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Melanson Heath Rebrands as Melanson

NASHUA, N.H. — Melanson Heath, one of the fastest-growing accounting firms in the U.S., announced that the company will begin operating under a new name and will be known as Melanson, effective immediately. This rebranding strategy reflects both the evolution of the company and its vision for the future. Along with this change, a newly redesigned company logo has been revealed, and a new website, melansoncpas.com, has been launched. “As part of our focus on expansion and business development, our leadership team and I believe it was appropriate to rebrand our firm to more specifically reflect who we are,” said Managing Partner Scott Toothaker, CPA. “We are very excited about the introduction of our new company name, Melanson, because it allows us to better represent our business to our clients and community. We are also very happy about the launch of our new website, which features our own employees and better reflects the personality found at Melanson. We are not just an accounting firm; we are a partner for our clients.”

Phoenix Project Launched to Assist Struggling Businesses

PIONEER VALLEY — The DiStefano Group and Seven Roads Media announced the Phoenix Project, a movement to collaborate and create opportunities within the Pioneer Valley business community based on the principles of kindness and understanding. The goal is to provide a broad range of assistance to businesses that are struggling as a result of the unprecedented happenings of 2020. The two companies, in direct response to the inequities and hardships that so many in the community are facing, will seek to gain a genuine understanding of what local business owners need and address those needs immediately and for free. The process will begin with a video interview to gather raw, first-hand knowledge. Seven Roads Media and the DiStefano Group will provide business and media coaching on the spot, but support for the business won’t end there. The Phoenix Project also includes the expertise of an established group of ‘masterminds’ — local professionals at the top of their fields — to provide coaching in banking, marketing, financial management, real estate, photography, hospitality, events, human resources, psychology, IT, and more. Gina DiStefano, president and CEO of the DiStefano Group and Phoenix Project co-founder, explained that “the video is just the beginning. From there, we will connect the business with our group of masterminds, who will continue to provide pro bono advice. We intend to have a real impact on businesses that have been hit hard. We are willing and able to help.” The project’s model will build supportive relationships not just for the chosen business, but among all of the those represented by the masterminds, said the third co-founder, Jess Roncarati-Howe, a nonprofit consultant and coach with the DiStefano Group who formerly served as president of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce. “An entrepreneurial spirit who truly cares about what’s going on around them can foster tremendous impact,” she added. “It is the driving force behind the Phoenix Project. We will help our community to heal — one interaction, one relationship at a time.”

IALS at UMass Amherst Joins Digital Health Sandbox Network

AMHERST — The Massachusetts eHealth Institute at MassTech (MeHI) selected six new healthcare research and development (R&D) hubs to join the Digital Health Sandbox Network, including UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). The Sandbox Network program connects digital-health startups to cutting-edge R&D facilities in the Commonwealth and allows Massachusetts startups to apply for funding to test their innovations at one of the networks’ labs, now including IALS. Sandbox R&D facilities provide a range of services supporting validation and testing for digital health companies throughout their life cycles. “Establishing a translational institute at UMass that provides startup lab space; more than 30 industry-friendly, staffed core equipment facilities; and individualized venture-mentoring services creates an exciting environment for digital-health companies in Western Massachusetts,” IALS Director Peter Reinhart said. IALS helps to shepherd and translate fundamental research into new product candidates, technologies, and services that benefit human health and well-being. IALS also helps users address both basic and translational questions, deliver technologies and product candidates more rapidly, and become more competitive in obtaining funding. Facilities include a state-of-the-art test bed for mobile health experiments at scale, the Center for Human Health and Performance, a roll-to-roll fabrication and processing facility, and research laboratory space for lease. In 2019, Gov. Charlie Baker announced $500,000 in funding for the Sandbox program as part of the Commonwealth’s efforts to boost the digital-health ecosystem under the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative.

Captain Candy to Open Second Store in Holyoke

NORTHAMPTON — Levi Smith, owner of Captain Candy in the lower level of Thornes Marketplace, announced he is opening a second store in the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside. “I’ve survived the COVID-19 shutdown, and I’m excited to be opening a second store in Holyoke,” Smith said. Captain Candy offers eclectic candies that are not the norm in grocery and convenience stores — everything from gumballs to candy cigarettes, wax bottles full of juice, Turkish taffy, Pop Rocks, and Zotz. Smith was contacted in January by the owners of Pyramid Management Group, which owns more than a dozen malls in the Northeast, including the Holyoke Mall. Smith’s Holyoke store opening comes a little over a year after he purchased the Northampton shop from former owner Nolan Anaya. Smith was 18 at the time. Currently, he is a business student at Holyoke Community College. In the early months, Smith will operate the new store to ensure a smooth start, and then he will hire as needed. Currently, he and six part-time employees operate the Thornes location, which opened in 2013.

Smith College Team Wins Ventilator-design Challenge

NORTHAMPTON — The SmithVent team of engineering alumni, staff, and faculty are the winners of the CoVent-19 challenge to design an easily manufacturable ventilator for use during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Grécourt Gate, Smith College’s online news portal. The team’s breathing device was chosen from more than 200 submissions to the competition launched on April 1. “In two months, we went from knowing nothing to having a functional prototype,” said team co-leader Susannah Howe, director of Smith’s Engineering Design Clinic. “To see that trajectory in such a short period of time, with people who are volunteering their time on top of their other jobs, is amazing and heartwarming and so rewarding.” Smith College President Kathleen McCartney added that “I could not be more proud of the SmithVent team for winning the CoVent-19 Challenge. This win speaks volumes about the power of a liberal-arts education, grounded in experiential learning, to find innovative, collaborative solutions to complex, urgent problems. SmithVent is Smith at its best: a lasting example of our community coming together for the betterment of the world.”

Springfield Library & Museums Assoc. Wins $100,000 NEA Grant

SPRINGFIELD ​— National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Mary Anne Carter has approved more than $84 million in grants as part of the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2020. Included in this announcement is an Our Town award of $100,000 to​ the ​Springfield Library & Museums Assoc. in partnership with the Springfield Cultural Partnership for Spark!: Igniting Our Community, a project in the newly renovated Pynchon Park to envision and create public art that serves to connect the city, residents, and visitors. This is one of 51 grants nationwide that the agency has approved in this category. Spark: Igniting Our Community is a two-year public art project that will transform recently reopened Pynchon Park into a vibrant public space through innovative multi-media art installations created by local and national artists. City residents, community stakeholders, and cultural institutions will be involved in a collective process to imagine, select, and commission public art that celebrates Springfield’s citizens, culture, and heritage. The park, closed for 40 years, will use the arts to connect neighborhoods and people, creating equitable partnerships that demonstrate the power of civic engagement for more vibrant and livable communities. The park’s reopening offers an opportunity to continue momentum by celebrating public art in this passageway and creating a programming and civic-engagement space. This project will create a walkable pathway between the museum district and the commercial downtown, spurring retail and public-space projects along these avenues and encouraging greater tourism throughout the city.

Webster Bank Offers Financial Program for Frontline Heroes

WATERBURY, Conn. — Webster Bank became one of the first financial-services companies nationwide to introduce Frontline Heroes, a program for essential healthcare workers and first responders that enhances the financial well-being of those who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In gratitude for their selfless service, Webster’s new Frontline Heroes program offers a range of financial benefits, including checking accounts free of a monthly maintenance fee and free checking withdrawals at any ATM through December 2021. The program provides new customers with the ability to earn a cash incentive, as well as additional discounts and benefits. Frontline Heroes includes any full-time or part-time employee currently in essential healthcare, including hospitals, nursing homes, medical and dental practices, and home healthcare. The program is also available to first responders. For every new Frontline Heroes customer, Webster will also donate $250 to United Way COVID-19 Response Funds, making a minimum donation of $100,000.

Agenda

Zoom Series on Elder Law, Estate Planning

May 4, 11, 18: Adapting to COVID-19 restrictions, Attorney Karen Jackson of Jackson Law will teach a series of Holyoke Community College classes through Zoom, highlighting the latest developments in elder law and estate planning. An elder-law and estate-planning attorney, Jackson will present her six-hour course, called “Elder Law and Estate Planning: What You Need to Know,” on Zoom in three two-hour sessions on consecutive Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m. The cost is $99. To register, e-mail Valentyna Semyrog at [email protected], leave a message at (413) 552-2123, or visit www.hcc.edu/bce. Participants will be sent a link to join the class and can join using PCs, laptops, or smartphones. In the first session, Jackson will explain each document in the core estate plan. She will discuss the problems that can occur when proper documents are not prepared before a loss of mental capacity or physical health or before sudden loss of life. The second session will address four areas: trusts, the probate court process, Medicare hot topics, and options for community care and home care. Jackson will provide pertinent information and details about each to assist attendees in their planning now. In the third and final session, Jackson will introduce the various Medicaid programs that provide long-term skilled nursing-home care in Massachusetts and the financial assistance associated with each. While participants may choose to attend any or all of the sessions, they must still pay the full course cost of $99.

Difference Makers

Sept. 10: BusinessWest has moved its 12th annual Difference Makers event, originally scheduled for March 19, to Sept. 10 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. The class of 2020 was profiled in the Feb. 3 issue of BusinessWest and at businesswest.com. Tickets cost $75. To reserve a spot, e-mail [email protected] or visit businesswest.com. Event sponsors include Burkhart Pizzanelli, Mercy Medical Center/Trinity Health Of New England, Royal, P.C., and TommyCar Auto Group, while the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament, MHA, and United Way of Pioneer Valley are partners.

Elms College Executive Leadership Breakfast

Sept. 22: Elms College has rescheduled its third annual Executive Leadership Breakfast due to state-mandated caution regarding large crowds and coronavirus. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal is still slated to be the keynote speaker for the event, which was originally scheduled for April 9. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, the college will announce more details as necessary. This annual event features talks by the region’s leaders on topics of relevance that impact all sectors of business and the economy in Western Mass. Speakers at past events have included Dennis Duquette, head of Community Responsibility at MassMutual and president of the MassMutual Foundation, and Regina Noonan Hitchery, retired vice president of Human Resources at Alcoa.

Holiday Party Planner

Many Ways to Celebrate

Lynn Kennedy says the Log Cabin, Delaney House, and Log Rolling catering services have something for every business during the holiday season, no matter their size. 

Companies have long celebrated the hard work they’ve done over the course of the year with a holiday party. Whether hosting a small gathering or a large corporate bash, plenty of restaurants, banquet facilities, and caterers in the Western Mass. area are willing to get the job done each year. Although these parties have been popular for decades, owners and managers say trends are always changing in how people want to celebrate the year and ring in a new one.

Lynn Kennedy says one of the most common things she hears from employers booking holiday parties is that they want to do something special for the people that work for them.

“This is something people don’t want to do halfway,” said Kennedy, director of Sales and Marketing at the Log Cabin. “They want to go all in because they realize it’s the best way for them to show their employees the appreciation they deserve for a lot of hard work that they put out there.”

While end-of-the-year holiday parties have long been a tradition for companies of all sizes, employers are finding new ways to show employees their appreciation this season.

Aside from the traditional but enjoyable small group parties and restaurant reservations, companies are going above and beyond to make sure all employees are able to join in the celebration, no matter how big the organization may be.

The Log Cabin offers a wide array of options for holiday parties, including small-group holiday parties that are always a hit. Indeed, the facility is hosting a total of six this year, as opposed to the usual four or five, because of how popular they are.

“This is something people don’t want to do halfway. They want to go all in because they realize it’s the best way for them to show their employees the appreciation they deserve for a lot of hard work that they put out there.”

The Starting Gate at GreatHorse is another popular venue for small-group holiday parties, including a Breakfast with Santa, a Holiday Dinner Dance with the Clark Eno Orchestra, and the annual Holiday Luncheon with Dan Kane & Friends.

Cathy Stephens, director of Catering Sales, says these events are affordable options for small to mid-sized companies looking to enjoy a festive night.

“It is cost-effective for the smaller and even the mid-size companies to host their holiday celebration at venues that are providing live entertainment and a festive menu that satisfies just about everyone,” she said. “It also provides the opportunity to network with other local businesses.”

In addition to Center Square Grill, Bill Collins recently opened another restaurant, HighBrow, in Northampton.

There is no shortage of businesses in the Western Mass. area, and all have their own preferences as to what kind of gathering will appeal to their employees. This encourages restaurants like Center Square Grill to expand their options and accommodate unique requests.

Owner Bill Collins says he does his best to work with any request, no matter how big or small, and often does so himself to make sure everything goes smoothly.

“What makes this restaurant stand out is that the owner is on deck,” he said, adding that General Manager Kim Hulslander is also frequently involved with booking parties. “If you want to call and work with me, you’re going to get me on the phone. You’re in ownership’s hands when you’re booking an event with us, and we see it through to the end.”

The holiday season poses a strong business opportunity for restaurants and banquet facilities, but it is also a great time for caterers.

“We have people who book at the end of the prior year. Once their holiday party finishes, most people, within a week or two, are booking already for the next year.”

Nosh Restaurant and Café in Springfield may be fairly small on the inside, but its catering business is booming, and uses creative food and elegant edible centerpieces to stand out from the competition.

“I think our food is super creative, and we present it beautifully,” said owner Teri Skinner. “It’s important to be creative in how you present the food, the taste, and the flavors. It’s really what a catering company is built on.”

These caterers are seeing a lot more business around the holidays over the past few years for a number of reasons. For this year’s holiday party planning issue, BusinessWest spoke with local restaurants and caterers about these changing traditions and how they strive to stand out among local competition.

Teri Skinner, owner of Nosh, says it’s important to be creative when it comes to food presentation.

Keep Them Coming Back

When Missy Baker at Arland Tool e-mailed Skinner to set up the company’s annual party, she sent just five short words: “all set for the 24th?” Skinner responded, “yes, we’re all set.”

That’s because this is the seventh or eighth time Skinner has hosted Arland’s annual party, and she knows exactly what they like and need.

“It’s great for the customer because they know I’m going to be there, they know the quality of food, and it’s great for me because I know how much they eat and how long it takes,” Skinner said. “It’s a very precise job that we can control very well.”

These kinds of relationships are not uncommon for restaurants and caterers, and it’s often the unique experiences customers have that keeps them coming back year after year.

Collins noted that a loyal clientele books parties at Center Square Grill every year.

“For us not being a big corporate chain, I just try to go above and beyond for the customer,” he said. “It’s worth it for me to do that to try to build in the business year after year.”

Some sites, like the Log Cabin, are so popular that regulars will book their next annual event just weeks after they enjoy their party this year.

“There are a lot of companies where their business is heaviest during this season, and it doesn’t make sense for them to actually have the celebration before Christmas, so they do it as a type of new-year celebration.”

“We have people who book at the end of the prior year,” Kennedy said. “Once their holiday party finishes, most people, within a week or two, are booking already for the next year.”

This mainly includes the larger parties that rent out big rooms at the Log Cabin for 300 to 400 people, like Tighe & Bond, Florence Bank, and PeoplesBank.

Because of the desire for a smaller, more intimate setting, Kennedy says the company’s Delaney House, where several rooms can fit 15 to 50 people, is also jam-packed during the holidays. Whatever the booking party’s size, she has seen an increase in catering over the last few years, which she credits partly to a changing workforce schedule.

“A major component of that is work schedules because you have first and second and third shifts of people,” she said. “Heads of businesses are really trying to figure out a way to incorporate their entire workforce in a holiday celebration and not just limit it to a particular time.”

These multi-shift businesses include news crews, manufacturers, and even hospitals, where it is nearly impossible to get everyone in the same room at the same time. This is where Log Rolling, the catering service for Log Cabin and the Delaney House, comes in handy.

“They’ll come in and ask us, ‘can you set up a breakfast for our morning crew? Can you set up a lunch for our afternoon crew? Can you set up a dinner for our evening crew?’ so everyone is kind of being hit at a different time and everyone gets to enjoy that holiday experience,” Kennedy said.

Making Spirits Bright

Caterers aren’t the only ones bringing unique styles to holiday celebrations. At Center Square Grill, Collins says customized packages are available for parties of any size, including both food and décor.

The restaurant offers packages for private dining that start at $20 and typically go up to $45 per person, although that isn’t the limit. Lower packages might offer unlimited alcoholic beverages with an entrée choice and a salad. With the $45 packages, everyone is greeted with a glass of champagne and gets an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert.

Collins also said he can arrange rooms in a variety of ways, with everything from decorated tables for a sit-down dinner to cocktail tables for a more casual night out.

“What’s unique about us is that you can come here casually, or you can come here dressed up, and you’re not going to feel bad in either direction,” he said. “We want you to be comfortable coming in for a burger and a beer or filet, oysters, and a bottle of champagne.”

Perhaps one of the most important parts about a holiday party is the quality and presentation of food, Skinner said. From everything from the plate the food goes on to the way the food itself is presented itself, Nosh puts together each “edible centerpiece” with with care.

“We call them edible centerpieces because they’re so beautiful when they go out,” she elaborated. “That’s how we build things here. We want them to look gorgeous and taste great, so that’s our goal at the end of the day.”

Cathy Stephens says events at Great Horse, including the holiday dinner dance and holiday luncheon, are perfect for businesses with a smaller budget.

More recently, Nosh catered a Halloween party for Northwest Mutual and provided edible centerpieces, appetizers, and a bartender dressed up for the spooky season.

Skinner agrees that catering has become more popular over the years and thinks a lot of people just want to feel comfortable and laid-back. “I think having it at home or at an office is relaxing,” she said.

Perhaps one of the most relaxing options all these restaurants have seen is the decision to hold off on a holiday party until the beginning of the following year to avoid the craziness of booking during peak season.

Kennedy says people normally book parties at the Log Cabin through the first few weeks of January, but some even book all the way into February.

“There are a lot of companies where their business is heaviest during this season, and it doesn’t make sense for them to actually have the celebration before Christmas, so they do it as a type of new-year celebration,” she said.

This happens frequently at restaurants in the area as well, and it’s the reason why Center Square keeps decorations up well into the new year so customers can still feel the holiday spirit even after the holidays are over.

In short, whether businesses are going with a new tradition or sticking with an old one, there is no shortage of options for holiday parties in Western Mass. — and banquet halls and restaurants say they’re happy to oblige.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]