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Working in Concert

Executive Director Susan Beaudry

Executive Director Susan Beaudry

As the Springfield Symphony Orchestra prepares to kick off its 75th season on Sept. 22 with “Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein,” it faces a host of challenges shared by most orchestras its size, especially a changing, shrinking base of corporate support and a need to make its audiences younger. Susan Beaudry, the SSO’s executive director, says the way to stare down these challenges is through imaginative responsiveness — and especially greater visibility through stronger outreach. And she’s doing just that.

Susan Beaudry says there’s a great deal of significance attached to the fact that the Springfield Symphony Orchestra turns 75 this season — starting with the harsh reality that fewer institutions of this type are reaching that milestone.

Indeed, several orchestras, including one in New Hampshire, have ceased operations in recent years, and many, if not most, others are struggling to one degree or another, said Beaudry, executive director of the SSO for more than a year now.

The reasons have been well-documented — the decline of many urban centers where such orchestras are based, falling attendance, declining corporate support, ever-increasing competition for the public’s time and entertainment dollars, and an inability to attract younger audiences are at the top of the list. The SSO is confronting these obstacles as well, Beaudry told BusinessWest, as well as the additional challenge of not knowing who will manage its home (Symphony Hall) after the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corp. announced last week that it will no longer manage that venue and CityStage, leaving the immediate future of those venues in doubt.

But while the institution is not as healthy financially as it has been in the past, it embarks on its 75th season on solid footing (there’s been a 20% increase in the annual fund since Beaudry’s arrived, for example), with determination to stare down the challenges facing it and seemingly all arts institutions, and optimism that an improving picture in Springfield and especially its downtown will benefit the SSO moving forward.

And Beaudry is a big reason for all of the above.

The former director of Development for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Beaudry was recruited to the SSO three years ago to lead development efforts for the institution. When Peter Salerno retired in the spring of 2017, she became interim executive director and later was able to shed that word ‘interim.’

“If you’re always doing your product behind closed doors, then it’s easy for other people to decide who you are and to give you an identity in the community. So it’s our job to open those doors, to get out, and to be playing.”

She brings to her role experience with not only fund-raising but business management — she’s a graduate of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, began her career as a national and international product marketing manager for Gardner-based Simplex, and operated her own restaurant.

She’s calling on that wealth of experience to create a new business plan for the orchestra — figuratively but also literally — that focuses on raising the profile of the SSO, introducing more people to orchestral music, and taking full advantage of what is, by most accounts, a rising tide in Springfield and its downtown.

Summing it all up, she said the orchestra has to do much more than what it’s done through most of first 75 years — perform about once a month, on average, at Symphony Hall.

“One thing that I’ve recognized since I’ve been here is that we can and must do a better job with our outreach and education and sharing the good work that we do with the community,” she explained. “If you’re always doing your product behind closed doors, then it’s easy for other people to decide who you are and to give you an identity in the community.

Principal percussionist Nathan Lassell

Principal percussionist Nathan Lassell was one of the SSO musicians featured at a recent performance at the Springfield Armory, an example of the orchestra’s efforts at greater outreach within the community.

“So it’s our job to open those doors, to get out, and to be playing,” she went on, adding that there have already been some good examples of this effort to move beyond Symphony Hall and creating more visibility. There was the SSO string quartet playing in the renovated National Guard Armory building at MGM Springfield’s elaborate gala on the eve of its Aug. 24 opening. There was also a sold-out performance of percussionists at the Springfield Armory on Sept. 1, a performance that Beaudry described as “the coolest chamber event concert I’ve ever seen in my life,” and one that did what needs to be done in terms of changing some perceptions about the institution.

“People were cheering and laughing, and it was so engaging,” she recalled. “People walked out literally moved; they now have a new perception of what orchestral music can be like.”

There will be more such performances in the future, including 4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince, an MGM presentation featuring the SSO, on Sept. 18, said Beaudry, adding that, overall, the orchestra, at 75, must create the opportunities and support system it will need to celebrate 100 years and the milestones to follow.

It’s a challenge Beaudry fully embraces and one she’s essentially spent her career preparing for. And she believes the timing is right for the SSO to hit some very high notes moving forward.

“We’re sitting at the pinnacle place,” she said. “We have a chance to hit it out of the park.”

Achievements of Note

It’s called the League of American Orchestras.

That’s the national trade association, of you will, for symphony orchestras. The group meets twice annually, once each winter in New York and again in the spring at a different site each year; the most recent gathering was in Chicago.

At that meeting, as at most others in recent years, the topics of conversation have gravitated toward those many challenges listed earlier, and especially the one involving lowering the age of the audiences assembling at symphony halls across the country.

“Every arts organization is looking to lower the average age of its patrons,” she explained. “That’s the only way to secure your future — having people joining you at those lower ages, at a lower ticket price, and eventually that will filter upwards and be your replacement audience.”

Chicago and New York are only a few of the dozens of cities Beaudry has visited in her business travels over the course of her career, especially when working for Simplex, maker of the time clock, among many other products, as divisional senior marketing director — specifically, a division devoted to a fire-suppression and alarm product line.

“This was a job where you on a plane every Monday, and you didn’t come home till Friday,” she explained, adding that this lifestyle — especially eating out all the time — helped inspire what would become the next stage in her career, as a restaurateur.

“As a result of all this travel, I became very interested in regional cuisine,” she explained. “When you’re the marketing person visiting from headquarters, they want to take you to what they’re proud of — their symphony, their museum, their opera, and their best restaurant; after a while, those meals start to grow a little thin, as do your pants.

“So I would say, ‘instead of going to a big, fancy meal at yet another steakhouse, let’s find a little hole in the wall that’s a representation of what the cuisine is in this area,’” she went on. “So I became really interested in food.”

So much so that, when she became a mother, and that ‘get on a plane Monday, return home on Friday’ schedule wasn’t at all appealing anymore, Beaudry, after staying at home for a few years, opened her own restaurant, Main Street Station, in Chester, not far from her home and where she grew up, and just down the street from the Chester Theater Company, which her parents ran.

She described the venture as a hobby, one she pursued for three years, before “returning to work,” as she called it, specifically with the Boston Symphony as director of the corporate fund for Tanglewood. She stayed in that job for seven years before being recruited to South Florida to set up the annual fund for Junior Achievement, before returning to this region.

She said she was approached by David Gang, president of the SSO (he’s still in that role) and encouraged to apply for the open position as director of Development for the orchestra. She did, and came aboard nearly three years ago.

Beaudry said she welcomed the opportunity to succeed Salerno, and for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there was the opportunity to lead an orchestra, one of her career goals. But there was also the opportunity to orchestrate (no pun intended) what would have to be considered a turnaround effort for the institution.

And as she commenced that assignment, she did so knowing that she had a number of strong elements working in, well, harmony.

“People were cheering and laughing, and it was so engaging. People walked out literally moved; they now have a new perception of what orchestral music can be like.”

Starting with the conductor, Kevin Rhodes, who has been with the SSO for 18 years, remarkable longevity in that profession, and has become in ways a fixture within the community.

“He’s such a high-energy, high-profile person,” said Beaudry. “And he’s so willing to jump in to help promote the SSO. In the commercials on TV, he’s willing to dress up in costume, be in character, and be light and silly. And that goes a long way toward changing the perception of what’s happening at Symphony Hall, that it’s not stodgy and stuffy and only for a certain demographic.”

Another strong asset was the board, Beaudry went on, adding that many of the 30-odd members have been with the institution for many years and thus bring not only passion for the SSO but a wealth of experience to the table.

“We’ve been lucky to have board members who have stayed with us for a very long time,” she explained. “So you have institutional knowledge and history and some people who have been through the ups and downs of the organization and can give new leadership like myself feedback about things that have been tried in the past, things we haven’t done in a while that might be successful, and more. To have that kind of leadership has been very helpful.”

Sound Advice

But a well-known, community-minded conductor and a committed board are only a few of the ingredients needed for success in these changing, challenging times, said Beaudry.

Others include imagination, persistence, and a willingness to broaden the institution’s focus (and presence) well beyond what would be considered traditional.

And this brings us back to that list of challenges facing the SSO and all or most institutions like it, starting with the development side of the equation, where the corporate landscape is changing. Elaborating, Beaudry said that, in this market and many others, fewer large companies remain under local ownership, and thus there are fewer potential donors with keen awareness of the institution, its history, and importance to the city and region — a reality far different than what she experienced in Boston.

“The corporations have left or merged — you used to be able to hit five banks in a week and take care of half your season in corporate sponsorships,” she told BusinessWest. “Now, you have to call long-distance; running into the bank president on the street corner just doesn’t happen anymore. You’re taking to someone who doesn’t have any idea what you are or who you are to the community or what the giving history or the relationship history has been, and, sometimes, not interested in learning about it.”

Then, there’s the growing competition for the time and entertainment dollars of the public, she noted, especially the young professionals that comprise the constituency the SSO — and all arts institutions, for that matter — are trying to attract.

“You need people that have discretionary income and time,” she explained, adding that the latter commodity is becoming the more difficult for many people to amass. “Busy parents who are running to soccer games and ski races and cross-country matches are exhausted come Saturday night. Not only are we competing with how busy family lives have become, we’re also competing with the ease of entertainment right in your home. Come Saturday night after a really busy work week and really busy Saturday taking care of your life, do you have the energy to get dressed up on Saturday night and go out when you can order a pizza, open a bottle of wine, and order any movie you want on Netflix?”

In this environment, which, she stressed again, is not unique to the city and this symphony orchestra, greater outreach, and making more introductions, is all-important.

“If the environment’s changed and you’re still doing the same things, eventually you’re going to see your own demise,” she said. “So you need to be reactive and responsive. One of the things I’ve done is increase the number of events that we have. Events are a nice way to introduce yourself to the community, shake a lot of hands, and meet a lot of people in one evening — and from there you can build further relationships and start meaningful relationships around giving.

This was the case at the Armory concert and the performance at MGM’s grand opening, she said. Hearkening back to the former, she said it’s clearly an example of what the SSO needs to do more often — partnering with other organizations and institutions within the community and putting itself in front of before new and different audiences.

“The Armory had a concert series, and we contacted them and said we wanted to participate,” she recalled. “As a mission-driven community partner, we need to be doing more of that; we need to be out in the community.”

And the performance resonated, she said, not just in enthusiastic applause for the performers, but, perhaps even more importantly, in pledges for all-important financial support.

“I literally had people telling me, as they were leaving, that they were going to be giving us more money — they were so impressed, they wanted to increase their gift to us,” she recalled. “And in the end, that’s what keeps us playing — people loving what we do and becoming excited to support it.”

While adding more events, the SSO is also adding more family-oriented performances to its lineup, said Beaudry, adding that, in addition to the annual holiday celebration in early December, there will be On Broadway with Maestro Rhodes, featuring songs from Oklahoma, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, and other Broadway hits, and also a Movie Night with Maestro Rhodes, featuring music from Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, and many other timeless hits.

Moving forward, Beaudry said the opening of MGM’s resort casino and the coming of big-name acts like Stevie Wonder, who performed on Sept. 1, and Cher, who’s coming to Springfield on April 30, will bring more people to Springfield and, hopefully, expose them to more of its assets, like the SSO, CityStage, and others.

“As they say, a rising tide lifts all ships,” she noted, adding that the SSO could certainly be one of those ships, especially if works to become more visible across the area and even more of the fabric of the community. “When people are checking out a new place, sometimes they’ll open themselves up to new experiences.”

The Big Finale

Taking in a performance by a symphony orchestra would be a new experience for many, and moving forward, it is Beaudry’s goal — and mission — to make it something … well, less new.

It’s a challenge facing all those attending meetings of the League of American Orchestras, and one that can only be met, as she’s said repeatedly, by being imaginative, responsive, and reactive.

Beaudry and the SSO are working diligently to be all those things, and because of that, and to borrow a term from this industry, things are more upbeat.

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

Creative Economy

Dramatic Effect

the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006

Following a $21 million renovation, the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006 after more than 50 years of inactivity.

Kate Maguire was out shopping recently, wearing a shirt that proudly celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge.

“The young girl at the register — she was probably 18 — was stunned. She said, ‘that theater is 90 years old? I had no idea!’ For her, it was ancient history. But she made me realize that, yes, 90 years of theater is a long time.”

As artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theatre Group, which puts on performances at venues in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, Maguire has witnessed quite a bit of that history first-hand since joining the organization 25 years ago.

“The facilities represent two iconic sites,” she said. “The Colonial Theatre is the center of Pittsfield — the center of the county.” As for the playhouse in Stockbridge, also known as the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, “considering that culture is the heart of the community in the Berkshires, that is as iconic a structure as any in Berkshire County.”

But while the buildings themselves are iconic, more importantly, each campus has brought countless people to see some of the most remarkable names in the history of American theater, as well as up-and-coming talent, Maguire noted. “It has created a sort of cultural destination for artists and audiences. That’s what the buildings represent.”

They’re also an economic driver, she added, currently drawing about 75,000 visitors a year and contributing almost $4 million to the local economy annually — as well as employing some 600 people in some capacity each year.

Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) was created in 2010 by the merger of the Berkshire Theatre Festival, housed at the main stage in Stockbridge, and the Colonial Theatre, built in 1903 in Pittsfield. One of the largest arts organizations in the region, BTG oversees the development, production, and presentation of theatre, music, and various other performing arts.

Kate Maguire says involving hundreds of children in productions each year is key to securing BTG’s future.

Kate Maguire says involving hundreds of children in productions each year is key to securing BTG’s future.

The Stockbridge campus presents work at two venues. The 314-seat Fitzpatrick Main Stage, designed by famed architect Stanford White, is a summer-only venue where classical theatre and world premieres are produced. Meanwhile, the 122-seat Unicorn Theatre, open year-round, is home for new and emerging artists, and a space where more experimental, provocative works often finds a receptive audience.

Meanwhile, in Pittsfield, the 780-seat Colonial Theatre — built in 1903 and re-opened in 2006 following a $21 million restoration — hosts family entertainment, comedy, live music, and other events year-round.

Located in the lobby of the Colonial is the Garage, a name that pays homage to its former owner, Berkshire Auto Co. This newest BTG venue, complete with a stage, lights, and sound system, is a dedicated space for local and regional music, comedy performers, and more.

In short, Maguire said, there’s something for everyone.

“I want people to know they’re welcome here,” she told BusinessWest. “They can listen to acoustic musicians or hear a really funny comedian in the Garage, sit with friends, have a drink, then go into the majestic Colonial Theatre and have a completely different experience. Or they might see a rock band on stage, and the following week see an opera performed. It’s a space where people come together from all strata and all walks of life.”

Rich History

The Colonial Theatre opened its doors on Sept. 28, 1903. Built in five and a half months, it boasted pristine acoustics and classic Gilded Age architecture. As was sometimes the custom in that day, the exterior of the theater was designed by a respected local architect, Joseph McArthur Vance, who also designed Pittsfield’s Masonic Temple, the Christian Science building, the superstructure of the Wahconah Park Stadium, Mount Greylock’s Bascom Lodge, and the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington.

“I want people to know they’re welcome here. They can listen to acoustic musicians or hear a really funny comedian in the Garage, sit with friends, have a drink, then go into the majestic Colonial Theatre and have a completely different experience. Or they might see a rock band on stage, and the following week see an opera performed. It’s a space where people come together from all strata and all walks of life.”

From its early days, the space played host to some of the most notable lights in theater, including Maude Adams, Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Eubie Blake, Billie Burke, George Cohan, Irene Dunne, Grace George, William Gillette, Walter Hampden, Helen Hayes, Al Jolson, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Julia Marlow and E.H. Sothern, Will Rogers, Lillian Russell, Ted Shawn, Noble Sissell, Ruth St. Denis, Laurette Taylor, and Ed Wynn.

the Colonial Theatre

Following a $21 million renovation, the Colonial Theatre was reopened in 2006 after more than 50 years of inactivity.

To the south in Stockbridge, the Berkshire Playhouse was founded in 1928 when Mabel Choate sold the Stockbridge Casino to financier Walter Clark. An organization called the Three Arts Society remodeled the casino’s interior by adding a stage and seating for 450 people, and christened the new theatre the Berkshire Playhouse.

In 1937, the Colonial was renovated with a new marquee, projection room, and two retail stores added to the front of the building. With cinema on the rise, the venue operated primarily for the next decade and a half as a movie theater, although some community performances continued. In 1951, the Colonial closed due to the rise of TV and the decline of touring theatrical companies — and would remain closed for more than a half-century.

Down in Stockbridge, the Berkshire Playhouse was reorganized as a nonprofit organization in 1964 and renamed the Berkshire Theatre Festival. In 1976, the playhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996, the Unicorn Theatre was reopened after a lengthy renovation and became BTG’s official second stage.

To the north, meanwhile, efforts to restore and reopen the Colonial were picking up in the 1990s. And organization called Friends of the Colonial Theatre Restoration was formed in 1994, and public tours in 1997 led to increased community awareness of the venue’s potential. A $2.5 million appropriation in state funding followed, and designation of the facility in 1998 as a National Historic Treasure by the Save America’s Treasures Program of the National Park Service only increased the momentum.

After years of design, planning, and community fundraising, the rehabilitation of the historic theater — and the extensive renovation of the adjacent Berkshire Auto Garage — were undertaken. In 2006, the $21 million restoration was complete, and the theater reopened. The 22-month construction process preserved and reinstalled all historically significant architectural and design features — from the vaulted, gilded entrance to the elaborately decorated boxes and balcony to the custom plasterwork — while creating a modern performance center.

“I feel it’s very important to make sure that the community recognizes the theater as their own,” Maguire told BusinessWest. “The doors were closed for 50 years, and the community got together and put in a lot of hard work and money renovate that theater.”

In a year when the Berkshire Theatre Festival marked its 90th summer season and the Colonial Theatre celebrated its 115th birthday, the community continues to show its support, she added. “We’ve been successful in fund-raising, and certainly a lot of people coming to our shows — we’re very grateful for the attendance.”

Kid Stuff

Maguire might be even more proud, though, of the way BTG engages with children, reaching about 13,000 students with cultural programs each year and putting many of them on stage in any given year; this past summer, about 100 Berkshire-area youth performed in Tarzan of the Apes at the Colonial.

“Imagine how many other kids are coming to these productions,” she said. “We are ensuring the vitality of the future of these buildings. Those 100 kids in Tarzan in the summertime — those kids are going to remember that experience, and make sure that building is here for the next generation.”

She believes that because it’s her own story. Growing up in Lowell, she used to attend performances of Boston Children’s Theatre.

“I was amazed at the quality of work, and it looked like an army of kids were working on these produtions,” she recalled. “Little did I know that, many years later, I’d have the opportunity to create such programming in the community I live in now. Every single doorway I’m walked through has been opened because of theater.”

Maguire wants to open those doors for others today — not just children who might feel a spark to follow a passion for theater, but area residents and Berkshires visitors who become part of a long, rich history every time they buy a ticket.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy

Behind the Curtain

Debra J’Anthony says the Academy of Music

Debra J’Anthony says the Academy of Music’s history speaks to the commit-ment of its community to the arts over the decades.

During a decade of renovations at Northampton’s Academy of Music, few proved more surprising than the sailcloth canvas that lined the theater’s century-old curtain.

“We’ve put a lot of attention on maintaining the historic integrity of this building,” said Debra J’Anthony, the facility’s executive director since 2008. “There’s a lot of mindfulness and thought in this space. We’ve tried to get state-of-the-art technical equipment and at the same time preserve the historical integrity of the space.”

The sailcloth, as it turned out, was actually a massive landscape painting of nearby Paradise Pond. It was restored by a Vermont company called Curtains Without Borders, which specializes in preserving historic stage scenery, and now hangs high in the Academy’s rafters upstage.

As historical fragments go, it’s actually a relatively minor one in the 127-year-old facility’s rich story. Edward H.R. Lyman opened the theater in 1891 as a building “suitable for lectures, concerts, opera, and drama for the public good.” Remarkably, the Academy’s priorities have changed very little since then.

“There has been a mix of activity, but depending on the year, there has been a weight toward one medium or another,” J’Anthony said. “In the beginning, it was just performing arts and lectures; then, starting in the 1930s, it was weighted more heavily toward film. We actually had a film distributor out of Boston that leased the building for about 10 years, so the Academy actually did quite well during the Depression because they had a renter in here.”

During the first few years of J’Anthony’s tenure, she led another transition, from what was largely a first-run film house, with occasional live performances, to what it is today, a performing-arts venue that hosts scores of shows — national touring acts, presentations by local companies, and sometimes the Academy’s own productions — throughout the year.

Efforts to fill that calendar have been boosted by a series of renovations to the theater, from shoring up the envelope of the building — including new roofing and replacement of leaky windows and doors — to launching the organization’s first-ever capital campaign to pay for a major renovation of the theater space itself.

“There were seats upstairs dating from 1947, and there were seats downstairs that were bought used during the 1960s,” J’Anthony said, noting that the Academy worked with Thomas Douglas Architects to re-establish a period look, and received a Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for its efforts. “We’re hoping to continue to renovate, finish the renovations in the hall, then go out into the lobby areas. We’re hoping to receive some Community Preservation Act funds soon to complete the opera boxes and add architectural lighting.”

In addition, because the Academy had mainly been a film house during the tenure of Duane Robinson, who ran it for more than 35 years before J’Anthony’s arrival, there wasn’t much modern theatrical equipment on hand. So the theater recently installed a new sound system, replaced some outdated theatrical lighting with LED lighting, and installed new flooring for theatrical productions.

Those efforts have helped make the Academy of Music a more attractive venue for national touring acts. The theater’s relationship with Signature Sounds led to a relationship with Dan Smalls Presents, which represents many of the the national touring bands that come through Northampton.

“We’ve got the attention of AEG and Live Nation as well,” she added. “The model is definitely working. There’s usually somebody in here most days. We have a wide range of offerings, from hip hop to ballet, from opera to Americana music, film, comedy, dramas, musicals — so there’s something for everybody.”

Rich History

Looking back to the beginning, Lyman had the foresight to purchase a lot of land on Main Street that would eventually be one of Northampton’s main crossroads. Working with well-known architect William Brocklesby of Hartford, Lyman had the two-story Academy built for $100,000, plus $25,000 for interior decoration and equipment.

It opened in 1891 with a sold-out concert featuring four solo artists backed by the Boston Orchestra. But Lyman’s fondest interest, opera, never really caught on at the center.

He eventually gifted the theater to the city, and it remains the only municipally owned theater in the U.S. — and a largely self-sufficient one. Aside from occasional help from the city to make needed repairs, the facility has never had a line item on the Northampton budget, surviving on box office and donations.

Throughout its first 15 years, the Academy became a popular stop for drama troupes and traveling road shows, attracting some of the top talent of the day, including Sarah Bernhardt and Ethel Barrymore.

With the economy shifting and top acts harder to come by, the Academy’s trustees went in a different direction in 1912, establishing a resident dramatic company, the Northampton Players. Although their shows were popular, especially with the Smith College crowd, they didn’t make enough money, and the group was disbanded a few years later. Various efforts to revive resident theater were reattempted throughout the 1920s, but none of the companies survived for long.

the Academy of Music’s iconic building

Opened in 1891, the Academy of Music’s iconic building has been a prominent fixture at one of Northampton’s busiest intersections.

That era saw visits to the theater by the likes of Frank Morgan and William Powell, among other names who later made the transition into motion pictures — which would be the Academy’s direction as well.

In fact, it had presented its first moving picture in 1898, shortly after the ‘projectiscope’ technology was introduced to the world. By 1921, the Academy was showing films three times a week, and by 1930, the facility was run primarily as a moviehouse. The trustees made the sea change permanent in 1943 by spending $40,000 to modernize the theater.

During that period, the Academy had a falling-out with the film distributor who leased the building through the 1930s, J’Anthony noted. When theater manager Frank Shaughnessy was called to military service, he recommended that his clerk, Mildred Walker, who had been working alongside him for 16 years, mind the shop while he was serving in the military.

“And the board agreed,” she went on. “She was a local resident and known entity to the organization. However, the film distributors were upset that the board would allow a woman to run the theater. So they took the Academy to court — and the Academy lost. That’s why their relationship discontinued; they didn’t re-up the lease.”

Walker, in the meantime, proposed a new governance model whereby the board would run the building, but would hire a manager. “And she recommended herself,” J’Anthony said. “They agreed to her governance model; however, they hired Clifford Boyd to run the theater.” Decades later, in 2014, following the spate of renovations, the Academy commissioned and presented a new work, Nobody’s Girl, that told Walker’s story.

Boyd, a veteran of the theater industry, oversaw a shift at the Academy of Music to live performing arts. Later, under Robinson’s tenure, from 1970 through the early part of the new millennium, the facility reverted to mostly film, as well as undergoing a series of needed renovations in the ’70s and ’80s. But that business model, too, was set to change.

“Film distribution changed in the 1980s with the rise of the megaplex,” J’Anthony said, “so one-screen venues across the nation had to make changes. Either they turned into megaplexes or became performing-arts centers.” The latter, of course, continues to be the Academy’s path today.

Into the Future

When J’Anthony came on board in 2008, the Academy was primarily renting the hall to community-based organizations, but soon established a series of resident companies and partners that supply regular programming.

“However, we needed to look at producing our own shows during the recession, when many of the opera companies folded, and so we started producing our own shows here, which led us into youth programs.”

Those include three sessions of summer musical theater workshops for ages 7 to 14, and in January, the Academy conducts rehearsals for a youth production in March.

“In addition, we have been producing plays,” she continued. “We started focusing on women’s works — being in Northampton, and being connected to Smith College, that just made sense. And we’ve been adding more presentations and productions each year.”

The theater, with a capacity of just over 800, welcomes some 60,000 visitors each year for performances, so it’s still a cultural force in the city after so many decades of change.

“Certainly, there’s a sense of place within this community for the Academy of Music. It is a place of gathering, of sharing ideas,” J’Anthony said, adding that its blend of big-name attractions and community-based productions make for an intriguing mix. “Somebody can be out in the audience and see a national touring show one night and be on stage the next night.”

That said, the Academy also strives to be sensitive to its market, she noted. “We do things that are a little more edgy than other venues. We keep our ear to the ground in regard to the values of our community, what is relevant to them, and making sure we bring art forms that can engage them in further discussions and offer new perspectives.

“A building like this is a valued asset, and it takes a large community to maintain this building and the programming we have here,” she went on. “So we’ll keep working with the city, the state, and Community Preservation Act funds, as well as individual contributions, to keep this space going. It’s all hands on deck.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Downtown Greenfield may look the same as it did decades ago, in many respects, but it has evolved considerably and morphed into a true neighborhood.

Downtown Greenfield may look the same as it did decades ago, in many respects, but it has evolved considerably and morphed into a true neighborhood.

Greenfield Mayor William Martin acknowledged that it isn’t exactly a scientific measure of either his downtown’s vibrancy or the efficiency of his long-term strategic plan for the central business district. But it certainly works for him.

He’s being told there’s a parking problem downtown. Actually, he’s been told that for some time. Until recently, the commentary involved the east end of that district by Town Hall, and the chorus was so loud and so persistent that the community is now building a 272-lot parking garage in that area, due to open in the fall.

But now, he’s also hearing that complaint about the east side of downtown, and he’s expecting to hear it a lot more with the opening of the Community Health Center of Franklin County on the site of the old Sears store on Main Street, a facility that will bring more than 100 clients and employees to that location every day.

In the realm of municipal government, parking problems generally, but certainly not always, fall into that category of the proverbial good problem to have, said the mayor, adding that a far worse problem is to have no parking woes — not because you have plenty of parking, but because no one is coming to your downtown.

And that was more the state of things in Greenfield for some time, Martin intimated, putting the accent on ‘was.’

Indeed, while Main Street may look pretty much the same as it did a few decades ago, at least at a quick glance, it is vastly different, and in some very positive ways, said the mayor, adding that his administration’s broad strategy has been to bring people downtown for goods and services and let this critical mass trigger economic development on many levels. And it’s working.

“We thought that, if we can bring people downtown and provide what they need, the free market will take care of people want,” he said, adding that the theory has been validated with everything from new restaurants to live entertainment to offices providing acupuncture and cardiology services.

Jim Lunt agreed. Now the director of GCET (Greenfield Community Energy and Technology), a municipal high-speed Internet provider, and formerly director of Economic Development for the community, he said the downtown has evolved considerably over the past decade or so.

Getting more specific, he said it has morphed from a traditional retail district, as most downtowns are, into more of a combination entertainment district and home for small businesses and startups.

“We’ve focused on small businesses that we can bring in, and we’ve worked a lot to build up the creative economy; our downtown, like many downtowns, looks a lot different now than it did 10 years ago,” Lunt told BusinessWest. “There are a lot more restaurants, a lot more opportunities for more social gathering, as opposed to what people would think of as traditional shopping.”

In addition to social gathering, there is also vocational gathering, if you will, in the form of both new businesses and also a few co-working spaces that are bringing a number of entrepreneurs together on Main Street.

To get that point across, Lunt, sitting in what amounts to the conference room in Town hall, simply pointed toward the window, a gesture toward the building next door, the Hawks & Reed Entertainment Center, which, in addition to being a hub of music, art, and culture, is also home to Greenspace CoWork.

That space, on the third floor, is now the working address for writers, a manuscript editor, a few coaches, a social-media consultant, and many others, and has become, said Lunt, maybe the best example of how Greenfield has put the often long-unoccupied upper floors of downtown buildings back into productive use.

MJ Adams, who succeeded Lunt as director of Economic Development, agreed, and she summoned another term to describe what downtown has become: neighborhood.

She said it has always been that to some extent, but it is now even moreso, with more living options and other amenities in that area.

“We’re starting to look on downtown as more of a neighborhood,” she explained. “We’ve always looked at it as the civic and service center for the county, but people are starting to perceive downtown Greenfield as a neighborhood that has a mix of housing styles, is attractive to a wide range of people, especially young people, has a lot to offer, and is very walkable.”

Greenfield didn’t get to this state overnight, said those we spoke with, noting that the process has been ongoing and more strategic in nature since the official end of the Great Recession and the arrival of Martin in the corner office (both of which happened in 2009).

Mayor William Martin says his broad strategy since being elected a decade ago has been to transform downtown into a hub for a wide range of services and make it a true destination.

Mayor William Martin says his broad strategy since being elected a decade ago has been to transform downtown into a hub for a wide range of services and make it a true destination.

That strategy has involved a number of tenets, everything from creation of GCET, which gives downtown Greenfield an important asset in a county where high-speed Internet access is a luxury, not something to be taken for granted, to a focus on making downtown a destination for a wide gamut of services, from education to healthcare.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest examines how these pieces have come together, and also at how they have positioned Greenfield for continued growth, vibrancy, and maybe even some more parking issues — the ‘good-problem-to-have’ variety.

Hub of Activity

To explain his broad strategy for Greenfield’s downtown, Martin essentially turned the clock back more than 200 years. Sort of.

Back in those days, he explained, Greenfield, anointed the county capital, was a supplier of goods and most services to the many smaller communities surrounding it.

Small steamships and rail would bring goods north on the Connecticut River to Greenfield, he explained, and residents of surrounding towns would make their way to the center of Franklin County to get, well, pretty much whatever they needed.

“I consider that a tradition and also a responsibility,” said Martin, now serving his fourth term. “And that’s what we’ve based our downtown on — providing what people need.”

It also has always done that with regard to government functions, he said, citing everything from the county courthouse, post office, and jail to Greenfield’s library, the largest in Franklin County. But Martin’s goal was to broaden that role to include education, healthcare, and more.

And specific economic-development initiatives, technology, societal changes, the community’s many amenities, and some luck have helped make that goal reality.

In short, a large number of pieces have fallen into place nicely, said those we spoke with, enabling downtown Greenfield to become not only a destination, or hub, but also a home — for people and businesses across a diverse mix of sectors.

These pieces include:

• A burgeoning creative economy that features a number of studios, galleries, and clubs featuring live music;

• A growing number of restaurants, in many categories, that collectively provide a critical mass that makes the city a dining destination of sorts. “There are 13 different ethnic restaurants, there’s some really good bars, several places for live music that weren’t here just a few years ago, and art galleries,” said Lunt. “I think that’s the biggest change downtown”;

• Greenfield Community College, which has steadily increased its presence downtown with a campus that brings students, faculty, administrators, and community leaders to the Main Street facilities;

• The community health center, which will bring a host of complementary services, including primary care, dental, and counseling for emotional wellness together under one roof in the downtown, where before they were spread out and generally not in the central business district;

• Other healthcare services. In addition to the clinic, a cardiologist has taken over an old convenience store downtown, said the mayor, noting that there is also an acupuncturist, a holistic center, a massage therapist, and other healthcare businesses in that district; and

• Traditional retail, of which there is still plenty, including the landmark Wilson’s Department Store.

Actually, these pieces haven’t just fallen into place by accident, said Martin, noting, again, that they have come into alignment through a broad strategic plan and specific initiatives designed to make the downtown more appealing and practical for a host of businesses, as well as number of existing qualities and amenities.

“We decided that we should do everything we can to provide the infrastructure necessary to attract people and entities when the economy turned,” he explained. “And we worked on a number of things that were real problems.”

High-speed Internet access was and is a huge component of this strategy, said Lunt, noting that it has been directly responsible for a number of businesses settling in the city.

Meanwhile, other parts of that strategic initiative include renewable-energy projects that have helped bring down the cost of energy; creation of a Massachusetts Cultural District, which has made the community eligible for certain grants; a façade-improvement project that has put a new face on many properties downtown, and many others.

Destination: Greenfield

The community already had a number of strategic advantages when it came to attracting both businesses and families, said Lunt, noting that, overall, while Greenfield’s location in rural Franklin County is limiting in some ways — contrary to popular opinion, there are actually few available parcels for large-scale developments, for example — it brings advantages in many others.

From left, MJ Adams, Mayor William Martin, and Jim Lunt all see many positive signs in Greenfield’s downtown.

From left, MJ Adams, Mayor William Martin, and Jim Lunt all see many positive signs in Greenfield’s downtown.

Elaborating, he said that many younger people prefer a rural setting to an urban one — for both living and working — and can find most of what they’re looking for in Greenfield.

That list includes a lower cost of living than they would find in Boston, Amherst, or Northampton; outdoor activities ranging from hiking to whitewater rafting; culture; a large concentration of nonprofits serving the county; and, yes, high-speed Internet access, something people might not find 20 minutes outside of downtown.

“It’s a beautiful area, and real estate is quite affordable compared to much of the rest of the state,” said Lunt. “And the Springfield-Hartford metropolitan area is now 1.2 million, and that’s not that far down the road; a lot of people would happily commute for 45 minutes to live here and get to jobs there.”

This combination of factors has attracted a number of young professionals, many of whom may have gone to college in Boston or another big city and started their careers there, but later desired something different, said Adams.

It has also attracted entrepreneurs, said Lunt, including several video-game developers, many of whom now share a business address — co-working space known as Another Castle.

Located on Olive Street in space that until recently housed the Franklin County registry of Deeds, it became home to the video-game developer HitPoint, which was located in Greenfield, relocated to Springfield, and has now moved back. And it has created a co-working space that enables other small game designers to take advantage of shared equipment and facilities, effectively lowering the cost of doing business.

Moving forward, the town’s simple goal is to build on the considerable momentum it has created through a number of initiatives. These include work to redevelop the former First National Bank building, vacant for decades and the last of the properties on the stretch as Bank Row to be given a new life.

The town’s redevelopment authority has site control over the parcel, said Lunt, adding that the next steps involve working with the state, private grant writers, and the city to acquire funds to convert the property into a downtown cultural center to be used for everything from a farmers’ market to perhaps a museum of Greenfield history.

If all goes according to plan, all the properties on Bank Row will be back in productive use for the first time in 40 years, he told BusinessWest.

Another initiative is the parking garage, which has been years in the making, noted the mayor, noting that it took several attempts to secure funding help from the state for the project.

The facility will ease a well-recognized problem, exacerbated by the new county courthouse in that area, and provide yet another incentive for people to come to downtown Greenfield.

As for parking at the other end of Main Street … well, that’s a good problem to have. For now, anyway.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Linda Leduc and Charlie Blanchard stand beside one of Palmer’s two new charging stations for electric cars.

Linda Leduc and Charlie Blanchard stand beside one of Palmer’s two new charging stations for electric cars.

In a neighborhood struggling to regain some momentum, any new development matters — no matter how humble.

Literally, in the case of Humble Pie, a restaurant with a façade as nondescript as its name and a farm-to-table ethos that has quickly won over locals since opening in December on Main Street in the Three Rivers section of Palmer.

“They’ve been getting excellent reviews, and people are literally standing in line,” said Town Planner and Economic Development Director Linda Leduc. “That’s good because it’s another catalyst to get other business owners and developers to invest in Main Street.”

It’s not the only new development in the neighborhood. The town has also transferred ownership of 2032 Main St. to South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which is renovating the top floor to apartments and the bottom to retail — a mixed-use plan that will both infuse new residents into the neighborhood while attracting more shoppers, said Town Planner Charlie Blanchard. “That rehabilitated building will hopefully attract other businesses to the area.”

Property and business owners in Three Rivers have been meeting for the past two years as part of a grass-roots revitalization effort, which includes changing the perception of the area and filling vacant storefronts. Discussions with residents have touched on ideas such as making the stretch more pedestrian-friendly, building a walking path with river access around the perimeter of Laviolette Park and upgrading the parking there, and expanding Hryniewicz Park, which is used for movie nights, concerts, and other events staged by the town’s recreation department and the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, the consortium known as On the Right TRACK (Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge) has been working for some time to build a cultural and creative economy in the village.

Meanwhile, Pinocchio’s restaurant on Bridge Street in Three Rivers installed outdoor seating last summer, which turned out to be a popular option, said Leduc, adding that the eatery stuck out a tough period when the Red Bridge, which connects that area of Palmer with Ludlow and Wilbraham, was out of service for two years; it reopened in November.

“I know that hurt the entire village, and Pinocchio’s was definitely struggling,” she went on, “but now that it’s open, the whole village will benefit.”

Three Rivers is definitely on the move, she and Blanchard told BusinessWest — and other neighborhoods in Palmer are showing signs of positive activity as well.

Health Matters

Baystate Wing Hospital’s $17.2 million project to expand its Emergency Department, which is nearing completion, will better accommodate the needs of the community by supporting the current annual patient volume of 24,000 visits.

The 17,800-square-foot space will include separate ambulance and public entryways and will feature 20 patient rooms, including trauma, behavioral health, and other dedicated specialty-care areas. Private rooms will replace curtained bays to enhance patient privacy, and a dedicated space will be created for behavioral-health patients. Once the new building is completed, the current Emergency Department space, which was built in 1995, will be retrofitted for other uses,” according to Dr. Robert Spence, chief of Emergency Medicine for Baystate Health’s Eastern Region.

While that’s the largest medical development happening in Palmer, it’s far from the only one. Others include CrossFit Ardor, which moved from Brimfield to the Allen Block in Depot Village last year; a new massage-therapy and wellness center called Peaceful Paths on North Main St.; and an expansion of Palmer Animal Hospital on Thorndike Street. Speaking of animals, a new pet-grooming business known as Rufflections Dog Spa recently opened on Park Street.

Palmer at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 13,050 (2015)
Area: 32 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $22.08; Three Rivers, $22.91; Bondsville, $22.75; Thorndike, $23.59
Median Household Income: $41,443
Median Family Income: $49,358
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Sanderson MacLeod Inc., Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Market
* Latest information available

Last year also saw the opening of the expanded, 4,000-square-foot Junction Variety Store in Depot Village, more than doubling its previous size. The store, which had sold beer and wine, now has a full package license, and owners Meena and Bharat Patel aim to lease some additional space for retail or office use.

In the Thorndike section of town, steampunk artist Bruce Rosenbaum and his wife, Melanie, moved into the former St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Main Street, as both their residence and the new home for Mod Vic Steampunk Design. They have created a showroom and gallery in the historic space, as well as holding steampunk workshops for families. “He’s moving ahead with his work, and has pieces displayed in the sanctuary; it’s incredible,” Leduc said.

Finally, the new rail spur installed at Sherwood Lumber Yard, in the town’s industrial park — a project that has been in the works since 2013, and funded through an Industrial Rail Access Program grant — will allow the business to bring in materials by train, which will spur significant expansion of the operation, Blanchard said.

“It actually helps the entire industrial park,” Leduc said. “When trains would come in, they’d hold up the entire line, so that other deliveries weren’t getting into the park. “By having them have their own rail spur, now a train can come in and unload without that sort of interruption.”

Green Thoughts

Other recent business developments include a few ‘green’ businesses, in more than one sense of that word. One is the move of Gold Circuit E-Cycling from Ludlow to Third Street in Palmer, Leduc said. The four-person operation will not only do business in town — picking up and recycling used computer equipment, electronics, and refrigerated appliances, as well as recycling a host of other goods — but plans to develop a relationship with Pathfinder Regional High School’s work-study program.

The town will also see its 10th large-scale solar project this year, with the owner of a property on River Street leasing space to Borrego Solar for a 4.7-megawatt system, which will bring total production among the 10 sites to 29.3 megawatts.

Leduc said she gets calls every week about potential new solar developments, but if more are to be approved, the priority is to place them in remote areas where they won’t alter the town’s rural character and natural viewscapes.

Palmer has also given the green light to a growing industry in Massachusetts, approving its first medical-marijuana facility on Chamber Road, including a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse and 3,200 square feet of retail space. Altitude Organic Corp. will move its headquarters from Colorado to a property on Thorndike Street in Palmer as part of the development. “So they’re ready to invest in the town,” Leduc said.

Blanchard said the approval was partly driven by the fact that recreational marijuana is now on the horizon, expanding the market for growers, although the town currently has a moratorium on recreational-pot facilities as it decides on what types of ordinances and restrictions to put in place around such facilities.

Even last year’s total renovation of Town Hall — which included the expansion of the public meeting room; a new conference room and additional storage space; new offices for the Board of Health, Conservation Department, Building Department, and Veteran’s Agent; and new lighting, windows, and carpeting — had an ecologically friendly component.

“The town purchased two electric vehicles and had two charging stations installed at Town Hall and the library,” Leduc said, noting that they were funded by the state Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities program. Particularly in the case of the library station, she noted, they will provide another opportunity for people, in this case electric-car owners, to explore town. “They’re probably going to charge for a couple of hours, which will give them the opportunity to explore Main Street, visit, go shopping, and grab something to eat.”

In other words, to take in a bit more of a town that’s constantly adding to its reasons to stick around.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Danielle Fillio says recent projects will boost Stockbridge’s cultural and tourism draws.

Danielle Fillio says recent projects will boost Stockbridge’s cultural and tourism draws.

The Elm Court Estate in Stockbridge was constructed in 1886 as a summer cottage for William Douglas Stone and Emily Vanderbilt, completed a series of renovations in 1919, and evolved into an inn in the ’40s and ’50s, hosting dinners, events, and overnight accommodations. It was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nowadays, it’s getting a big boost from Travaasa Berkshire County, which plans to renovate, preserve, and add to the complex in order to create a new resort — and bring in the jobs and tourism that comes with it.

“Elm Court was approved three years ago and held up in land court in Lenox, but now it’s done and moving forward with development,” said Danielle Fillio, Stockbridge’s recently appointed town administrator. “It’s a big resort with a restaurant on site.”

The property sits on the border of Stockbridge and Lenox on Old Stockbridge Road and fits well into the destination marketing of both communities, smallish towns that rely heavily on visits from outsiders to grow their tax base.

“We’re excited about bringing some jobs here, and we’ll have the meals tax, room tax, and more tourists,” Fillio said.

Meanwhile, the Boston Symphony Orchestra broke ground over the summer on a $30 million construction project at Tanglewood, a four-building complex that will house rehearsal and performance space for the Tanglewood Music Center as well as a new education venture known as the Tanglewood Learning Institute — the first weatherized, all-season structure at Tanglewood, which the BSO plans to make available for events beyond the summer months.

“Those buildings will be used year-round, which will help extend tourism through the offseason,” Fillio said, noting that Tanglewood is one of Stockbridge’s main summer draws, but the colder months could use a tourism boost.

Indeed, those two projects are indicative of how much Stockbridge relies on tourism and visitorship for economic development. With a population of just under 2,000, the community doesn’t have a deep well of residents or businesses from which to draw tax revenue, but it does boast a widely noted series of destination attractions, from Tanglewood to the Norman Rockwell Museum; from the Berkshire Theatre Festival to Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The goal, Fillio said, is to complement those regional draws with the kinds of services and municipal improvements that will best serve an older population that values the town’s rural character. And town leaders are striving to do just that.

Full Speed Ahead

Although the issue has been a contentious one, the Select Board, earlier this year, approved the hiring of Fillio, who had been assistant to the previous town administrator for a decade, to her current role. She had been serving in an interim capacity while town leaders mulled a number of options, including partnering with neighboring Lee and Lenox on a shared administrator.

We want to preserve our natural resources while bringing more people here and helping businesses.”

In her now-permanent role, she’s involved with many critical areas of town administration, from budgeting to planning, and she’s pleased with some of the recent progress to improve municipal infrastructure and attract new business.

On the former front, Stockbridge has been successful winning grants to repair a number of bridges in town, including $500,000 from the state’s Small Bridge Program and $1 million from its Small Town Rural Assistance Program to replace the deteriorated, heavily traveled Larrywaug Bridge on Route 183, just north of the state highway’s intersection with Route 102. The project will commence in 2018.

The town’s voters had previously approved a $2.6 million, 20-year bond to finance repairs to eight bridges and roadways in need of restoration. Among them are the Averic Road twin bridges off Route 183, which were closed by MassDOT in the spring of 2016.

Meanwhile, the town is looking to replace its highway garage, which is “currently falling apart,” Fillio said, and is also considering options for the quirky intersection of Routes 7 and 102 at the Red Lion Inn. “We’re going to see if we can raise funds to be able to get an updated study to see what may help us with the traffic there. The last traffic study in that area was in 2004.”

Stockbridge at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1739
Population: 1,947 (2010)
Area: 23.7 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $9.59
Commercial Tax Rate: $9.59
Median Household Income: $48,571
Median Family Income: $59,556
Type of government: Town Administrator; Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Austen Riggs Center; Tanglewood; Red Lion Inn
* Latest information available

On the planning front, a visionary project committee was formed several years ago to develop recommendations that could be implemented over the next 20 years. The committee issued a report in 2016 titled “Planning a Way Forward.”

That report noted that residents value the town’s cultural institutions and historic buildings; its open space, recreation sites, and walking trails; and its downtown (although many would like to see additional shops and services, as well as more parking). Meanwhile, they want to see smart housing growth that takes into account the community’s aging population, as well as additional transportation options and better accommodation of walkers and bicyclists.

As a result, the document envisioned a Stockbridge in 2036 that mixes the traditional strengths of tourism, culture, and creative economy with green- and technology-based businesses, food production from local farmers, and agri-tourism. The ideal community would also be less auto-reliant, expanding pedestrian networks, bicycle infrastructure, and regional bus and ride-sharing services.

The report also predicts a socially and economically diverse population that provides equally diverse housing options, from apartments and condominiums to smaller single-family homes, co-housing projects, and historic ‘Berkshire cottages.’ These include a mix of sustainable new construction and repurposed buildings, including the preservation of older homes, along with an increase of people living close to the town center, including mixed-use buildings with apartments over shops to support downtown businesses.

While the overall vision may be ambitious, it encompasses the sorts of goals a town of Stockbridge’s size can reasonably set when looking to move into its next era. To help bring new businesses into this plan, the Planning Board has formed a bylaw-review committee tasked with examining all the zoning bylaws to determine what needs to change to make the town a more attractive place to set up shop.

“We want to preserve our natural resources while bringing more people here and helping businesses,” Fillio said.

Positive Signals

Businesses are certainly cheering the cell-phone tower that Verizon erected on the southern end of the town landfill earlier this year. Previously, half the town had no cell service, and downtown tourists were surprised by the lack of a signal.

“The tower is up and running, and it makes a great difference — if you have Verizon. If you have AT&T, it’s still not a huge help, but there have been talks about possibly having AT&T go up in the tower,” Fillio said. “But you can actually get service at the Red Lion now, which for years was never the case.”

It’s just one way a small town is taking small steps to preserve its cultural character while adding the kinds of amenities demanded by a 21st-century population.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy Sections

A Dream Home for the Arts

By Kathleen Mellen

An architect’s rendering of the new facility on Hawley Street in Northampton.

An architect’s rendering of the new facility on Hawley Street in Northampton.
Thomas Douglas Architects

It’s been four long years since the Northampton Center for the Arts had a place to call home. But that’s about to change.

In September, the center will become the first tenant of a building at 33 Hawley St. in Northampton, purchased in 2013 by Northampton Community Arts Trust, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve space for use by artists. It was conceived on the principle of a land trust, in which land is purchased with a particular intention, such as preservation.

“The arts trust’s mission is to preserve, in perpetuity, spaces for the use of arts,” said Penny Burke, executive director of the Center for the Arts, who has been involved in the development of the trust since its inception. “We need a multi-purpose, multi-functioning community place for the arts.”

The need for such a space became abundantly clear in 2013, when the nonprofit Center for the Arts lost its home of nearly 30 years at the former D.A. Sullivan School complex in downtown Northampton, after its non-renewable lease expired.

As Burke searched for new space that could accommodate the center’s programming of music, dance, theater, and visual arts — a process that took far longer than she had anticipated — she was forced to mothball much of its equipment and programming, and run the operation out of a small office on Strong Avenue, or, at times, from her home.

After a number of disappointing false starts, Burke said, the center entered into a collaborative search for space with interested city residents and other arts organizations, including Available Potential Enterprises, Ltd. (APE), which, in 2006, had moved out of its 10,000-square-foot home in Thornes Marketplace after the building was sold. APE has since relocated to a much smaller space on Main Street, which doesn’t accommodate many of the performances that had been a major part of its programming.

interiorstairs

The spacious interior of the new facility in Northampton provides ample space for artists.

The spacious interior of the new facility in Northampton provides ample space for artists.

“Our interest is not in occupying the space,” said Gordon Thorne, the founding director of APE, “but we want to have input into programming in the building. We were looking for a way to replicate what we had in Thornes, to replace our performance capacity. This is really completing that goal for us.”

Northampton has long had a reputation as a premier arts town. It is home to scores of visual and performing artists who have been flocking to the city since the mid-’70s, when an economic downturn resulted in storefront vacancies and cheap rent. That was like a siren call to artists, who typically have limited economic resources.

With the resulting influx of creative individuals, by the early 2000s, the arts had become integral to the personality, character, and economic health of the city. Not only has it been dubbed one of the best small arts towns in the country, it has also been named one of the nation’s top 25 arts destinations.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner says artists need affordable space, and the new facility created by Northampton Community Arts provides it.

But all that has come at a price to the artists, says Richard Wagner, president of the Northampton Community Arts Trust’s volunteer board of directors. As the arts have helped propel the city’s renewed economic vibrancy, vacancies have been filled, and prices for space have exploded, leaving many of the artists to discover that they have unwittingly helped price themselves right out of their artistic homes.

“The end state of any creative economy is going to be where creativity has been pressed out of the market,” Wagner said. “Artists need space, and if you want to keep artists, if you want to keep the creativity, you’ve got to lock in affordability, or they go somewhere else. That’s what’s happening in Northampton.”

The Northampton Community Arts Trust aims to stem that tide.

Planning a Reboot

To be sure, Burke’s organization has not been dormant during the past four years, but programming has been minimal; she has continued to present the center’s annual chalk art, ice art, and en plein air painting festivals, as well as hosting Northampton’s First Night Celebration — a venture the center will turn over to the Northampton Arts Council this year after running it for 32 years.

Now, Burke says, she’s excited to have a home where she can reinstate the plethora of arts and community activities that have been the center’s hallmark. “It’s been a huge hole,” she noted.

The Center for the Arts will serve as an operational and managerial tenant of the Hawley Street building, and will facilitate much of the core programming. With that slated to begin right after Labor Day, Burke explained, she’s hustling to get her ducks in a row, reaching out to the center’s resident companies, including the Lisa Leizman Dance Co. and the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra, and booking space for classes, rehearsals, and, eventually, performances. Other organizations are expected to follow the center into the space shortly, including Northampton Community TV, which will have an education and media center there.

We wanted to create a building with minimal operating expenses, where artists can actually afford to work, and that meant not borrowing money. I had the capital, so I paid it.”

The center’s move to Hawley Street is one step in a long journey that began in earnest with the $1.5 million purchase in 2013 of the former site of Northampton Lumber, a 25,000-square-foot building on 1.5 acres of land. Money for the purchase was initially raised through private donations and a short-term loan, but was ultimately paid in full by Thorne, who reimbursed the trust for the cost of the building.

“We wanted to create a building with minimal operating expenses, where artists can actually afford to work, and that meant not borrowing money,” Thorne said. “I had the capital, so I paid it.”

While some events were held in the building for several months after it was purchased, all that was put on hold in 2015, when construction began to build the trust’s dream home for the arts.

The $6.5 million project (which includes the purchase of the building) is being done in three phases, under the guidance of Thomas Douglas Architects. Phase one, with a cost of just over $1.86 million, is nearly complete, and has included an overall renovation of the building and indoor framing.

“We had to do basic development work because of the shape the building was in,” Wagner told BusinessWest. “We framed out the spaces, added an elevator … we took a beat-up box of a building and gave it a new skin.”

That work also included the addition of energy-efficient features, such as a highly insulated shell and roof, as well as a solar array, donated by Thorne, which should provide the building with essentially free electricity. “Our HVAC costs should be minimal,” Wagner said.

Phase 2 will be a complete build-out of the building’s interior, including a lobby and mezzanine, an 800-square-foot exhibit gallery, and space for performances, events, and workshops, as well as site work and landscaping. With an estimated cost of $2.5 million, that phase will have to wait while the trust secures further funding, but Burke and Wagner say they hope it will be completed by the end of 2018.

In the meantime, in order to accommodate an initial, limited public use of the building, the city awarded the trust a limited-occupancy permit to utilize space on the lower level of the two-story building, including a 1,200 square-foot multi-purpose studio for rehearsals, classes, and small performances, events, and meetings.

Burke has already booked some art classes and is working with local choreographer Kelly Silliman to create a dance program that will utilize a 900-square-foot dedicated dance studio that will be available for use on the upper level.

There will also be a series of outdoor events this summer, dubbed “Outside the Box,” that will feature film, music, and poetry presentations.

Looking Ahead

The current plan for phase 3 will be the creation of a 3,800-square-foot black-box theater on the lower level, capable of seating more than 200 patrons, as well as ancillary space, such as dressing rooms and a green room. That will be undertaken when the rest of the building is complete, Burke said, but only after members of the local theater community, including APE, have an opportunity to weigh in on its design.

We want to create a separate body of people who will take on the design and management of that space. We need to take into consideration not only technical aspects of theater, but to ask where that whole realm of creative work will be in the future.”

It’s a concept that still needs a lot of thought before a budget and timeline can be established, Thorne told BusinessWest.

“We want to create a separate body of people who will take on the design and management of that space,” he said. “We need to take into consideration not only technical aspects of theater, but to ask where that whole realm of creative work will be in the future.”

To date, the trust has raised roughly $4.38 million through gifts from individual donors, as well as government and institutional grants, including $50,000 from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, $35,000 from the Beveridge Family Foundation, $25,000 from C&S Wholesale Grocers, $180,000 from the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance, and $140,000 and $300,000 in separate grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The Center for the Arts contributed $400,000 — money that had been saved over the years from First Night revenue specifically to pay for a new home.

While what Wagner calls the “quiet” phase of the capital campaign continues, focusing on individual donors and other grant opportunities, he said a public capital campaign will be launched at a future date.

As those plans move ahead, Thorne said, it will be incumbent upon the trust to articulate its plans and its mission to the public. “We need to educate the community about what this is, our bigger mission.”

To that end, Wagner hopes the programming that will take place under the partial occupancy allowance will generate public awareness, and interest in supporting the space and the trust.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is to get the building back into use,” he said. “We want to open it up to the public, so they can feel and taste the possibilities.”

Sections Technology

Banking on Breakthroughs

 

Three UMass Amherst campus research initiatives are among nine projects across the five-campus system that are sharing $735,000 in grants from the President’s Science & Technology (S&T) Initiatives Fund.

Announced by UMass President Marty Meehan, the projects showcase a range of cutting-edge faculty research being conducted across the UMass system, from enhancing clean-energy technologies to developing materials that can autonomously release drugs and precisely target tumors.

The Amherst campus projects include:

• The Center for Autonomous Chemistry, an initiative with UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School, and led by chemistry professor S. Thayumanvanan. The project will develop the molecular design fundamentals for autonomous chemical systems, inspired by the immune system. Fully developed, this will form the basis to develop materials that can autonomously release drugs in response to a specific trigger and precisely target tumors. The grant of $140,000 will be used to facilitate one or more proposed projects to federal research agencies.

• The UMass Unmanned Aerial System Research and Education Collaborative (UASREC), led by Michael Knodler of the UMass Transportation Center. A collaboration with UMass Dartmouth, UASREC is established to advance unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones, to advance interdisciplinary and collaborative research and education. With research already funded through the state Department of Transportation, $100,000 in S&T funds will help position UASREC to become the New England Transportation Center and develop other proposals to federal funding agencies.

• The Center for Smart and Connected Society (CS2), a project with UMass Medical School, is being led by Prashant Shenoy in Computer Science at UMass Amherst and David McManus in Cardiovascular Medicine at UMass Medical Center. The project, as part of the creation of the new interdisciplinary CS2, will focus on the advancement and application of smart and connected technologies. The smart-application domains include smart health and smart living, smart buildings and energy, smart and autonomous vehicles, and smart agriculture. The one-year, $25,000 S&T grant will advance the planning for CS2 and coordination with the medical school’s Center for Data Driven Discovery and HealthCare, which also received an S&T award.

Amherst campus researchers are also involved in another of the funded projects, the UMass MOVEment Research Center, which will explore the mechanics of movement and muscle function. Led by Matthew Gage of the UMass Lowell Chemistry department, the researchers will use the $25,000 grant to plan for a UMass system-wide research center for movement mechanics, focused on understanding movement in the aging population. Faculty from Lowell, Amherst, and the medical school will explore how to combine existing research strengths at all three campuses into a comprehensive program designed to approach research questions in the biomechanics of aging from a molecular to an organismal level.

“These funds empower our faculty, strengthen our research enterprise, and spur breakthroughs that boost the economy and improve lives,” Meehan said. “I’m proud to support our faculty while advancing our critical mission as a world-class public research university.”

Now in its 14th year, the S&T fund accelerates research activity across all five campuses, drives partnerships with state industry, and positions researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects.

Since 2004, the fund has awarded nearly $12 million to faculty, helping to generate additional funding of more than $240 million in areas such as medical devices, nano-manufacturing, clinical and translational science, bio-manufacturing, data science, robotics, and personalized cancer therapy.

S&T awards have also helped to establish important research and development centers across the state, including the Center for Hierarchical Nanomanufacturing at UMass Amherst, the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UMass Boston, the Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research at UMass Dartmouth, the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center and New England Robotics and Validation & Experimentation Center at UMass Lowell, and the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Medical Center.

“Since 2004, these grants have generated a tremendous return on investment to our campuses and to the Commonwealth, strengthening our engagement in key areas, including the life sciences, data science, climate science, and advanced manufacturing,” Meehan said. “This program underscores how critical a strong public research university is to the future of the state.”

The President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund is one of three sources of support that help advance the work of faculty members, along with the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund and the Technology Development Fund. u

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Linda Leduc, Meena Patel, and Charlie Blanchard

Linda Leduc, Meena Patel, and Charlie Blanchard say the new Junction Variety store will include 1,800 square feet of space suitable for retail or office use.

A dozen years ago, Meena and Bharat Patel purchased Junction Variety store in Palmer. They established a loyal client base, but several years ago, the cost of operating the antiquated building, combined with the need for extensive repairs and inadequate parking, forced them to make a decision about whether to remain in town and build a new structure or move their business elsewhere.

“We decided to stay here; I love Palmer,” said Meena. “The people are very supportive, and we have good relationships with our customers.”

Last June, ground was broken on a new, 40,000-square-foot facility. It is expected to be completed within a few weeks, and once the store is moved, the old building will be demolished, and a parking lot with 20 parking spaces will take its place.

Junction Variety will occupy 2,200 square feet of the new structure, which will almost double its current size, and the remaining 1,800 square feet will be available for lease as office or retail space.

The project is part of a flurry of commercial activity that began last year and is rapidly accelerating, creating momentum in this community.

“It’s definitely a sign of the recovering economy. Things are happening a lot faster now than they did in the past, and we are very busy,” said Town Planner and Economic Development Director Linda Leduc, who explained that, a few years ago, projects were permitted that never moved forward, but today construction often begins months after the permitting process is complete.

The list of developments, moves, and expansions nearing completion or underway is lengthy, as Leduc and Town Planner Charlie Blanchard explained during a lengthy interview with BusinessWest. It includes four new solar farms (last year the town had five, which brings the total to nine), construction of a $17.2 million Emergency Department at Baystate Wing Hospital that will begin this year, a $2 million expansion of an advanced-manufacturing company that was recently finished, grassroots efforts in Three Rivers that are leading to change, and churches in residential neighborhoods being reused in creative ways.

Construction is also underway at Town Hall. A $400,000 heating and air-conditioning system was installed over the past two years and paid for with funds from the Green Community Act. And this year, renovations are being made to the entire building to make better use of space vacated by the Police Department when it moved into a new, $7.4 million facility several years ago.

Specifically, the public meeting room will be expanded and gain a new entrance; a new conference room and additional storage space will be created; the Board of Health, Conservation Department, Building Department, and Veteran’s Agent will move into larger offices; and new lighting, windows, and carpeting will be installed throughout the building.

“We have a lot of activity taking place for a town this size,” said Blanchard, attributing it not only to renewed confidence in the economy, but to the willingness of officials and the Town Council to work with businesses and make changes to accommodate their needs.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes a look at projects that were recently completed, underway, or on the drawing board throughout the four villages that make up the town of Palmer.

Diverse Undertakings

Change continues to take place in Depot Village, the first commercial district travelers pass through after they exit the Mass Turnpike.

Last year, Mark Baldyga of Baldyga Inc. stopped selling travel trailers and made the decision to focus on autobody work and used-car sales, which necessitated a move, because his 1221 South Main St. location didn’t provide the frontage and exposure he needed.

Finding a suitable property proved difficult, but he hoped to remain in Palmer because he grew up in the town, has spent more than 30 years on the Fire Department, and has an employee who is also a firefighter.

“I have a good reputation, and people here know me, which is one of the main driving forces for my business,” Baldyga said, adding that he has close ties with the community.

His search led to a two-acre parcel on Route 20 with the frontage he needed. However, before he purchased it, he petitioned the town to change the area from general zoning to highway business so he could move forward with his plan.

The petition was accepted, and Baldyga split up the acreage, which was needed because the rear portion of the plot contained a multi-family home.

Ground was broken last spring for a new, 5,500-square-foot building that is nearing completion; he expects to reopen in a few weeks.

He told BusinessWest that the neighbors were not only accommodating, but supported the zoning change, and it has worked out well for everyone involved.

“The town will get more taxes, businesses of a similar nature can move here now, and my tenants are happy because I made improvements to their apartments and cleaned up the property,” he noted, adding that, if the zoning change hadn’t been approved, he would have had to leave Palmer.

Michael’s Party Rentals purchased Baldyga’s former location, and President Michael Linton said the company moved from its Ludlow locations and did a substantial renovation of the 20,000-square-foot building, included the addition of a showroom, design center, and state-of-the-art tent-washing machine.

Other moves have occurred in Depot Village. Last year, the Fire Service Group purchased the former American Legion building on 1010 Thorndike St., which allowed the company to expand from a smaller location, and construction plans have been approved for a Dollar General store on the corner of Breckenridge and Park streets that will be built after the single-family home on the site is demolished.

Progress has also taken place at Detector Technology, a precision-manufacturing firm located in Palmer Industrial Park.  Blanchard said the company needed room to expand and purchased a building from Wayne Buxton, who was using it to house his ShedWorks Inc. business.

“Wayne needed to downsize but wanted to stay in Palmer, so he kept half of the lot and is building a new, smaller structure on it,” Blanchard noted, explaining that Detector Technology recently finished a $2 million renovation of the former Shedworks.

Baystate Wing Hospital is also building a $17.2 million, 37,000-square-foot Emergency Department on its Palmer campus. Ground was broken in November, and the institution is meeting all its timetables.

“They are a major employer and are making a big investment that will be beneficial to our residents as well as the region,” Leduc said.

The town’s capped landfill on Emery Street is another property that has been given new life. Leduc said a request for proposals was issued for the site several years ago, but nothing came to fruition until Syncarpha Solar, which owns and operates a solar farm on the adjacent former Palmer Metropolitan Airport, made the decision to build a second facility on the landfill.

“We were happy they were interested in generating additional solar power on the site,” Leduc said, adding that the town had five solar farms, and, in addition to the new one on the landfill, Nexamp, Nextsun Energy, and Beaumont Solar also built solar facilities last year.

“Two are operating, and the other two are waiting to be interconnected, but once that happens, Palmer will be generating almost 25 megawatts of electricity on its nine solar farms,” she noted.

The facilities will bring in new revenue and result in energy savings. Palmer will receive $121,000 annually for the next 25 years in lease payments from the solar farm on the capped landfill, and will begin getting net metering credits this year from Blue Wave Solar on Baptist Hill in Three Rivers, which Blanchard estimates will save the town 30% to 40% of the generated cost of electricity.

New Life

Two other projects Leduc describes as “exciting” involve the conversion and reuse of former churches.

Artist Bruce Rosenbaum and his wife, Melanie, recently purchased St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in Thorndike. It had been vacant for several years, and will become their residence and the new home for Mod Vic Steampunk Design when the couple moves from Sharon.

“It was a perfect situation,” Leduc said, explaining that churches often are located in the middle of residential districts, and although the town is willing to rezone whenever it makes sense, it’s not always possible.

The Rosenbaums created the first functional steampunk house in the world, and their business repurposes and infuses modern technology and gadgets into period, relevant antiques and salvage objects.

“We work with clients in the U.S. and internationally to design one-of-a-kind pieces, creatively combining eras and ideas to transform the ordinary into incredible steampunk functional art,” Bruce said, adding that the couple has clients all over the world and looked throughout the Commonwealth and in Connecticut before deciding that St. Mary’s Church was a great place to expand their business.

The 1876 gothic structure, with 30-foot ceilings and tall stained-glass windows, three wooded acres, and 30 parking spaces in the middle of a residential neighborhood appealed to them, especially since they have clients in Amherst, Holyoke, Northampton, and Springfield, including MGM.

They worked with the town to get a home-occupation permit before purchasing the home earlier this month, and are looking forward to relocating and creating a showroom and gallery in the historic space, as well as holding steampunk workshops for families.

In addition, Amherst Railway Society purchased the Crossroads Christian Church on South Main Street in Depot Village and plans to move there on June 16.

“It’s a nostalgic reuse of a historic church and very fitting since Palmer is known as the Town of Seven Railroads,” Leduc said.

Collaborative efforts to revitalize Main Street in Three Rivers are also bearing fruit, thanks to work by the consortium On the Right TRACK (the acronym stands for Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge), which has been working to build a cultural and creative economy in the village.

The Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. was awarded a $13,500 Adams Art Grant for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, and the town completed a market-assessment and business-recruitment tool as well as a feasibility study showing that a building on 2032 Main St. obtained through the tax-title process has potential for redevelopment.

“The town will put out a request for proposals as soon as we have grants in place for the building,” Leduc said.

A number of property and business owners also began meeting 11 months ago in a grass-roots effort to help the revitalization effort, which includes changing the perception of the area and filling vacant storefronts.

Community Development Director Alice Davey said Nancy Roy, of Interactive Schoolhouse, was instrumental in starting the group. The agency received $35,000 from MassDevelopment and used the money to hire Union Studio in Providence, R.I. to design a conceptual plan for the center. The consulting firm held a public presentation several weeks ago to get input from residents, and the final report is expected in the near future.

Davey said suggestions put forth during the meeting included making the downtown more pedestrian-friendly, building a walking path with river access around the perimeter of Laviolette Park and upgrading the parking there, and expanding Hryniewicz Park, which is used for movie nights, concerts, and other events staged by the town’s recreation department and the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s an exciting time for Three Rivers,” she noted. “The public meeting was well-attended, and residents and property owners eagerly anticipate the final plan and development of a course of action to implement some of the recommendations.”

Forward Movement

Bruce Rosenbaum says steampunk is more than just art: it’s a way to creatively problem-solve, learn how to adapt to a situation, and be resilient.

“You look at an object, know the purpose it was designed for is obsolete, then find a way to give it new life and make it beautiful and functional,” he said, adding that the idea translates to people and cities, and he is excited to work with Palmer “as the town re-imagines itself.”

That certainly applies to Three Rivers, and progress is indeed underway that will put the Town of Seven Railroads on the map as it moves forward on a fast track that is attracting new businesses and helping existing ones to expand and grow.

 

Palmer at
a Glance
Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 13,050 (2015)
Area: 32 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $21.57; Three Rivers, $22.25; Bondsville, $22.06; Thorndike, $23.01
Median Household Income: $51,846
median family Income: $68,200
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Market
* Latest information available

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE

www.1berkshire.com

(413) 499-1600

• Feb. 22: Good News Business Salute, 4:30-6:30 p.m., at Country Curtains, 705 Pleasant St., Lee. Good News Business Salutes recognize major milestones including anniversaries, expansions, and new product lines. This salute is part of 1Berkshire’s Creative Economy Month celebration during the month of February. This event’s honorees include Annie Selke Companies, Pittsfield; Boyd Technologies, Lee; Big Elm Brewing, Sheffield; and Winstanley Partners, Lenox. Cost: $35-$45.

• Feb. 24: BYP Back in Time Bash, 7-11 p.m., at Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield. Berkshire Young Professionals is kicking off another great year with its annual museum party this February. Enjoy a dance party with DJ BFG, sing your favorite karaoke tunes, sample food, snap a picture in our photo booth, play some indoor lawn games, and much more. Cost: $10-15.

• Feb. 28: Spark! Creative Economy Networking Event, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Kripalu Yoga Center, 57 Interlaken Road, West Stockbridge. Get to know others in the creative industries at our February Spark! creative economy networking event. Hear from Kripalu about all it has to offer as part of our Sparkplug speed-speaker series, then dive deep into icebreaker engagement with mini-workshops offered by key staff members of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Cost: free.

• March 15: Chamber Nite, 5-7 p.m., at Community Health Programs, 71 Hospital Ave., North Adams. Join us for this popular event and remember to bring your business card so you can enter to win a door prize. Cost: free.

• March 29: Career Fair, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Berkshire Community College, Paterson Field House, 1350 West St., Pittsfield. Get in front of Berkshire-based businesses at this annual event. Connect with employers looking to hire someone like you. This event is open to the public and is free. No registration is required.

• March 29: Brown Bag Fundraising, noon-1 p.m., at 1Berkshire Central Station, 66 Allen St., Pittsfield. Cost: Free

Register online for events at www.1berkshire.com.

EAST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.erc5.com

(413) 575-7230

• April 27: The Feast in the East, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse, 128 Wilbraham Road, Hampden. This event is open to the public. The ERC5 is preparing to host 30 of the finest restaurants in our area to serve delicious and decadent signature dishes to guests. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available at www.erc5.com. Call Nancy Connor, executive director, at (413) 575-7230 with questions.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• March 3: Shining Stars Gala, 6-9:30 p.m., at the Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Honoring Business of the Year: Polish National Credit Union; Citizens of the Year: Werner and Chris Maiwald/Renaissance Advisory Services, LLC; Volunteer of the Year: Michael Epaul/Michael Epaul Photography; Nonprofit Organization of the Year: Holyoke Medical Center; and a Tribute to William Wagner/Westfield Bank. Cost: $60 per person. To register, please go to www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 8: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., at the Delaney House, 3 Country Club Road, Holyoke. Salutes include Berkshire Bank/165-year anniversary; Chicopee Industrial Contractors/25-year anniversary; Chicopee Colleen and her court; and a Bow of Recognition to Clear Vision Alliance for a 10-year anniversary. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 16: CEO Luncheon featuring Raymond Berry, president and general manager of White Lion Brewing Co., 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Collegian Court Restaurant, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

• March 22: Business After Hours with the Springfield Regional Chamber, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Springfield Thunderbirds main office, 45 Bruce Landon Way, Springfield. Networking, raffle prizes, shoot-the-puck contest on the ice, Plan B Burger, and a cash bar available. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, visit www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• April 12: Business Expo, 4:30-7 p.m., at the Bartley Center at Holyoke Community College, 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke. Sponsored by Florence Bank, Williston Northampton School, and Green Earth Energy PhotoVoltaic. The Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the chambers of Holyoke, Chicopee, and Northampton for a Business Expo. The chambers are now accepting reservations for tables. The cost is $150 if reserved by March 29, and $200 after that date. Table fee includes a 6’ x 30” skirted table, two entrance passes, a light supper, and free parking. Sponsorships are also available. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414 or e-mail [email protected]

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• March 6: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., at Armbrook Village, 551 North Road, Westfield. Join us for our monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan. Free and open to the public. Call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 to register for this event so we may give our host a head count.

• March 8: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., at Shaker Farms Country Club, 866 Shaker Road, Westfield. Sponsored by Camp K-9 Doggie Day Camp. Refreshments will be served, and there will be a 50/50 raffle to benefit our CSF – Dollars for Scholars fund. Bring your business cards and make connections. Cost: free for members, $10 for general admission (cash/credit paid at the door). Online registration will be made available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the Chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• March 15: St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, 6-10:30 p.m., at Tekoa Country Club, 459 Russell Road, Westfield. Sponsored by Westfield Bank, platinum sponsor; Savage Arms, gold sponsor; A Plus HVAC Inc., silver sponsor; NorthPoint Mortgage, beer sponsor; and Mercy Continuing Care Network, dessert table sponsor. Join us for our St. Patrick’s Day Dinner, 6-6:30 p.m.; cocktails and networking, 6:30-7:30 p.m.; dinner and program, 7:30-10:30 p.m.; music and dancing. Cost: $38 for singles, $70 for couples, and $300 for a table of eight. Featuring Band O’Brothers, an Irish/American band. For sponsorship opportunities, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618. To register for this event, visit www.westfieldbiz.org.

• March 24: Employment Law Workshop, 8:30-10 a.m., at the Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Topic: “Managing Employee Appearance and Religious Accommodations in the Workplace.” Join attorney Karina Schrengohst for a roundtable-style seminar to discuss appearance in the workplace and religious accommodations, including an overview of religious-discrimination law; dress and appearance standards; body modification (tattoos and piercings); an workplace culture, individual self-expression, and employee retention. Cost: free for members, $30 for general admission paid in advance.

Online registration will be made available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• March 22: Professional Women’s Chamber Headline Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Location to be determined. Cost: $30 for PWC members, $40 for general admission.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• March 1: [email protected], “The 8 Languages of Money,” with Liz Dederer, 7:15-9 a.m., at the Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield Cost: $22.50 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for general admission in advance ($35 at the door).

• March 2: Leadership 2017 session 4, “Leading with an Entrepreneurial Focus,” 1-4:30 p.m., at the TD Bank Conference Center, Springfield.

• March 6: Outlook 2017, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. Cost: $50 for members, $70 for general admission. Reservation deadline: Feb. 22. No walk-ins accepted. No cancellations after RSVP deadline.

• March 8: Lunch ‘n’ Learn, “Apprentices and Internships: The Real Deal,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Lattitude Restaurant, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Presented by David Cruise, president of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Cost: $25 for members in advance ($30 at the door), $35 for general admission ($40 at the door).

• March 14: Speed Networking, 3:30-5 p.m., at Lattitude, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for general admission in advance ($35 at the door).

• March 22: “Power Play” After 5, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by the Springfield Thunderbirds, MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for general admission. Special event presented jointly with the Springfield Regional Chamber and the Greater Chicopee Chamber.

• March 28: Pastries, Politics & Policy, 8-9 a.m., at TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Cost: $15 for members in advance ($20 at the door), $25 for general admission in advance ($30 at the door).

Reservations for all chamber events may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• Feb. 22: Legislative Breakfast, 7-9 a.m., at Springfield Country Club, West Springfield. Attendees will include state Sens. James Welch and Donald Humason, state Reps. Nicholas Boldyga and Michael Finn, and Mayors Richard Cohen (Agawam) and Will Reichelt (West Springfield). Sponsorship opportunities are available. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members. Register online at www.westoftheriverchamber.com. For more information on ticket sales, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

• March 1: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Hosted by Music Speaks Feeding Hills. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants. that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information about this event, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880, or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• March 16: Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., at Crestview Country Club, Agawam. You must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately that day. We cannot invoice you for these events. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

• March 23: Business 2 Business Meet and Greet with West Springfield Mayor Will Reichelt. 7:30 a.m., hosted by Fathers & Sons, 989 Memorial Dr., West Springfield. A casual meet and greet with local businesses and the mayor.

Class of 2017 Difference Makers

Steady Course

The Community Colleges of Western Massachusetts

Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College,
Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College

The region’s community-college presidents

The region’s community-college presidents, from left, Bob Pura, Ellen Kennedy, John Cook, and Christina Royal.

Jeff Hayden had spent more than an hour talking about the critical roles played by community colleges in this region — while also listening to colleagues do the same — and desired to put an exclamation point of sorts on matters with a story about a woman whose case he had come to know first-hand.

She was about to earn a certificate of completion in a specific field from Holyoke Community College (HCC), and had a job interview set for the following week. She still had considerable ground to cover in terms of starting and then forging a new career, but she had a new-found confidence and sense of purpose, and wanted to let HCC officials know that — and know why.

“She said, ‘I’ve been out of work for almost five years; I thought I wasn’t worth anything, I didn’t think I could do anything, and my kids thought I could never do anything,’” Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services at the school, told BusinessWest. “She went on, ‘the opportunity you’ve given us through this program is something that has not only changed my life, but changed my children’s lives as well.’

“Frankly, those of us at the region’s community colleges hear those stories often, which is great, and it’s a feel-good kind of thing,” Hayden went on. “But it’s one story at a time, and with the power of the four institutions here, it’s thousands of stories a year that happen in our region, where people are changed, and hopefully changed in a way that helps them with their family and with their career.”

Jeff Hayden, seen here with new HCC President Christina Royal

Jeff Hayden, seen here with new HCC President Christina Royal, says community colleges provide a vital pathway to an education, especially for first-generation college students.

With that, Hayden effectively and somewhat concisely explained why the four community colleges serving residents of Western Mass. — HCC, Berkshire Community College (BCC), Greenfield Community College (GCC), and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) — have been chosen collectively as Difference Makers for 2017.

Through use of those phrases ‘the power of the four institutions’ and ‘thousands of stories,’ he hit upon the real and profound impact of the four schools, which have been making a difference now for almost 60 years in some cases.

Echoing Hayden, Bob Pura, president of GCC, said the community colleges act as both a door of opportunity, especially for those who don’t have many open to them, and a pathway to both careers and four-year degrees at other schools.

And GCC is a perfect example. It is the only institution of higher learning in Franklin County, the poorest and most rural in the state, said Pura, while stressing that point about access to an education, and it has one of the highest rates of transfer to four-year schools among the state’s 15 community colleges.

“I don’t think there is a region in this state better served by community colleges,” said Pura, who stressed the plural and saw the six other people gathered around the table in a classroom at HCC’s Kittredge Center nod their heads in agreement. “We’re the pathway for the infrastructure in our community; the socioeconomic futures of our communities pass through the doors of our collective colleges.”

By ‘better served,’ Pura meant work beyond the schools’ historic mission of providing potentially life-altering opportunities to their students. Indeed, they are also playing important roles in a host of ongoing economic-development initiatives across Western Mass.

HCC’s involvement in the Cubit building project

HCC’s involvement in the Cubit building project in downtown Holyoke is just one example of how community colleges have become forces in economic-development efforts.

In fact, if one were to name a key issue or specific program, one will likely find one of the community colleges involved with it at one level or another.

Start with the region’s workforce. The schools are the proverbial tip of the spear in initiatives ranging from the retraining of manufacturing workers displaced by the decline of that sector to preparing individuals for the myriad jobs in the broad healthcare field that will have to be filled in the years to come; from training area residents for many of the 3,000 or so jobs to be created by the MGM Springfield casino to providing specific help with closing the so-called skills gap now plaguing all sectors of the economy and virtually every business, a problem addressed mostly through a program called TWO, as we’ll see later.

But there are other examples, as well, from STCC’s work to help precision manufacturers build a steady pipeline of talent to BCC’s involvement with efforts to create new opportunities for jobs and vibrancy at the sprawling former General Electric complex in Pittsfield, to HCC’s decision to move its culinary arts program into a mostly vacant former mill building in downtown Holyoke, thus providing the needed anchor for its revitalization.

All of these examples and many more help explain why the region’s community colleges — individually, but especially as a group — are true Difference Makers.

Schools of Thought

Community colleges, formerly known in some states as junior colleges, can trace their history back to 1901 (Joliet Junior College in Illinois is generally considered to be the first).

There are now nearly 1,200 of them enrolling close to 8 million people. They come in all shapes and sizes, some with just a few hundred students and others with enrollment in the tens of thousands.

In the Bay State, community colleges can trace their roots to 1958, when an audit of state needs recommended the establishment of a community-college system to address the need for more diversity and access to higher education in the Commonwealth, which, then as now, has been dominated by a wealth of prestigious (and expensive) private colleges and universities.

The reality is that the mission of a community college — to provide access to excellent education for the local community — is what we do, and we do it in sometimes unique ways. But what we also do is recognize the fact that there are times when shaking the hand and working together is far more effective than trying to go out on our own.”

 

The recommendation was adopted by the Legislature in August of that year, and the accompanying legislation included formation of the Board of Regional Community Colleges, which established nine of the current 15 schools within a five-year period, starting with BCC in 1960.

“We were the first one,” said Ellen Kennedy, president of that Pittsfield-based institution, with a discernable note of pride in her voice, while acknowledging that what is now HCC has a longer history, because that school began as Holyoke Junior College, which opened in 1946.

GCC opened its doors in 1962, and STCC, housed in the historic Springfield Armory complex, which was decommissioned in the mid-’60s, opened amid some controversy — HCC is only eight miles away as the crow flies, and many thought there wasn’t a need for two community colleges that close together — in the fall of 1967.

Today, community colleges in Massachusetts and across the country face a number of common challenges, including smaller high-school graduating classes, which are impacting enrollment; funding levels that are imperiled by dips in the economy and devastated by serious recessions, such as the one that began nearly a decade ago; and graduation rates that are impacted by the many burdens faced by the community-college constituency — everything from finances to life issues (jobs and family) to even transportation.

But overall, community colleges are seeing a surge of sorts. Indeed, amid the soaring costs of a college education and the ever-rising amounts of debt students are being saddled with, the two-year schools are being seen by many as a practical option to at least begin one’s education.

Meanwhile, host cities and regions are becoming more cognizant of their ability to help provide solutions to workforce and other economic-development-related issues and problems.

This is especially true in Western Mass., where many gateway cities, including Springfield, Holyoke, and Pittsfield, are facing stern challenges as they attempt to reinvent themselves and move on from their collective past as industrial centers, and regions (especially Franklin County) face spiraling unemployment, aging populations, and outmigration of young people.

ge-pittsfield-aerial-1946

BCC’s efforts to develop new opportunities for the former GE complex

BCC’s efforts to develop new opportunities for the former GE complex in Pittsfield (in its heyday, above, and today) is another example of community colleges becoming involved in economic-development initiatives.

But at their very core, community colleges are still all about access — that open door that Pura mentioned. They all have what’s known as open admission, meaning anyone who has a high-school diploma or GED must be admitted. But while getting in isn’t a problem, staying in, and hanging in until a diploma or certificate is earned, can be, and often is.

Thus, increasingly, schools have been focusing on that broad, multi-faceted assignment of helping students succeed — with whatever it is they are trying to succeed at.

There are many elements that go into this equation, said those we spoke with, from programs focused on basics, including language skills, to new degree and certificate programs to meet specific industry needs, to a host of partnerships with area four-year schools that include not only articulation agreements but efforts to bring those schools’ programs onto the community-college campuses to help those facing time and transportation issues.

Meeting this role, this mission, makes the community colleges unique in the pantheon of higher education, and even public higher education. It is a niche, if you will, or, for many, including those we spoke with, a career path they’ve chosen for any of several reasons, but often because they can relate to the students in their charge.

Such is the case with Christina Royal, the recently named president of HCC, who is so new to the role she chose to let others, like Hayden, speak about the school’s history and specific current projects while she got fully up to speed.

But in a candid interview with BusinessWest upon her arrival, she said that, when she went to Marist College, a private liberal-arts school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., she was the first in her family to attend college, and it was a struggle for the family to send her there.

So she understands what community-college students are up against, and chose that constituency, if you will, as the one she wanted to serve.

“The experience of community colleges — dealing with a lot of first-generation college students who don’t always understand the value of what they’re doing and also how to navigate it to be successful — these are things I can relate to from my own background,” she said. “And I think that has created a connection with the community colleges for me and helps me understand the students we serve. I’ve found a home in the community-college system.”

The original faculty and staff at STCC

The original faculty and staff at STCC pose in front of the old officers’ quarters at the Springfield Armory. The school was created in 1967 to focus on preparing students for careers in technology-related fields.

John Cook, who succeeded Ira Rubenzahl as president of STCC last summer, is similarly attracted to the community-college mission and unique role.

Formerly the vice president of Academic Affairs at Manchester (N.H.) Community College, he cast a wide net when seeking opportunities to lead a school, but was specifically focused on community colleges, which, he said, have a direct role in serving their communities (hence that middle name for all these institutions) and their residents, not employers across the country or halfway around the world, as the major private institutions do.

Pura agreed. “The students who come to our colleges are those who stay here,” he explained. “They’re the ones who will run the ice cream shop and the small nonprofit, and they’re going to be part of the leadership for our hospitals.”

The Jobs at Hand

Beyond providing access and pathways to opportunities, however, the region’s community colleges have become increasingly larger role players in area workforce and other economic-development-related initiatives.

Such roles are natural, said Cook, noting that the schools pride themselves on being nimble, responsive, and, overall, good listeners when it comes to the community — including the business community — expressing specific concerns and needs.

And while such programs solve problems for businesses, the communities they’re based in, and the region as a whole, said Bill Fogarty, HCC’s vice president for Administration and Finance, who served as interim president until Royal arrived, they also benefit individuals who may or may not have a job, but instead need a career.

“All of our capital investments, whether it’s the new Center for Health Education or the Cubit Building and the culinary center, or any of the others, have been geared toward getting people in the door,” he explained, “and getting them a basic type of credential they can use, and then providing pathways so they can further their education.”

Examples of economic-development-related initiatives that are also creating opportunities for individuals abound, and we’ll start with BCC, which has been active in efforts to help that region move past the huge shadow left by GE and other elements of a manufacturing-based economy, said Bill Mulholland.

He recently retired after a lengthy career at BCC, most recently as vice president of Community Education and Workforce Development, a title that speaks volumes about the work he was involved with in recent years. And as he started talking about that work, he referenced a Berkshire Eagle headline — “High-paying Jobs Going Unfilled” — from January 1998.

Upon reading it, he called Pura and invited him to lunch, at which there was broad discussion that eventually led to creation of something called the Berkshire Applied Technology Council.

“This is an industry-driven organization focused on workforce development,” Mulholland explained. “As we got all the companies together, we said, ‘what are your biggest needs?’ And when we boiled it all down, the commonality was basic math, writing, all of the basic skills.”

That’s where organizers started with a program that would be called (here comes that word again) Pathways, he went on, adding that the initiative effectively checks many of the boxes community colleges are trying to check, including direct involvement with businesses, providing individuals with the basic skills needed to contend for jobs and careers, working in collaboration with other community colleges and other partners, and creating progress with efforts to keep young people from migrating out of the region.

Another very specific example is the college’s involvement in the work to create an advanced manufacturing facility (the Berkshire Innovation Center) that will become the centerpiece of the William Stanley Business Park, created on the former GE site. Specifically, the school is developing training programs for individuals that will be employed by companies based there.

“What’s significant about this, for us and for the Commonwealth, is that we’re reinventing our manufacturing,” he said. “It’s about high-technology capabilities; so many of the original equipment manufacturers are outsourcing up to 70% to small and mid-sized enterprises because we’re quick, we’re nimble, and we innovate. That’s the focus of the innovation center, and it’s more about the human capital now than it is about the equipment, although that’s important as well.”

Human capital, and creating more of it, is at the heart of many BCC initiatives, he went on, adding that the school is also involved with efforts to bolster the creative economy that is becoming a force across Berkshire County and especially a revitalized Pittsfield, as well as the tourism industry that has always been a pillar.

As examples, he cited a filmmaking course designed to help provide trained individuals for the many film companies and special-effects houses that now call that region home, and also a special customer-service course for those seeking to enter the hospitality industry.

Manufacturing Momentum

Meanwhile, at GCC, manufacturing is also a prime focus, said Pura, adding that the region has lost a number of large employers in this sector over the past several decades and is intent on both retaining the companies that remain and attracting new ones.

To this end, a manufacturing collaborative was formed involving the college, employers such as Yankee Candle and Valley Steel Stamp, the Regional Employment Board, career centers, and area high school.

“What became clear was that we needed to invest in our infrastructure; facilities were very antiquated,” said Alyce Stile, dean of Workforce Development and Community Education (same title as Mulholland) at GCC, adding that, with $250,000 in seed money from many of the employers and grant money attained as a result of that investment, Franklin County Technical School has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility.

With that foundation, GCC was able to start its first adult-education evening program — one firmly focused on the basics — with the help of considerable feedback from STCC, BCC, and other partners.

No, the region’s community college presidents have not been reassigned

No, the region’s community college presidents have not been reassigned. They’re merely using some artistic license to display a pattern of cooperation and collaboration that is only growing.

To date, more than 100 students have gone through the program, said Stiles, with the even better news being an employment rate of more than 80%.

Other recent initiatives have included a nursing ladder program designed to put more individuals in that important pipeline, and also a comprehensive study of just what area employees want and need from the workers of today and tomorrow. The results were not exactly surprising, but they were enlightening.

“Employers made it clear that what’s needed are the communication skills, the ability to critically think through and problem-solve in an innovative way, and the ability to work well with other people,” he explained, adding that a panel comprised of area employers ranging from Herrell’s Ice Cream to Baystate Franklin Medical Center recently emphasized these needs and discussed the next critical step — programming to help ensure workers possess these skills.

In Hampden County, meanwhile, initiatives involving the two community colleges there have generated considerably more press, and, like those in the other regions, have involved high levels of collaboration between the schools and a wide variety of other partners.

At the top of the list, perhaps, is TWO (Training and Workforce Options), a joint effort between STCC and HCC that provides custom contract training for area businesses and industry-sector collaborations.

To date, TWO has created training programs for call centers and customer-service workers, manufacturing production technicians, hospitality and culinary positions, home-health-aide workers, and healthcare-sector employees who need to become versed in the recently introduced medical coding system known as ICD-10, among others.

Another collaborative effort, this one involving all the community colleges, is the Mass. Casino Careers Training Institute, which, as that name suggests, is designed to help area residents become qualified for many of the positions that MGM Springfield — or any of the other casinos to open in the Commonwealth — will need to fill.

Other specific examples range from STCC’s involvement with CRRC, the Chinese company that will soon be building subway cars in Springfield’s East End, to secure a trained workforce, to HCC’s investment in Holyoke’s Innovation District through the Cubit project.

Degrees of Progress

As the presidents of the region’s four community colleges posed for some photographs for this piece, they each gathered up their respective school’s pennant, in a colorful, pride-nurturing exercise in effective identification.

Then, as a bit of fun, Pura had them shuffle the deck, if you will. This drill yielded some laughs and intriguing facial expressions, but also some symbolism if one chooses to look for it and accept it.

Indeed, while the schools remain immensely proud of their histories and track records for excellence, and do compete on a number of levels — for students, in some cases, and on all sorts of playing fields, especially — they also collaborate, and in ways that are often changing the local landscape.

It wasn’t always this way, especially when it came to HCC and STCC, mostly because of their proximity to one another and often-overlapping programs. But this spirit is certainly in evidence now, and the obvious reason is that the schools have realized that they can do more for the region by working together than by trying to do it alone, often with parallel initiatives.

“The reality is that the mission of a community college — to provide access to excellent education for the local community — is what we do, and we do it in sometimes unique ways,” said Hayden. “But what we also do is recognize the fact that there are times when shaking the hand and working together is far more effective than trying to go out on our own.”

Maybe the best example of both sides of this equation is the TWO program. Prior to its formation, the schools went about trying to forge skills-gap solutions themselves, and would often “bump into each other,” as he put it.

“It was not uncommon for a business owner to say, ‘Jeff, you’re here … but the guy from STCC was here last week,’ or vice versa,” he explained. “What we’ve recognized through some of these partnerships is that we need to work together; it’s better for the customer, it’s better for the student, and it’s better for the business.”

The effectiveness of that particular collaboration caught the attention of the Boston Foundation, which awarded the two schools the inaugural Deval Patrick Award for Community Colleges in 2015 (it came with a $50,000 unrestricted grant that they split), and in many ways it serves as an example of what other schools can do together — if they are so inclined.

The Mass. Casino Careers Training Institute, which will train workers for MGM Springfield

The Mass. Casino Careers Training Institute, which will train workers for MGM Springfield (see here in this rendering) and other casinos, is another workforce initiative involving the region’s community colleges.

“In the Boston market, they’re still really trying to figure out how to put such partnerships in place,” Hayden went on. “We talk about how we’re eight miles away from STCC or 21 miles away from Greenfield or 58 miles or whatever it is from Berkshire, but in Boston, you have four community colleges that could almost throw rocks at one another, and they can learn from this.

“The establishment of that kind of collaboration was more common sense than anything else,” he went on. “Why duplicate efforts? Why waste resources? Why not work together?”

There are countless other examples of this mindset, said Mulholland, who cited BCC’s addition of a medical-coding program.

“Our local health system said, ‘we’re going to ICD-10 — we need help here,’” he recalled. “We picked up the phone and called STCC, and we had the curriculum in no time. We were able to put it in and met the system’s needs in ways we never could have without partnering like that.”

Such partnering continues on many levels, and the schools are constantly looking for new ways to forge collaborations, said Cook, adding that he was calling and texting Royal within days of her arrival on Jan. 9 to initiate such discussions and continue a legacy of cooperation that has been handed down to the two of them.
“We have an obligation to do well by that tradition of cooperation,” he said. “It’s good for our schools, and it’s good for this region.”

Course of Action

Hayden said he doesn’t make a habit of it, but once in a while he will allow himself to think about what it would be like if HCC did not exist in that city.

It’s a whimsical exercise, but a nonetheless important one, he said, adding that, while some schools provide jobs, vibrancy, and a boost to service-related businesses in the city or town they call home, community colleges have an impact that runs much deeper. And it goes back to those words he and others would use early and quite often — ‘door’ and ‘pathway.’

Pura agreed, and to further the point, he summoned a comment he attributes to Allen Davis, former director of GCC’s foundation, and one he relates often.

“He said, ‘if Amherst College were to close, those students would find somewhere else to go; if GCC were to close, it would devastate this community,’” noted Pura. “And I think you can say that about all four of our institutions; if you were to close any of them, students would come to dead ends.”

The community colleges have instead made it their mission to provide inroads to better lives. And their success with that mission makes them more than worthy of the title of Difference Maker.

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

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) and Springfield Business Improvement District will jointly present a “Plug Into the Creative Valley” networking event on Tuesday, May 10 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The event will feature music by renowned jazz pianist Jim Argiro in the lobby/gallery of 1350 Main Street. He will be joined by a bassist for the event. Evan Plotkin of City Mosaic will give a few sneak-peek details about the upcoming Jazz and Roots Festival, to be officially announced on May 17.

Artists, creatives, businesspeople, and others are invited to attend this event to connect in a unique and relaxed setting. Food and drink will be provided, and admission is free. The organizers believe providing a welcoming environment for networking is necessary to support the local creative economy.

“This event is important for us to host because it offers an outlet for those often left out of networking events, folks who are working on their own out of their homes or studios, and helps them make connections to other local artists and business people,” said SCCD Director Morgan Drewniany. “If nothing else, the music will be spectacular.”

The Springfield Central Cultural District encompasses an area of the metro center of Springfield, and is membership-based, involving many of the downtown arts institutions. Its mission is to create and sustain a vibrant cultural environment in Springfield.

More details on the May 10 event can be found at facebook.com/springfieldculture. Any questions can be directed to Drewniany at [email protected] or (413) 781-1592.

Chamber Corners Departments

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com

(413) 253-0700

• May 11: After 5, 5-7 p.m., Amherst Golf Club, 365 South Pleasant St., Amherst. The club will be running some fun-filled activities that evening, including a 50/50 putting contest, and attendees will receive a voucher for a free round of golf. Established in 1900, the semi-private Amherst Golf Club is owned by Amherst College and run independently by an incorporated community group of dedicated golfers. The 9-hole layout, which tests all skill levels, was designed by Walter Hatch, an assistant of the famed Donald Ross, and later renovated by Geoffrey Cornish. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• May 18: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., Elms College, 291 Springfield St., Chicopee. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• May 20: Golf Tournament at Chicopee Country Club, 10 a.m. start. Cost: $125 per golfer, $600 corporate green sponsorship includes a foursome and exclusive green sponsorship.

• May 21: New York City bus trip. A day on your own in the city. Bus leaves at 7 a.m. and returns at 9:30 p.m. Cost: $55 per person.

• May 25: Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., Loomis House, 298 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke. Cost: $10 for members pre-registered, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• May 7: Downtown Cleanup Day, 8 a.m. to noon. General cleanup of downtown, the Rail Trail, Cottage Street municipal parking lot, the banks of the Nashawannuck Pond, and more. Volunteers are needed. No experience is necessary. Register at (413) 527-9414.

• May 12: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., Amy’s Place. To register, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

• May 19: Medallion Speaker Forum, noon to 1:30 p.m. “The Affordable Care Act: The Legal Twists & Turns.” Attorney Eilin Gaynor of Health New England helps employers, business owners, and entrepreneurs navigate the legalities of this important piece of legislation. Complete Payroll Services shares what it means from an accounting perspective. Space is limited for this member exclusive opportunity. Cost: $20, which includes a boxed lunch. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• May 16: Annual Chamber Cup Golf Tournament celebrating the chamber’s 125th anniversary, Wyckoff Country Club, 233 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Registration and lunch at 10:30 a.m., tee off at noon (scramble format), dinner following game with assorted food stations. Cost: $125 per player includes lunch, 18 holes of golf, cart, and dinner. Dinner only: $25. Awards, raffles, and cash prizes follow dinner. Corporate sponsors: Dowd Insurance, Goss & McLain Insurance Agency, Holyoke Gas & Electric, Loomis Communities, Marcotte Ford, Mountain View Landscapes, Northeast IT Systems Inc., Holyoke Medical Center, and Resnic, Beauregard, Waite & Driscoll. For reservations or sponsorships, call the chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or visit holyokechamber.com.

• May 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Quality Life Adult Day Services, 18 Elm St., Holyoke (behind the South Street Shopping Center). Join friends and colleagues for this fun and casual evening of networking. Tours of the new facility will be available. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members and walk-ins.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) (413) 584-1900

• May 11: Arrive @ 5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Coldwell Banker Upton-Massamont Realtors at Emerson Way. Arrive when you can, stay as long as you can. A casual mix and mingle with colleagues and friends. Sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank, Lia Honda, Thornes Marketplace & Emerson Way, and Montessori School of Northampton.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• May 2: Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Mayor Brian Sullivan, the Arbors Assisted Living Residential Communities, 40 Court St., Westfield. Event is free and open to the public. To register or for more information, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 9: Workshop: “What to Save and What to Shred?” at Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Registration and networking at 8:30 a.m., followed by workshop from 9 to 10 a.m. Attorney Karina Schrengohst of Royal, P.C. will present an informational seminar providing an overview of state and federal record-keeping requirements. The discussion will cover which records must be saved, where records must be kept, and how long records must be retained pursuant to a variety of employment laws. Cost: free for chamber members, $30 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 11: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., Bella Medspa, 3 Court St., Westfield. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to network, and bring your business cards. Refreshments will be served. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 23: Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce 55th annual Golf Tournament, East Mountain Country Club, 1458 East Mountain Road, Westfield. Registration and lunch, 10 a.m.; shotgun start, 11 a.m.; cocktail hour, 4 p.m.; dinner, 5 p.m. Cost: $500 for a foursome with dinner, or register a single player for $125. Title sponsor: Alternative Health Inc. Premium gift sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Ball sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Cart sponsor: Westfield Bank. Goody-bag sponsor: Liptak Emergency Water Removal. Register by calling the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mailing [email protected] Consider donating a raffle prize or a gift for the wine and spirit table raffle.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• May 4: Springfield Regional Chamber [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Natural History, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield. “The Creative Economy” panel discussion with Helena Fruscio, deputy assistant secretary of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology; and Jeffrey Bianchine, Holyoke Creative Economy coordinator. Sponsored by United Personnel and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 11: Springfield Regional Chamber Economic Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. “Creating a Western Massachusetts Renaissance” discussion with John Traynor, People’s United Bank; Rick Sullivan, Western Mass. Economic Development Council; and Dr. Mark Keroack, Baystate Health, moderated by David Hobert, People’s United Bank. Panelists will discuss the Massachusetts economy, local economic-development initiatives, how the region can capitalize on its existing assets, the role of the healthcare sector, and more. Sponsored by People’s United Bank. Cost: $35. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 18: Springfield Regional Chamber Kick Off to Summer After 5, 5-7 p.m., Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield. Informal, after-hours networking. Sponsored by Wolf & Company, P.C. Cost: $5 for members, $10 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 24: Springfield Regional Chamber Pastries, Politics & Policy, 9-10 a.m., TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Featuring state Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore. Cost: $15 for members, $25 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• May 4: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Park Square Realty 470 Westfield St., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. Cost: free for chamber members, $10 at the door for non-members. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

• May 10: Coffee with Mayor Reichelt, 8-9:30 a.m., West Springfield Senior Center, 128 Park St. Join us for a cup of coffee and a town update from Mayor Will Reichelt. Q&A will immediately follow. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

• May 19: West of the River Chamber of Commerce Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., Cal’s Wood Fired Grill, 1068 Riverdale St., West Springfield. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. You must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately the day of the event. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber’s May [email protected] on Wednesday, May 4 will feature a panel discussion on the creative economy and honor local businesses and organizations. The event will take place at the Lyman and Merrie Woof Museum of Natural History, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, from 7:15 to 9 a.m.

Panelists include Helena Fruscio, the state’s deputy assistant secretary of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Technology; Jeffrey Bianchine; creative economy industries coordinator, city of Holyoke; and Steve Porter, founder of Porterhouse Media. There will be salutes to Glenn Welch, the new CEO and president of Freedom Credit Union; and to Ronald McDonald House of Springfield for its 25th anniversary.

Chamber Corners Departments

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com

(413) 253-0700

• May 11: After 5, 5-7 p.m., Amherst Golf Club, 365 South Pleasant St., Amherst. The club will be running some fun-filled activities that evening, including a 50/50 putting contest, and attendees will receive a voucher for a free round of golf. Established in 1900, the semi-private Amherst Golf Club is owned by Amherst College and run independently by an incorporated community group of dedicated golfers. The 9-hole layout, which tests all skill levels, was designed by Walter Hatch, an assistant of the famed Donald Ross, and later renovated by Geoffrey Cornish. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members.

EAST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.erc5.com

(413) 575-7230

• April 19: ERC5 Feast in the East, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Twin Hills Country Club, 700 Wolf Swamp Road, Longmeadow. Come sample dishes from area restaurants and have a chance to vote in for the coveted People Choice award. There will be ample time to mingle and network in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Silver spoon sponsor: the Republican. Restaurant Sponsors: CMD Technology Group Inc., Freedom Credit Union, the Gaudreau Group, Glenmeadow Retirement Community, JGS Lifecare, Life Care Center of Wilbraham, NUVO Bank & Trust Co., and Robert Charles Photography. Cost: $25.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• April 20: April Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., La Quinta Inn & Suites, 100 Congress St., Springfield. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• April 21: Mornings with the Mayor, 8-9 a.m., Polish National Credit Union, 46 Main St., Chicopee. Free for all chamber members.

• May 18: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., Elms College, 291 Springfield St., Chicopee. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• May 20: Golf Tournament at Chicopee Country Club, 10 a.m. start. Cost: $125 per golfer, $600 corporate green sponsorship includes a foursome and exclusive green sponsorship.

• May 21: New York City bus trip. A day on your own in the city. Bus leaves at 7 a.m. and returns at 9:30 p.m. Cost: $55 per person.

• May 25: Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., Loomis House, 298 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke. Cost: $10 for members pre-registered, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• April 29: Legislative Luncheon on Tourism, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton St., Holyoke. The Greater Holyoke and the Greater Easthampton chambers are teaming up to present an opportunity to discuss local tourism with keynote speakers Mary Kay Wydra, president, Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau; MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis; and Seth Stratton, vide president and general council, MGM Springfield. State Sen. Eric Lesser, chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Culture Development, will speak to what’s happening at the state level. Sponsored by Resnic, Beauregard, Waite and Driscoll. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members, which includes lunch. To register, call (413) 527-9414 or visit www.easthamptonchamber.com.

• May 7: Downtown Cleanup Day, 8 a.m. to noon. General cleanup of downtown, the Rail Trail, Cottage Street municipal parking lot, the banks of the Nashawannuck Pond, and more. Volunteers are needed. No experience is necessary. Volunteers will meet at the Easthampton Chamber of Commerce to receive their assignments. Register at (413) 527-9414.

• May 12: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., Amy’s Place. To register, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

• May 19: Medallion Speaker Forum, noon to 1:30 p.m. “The Affordable Care Act: The Legal Twists & Turns.” Attorney Eilin Gaynor of Health New England helps employers, business owners, and entrepreneurs navigate the legalities of this important piece of legislation. Complete Payroll Services shares what it means from an accounting perspective. Space is limited for this member exclusive opportunity. Cost: $20, which includes a boxed lunch. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• April 29: Legislative Luncheon on Tourism, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton St., Holyoke. The Greater Holyoke and the Greater Easthampton chambers are teaming up to present an opportunity to discuss local tourism with keynote speakers Mary Kay Wydra, president, Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau; MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis; and Seth Stratton, vide president and general council, MGM Springfield. State Sen. Eric Lesser, chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Culture Development, will speak to what’s happening at the state level. Sponsored by Resnic, Beauregard, Waite and Driscoll. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members, which includes lunch. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or visit holyokechamber.com.

• May 16: Annual Chamber Cup Golf Tournament celebrating the chamber’s 125th anniversary, Wyckoff Country Club, 233 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Registration and lunch at 10:30 a.m., tee off at noon (scramble format), dinner following game with assorted food stations. Cost: $125 per player includes lunch, 18 holes of golf, cart, and dinner. Dinner only: $25. Awards, raffles, and cash prizes follow dinner. Corporate sponsors: Dowd Insurance, Goss & McLain Insurance Agency, Holyoke Gas & Electric, Loomis Communities, Marcotte Ford, Mountain View Landscapes, Northeast IT Systems Inc., Holyoke Medical Center, and Resnic, Beauregard, Waite & Driscoll. For reservations or sponsorships, call the chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or visit holyokechamber.com.

• May 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Quality Life Adult Day Services, 18 Elm St., Holyoke (behind the South Street Shopping Center). Join friends and colleagues for this fun and casual evening of networking. Tours of the new facility will be available. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members and walk-ins.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) 584-1900

• April 22: Workshop: “Waste Reduction & Energy Efficiency,” 9:30-11 a.m., Center for EcoTechnology, 320 Riverside Dr., Northampton. Waste reduction and energy-efficiency upgrades can save your business money. This workshop will cover incentives, benefits, and options to green your business. Learn from case studies of other local businesses that have started waste-diversion programs or installed energy-efficiency improvements. RSVP required, and space is limited. To register, contact Cate Foley at [email protected] or (413) 586-7350, ext. 240.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• April 18: “The Painkiller Epidemic: Legal Implications of Prescription Drug Use in the Workplace,” 8:30-10 a.m., Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Prescription drug use in the workplace is on the rise. From an employer’s perspective, employees who are abusing prescription medication tend to be less productive, less reliable, prone to absenteeism, a greater safety risk, and create unnecessary costs, burdens, and liabilities to the company. Royal, P.C. will present an informational seminar that will address some of the most common areas employers express uncertainty and concern about, including maintaining a safe workplace, enforcing drug-free workplace policies and conducting drug testing, and the risk of disability-discrimination claims. Light refreshments will be served. Cost: free for chamber members, $30 for non-members.

• April 26: Sixth annual Southwick Home & Business Show, 4:30-7 p.m., Southwick Town Hall, 454 College Highway. The Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce is once again partnering with the Southwick Economic Development Commission on this tabletop event to promote Southwick businesses. Cost to display: $25 per business (Southwick businesses only). Registration form and payment due by April 11. The event is free and open to the public. Questions can be e-mailed to [email protected], or leave a message at (413) 304-6100.

• May 2: Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Mayor Brian Sullivan, the Arbors Assisted Living Residential Communities, 40 Court St., Westfield. Event is free and open to the public. To register or for more information, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 9: Workshop: “What to Save and What to Shred?” at Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Registration and networking at 8:30 a.m., followed by workshop from 9 to 10 a.m. Attorney Karina Schrengohst of Royal, P.C. will present an informational seminar providing an overview of state and federal record-keeping requirements. The discussion will cover which records must be saved, where records must be kept, and how long records must be retained pursuant to a variety of employment laws. Cost: free for chamber members, $30 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 11: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., Bella Medspa, 3 Court St., Westfield. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to network, and bring your business cards. Refreshments will be served. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 23: Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce 55th annual Golf Tournament, East Mountain Country Club, 1458 East Mountain Road, Westfield. Registration and lunch, 10 a.m.; shotgun start, 11 a.m.; cocktail hour, 4 p.m.; dinner, 5 p.m. Cost: $500 for a foursome with dinner, or register a single player for $125. Title sponsor: Alternative Health Inc. Premium gift sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Ball sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Cart sponsor: Westfield Bank. Goody-bag sponsor: Liptak Emergency Water Removal. Register by calling the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mailing [email protected] Consider donating a raffle prize or a gift for the wine and spirit table raffle.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• April 27: Beacon Hill Summit, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Massachusetts State House. Co-hosted by state Sen. James Welch and state Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. Day-long opportunity to meet with members of the Baker-Polito administration and the Massachusetts delegation. Sponsored by Comcast and WWLP-TV 22, presented in partnership with the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, and supported by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. Cost: $180 per person, which includes continental breakfast, transportation, lunch, reception, and all materials. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 4: Springfield Regional Chamber [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Natural History, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield. “The Creative Economy” panel discussion with Helena Fruscio, deputy assistant secretary of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology; and Jeffrey Bianchine, Holyoke Creative Economy coordinator. Sponsored by United Personnel and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 11: Springfield Regional Chamber Economic Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. “Creating a Western Massachusetts Renaissance” discussion with John Traynor, People’s United Bank; Rick Sullivan, Western Mass. Economic Development Council; and Dr. Mark Keroack, Baystate Health, moderated by David Hobert, People’s United Bank. Panelists will discuss the Massachusetts economy, how communities across the Commonwealth can work together to create a broader and more robust economy, local economic-development initiatives at work in Western Mass., how the region can capitalize on its existing assets and develop its growth engines, and the important role the healthcare sector plays in developing centers of excellence for future growth. Sponsored by People’s United Bank. Cost: $35. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

May 18: Springfield Regional Chamber Kick Off to Summer After 5, 5-7 p.m., Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield. Informal, after-hours networking. Sponsored by Wolf & Company, P.C. Cost: $5 for members, $10 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 24: Springfield Regional Chamber Pastries, Politics & Policy, 9-10 a.m., TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Featuring state Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore. Cost: $15 for members, $25 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• May 4: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Park Square Realty 470 Westfield St., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. Cost: free for chamber members, $10 at the door for non-members. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected].

• May 10: Coffee with Mayor Reichelt, 8-9:30 a.m., West Springfield Senior Center, 128 Park St. Join us for a cup of coffee and a town update from Mayor Will Reichelt. Q&A will immediately follow. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected].

• May 19: West of the River Chamber of Commerce Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., Cal’s Wood Fired Grill, 1068 Riverdale St., West Springfield. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. You must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately the day of the event. We cannot invoice you for these events.
 For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected].

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Marcos Marrero

Marcos Marrero stands across the lower canal from a planned condo project that he says will offer “beachfront property.”

As he talked about Holyoke and the broad economic-development plan he put in place for it when he became mayor just over four years ago, Alex Morse listed a number of key strategic planks in that platform.

They include everything from improving and broadening the housing stock, especially with market-rate options that would attract young professionals, to programs that would encourage entrepreneurship; from public investments aimed at spurring private development to a focus on expanding the creative economy; from public-private partnerships to bolstering the hospitality industry.

And for evidence of progress in all those realms, he pointed (figuratively, although he could also have done so literally from a window in his office in City Hall) to the many developments taking place on — or that can been seen from — Race Street.

Indeed, that north-south artery that runs along what’s known as the lower canal in this gateway city, famous for its legacy of paper making, represents a microcosm of the progress Holyoke has seen in recent years, said Morse, and the promise it holds for the future.

Along a three-block stretch, one can see perhaps the best example of the creative economy in motion in the Gateway City Arts venture, a mixed-use property that will soon feature a new restaurant. Moving south, one encounters the aptly named Cubit building (that’s the shape it takes), which will soon house Holyoke Community College’s Culinary Arts program on the first and second floors and residential space on the third and fourth floors, in an ambitious public-private partnership.

In between those properties is a vacant lot that will become home to the latest expansion effort involving Bueno Y Sano, the Mexican-food chain launched in Amherst two decades ago that now has six locations in Massachusetts and Vermont. The Holyoke facility will be a site for manufacturing some of the food items, but it will also have an eatery.

Across the street, and then across the canal, one can see the sprawling Canal Gallery complex. Once a home to artists and vacant for several years, it is the site of a planned 50-unit condominium complex, one with dozens of windows facing the canal, thus becoming what Marcos Marrero, Holyoke’s economic-development director, affectionately calls “beachfront property.”

From Race Street, one can see the city’s new railway platform, built on the site of Holyoke’s original train station, which is being hailed as one instrument in the city’s efforts to attract new businesses and residents. And one can also see the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, touted as a spark for more technology-related ventures.

Mayor Alex Morse

Mayor Alex Morse says the developments on — and that can be seen from — Race Street are a microcosm of the progress Holyoke is experiencing.

Also visible, but much further south, is the property at 216 Appleton St., a former mill being repurposed into housing, and still farther south is the former Parsons Paper building, which will soon be razed for a much-needed expansion of Aegis Energy Services, a provider of modular combined heat and power (CHP) systems for a variety of applications.

There are dozens of other developments in various stages of progress across the city, but the view of and from Race Street explains why there is a good deal of optimism and momentum in Holyoke, said Marrero, as well as some challenges that probably couldn’t have been envisioned a half-decade ago, but definitely fall in the ‘good-problem-to-have’ category.

“The progress over the past several years is quite dramatic, and we’re running into problems of success,” he explained. “Four years ago, very few people were saying, ‘our problem is we have too many people who want to be downtown, and we don’t have enough parking for everyone.’

“Four years ago, most people, not just in Holyoke, but across the region, would not have given this city a second glance or perceived it as a place they wanted to be,” he went on. “Now, that’s not the case; there’s a lot of momentum happening.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the many forms of progress in the Paper City, and at what the future holds for this historic city on the comeback trail.

It Looks Good on Paper

As he gave BusinessWest a walking tour of the area east of City Hall down to Race Street, Marrero stopped at one point to admire the view as the limited amount of sun light on that warm March afternoon danced on the water in the upper canal near the city’s acclaimed children’s museum in Heritage Park.

Soon — and ‘soon’ is admittedly a relative term — there will be many more people enjoying similar views as residents of the city.

By Marrero’s count, there are approximately 450 units of housing — condos and apartments across a wide mix of price ranges — that are already planned or in the proverbial pipeline.

“There’s more housing in the downtown to be constructed or rehabbed than at any time since the city was first built,” he explained, while listing several projects within a few blocks of one another.

And housing represents a key component of the city’s broad development strategy, said the mayor, adding that Holyoke’s population, which was once at or near 60,000, sank below 40,000 in the ’90s, but is now back above 40,000, with hopes that it will continue to rise.

There are many reasons why the population decreased, said Morse, and, coincidentally, they mirror those economic-development platforms listed earlier, and range from a shortage or jobs to a dearth of attractive housing, to a distinct lack of incentive on the part of the development community to build such housing.

Indeed, until recently, the prevailing sentiment in Holyoke was, ‘you can built it, but will anyone come?’ with enough accent on the question mark to dissuade developers.

Recent interest in those properties on or near Race Street would seem to indicate a more positive attitude, which was effectively expressed by Denis Luzuriaga, who, with his brother, Marco, acquired the Cubit building and blueprinted its mixed-use plans (more on those in a bit).

“I see Holyoke as being not only a great place to live,” said Luzuriaga, who has called the city home for nearly 11 years, “but a place for potentially good returns on real estate as well.”

The basic development strategy for Holyoke is similar to the ones being blueprinted for other Gateway cities, said Morse, noting that, in simple terms, it involves making the community a more attractive place to live, work, and start a business — which Holyoke was until fairly recently.

There are many moving parts within this strategy, he went on, listing everything from job creation to new housing options; from incubator space in which new businesses can take root to rail service that can connect residents to jobs and clients, and connect others with Holyoke.

It will take years, perhaps even decades, for the canvas to fill in completely, but pieces to the puzzle are falling into place. And to see this — although in many cases the assignment requires imagination because projects haven’t started yet — we return to Race Street.

This artery certainly speaks to Holyoke’s past — it is dotted with old mills that manufactured everything from paper to wire, with emphasis on the past tense — but also its present and future.

Regarding the former, many of those properties have been vacant or underutilized for years, if not decades. As for the latter, the projects on the drawing board reflect broad optimism for a more vibrant city.

The Shape of Things to Come

The Luzuriaga brothers are in many ways typical of what could be considered a new generation of investors in Holyoke, lured by attractively priced but structurally sound real estate, but moreso by the city’s potential to reverse its fortunes.

Denis Luzuriaga told BusinessWest that he was a dabbler in commercial real estate, focusing on multi-family homes, when he decided to takes things up a notch — or two. And when deciding where to scale up his activities, he focused on the Paper City because of its attractive opportunities and recognizable momentum.

The Luzuriagas hadn’t officially closed on the 50,000-square-foot Cubit building (purchase price $350,000) when Holyoke Community College put out a request for proposals for a location in the city’s downtown in which to relocate its Culinary Arts program, but they submitted a proposal anyway.

It wasn’t chosen by the school (none of the bids in that round were), but it did garner some attention. And when the winner of the next round of submissions couldn’t make that plan materialize, the school went back to the Cubit building.

Denis Luzuriaga

Denis Luzuriaga, who, with his brother, Marco, is rehabbing the Cubit building, is among a new generation of investors in Holyoke.

Work on that project is slated to begin in a few months, said Luzuriaga, adding that roughly the same timetable applies to the residential component of the property — 18 units of market-rate apartments. At present, work is ongoing to replace the large windows that pour natural light into the property, which has housed operations manufacturing everything from shoelaces to corsets to wire.

Looking back to when he arrived in Holyoke, Luzuriaga said he liked what he saw — an old mill city with history, character, and potential. And now, he likes the picture that much more.

“There was something about this city, beyond the people and the way it looked, especially in the downtown area, that was very attractive to me,” he said. “I could see the potential for all kinds of positive change.”

So could Lori Divine, when she and fellow artist Vitek Kruta created Gateway City Arts in 2012. The venture has grown over the years, and now puts under one roof everything from learning areas to co-working space; from an event facility to incubator facilities for food-service businesses.

Actually, it’s two roofs (there are adjoining buildings along Race Street), and the expansion process is ongoing.

Indeed, the venture now includes Gateway City Live, which, as that name suggests, hosts a wide variety of live entertainment and events ranging from ‘tango nights’ to weddings. Coming next is the Gateway City Bistro, set to open in June, which will bring another much-needed eatery to the downtown area.

Divine and Kruta were so intrigued by the possibilities downtown that they acquired the Steam Building further down Race Street, so called because it once housed a steam-equipment manufacturer, and renamed it the STEAM (Sustainability Technology Entrepreneurship Art Media) building, with intentions for more mixed-use activity. It currently hosts a few businesses, including a web-design company and an alternative education program called Lighthouse, and will soon be home to a karate studio.

Assessing the scene along Race Street, and Holyoke in general, Divine sees momentum accumulating at a solid pace.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “The Canal Walk is beautiful, the area is safe — and I know safety is a big issue for people — and it’s fun. It’s just a great place to be.”

Looking forward, the obvious goal is to prompt more residents and business owners to say just that, said Morse, adding that there is progress on both fronts.

The Parsons Paper demolition and cleanup, a long-awaited development after fire extensively damaged the site two years ago, will enable Aegis Energy Services, one of Holyoke’s fastest-growing companies, to expand in the city, he said.

Meanwhile, programs such as the SPARK (Stimulating Potential, Assessing Resource Knowledge) initiative, launched by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, helps residents develop ideas into businesses.

“We want to encourage entrepreneurship, and we’re been recognized as one of the leading cities in that regard,” he explained, citing the city’s presence on a listing in Popular Mechanics. “This is a city with a history of entrepreneurship and innovation, and it continues today.”

Building Momentum

Luzuriaga believes Holyoke can and will attract more investors, turn its fortunes around, and become a true destination. And that optimism stems from the fact that he’s seen such a reversal of fortune up close and personal.

That was in Jersey City, N.J., a community across the Hudson River from Manhattan that had fallen on hard times and was making progress with the hard work of getting back on its feet while Luzuriaga lived and worked there.

“When I moved there 20 years ago, you could see that it had seen better days,” he explained. “It took a lot of effort by developers and city officials to get a steady pace of growth going, and I see the same type of thing happening in Holyoke; all the indicators are there.”

Luzuriaga says Jersey City was just starting to hit its stride by the time he relocated to Holyoke nearly 11 years ago. But he visits friends there often and marvels at the turnaround.

In Holyoke, he expects to not only witness the turnaround, but be a real part it. And he’ll have a front-row seat — right there on Race Street, at his beachfront property.

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

 

 

Holyoke at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1850
Population: 40.135 (2012)
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: 19.12
Commercial Tax Rate: 39.86
Median Household Income: $33,242
Family Household Income: $39,130
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke Community College, ISO New England, Universal Plastics, Marox Corp.
* Latest information available

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

From left, Linda Leduc, John Rahkonen, and Charlie Blanchard

From left, Linda Leduc, John Rahkonen, and Charlie Blanchard say Northern Construction’s new, $1 million office building contains cutting-edge technology that will help the company stay competitive.

The scope of economic development in Palmer is so diverse that Charlie Blanchard had to make a list to ensure he didn’t forget any major projects when he spoke about them with BusinessWest.

“We have a lot of commercial activity taking place. There has also been an increase in high-tech manufacturing; new medical office space is being developed, and we have a new recreational motorsports raceway,” said the town manager. “Progress continues in Three Rivers, and we are working to revitalize the Thorndike Mills.”

Linda Leduc, the town’s planner and economic development director, added that projects that were permitted years ago are coming to fruition, and commercial properties that sat on the market for years are finally being purchased.

“I’ve seen a 180-degree turnaround this year, and it has brought a multitude of new jobs to Palmer,” said Leduc, who attributes recent growth to a resurgence in the economy.

And, as she noted, change and progress is taking place in all parts of the community, including the Palmer Industrial Park in Bondsville.

Blanchard said Detector Technology Inc. needed room to expand and purchased a building from Wayne Buxton, who was using it to house his ShedWorks Inc. business.

“Wayne needed to downsize but wanted to stay in Palmer, so he kept half the lot and built a new, smaller structure on it,” Blanchard noted.

The decision reflects a trend he and Leduc are seeing: businesses are choosing to stay in Palmer, whether they are downsizing or expanding, if they can find appropriate space — a pattern town officials believe is based on the town’s location, competitive tax rate, good school system, and excellent municipal services.

“We’re right on the Mass Pike, which is ideal for businesses and for their customers coming from the east and west,” Blanchard said, adding that interviews with owners and executives of 16 companies showcased in a 2014 promotional video titled “Industry Alive in Palmer: An Inside Look at Local Businesses” showed they are happy with the educated workforce in the area and have dedicated, exemplary employees.

Growth is also occurring in the downtown area known as Depot Village, which is the first commercial district travelers encounter after they exit the Turnpike. It’s a prime commercial area and the place where O’Reilly Auto Parts chose to expand their New England presence.

“They purchased a vacant building on 1569 North Main St. that had been an eyesore for years,” Blanchard said. The old structure was demolished, and a new, state-of-the art distribution center has been built on the lot.

In addition, the American Legion building on 1010 Thorndike St. was purchased by Fire Service Group two days after it went on the market last May; the company was located in a smaller building in town but wanted to expand.

Meanwhile, Michael’s Party Rentals is moving from Ludlow into the former home of Baldyga’s Auto and RV Sales Inc. on 1221 South Main St. Company President Michael Linton said he purchased the 20,000-square-foot building in early January, and it is undergoing a substantial renovation.

“We’re building a showroom and design center so that we have a dedicated space where wedding planners, brides and grooms, and corporate clients can see our inventory and design capabilities,” he noted. “We’re also adding office space, as there wasn’t any in the building, and plan to install a $60,000, state-of-the-art tent-washing machine which will allow us to clean the tents we rent with less labor.”

The cost of the building, renovation, and new machine are expected to total about $712,000, and Linton anticipates moving in May or June when it is complete.

“My entire staff is excited. We are extremely cramped in our current location and looked for a building for two years,” he continued. “A combination of factors led to the decision to relocate in Palmer: the price of the building, its access to the Mass Pike, Palmer’s commercial tax rate, and the proximity to my home in Sturbridge.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at the many reasons why development is occurring in Palmer, and the various forms it is taking.

Progress Report

While Baldyga’s sold its property for the Michael’s relocation, the business didn’t leave Palmer; Blanchard said the owner purchased an empty lot on Park Street and has plans to construct a new, smaller building on the site, which is in the permitting stage.

In addition, a former Knights of Columbus hall was purchased last fall by Joe Kelley of Angelica Properties. It sits on the corner of Route 32 and River Road and had been for sale for more than a year; it is currently in the permitting stage, and the plan is to renovate it and turn it into state-of-the art medical office space.

Meanwhile, Northern Construction Service Inc. is another company that has chosen to expand in Palmer. About three years ago, owner John Rahkonen purchased a lot adjacent to the business that contained a mini-golf course and batting cages. They were demolished, and a new, state-of-the-art, 7,400-square-foot building, which cost about $1 million, opened in early February.

The company has grown from a $2.5 million operation in 1994 to a $45 million to $50 million business today, and although Rahkonen has two other locations, the new office space, which features skylights and advanced technology, was critical to continued success.

Today, the business occupies about 12 acres, but Rahkonen wishes there were more space available in Palmer so he could continue to expand there.

“I could use another 10 acres,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he agrees with town officials that Palmer’s location is ideal due to its access to key roadways. “We’re in the middle of the state, an hour from Boston and the New York border, and 40 minutes from Hartford. Interstate 91 is around the corner, the Mass Pike is here, and I-84 is 20 minutes down the road.” The company’s work requires moving heavy machinery all over New England, up to the Canadian border, and as far away as White Plains, N.Y., as well as to Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, so access to a multitude of roadways is helpful.

The town also boasts a new recreational facility called Palmer Motorsports Park. It opened last May on a 500-acre tract of land, and since that time, Road & Track magazine has named it as one of the top 10 racetracks to drive on in North America.

However, it was one of the aforementioned projects that didn’t get off the ground for years due to the flagging economy.

“The Sports Car Club of America permitted the site for a sports motorpark in 2007 because they wanted a track in the Northeast,” Blanchard explained. But the land was not developed until 2012 when club member and private investor Fred Ferguson built the multi-million-dollar recreational facility with its 2.3-mile track, which has since brought new people to Palmer and had a beneficial impact on businesses in the north end of town.

As noted earlier, it is just another of a slew of projects that is expanding and diversifying the economy of a community that just three years ago was pinning its hopes on a resort casino.

New Initiatives

Efforts to revitalize the Thorndike Mills, situated north of Depot Village, are another example of continued progress.

The property consists of seven linked mill buildings that contain 90,000 square feet and sit on 15 acres. They were once home to the thriving Diamond Cascade Manufacturing Co. but have been vacant since 2000, although a hydropower turbine operation has been installed at the site.

“The hydro units are under the floors because the canal runs beneath the buildings,” Leduc said, noting that some units are also located near the dams. But, despite the fact that she has worked with the mill owners for more than a decade to find new uses for the property, they couldn’t seem to make any progress.

However, new hope was generated last fall, thanks to state Sen. Anne Gobi, who was instrumental in introducing them to the Central Mass. Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC), whose work includes revitalizing the Warren Mill in West Warren, the Hardwick Knitters Mill in Hardwick, the Holland Road Mill in Sturbridge, and now, Palmer’s Thorndike Mill.

Leduc said a tour of the properties was conducted last fall as part of a larger project that includes the Jefferson Mill in Holden.

“We’re working with the CMRPC, MassDevelopment, and the Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development,” she noted. “It’s an interesting and important collaboration because these mills are significant historic structures. Our mill was once the center of Thorndike Village.”

The Center for Economic Development at UMass Amherst is also involved, and will hold a conference titled “The Future of the Massachusetts Mill Community” on April 12 in the campus center. In addition, UMass Professor of Planning John Mullin and a group of his students are working to identify common themes shared by these mills.

“We were on our own for years, so it’s wonderful to have this support,” Leduc said.

Growth is also occurring in Three Rivers, and collaborative efforts to revitalize Main Street are coming to fruition, thanks to work by the consortium On the Right TRACK (the acronym stands for Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge).

Partners include North Brookfield Savings Bank, Palmer officials, the Palmer Historical and Cultural Center, the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, the Palmer Redevelopment Authority, and the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., all of which have been working to build a cultural and creative economy that will attract visitors.

Alice Davey, the town’s community development director, noted that the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. was successful in its bid to win a $13,500 Adams Art Grant for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, and the town completed a market-assessment and business-recruitment tool as well as a feasibility study showing that a building on 2032 Main St. obtained through the tax-title process has potential for redevelopment.

In addition, Davey said, “Palmer also signed a Community Compact agreement with the Commonwealth which will provide us with assistance. We’re taking positive steps forward, and many things are in the planning stages.”

The town also boasts five solar farms, and permits for four new ones have been issued. The newest operations include a five-megawatt farm on the grounds of the former Palmer Metropolitan Airfield that went online last February. It was built by Borrego Solar and is financed, owned, and operated by Syncarpha Capital.

In addition, a 4.8-megawatt operation on Baptist Hill Road, which was developed by Blue Wave Capital and is owned by Sun Edison, went online earlier this month. Blanchard said the town will purchase 2.8 megawatts of the generated electricity, which will meet 100% of its municipal needs and should result in a 20% to 30% savings on its electric bill.

Positive Outlook

Overall, officials expect growth in Palmer to continue. “There is so much going on here, and we are touching so many areas of the economy that are growing,” Blanchard said.

As a result, optimism is running high as new ideas to revitalize the Thorndike Mills are brought forward, and the creative economy in Three Rivers, the new racetrack, and a host of other growing enterprises attract people to “the town of seven railroads” from many different roadways.

 

Palmer at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 11,049 (2015)
Area: 32.14 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate (Residential and Commercial): Palmer, $21.27; Three Rivers, $22.19; Bondsville, $22.13; Thorndike, $22.30
Median Household Income: $50,050
Family Household Income: $58,110
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Markets

* Latest information available

 

 

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

By JACLYN C. STEVENSON

Corydon Thurston

Corydon Thurston says GE served Pittsfield well, but long gone are the days when the city should strive to be a one-industry town.

The pervasive feeling in the city of Pittsfield — the Berkshires’ largest city and county seat — is that it’s done trying to return to its heyday.

Rather, elected officials, business-development professionals, and entrepreneurs alike are calling for a new day in Pittsfield, one that celebrates the creative economy, makes great use of existing resources, and stands ready for entrepreneurial endeavors of all types and sizes.

Mayor Linda Tyer, who took office in January and will serve Pittsfield’s first-ever four-year mayoral term, made these tenets some of her key platform points during her campaign, and the message appears to have resonated. The former Pittsfield City Clerk defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Daniel Bianchi with 59% of the vote, winning all 14 precincts.

Tyer said the city has long suffered from what she calls “group depression” following the departure of General Electric, which became part of the Pittsfield landscape in 1903 and at its peak provided 13,000 jobs in a city of 50,000 residents. Its influence on the city’s economy dwindled steadily through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, but many people long held hope that another outfit similar in size and scope may someday return.


Mayor Linda Tyer Embarks on First Term in Pittsfield

BusinessWest spoke with Pittsfield’s Mayor Linda Tyer on day 11 of her administration.

Read more …


“Pittsfield has a tendency to say, ‘someone is out there,’” Tyer noted. “But we’ve already seen that one business will only be able to sustain us for so long. I’m interested in who is already here, on the cusp of expansion or ready for something new. In the end, the best investment is local, big or small.”

Corydon Thurston, executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA), has a similar, if not more concentrated, view of the city and its opportunities for business development.

“The chances of landing a major corporation are akin to winning Powerball,” he explained. “Today, competition isn’t just statewide, it’s worldwide, and finally the realization here is that we need to support who we already have, help them grow, and find ancillary opportunities for additional growth and added diversity — not create another a one-industry town.”

If You Build It…

The largest development currently underway is the creation of the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC), which will be located at the William Stanley Business Park (created at the massive former GE complex) and cater to small and medium-sized businesses positioned to add to the supply chain of various life-science and biotechnology projects.

“The BIC is designed to provide access to high-tech equipment that will allow businesses to innovate, grow, and respond to customer demands in an efficient and timely fashion — rapidly prototyping products and bringing them to market,” Thurston said. “Temporary space will be available for lease within the center to allow companies to mature, and hopefully they will stick around. Pittsfield has plenty of existing manufacturing space at low cost, and once we get them here, we can grow them here.”

He added that support of the BIC, which was made possible by a $9.75 million state grant, has been citywide and dovetails with a number of other initiatives in the areas of workforce training, real-estate development, and education. In the coming year, PEDA is expected to blend its efforts with 1Berkshire, a regional economic-development organization, and Pittsfield’s Office of Community Development.

“One of the reasons why we’re so bullish on the innovation center is it has a broad base of community support at every level,” Thurston went on. We also believe that a young startup company, whether it’s in Worcester, Boston, Albany, or Rensselaer, that is looking for a place to commercialize or test their ideas and inventions, will be attracted here because of our existing manufacturing structure and lower costs of doing business.”

A built-in mentor network will be part of the BIC’s offerings, with 19 mentoring partners from across Pittsfield already signed on, along with several academic partners from across the Northeast, including UMass and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“The support from the education side is rewarding to me because it’s a foundational element that will create a number of new opportunities for our industrial base,” Thurston said, noting that Berkshire Community College has been a particularly active participant.

In the absence of a physical building, for instance, BCC has taken the lead on the programmatic components of the center, identified a variety of courses to complement the BIC’s eventual hands-on work, and set up a temporary center at Pittsfield’s Taconic High School that includes a pipeline for students to pursue advanced-manufacturing careers.

Hire Education

Ellen Kennedy, president of Berkshire Community College, echoed Thurston’s excitement for the BIC.

“This could be the most promising economic-development engine to enter Pittsfield in a long time,” she said. “As the facility itself comes into play, training opportunities are already in place that allow existing businesses to share research and identify workforce-development needs.”

Kennedy said BCC has been instrumental in identifying academic opportunities for Pittsfield students from grade school to college, as well as career-development and refresher courses for the workforce. It received $500,000 in funding from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center last year in order to create educational components to support the BIC, such as the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment and new courses in advanced manufacturing and engineering technology, and another $10,000 just last month to fund career-path programming for middle- and high-school students.

The BIC has also become the new lead organization of the Berkshire Robotics Initiative, with an eye toward underscoring the use of robotics in today’s manufacturing world and the career opportunities that may arise.

“We’re looking to build on students’ interests, allow them to see the different employment opportunities open to them, and start them on a career path,” Kennedy noted, adding that this and other projects have the dual benefit of increasing the college’s profile among prospective students, and therefore that of the city, which has an aging population.

“Berkshire County’s demographics are challenging, and it has become the job of both Pittsfield and BCC to keep the younger population engaged,” she told BusinessWest. “In a sense, we’re making a commitment to the Millennial.”

For Kennedy, that means offering more opportunities for the community to visit the campus, be it to play sports, attend a career fair, or utilize campus amenities. By extension, she hopes the city’s cultural destinations, retail shops, eateries, and nightlife will also get a boost.

“In order to attract people here to experience what we have to offer, we all need to market the quality of life and the world-class culture. In that respect, we are tied at the hip with the city of Pittsfield.”

North Star of Our Nights

That’s a construct the team involved with Hotel on North, a boutique hotel on Pittsfield’s main thoroughfare that just opened its doors in June, subscribes to as well.

Owned by Berkshire residents David and Laurie Tierney and managed by Main Street Hospitality Group, a hotel-management company based in Stockbridge that manages three other properties in the county, Hotel on North includes a restaurant, bar, event space, and gift shop housed in a pair of adjoining 19th-century buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sarah Eustis

Sarah Eustis says Hotel on North was designed to reflect the character of its region, with plenty of local contributions.

Sarah Eustis, CEO and part-owner of Main Street Hospitality Group, said work between the partners began in earnest in 2012, and moved swiftly into “two solid years of highly collaborative project work.”

“We represent two deeply rooted Berkshire businesses with different skills that we wanted to apply to Pittsfield, to contribute to the renaissance that is happening here,” she said, noting that a hospitality venue in Pittsfield has been a goal of Main Street Hospitality Group for several years. “We looked originally to Pittsfield to build on a base, and now we have an undying passion that this is right for the city. That belief comes from both gut and numbers.”

The hotel features brick walls, tin ceilings, and hardwood floors that hearken back to the buildings’ original décor, as well as Victorian themes paired with nods to the Berkshires in the form of vintage maps and organic elements. The scheme is bound together with the ‘on North’ tagline, i.e. ‘Eat, Drink, Stay on North.’

In more ways than one, the entire business was “made on North,” said Eustis, by partnering with local vendors and craftsmen whenever possible, from architects to designers to furniture and décor makers.

“We like to create hotels that give you a sense of where you are, and we realized early on that it had to be ‘by Pittsfield for Pittsfield,’ with influences from around the world. That’s one reason we didn’t partner with a large brand or make a slick New York hotel and plop it in the Berkshires,” she went on. “The ‘on North’ concept arose from that idea of using local businesses.”

One of the hotel’s owners, Laurie Tierney, added that she hopes its luxurious feel paired with local accents will instill a feeling of pride in Pittsfield’s residents, and attract them downtown along with other visitors to the region.

“My goal is to change perceptions so people realize what’s downtown and feel safe,” she said. “The locals need to be brought into the change, and I do believe that there is a movement afoot.”

Sometimes, Tierney added, getting big things to happen in a city is like starting a lawnmower.

“You pull the cord, but it often takes a few times to start. That’s how it’s been in Pittsfield … almost, not quite, almost, not quite. I’m hoping this is what turns the engine.”

Indeed, it’s been nearly 90 years since GE made Pittsfield a boom town, and many people are now seeing the city’s heyday as something ahead of them, not behind. The key, says Tierney, is to maintain momentum.

“We can’t stop; we have to keep going,” she said. “I hope to be in a place someday where I can sit back and watch the ball roll a little, and maybe be a background person who whispers in someone’s ear, ‘hey. You know what we should do?’”

One person Tierney may be able to whisper to is Mayor Tyer.

“I’m interested in anyone who wants to make an investment in the city,” Tyer said in conclusion. “The idea of a hip, walkable urban center is coming back, and we have the infrastructure for it. Now, we just need to be plugged into the modern economy.”

 

Pittsfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 43,697
Area: 42.5 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $18.76
Commercial Tax Rate: $38.06
Median Household Income: $35,655
Family Household Income: $46,228
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Berkshire Health Systems, General Dynamics, Berkshire Community College, SABIC Innovative Plastics

 Latest information available

 

 

Community Spotlight Features
Mayor Linda Tyer

Mayor Linda Tyer says her administration is focused more on helping and growing existing busineses, not luring someone “out there.”

BusinessWest spoke with Pittsfield’s Mayor Linda Tyer on day 11 of her administration.

Only 1,450 days to go.

That’s notable because Tyer is serving Pittsfield’s first-ever four-year term, and, as such, she’s in the beginning stages of laying out a map for the long haul that pinpoints high roads, trouble spots, destinations for the future, and plenty of pit stops in between.

The journey began for Tyer last year, while she was still serving as city clerk. She’d served as a member of the City Council for five years prior to taking the clerk’s position, and watching the inner workings of Pittsfield’s government had her mulling a run for its top office.

“I saw the city’s potential being lost to old ways of thinking, governing, and leading,” she said. “It was time for a new generation of leadership, and I wanted the residents of Pittsfield to really think about what they imagined for themselves. I offered an alternative in every way: from gender to voice to style.”

Tyer announced her candidacy for mayor on the City Hall steps in March, and defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Daniel Bianchi in November. Since then, she’s pledged more communication and relationship building between the mayor’s office and all its stakeholders, from elected officials to Pittsfield’s residents and business owners.

“The plan is to have constant, regular communication, both incoming and outgoing,” she said, noting that this will include regularly scheduled public updates on some key issues — among them public safety, workforce development and retention, and ongoing work to create a hip, walkable urban center in the heart of Berkshire County. “We need to invest in public safety and, as part of that, address the underlying issues that are the source of crime, including poverty and feeling disenfranchised.”

Tyer added that there are strategies at play in these arenas, starting with youth initiatives such as a city-wide mentoring program for high-risk young adults. That program has recently been expanded through grant funding to include job training and workforce-development opportunities for men ages 17 to 24, which is one way Pittsfield is also addressing the dual issue of workforce training to fill the area’s job vacancies.

“The business community cares that its investments are being protected, but it also cares about filling the gap that exists between marketing their jobs and finding candidates with the right skills,” she said.

Abandoned sites scattered across the city and outdated technologies are other barriers to recruiting and retaining great talent in Pittsfield, Tyer noted.

“Neighborhood blight and business blight make it very difficult to market our city; it affects community pride, and potential investors aren’t going to announce their arrival so we can show them our best sites … they’re going to be stealth,” she said. “And we need access to broadband in our commercial centers. We have the infrastructure, but we’re not yet plugged in. A modern-day creative economy has to be global.”

Ultimately, that creative economy is what Tyer hopes to nurture through all of these initiatives: a diverse business landscape powered by human capital.

“Our transportation system is not conducive to big manufacturing — that’s not our strength,” she said. “What we can do is ensure that we’re providing young professionals with the tools they need to succeed so we can continue to cultivate the vibrant community we have here.”

To that end, Tyer’s plans for the first leg of her four-year tour of duty include targeting resources to Berkshire-based small businesses; ‘Blight to Bright’ initiatives, such as requiring that vacant buildings are maintained for aesthetics and safety; street-improvement plans; and strategies for expansion of early-childhood education.

It’s a packed itinerary, but Tyer said she has the drive.

“I am motivated by a belief that the city has great potential,” she said.

— Jaclyn C. Stevenson

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight: Easthampton

Mayor Karen Cadieux

Mayor Karen Cadieux says Easthampton has witnessed an exciting year marked by constant buildouts and growth.

The view from Mayor Karen Cadieux’s Easthampton office is stunning.

Sunshine glints off of the serene waters of the newly opened Nashawannuk Pond Promenade Park, and the boardwalk that spans it is busy.

“The park was planned to become a destination; it’s located right in the heart of our cultural district, and it’s booming,” Cadieux told BusinessWest. “Every day, people stroll along the boardwalk, sit and relax on the benches, do yoga, fish from one of the three handicapped-accesible boat ramps, or launch their boats. Families have been bringing their children to the park … it has something for everyone and offers enjoyment for all walks of life.”

The $945,000 park project is just one of many developments completed over the past year. They range from new housing for people at all income levels to infrastructure and interior improvements in the city’s old mill buildings — which have made those spaces more attractive to businesses — to the continued growth of the creative economy, which is thriving.

In fact, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Nashawannuck Pond Promenade Park was staged June 13 in conjunction with the start of the second annual Cottage Street Cultural Chaos festival. “Thousands of people attended, and it was wonderful; there were vendor booths as well as music and performers,” said Moe Belliveau, executive director of the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce.

She added that the new boardwalk is beneficial to nearby shops and businesses, which include the downtown area and the thriving Cottage Street Cultural District, which is populated by artists, galleries, gift shops, and restaurants.

“The Promenade project has increased foot traffic downtown, which is wildly important. The businesses there have done well, but now people are on the boardwalk all the time. They walk along eating ice cream from Mount Tom’s on Cottage Street and holding bags with items purchased from nearby stores,” Bellieveau noted, adding that a new restaurant known as Bliss Café, whose menu includes vegetarian and vegan options, opened at 42 Cottage St. last month.

An $18 million development has also been completed across the street from the park. The historic, 125,000-square-foot Dye Works factory, which closed in 2005, has been turned into Cottage Street Apartments. Cadieux said the project involved a complete renovation of the brick structure into 50 affordable-housing units, which were immediately occupied after it opened in May.

“More than 250 people applied, so there is a long waiting list,” she said. In addition, construction on a brand-new, six-building, affordable apartment complex called Parsons Village, which came about thanks to Valley Community Development Corp., had just been finished, and people began moving into the units at the beginning of the month.

“Another very exciting development has taken place across the street from Parsons Village,” Cadieux continued. “The former Parsons Street School that was surplused by the school department in 2013, has been turned into a luxury apartment complex called Parsons Place.”

The building was purchased by developer Kevin Perrier, president of Five Star Building Corp., which served as general contractor for the project, and the city was paid all the back taxes owed on it. “It contains 16 high-end units, and the entire top floor is a penthouse that rents for $3,500 a month,” Cadieux said, adding that every apartment contains stainless-steel appliances, mahogany flooring, tiled bathrooms, 12-foot ceilings, and central air conditioning.

New developments are also brewing in Easthampton’s old mills. This year the city was feted with an award for the Best Tasting Drinking Water in the U.S. by the National Rural Water Assoc. in Washington, D.C., and beer makers are taking advantage of it.

“We have two breweries in the Pleasant Street mills,” said Cadieux. “Abandoned Building Brewery opened last year, and New City Brewery is in the process of opening. In addition, Fort Hill Brewery opened in a new, state-of-the-art building last year.”

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at the many types of development taking place in Easthampton, and how this former mill town has evolved into a cultural destination.

New Developments

The mayor noted repeatedly that Easthampton has been extremely fortunate in many respects. “It’s been an exciting year because there have been constant buildouts and growth. Businesses want to come here because we’re a thriving community,” she told BusinessWest.

But the economic growth is far more than a simple matter of luck; Cadieux and other town officials have worked hard to promote partnerships that encourage and promote growth.

An example of the communiuty’s success is a collaboration between the city and the owners of all five mills on Pleasant Street. It resulted in the Pleasant Street Mills project, which was funded by three major MassWorks grants.

“It started with work by the city that was done for safety reasons, so our fire department could access the back of the building,” Cadieux said, adding that it quickly morphed into a larger project that is now in its final phase.

The goal is to connect three of the revitalized, 19th-century brick mill buildings and create a main public entryway behind them. “The design includes a landscaped parking lot with new lighting and ties the back of the mills to the Manhan Rail Trail and Lower Mill Pond,” the mayor explained.

She added that the city purposely zoned its old mills for mixed use and worked closely with the Pleasant Street owners, who spent a significant amount of money upgrading their interior space. As a result of the magnitude of the project, Eversource (formerly WMECO) upgraded the electric lines going into the buildings.

“It’s something they had not planned to do for 10 years, but they were inspired by the project and the fact that the mill owners invested money to do renovation at the same time,” Cadieux explained.

Belliveau said the three-stage MassWorks project will bring even more vitality to the town. “It’s a storybook partnership and has spurred a lot of private reinvestment by the mill owners, which is key to renting available space,” she noted. “There’s a tremendous amount of energy and synergy in Easthampton, and a lot of growth and renaissance going on.”

Cadieux said the Pleasant Street mills are doing well, housing art galleries, hair salons, restaurants, and beautiful apartments. “And the Conway School of Landscaping opened a new facility in Mill 180 this month,” she added.

The creative-arts community is also growing, and the lobby of the historic Old Town Hall on 43 Main St., which has become a center for Easthampton’s arts organizations, underwent a major renovation that was completed last month.

CitySpace Inc., a nonprofit that maintains the building as a center for the arts, received a $133,000 tourism grant to do the work, and the City Council approved an additional $256,000 of Community Preservation Act funds for the project. “There are new doors, refurbished floors, new lighting that goes up the stairs, and more,” Cadieux said.

An August ribbon cutting for the entranceway was staged during Easthampton’s monthly Artwalk, which has been highly successful and draws people from many communities, said the mayor, adding that the city is also actively seeking grants to renovate the second floor of the building, which would be used to host theater groups and other functions. At present, it is not handicapped-accessible.

She added that the soaring popularity of the town extends to the housing market. “Easthampton has become the place to live, and in some neighborhoods, where the houses are priced in the $200,000 range, they have been selling in two days,” the mayor said, noting that three homes in her neighborhood took deposits for full-price offers recently on the same day. She attributes it to the city’s low tax rate, vibrant downtown, and Easthampton’s new, $40 million high school, which just received a Level I rating.

“The students moved in two years ago, but we just closed out the project this year,” she explained.

Belliveau said the Chamber of Commerce also established new programs and partnerships during the past year, along with new events, such as the day-long 2015 Checkpoint Legislative Summit, which will be held for the first time in Easthampton on Nov. 4 in collaboration with other chambers.

In addition, a partnership was formed with Williston Northampton School, and a chamber breakfast was held there in June featuring a speaker. “It was such a success that it will become an annual event with different speakers,” she told BusinessWest.

The chamber’s first Beach Ball was also held recently at the Oxbow Marina. The summer event was created to mirror the successful winter Snowball, with its silent and live auction, dinner, and dancing, said Belliveau, adding that the city also partnered with the Greater Holyoke Chamber and staged a legislative luncheon with that body in April.

Moving Forward

Belliveau told BusinessWest that Easthampton is thriving. “This is a community that really loves who and what it’s become, and it’s an exciting time.”

Cadieux agreed. “We’ve had a lot going on in the past year. We’re vibrant, but we are still growing and want to remain attractive to new businesses.

“There is still space available in the mills, available land zoned for highway business along Route 10, or Northampton Street, and a blighted building on 1 Ferry St. for sale,” the mayor continued. “We’re striving to keep our diversity so there is something for everyone here. It’s the key to our success.”

Easthampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1809
Population: 16,036
Area: 13.6 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $15.15
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.15
Median Household Income: $57,134
Family Household Income: $78,281
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Berry Plastics; Williston Northampton School; Argotec
* Latest information available

Company Notebook Departments

Baystate Announces Workforce Reduction
SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Health recently announced a reduction in its workforce in response to current fiscal challenges and changes in the provision of health care. On June 4, 24 Baystate employees received notifications that their employment in their current positions will end in 30 days, and 17 employees are seeing their hours reduced. An additional 45 open positions at Baystate Health are being eliminated, effective immediately. Driving the decision to eliminate these positions is a current budget shortfall, across Baystate Health, of about $22 million. The shortfall represents the difference between Baystate Health’s budget for the year — the financial performance required to enable the organization to re-invest in its services, facilities and technology in the coming year — and current projections for its yearly financial results. All the affected positions are Springfield-based, mainly at Baystate Medical Center. No bedside nurses or physicians are losing their employment. The jobs include management positions. “We take any decision to end any person’s employment very seriously, and we regret the necessity of it,” said Nancy Shendell-Falik, chief operating officer of Baystate Medical Center. “We will do everything possible to help those affected find new opportunities, either within or outside Baystate Health.” Affected employees will receive severance pay and extension of benefits in accordance with their tenure of service, and job placement assistance. Baystate’s actions are part of a multi-faceted effort to reduce costs and return the system to its budgeted operating margin, including work underway in supply chain, process improvement, energy efficiency and other areas.  Every dollar of positive margin at the end of a fiscal year is re-invested into Baystate’s facilities, technology, programs and services. Improvements such as the renovation of operating rooms at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and construction of the MassMutual Wing and Davis Family Heart & Vascular Center at Baystate Medical Center, as well new clinical technologies and equipment and the development of new clinical programs, are funded primarily by that margin. “Like many healthcare providers, we are facing a need to adjust our human, material and financial resources to adapt to the rapidly changing healthcare environment,” said Shendell-Falik. “Difficult decisions such as these make it possible for us to continue to invest in the services we’re able to provide our patients, whether it’s a new program, a new or renovated facility, surgical supplies or a CT scanner.” Baystate Medical Center is one of the largest providers of Medicaid services in Massachusetts, and provided more than $112 million in unreimbursed care in 2014. “We are committed to providing these services in line with our charitable mission; unfortunately the reimbursements we receive for providing Medicaid services are well short of our costs, typically between 70 and 80 cents on the dollar,” said Shendell-Falik. Baystate Medical Center remains the lowest-cost teaching hospital in Massachusetts. 
 
MBA, Five Banks Launch ‘Common Cents’ Program
BOSTON — The Mass. Bankers Assoc. (MBA) and five banks, including Holyoke-based PeoplesBank, have launched Common Cents, a financial-education competition with participating high-school students from around the state. The program is featured online at www.masscommoncents.com. Recorded last autumn, Common Cents is a quiz-show competition hosted by the MBA and the five bank partners located around the Bay State: Bank of America, BayCoast Bank, Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, PeoplesBank, and the Savings Bank. The 80 high-schoolers compete for prizes and learn about important financial-education concepts and practices along the way. The schools include Barnstable High School, Barnstable; Madison Park High School, Boston; Chicopee Comprehensive High School, Chicopee; Chicopee High School, Chicopee; Lynnfield High School, Lynnfield; Natick High School, Natick; Gateway to College Program, Fall River; Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, South Yarmouth; and Wakefield High School, Wakefield. Common Cents is being introduced to every Massachusetts high school with a guide and special classroom instructions that can also be found on the website. In addition, a video of the program has been sent to public-access television stations across the Commonwealth, encouraging both students and the general public to engage and embrace the important financial information highlighted in the competition. The 2015 Common Cents program, the third of its kind, was produced in support of the Financial Literacy Pilot Program established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2012. This three-year pilot in 10 high schools in gateway cities throughout the Commonwealth is designed to test the potential viability of installing required financial-education programs in all Massachusetts high schools. Hosted by New England Cable News anchor Latoyia Edwards, radio celebrity Ashlee Feldman of JAM’N 94.5, and financial expert Jeffrey Fuhrer, executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the program also features a special guest appearance by former New England Patriot Jermaine Wiggins. For more information and to view the program, visit www.masscommoncents.com.

Dowd Holds Open House at Renovated Location
INDIAN ORCHARD — The Dowd Insurance Agencies staged an open house to celebrate its newly renovated space on Main Street in Indian Orchard on May 20. The open house featured a ribbon cutting with the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield (ACCGS) and provided customers and neighbors the opportunity to tour the new office space. Moskal-Dowd and Orchard-Dowd recently moved to 485 Main St., Indian Orchard, to provide more services under one roof. Moskal-Dowd was originally acquired by the Dowd Insurance Agencies in 2009; Orchard-Dowd was acquired in early 2014. The new location offers easier access to agents in one convenient location. “In an era when online and 800-number agencies proliferate, we remain what we have been since 1898: a community-based company committed to insurance professionalism with local service,” said John Dowd Jr., president and CEO of the Dowd Insurance Agencies. “Our new facility will allow us to provide more personalized attention to our valued customers.” The benefits of the new office include ample parking, a large conference room for meetings, and, most important, a larger staff to provide customers a broader range of service. Services available at the new Indian Orchard location include personal insurance, including auto, homeowner, boat, RV, and umbrella insurance; commercial insurance for businesses of all sizes; and life insurance and employee benefits.

Baystate Announces Leadership Changes After Bradley Steps Down
GREENFIELD — Dennis Chalke, senior vice president of Community Hospitals for Baystate Health, announced that Steven Bradley, president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center (BFMC) and Baystate Health’s Northern Region, is stepping down from his position to deal with unexpected and urgent family-related issues. Dr. Thomas Higgins, chief medical officer of BFMC and the Northern Region, will take on the additional role of interim president of the hospital and the region, effective immediately. “Steven played a major role in moving forward BFMC’s project to modernize and renovate its operating rooms, and over the years strengthened Baystate Health’s relationships with many community-based organizations. We thank him for those contributions, and we wish him well in his future endeavors,” said Chalke. In his prior role at Baystate Health, as vice president of Government and Community Relations and Public Affairs, Bradley was a crucial contributor to Baystate’s work to bring healthcare out of the hospital and into the community, advocating for social justice and public health and partnering with community-based organizations across Western Mass. Higgins is a graduate of Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in medical science; he continued at BU to earn his medical degree. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. He completed a residency in anesthesiology, was chief resident, and completed a fellowship in critical care at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also earned an MBA at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. Higgins joined Baystate Health in 1996 as chief of Baystate Medical Center’s Critical Care Division. Since 2012, he has served as vice chair for Clinical Affairs in the Department of Medicine and as interim chief in the Division of General Medicine/Community Health. He is a professor of Medicine, Surgery, and Anesthesiology at Tufts University School of Medicine. “Serving as the chief medical officer for BFMC and the Northern Region — and seeing for myself the ways a community hospital can influence a community’s health — has inspired me,” Higgins said. “I’m eager to accept this new challenge and continue the work of advancing our mission in Franklin County.”

UMass System Issues Faculty Awards Totaling $1.17 Million
BOSTON — Describing faculty research and scholarship as work that “distinguishes us as a university and is essential to our quest for a better and richer future,” UMass President Robert Caret announced the awarding of $1.17 million in grants to faculty members. The awards will fund work ranging from a project that will see faculty members engage with industry partners in the development of a big-data research center in Amherst, to a project aimed at bringing local history to life for Lawrence school children. Caret made the announcement as the board of trustees’ committee on academic and student affairs held its quarterly meeting in Boston. The grants are being made available via two programs established to spur research, scholarship, and outreach throughout the UMass system. The President’s Science and Technology Initiative Fund this year is awarding $914,000 to support nine promising research projects. Including this year’s awards, this fund, created in 2004, has provided $11 million in funding for nearly 90 projects that have helped to accelerate research on all five UMass campuses. The UMass presidential funding has helped to attract more than $245 million in federal and private funding. The President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund this year provides nearly $260,000 for nine projects aimed at enhancing the quality of life in communities across the Commonwealth. Including this year’s awards, the fund has, since 2007, distributed more than $2 million for 82 projects and has contributed to historical preservation, artisan cooperatives, music, theater, and many other projects. Trustee Alyce Lee, chair of the Committee on Academic and Student Affairs, said both programs support the trustees’ strategic priority of strengthening the university’s research enterprise and “contribute to the economic and social well-being of the Commonwealth.”

Daily News

BOSTON — Describing faculty research and scholarship as work that “distinguishes us as a university and is essential to our quest for a better and richer future,” UMass President Robert Caret announced the awarding of $1.17 million in grants to faculty members.

The awards will fund work ranging from a project that will see faculty members engage with industry partners in the development of a big-data research center in Amherst, to a project aimed at bringing local history to life for Lawrence school children.

Caret made the announcement as the board of trustees’ committee on academic and student affairs held its quarterly meeting in Boston. The grants are being made available via two programs established to spur research, scholarship, and outreach throughout the UMass system.

The President’s Science and Technology Initiative Fund this year is awarding $914,000 to support nine promising research projects. Including this year’s awards, this fund, created in 2004, has provided $11 million in funding for nearly 90 projects that have helped to accelerate research on all five UMass campuses. The UMass presidential funding has helped to attract more than $245 million in federal and private funding.

“Faculty research not only expands the boundaries of human understanding and supports the state’s innovation economy, it also enriches the academic experience of students who learn from professors undertaking cutting-edge work in their fields,” Caret said.

The President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund this year provides nearly $260,000 for nine projects aimed at enhancing the quality of life in communities across the Commonwealth. Including this year’s awards, the fund has, since 2007, distributed more than $2 million for 82 projects and has contributed to historical preservation, artisan cooperatives, music, theater, and many other projects.

“The defining characteristic of a research university is an engaged faculty that is constantly immersed in exploration, not only for its own sake, but also to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Marcellette Williams, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and International Relations. “These projects demonstrate the breadth of activity that occurs on the campuses of the UMass system and are indicative of the impact our faculty members have on the Commonwealth and the world.”

Trustee Alyce Lee, chair of the Committee on Academic and Student Affairs, said both programs support the trustees’ strategic priority of strengthening the university’s research enterprise and “contribute to the economic and social well-being of the Commonwealth.”

Community Spotlight Features
Three Rivers Looks to Get on the Right TRACK

Dave Golden was proudly showing off artwork created by Palmer public-school students in a room in the North Brookfield Savings Bank in Three Rivers.

The exhibit has been on display only several weeks, but it has already sparked interest, and other artists have approached Golden, the branch manager, to ask if they could exhibit their own work there. He says the art show is part of a collaborative effort to transform Three Rivers into a thriving center for the arts.

“I’ve partnered with organizations that are working together to bring arts to the village; we want to beautify Main Street and fill empty commercial spaces,” Golden said, adding that he is talking with a property owner about having a mural painted on a wall across the street from the bank.

Members of On the Right TRACK

Members of On the Right TRACK say the popularity of the Palmer Historical Cultural Center indicates that a creative-arts economy could help revitalize Three Rivers.

There are myriad examples of this movement and the momentum it is creating, including Palmer Historical and Cultural Center Inc., or PHCC, which stages performances in Harmony Hall that include concerts by international and national musicians; plays by local theater groups; lectures; and a variety of workshops.

Collectively, they show the potential of the creative arts as a revitalization tool. The PHCC, for example, is just a few steps from the bank and a number of vacant storefronts that could be made available to artists on the half-mile stretch of Main Street.

But a lot more will be needed to realize the vision, and the timing is critical.

“Main Street has fallen victim to the economic downturn, and modern shopping habits have made it difficult for small businesses in the village to survive,” said Alice Davey, director of Palmer’s Community Development Department. “We realize that if action is not taken immediately to reverse this trend, the commercial area of Three Rivers will be lost forever.”

Town Manager Charlie Blanchard concurs. “Three Rivers was once a thriving community, but that has changed over the years,” he said, explaining that the village came into existence when manufacturing plants were built on the riverbanks in the 1800s and early 1900s. 

These facilities led to the establishment of a bustling economy, and Main Street businesses cropped up and flourished around the factories until they began to downsize and eventually close. They included the Otis Factory building that was built in 1872 and operated until 1936, and the massive Tambrands plant that was built in 1872 and closed in 1997.

“But until that time, hundreds of employees went to local restaurants for lunch and shopped at the hardware store, grocery store, furniture store, and clothing store,” said Davey. “They patronized the local bank and had their hair done at the local barbershop or hairdresser.”

That ended when Tambrands left the area. “The customer base shrank, and slowly, one by one, businesses closed,” Davey told BusinessWest, adding that people began frequenting big-box stores and using the Internet to shop.

Today, the former Tambrands factory has become the Palmer Technology Center, and although it houses about 20 small businesses, Davey said they don’t come close to employing the hundreds of residents who once worked in the building.

In addition, 41% of the existing storefronts on Main Street are vacant, and the businesses that remain are struggling. “Some Main Street building owners are finding it impossible to find commercial tenants, so they have resorted to converting spaces into residential units in order to have sufficient income to cover their expenses,” she told BusinessWest, adding that fewer people go downtown, and last October, an anchor restaurant closed, due in part to its customers’ concerns for personal safety after dark caused by poor lighting in the area.

But officials hope that is about to change via a consortium called On the Right TRACK (the acronym stands for Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge). Partners include the bank, Palmer officials, the PHCC, the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, the Palmer Redevelopment Authority, and the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp.

Individual Efforts

These organizations had known for a long time that something was needed to revitalize Three Rivers, and efforts to that end began in earnest when the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that assists businesses with training and other resources, held a number of public hearings to get input from residents as to whether they believed building upon the cultural and creative economy would attract visitors.

“There is a long history of pride in the cultural resources of Three Rivers that dates back many years,” said Executive Director Sheila Cuddy.

Daniel Slowick of the Palmer Redevelopment Authority agreed, and explained that the village contains many families of Polish and French descent who came to Three Rivers to work in the mills. “One of the hallmarks of the Polish culture was the establishment of Pulaski Park, which draws Polish fans from all over the country who come here every weekend from May to September to hear the bands,” he said, adding that the cultural heritage of the French and Polish has been kept alive.

Dave Golden

Dave Golden shows off some of the student artwork on display at North Brookfield Savings Bank.

Three Rivers’ first major arts venture was established in May 2012, when the PHCC purchased a former church building for $1 with the intent of preserving its historic character and using it as a place to stage performances that would appeal to a diverse group of people.

“We began holding programs in the fall of 2012, and since then we have rented out the space to outside groups, such as Monson Arts Council, who staged a play here,” said PHCC President Robert Haveles.

The nonprofit has been highly successful, and Haveles said it is sought out by national and international performers and has built an e-mail notification list of more than 1,100 people in the two and a half years since it opened.

Other agencies had also been working on revitalization efforts, and in January 2014, the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce begun putting together a business program that will be launched this year.

“We will provide three months of free rent to new or relocating businesses that will be matched by the building owners. The new businesses will also be provided with a laundry list of professional services donated by members of the chamber, including printing, graphic design, and legal and accounting help,” said chamber spokesperson Renee Niedziela. So far, four landlords have agreed to participate, and the chamber hopes to sponsor two businesses this year.

At about the same time, the Palmer Redevelopment Authority made arrangements with Maple Tree Industrial Center to provide small businesses with free rent for a year, supplemented by a five-week business-planning course offered by the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp.

But it took nine months before the two groups became aware they were developing similar programs independently.

“That all changed a few months ago,” Slowick said.

When Davey found out about the different efforts taking place, she applied for assistance from the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative, and received funding that will be used to conduct a market study.

Then, when the Mass. Cultural Council announced it was taking applications for the Adams Arts Program, which supports projects that revitalize communities through the creation of jobs in creative industries and engagement in cultural activities, Davey and Cuddy got together and decided it was an ideal opportunity for Three Rivers because of the success of PHCC and the fact that other communities have been successful in using the arts as an economic driver.

A partnership was formed among the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., the PHCC, the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, and the Palmer Redevelopment Authority, which led to the On the Right TRACK project.

It was submitted last month as part of the application for the Adams grant, and if the town receives the money, it will be used to establish a website and pay for marketing and other costs related to the project.

But interest has already been piqued, and attendance was high at public meetings held in April. “People are genuinely excited about using the arts as a revitalization tool,” Davey said.

Moving Forward

Niedziela says it’s amazing to have so many groups working together on a project that holds unlimited potential.

Slowick concurred, and added that the Palmer Redevelopment Authority has the ability to apply for grants from the Dept. of Housing and Community Development that could include money for an enhanced streetscape, which would complement the park that is within walking distance of Main Street. “Each group involved in this brings something different to the table, and the consortium is pulling it all together to make it happen,” he said.

Indeed, enthusiasm is running high.

“We’re really excited about bringing cultural opportunities to residents and visitors,” Cuddy said, explaining that her organization plans to work with landlords to help them view their properties in a new way.

Which will definitely help this effort to put Three Rivers on the right track.

Palmer at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 12,140 (2010)
Area: 32 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $20.63; Three Rivers, $21.35; Bondsville, $21.44; Thorndike, $21.61
Median Household Income: $50,050
Family Household Income: $58,110
Type of government: Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Markets

* Latest information available

Daily News

HOLYOKE — On May 7, the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts will unveil its new Creative Awards show, formerly known as the ADDYs, recognizing the creative work of advertising agencies and marketing departments throughout the region.

The club recently ended its affiliation with the American Advertising Federation (AAF) in favor of a show focused on the work of the local creative economy. The revamped Creative Awards show will be held at Open Square in Holyoke, a nod to the city’s recent commitment to a creative economy. Entries for the inaugural Creative Awards show comprised a variety of media, including photography, print work, video production, and more. The creative industry in Western Mass. and Northern Conn. responded positively to this year’s overhaul with more than 100 submitted entries.

“Seeing the entries submitted for this year’s show was a reminder of how deep the pool of talent is in our region,” said David Cecchi, club president and historian. “The Creative Awards will be a great opportunity for the local creative and business communities to celebrate the excellent work being done locally in advertising, design, and communications.”

Cecchi also noted the commitment of the club to serve as a connector between the business community and the marketing and communications communities in Western Mass. “The show will be a great opportunity for local business to get exposed to the creative resources available to them in the area — and meet the people doing great work.”

This year’s Creative Awards judges are Jeff Patch, partner and executive director of RDW Group; Maureen Gawron, creative services manager and associate creative director at the TJX Companies Inc.; and Amy Graver, principal and creative director at Elements, a creative-communications agency. “Really nice pieces in this year’s show,” noted Graver. “There is also a lot of diversity in the type of work being submitted.”

With a view to breathing new life into the awards show and re-engage the local creative community, Creative Awards co-chairs Lynn Saunders and Scott Whitney, both of Six-Point Creative Works, have rebuilt the program from the ground up. “We really started from scratch in terms of determining categories, submission process, and the format of the show,” said Whitney. “It’s certainly been a daunting task, but we’ve already had a lot of support from our colleagues in the industry who appreciate that the Ad Club is focusing on the work of local creatives.”

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Director, Office of Planning & Economic Development, City of Holyoke; Age 32

Marcos Marrero

Marcos Marrero

Marcos Marrero called it “a completely unexpected but certainly welcome development.”

He was referring to Holyoke’s inclusion on Popular Mechanics’ list of “The 14 Best Startup Cities in America.” The Paper City placed sixth, directly behind Oakland, Calif., Portland, Maine, and Baltimore, Md., and just ahead of Boulder, Colo., Reno, Nev., and Des Moines, Iowa, all considerably larger urban areas.

“I’m not even entirely sure what they based this on,” Marrero told BusinessWest. “I don’t know if they used metrics or if it was their editorial board or if they had some internal scoring method.

“Whatever it was, we’ll take it … it’s validation that people are taking notice,” he went on. “This is not a ranking of the best 14 cities in the country in which to do business — it’s saying, ‘these 14 cities are doing something special; take a look.’”

Getting people to take a look on Holyoke is one of the many accomplishments Marrero has to his credit since becoming director of the city’s Office of Planning & Economic Development in 2012. He’s also played a key role in completing one of the largest urban-renewal plans in the state; securing funds for design and construction of a new train station; helping to win a three-year, $250,000 grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for the SPARK (Stimulating Potential, Accessing Resource Knowledge) initiative through the Working Cities Challenge; reincarnating the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority, where he serves as Executive Director; growing the city’s creative economy; bringing new businesses to the city’s downtown; and much more.

Marrero, a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico and Princeton University, said much has been accomplished in the city he now also calls home, but there is considerably more left to do. He equated putting the pieces together to a game of dominoes.

“We’re faced with many challenges, but there are also a lot of assets here, and you can be very creative in how you package those and how you work in partnerships to attract people to the city,” he explained. “It’s paying off, slowly but surely. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Holyoke’s not going to be revitalized in a year.

“At the state level, we’ve been getting a lot of recognition,” he went on. “When other communities consult with state government leaders, they say, ‘talk to Holyoke; see what they’re doing. They’re in a similar situation, and they’re moving forward.’”

And moving onto more of those ‘best’ lists.

— George O’Brien

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

Community Spotlight Features
Spirit of Innovation Is Taking Hold in Pittsfield

Mayor Dan Bianchi

Mayor Dan Bianchi says the new Berkshire Innovation Center will be a boon to local businesses and will draw attention to the western part of the state.

The city of Pittsfield has a new project in the planning stages that Mayor Daniel Bianchi calls “amazing.”

It is the Berkshire Innovation Center, which is so innovative that it qualified for funding from a $1 billion investment the Commonwealth is making in projects that further the life sciences.

“We’ve been working with the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in Boston on this for the last few years,” Bianchi said, adding that when he heard about the state’s plan to invest in the field, he thought about how Pittsfield could become part of it.

His initial idea was to build an incubator that would draw entrepreneurs from the Boston area to Pittsfield, which is home to many small, applied materials and plastics companies that make products such as sutures and suturing equipment.

But when it became clear that this concept was not feasible, a new plan was formulated that led to a $9.7 million capital grant from the Life Sciences Center to build the Innovation Center in the William Stanley Business Park on the grounds of the former General Electric complex that dominated this city’s business community for decades.

The new, non-profit facility will enable shared research between local companies and educational institutions; early-stage production and commercialization of products; and workforce training at the site.

Bianchi said officials toured Rensselaer Poly-technic Institute and Hudson Valley Community College’s new science centers, which have been very successful, to help them formulate the plan.

Local manufacturing companies, including General Dynamics, SABIC and Crane & Co., as well as regional educational institutions such as the State University of New York’s College of Nanoscience, MassMEDIC, the UMass campuses in Amherst and Lowell, Berkshire Community College, McCann Technical School, and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts have already expressed interest in becoming affiliated with the center. 

“We’ve received more than 20 letters of interest,” said Bianchi, adding that the center will give local companies access to training and advanced technology, including a clean room, 3-D prototype printers, and laboratories with reverse engineering capabilities that will allow them to make new products or improve existing ones. “There are some pretty creative companies in this area, but in order to grow they need this type of facility. A company making complex compounds will be able to work with researchers at UMass Lowell as well as at the Nanotechnology Center in Albany.”

The center will also contain incubator space for entrepreneurs. “It will be unique, and people at the Life Sciences Center are really excited about it,” the mayor said, noting that the facility will be sustainable and generate income through tiered memberships, usage and rental fees on equipment, training, and sponsorships from regional companies.

Ground will be broken this winter, and Bianchi said that if meaningful relationships can be created, it will mean “great things for local companies.”

Meanwhile, other forms of economic development are taking place in this former mill city, everything from new investments in the community’s burgeoning downtown, to more steps to bolster an already thriving creative economy,

For this, the latest chapter in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest talked at length with Mayor Bianchi about what’s next for the largest city in Berkshire County.

Downtown Transformation

Among the many new developments in Pittsfield is a boutique hotel taking shape within a building on 273 North St. that dates back to the 19th century. The 68,000-square foot, $14 million project will include 42 unique rooms, three conference areas, an atrium with a skylight, a bar, a revolving door, and a marquee sign with “Hotel” spelled out in lights over the entrance.

“They’re keeping the old windows as well as the 8-by-8 posts in the building, and no two rooms will be the same,” said Bianchi in a voice brimming with anticipation. “It’s very exciting because Berkshire County needs more hotel space, and it will really jazz up this part of North Street. The Crown Plaza and area bed and breakfasts are booked solid all summer, so the owners of the property believe it will be a great destination.”

The popular Spice Dragon Restaurant, which was located in the building, has closed, but a new eatery, which is yet to be determined, will take its place.

“The hotel is only a couple of blocks from the Barrington Stage Company and is right behind City Hall,” Bianchi said, adding that it will be a boon to business travelers as well as tourists.

Other improvements are also being made to North Street via a streetscape plan, and the city was able to procure money from the state much earlier than it planned to complete it.

“The work began about six years ago and we expected it would take two more funding cycles to finish it,” Bianchi said, noting that the first phase of the project ran from the corner of East Housatonic Street to Columbus Avenue and included new lighting, sidewalks, and plantings.

“But we were able to leverage the massive investment made by Berkshire Medical Center and private investors,” he continued, adding that the hospital’s new day-surgery center, parking garage, and wound clinic, combined with the boutique hotel and renovation of the Frank Howard Building (more about that later) played into the equation and convinced state officials to grant the city $4.5 million to complete the streetscape work along an additional three blocks. “We received the money six months ago and we hope the infrastructure improvements will lead to an increase in private investments.”

To that end, work on The First Street Common downtown will also be completed in the spring. “It’s one of our largest urban parks and dates back to the early 19th century,” Bianchi said. “It’s a two-minute walk from City Hall and is very important. It has a new spray park and a performance center, and Shakespeare and Co. will stage events there this year.”

Market-rate housing is being built in the Frank Howard Building as part of an historic redevelopment plan that will convert the underutilized structure into 14 apartments, with 10,000 square feet of storefront retail space on the ground floor.

In addition, the Anota Building will also be converted into 25 units of housing with commercial space on the first floor.

“The work will begin in the spring, which is wonderful, because we can’t seem to keep enough market-rate housing downtown,” Bianchi said. “Eleven new units were completed in the old Notre Dame Elementary School at the end of 2013 and they were immediately rented. Encouraging people to live downtown is part of our master plan, because there are 6,000 jobs in the downtown area. So, our downtown is being completely transformed.”

A complete analysis of every street in Pittsfield was also recently undertaken by the engineering firm Kimley-Horn Associates Inc. “It will help us take a scientific approach on how to expend our limited resources,” Bianchi told BusinessWest as he spoke about how the condition of each roadway, coupled with information on when utility work will be done, will make it possible for officials to prioritize work and avoid resurfacing roads that will be torn up a year later. “The overall condition of our streets is good, but the study is important because streets are something everyone notices, whether they live here or are just driving through the city.”

Planning for the Future

The city is also building a new, comprehensive high school. “It’s in the design stage and will have a huge vocational element,” Bianchi said, adding that when he first became mayor and began talking to small business owners, he was reminded that years ago high school students in the vocational track spent every other week working at local companies, which helped them advance their skills and benefitted local companies.

“The school has had an internship program, but the limited number of hours students spend at local businesses does not give them much exposure to their trade, and provides very little value to companies,” he noted. “So we’re framing a new educational model that will benefit students and our small businesses. There has to be a rigorous academic component to it, but there are waiting lists in the state for vocational schools.”

The goal, he continued, is to create a system that will prepare students who don’t want to pursue higher education to go directly into the workforce after graduation.

Courses of study will range from plastics and applied materials to early childhood education, and since Berkshire Medical Center is a large area employer, Bianchi surmises that students who enroll in the latter field of study may decide to become a nurse or pediatrician.

“Vocational education shouldn’t be a limitation, and the high school has to encompass a lot more than a new building. It has to offer a new model of education,” he said, adding that a program in horticulture could plant seeds of interest in farming, which is a growing venture that is being embraced by young adults in the Pioneer Valley again. “I think we can offer our young people some wonderful opportunities, which will also help small and medium-size companies to grow.”

In addition, Pittsfield is creating a partnership with Berkshire Community College that will allow students to complete courses and earn college credits while they are still in high school.

The mayor told BusinessWest that Pittsfield offers a wonderful quality of life, and the hope is that the Berkshire Innovation Center, new high school, and growth downtown will help attract people to the city and advance economic growth.

“We are too small not to have every move integrated, so every project has to have an economic development connection, whether it is housing, entertainment, educational or a new hotel. But we can offer young people a wonderful middle class life and a nice home can be purchased here for $175,000,” he said.

And with the spirit of innovation and change taking place in the city, Pittsfield’s hopes are likely to become reality.

Pittsfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1891
Population: 44,057 (2013)

Area: 42.47 square miles

County: Berkshire

Residential Tax Rate: $17.15
Commercial Tax Rate: $35.17
Median Household Income: $42,114
Family Household Income: $56,896
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: BHS Management Services Inc.; Berkshire Medical Center; BMC Hillcrest Campus; Sabic Innovative Plastics

* Latest information available

Community Spotlight Features
In Holyoke, Municipal Investments Pay Dividends

Mayor Alex Morse

Mayor Alex Morse says Holyoke has been a leader among area communities in efforts to build a creative-economy sector.

When Alex Morse was elected mayor of Holyoke in 2011, he was determined to revitalize the city and alter the way people thought about it.

“My number-one job was to change the perception that Holyoke’s best days were behind us,” he said.

His efforts have been largely successful, and dedicated planning and teamwork have led to major investments in infrastructure and noteworthy projects.

“Good things have happened in the last year, and there are a lot of shovels in the ground. People can see things moving forward, which is a sign that the economy in Holyoke is getting better, and we will continue to put more shovels in the ground this year,” Morse said. “The city is on a positive trajectory.”

The most significant undertaking is the new, $3.5 million passenger-rail platform being built on Dwight and Main streets. “We broke ground on Dec. 22, and when it is finished in September, it will be the first completed rail platform in Western Mass.,” the mayor said.

The project is a reflection of foresight, because when Morse took office, there were no plans for a commuter-rail stop in Holyoke. “But it was a huge economic-development opportunity, and although there were times when funding was short, we were able to get $4 million in state and federal funds for it through MassWorks grants; it has been paid for without taking any money from local sources,” Morse said, adding that Marcos Marrero, the town’s Planning and Economic Development director, worked closely with the state Department of Transportation, “and we made it a priority project, as it is integral to the revitalization of our downtown.”

In addition, Morse said new businesses have opened and apartments are under construction (more about that later) that will help to reinvigorate the city.

“We see ourselves as part of the Springfield/Hartford metro area, and have a lot of space available that is very affordable. People are recognizing that, and folks from as far away as San Francisco are investing here,” he told BusinessWest, citing the purchase of the Wauregan building on 384 Dwight St., which is co-owned by San Francisco artist Scott Reilly, and adding that Vertitech IT moved its national headquarters to Holyoke last year, and the city helped the company work with Holyoke Community College to find employees.

Expanding the creative-arts community has been a cornerstone of the city’s economic-development strategy, and Morse hired a creative-economy coordinator shortly after he took office. “We’re the first community in the state to have a full-time person dedicated to bolstering the creative economy. It is a job creator that generates a lot of revenue, and we have seen an uptick of artists moving here, and a spike in the development of makers spaces,” he said.

They include Gateway City Arts on 91-114 Race St., which was founded in 2012 by artists Lori Divine and Vitek Kruta with a cash incentive from the city. “The business provides space in which craftspeople work, teach, and hold events. It has become an incubator space for artists,” Morse said.

“People are amazed at the amount of talent we have in Holyoke, and on any given night, you can see cars parked on Race Street for an art gallery, opening show, or performance,” he added. “We’ve taken it very seriously.”

He also pointed to the Brick Co-workshop Co. on Dwight Street as another example of success. Artists representing 10 different trades have made it their home and are helping to promote the city as a center for arts and crafts. Plus, the Holyoke Creative Arts Center, which provides classes at a minimal cost, has plans to move from 400 South Elm St. into the three-story, red-brick Wauregan Building, located in the newly designated Art and Innovation District, later this month.

Time and effort has also been spent to encourage people in the community to open businesses, and Holyoke was one of six cities named as a winner of the Working Cities Challenge. It was sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which identified 21 working cities whose median income was lower than the state average, then challenged them to create innovative proposals that would help provide employment.

Holyoke’s winning program is called the Stimulating Potential and Accessing Resources or Knowledge Initiative (SPARK). Its goal is to link the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center with the city’s innovation-economy strategy and increase the number of businesses owned by Latinos. The initiative is being led by the city in partnership with the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, and is supported by other partners in the public, private, and nonprofit realms.

Morse said the idea is to create a pipeline that will help Latinos who are interested in the creative arts see themselves as entrepreneurs and open businesses. “We want to continue to build on our local talent and have hired a director for the program,” he said, adding that the city will receive $250,000 over three years to implement the program.

Plethora of Projects

When a city invests in itself, Morse said, it sends a message that it is willing to partner with businesses to grow the economy.

To that end, Holyoke boasts a new library and senior center, and also kicked off Phase 2 of a $4.3 million Canal Walk project on Race Street over the summer. Phase 1, which runs between Dwight and Appleton streets, is complete, and the second section of the walkway will include a foot bridge over the canal.

“This is just one of the improvements we’ve made to catalyze retail businesses along the canal and make our downtown walkable,” Morse said.

Vibrant metropolises also contain residential living space, he added, noting that the city is making progress on this front as well. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in August for a $20 million project that will transform the former Holyoke Catholic High School into 55 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The city has been working with Denis Walsh, who owns Weld Management, for several years on his vision to create the new residences in the 74,000-square-foot building, which is set on 2.3 acres.

“The prospect of getting more people to live downtown is exciting, and this is a great example of a public/private partnership,” Morse said, noting that the city contributed $750,000 toward the project. He added that a $1.4 million renovation of Veterans Park, which can be seen from the building, was completed last year.

The Holyoke Transportation Center also overlooks the park and contains a café on the first floor operated by the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House. Holyoke Community College holds classes in the building, and it is also home to a Head Start program.

“The conversion of Holyoke Catholic High School will complete that block and bring more life to the neighborhood,” Morse said, adding that Walsh is also developing high-end, market-rate apartments on the upper floors of a few other buildings.

One challenge the city faces, however, is a lack of eateries downtown. Attracting restaurateurs has been difficult because liquor licenses have not been available. In order to mitigate the problem, Morse put together a proposal that received approval from the City Council and the state, which will give Holyoke 13 additional liquor licenses.

“The caveat is that they can only be used for full-service restaurants in the downtown urban-renewal district,” the mayor said. “Although a liquor license can go for upwards of $100,000 on the open market, these will only cost $10,000 because they’re being offered as an economic incentive. We plan to hold an event later this month to explain what is involved, and have invited people in town as well as restaurant operators from places that include Worcester, Hartford, Amherst, and Pittsfield.”

Plans have also been made to address the former Parsons Paper Co. site, which has been an eyesore since a fire devastated the property in 2008. Northeast Utilities has provided $250,000 to assess the contamination, demolish what remains of the buildings, and clean up the brownfields, as part of a mitigation agreement connected to a former electric plant near the dam and canal.

When the work is complete, the property will be put on the market, and Morse said a business has already expressed interest in the site.

Meanwhile, Divine and Kruta, who opened Gateway City Arts, also purchased the Steam Building on Race Street last year and are turning it into office space.

“The city and Holyoke Community College recently announced that HCC is moving its entire culinary-hospitality department downtown, and the Steam Building is being considered as one of the potential sites,” Morse said. “We are hoping to pair the college program with a full-service, privately owned restaurant.”

Private-sector growth is also occurring, and Marcotte Ford on Main Street recently broke ground on an $8 million expansion. “We worked hard to keep them here,” Morse said. “They were landlocked, but were able to purchase an old dealership next to them. We’re working to help them get some city land between the properties as well as negotiating a tax incentive.”

Bright Future

Morse said a number of other projects are on the horizon, among them the redevelopment of the old Lynch Middle School.

The project was put out to bid last spring, and the city chose Frontier Development from the firms that responded. It will create 25,000 square feet of retail space in the building with the opportunity for expansion, which will lead to jobs and turn a non-taxpaying property into one that generates taxes, Morse told BusinessWest. “Plus, we think it will bring people to the city, as it’s right off the highway.”

In addition, the recently decommissioned Mt. Tom coal plant will be assessed to determine what it would take to clean it up and reuse the property.

The mayor said the projects that have come to fruition have not happened overnight, and the effort and thought that have gone into them will continue.

“Today,” he concluded, people see Holyoke as a city on the rise.”

Holyoke at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1850
Population: 40,135 (2012)

Area: 22.8 square miles

County: Hampden

Residential Tax Rate: $19.04
Commercial Tax Rate: $39.74
Median Household Income: $33,030
Family Household Income: $36,262
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Holyoke Medical Center; Holyoke Public Schools; Holyoke Community College; Amica Mutual Insurance Co.
* Latest information available

Briefcase Departments

Valley Gives Opens Registration to Nonprofits
WESTERN MASS. — Valley Gives, the highly successful fund-raising event launched in 2012, has opened registration to nonprofits in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Set for Dec. 10, Valley Gives is a 24-hour e-philanthropy program that encourages supporters of nonprofits based in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties to log on and contribute via www.valleygivesday.org — a centralized, web-enabled, mobile giving platform. The initiative is organized and hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Joining the effort as partners are eight of the leading funding organizations in Western Mass., including the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, the Jewish Endowment Foundation, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, United Way of Hampshire County, United Way of Franklin County, United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, and the Beveridge Family Foundation. In its first two years, Valley Gives has raised more than $3 million from more than 15,000 donors. “This year’s goal is to encourage as many people as possible to donate to their favorite group or groups. Our survey last year indicated that an overwhelming 99% of participants that completed our survey want to donate again this year,” said Kristin Leutz, vice president of Philanthropic Services for the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. “Could we get to 20,000 participants this year? We think this is a realistic and exciting goal.” Nonprofits that participate this year will find some changes with the way the event is organized. Based on suggestions of past participants, nonprofits will find a more flexible sign-up period with easier registration, a new prize-pool structure making it easier for nonprofits of all sizes to win, and even more training opportunities that will be provided on an expanded schedule both in person and online. Nonprofit organizations that serve Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties have until Nov. 14 to register to participate. Interested nonprofits may register at www.valleygivesday.org. Nonprofits that register by Sept. 1 will be eligible to win one of three randomly selected $500 awards donated by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

UMass President Announces Science and Technology Awards

BOSTON — UMass President Robert Caret announced $865,000 in grants to faculty members from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund to support several promising research projects. They range from using big-data analytics in climatology and healthcare to developing radar-like laser technology known as LIDAR to study wind energy and ocean and forested environments. The initiatives showcase a range of innovative research being undertaken by UMass faculty members that contribute to the growth of the Commonwealth’s economy, especially in the science and technology areas, and extend the boundaries of human knowledge. The grants help accelerate research activity across all five campuses and position researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects. “With the level of the federal government’s support of R&D still in question, we must do all we can to support the university’s role in the state’s innovation economy,” Caret said. “We are committed to strengthening our economic engagement in strategic areas such as clean energy, the environment, life sciences, and big data, and these grants are another step in that direction.” This is the 11th year of awards from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund, one of three funds that Caret supports to help advance the work of UMass faculty members. The other two are the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund and the Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property Technology Development Fund. Since 2004, the Science and Technology fund has provided $10 million to UMass researchers, which in turn has helped to generate $240 million in funding from federal and private sources. These science and technology investments have been one of the factors in helping the university grow its research and development budget to nearly $600 million. The investments have helped to establish some of the most important R&D centers across the state, including the Center for Hierarchical Nanomanufacturing at UMass Amherst; the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UMass Boston; the Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research at UMass Dartmouth; the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center and New England Robotics and Validation & Experimentation Center at UMass Lowell; and the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Worcester. Nearly 80 projects representing the breadth of academic inquiry at UMass have been funded to date. This year’s projects receiving grants from the Science and Technology Initiatives Fund include:
• UMass Cancer Avatar Institute, Dale Greiner and Giles Whalen, UMass Medical School: a proposed multi-campus institute that would provide mice engineered as ‘avatars’ of individual human patient tumors, enabling technology developed for diabetes research to be used to integrate biomarker identification platform for multiple cancer types. The initiative has three components: establishment of a tumor bank, which has already begun via internal funds; clinical pathology evaluation of tumors in these specialized mice; and a new ‘humanized mouse core’ to link the tumor bank to individual investigators in multiple cancer-research fields. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 matching grant provided by the medical school, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team).
• Center for Computational Climatology & Paleoclimatology, Robert DeConto and Raymond Bradley, UMass Amherst: an effort that brings together academic scientists and engineers, industrial researchers, and users of high-performance computing resources to the issue of climate change. The grant will help develop a center for climate-related computation and numerical modeling of value to the Commonwealth, and contribute to the field of climate science by applying big-data computational analysis, modeling, data mining, and visualization to climate-change research. Award: $104,000.
• Center for MicroBiome Research, Beth McCormick, UMass Medical School: a project that proposes to develop a center of research and education for the ‘microbiome,’ the term used to describe the ecosystem of the 100 trillion bacteria in the human body, in collaboration with UMass Amherst’s new Life Sciences Laboratories and the UMass Dartmouth Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research. The exploration of the microbiome — and its role in health, development, and disease — is a vast, mostly untapped area of biomedical research and therapeutic potential. The center proposes to use big-data analysis (advanced computational and bioinformatics) to research microbiome-related genomic and clinical data, and involves multiple industry partners. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 matching grant provided by the medical school, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team).
• Mass. BioFoundry, Center for Discovery & Synthesis of Bioactive Molecules, Elizabeth Vierling and Susan Roberts, UMass Amherst: an initiative establishing a ‘biofoundry’ with the goal of discovering valuable molecules from unique plant and microbial species and developing processes, either biological or chemical, by which they can be produced in quantities sufficient for medical or industrial applications. This research center will include a natural-products library (3,500 plant species) donated by an industry partner, along with related research equipment, valued at more than $1 million. The team will work with the medical school’s Small-Molecule Screening Facility and Northeastern University’s Antimicrobial Discovery Center. Award: $150,000.
 
Developer Sought for Tornado-damaged Elias Brookings School
SPRINGFIELD — The city of Springfield has released a request for proposals seeking a developer for the former Elias Brookings School building located on Hancock Street in the Six Corners neighborhood. “We’re very excited about the potential of this property and bringing new life back to a former school building,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno. “There has been significant interest in this opportunity, and we expect that will translate into strong competition for the property.” The former Elias Brookings School site is an important part of the overall revitalization of the Six Corners and Old Hill neighborhoods. The building is located in the midst of significant infrastructure investments planned for the next two years, which include roadway improvements, upgraded streetscapes and lighting, a new middle school, a renovated park, and new, single-family homes along Central Street. The city has already committed $13 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds for several projects in the neighborhood. Construction of the new Elias Brookings School has already begun, and the school is scheduled to open in 2015. Further, infrastructure-improvement projects such as the realignment of Central Street and installation of streetscape improvements are anticipated to begin in the next construction season. The RFP is available in the Office of Procurement, Springfield City Hall, 36 Court St., Room 307. Proposals are due on Sept. 12 by 2 p.m.

Community Foundation Awards Team Jessica $25,000 for Playground
BELCHERTOWN — Team Jessica Inc. has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Credit Data Services Inc. Fund and the Edwin P. and Wilbur O. Lepper Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Team Jessica will use these funds to support the building of Jessica’s Boundless Playground (JBP), an effort that has been ongoing for the past four years. JBP will be the only 100% all-inclusive playground in the area. It is designed to be a multi-generational activity structure that engages people of all ages and abilities. JBP will also allow wounded veterans in long-term rehab to experience the healing power and simple joy of playing with their own children. The playground equipment and poured-in-place rubber surfacing will cost approximately $405,000. Team Jessica has hosted several fund-raising events over the past four years, and the effort has raised more than $300,000, including three Community Preservation Act grants from the town of Belchertown totaling $140,000, and a $40,000 grant from the Beveridge Family Foundation. This $25,000 Community Foundation grant will bring the fund-raising total to $325,000. “We’re in the last phase of fund-raising, working very hard every day,” said Vicky Martins Auffrey, Team Jessica president and mother of the playground’s namesake. “We plan to order the equipment on Aug. 1 and start the community build Sept. 13. Being awarded this grant is such an honor and makes all our plans closer to reality.” Added Patti Thornton, Team Jessica’s grant writer, “these final weeks before ordering the playground equipment are crucial in regard to fund-raising. We are waiting to hear back from a few key players, so getting the letter from the Community Foundation was something we needed. It is helping us keep the momentum into the home stretch.” To learn more, visit www.teamjessicaonline.com, www.facebook.com/teamjessicainc, and www.twitter.com/teamjessicainc.

State Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.5% in June
BOSTON — The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, citing preliminary estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported that Massachusetts added 3,700 jobs in June for a total of 3,409,500 jobs, and the total unemployment rate edged down one-tenth of a percentage point to 5.5% from the May rate. The rate is the lowest since August 2008. Since June 2013, Massachusetts has added a net of 48,900 jobs, with 49,400 jobs added in the private sector and 500 jobs lost in the public sector. The total unemployment rate in June was down 1.6% from the June 2013 rate of 7.1%.

State Announces Grants for Water Protection, Habitat Restoration
BOSTON — Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary (EEA) Maeve Vallely Bartlett announced $429,239 in grants from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) for projects to protect and restore rivers, watersheds, and wildlife across the Commonwealth, including two awards in Western Mass. “The Massachusetts Environmental Trust has been a critical conservation leader in protecting the vital waterways of Massachusetts for over 20 years,” said Bartlett. “By communities and conservation partners collaborating and working together with the Commonwealth, we can develop important projects for maintaining and protecting our clean waters for generations to come.” Ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, the grants will help support 13 projects in Amherst, Great Barrington, Ipswich, Lee, Lincoln, Methuen, Newton, Plymouth, Provincetown, Taunton, Wareham, Weston, and Westport. The local projects include:
• Town of Amherst, $36,100 to study the contamination of Fearing Brook, and to develop and begin to implement remedial strategies to improve the water quality of the brook.
• Town of Great Barrington, $30,000 to study water quality in Lake Mansfield.
• Housatonic Valley Assoc. in Lee, $15,911 to design and install stormwater vegetative buffers to reduce roadway runoff into Churchill Brook in Pittsfield.
Since it was founded in 1988 as part of the Boston Harbor cleanup, MET has awarded more than $19 million in grants to organizations statewide that provide a wide array of environmental services, from supporting water projects in communities to protecting coastal habitats.

UMass President Awards $270,000 for Creative-economy Initiatives
BOSTON — President Robert Caret announced $270,000 in grants from the President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund to support eight projects by UMass faculty members in the arts, humanities, and social sciences that will bring new creative resources to Massachusetts communities. The initiatives include supporting an LGBT community archives and education center in Northampton, developing a marketing toolkit to help nonprofit arts and cultural organizations involved in the creative economy in the Fall River-New Bedford area, and collaborating with the Peace Institute in the Dorchester section of Boston to assist victims of violence. “The Creative Economy Initiatives Fund provides us with a unique opportunity to contribute the talent and resources of the University of Massachusetts to communities and organizations across the state that are helping to enrich the quality of life in the Commonwealth,” said Caret. “These projects — and the partnerships with nonprofits and creative industries that stem from them — are foundational to our role as an institution that is committed to making a difference wherever and whenever we can.” The fund was created in 2007 to complement the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund. In its eight years of operation, the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund has made 73 awards totaling more than $2 million. It has supported preservation of the W.E.B. Du Bois boyhood home in Great Barrington and established both the Lowell Youth Orchestra and a permanent Jack Kerouac education and tourism site in Lowell. It has brought UMass Dartmouth students together with Durfee High School students to create a photographic history of Fall River’s neighborhoods, helped establish a women artisans’ cooperative in New Bedford, developed a workers’ upholstery co-op in Springfield, and sponsored numerous music, dance, and theatre performances in Boston, Amherst, and Lowell. This year, the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund will provide $270,000 in grants to the following local initiatives and faculty members:
• Judyie Al-Bilali, Gilbert McCauley, and Priscilla Page, Theatre Department, UMass Amherst: “Art, Legacy & Community.” Project staff will work with community groups in the Greater Springfield area to produce an original theater production and develop Du Bois Performance Workshops for education in multicultural theater, with both activities to take place in Springfield. Amount awarded: $32,000.
• Mitch Boucher, University Without Walls; Julio Capo Jr., History Department and Commonwealth Honors College; and Jessica Johnson, History Department, all at UMass Amherst: “A LGBTQI Community Archives and Education Center.” This project will support the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA) in Northampton, helping SMA preserve, build, and provide wider access to its resources; develop regional walking tours and other interactive programs; and establish greater national and international community links for these unique and valuable historical materials. Amount awarded: $29,334.

Construction Industry Adds 6,000 Jobs in June
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. construction industry added 6,000 jobs in June, according to the July 3 report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, non-residential construction added only 700 of those jobs, and the heavy and civil engineering sector lost 700 jobs. “Although non-residential construction’s performance is somewhat disappointing, the general tenor of today’s employment report is upbeat. It is worth noting that non-residential construction tends to lag that of the overall economy,” said Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “Today’s jobs numbers are largely a reflection of the softer growth recorded by the U.S. economy for much of last year and during the initial months of 2014. Given that the economy added over 200,000 jobs for the fifth consecutive month in June, there is some optimism about improvement in the second quarter; however, the lack of monthly construction employment growth, particularly in the non-residential sector, is troubling.” Although the national construction unemployment rate stands at 8.2% on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, there are parts of the nation in which unemployment is far lower, Basu added. “In fact, there are emerging shortages of industrial construction workers in growing segments of the south, which will trigger large increases in wages and per diems during the year ahead. By contrast, there are communities in which construction unemployment remains well above the 8.2% average, suggesting that wage inflation will be meaningfully experienced only in certain communities.” According to the BLS household survey, the national unemployment rate fell to 6.1% in June, reaching its lowest level since September 2008. The civilian labor force expanded by 81,000 in June. Individual sectors saw the following changes:
• Non-residential building construction employment increased by 2,100 jobs for the month, but is up by 22,200 jobs, or 3.3%, since June 2013.
• Residential building construction employment rose by 4,500 jobs in June and is up by 50,600 jobs, or 8.3%, on an annual basis.
• Non-residential specialty trade contractors lost 1,400 jobs for the month, but employment in that category is up by 29,500 jobs, or 1.4%, from the same time last year.
• Residential specialty trade contractors gained 2,100 jobs in June and have added 55,700 jobs, or 3.6%, since June 2013.
• The heavy and civil engineering construction segment lost 700 jobs in June, but job totals are up by 28,300, or 3.2%, on a year-over-year basis.

Home Prices Up,but Sales Slower
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. home prices rose 8.8% in May compared with a year earlier, but the pace of gains has slowed as more homes have come onto the market, data provider CoreLogic reported this week. On a month-to-month basis, prices rose 1.2% from April to May, but CoreLogic’s monthly figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal patterns, such as warmer weather, which can affect sales. Prices increased the most in western states, including Hawaii, California, and Nevada.

Daily News

BOSTON — UMass President Robert Caret announced $865,000 in grants to faculty members from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund to support several promising research projects. They range from using big-data analytics in climatology and healthcare to developing radar-like laser technology known as LIDAR to study wind energy and ocean and forested environments.

The initiatives showcase a range of innovative research being undertaken by UMass faculty members that contribute to the growth of the Commonwealth’s economy, especially in the science and technology areas, and extend the boundaries of human knowledge. The grants help accelerate research activity across all five campuses and position researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects.

“With the level of the federal government’s support of R&D still in question, we must do all we can to support the university’s role in the state’s innovation economy,” Caret said. “We are committed to strengthening our economic engagement in strategic areas such as clean energy, the environment, life sciences, and big data, and these grants are another step in that direction.”

This is the 11th year of awards from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund, one of three funds that Caret supports to help advance the work of UMass faculty members. The other two are the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund and the Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property Technology Development Fund.

Since 2004, the Science and Technology fund has provided $10 million to UMass researchers, which in turn has helped to generate $240 million in funding from federal and private sources. These science and technology investments have been one of the factors in helping the university grow its research and development budget to nearly $600 million. The investments have helped to establish some of the most important R&D centers across the state, including the Center for Hierarchical Nanomanufacturing at UMass Amherst; the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UMass Boston; the Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research at UMass Dartmouth; the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center and New England Robotics and Validation & Experimentation Center at UMass Lowell; and the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Worcester.

Nearly 80 projects representing the breadth of academic inquiry at UMass have been funded to date. This year’s projects receiving grants from the Science and Technology Initiatives Fund include:

• UMass Cancer Avatar Institute, Dale Greiner and Giles Whalen, UMass Medical School: a proposed multi-campus institute that would provide mice engineered as ‘avatars’ of individual human patient tumors, enabling technology developed for diabetes research to be used to integrate biomarker identification platform for multiple cancer types. The initiative has three components: establishment of a tumor bank, which has already begun via internal funds; clinical pathology evaluation of tumors in these specialized mice; and a new ‘humanized mouse core’ to link the tumor bank to individual investigators in multiple cancer-research fields. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 matching grant provided by the medical school, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team).

• Center for Computational Climatology & Paleoclimatology, Robert DeConto and Raymond Bradley, UMass Amherst: an effort that brings together academic scientists and engineers, industrial researchers, and users of high-performance computing resources to the issue of climate change. The grant will help develop a center for climate-related computation and numerical modeling of value to the Commonwealth, and contribute to the field of climate science by applying big-data computational analysis, modeling, data mining, and visualization to climate-change research. Award: $104,000.

• Center for MicroBiome Research, Beth McCormick, UMass Medical School: a project that proposes to develop a center of research and education for the ‘microbiome,’ the term used to describe the ecosystem of the 100 trillion bacteria in the human body, in collaboration with UMass Amherst’s new Life Sciences Laboratories and the UMass Dartmouth Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research. The exploration of the microbiome — and its role in health, development, and disease — is a vast, mostly untapped area of biomedical research and therapeutic potential. The center proposes to use big-data analysis (advanced computational and bioinformatics) to research microbiome-related genomic and clinical data, and involves multiple industry partners. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 matching grant provided by the medical school, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team).

• Mass. BioFoundry, Center for Discovery & Synthesis of Bioactive Molecules, Elizabeth Vierling and Susan Roberts, UMass Amherst: an initiative establishing a ‘biofoundry’ with the goal of discovering valuable molecules from unique plant and microbial species and developing processes, either biological or chemical, by which they can be produced in quantities sufficient for medical or industrial applications. This research center will include a natural-products library (3,500 plant species) donated by an industry partner, along with related research equipment, valued at more than $1 million. The team will work with the medical school’s Small-Molecule Screening Facility and Northeastern University’s Antimicrobial Discovery Center. Award: $150,000.

Daily News

BOSTON — President Robert Caret announced $270,000 in grants from the President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund to support eight projects by UMass faculty members in the arts, humanities, and social sciences that will bring new creative resources to Massachusetts communities.

The initiatives include supporting an LGBT community archives and education center in Northampton, developing a marketing toolkit to help nonprofit arts and cultural organizations involved in the creative economy in the Fall River-New Bedford area, and collaborating with the Peace Institute in the Dorchester section of Boston to assist victims of violence.

“The Creative Economy Initiatives Fund provides us with a unique opportunity to contribute the talent and resources of the University of Massachusetts to communities and organizations across the state that are helping to enrich the quality of life in the Commonwealth,” said Caret. “These projects — and the partnerships with nonprofits and creative industries that stem from them — are foundational to our role as an institution that is committed to making a difference wherever and whenever we can.”

The fund was created in 2007 to complement the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund. In its eight years of operation, the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund has made 73 awards totaling more than $2 million. It has supported preservation of the W.E.B. Du Bois boyhood home in Great Barrington and established both the Lowell Youth Orchestra and a permanent Jack Kerouac education and tourism site in Lowell. It has brought UMass Dartmouth students together with Durfee High School students to create a photographic history of Fall River’s neighborhoods, helped establish a women artisans’ cooperative in New Bedford, developed a workers’ upholstery co-op in Springfield, and sponsored numerous music, dance, and theatre performances in Boston, Amherst, and Lowell. This year, the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund will provide $270,000 in grants to the following local initiatives and faculty members:

• Judyie Al-Bilali, Gilbert McCauley, and Priscilla Page, Theatre Department, UMass Amherst: “Art, Legacy & Community.” Project staff will work with community groups in the Greater Springfield area to produce an original theater production and develop Du Bois Performance Workshops for education in multicultural theater, with both activities to take place in Springfield. Amount awarded: $32,000.

• Mitch Boucher, University Without Walls; Julio Capo Jr., History Department and Commonwealth Honors College; and Jessica Johnson, History Department, all at UMass Amherst: “A LGBTQI Community Archives and Education Center.” This project will support the Sexual Minorities Archives (SMA) in Northampton, helping SMA preserve, build, and provide wider access to its resources; develop regional walking tours and other interactive programs; and establish greater national and international community links for these unique and valuable historical materials. Amount awarded: $29,334.

40 Under 40 The Class of 2014
Mayor, City of Holyoke, age 25

Alex-Morse-01Looking back on his first 27 months in office, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse says there’s been progress logged in many areas and some notable accomplishments for the team he’s assembled.

The Mass. Green High Performance Computing Center has opened its doors, a creative economy is taking shape, a long-awaited urban-renewal plan — a sweeping initiative to revitalize the downtown through the reincarnation of the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority — has been introduced, an Innovation District has been created, a Community Literacy office has been established, and a tax-incentive program to stimulate new growth has been launched.

But Morse, the youngest mayor in the Paper City’s history when he was elected in the fall of 2011, said that perhaps the most important development — and it results in part from all of the above — has been his administration’s ability to “change the language around Holyoke,” as he put it.

“The number-one thing we’ve done, and in a relatively short period of time, is change the perception of the city,” the Holyoke native told BusinessWest. “And it had to start from within — we needed the residents of the city to feel there’s a sense of progress and that the city is going to get better, and that’s happened.

“The most humbling, and exciting, thing for me is going around the Valley and across the state and hearing people talk about Holyoke in a positive way, with this energy and excitement,” he went on. “I promised to be the chief marketing officer of Holyoke, and I’ve fulfilled that.”

There is considerable work still to be done, but Morse believes the foundation for progress has been laid. And the process of doing so has been a fascinating learning experience for the Brown University graduate and urban studies major.

He said every day is different and uniquely fulfilling, that he’s encouraged by the way in which all those on his team are working toward the same goals, and that perhaps the biggest downside is the slow pace of government, something he wasn’t fully prepared for.

“I’m oftentimes impatient when it comes to implementing new things and programs and seeing changes,” he explained. “Sometimes it takes longer than you’d like.”

But he believes the needle is moving in the right direction and this city, steeped in history, is ready to write some more.

George O’Brien

Briefcase Departments

Bradley Passenger Traffic Up Five Straight Months
WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — With January passenger statistics tallied, the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) has announced that Bradley International Airport (BDL) has continued an upward trend which began in September 2013. January’s 9% rise marks five straight months of positive year-over-year increases. This follows September (1%), October (4%), November (3%), and December (20%), as Bradley showed an overall 1% total growth in 2013 (5,421,975 passengers) compared to 2012 figures (5,381,860 passengers). Improvements to Bradley’s route offerings, which were implemented throughout 2013, have helped drive this upswing. These advances include American Airlines’ daily non-stop flight to Los Angeles, JetBlue Airways’ Fort Myers and Tampa daily non-stop service, and Southwest Airlines’ three daily non-stop flights to Atlanta through its wholly-owned subsidiary, AirTran Airways. Numerous customer-service enhancements have been instituted as well, such as the establishment of a frequent-parker program, expanded concession offerings, and improvements to passenger-processing wait times. “The Connecticut Airport Authority takes great pride in achieving this milestone of revitalization. One of our greatest selling points to our customers, in addition to our convenient terminal and on-airport parking facilities, is Bradley’s tremendous accessibility from anywhere in the Northeast,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the CAA. “We believe that the best is yet to come. We are excited about working with all of our stakeholders as we continue to aggressively seek additional daily non-stop destinations for our customers from one of the region’s most convenient gateways.” Bradley is the second-largest airport in New England, serving an extensive geographic area with a customer base that covers the entire Northeast. According to the most recent economic-impact analysis, Bradley contributes $4 billion in economic activity to the state of Connecticut and the surrounding region, representing $1.2 billion in wages and 18,000 full-time jobs.

State to Issue $30 Million in Residential Solar Loans
BOSTON — Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan recently announced $30 million for a loan program aimed at encouraging residential solar projects, complementing the Commonwealth’s new solar program to be launched this spring. “When we support our solar industry, we are choosing to shape our future rather than leave it to chance,” Gov. Deval Patrick said. “These programs will allow the solar industry in Massachusetts to continue to flourish and will make solar energy more accessible for residents across the Commonwealth.” Added Sullivan, “the solar industry in Massachusetts has seen tremendous success since Gov. Patrick took office in 2007. The solar financing piece will make it easier for residents to participate in, and benefit from, the Commonwealth’s clean-energy revolution.” The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is currently working with partners and stakeholders to develop the program, expected to launch this spring when the final solar regulations are promulgated. “We continue to work with all stakeholders at the table to develop successful programs to maintain the steady growth of the solar industry,” said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia. “I’m proud of the open and inclusive process that led to these regulations and will inform the loan program.” The flow of loans to the residential market is expected to commence in the summer or fall of 2014. The new solar regulations, part two of the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate program (SREC-II), are designed to meet Patrick’s goal to install 1,600 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. SREC-II aims to ensure steady annual growth, control ratepayer costs, and encourage ground-mounted solar projects on landfill and brownfield sites, as well as solar units on residential rooftops. “Investing in solar is a win for both our economy and our environment. This investment, in particular, will help spur the residential solar market,” said state Sen. Benjamin Downing, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. “Instead of drilling or mining for our power, we’ll be using our rooftops to fuel future growth. Gov. Patrick and his entire team deserve great credit for their leadership in making this investment.”

Teenagers Find Difficulty Accessing Job Market
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Teenagers are getting squeezed out of the labor force in record numbers as unemployment among the youngest workers continues to soar, according to a study from the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. The study found that the percentage of teenagers with jobs has plunged by nearly half over a decade, from 44% in 2000 to 24% in 2011. “If this were any other group, you would call it a Great Depression,” said Andrew Sum, the Northeastern University economist who co-authored the study. Competition from older, more experienced workers pushed into lower-skilled jobs because of the weak economy has crowded out teenagers from traditional jobs in retail, restaurants, and other lower-paying service industries, Sum said. This lack of opportunity could have long-term effects on teens, the labor force, and the broader economy as young people fail to gain the experience that might help them advance careers and become more productive workers, resulting in lower earnings over a working life. The Brookings study examined teen employment in 100 metropolitan areas. In New England, Portland, Maine fared best, with about 37% of teens employed. Providence, Hartford, and Boston all posted percentages around 34%. Teens who had paid employment in one year were more likely to work the following year, the study found. Conversely, said Sum, “if you don’t work at all, you are the least likely to work the following year.”

Partnership to Benefit Creative Businesses
WESTERN MASS. — The state recently designated the Pioneer Valley as part of Massachusetts’ Creative Economy Network and formally partnered with the Western Mass. Economic Development Council (EDC) on an initiative to help creative businesses increase their visibility, recruit talent, find appropriate space, borrow capital, and continue to grow. The designation doesn’t come with state money, but several organizations are planning to apply for state grants. Ann Burke, vice president of the EDC, told the Republican that more than 15,000 people in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties work in the creative economy, an umbrella term that encompasses writers, fashion designers, graphic artists, and advertising professionals, among others. DevelopSpringfield, the Fostering Arts and Culture Project in Franklin County, and the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council are among the other groups participating. Burke said the EDC has already hosted networking get-togethers for these creative workers.

Union Station Project Gets Another $16.5M
SPRINGFIELD — The state Department of Transportation (DOT) has designated another $16.5 million toward the renovation of Springfield’s Union Station. The decision completes the $65.7 million funding package necessary to fully finance the first phase of the redevelopment effort. The total project cost is expected to be $83 million. Phase one of the project involves the construction of a 26-bay bus terminal for regional and intercity bus service; construction of a four-level parking garage; a 37,000-square-foot renovation of the train terminal’s first floor and grand concourse waiting area, including new ticketing and waiting space; and concessions and retail space, according to the DOT’s news release. Work at Union Station began in August 2010 and is expected to be completed in 2016. “Springfield is located at a strategic crossroads for both north-south and east-west interstate highway and railroad corridors in a key region of the Commonwealth,” said Richard Davey, MassDOT secretary and CEO, in a prepared statement. “With these additional resources, the city of Springfield is guaranteed that its potential as a major regional mobility hub will be realized.” As part of the second phase, the Redevelopment Authority would renovate the upper two floors of the terminal building and create an additional 64,000 square feet of commercial or retail space, as well as expanding the parking garage by 120 spaces.

Health Policy Commission Issues $10M to Hospitals
BOSTON — At its first board meeting of 2014, the Health Policy Commission (HPC) awarded approximately $10 million to 28 community hospitals, including seven in Western Mass., to enhance the delivery of efficient, effective healthcare across the Commonwealth. The funds, which range from $65,000 to $500,000 per organization, come from Phase 1 of the HPC’s Community Hospital Acceleration, Revitalization, and Transformation (CHART) Investment Program, which was established by the state’s landmark healthcare cost-containment law. The Western Mass. awards include: $476,400 to Baystate Franklin Medical Center to support expansion of telemedicine capacities to select inpatient and outpatient specialties, with the goal of reducing unnecessary transfers and costs, and connecting local providers to health information exchanges; $499,600 to Baystate Mary Lane Hospital to support expansion of telemedicine capacities to identified inpatient and outpatient specialties, in order to reduce unnecessary transfers and costs, connect local providers to health information exchanges, and support an evaluation of post-acute services and capabilities in the region; $500,000 to Holyoke Medical Center to support implementation of an electronic health record system in the Emergency Department; $233,134 to Mercy Medical Center to support the development of organizational capabilities, capacities, and culture change, in order to accelerate and sustain continuous quality and safety improvements; $344,665 to Noble Hospital to support the development of a centralized scheduling hub to coordinate appointments across multiple hospital units, and to support planning related to health information exchange connectivity; $395,311 to North Adams Regional Hospital to support co-location of behavioral-health services at primary-care practices in Northern Berkshire County; and $357,000 to Wing Memorial Hospital to support achievement of meaningful use stage 1 compliance. “These awards show that the HPC is committed to partnering with community hospitals to achieve the Commonwealth’s cost-containment and quality-improvement goals,” said David Seltz, executive director of the HPC. “We look forward to continuing this work until we build a more coordinated and affordable healthcare system in all corners of Massachusetts.”

Opinion
Coworking Spaces Can Be Idea Factories

For many years now, we’ve been preaching the virtues of inspiring and facilitating entrepreneurship as a sound economic-development strategy, one that is often overlooked by many.

Indeed, that phrase ‘economic development’ is usually associated with filling industrial parks or convincing foreign automakers to build a 1 million-square-foot factory in one’s community. And that’s one way to go about it, granted a very difficult way.

The more old-fashioned way is to encourage the creation of startups and then finding ways to help them grow — and stay — in one’s region. It takes longer, but the results are often more sustainable. This is why we have encouraged groups and initiatives such as Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) in their efforts to help get businesses off to the ground and then get to that next level.

And also why we’re quite impressed with what’s going on at 20 Hampton Ave., Suite 150 in Northampton.

This is the address of Click Workspace (see story on page 12), a unique facility that its founders and current president Paul Silva, also involved with VVM, say specializes in “collisions.”

These are meetings of the minds that often turn into business opportunities in the form of collaborations, assistance that might help an idea come to fruition or a business take a critical next step, or startups that could eventually employ dozens of people.

Click Workspace has seen all of the above, and repeatedly. Maybe the best example of such a collision involves Randall Smith and Chris Landry. The former is a digital strategist and founder of a company called PowerLabs. The latter is the founder of Landry Communications, a branding venture that helps organizations get their stories out. The two met at Work Clickspace and quickly determined that their skills were complementary. They wound up responding as a team to a request for proposals from Boston-based Chorus Foundation and won a sizable contract from the agency.

There are countless other examples of how these collisions work, and they provide ample evidence of the fact that the region needs to find ways to create more of them.

Those involved with ‘Click,’ as it’s called, are interested in taking the concept to other area cities and towns, and we hope they are successful in doing so.

They need some ingredients to fall into place for that to happen, though, including a critical mass of entrepreneurs and creative professionals and affordable commercial real estate, something they somehow managed to find in Northampton, despite the long odds against doing so.

Their next target should be downtown Springfield, and there is already movement to establish a facility there. It’s a common-sense step, because there is considerable activity involving entrepreneurship in the city’s central business district — VVM meets there regularly — and there could be much more in the years to come with UMass having an active presence and initiatives underway to create a larger, more vibrant creative economy there.

What’s needed is a space where the minds can meet and collisions can happen.

There is already much happening when it comes to economic development in Springfield, from the planned $800 million casino complex in the South End to the long-awaited revitalization of Union Station to UMass Amherst’s planned satellite center. These should all create more vibrancy and more interest in the City of Homes, but what’s needed is more focus on inspiring entreprenership and spurring new small businesses.

A coworking facility that can replicate some of those collisions happening at 20 Hampton Ave. in Northampton would be a great place to start. n

Commercial Real Estate Sections
The Experiments Continue in John Aubin’s Evolving Open Square

OpenSquareDPartAs John Aubin talked about Open Square, the massive former mill complex along the canals in downtown Holyoke that has been his passion for the past dozen years or more, he continually referred to it as an “urban laboratory” — for architecture, planning, sustainability, and economic development.

By that, he meant this was a place to experiment and drive innovation in response to an ongoing movement that has more people apparently willing and able to work, live, and locate businesses in urban settings, although many cities are struggling to take full advantage of that phenomenon.

To succeed in this environment and move the needle in Holyoke when it comes to attracting businesses there, Aubin said he doesn’t focus on filling square footage in an old mill. Rather, he’s committed to creating workspaces in which business owners can thrive.

“My business is really about creating an environment for people to live in, work in, socialize in, and play in,” he explained. “The real-estate development is almost secondary; as an architect, designer, and planner, that’s what I’m really doing — creating that environment.”

Aubin believes this philosophy is working and creating great progress in his laboratory. Over the past decade, he told BusinessWest, he’s been adding five new businesses a year, and all of these ventures are new to downtown Holyoke.

The tenant list now includes more than 50 companies employing more than 200 people in sectors ranging from healthcare to technology; from insurance to marketing; from finance to hospitality.

John Aubin, owner of Open Square

John Aubin, owner of Open Square

And the latest addition to that list could be one of the most significant.

VertitechIT, a networking and IT engineering company that provides a wide range of services to clients, many of the them in the healthcare sector, is planning to move into 3,500 square feet of custom-designed space on the mostly undeveloped third floor of what’s known as Mill 4. And it could expand into more than 9,000 square feet across the hall if the firm successfully consolidates currently outsourced services on that site, as planned, said the company’s president, Michael Feld.

“We’ll need that space for a 24/7/365 support center with probably 25 to 30 people in it,” Feld said, adding that, even if those plans do not come to fruition, the company will likely continue its pattern of doubling in size each year and will certainly need additional space.

VertitechIT’s new offices, which should be ready for occupancy next month, are an example of Aubin’s efforts to create an attractive, efficient, custom (that’s a word you’ll read again) work environment that makes Open Square — and Holyoke — an attractive destination for businesses across many sectors.

“We wanted a space that is quite presentable to clients, but the real value is to the engineers,” Feld explained. “For example, everybody loves whiteboards, so all the walls are curved, with large expanses of painted whiteboard so you can write on it. And our conference-room table is glass that you can write on as well.

“There are a lot of large screens in various places, and the desks are designed so that people can collaborate on projects,” he went on. “The whole site is a visual interpretation of the way we work.”

Looking forward, Aubin said he plans to continue his pattern of steady growth. What direction it will take is still to be determined as Holyoke continues its comeback from the extreme hard times of the ’70s and ’80s, fueled by the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs and demographic shifts that saw the nation’s first planned industrial city become one of the poorer communities in the Commonwealth.

Recent developments such as the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, the emergence of a creative economy, and a more positive outlook about the community could attract many different kinds of businesses to the city — and Open Square, said Aubin. Meanwhile, plans to bring rail service to Holyoke could open other kinds of doors, he said, adding that there is preliminary talk about the prospects for developing a hotel at one of the mills on the Open Square complex (more on that later).

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest toured Open Square, gaining a perspective on both the many new developments there in recent years and possible future development on this historic site.

History Lessons

As he elaborated on that notion of Open Square as a laboratory, Aubin referenced that trend toward urban living and working. He said Holyoke is squarely in the middle of this phenomenon, and perhaps better positioned than others to take full advantage of it.

“We all know that, over the past 10 years, the world has become more urban. Demand is growing for urban space,” he explained. “Holyoke, and many small cities in this country, have enormous potential — they represent a tremendous, untapped market. And what I do is take a design-based approach to taking advantage of that, to leveraging what is really a very strong market.

“There are a number of cities that are well-poised to take advantage of this market,” he went on, “but no one seems to be able to figure out how to do that — we’re seeing cities struggle with it. I actually consider Open Square to be a prime example of how to leverage that market.”

Setting the tone in this new and emerging urban landscape has been Aubin’s unofficial job description since he started filling in the canvas that is the historic mill complex his father purchased in the mid-’60s but then struggled to fill as Holyoke went into its long and pronounced tailspin.

The Great Recession that officially began in late 2007 and continued into late 2009 slowed his progress somewhat, but Aubin has been able to successfully fill nearly 100,000 square feet of space with everything from a successful events facility called Mill 1 (that’s where it’s located) to arts groups such as the Massachusetts Academy of Ballet, to energy and environmental companies such as Sovereign Consulting.

As he’s filled in floors on Mill 1 and Mill 4, he’s done so with the approach that, while he’s willing to experiment in his laboratory, there are limits on what he’ll try.

“As a private business, I don’t have the luxury of experimenting on things that are not going to work or where the costs are too high — I’ve been to able to identify markets and capture them, and ideas that don’t work were discarded quickly,” he said, adding that this reasoning explains why there is only one residential unit in the complex — one that Aubin lived in himself for a time and then Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse called home for a while before buying a house in the city — and also why there is a comparatively small number of artisans, specifically those who do what they do for a living, not a hobby.

“Housing is a good idea, a core idea, but you can’t do it in a vacuum,” he said, adding that conditions are not right for market-rate housing in Holyoke at the moment, primarily because two low-income projects in progress or on the drawing board — Lyman Terrace and the former Holyoke Catholic High School — will weaken demand for a higher-end product. “Market-rate housing is a long-term investment, and we hope to revisit it soon, but for now, it’s been tabled.”

So Aubin continues to focus his experiments on what he believes — or knows — will work, and this brings him back to that notion of creating attractive but also affordable environments in which to do business, but also in which to stage weddings and other types of events. And Open Square, with its great critical mass, provides seemingly endless opportunities for doing so.

“Because we have this great foundation, this wonderful building to work with, we’re able to do beautiful, custom-designed space at a very affordable rate that’s difficult to match,” he said while making a clear distinction between affordable and ‘cheap,’ something Open Square is not.

These ingredients allowed Aubin to successfully fill Mill 4’s second floor with what he called “studio space,” generally one large, open room with build-out costs much lower than what was created two floors up.

There, Aubin has created larger, custom spaces, up to 3,000 square feet, for an eclectic mix of clients, ranging from Common Capital to Cover Technologies, an environmental company, to Emergent Billing, which focuses on the healthcare industry.

Plans to create still-larger custom spaces on the third floor, which started with buildout for Sovereign Consulting, were sidetracked by the recession, said Aubin, but with the economy improving, those plans are now moving forward, starting with VertitechIT.

VertitechIT

This artist’s rendering shows the unique features in the space created for VertitechIT, including curved walls and a centrally located conference room.

Technically Speaking

In many ways, that company’s arrival provides an effective example of how Open Square is deepening its tenant list by creating custom work spaces that put Holyoke — and the mill complex — on radar screens they would not have been on years ago.

Launched in 2001, the company was located in Northampton for many years, where the fit wasn’t perfect, for several reasons, said Feld.

“It’s hard for companies like us to exist there — they want retail, and we’re not that type of organization; we don’t match what the town is looking for and is prepared to work with,” he said, adding that this mismatch was compounded by the fact that the company quickly outgrew its quarters.

“We were just hanging on by packing people into every corner. We loved Northampton, but we simply ran out of space and couldn’t put it off any longer,” he said, adding quickly that Holyoke wasn’t on his short, or even long, list of possibilities for relocation.

“My understanding of Holyoke was limited and quite negative,” he told BusinessWest. “But our operations person really runs our show, and she lives in Holyoke, and she was really pressuring me to come down here. When I finally met John [Aubin] and looked at the space, I was very surprised and very much interested.”

Then came meetings with the mayor, school department leaders, and business executives, and Feld came away with the opinion that Holyoke should be his new business address.

As he talked about the space he will occupy, Feld made early and frequent use of the word ‘custom,’ and even put the adjective ‘quite’ before it. The space will include:

• Three private offices for secure communications within the main work area;

• Flowing, open areas featuring three main work ‘pods,’ or islands creatively configured to enhance collaboration;

• Uniquely curved inner walls, a signature of Aubin’s accessible modern design, that are mounted with whiteboards, providing ample work surfaces within the pods; and

• A curved conference room whose central position emphasizes VertitechIT’s collective brainpower and focus on creating solutions for clients.

“We gave John our ideas, not expecting to see much in return,” said Feld. “But he understood exactly what we were trying to do and, more importantly, understood the reasons for it. It wasn’t just like he could simply translate his customers’ desires into designs — he actually understood the reasons for it and agrees with it, and it follows the way he thinks in general. It’s a match made in heaven.”

Looking forward, Aubin said the obvious goal is to create more of these matches as controlled experimentation continues in his urban laboratory. What shape it will take remains to be seen, he noted, adding that, in many ways, Open Square will evolve as Holyoke does.

Elaborating, he said the planned return of rail service could drive economic development in many ways, because it will make the city more accessible — to workers, business owners, and even tourists.

“We’re looking at what the future is for this region, how soon it will get here, and how quickly we can move on it,” he explained. “The train will certainly open up opportunities — it will make commuting easier and open up markets as far south as New York City.

“We’re already looking to market our events space further south because of the train,” he went on, “and we’re looking at the possibility of a hotel. Like with the event space, there are other options within this market, but I think we can create a unique option for a hotel. It’s something we’re going to take a close look at.”

Finish Work

Aubin’s business card reads ‘Architect/Principal.’

The juxtaposition of those words speaks volumes about how he views his broad-ranging responsibilities with the company. In short, he’s an architect first, and he believes his focus on design and creating attractive, efficient working environments is helping Holyoke and Open Square reach that vast potential he mentioned, taking full advantage of the shift to urban living and working.

At the moment, he has designs on continued growth and leveraging the tremendous asset his family has owned for close to a half-century now.

And he’s confident that the pieces are in place for that to happen.

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

Community Spotlight Features
Holyoke’s Leaders Take a Broad View of Economic Growth

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center is not an end in itself, but hopefully a catalyst for the entire Innovation District.

Alex Morse has a message for Holyoke’s residents and businesses: keep your eyes open.
Over the past two years, said the city’s 24-year-old mayor, “we’ve been doing some excellent planning, laying the foundation for things we’ll be pursuing in 2014. And we have a lot of projects happening this year. Residents, and people visiting Holyoke, have been noticing the changes in the city.”
Added Marcos Marrero, Holyoke’s planning director, “where 2012 was a big year for planning, and in 2013 we took steps to bring things to fruition, we’ll actually see that fruition in 2014.”
For instance, he noted, the Canal Walk project will break ground as soon as the ground thaws, while a $2 million train platform at Main and Dwight Streets, intended to bring passenger rail service to the city, will begin construction this year as well. “And there are a few private projects in the works, too. We’re seeing the needle moving on private activity.”
When Morse took office, he talked up a strategy of bringing municipal brass, economic-development agencies, and business leaders together to formulate and implement growth strategies in several different sectors.
And the city has seen a number of successes, many set in motion long before the current mayor’s tenure, from the $165 million Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center that opened in 2012 to the $1.4 million renovation of Veterans Memorial Park, a $14.5 million renovation of the public library, a new, $8.1 million senior center, and a $250,000 skate park at Pulaski Park, all of which opened in 2013. And the city continues to develop residential projects such as conversion of the former Holyoke Catholic High School property into 55 units of housing.
“The city is taking an active role in making the city a more attractive place,” Morse said, “a place where people want to live and where businesses want to be.”
Meanwhile, the urban-renewal plan unveiled by the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority in 2012 — which includes the city’s acquisition of 131 parcels, 92% of which are vacant, as well as a series of infrastructure upgrades and improvements, all with an eye toward spurring more private investment in the city — continues apace.
“The city approved the plan and sent it to the state to be approved, and it was approved in February 2013,” Marrero said, noting that the Redevelopment Authority has received its first seed money — just $100,000, but it’s a start — to start making land deals.
But Morse and Marrero continually stressed that measuring progress in Holyoke is not just an exercise in counting projects; it involves reshaping the image of the city in order to grow and attract sustainable economic vitality. For this issue’s Community Spotlight, they share some of the ways the city is working toward that goal.

Creating Change
Take the creative economy, for example. More than 100 painters, photographers, crafters, filmmakers, and other artisans had already set up shop in Holyoke’s central district when Morse and other leaders began discussing how to galvanize the city’s creative energy into real economic development.
One of the first steps was hiring Jeffrey Bianchine, a photographer who lives and works on Main Street, as the city’s ‘creative economy coordinator’ late in 2012. His roles include connecting the various artists and cultural activities in Holyoke, forging links among creative businesses, and using the presence of arts-related enterprises to boost economic development.
But when city leaders talk about the creative economy, Marrero said, they’re taking a much wider view than that phrase might suggest.
“We’re talking about companies that employ creativity as a centerpiece of production,” he explained. “It can be fine art, but we’re not building an economy based on painters. Craftspeople, photographers, architects, marketing, people like Steve Porter, who’s nationally acclaimed for digital media … what all these industries share is a need for creativity and artistry.”
Bianchine told BusinessWest last year that ‘art’ is too small a term for what the city hopes to accomplish. Rather, it’s forging connections between artists and the overall business community.

Marcos Marrero

Marcos Marrero says building a creative economy in Holyoke means forging connections between creative businesses and companies of all kinds.

One way the city hopes to do that is through a program called SPARK (Stimulating Potential, Accessing Resource Knowledge) geared toward identifying, recruiting, and, yes, stimulating individuals and businesses that have a desire — a spark, as it were — to move innovative or creative business proposals from concept to reality.
The program — which just this month received a $250,000 grant from the state’s Working Cities Challenge program — provides access to community-based resources (nonprofits, government, private business, and higher education), and is run through the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Foundation in conjunction with several local agencies.
“In cities that successfully develop their local economies, the characteristic they really share is cross-sector cooperation, with both nonprofits and the private sector, to solve very complex problems,” Marrero said.
“We want to start changing our value proposition,” he continued. “We’re not the capital of making paper anymore. We want to become a center of innovation and making things in new ways, and SPARK is really a response to that. We have several strategies, whether it’s being site-ready for businesses to build or rehab buildings, whether it’s fostering specific industries like the creative industry.
“But we want to open up more opportunities for people to be involved in the creative economy, in business and social ventures, and recruit and identify good and promising ideas for new ventures,” he added. “Several will turn into businesses, and some of them will fail — and that’s OK too, because it will make them better for their next venture, or make them more marketable for their next job.”
In a similar vein, the Holyoke Creative Arts Center, a nonprofit creative-learning resource, will benefit from a $75,000 Adams Art Grant. “We want to reposition the center so it’s more financially sustainable on its own — that it doesn’t become just a teaching center for do-it-yourself stuff, but move to the next level, so artists can start marketing their products … start making money, frankly.”
It’s an example of the city leveraging its assets to grow something larger than the sum of its parts, Marrero said, similar to the vision of the Innovation District Task Force, which is tasked with cultivating economic activity along the downtown canals, near the computing center. “We have this great computing resource; now what do we do with it?” Marrero said. “That’s the challenge — it’s not just new construction; you have to know how to leverage it.”

Upping the Ante
Holyoke is also moving quickly to procure benefits from MGM Springfield’s planned $800 million casino project in that city’s South End. Specifically, the city and casino reached a ‘surrounding-community mitigation agreement’ that calls for MGM to pay Holyoke $50,000 up front and nearly $1.28 million over 15 years if it gets a casino license, and also to provide residents hundreds of permanent job opportunities.
“MGM had options to negotiate with surrounding communities,” said Morse, whose initial campaign for mayor emphasized his opposition to siting a gaming resort in Holyoke. “We negotiated with them and are the only non-abutting community to get that designation from them.
“They’re committed to jobs for Holyoke residents at all different levels,” he added. “We’re working with CareerPoint to identify those applicants, and also working with the Chamber of Commerce to identify small businesses in Holyoke that could be contract vendors for services to be provided at the site.”
The main challenge regarding a casino, the mayor said, is how to mitigate the negatives and maximize the positives.
“A casino potentially sited in Springfield only accentuates Holyoke’s ability to set itself apart from other gateway cities to create a different kind of economy,” Morse told BusinessWest. “People are seeing that we have an economic plan that doesn’t rely on one thing, and are impressed that we have a long-term economic plan complemented by short-term gains.”
To that end, Morse and other leaders will continue to pursue development projects while trying to balance growth with neighborhood issues and quality of life, he explained.
“We’re sending a message, with some of the things that are happening, that our city is open for business,” he said. “We do have sites for development, not only in the center of the city, but in all areas of the city. The message is that we’re committed to development; we know we have to generate jobs here and bring in more opportunities for tax revenues, just as every city seeks to do.”
And people who keep their eyes open do recognize the changes, he added. “Sometimes we don’t know exactly what’s going on in a building, but when you see somebody buying it and renovating it, it makes a noticeable difference.”

Holyoke at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1850
Population: 39,880 (2010); 39,838 (2000)
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: 19.04
Commercial Tax Rate: 39.74
Median Household Income: $33,242
Family Household Income: $39,130
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke Community College, ISO New England, Marox Corp., Universal Plastics
* Latest information available

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion
The Creative Economy Drives Growth

When Easthampton’s leaders designated Easthampton City Arts+ as an official municipal committee in 2011, it recognized the work ECA had already been doing for several years to leverage the considerable local arts culture and connect it to broader economic development.
And by ‘considerable,’ ECA’s coordinator, Burns Maxey, points to some 240 artists and creative businesses among the group’s membership — and says that number only scratches the surface. Before ECA, she said, “Easthampton had a lot of storefronts that didn’t have businesses in them. This was a potential economy they could tap into.”
Those efforts have borne considerable fruit (see story, page 15), as evidenced by thriving arts districts like Cottage Street and former mills like Eastworks, where creative individuals are having a considerable impact on the city’s economy — with benefits that spill over into businesses of all kinds. “It’s economic development,” she said, “but a creative way of looking at it.”
Easthampton isn’t alone. Holyoke recently created the job of ‘creative economy coordinator’ and hired Jeffrey Bianchine, a photographer who lives and works on Main Street, to fill it. His roles will include connecting the various artists and cultural activities in Holyoke, forging links among creative businesses, and using the presence of arts-related enterprises to boost economic development.
“The state’s number-one issue is business development, and that’s what we’re starting with,” Bianchine told BusinessWest earlier this year. “We want this to be the region’s hub for creative industries. Art is too small a term for what’s going on here. It’s about exporting product — intellectual product, cultural product.”
Meanwhile, Westfield is working to cultivate its creative economy in an organized way as well. “We’re in the infant stages of this,” said Kate Phelon, executive director of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce, recently. “We applied for a grant to take inventory of the creative economy in the city. That can drive economic development, and the chamber is happy to be a part of that.”
These cities can look to nearby Northampton for inspiration; just 30 years ago, that city was beset by empty storefronts downtown, but dramatically transformed itself into an arts, retail, and dining destination that sent property values soaring, boosted economic development, and branded the city as a cultural mecca.
In this issue, BusinessWest delves into what municipal and business leaders often call the ‘creative economy,’ with an indepth look at what is happening in Easthampton, as well as a virtual tour of Indian Orchard Mills, a 12-building complex in Springfield that’s bustling with an eclectic mix of businesses, including more than 50 artists.
Cities recognize that success stories like Indian Orchard Mills, Eastworks, and Holyoke’s Open Square complex don’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — standalone success stories, but integral weaves in the overall tapestry of development. The actions of officials in Easthampton, Holyoke, Westfield, and elsewhere clearly show that they’re taking the potential of the arts seriously — not just as a quality-of-life measure, but as a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to building an economically thriving region.
Speaking of Easthampton, “the whole city has changed. The city has a different image, which attracts visitors, which attracts new businesses and even new residents,” said Jean-Pierre Pache, a local artist and business owner. “In 12 years, I’ve been able to witness a lot of changes. It was happening before I got here, and it’s still happening now, but there’s a lot of momentum now.”
Momentum. That’s not a word that was often used to describe the economy during the Great Recession and its aftermath, but it’s one increasingly associated with the growth potential of the arts — if city and business leaders choose to embrace it.

Creative Economy Sections
Easthampton Becomes a Mecca for Creative Businesses

Amber Ladley, left, and Macey Faiella

Knack, which Amber Ladley, left, and Macey Faiella recently opened at Eastworks, is just one of hundreds of creative businesses and artists that call Easthampton home.

On bustling Cottage Street in Easthampton — a corridor at the base of Mount Tom dotted with eateries, quirky retail shops, and scores of artists — sits Nash Gallery.
The shop — which showcases and sells work primarily by local painters, sculptors, and other creative folks — has called the address home for almost two decades, said its owner, Marlies Stoddard, or since her mother opened the gallery 18 years ago.
“She had no background in art, no retail background,” Stoddard told BusinessWest. “But she owned the building, and she was sick of tenants moving in, painting the place purple, and moving out after six months after paying only three months rent.”
At the time, her mother saw Easthampton as “an old mill town with empty storefronts,” but she did recognize the Cottage Street area as home to a growing cluster of artists, and saw potential in catering to that scene.
Through the intervening years, Stoddard said, as artists throughout New England were beginning to recognize the city’s creative scene, it remained under the radar for many locals. “Everyone else was looking in on Easthampton and saying, ‘wow, what a place you have; what a mesh of blue collar and the arts.’ But often, the local townie doesn’t necessarily see it.”
That image is gradually changing, however, as Easthampton is cultivating a reputation as a thriving cultural mecca, with artists and creative entrepreneurs at the forefront of a creative-economy sector that is benefiting businesses of all types.
Burns Maxey

Burns Maxey says municipal leaders and businesses have increasingly come to value what the arts bring to Easthampton.

Take, for example, Art Walk Easthampton, an event held the second Saturday of every month, when galleries — and many businesses normally unrelated to the arts — collectively open their doors to showcase visual-art exhibitions, live music, and other performances.
“We get an average of 350 to 500 people coming out for the art walk,” said Burns Maxey, coordinator of Easthampton City Arts+ (ECA), a quasi-public organization tasked with consolidating and promoting the local creative economy. “It started off as a way to bring people to the city, by having all the exhibitions open. Since then, we’ve added themes to each art walk.”
For instance, last month’s walk was subtitled “Sights & Sounds” and featured more than 15 musicians and performers busking on Union Street. The history-themed Oct. 12 walk is dubbed “Know Thy Past.”
“Some restaurants have exhibitions or gallery space, or host performances or musicians or readings, and it really activates the whole city,” Maxey said. “There’s a buzz about what’s going on.”
Stoddard said she was involved in managing the monthly walk before ECA took it over. “It was great because we transformed these non-traditional venues. If you’re a coffee shop or whatever, you can be an art venue for three hours and have fun getting people through the doors. If you’re an insurance agency by day, for three hours on Saturday, you could be a gallery. People had a lot of fun with the Art Walk, and it’s still really thriving.”
‘Thriving’ would be an accurate term to describe both the creative culture in Easthampton and the efforts of ECA to leverage them into an effective force for economic development. For this issue, BusinessWest sits down with Maxey and several local business people to discuss why this city’s arts scene is being held up as an example for other communities to emulate.

Grin and Bear It
Easthampton City Arts began in 2005 as a group of artists and business owners who recognized the impressive number of creative people working in Easthampton and saw opportunities for revitalization efforts stemming from promotion of the arts. The + was added to the name several years later to reflect increasing participation from neighboring Southampton and Westhampton.
Before ECA, Maxey said, “Easthampton had a lot of storefronts that didn’t have businesses in them. This was a potential economy they could tap into.
“A lot of things happened between that time and now,” she continued. ECA received an Adams Arts grant from the Mass. Cultural Council, which looks for projects that work toward community-revitalization efforts through the creative economy. A coordinator was hired, Maxey said, and one of the first things she did was map out the city’s creative assets. “And there was a lot going on under the surface.”
For example, more than 100 creative businesses, the vast majority of them solo artists, call the sprawling Eastworks complex home, and more than 60 others are located along the Cottage Street corridor.
“That was the starting point,” Maxey said. “They created a directory, and also an online directory, for all these artists and creative businesses. That was really the first stepping stone.”
Another key development was the success of Bear Fest in 2009, when life-sized, fiberglass bears were painted and otherwise decorated by a host of artists and displayed outdoors, throughout the downtown area, for public viewing. Another Bear Fest followed in 2012.
“Doing Bear Fest was huge because it showed not only that Easthampton has the potential for being a destination for people to visit, but businesses saw the impact of people coming to Easthampton. That was a major step,” she said.
“I think businesses questioned it, at first,” she continued, “but when they saw so many people — thousands of people came through the city the first day alone — they really saw the potential.”
Since then, Maxey said, that spirit has reverberated in many public events and projects centered on the arts.

Jean-Pierre Pache

Jean-Pierre Pache says the city’s growing profile as an arts mecca has attracted more businesses and residents.

Recognizing the economic-development potential of the arts, in 2011 Easthampton designated ECA a city committee. Today, it’s funded through the municipal budget, state grants, and private donations, and Maxey works out of the remodeled former town hall, along with a few other creative businesses.
Jean-Pierre Pache was the first tenant in the remodeled building, moving Eastmont Custom Framing — a business he started in 2001 — as well as a small art studio, to the historic property. As one of the more than 240 artists active with ECA, he said he has seen the town’s creative community boost more than just its own profile.
“I think what’s more important is that the whole city has changed,” he said. “The city has a different image, which attracts visitors, which attracts new businesses and even new residents.”
He insists that such progress has been greatly enhanced by ECA’s efforts to more prominently position the arts and the creative economy as one of the town’s core strengths.
“I’ve seen the differences; in 12 years, I’ve been able to witness a lot of changes,” said Pache. “It was happening before I got here, and it’s still happening now, but there’s a lot of momentum now. That’s one of the strengths of ECA, and I give them a lot of credit.”
He noted that Meri Jenkins, program manager of the state’s Adams Arts Program, has often held up ECA as an example to other fledgling groups of not only effectiveness, but longevity.
“Many [arts organizations] suffer from burnout, since they’re all volunteer-based,” Pache said. “But this keeps growing and reinventing itself and finding new energy. We’re very lucky to have this in our town.”
Maxey agrees. “My position is through the Planning Department, and it makes a huge difference when you have a person tasked with looking at the creative-economy efforts. It’s economic development, but a creative way of looking at it.”
Added Stoddard, “we’re really lucky the city is putting value in this. A lot of us have been working very hard, and Burns is very much our leader.”

Knack for Business
Former mill complexes like Eastworks and Paragon Arts and Industry, both located on Pleasant Street, as well as One Cottage Street, have become home to vibrant artist communities. Amber Ladley and Macey Faiella saw the potential of Eastworks when they conceived of Knack, the ‘creative-reuse’ store they opened in the complex over the summer.
“We’ve gotten an amazing, fantastic response. The community itself has been very welcoming,” said Ladley, noting that the pair met Maxey early on, and met other artists through networking events organized by ECA.
“Through all that, we knew we wanted to be in Easthampton or Northampton. We still looked all throughout the Pioneer Valley; we really wanted to have a convenient location with parking, and we looked all over the place. When we saw this space in Eastworks, we felt it was the right space, and that Easthampton would be a good area for us.”
Ladley and Faiella, each the mother of two boys, were Easthampton residents when they met about 10 years ago. When Ladley read an article about creative reuse, she and Faiella began talking about a business that deals in reusable, ‘upcycled’ materials for creative projects.
“I knew Macey is very thrifty, always finding fun stuff at the side of the road and decorating her house with it,” Ladley said. “We started chatting and loved the idea, so we kept going.”
Faiella said she was surprised that such a store — which caters to all ages, from young crafters and Pinterest-obsessed teens to idea-seeking teachers and senior citizens with creative hobbies — didn’t exist in the Pioneer Valley, with its emphasis on all things ‘green.’
“In such an artsy community, it seemed like a perfect fit,” she said. “Everything is donated, much of it from artists in the area — we’re lucky to be in an area where artists are everywhere. A lot of it is from people cleaning out their closets, moving on to different hobbies. A kitchen-remodeling company was going out of business and had tile samples they were going to throw away in the dumpster; we saw the potential for them.”
The shop simply oozes inspiration. When a registry of deeds donated some microfilm reels, they were turned into cupcake stands. One woman bought a collection of rusty wrenches with the intention of turning them into wind chimes.
“We have great things for kids to use, and when people walk in, even if they’re not a crafter or creative person, they’ll still find stuff they want to do,” Faiella said, adding that a recent Art Walk saw about 70 people stop by. “People are really craving that kind of thing and getting more involved in the arts and what’s available. It’s been a nice fit for us, and we definitely feel that vibe — that this is a town that supports that kind of thing.”
To bring more such life to Eastworks, the complex is partnering with ECA on an endeavor called MAP, or the Mill Arts Project. “We’re working together to offer space to artists or creative people or creative business owners who want to try out an idea for a month or two,” Maxey explained.
“It could be a pop-up shop, it could be a performance space or an exhibition space, and we give them educational tools for how to connect with businesses and how to market their work,” she continued. As part of the deal, “they have to be open a certain number of hours or have events open to the public. It’s really a learning tool, and hopefully it will show them the potential to perhaps open a business or continue their idea in the city, particularly in Eastworks.”

Cottage Industry
Meanwhile, the Cottage Street neighborhood continues to thrive with its eclectic mix of enterprises, from Luthier’s Co-Op, where patrons can buy stringed instruments, take in live music, and drink a local brew; to New England Felting Supply, which offers workshops inside its brightly colored walls; to Popcorn Noir, a restaurant, bar, and performance space that also hosts mixology classes.
“It’s interesting because there were so many empty storefronts in that location, but in the last couple of years, it’s filled up quickly,” Maxey said. “There’s an immense amount of art-making happening. These are people who have small businesses; they’re making money from it, but they’re not the typical businesses we’ve thought about for so long since the 1950, like shoe stores and investment companies — although those are there, too.”
Meanwhile, Stoddard is currently sponsoring the sixth annual Paint Out, a project for which local artists paint outdoor scenes from around Easthampton, which will be displayed and put up for sale.
“We have around 55 painters, which is really great,” she said. “It creates this snowball effect, where people driving by turn their heads and say, ‘what’s going on here?’ when they see four or five painters set up in the same field. It creates a sense of wonder. And we have such an incredible wealth of local artists.”
Successful events are springing up elsewhere as well, such as the second annual Art in the Orchard running through October at Park Hill Orchard, featuring temporary installations from 22 sculptors — and a schedule of music and dance performances — throughout the grounds during prime apple-picking season.
“The location is stunning, the art is compelling, and that appeals to a lot of different people, from toddlers to grandparents,” said Pache, who is organizing the event, adding that between 100 and 150 visitors stop by on a typical day. “The art is supporting the orchard, and the orchard supports the arts at the same time. It provides a very unusual setting for the artwork.”
Speaking of live performances, Maxey said ECA is trying to raise the profile of such events in Easthampton by building an online database of venues. “Anyone can come to it and research where to hold an event. We’re excited to put that together.”
She credits much of her organization’s success to the enthusiasm of the local arts community, noting that the 240 artists who call themselves ECA members are probably only a fraction of the total working locally.
“This is a tight-knit community, and people are excited about what’s going on here,” she told BusinessWest. “I moved here from Northampton in 2007 and immediately fell in love with Easthampton because of the community of people.”
Stoddard noted multiple reasons why Easthampton is an attractive landing spot for artists and creative business people. “We have endless real estate for studio space, and we have a large body of people who come here and appreciate their anonymity — and we respect that as well.”
Maxey added that “there is absolutely a buzz about what’s going on here. I think the quality of the artists in this location — in Easthampton and the Pioneer Valley as a whole — is immense. Go outside our area, and you can really recognize the quality of art made right here — that’s everyone from artisans to fine artists; performers to sculptors and installation artists. There’s a little bit of everything. We have a great community here.”

No Place Like Home
Stoddard said thriving business districts have a societal benefit that can be long-lasting, and creative enterprises have driven much of the recent growth in Easthampton.
“I have customers coming in with their kids and actively teaching them the values of shopping locally and supporting their local downtown,” she said. “That mentality has really changed — the appreciation for small businesses. I feel it all the time; I never feel slighted. I constantly have people coming in saying, ‘thank you for being here.’
“It’s a great feeling, and it makes being a business person in my hometown really rewarding,” she concluded. “I didn’t have that feeling back in 1995. When I was 18, I wanted to get out of here. But it’s a great place to come back to.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Creative Economy Sections
Indian Orchard Mills Creates a Community for Artists

Sarah Concannon

Sarah Concannon is a very recent addition to the tenant population at Indian Orchard Mills, but she is already enamored with the sense of community she says exists there.

Sarah Concannon is an artist with a mission.
She calls it “The People in Your Neighborhood,” and it involves painting a portrait of a resident (of her choosing) from each of Springfield’s 17 recognized neighborhoods.
At this point, she’s still in what would be considered the planning and fund-raising stages of this endeavor. While contemplating a process for selecting her subjects, she’s also going about the task of amassing the nearly $7,000 she estimates she’ll need to complete the project; she recently ventured onto Kickstarter, a website that provides a vehicle for crowd-funding creative initiatives via the Internet.
“This is probably the only way I’d be able to fund a project like this,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she recently took one big step forward with this initiative — and what amounts to a fledgling business venture. That would be her move, just a few weeks ago, into a 100-square-foot studio at the Indian Orchard Mills in Springfield.
This step up, from a studio (of sorts) in a small spare bedroom in her home in Springfield, provides her with the physical space with which to flex her creative muscles while she continues her day job as an inventory-control analyst for Baystate Health. But it also gives her much more.
Indeed, she’s now part of what can only be called a community of artists at the sprawling mill complex, one that is fueling the economy in many respects, and also providing a strong support network for artisans trying to make dreams come true and, in many instances, turn passions into successful businesses.
There are now more than 50 artists in the 300,000-square-foot, 12-building mill complex, said Charles Brush, who used that term to describe individuals creating everything from jewelry to furniture to exhibits for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Brush bought the landmark in 1998 and has committed himself to continuing — and expanding — the work started by the mill’s previous owner, Muriel Dane.
Her name is on the 2,000-square-foot gallery in the mill, which is one focal point of twice-yearly open studio events, said Brush, noting that what Dane created, and he took to a higher level, is much more than physical space in which to paint or sculpt.
“You’ll never see an environment like this anywhere else,” he noted, “because I work with the tenants, and we all work with, and for, each other, with one goal in mind, and that is just to get it done and make it right, whatever ‘it’ happens to be.
Todd Harris

Todd Harris’ company merges engineering and art to create unique museum exhibits like this larger-than-life eagle’s nest bound for a Connecticut learning center.

“This doesn’t happen by accident or because you’re giving the place away — art is business, but consistency is the key to any business, doing the same thing all the time,” he went on, adding that the mill’s mission is to provide a mailing address, but also an atmosphere, where artists can create, collaborate, and thrive.
The story being written in each of the studios is different in some respects, although there are common denominators — a passion for art and a desire to be part of this community of artisans.
For some, like Peter Barnett, a fine landscape and portrait artist and retired systems analyst at MassMutual, his work is still mostly a hobby, albeit a full-time pursuit.
“I paint things that turn me on, clouds and rocks,” he joked, adding, “I don’t personally need to sell work to keep food on the table, but I do love to sell work, and I really like the community, the interaction, I find here.”
For others, like Todd Harris, the mill has become home to a new business venture. He left a lucrative career as an engineering consultant to start 42 design fab, which creates exhibits for museums and nature centers across the country.
“We’re trying to make this work as a business and support the whole creative-economy thing because you should be able to make a living for a team of people that come to work every day and have fun doing creative things,” he said. “Our growth plan is about pushing our boundaries artistically and making it work as a business.”
For this issue and its focus on the region’s burgeoning creative economy, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at one of the most recognizable — and successful — manifestations of that phenomenon, the Indian Orchard Mills, a landmark that speaks to the region’s past, but is now a symbol of its future.

Brush Strokes
Crystal Popko says people will invariably have two questions when they first encounter her jewelry made from butterfly wings.
“‘Are they real?’ and ‘what happened to the butterfly?’ — that’s what everyone wants to know,” she said, adding that the answer to the first query is ‘yes,’ and the response to the second is that the insect died naturally. (She acquires the wings from a nearby butterfly conservancy.)
Popko, who also works with fused glass as well as feathers, leaves, and other products from nature, is typical of the dozens of artists who now call the mill complex home.
Like many artists aspiring to turn their talent into a business, she started working out of her house. She would spend summers working, seven days a week, as a waitress on the Cape, trying to earn enough to spend her winters making and selling jewelry.
Three years ago, she decided to make her art a career, knowing that she would need, among other things, a studio where she could create and clients could see her work. She said she was drawn to the mill by its location, attractive lease rates, and, most importantly, that aforementioned community of artists already doing business there.
Carol Russell, a creator of stained-glass art, moved in for the same reason.
“I came here for the sense of community,” she told BusinessWest, “and being around other people and their energy.”
‘Community’ and ‘energy’ are words one hears often while walking the hallways of the mill complex, said Brush, who has a background in finance and manufacturing, but admits to being initially overwhelmed by the mill, its size, and all that goes into its upkeep.
But he was too intrigued by its vast potential to walk away when he started thinking about acquiring the mill in 1997. And he has no regrets about what most would consider a risky undertaking.
“It looked like it would be fun, and it’s really been a blast,” he said. While a number of industry groups (from asbestos abatement to precision manufacturing) are represented on a tenant list that now numbers more than 130, he noted, the growing number of artists — and the wide diversity of that constituency — is what has given the mill much of its identity.
“Everybody has a different definition of art,” he noted, adding quickly that his is quite broad, largely because of what he sees happening on each of the mill’s five floors. “Some people think artists stand at easels or over a lump of clay — and we have those in droves — but in my mind, arts is the creative, like the guy [Harris] that makes the museum exhibits. Yes, it’s manufacturing, but there is a lot of art that goes into what they do.
“What our woodworkers do with raw materials, what leaves here — the cabinetry, the furniture — is all art,” he went on. “We are a creative-industry complex, and as far as I’m concerned, the industry is just as artistic as traditional art.”
In his role as landlord, Brush says it’s his job to give all of his tenants an environment in which they can thrive. And when it comes to the artists — of all kinds — this means providing the space and the opportunity to create, collaborate, and feed off that aforementioned energy.

Peter Barnett

Peter Barnett has enjoyed the creative interaction of the artists at Indian Orchard Mills for two decades.

And nowhere is this more evident than at the Dane Gallery and the two open-studio events, he said.
The gallery is open Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., and it features works created by many of the mill’s tenants. Open year-round, the gallery allows each artist the opportunity to produce their own show for a month; Concannon’s “The People in Your Neighborhood” is expected to be ready for display in the gallery next year.
As for the open studios, they are, as the name suggests, events where tenants open up their studios to the public, with works on display and for sale.
Now in their 21st year, these events have drawn thousands of visitors to the mill (necessitating their expansion from one-day affairs to two) and, in so doing, have inspired a number of artists to join the community at the mill.
Such was the case with Concannon, who took in one of the open studios several years ago and began formulating plans to one day be one of the artists greeting guests. That day became reality a few months ago, when she and her husband, Greg Matthews, determined that they had the financial wherewithal for her to make her painting more than a part-time pursuit.
“It’s so inspiring to be a part of a community where people speak the same language and can offer critiques of your work if you want it,” said Concannon. “I can’t wait to get started because I know how good it will feel to be painting again and what a sense of accomplishment awaits if I’m able to make this project successful.”

His Nest Eggs
As he talked with BusinessWest, Harris showed off a larger-than-life eagle’s nest, complete with three oversized eggs, that is in the final stages and bound for the Harry C. Barnes Memorial Nature Center in Bristol, Conn.
It’s an example of how his company has merged engineering and art to create unique learning experiences, and also one of the hundreds of unique and diverse forms that the creative economy takes in the region — and especially Indian Orchard Mills.
There, tenants haven’t just created works of art. They’ve created a community — and real momentum in the efforts to make this sector an economic driver.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Springfield Seeks State Designation for a Cultural District
Kay Simpson

Kay Simpson says creation of a cultural district will help Springfield brand its many attractions, while spurring economic development.

Evan Plotkin equated it to a business hanging out a sign that reads “under new management.”

Though he quickly acknowledged that the analogy isn’t perfect — the city hasn’t actually changed leadership at the top, and won’t for at least a few more years — he went ahead with it anyway, because he considers it an effective way to talk about what the creation of a cultural district in Springfield can and likely will do for the community.

“Business owners put out an ‘under new management’ sign on a restaurant, for example, when they want to change the dynamic,” said Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin and a prime mover in ongoing efforts to revitalize and promote the city’s downtown. “They do it because they want people to know that something has changed, something’s different, something’s better — that people should want to come there again.”

Creating a cultural district can do very much the same thing for Springfield, he went on, noting that it will help the city brand itself and its many cultural attractions and, in many ways, give people a reason to give the community a look — or another look.

Kay Simpson agreed. She’s the vice president of Springfield Museums and one of the primary architects of a proposed cultural district that would cover several blocks downtown and include everything from the Armory Museum to the Paramount; from the Community Music School to the five museums in the Quadrangle; from Symphony Hall to the clubs on Worthington Street.

The formal application for creation of the district was sent to the Mass. Cultural Council (MCC) on Aug. 15, said Simpson, who literally knocked on some wood as she talked about what she considers decent odds that the city will join Pittsfield, Easthampton, Lowell, Gloucester, and other cities gaining state designation for a cultural district.

“This is a great tool for promoting the arts,” she said, adding that, beyond building awareness of the city’s attractions, creation of a cultural district will also better position the city for funding from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, and also spur economic development. “A district can stimulate business, especially creative-economy businesses.”

Her optimism about the proposal’s chances is based on comments made by MCC officials who have walked the planned district already and provided input on the application and how it should be written, and also on the large volume of attractions and institutions packed into the multi-block area identified in the map to the right.

Springfield Cultural District Map loRes 5“It’s remarkable when you consider how many major cultural institutions are located in the downtown area,” she said. “This is not a huge geographic area, but there is a dense concentration of cultural assets.”

David Starr concurred. The president of the Republican and chair of the city’s Cultural Coordination Committee described the planned district as a “true gem,” and said its creation will provide new and potent opportunities to increase awareness of the city’s cultural amenities and build on that foundation.

“The problem has always been that these institutions never got the outside recognition that they deserved,” he explained, referring to the museums in the Quadrangle, the symphony, and other organizations. “A cultural district will help sell them and help brand them to not just the local area, but people outside this region.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the proposed cultural district and what its architects believe it can do for the city and its ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

 

Mapping Out a Strategy

The MCC’s Cultural Districts Initiative was authorized by an act of the state Legislature in 2010 and launched in 2011.

It was inspired by mounting evidence that thriving creative sectors stimulate economic development, said Simpson, noting that the prevailing theory has been that such districts attract artists, cultural organizations, and entrepreneurs, while helping specific communities create or strengthen a sense of place.

“By having the cultural-district designation, you’re creating an environment where all kinds of businesses can come into an area,” she explained. “These creative-economy businesses include everything from art galleries to graphic-design enterprises to coffee shops and restaurants.

“You’re creating a brand for a community,” she went on, “so that people from outside that community know that, if they go to the cultural district in Springfield, there’s going to be a lot for them to do. They can go to museums, see historic monuments and sites, and have lots to do in terms of both the visual arts and the performing arts.”

There are currently 17 cultural districts across the state, with more being proposed. They have been established in Barnstable, Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Easthampton, Essex, Gloucester (which has two), Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Natick, Orleans, Pittsfield, Rockport, Sandwich, and Shelburne Falls.

Springfield’s proposed cultural district would be bordered by East Columbus Avenue, Bliss Street, Stockbridge Street, High Street, Federal Street, Pearl Street, Dwight Street, Lyman Street, and Frank B. Murray Street, according to a prepared summary.

That section is home to number of cultural attractions and institutions, including the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the Quadrangle, the historic Mattoon Street area, the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, CityStage, the Paramount, and the Community Music School, said Simpson, adding that it also includes several parks, some retail areas, and a number of restaurants, clubs, and hotels.

One of the required traits of a district, as set down by the MCC, is that it be walkable, said Simpson, noting that, while this comparatively large area — which officials originally thought might encompass two districts — constitutes a “good walk,” it meets that stipulation.

Most of the existing cultural districts have names that identify a specific neighborhood, landmark, or street. Easthampton’s, for example, is called the Cottage Street Cultural District, a nod to the many former mills and storefronts on that thoroughfare that have become home to arts-related businesses and agencies. Meanwhile, Lowell’s Canalway District takes its name from an historic section of that former textile-manufacturing center, which has also become a center for the cultural community, and spotlights the city’s most enduring character trait — its canals.

Those leading the drive for Springfield’s district recently ran a contest to name it; submissions are currently being weighed by a panel of judges, and a winner is to be announced soon.

By whatever name the district takes, it is expected to become a point of reference for Springfield, a vehicle for branding the City of Homes, and a source of momentum as the community seeks to build its creative economy and, overall, bring vibrancy to a long-challenged section of the city, said Plotkin.

In a big-picture sense, the broad goal behind the cultural district is to change the conversation about Springfield, he went on, adding that, in recent years, most of the talk has been about financial struggles (the city was run by a control board for several years), crime, poverty, and high dropout rates in the city’s high schools.

“This cultural district will build a sense of community,” he noted. “It will help break down some of those walls that people have about Springfield, including the sense that we’re a broken city with low self-esteem.

“We have to break out of that and build some pride and some community,” he went on. “We have to start doing things that will really change the city, and I believe a cultural district will do that. Doing this can help to start changing the conversation about Springfield and about what we really are culturally and what we have here.”

It can also help make a community more visible — and attractive — to those looking for landing spots for a company or sites for everything from day trips to meetings and conventions, said Simpson, who said creation of a cultural district in Boston’s Fenway area has apparently done all that.

“In the Fenway, they’ve said they have seen an increase in occupancy rates in office buildings and storefronts since the cultural district was created,” she said, noting that the area, home to several museums and other attractions, is in many ways similar to downtown Springfield. “Meanwhile, it has created for them the sense that they’re more recognized in terms of gaining political support.”

 

Sign of the Times

Springfield will probably find out sometime this fall if its proposal for a cultural district has been accepted by the MCC, said Simpson.

If all goes as those behind this initiative believe it will, then the city will soon have a new vehicle for marketing itself and perhaps making some real progress in ongoing efforts to change some of the perceptions about the community.

In other words, the ‘under new management’ sign can go on the door. It will then be up the city to make the most of that development. n

 

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

 

Briefcase Departments

UMass Exploring Creation of Satellite Center in Downtown Springfield

The University of Massachusetts recently issued a request for proposals to lease classroom space in downtown Springfield, where it is considering locating a satellite center that would provide additional access to a high-quality, affordable education to Western Mass. residents and accelerate the university’s growing presence in the city and region. “We very much want to open a satellite center in Springfield because an essential aspect of our mission of service to the Commonwealth is working to build better lives and futures for people and communities, which is what this would represent,” said UMass President Robert Caret. “We know that the demand is there and that the business and political leadership supports it. The questions before us now are whether it is feasible to do this and whether there are sufficient resources available to help us meet this challenge.” He continued, “we view the issuance of the RFP as a critical next step in this process. We’re hopeful that the responses to it will begin to provide us with the clarity we need to move forward.” A study conducted last year by the UMass Donahue Institute, at Caret’s request, identified Springfield as a prime site for a satellite center in part because UMass Amherst, which would take the lead in overseeing it, already has a significant presence there. A number of UMass Amherst faculty and staff are engaged in Springfield in various ways, conducting research, teaching, or working in administrative capacities. They work in a variety of areas, including health, fine arts, creative economy, natural sciences, engineering and green industries, as well as management, sports, and education. UMass Amherst faculty and staff are involved in more than 120 programs in Springfield. UMass Amherst is also in the process of moving its public radio station, WFCR, from Amherst to Springfield. Last month, the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a partnership between UMass Amherst and Springfield’s Baystate Medical Center, received a $5.5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. But UMass officials would like to take the engagement a step further by establishing a base in Springfield that would serve as a general portal to the resources of UMass Amherst and the entire UMass system. The satellite center concept envisions courses being provided by at least several and possibly all five of the UMass campuses. Officials said that the RFP process should reveal whether UMass is able to obtain space in a suitable location at an affordable price, which will help determine whether UMass can move forward with the satellite center project.

 

Melin to Step Down as CDH President

NORTHAMPTON — Matthew Pitoniak, chair of the board of trustees of Cooley Dickinson Hospital, announced on July 29 that, after 25 years of exemplary leadership, Craig Melin will resign as president and CEO. The move will be effective Jan. 31, 2014. Pitoniak said the board is pleased that Melin will stay on for six months to complete initiatives under way that are critical to the transformation of Cooley Dickinson in the face of environmental changes in health care, as well as its recently finalized affiliation with Massachusetts General Hospital. Melin said he chose this time to plan his leave because he believes that Cooley Dickinson faces a five-year transition and that it should be under one leader. As he was not prepared to commit to a 30th anniversary, he told the board and Mass General that he wished to “step down to clear the way for someone who can make the new commitment Cooley Dickinson needs.” Pitoniak said Melin’s decision was unexpected. Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Mass General, said, “I was very surprised to hear about Craig’s decision to leave Cooley Dickinson, to which he has been so passionately committed for 25 years. While I’m not happy about losing him from our team, I am pleased that Craig has agreed to stay on while we search for a new CEO. Our work to realize the benefits of the new relationship between Cooley Dickinson and Mass General will continue uninterrupted. I look forward to working with Craig over the next six months.” Besides the recently completed affiliation with Mass General, CDH and Melin have been deeply engaged in strategic initiatives, such as preparing for population health management, repositioning the organization to meet the budget challenges of the new lower-priced payment system, and improving the organization’s already-intense focus on quality. Melin said, “It has been an honor to lead Cooley Dickinson for the past 25 years. I look forward to working with the trustees, physicians, staff, and Mass General so that Cooley Dickinson continues on the path toward more exceptional care and better health for our community.” Pitoniak said he will form and then chair a committee that will conduct a national search for Melin’s successor. Slavin will be actively involved in the process.

 

Investment in Structures Expands in 2nd Quarter

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Non-residential fixed investment in structures expanded 4.6% on an annualized basis during the second quarter of 2013, according to the July 31 gross domestic product (GDP) report by the U.S. Commerce Department. This increase followed a 4.6% decline in the first quarter of the year. Fixed investment in equipment rose 4.1% in the second quarter, and overall investment in structures expanded 6.8%. Residential fixed investment increased 13.4% following 12.5% expansion in the first quarter. Fixed investment in the nation’s residential sector has been growing at a double-digit clip since the third quarter of 2012. Personal-consumption expenditures expanded 1.8% in the second quarter, with spending on goods rising 3.4%. Expenditures on services, on the other hand, advanced only slightly at 0.9%. Expansion in real private inventories contributed 0.4 percentage points to real GDP growth for the second quarter after adding 0.9% during the first quarter. Federal government expenditures declined 1.5% during the second quarter primarily due to a 3.2% drop in non-defense spending. Meanwhile, national defense spending dropped 0.5%. State and local government spending rebounded mildly, growing only 0.3% during the second quarter following three consecutive quarters of declines. In total, real GDP expanded 1.7% during the second quarter following a revised 1.1% increase in the first quarter of the year. “Overall, consumer spending remains at the heart of the nation’s economic recovery, including in housing-related categories,” said Anirban Basu, chief economist of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). “However, today’s GDP report is only modestly reflective of recent increases in mortgage rates, which could soften residential investment growth in the months ahead. ABC continues to forecast roughly 2% growth in the U.S. economy in 2013, though the first half was associated with sub-2% growth. It remains likely that the economy will accelerate a bit during the second half of the year, but there continue to be headwinds such as rising interest rates, sequestration, and a loss in municipal confidence in the aftermath of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

 

Hiring Expected to Remain Stable in 2013

CHICAGO — U.S. workers can expect a stable employment environment over the next six months along with an upswing in temporary jobs. In CareerBuilder’s latest national survey, employers indicated that full-time, permanent hiring in the second half of 2013 will mirror that of 2012, while temporary and contract hiring is expected to increase 10% over last year. The survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder from May 14 to June 5, included more than 2,000 hiring managers and human-resource professionals across industries and company sizes. “Companies are adding more employees to keep pace with demand for their products and services, but they’re not rushing into a full-scale expansion of headcount in light of economic headwinds that still linger today,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. “The projected surge in temporary hiring from July to December is evidence of both a growing confidence in the market and a recession-induced hesitation to immediately place more permanent hires on the books. However, the overall pace of permanent hiring is stronger today in various industries and geographies, and will continue on a path of gradual improvement for the remainder of the year.” Looking forward to the next six months, the study conducted by Harris Interactive shows that 44% of employers plan to hire full-time, permanent employees, on par with last year; 25% plan to hire part-time employees, up from 21% last year; and 31% plan to hire temporary or contract workers, up from 21% last year. In addition to recruiting for revenue-related functions such as sales and customer service, employers are placing an emphasis on roles involving newer technologies, big data, social media, and financial services. In the Northeast specifically, 43% of surveyed companies plan to hire full-time, permanent employees, down slightly from 44% in 2012.

 

IMF Forecasts Slow Global Growth

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts slower global growth in 2013 and 2014 than it did just three months ago, citing the prospect of a slowdown in key developing countries such as China and Brazil and a protracted recession in Europe. The international lending agency released an update of its World Economic Outlook issued in April, projecting the world economy will grow at 3.1% this year, down from a 3.3% forecast three months ago. The 2014 projection was cut to 3.8% from 4.0%. “The world economy remains in a three-speed mode,” said Olivier Blanchard, IMF director of research, at a news conference. “Emerging markets are still growing rapidly. The U.S. recovery is steady, but much of Europe continues to struggle.” Blanchard said growth almost everywhere is weaker than forecast in April, but downward revisions are particularly noticeable in developing countries. The IMF said the possibility of a more drawn-out slowdown in developing countries is a new risk that has emerged since April. One potential drag on global growth is the possibility that the U.S. will start tapering its extraordinary stimulus program of bond buying. The Fed program — known as quantitative easing — has injected more $2 trillion into financial markets since late 2008 and kept borrowing costs down. With markets already anticipating the tapering, the IMF said some developing countries are already feeling the effects in the form of falling share prices and depreciating currencies. A recession in the 17 countries that use the euro currency is shaping up to be deeper than expected, another factor pulling down the forecast, according to the IMF. The U.S. economy also looks weaker than previously expected, the IMF said, citing tight fiscal and financial conditions. The IMF lowered forecasts for U.S. growth to 1.7% in 2013, down from 1.9% in April, and to 2.7% for 2014, down from 2.9%. One reason cited was the sequester remaining in place until 2014, longer than previously projected.