growth Industry

When CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) was launched 25 years ago, this region’s agricultural community was threatened by a host of issues and societal changes. Today, those challenges remain, but CISA, through its ‘buy local’ program and other initiatives, has lived up to its name by getting the community involved in sustaining and growing this vital sector of the economy.

Margaret Christie is quick to point out that the many challenges area farmers faced a quarter century ago are still as much a part of the landscape as asparagus fields in Hadley.

These include everything from the cost of land (among the highest levels in the country), to the many pressures on that land, meaning attractive development options ranging from housing subdivisions to industrial parks, to immense competition from across the country and around the world.

And there are even some additional challenges, including an aging group of farm owners and workers — Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age — and a phrase you didn’t hear much, if at all, in 1993, but certainly heard this summer as the rain kept coming down in the 413: Climate change.

But the environment for farmers has been altered in one important respect, said Christie, and that comes in the form of an additional and quite significant support system called, appropriately enough, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, or CISA. Christie, now the agency’s special projects coordinator, was its first executive director, and she recalled the thought process — not to mention a $1.2 million Kellogg Foundation grant — that brought CISA into being.

“CISA grew out of an effort by a lot of people who were working on different agriculture issues in the valley, many of them associated with the colleges or existing nonprofits, who each felt they were each working on some piece related to food and agriculture, but they weren’t really talking to each other,” she explained. “And so they had a pretty simple idea, which was to have a series of brown-bag lunches, get together every month, and compare notes. And out of that experience, they began to think ‘we need to be doing something bigger and more coordinated.”

That something bigger and more coordinated was CISA, which came about a time when the region’s agricultural base was more threatened than most could have understood, said Christie, noting that in the decade prior to its creation, there was a significant erosion in the agricultural land base — a loss of 21,000 acres to be precise — and a decline in farmers income of about 3%.

“The people who were involved in CISA thought ‘we might really lose this land base, and we have great soil here — we have prime agricultural soils rivaling any place in the world,’” she recalled. “They said ‘this is important to us as a community and we don’t want to lose it.’”

Margaret Christie says CISA has made buying local front of mind

Margaret Christie says CISA has made buying local front of mind for many area residents, and something very easy to do.

To the question ‘how do we avoid losing this precious commodity?’ those at CISA answered, in essence, by saying ‘get the community involved,’ said Executive Director Philip Korman, adding that the agency has done just that.

Today, though initiatives such as the ‘Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown’ campaign with which the agency is synonymous, many forms of technical assistance, and an emergency loan program, CISA has not only brought more attention to local farms and farm products, it has stabilized and, in some ways, actually grown the local agriculture sector — meaning Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin Counties.

Indeed, as the chart on page 10 reveals, there are now 182,428 acres of land devoted to agriculture in those three counties, compared to 165,420 acres in 1993. There are now 36 farmers’ markets across the region, compared to 10 back then; there are 51 farms offering farm shares (CSA farms) compared to 19 back then; and direct farm-to-consumer sales are nor more than $10 million, more than double the total a quarter century ago.

But despite this progress, many challenges remain and more are emerging, including the aforementioned climate change. And as it celebrates its first 25 years, CISA is also looking ahead and to ways it can be an even better stronger advocate for local agriculture.

For this issue, BusinessWest looks at how CISA has supported an important growth sector this region over the past 25 years — figuratively and quite literally — and also at how, as it celebrates this milestone, the focus remains on the present and future, not the past.

Experts in Their Field

It is with a large and easily discernable amount of pride in her voice that Meg Bantle notes that her family has been farming the same tract of land in Adams for six generations covering more than two centuries years — and that she is the sixth.

Indeed, she now operates a modest vegetable and flower operation, called Full Well Farm, on a tiny corner of the 500-acre property that was once a thriving dairy farm. Meanwhile, her mother and grandmother have been trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the property, a question that’s been challenging her family since her grandfather died in 2013, and Bantle is now playing a role in that effort as well.

“Being back on that land, in closer proximity to the family business and my mom, will help me to be involved in the decision-making in terms of what’s going to happen with the rest of the land,” she told BusinessWest. “We’ve had a number of discussions about making a succession plan for the future.”

Mantle was one of several area farmers to take part in something called ‘Field Notes — An Afternoon of Storytelling’ on Nov. 18 at the Academy of Music in Northampton. A number of farmers, chefs, and brewers took to the podium to talk of memories, challenges, opportunities lost, opportunities gained, the present, and the future.

The event was staged by CISA as part of its 25th anniversary, said Korman, noting that the agency played a least a small part in many of the stories told. Meanwhile, it exists to help script more of them in the years and decades to come, by inspiring more people like Bantle to return to the land as she did after college and to perhaps help more families devise succession plans.

It has been this way since CISA’s start in a small home office in Northampton. The agency has since relocated several times, with stints at UMass and Hampshire College, for example, and is now located in a suite of offices in the shadow of Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield.

From there, staff members coordinate a number of programs and initiatives, the most visible and impactful of which is the ‘Local Hero’ program and its annual publication, known as the ‘Locally Grown Farm Products Guide.’

“The people who were involved in CISA thought ‘we might really lose this land base, and we have great soil here — we have prime agricultural soils rivaling any place in the world. They said ‘this is important to us as a community and we don’t want to lose it.”

Broken down by community and individual farm, the guide captures, well, the full flavor of the region’s agro sector with colorful snapshots of each operation, usually featuring a personal touch, like this entry for the North Hadley Sugar Shack: ‘Enjoy our Sugarin’ Breakfast daily from mid-February to Mid-April. Come see how we make maple syrup, grab a maple treat, or get supplies to make your own. We serve hard ice cream and our own maple soft serve from May to October, and host lots of fun, family-friendly, and educational events all summer long. Open year-round; local seasonal produce and flowers available throughout the year.’

The annual guide is a big part of broad efforts to use the media and marketing techniques to build broad community support for local farms, said Claire Morenon, communications manager for CISA, adding that these efforts, and especially the ‘buy local’ campaign have helped changed the face of agriculture in the Pioneer Valley and beyond, as indicated in those numbers mentioned earlier.

Christie agreed, and said that, in addition to being the country’s oldest ‘buy local’ initiative, CISA’s program really facilitates the process of buying from local farms, and keeps the practice front of mind.

“We did some survey work before we launched our ‘Local Hero’ campaign, and what we found is that people in this region really understood that supporting local farmers kept their money in their local community and supported their neighbors, and that was important to them,” she said. “We didn’t have to teach people that; they understood it already.

“But I think we were one of the first places to do this at the scale we do, and also at the community level that we do,” she went on. “Certainly state departments of agriculture have promoted food grown in that state for a long time, but I don’t think, in a lot of cases, that they’ve personalized it with the farmer’s face and the story of farms, and taken it to the level we have, where we make it easy for people.

“If you were grocery shopping, and you were working all day, and you picked up the kids from wherever, and you had to go home and make dinner, and everyone’s tired … we wanted you to remember that it’s important to support local farms at that point,” she continued. “And you could, because it was salient, you had heard about it so much that you remembered it and it was easy for you because there was a logo and a label and you could see what was local.”

And by local, CISA means local, said Korman, adding that while buying products made in Massachusetts is an important goal, buying from people down the street or a town or two over is even more so.

Phil Korman says CISA’s mission hasn’t changed

Phil Korman says CISA’s mission hasn’t changed, but the agency has broadened its reach to include issues such as hunger in the region.

“It’s one thing to do branding at a state level, but it’s not the same thing as home — it’s your home state, but it’s not your home,” he told BusinessWest. “We elevated it to a level where people understand that it’s our neighbors who are our farmers, and that ‘I can get to know that person depending on how I buy goods, and I get to understand and taste and develop a connection to the person who’s growing food for my family.”

Yield Signs

Many of the farmers now doing business in this region have been tending the land for decades, but most have never a seen a summer like this one, said Korman.

While the seemingly incessant rain probably helped a few crops, it negatively impacted many others and, overall, it made life miserable for farm owners and their employees.

“We’ve heard from all kinds of farms — orchards, vegetable farms … it’s affected just about everyone, and if it didn’t make things terrible, it made things very unfun,” he said. “And I don’t say that lightly; it’s just been so hard to be out in the field.”

The havoc wrought by the summer of 2018 is made clear by the number of farms likely to apply for aid from CISA’s emergency farm fund, started after Hurricane Irene, Korman went on, adding that the fund is one example of how CISA’s reach has extended beyond marketing and brand awareness, if you will, with the brand being the sum of the area’s farms — and into technical and financial assistance, training, and other avenues of support, all aimed at strengthening the farming community.

And also an example of how the agency, while not changing its core mission in any real way, is broadening its focus to include different issues and challenges — for both farmers and this region.

“In recent years, as the Local Hero campaign has been so successful, and as we’ve felt our original work has been successful enough to stand on its own, we’ve been thinking more about some of the broader food-system challenges we’re facing and thinking outside of just consumers and farmers,” said Morenon. “Such as huger and our role in addressing that, the condition of farm workers and our role with that, and other issues.”

“If you were grocery shopping, and you were working all day, and you picked up the kids from wherever, and you had to go home and make dinner, and everyone’s tired … we wanted you to remember that it’s important to support local farms at that point.”

Elaborating, she and others we spoke with said the region’s farmers can’t solve the hunger issue, but they can certainly play a role in efforts to stem the tide of hunger in the region, specifically through partnerships with local, state, and even national agencies.

A prime example is the Healthy Initiatives Program (HIP). Launched in 2017 and administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance, in partnership with the Department of Agricultural resources and the Department of Public Health, HIP provides monthly incentives to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) — $40 for families of one to two people, and $80 for families of six or more, for example — when they purchase fresh, local, healthy fruits and vegetables from Massachusetts farmers at farmers’ markets, farm stands, CSAs, and mobile markets. The money they spend at these retailers is immediately added back to their EBT cards, and can be spent at any SNAP retailers.

Since its inception, the program has meant better health outcomes for vulnerable families and better sustainability for local farms, said Korman, noting that SNAP families have purchased more than $4 million of produce from farms across the state and that SNAP sales at farm retailers increased by nearly 600% between 2016 and 2017 thanks to HIP.

“The pilot program in Hampden County showed that the incentives increased consumption of produce by 24%,” he explained, noting that the success locally led to a broadening of the program to cover the whole state.

Another example is Monte’s March, the hugely successful food drive to support the Food Bank of Western Mass., led by WHMP radio personality Monte Belmonte — or, more specifically, efforts on CISA’s part to spotlight just how much local farmers donate to that cause.

“They now add up the poundage — and its 500,000 pounds of food that gets donated by local farmers,” Korman told BusinessWest. “It isn’t that it’s the responsibility of local farmers to solve hunger, it’s more the responsibility of all of us to make sure there are local farms, because that generosity and that connection to the community will benefit us all.”

In a nutshell, this is the mindset that helped launch CISA, it’s the philosophy that has guided its first 25 years, and the thought process that will guide it in the future.

Growing the Bottom the Line

Meg Bantle has many vivid memories of life on her family’s farm. One she shared with the audience at Field Notes involved the day some cows stampeded her and other family members.

No one was seriously hurt, she said, but the memory of that day, symbolic of the difficult life farmers live, has always remained with her, like countless others.

It doesn’t say so anywhere in CISA’s official mission statement, but the agency is really all about creating such memories for several future generations of area farmers. How? As it always has, by making a solid connection between the farmers and the surrounding communities and making it very easy to buy local‚ as in local.

There’s some food for thought — in every sense of that phrase.

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

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

The former Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort

The former Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort is undergoing a $60 million renovation and expansion by the Miraval Group.

As its town manager, Christopher Ketchen is certainly bullish on Lenox.

“If you’re moving to the Berkshires, Lenox has clearly got to be on your radar for many reasons,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he’s one of the more recent converts. “I made the move here myself from the Boston area four years ago. I’m originally from Alford, and when I moved back to this area, I chose to live in Lenox.”

Lenox may be known mainly — and deservedly — for its cultural and recreational attractions, from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to Shakespeare & Co., to the town’s collection of rustic inns and bed and breakfasts.

But a different sort of economic energy has been bubbling up in recent years, from the small businesses, hotels, and motels springing up along the Route 7 corridor to an ongoing, $60 million expansion and renovation at the former Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort. The Miraval Group, a subsidiary of Hyatt Hotels, purchased the property in 2016 for $22 million and plans to transform it into a high-end wellness resort.

Then there’s the new Courtyard by Marriott, which opened last year and features 92 rooms with panoramic views, an indoor pool, a large patio with firepits, a restaurant, and a 12,000-square-foot event space. Meanwhile, the 112-room Travaasa Experimental Resort at Elm Court, which straddles the Lenox and Strockbridge line, is moving forward as well.

Other projects in recent years include the relocation of Morrison’s Home Improvement Specialists Inc. from Pittsfield and its adaptive reuse of a blighted building that had been vacant for 10 years, an apartment conversion at the Walker Street Residences by the Allegrone Companies, and the construction of Allegrone’s headquarters and co-working office space using green design and technology in a building on Route 7.

Chris Ketchen says Lenox is a draw

Chris Ketchen says Lenox is a draw because of its schools, healthy finances, cultural offerings, and a host of other factors.

“The hospitality industry is probably the biggest economic driver locally,” Ketchen told BusinessWest. “Miravar, the Cranwell development, is still in progress, Elm Court is still in progress, Marriott is up and running. As far as new projects coming in the door, there’s nothing else on that scale today, but that could change tomorrow.”

Moving On Up

In some ways, Lenox doesn’t need the kind of business growth other towns and cities do, because its strengths have long lay in both tourism for visitors and quality of life for residents.

“The town has gotten a fair amount of regional and national recognition in recent years for the schools and for the town’s financial practices,” Ketchen said, noting that Lenox is just one of two Massachusetts municipalities west of the Connecticut River whose finances have AAA ratings from Standard & Poor’s, the other being Great Barrington.

Meanwhile, “our schools are knocking it out of the park year after year in terms of their recognition at both the federal Department of Education and various statewide rankings. The high school ranked number four by U.S. News & World Report, the annual benchmark rating a lot of districts measure themselves by, so a very attractive place for families to locate and make a home.”

Lenox at a glance:

Year Incorporated: 1767
Population: 5,025
<strong>Area: 21.7 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $12.14 
Commercial Tax Rate: $14.98
Median Household Income: $85,581
Median Family Income: $111,413
Type of Government: Board of Selectmen, Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Canyon Ranch, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Kimball Farms

* Latest information available

Not wanting to rest on its laurels, Lenox residents recently approved an appropriation to work with regional agencies to update the town’s comprehensive master plan. “The Planning Board is undertaking that as we speak,” Ketchen said, “and we’ve created a housing production plan through the affordable housing committee, so we’re tackling those issues in a thoughtful way moving forward.”

The state seeks 10% of housing units in any town to be affordable, but in Lenox, the current level is just over 7%, based on the 2010 Census.

The town has also been undertaking significant infrastructure improvements in recent years, the latest announcement being a $9 million, federally funded widening and improvement of a stretch of Walker Street, in addition to water and sewer improvements there.

“We’ve been investing heavily in infrastructure through aggressive capital-improvement programs,” Ketchen said.

To address an aging population — the median age of residents is 51, reflecting a trend in other towns in the Berkshires — town officials created a first-time-homebuyers program in 2016 in partnership with four banks that offers up to $10,000 in down payments to qualified applicants. They also changed zoning requirements to make it easier to build new apartments and condominiums or convert older housing stock into appealing residences, as well as adopting a Complete Streets policy that will make the town eligible for state funds to improve connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Meanwhile, to address a dearth of of market-rate apartments in Lenox, Allegrone Companies completed a renovation last year of the 1804 William Walker House, transforming it into eight market-rate apartments.

The Whole Package

To encourage companies to move to Lenox or expand, town officials have been focused on a five-year open-space plan that was adopted several years ago.

“With our proximity to employment centers in Pittsfield and also Springfield and Albany, there are options for workers who want to make Lenox their home.”

“We have an open-space and recreation plan that was really well-conceived by the Conway School in conjunction with our Land Use Department, and we’re a few years into executing that plan to preserve open space,” Ketchen said, noting projects like a major improvement to Lenox Town Beach at Laurel Lake last year. In addition, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, the regional land trust, has been working to develop a regional trail network with a long section passing through Lenox.

Add it all up, Ketchen said, and this town of just over 5,000 residents has plenty to offer.

“With our proximity to employment centers in Pittsfield and also Springfield and Albany, there are options for workers who want to make Lenox their home — and it’s a wonderful place to make a home,” he told BusinessWest. “The town is well-managed financially. We have outstanding schools, libraries, and community center. For a town of our size, we’re providing a lot of services for residents of all ages. Our public-safety and public-works operations are some of the best in the business.”

He added that the town’s tax rates are low — $12.14 for residents and $14.98 for businesses — and relatively stable from year to year.

“Couple that with the employment opportunities and the outstanding municipal and educational programs, the arts and cultural amenities of the region, and the recreational opportunities — put that together, and you have a very attractive package.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Picture This

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

 

Investing in People

MHA’s Leadership Series

MHA’s Leadership Series, which is open to all members of management in the mental-health agency, delivers a leadership curriculum specialized for human-services professionals. The comprehensive training is designed to support supervisors and directors within their roles. Twenty-six supervisors recently graduated from MHA’s Leadership Series 2018. A second Leadership Series is scheduled for the winter of 2019. “Employee training is essential to the success of any organization. Supervisor training and development can have a profound effect on employee retention, as well as recruitment,” said Cheryl Fasano, MHA president and CEO. “The investment MHA has made in our Leadership Series will benefit the organization for the long run. Investing in our most important resources, our human resources, is a priority.”

 

 

Features

Bridging the Digital Divide

Aneesh Raman says business owners think Facebook, with its 2.2 billion users worldwide, is a valuable tool — even if they don’t always know how best to use it.

According to a 2017 survey, said Raman, who manages Facebook’s global economic-impact programs, more than 60% of small businesses in Massachusetts said Facebook is essential to their business, and 76% said the social-media platform helps them find customers in other cities, states, and countries.

“That’s encouraging data, but as you talk to them, you see a need for more training,” Raman told BusinessWest. “That’s why we’re coming to 30 cities to provide training for small businesses across a range of subjects. No matter what their skill level is — whether businesses are coming online for the first time or are online already — we can help them grow their business.”

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that Springfield had been chosen as one of 30 markets where the company will host its Community Boost program, created to help small businesses, entrepreneurs, and job seekers grow their business and develop new digital skills. Facebook will be in Springfield on Sept. 10-11, presenting workshops on a host of topics yet to be determined.

“Our mission at Facebook is building strong communities, and we believe at the core of strong communities are thriving small businesses,” said Raman, who is also a former journalist who worked as an international correspondent for CNN, as well as a former presidential speechwriter. “Small businesses are the engine of local economies. For years, we have worked with them, trained them online and offline, and helped them grow their business and help them hire more employees.”

Since 2011, he noted, Facebook has invested more than $1 billion to support small businesses. Community Boost is simply a more visible and direct method of doing so, and will focus on small-business training and digital acumen in general, rather than simply promoting Facebook, Raman said.

“Small businesses are the engine of local economies. For years, we have worked with them, trained them online and offline, and helped them grow their business and help them hire more employees.”

During its visits to 30 cities — including Houston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and many other metro areas much larger than Springfield — Facebook representatives will take a three-pronged approach to economic development, working with local organizations to provide digital skills and training for people in need of work, advising entrepreneurs how to get started, and helping existing businesses and nonprofits get the most out of the internet.

A broad survey conducted by Morning Consult and co-sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Facebook suggests that small businesses’ use of social media is creating new opportunities. For instance, in Massachusetts, 62% of surveyed businesses said Facebook is essential for their business; 76% said Facebook allows them to find customers in other cities, states, and countries; and 69% said they believe an individual’s digital and social-media skills are important when hiring.

A lot of people use Facebook for business reasons, but never any kind of training how to do it. They’re on their own,” said Paul Robbins, president of Paul Robbins Associets in Wilbraham and a communications consultant for Community Boost in Springfield.

“People feel like they’ve got this tool, but they don’t know how to use it, especially small businesses,” he went on. “Here in Springfield, we’ve got a very diverse community with a lot of small businesses. Even not-for-profits can take advantage of this free seminar. Anybody can come. The idea is to help people leverage it as a business tool.”

Logging On

Facebook pledged this year to train 1 million individuals and small business owners across the U.S. in digital and social-media skills by 2020. To do that, it will expand its in-person training programs, create more local partnerships, and build more e-learning resources.

The company cites projections that a skilled-labor shortage in America could create 85.2 million unfilled jobs by 2030, and says it is committed to helping close that skills gap and provide more people and business owners with the educational resources they need to advance at work, find new jobs, or run their companies.

Details on Springfield’s Community Boost event, which is free and open to small business and nonprofits, aren’t set yet; Facebook plans to announce a place, times, and course list at www.facebook.com/business/m/community-boost as September gets closer.

“The goal of the program isn’t to come and leave, but to kick off conversations,” Raman said, noting that Facebook has been talking to businesses and economic-development leaders on a specific program that best meets identified needs for small-business and digital-skills training in the Pioneer Valley.

“Small businesses and workers know they need skills. But they don’t always have help getting those skills,” he went on. “Once we know what the professional needs are, we’ll announce the registration date and courses online.”

According to the Morning Consult research, small businesses’ use of digital tools translates into new jobs and opportunities for communities across the country. And small businesses are the key driver, creating an estimated four out of every five new jobs in the U.S.

The survey revealed that 80% of U.S. small and medium-sized businesses on Facebook say the platform helps them connect to people in their local community, while one in three businesses on Facebook say they built their business on the platform, and 42% say they’ve hired more people due to growth since joining Facebook.

Businesses run by African-Americans, Latinos, veterans, and those with a disability are twice as likely to say that their business was built on Facebook, and one and a half times more likely to say they’ve hired more people since joining the platform.

Raman said small businesses have expressed a desire to learn more about using Facebook and Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing service owned by Facebook. “But we’re teaching skills that apply to any digital platform out there.”

After all, Robbins noted, “not everyone is digitally savvy. A small business may not have the digital skills people assume everyone has. Facebook is trying to demystify it to people, so they’re not afraid of it.”

Getting Social

Increasingly, businesses are embracing 21-st century modes of building their customer base. The 2017 survey by Morning Consult found that the use of digital platforms by American small businesses is ubiquitous — in fact, 84% of small businesses in the U.S. use at least one major digital platform to provide information to customers, and three out of four small businesses use digital platforms for sales.

Yet, businesses face challenges when it comes to the internet, with 57% of small businesses saying lack of familiarity with available digital tools is a challenge.

“At Facebook, we see a big opportunity to make a difference in partnership with local organizations and local officials,” Raman told BusinessWest. “We really do think there’s a skills gap, and by closing that, we can help expand economic opportunity in Springfield and across the country.”

But it’s not just employers the Community Boost program aims to reach. For job seekers, the program will provide training to help improve their digital and social-media skills. According to the research, 62% percent of U.S. small businesses using Facebook said digital or social-media skills are an important factor in their hiring decisions — even more important than where a candidate went to school.

Community Boost will also offer entrepreneurs training programs on how to use technology to turn an idea into a business, as well as ways to create a free online presence using Facebook.

And, of course, business owners will learn how to expand their digital footprint and find new customers around the corner and around the globe. Training will also include education in digital literacy and online safety.

“We also want to teach nonprofits to be part of the programming and how Facebook can help them learn the digital skills they need to increase donations,” Raman said.

Facebook strives to evolve Community Boost based on what it’s learning in its earlier stops. For example, in St. Louis, the first stop on the tour, the company learned exactly how wide the gap is between the digital skills job seekers know they need and the skills they feel they have. In fact, according to a survey there, 93% of job and skills seekers say digital skills are important when looking for job, while only 12% rate themselves highly in this area.

Managers also see gaps in the skills they need to grow their businesses, the St. Louis survey showed. For example, the majority of managers in that city said creating a mobile-friendly interface was important to growing their business, but very few saw themselves as proficient.

Springfield — the only New England stop for Community Boost — may not have the population of the major metropolitan areas on the tour, but Raman says the needs are universal, and Facebook wants a diverse cross-section of cities represented.

“Springfield has a vibrant small-business community with a diverse population,” he noted. “We think we can make a real impact here.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Agawam Mayor William Sapelli

William Sapelli inherited a long to-do list when he took on his new role as mayor, from infrastructure projects to economic-development concerns, and has only added more items to that list.

Very soon after William Sapelli announced he would be retiring as Agawam’s superintendent of schools — ending four decades of work in education — people started suggesting that he run for mayor that fall.

“They said, ‘you have the skill set — you have a $45 million school budget, which is half the town budget, you deal with 700 employees, you’ve negotiated five contracts, and you know all the city departments,’” recalled Sapelli, who took the suggestions under advisement and eventually took the idea to his family.

At first, he recalled with a laugh, he interpreted their unbridled support as perhaps a loud hint that they weren’t ready to have him home full-time. But soon they convinced him, as did others, that their backing was grounded in the belief that Agawam needed a change — and a fresh perspective — in City Hall. And that he could provide it.

Although he eventually embraced the calls for him to seek the corner office, Sapelli rejected recommendations that he formally announce his intentions before he actually retired almost a year ago (early July, to be exact) because he wanted to avoid any and all suggestions that he might be using the resources of his office as superintendent to help gain the mayor’s chair and focusing on his next job before he finished up in the one he was in.

“I got in late — I was really behind the 8-ball, and people said you can’t get in that late,” said Sapelli, who nonetheless triumphed in the September primary and then the November election. And he attributes that victory, in large part, to his message of needed change and the promise that he can provide it.

“This sounds corny, but I grew up here in town, and I care about this town,” he told BusinessWest. “I personally didn’t like the way things were going; it seemed that elected officials weren’t really getting along. It seemed like things were going off the rails — people not communicating, people sniping at each other — and I thought we could do better, and do better for Agawam.”

Five months in, he said the office is, well, busier than he thought it would be, in part because there are a great many meetings and official functions at which his attendance is required, or at least requested. But another big part of it is that Sapelli inherited a lengthy to-do list, and he’s only added more to it.

Among those line items are a host of important infrastructure projects, especially the rebuilding of the Morgan/Sullivan Bridge, which connects Agawam to West Springfield. There are also specific business concerns, such as the nagging question about how to inject new life into the tired commercial district known as Walnut Street Extension, home to the now-infamous Games & Lanes, which no longer exists; however, the problem of finding a new use for the property does.

And then, there are broader, more complex business and economic-development concerns, such as Agawam’s notorious — and in many ways debilitating — spot-zoning practices.

“There’s so much spot zoning in Agawam … our system is so archaic,” said Sapelli with some exasperation in his voice. “In most communities, it’s an issue; in our community … well, I’ve had the experts from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission get involved through a grant we received, and they used the word ‘unique’ to describe the problem.”

To address it, Sapelli has created a zoning-review committee, which is expected to make some recommendations in the months to come.

An even bigger issue — although the zoning problem is quite extensive — is the recognized need (on Sapelli’s part, anyway) to make the city more business-friendly.

Walnut Street Extension

Improving the Walnut Street Extension area remains a problem without an immediate solution in Agawam.

“People ask how we can become more business-friendly, and one of the ways is to expedite the permitting process,” he explained. “From what I was hearing from individuals who came in and tried to start businesses and get permits for different things was that it took longer than they expected. I thought it was important to go out and try to make this community attractive to businesses.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest talked at length with Agawam’s mayor (he’s no longer the ‘new mayor’) about the challenge he accepted and how he’s working to fulfill that campaign pledge of bringing positive change to the community.

Learning the Ropes

As he provided a chronology of a career in the Agawam school system that began when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Sapelli said there were a number of stops.

They started with a stint coaching junior-varsity hockey and substitute-teaching assignments at the high school. A year later, he was coaching the varsity team and teaching social studies at the junior high. Later, he taught science for six years, then became assistant principal at the middle school, then an elementary-school principal, assistant superintendent, and, starting in 2011, superintendent.

During the campaign last fall, he encountered — and earned a good deal of support from — people who were students during each one of those stops. When it came to people making such claims about the earliest stages of his career, he admits to having to take their word for it.

“People will say, ‘remember when I had you in school?’” he said. “And I’ll say, ‘I don’t think you looked like this when you were 10 or 12, so I don’t recognize you, but I believe that you were one of my students.”

Support from all those former students and colleagues was certainly a factor in Sapelli’s rather large margin of victory over former City Council President Jimmy Cichetti last November.

As was, he believes, the desire for change in a community that had seen little progress on many of the key issues facing it — and his ability to bring about that change.

“I really thought we could do a better job of having local, city, and state government be a kinder, gentler group, if you will,” he said, “and be able to have open, honest discussions and not take things personally.”

While working to stimulate change and progress, Sapelli is also leading efforts on a number of issues, or fronts, that, as noted, have challenged several of his predecessors.

At or near the top of that list is the Morgan/Sullivan Bridge, the rebuilding and widening of which has been talked about for years. State funding has been secured for the project, and a bid should be awarded shortly, said Sapelli, adding that work was to have started this spring.

But it’s already late June, and construction still hasn’t started, said the mayor, adding that, since work is due to be halted during the 17-day run of the Big E — which is just a few hundred yards to the east of the bridge — in September, there is now a good chance the project may not see much progress this calendar year.

“They may be doing some preliminary set-up work this fall,” said Sapelli, adding quickly that there will be more definitive timelines for this project emerging shortly. “But I don’t think anything major will happen until next spring.”

The bridge, projected to be a two-and-a-half-year project, is an important initiative, he went on, referring to the traffic bottlenecks that are regular — and problematic — for residents and businesses trying to attract people to that area. And during the Big E, the traffic problems reach nightmare proportions.

To ease those problems, the city plans to improve not only the bridge intersection, but also the one a few hundred yards to the north at Springfield and Walnut streets.

Meawhile, improvement of another key intersection, in Feeding Halls on Route 187, is on the drawing board — it has been for some time, actually, said the mayor, adding that is part of approximately $8 million in road, sidewalk, and intersection improvements that will be undertaken city-wide.

While addressing those infrastructure matters, there are a number of specific business and economic-development-related issues that demand attention as well, said Sapelli.

Chief among them is the ongoing issue of Walnut Street Extension. The Games & Lanes property has been razed, said the mayor, and the property’s owner reports there has been some interest, but nothing likely to translate into redevelopment in the near future.

Meanwhile, that property is just part of the story. The Walnut Street Extension area remains a problem without an immediate solution. Last spring, the City Council first rejected a $5.3 million streetscape-improvement project for that area and then a subsequent, scaled-down, $3.6 million initiative.

The strategy moving forward, said Sapelli, is to create what’s known as a DIF (district improvement financing) program for that area. With a DIF, a community can pledge all or a portion of tax increments — additional tax revenue stemming from development or increases in property value — to fund district improvements over time.

“That money gets set aside and earmarked strictly for development in that area that’s mapped out, and that area alone,” said the mayor. “It’s a way of creating a fund to improve that depressed area without using taxpayer dollars or increasing taxes on the people in that area.”

A DIF is a close cousin of the better-known TIF, whereby municipalities may grant property-tax exemptions to landowners of up to 100% of the tax increments for a fixed period. Agawam intends to use both DIFs and TIFs to generate economic development, said Sapelli.

Other specific initiatives include redevelopment of the former Buxton property, later Southworth Paper and Turners Falls Paper, on Main Street, said the mayor, adding that the emerging plan is to subdivide the sprawling plant and attract multiple tenants.

There are also the many smaller retail centers and strip malls within the community, he went on, adding that the town has seen some new businesses come in and fill vacancies, and the goal is to attract more.

As for work on the town’s archaic zoning, Sapelli said his administration is “attacking” the problem.

“It’s going to be a big job, so we’re taking it little bites at a time,” he noted, adding that the Planning Commission has been a big help in this regard. “But we’re going to get it done.”

By the Book

Sapelli said he’s not sure if he’s the only the school superintendent to move the corner office in this region in recent times. But he does know that his route is certainly one that’s not well-traveled.

As his supporters note, he brings considerable experience to the job and knowledge of city departments and how they operate. Those skills have certainly helped him make the transition and advance many different kinds of initiatives.

But his comments — and his body language — convey the message that behind every challenge … there are many more challenges.

He says he’s up for them, because of that dedication to the town where he grew up, and also because he brings a new school of thought to managing this community — literally and figuratively.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Amy Cahillane says the DNA strives to promote and build on Northampton’s energy, understanding that it has competition from other area downtowns.

Amy Cahillane says the DNA strives to promote and build on Northampton’s energy, understanding that it has competition from other area downtowns.

Northampton’s downtown, Amy Cahillane says, is nothing if not eclectic.

“We have a great mix of businesses,” said the director of the Downtown Northampton Assoc., a two-year-old organization dedicated to boosting vibrancy in the city’s center. “We have a lot of different clothing stores, coffee shops, restaurants and bars — there’s a lot of room to find your niche here.”

She said business owners downtown are very much a network of mom-and-pop outfits that take pride in the district’s economic vibrancy and work hard to welcome new shop owners into the fold as they’re launching their enterprises.

“We’re a community that really works hard to make things attractive and make sure there’s stuff to do downtown, and welcome people in our downtown. We’re not just a Walmart and a Target and a parking lot.”

It’s a place, Cahillane said, where small-business owners, many of them first-time entrepreneurs, have no qualms about asking each other about the smallest details, from the best point-of-sale systems to how to keep customers coming in despite a raft of construction projects making it more difficult than usual to get around and find parking.

“All of our small businesses know it’s tough to take that risk and open your own business,” she said. “Business owners who have been around 30 years have had these conversations a million times — they’re very happy to share information, share stories, and lend support. Nobody wants to see a vacant storefront; people want to support other fellow business owners that are taking that gamble. And a lot of times, these business owners are our neighbors or friends, or kids of our friends.”

Aimee Francaes, who opened Belly of the Beast a year ago with her partner, Jesse Hassinger, can vouch for the support of downtown businesses, adding that such an atmosphere suits a restaurant that has forged some other important relationships — with local farms.

“The concept is ‘comfort food mindfully made,’ she said, noting that all meats are sourced from farms throughout the Northeast — and are smoked and cured on site — and 90% of produce in season comes from the Valley, or just over the border in surrounding states.

“We’re very much focused on being part of the community,” she went on. “And we feel like the community has really welcomed us and brought us into the fold. People tend to be very warm and welcoming, and happy to have us here, and happy to have us so active with local farms. Being on Main Street, right across from Thornes, gives us wonderful visibility.”

Speaking of Thornes Marketplace, which houses its own eclectic range of small businesses, it recently undertook a major renovation of its iconic front entrance, making changes both aesthetic and aimed at preserving the building’s historic elements.

It’s the sort of project that pleases the DNA, a voluntary organization open to property owners, businesses, and city residents, whose members work to improve the business and cultural strength of the downtown area through investments in programming, beautification, and advocacy.

The DNA handles such things as city plantings and holiday lights, and sponsors events that bring visitors to downtown, like the first Summer Stroll and Holiday Stroll, Arts Night Out, and sidewalk sales. The city has also given the DNA a full-time worker who cleans and maintains public property in the downtown business district.

Beyond that, Cahillane said, “we do advocacy, and we make sure the downtown community has a voice at City Hall, that people feel their voice is heard, and that there are public meetings and community forums on issues that will impact downtown, so everybody has a chance to voice their opinions and thoughts.”

The organization rose up after the dissolution of the Northampton Business Improvement District, and has since taken under its umbrella events and projects once handled by the BID and other entities.

“We’re always looking to do new events and create new partnerships,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re open to it all. The focus this year is to tighten up events we already do, but we’re always game to bring new stuff into the fold.”

Positive Trends

Several years into a strong regional economy, indicators such as property taxes, meals-tax revenue, and the number of visitors to the city show plenty of life, and Northampton’s downtown district, home to unique retailers, eclectic dining choices, and active arts organizations, reflects that health.

It can be slightly more difficult to navigate the area, however, thanks to a good reason — the city’s investment in infrastructure on Main and Pleasant streets, which includes ongoing roadwork and utility upgrades, supporting, among other developments, two housing complexes going up on Pleasant Street. Work along that thoroughfare also includes a small park, more parking spaces, and improved sidewalks and bike lanes.

Northampton
at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1883
Population: 28,483
Area: 35.8 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $17.04
Commercial Tax Rate: $17.04
Median Household Income: $56,999
Median Family Income: $80,179
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Cooley Dickinson Hospital; ServiceNet Inc.; Smith College; L-3 KEO
*Latest information available

Cahillane said new businesses like Belly of the Beast have entered this landscape with aplomb, while occasional special events shine a spotlight on other businesses, like Sutter Meats on King Street, which ran a successful, two-day pop-up event in conjunction with the Little Truc food truck, serving up pho to sellout crowds.

Typically, she added, retail establishments participate enthusiastically in special events downtown — such as a fundraiser for Hampshire County Friends of the Homeless, in which music groups were stationed downtown, performing and passing the hat — but it’s harder for restaurants to do the same.

“The retailers are always game for everything. The restaurants, when we have events, are so busy with the people who come downtown for these events that it’s hard for them to also simultaneously staff a second, separate thing on that same day. So we try to bring the people downtown and then encourage them to eat at the restaurants. But they’re very supportive of our organization.”

Homestead, which set up shop in the former Ibiza Tapas location on Strong Avenue, is another fairly recent addition to the restaurant scene.

“They are doing very well and have made a lot of local relationships to bring products into their restaurant that are locally sourced,” Cahillane said, before adding that such a designation is par for the course in this city.

“I would say just about every restaurant in our downtown does some version of locally sourced,” she noted. “We have thought about ‘let’s do some sort of downtown festival where each restaurant could feature maybe a locally sourced dish,’ but that’s their whole menu at every restaurant. That’s not a Northampton festival; that’s an everyday reality. But some of them have had some really interesting or unique things that they have done with those local partnerships.”

Cahillane added that there should be more news of new businesses on the horizon. “They’re not ready to make it public yet, but I’d say, over the next six months, there will be some exciting storefronts popping up.”

That’s always a welcome development, she said, because even Northampton, known regionally and beyond for its downtown life, does grapple with occasional vacant storefronts. But in context, and relative to the struggles of many other communities, Paradise City is in a good place.

“I think it’s a great downtown,” she said, “and I think people are looking to come downtown.”

Making Contact

To cultivate that spirit, the DNA conducts monthly meetings with downtown businesses on a variety of topics.

“That’s a great opportunity for them do some networking with new businesses — and older businesses, too — and talk about things that might be mundane to the outside person, but are still important,” Cahillane said. “Recently, there was going to be construction, and some of them wanted to know how people dealt with the scaffolding outside and putting a banner on it. Other businesses were able to say, ‘make sure it’s really big, and make sure there’s not a lot of words on it, because no one’s going to stop and read it.’ So, things like that, which would not necessarily occur to me, are real issues, and we’re able to facilitate some of those conversations.”

Thornes Market

These connections are important in the big picture — one in which individual success stories become shared successes, she added.

“There is a feeling that all boats rise with the tide, that having a beautiful downtown can only help encourage people to come downtown, and there’s a recognition that is only going to happen if everybody pitches in.”

After all, Cahillane noted, Northampton isn’t the only downtown destination in the region, and shouldn’t rest on its laurels or take its visitors for granted.

“We’re fortunate to live in the Valley where there are a lot of great communities, and there are some, like Turners Falls and Easthampton, that are becoming up-and-coming, hip, trendy places to go and hang out,” she said. “Then there’s the casino that’s opening in downtown Springfield.

“We love our downtown,” she went on, “but we don’t want to just assume that everybody else knows and loves it, and I think you risk getting stagnant and a little boring if you don’t work to improve or at least maintain what you already have. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Francaes appreciates the effort, as she does the business owners downtown, from the owners of Thornes Marketplace to established restaurateurs, who acted as informal business consultants when she and Hassinger were getting ready to open their doors.

“We haven’t talked to anyone who hasn’t been supportive,” she told BusinessWest. “That’s part of the reason we chose Northampton — that vibe and warm, welcoming spirit.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]