Home Posts tagged Creative Economy (Page 2)
Community Profile Features
Westfield Takes Flight with New Jobs, Development

CommunityProfilesWestfieldWhen BusinessWest sat down this month with Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik and Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, it was just one more connection in what has become a strong bond between the city and its chamber.
Take the monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour the chamber launched to forge a stronger relationship between the city’s leaders and its business community.
“That gives businesses and residents first-hand access to city officials,” Phelon said. “We’re very proud that we have that kind of access to the mayor; not many cities can say they do that on a regular basis.”
The mayor agrees. “We really have opened the door to businesses,” said Knapik, noting that some companies had never before approached the city about their issues.
“Manufacturing companies have different needs than small operators,” Phelon said. “It’s good that we can have this open-door policy and bring these issues in and have dialogue.”

Mayor Daniel Knapik, left, and Jeff Daley

Mayor Daniel Knapik, left, and Jeff Daley say Westfield’s investments in its infrastructure have already begun to spur more development.

Both of them agreed, however, that much of the dialogue in Westfield has been positive lately, from job-creation success stories — from Armbrook Village bringing in 100 jobs with a new assisted-living community to the expansion of Gulfstream, which will add 100 jobs while retaining 130 more — to the dramatic reconstruction of the Whip City’s downtown that has improved traffic flow and generated buzz and business there.
“The best testimony is from folks who haven’t been in Westfield in a while,” Knapik said, “when they come into the downtown and say, ‘wow, what happened?’ And there’s more coming.”

Ready for Takeoff
They might say the same about Barnes Airport on the city’s north side, which has leveraged millions of dollars in public and private investment in the service of infrastructure upgrades and development projects.
“We’ve had multiple funding sources, at the federal, state, and city levels, to get $14 million for a new runway,” said Jeff Daley, the city’s advancement officer. “The current runway is 28 years old, which is eight years past its life expectancy. They’ll be ripping out the entire 9,500 feet of runway and rebuilding it. A large portion of the north and south end of the runway will be concrete, and the middle section will be a specialized tar pavement that will allow the F16s and other planes not to rip it up.”
The 104th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard has been relocated to Westover Air Reserve Base and Otis Air Force Base during the project, which is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving. Daley said the new runway will attract more commercial use of the airport. Meanwhile, Rectrix Aviation, which bought out Airflyte, is working to increase its investment at Barnes to bring a wider range of services to its clients.
Meanwhile, Daley said, “we obtained a grant from the state to redesign and rebuild Airport Industrial Park Road. It was a $2 million grant, and we’re returning $800,000 back to the state; we managed to do it with $1.2 million. We made it safer with a full redesign; the hairpin turn there was dangerous. We paved it, and we’ll have some new signage to alert people to come to the industrial park.”
That’s where the city is developing 80 acres — perhaps 12 to 15 subdivided lots — for light-manufacturing and aviation-supported businesses. “We’ve had serious conversations with four or five companies looking there, waiting for the road to be finished,” Daley said.
“Add to that Gulfstream’s expansion, and we think Barnes is in a position of growth, with the most action we’ve seen there in years,” Knapik said, noting that the airport is on the cusp of generating more revenue than the city is investing in it. “We’re close to breaking even now, and some of the other situations coming to light will add more revenue to the city. It took a long time to bring it to break-even status.”
Speaking of breaking even, the mayor said, one of the best stories in the city recently is the turnaround of Noble Hospital. After seven years running a deficit, it was able to turn a profit last year.
“It’s great what they’ve been able to do, to modernize the hospital and open up space that had been shuttered and really find niche services for our community, from gastroenterology to expanding the breast-cancer unit,” he continued. “When I came into office, it was pretty dire over there, but it’s been astounding. They’ve been able to invest in their physical plant and turn a profit, which is great news. They seem to be in position for a pretty strong future now.”

Bridges to Progress
So does the downtown area, following a $14.5 million reconstruction of Main and Broad streets and the Park Square Green, and the four-year Great River Bridge project that paired the renovation of that span, over the Westfield River, with the construction of a second bridge next to it.
Those successes will be followed by a significant commercial development at Elm and Arnold streets, featuring a 130,000-square-foot mixed-use facility, a 2,000-square-foot transportation center, and a five-story parking garage. Daley pegged completion of the project — which has been discussed in some form or other for decades — for 2015 or 2016.
“There have been lots of iterations to it,” he said, noting that the city would like the mixed-use facility to include retail, restaurants, and office space. As for the parking garage, “we’re fortunate to have parking problems, and we’re developing up to 500 new spaces to make it a more attractive prospect to come downtown and shop and have dinner.”
The mayor is excited by the prospects. “We’ve said for years that, if the city took care of its property and infrastructure, which we’ve been doing, the rest will follow,” Knapik said of the proposal, and the hope that it will continue a downtown revitalization that has already seen a number of new businesses open on that stretch of Routes 10 and 202.
Those include eateries and a copy center, businesses that will cater to a growing number of college students living downtown following the conversion of the Lansdowne building on Thomas Street into a 216-bed dormitory for Westfield State University. In addition, the former WSU training school building on Washington Street is being redeveloped into privately owned market-rate housing, which would add more student life to Westfield’s downtown.
“We’ve already seen the opening of many new downtown businesses that cater to the young folks living downtown,” Knapik said, including three restaurants with outdoor seating.
“With the City Council allowing outside seating, that’s a first for Westfield,” Phelon said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had that before. Now people will see people sitting and eating outside,” creating more energy downtown.
The city is also moving forward with plans for the riverfront area on the south side of town, which may include a mix of uses. “We’re reviewing four concepts now, and we’ll unveil those to the public over the next two months or so,” said Knapik, who would like to see that project connect with the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail. “These are all things that have been kicked around the city for 20 years or so, and they’re all starting to click now, so we’re happy about that.”

Challenges Remain
Knapik said the city’s unemployment rate, hovering between 6.5% and 6.8%, “isn’t bad, but we need it to be better to really knock us out of the economic slowdown we’re in. But we feel like, with the diverse base we have — including military, healthcare, precision machining, and warehousing — we’re seeing excellent growth in some areas.”
Daley noted that, since 2010, the city has attracted more than $120 million in private investment and has another $72 million in the pipeline. “Currently, 7,000 jobs have been retained by those efforts, and 800 new jobs over three years. There’s a pretty good story to tell there. We’re working very hard to keep retention up … and to make Westfield a place where people want to grow and stay.”
Phelon said the city is working to cultivate its creative economy in an organized way, as nearby communities such as Northampton, Easthampton, and Holyoke have done. “We’re in the infant stages of this. 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.”
The idea, Knapik said, is to bring different “puzzle pieces” that make up the city’s economy out of their individual silos and into an organized effort to promote Westfield’s vitality.
The mayor also touted the city’s efforts to keep property taxes lower than in some surrounding cities and towns. “We want to be that business-friendly community.”
It has tried to do so at a time when state aid to cities is low — in Westfield’s case, down about 30% since before the recession. Yet, plenty of investment continues, giving the mayor plenty to talk about at those coffee hours.
“It’s good,” he said of that communication. “A lot of times, policy is made in an echo chamber. This way, we ensure that both sides are heard. We hear them, and they hear us.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Architecture Sections
Architects Are Seeing the Light — and So Are Their Clients

Kevin Chrobak

Kevin Chrobak feels that the public is increasingly motivated by the industrial design of products from companies like Apple and manufacturers with a high design aesthetic.

Kevin Chrobak, principal architect for Juster Pope Frazier LLC, doesn’t have a single light on in his conference room, or in his spacious office area that seems to ooze creativity. He doesn’t need any on a bright day.
His Northampton-based studio, located in a former brick mill building dating back to the 19th century, has the large full-story windows reminiscent of a time when the workday was governed by the sun.
“A lot of the concepts of this building, and others like it, was that you wanted a lot of daylight and a lot of volume of space, so the notion of ‘day lighting’ was a concept from before 1900,” said Chrobak. “For example, its 8:30 in the morning and there’s not a single light on, and it’s perfectly adequate.”
Day lighting, a new buzz term in the architectural realm but a concept that actually grew out of the Industrial Revolution, is back in vogue. But not just because of the cool aesthetics; rather, designers are drawn to the reduced costs for lighting, heating, and cooling when advanced, energy-efficient windows replace those that are more than 100 years old — which, in Chrobak’s case, they did.
Greg Zorzi, left, and Christopher Novelli

Greg Zorzi, left, and Christopher Novelli see a return to city living in downtown structures, prompted by the younger generation’s demand for intelligent use of existing resources.

In addition to redesigning old or historic structures, Jonathan Salvon, principal at Kuhn Riddle Architects Inc. in Amherst, has seen a trend toward more-modern design styles. His firm is known for designing the new UMass Amherst marching band building, the Amherst Police Department headquarters, and the new broadcast facility for New England Public Radio (NPR) in the Fuller Block on Main Street in downtown Springfield.
“Organic forms, in general, are currently quite popular at the moment with generally modern architecture,” said Salvon. “And I mean modern with a capital ‘M.’
He was speaking of a rebirth of architectural Modernism, which roughly spanned the time between World War I and the early 1970s, and is generally characterized by simplification of form and an absence of applied decoration.
While Chrobak doesn’t see a specific ‘look’ today, he does see imitation, and more client attention to the carefully designed look of popular commercial products.
“There’s a saying that some of the best ideas out there are stolen, but you do see influences start to creep from one project to another,” said Chrobak. “There certainly is influence that runs from magazine to magazine, and I think the public is becoming more cognizant of design as being important in their lives.”
This, he feels, is motivated by the industrial design of products from companies like Apple, and manufacturers that have a very high design aesthetic. “That has helped to bring higher awareness of design in all different disciplines.”
Other advances have taken the act of designing architecturally to a whole new level. The advanced technology of computer-aided design, more affordable green-building products, urban awareness, and understanding new work/life behaviors have all contributed to expanding the choices that today’s architects have to make, both in form and function.
As the construction industry claws its way back from the most severe recession in decades, BusinessWest talked with area architects about the trends, and attitudes, shaping their industry. Overall, they are invigorated to see the public more demanding of creative design and energy-efficient function, which is giving way to a new generation of sustainable and smart structures that will reshape Western Mass. buildings, and even cities, in the years to come.

Trickle-down Effect
Any talk these days of architecture or construction will immediately become a conversation about green building. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a voluntary, market-driven program that provides third-party verification of green buildings. It provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green-building design, construction, operations, and maintenance solutions.
Even locally, as with every new program, costs eventually do come down, due to competition and becoming an industry standard.
“There was a time when doing a LEED building was a premium cost, but the industry has ramped up to meet the demand,” said Salvon. “So it’s not the premium that it used to be.”
Greg Zorzi, president of Studio One Inc. in Springfield, agreed.
“We’ve done a couple of LEED projects recently, and I don’t think there was a substantive percentage more that the owner paid to get a LEED building,” he said. “And if they did pay a bit more, they’re going to achieve that back in the energy savings.”
Globally, on the leading edge of the green-building movement is a strategy called biomimicry: using patterns in nature, particularly in biological systems, to inspire innovative and more-efficient designs within architecture and engineering. While global interests are not immediately adopted by those in the Western Mass. area, or even the New England region, the efforts are important.
Christopher Novelli, an architect at Studio One, sees biomimicry at this juncture as more limited to what he called ‘paper architecture’ — student work or architects’ projects that are mostly experimentation with the design of buildings that will never get built.
But design movements have to start somewhere, and there’s a trend, Salvon said, toward more attention to organic design or, rather, more care toward natural materials in either the form of the building or in the materials within. His examples: bamboo flooring, grass or bark-like wall coverings, and unique ceiling products that mimic outdoor scenery.
But to get some of those designs takes experimentation and advancements in technology, specifically computer-aided design and computer-driven routering that didn’t exist a decade ago.
Zorzi told BusinessWest that the future emergence of unique types of biomimicry, or new organic-design products, requires students and architects to write computer code and bypass the traditional design process. Thus, the design is then carved out from large-scale computer-aided machines.
“The computer code has its parameters and sort of creates itself, but that opens the door to experimenting with new forms, which find their way into more traditional building here,” Novelli added.
“Where the more experimental buildings tend to be constructed,” Zorzi added, “is based on where the money is — Dubai, Tokyo, Singapore, for example.”
Salvon agreed. “Some of the newer elements are due to high-end computer-modeling software with deep-pocketed backers, and allow for fabrication that is different than conventional construction.”
While this extremely advanced technology has not yet entered into mainstream architecture and construction, it is an emerging technology that will change the way architects and contractors work in the future, Zorzi added.
“But, yes, computers are influencing everything,” said Chrobak, whose firm is known for its designs of the unique Eric Carle Museum in Amherst and the Elms College Center for Natural and Health Sciences, which is currently under construction in Chicopee.

Staying Power
“A common theme in our market is that a lot of work is renovation work — so how do you take a new design aesthetic and work it into an existing building that may be more than 100 years old?” Salvon asked rhetorically, as many of his clients have as well.
“Not just design, but sustainability has become extremely important, maybe moreso due to the downturn of the economy; folks want their building to be more efficient,” he said.
One of the more obvious energy-efficiency products has been glass.
Its usage has typically been a symbol of energy inefficiency, as heat exchange in large, translucent surfaces is higher than in insulated walling. But new glass systems are changing that.
As an example, Zorzi noted ‘curtain-wall’ systems that are the essence of the high-performance envelope. While not a new concept, what the systems are made of, and what they do now, certainly is.
“Years ago, you wouldn’t be able to achieve having full walls of glass,” he said. “There would be so much heat loss or gain, and as stylish as it is, it wouldn’t be functional.”
A glass wall today would have a ‘double-skin’ system — two layers, filled with a gas that allows the building to passively cool itself. But the quality of the glass, the curvature, and the ability to withstand wind and hold snow loads, said Zorzi, is what makes him marvel at buildings such as Springfield’s new federal courthouse on State Street, which makes heavy use of glass.
In his work, Chrobak also sees a lot of adaptive reuse, and he feels it is motivated by clients’ project costs.
“If you’re building with a shell, it’s often cheaper than building from scratch, so the concept of ‘reuse and recycle’ applies to buildings as well.”
Cities, in general, are seeing an enormous amount of reuse of former manufacturing buildings as well as old apartment buildings.
Both Zorzi and Novelli see a return to city living in those structures, prompted by the younger generation and their awareness of, and demand for, intelligent use of existing resources and the environment.
“Some people think that suburbs are the next ghettos,” said Zorzi.  “When you see that return back to the city and how it relates to architecture in a single building, you have to shift your design focus to create more multi-purpose spaces, mixed-use, and live/work spaces.”
An example is more office and retail on bottom floors and living spaces above. Technology allows people to work from anywhere, and many companies are allowing employees to work from home, which has increased overall demand for office areas in new designs, regardless of the client’s age. “So the designs that we’re doing have to relate to that,” said Novelli.
But city living involves not just the redesign of one building these days, said Zorzi, but entails the entire urban environment around that building, which is a demand of the public.
“I think a good local example of that is the proposed casino,” Zorzi told BusinessWest. “We have MGM Springfield with an outward-facing real urban focus with livened streetscapes and retail shops, and bringing in the local businesses is part of that flavor. Then you had Penn National with an inward-facing focus. You look at the traffic patterns — the traffic comes in, gambles, and leaves.”
“The MGM proposal is very indicative of the trends that we’re seeing, more of a focus on the urban element, rather than the one isolated building,” Novelli pointed out.

Creative Economy
Jonathan SalvonWhat the future holds for architects is a series of new challenges and opportunities.
The American Institute of Architects has put forth the 2030 Challenge, which Novelli described as a step-by-step pledge for architects to design ‘net-zero’ buildings, or those that literally produce their own energy through mini-turbines, solar power, high-performance building products, and, of course, smart design.
“There are always new materials and new approaches,” said Salvon. “And a lot of manufacturers are putting a lot of money into R&D to develop new materials to either meet existing demand or create new demand.”
And as the competition heats up for more sustainable products for both new construction and adaptive reuse, the prices will flatten out and the heyday of those net-zero buildings is nearer than ever.
In the meantime, architects continue to have designs on continued growth in an industry where the future is as clear as a glass wall.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Chamber Corners Departments



(413) 594-2101

• March 20: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., MassMutual Learning & Conference Center, 350 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Cost is $20 for members, $25 for non-members.

• March 20: 19th Annual Table Top Expo & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m., the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, and Easthampton chambers of commerce. The event will feature more than 180 exhibitors and hundreds of visitors. Cost to attend: $5 pre-registered, $10 at the door. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org.



(413) 773-5463


• March 22: Breakfast Series, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by the Hallmark Institute of Photography, Industrial Boulevard, Turners Falls. Presentation by Robert McBride, founding director of the Rockingham (Vt.) Arts and Museum Project. He will share RAMP’s five-pronged approach to integrating the arts into a community-revitalization effort and long-term sustainability strategies. Sponsored by Franklin County Community Development Corp. and HitPoint Studios. Cost is $12 for FCCC members, $15 for non-members.

• March 22-23: Creative Economy Summit IV, a two-day seminar for artists, art lovers, business supporters, and everyone related to the creative economy. Registration fees and program details available at www.creativeeconomysummit.com.




(413) 527-9414


• March 14: Networking by Night Business Card Exchange and Chamber Open House, 5-7 p.m., Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, 33 Union St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Innovative Business Systems and TechCavalry. Door Prizes, hors d’ouevres, host beer and wine. Tickets are $5 for members, $15 for future members.

• March 20: 19th Annual Table Top Exposition and Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m., the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Easthampton, Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. Exhibitor table fee: $100 (must be a member). Contact the participating chambers for information. Attendee-only tickets: $5 in advance, $10 at the door.



(413) 534-3376


• March 1-29: St. Pat’s Luck of the Irish Raffle. First prize, sponsored by Fln-Mar Rubber and Plastics: Red Sox Weekend Getaway for July 20 game vs. Yankees. Includes two game tickets, overnight stay at Boston Sheraton Back Bay Hotel, Peter Pan bus transportation, and $100 spending money. Second prize, sponsored by PeoplesBank and Pioneer Valley Railroad: Apple 32GB iPad Mini and case. Third Prize, sponsored by Mountain View Lanscapes, Barry J. Farrell Funeral Home, and Aubrey, Dixon &Turgeon LLC: $500 spending spree at Holyoke Mall. Drawing to be held March 20 at the Table Top Expo at the Log Cabin. Tickets are $5 each or book of three for $10. Tickets are available for purchase online, at the chamber, and at each chamber event through March 20.

• March 13: St. Pat’s Salute Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Sponsored by PeoplesBank and Holyoke Mall. Tickets are $25. Call the office for reservations at (413) 534-3376 or sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• March 20: Table Top Expo, 4:30-7 p.m., the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Holyoke, Chicopee, Easthampton, and Northampton chambers of commerce. The public is invited. Admission: $5 in advance, $10 at the door; vendors: $100 per table. Corporate sponsor: the Log Cabin-Delaney House; Platinum sponsors: Taylor Rental of Holyoke, the Republican, Westover Job Corps Center, BusinessWest, Florence Savings Bank, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette; Gold Sponsors: Holyoke Community College, United Bank, Guenther Associates, Hadley Printing, the Valley Advocate, Northampton Rental, Charter Business, First Niagara Bank, and Harrington Insurance; Silver Sponsors: Dowd Insurance, Elms College, Freedom Credit Union, Hampden Bank, Health New England, Loomis Communities, Mountainview Landscape, PeoplesBank, New England Public Radio WFCR-WNNZ, TD Bank, Reminder Publications, United Personnel, Peter Pan Bus Lines, Peoples United Bank, and Valet Park of America. Call (413) 534-3376 or the participating chambers to reserve a table or to order admission tickets. Snow date: March 27.



(413) 755-1310


• March 20: March 2013 Meeting, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., the Basketball Hall of Fame, MassMutual Room. Catered by Max’s Tavern. Speaker: Hope Margala Klein, executive vice president of Brand, Innovation & Merchandising, Yankee Candle. Her program is titled “My Journey Through the Glass Ceiling.” Tickets: $25 for members, $35 for non-members. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact [email protected]




(413) 568-1618


• March 13: March WestNet, 5-7 p.m., First Niagara Bank, 664 College Highway, Southwick. Come join us for a couple of hours to socialize and network with local businesses. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar. Walk-ins welcome. Cost: members, $10 in advance or cash at the door; non-members, $15 cash. To register, contact Pam Bussell at the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mail [email protected] by March 11.

• March 15: St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, 7:15 a.m., Westfield State University, Scanlon Hall, 577 Western Ave., Westfield. Registration is at 7:15, the breakfast begins at 7:30, and the program begins at 8. Judy Dumont, MBI director, will speak on Massachusetts 123, a project to bring high-speed broadband to every corner of the Commonwealth. Cost is $25 for members, $30 for non-members. To register, contact Pam Bussell at the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mail [email protected] RSVP for this event by March 11.





• March  21: Third Thursday, 5-7 p.m. at Nadim’s Mediterranean Restaurant & Grill, 1390 Main St., Springfield. Go to www.cafelebanon.com for more information about the restaurant.

Holyoke’s Planning Leader Welcomes Sky-high Expectations for the City




Marcos Marrero remembers that there was about a month between when he received the phone call from Mayor Alex Morse telling him he was being offered the job of planning and economic development director for Holyoke (which he quickly accepted) and when he actually moved into his office at One Court Plaza.

And he recalls spending it doing some very hard cramming on the nation’s first planned industrial city.

“That was Holyoke-intensive studying — I was consuming, eating, and breathing Holyoke every day for a month,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he learned as much as he could about its history, demographics, politics, neighborhoods, ongoing projects, and future prospects. “I said, ‘give me all the plans … I want the master plan, any redevelopment plans — just lay it on me.’”

Along the way, he remembers having an odd sensation of feeling sorry in some way for the people who held that post before him. They had essentially laid the track, he said, referring to predecessors Kathleen Anderson, now president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, and Jeff Hayden, now an administrator at Holyoke Community College, and he was going to be in a position to see that hard work yield some tremendous benefits for the city.

Such initiatives include the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, which opened its doors last year; the pending reintroduction of rail service to the city, a development that should open some new doors of opportunity to the community; completion of the challenging renovation of the downtown fire station into a intramodal transportation center and education facility; movement toward creation of a thriving creative economy in the city; and continued evolution of this former manufacturing hub into a more diverse economy that also features the arts, technology, and retail.

“My impression was that this was really unfair to all my predecessors,” Marrero recalled. “Because I could see the arc of the past 20 years, and how everyone in Holyoke had worked together to put Holyoke in the position it’s in today.

“Not that this a slam dunk, by any means, what’s happening now,” he continued. “But I felt the conditions were such that, with good leadership, good vision, and help from community stakeholders, this city could just take off. I’m standing on the shoulders of the work that other people have done.”

And while appreciative of that hard work that’s been undertaken by those who occupied the office before him, Marrero, who just turned 30 and is part of a youth movement in Holyoke city government (Morse is only 24), said there is obviously considerable work still to be done, specifically in the realm of meeting and perhaps even exceeding the sky-high expectations many have for Holyoke to become a place where people want to live, work, and start a business.

“Right after the press announcement of my appointment, I remember being taken aback by the expectations that were thrown out there, and I said to the mayor, ‘this is not my modus operandi — I’d rather promise little and overdeliver,’” Marrero recalled. “And he said something to the effect of, ‘nope, you can’t do that here — the expectations are really high.’ And I said, ‘OK, challenge accepted.’”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Marrero about this very intriguing time in Holyoke’s history, those high expectations he mentioned, and how he, Morse, and other city officials plan to work together to turn potential into reality.


Background — Check

When asked how he came to occupy the front office in the municipal facility just a block or so from City Hall, Marrero paused for a second, glanced toward the ceiling, and offered a heavy sigh.

He did all that to indicate that there were a number of circumstances that brought him to this place and time — from developments in his wife’s medical career that eventually took her to Baystate Medical Center and the couple to Western Mass., to the departure of Anderson, to the ascension of Morse, who, as he interviewed a number of candidates for the planning and economic development post, became impressed with Marrero’s opinions on everything from modern urban renewal to reinventing Gateway cities.

Our story starts in New York City, where Marrero was born, but the scene quickly shifts to Puerto Rico, where he spent much of his youth, was educated, and started his career in planning and economic development. While attending the University of Puerto Rico, he initially majored in computer science (the technology field was still booming at the time), but soon shifted gears and ventured into political science and economics.

Upon graduating in 2004, he took a job as an economic analyst for the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co., and soon thereafter started applying to graduate schools. He was accepted into the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and earned dual master’s degrees in Public Affairs and Urban and Regional Planning. While there, he studied under Lisa Jackson, who would go on to lead the Department of Environmental Protection and do considerable work in the broad field of climate change.

He took those diplomas and went to work in the governor’s office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, acting as a deputy advisor on federal affairs, energy, and climate change. When the governor lost in the next election, though, he was out of a job.

It was about this time that Marrero’s wife, Wanda, was applying for residency positions and found one within the Tufts University system “at somewhere called Springfield,” he remembers her saying. From there, she took a job at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, and Marrero found employment at the New York City Economic Development Corp.’s Energy Policy Office.

But they both had to start sending out résumés when St. Vincent’s abruptly closed after a prolonged period of economic woes. Wanda found a position at Baystate, while Marcos eventually found work as an adjunct professor at UMass Amherst, teaching Environmental Policy. He would later apply for, and win, a job as a land-use environmental planner for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in 2011.

This takes us up to the spring of 2012, when Anderson became the successor to Doris Ransford, the longtime director of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, and Morse commenced a search for someone to fill her shoes. He eventually contacted Marrero at the recommendation of a mutual friend, and an interview was scheduled, although Marrero had his apprehensions about the position.

“Having worked with economic-development corporations before, I had the sense that a lot of politicians had a very narrow view of economic development,” he explained. “Like corporate welfare, or just getting projects done at any cost or without any regard for a more comprehensive view of what makes an economy work and what makes a city work.

“Sometimes you can’t really explain it all in dollars and cents,” he went on, adding that, the more the two talked, the more he came to believe that Morse had a better, much broader view on the subject. “The meeting was a feeler as much for me as it was for him.”

Those vibes, coupled with his strong first impressions of the city, erased any doubts he had about the position.

“I said, ‘these people get what economic development is all about,’” he recalled. “And I saw the layout of Holyoke, the canals, the grid, and the old buildings … there’s something about this place. It’s abuzz with energy, and when I got that same feeling from the mayor, I said, ‘I really want this job.’”

State of the City

Marrero remembers one of his first encounters with the City Council; actually, it was one of its subcommittees.

There was some tension and disagreement over items up for discussion, to the point where one of the councilors offered a form of mild apology. Marrero recalls being taken aback by such talk — as well as his desire to put things in their proper perspective.

“I said, ‘have you seen Puerto Rican politics?’” he recalled with a hearty laugh. “I said, ‘I thought it was a great meeting.’ The governor in Puerto Rico that I was working for had a legislature dominated by members of the other party; it was sort of like what President Obama is going through with the Republican House — but on speed. There was no legislation he could get passed, and in fact the government shut down in 2006 because they couldn’t agree on anything.”

That experience in council chambers has been part of an intriguing learning curve for Marrero, one he said is certainly ongoing, and also one of many examples of how he intends to put some of those stops on his résumé — and even his time studying computer science — to work in his current position.

To date, he said there has been progress on many key issues, and what he considers a solid working relationship between the administration and the City Council. As just one example, he cited the hiring of the city’s first ‘creative economy coordinator.’

“The mayor had presented the idea for an arts and culture director,” he explained. “There were some reservations, and I think the mayor was very receptive to some of the comments and concerns the councilors had, and, to his credit, he modified the proposal to include some of those comments, on such matters as the administrative costs related to that position and how it will support economic development.”

Looking ahead, he said he’s anticipating a similar cooperative spirit on such matters as leveraging the High Performance Computing Center, redeveloping the former Holyoke Catholic High School campus in the heart of downtown (work is slated to begin later this year), progress on the next stages of the Canal Walk, bringing passenger rail service back to the city (construction on the new platform is slated for the fall), building on what is already a solid foundation in the creative economy, and attracting more businesses and residents to the city.

“There are a lot of things going on in the city, and when individuals’ hopes and work are rewarded by seeing these physical manifestations of their efforts, it feeds in a positive way into their expectations, but also the belief that their hard work will pay off. So 2013 is going to be a very exciting year.”

Looking further down the road, Marrero said that, while his predecessors have done considerable work to fill in some of the canvas that is Holyoke’s present and future, there is still the need for more broad strokes and imagination.

As an example, he cited the large number of vacant, unused properties that still remain in Holyoke and have been identified for acquisition by the city in its urban-renewal plan — a total of about 32 acres of land, by his estimation.

“Holyoke has plenty of space to grow, and we need to do it in a way that’s different than urban renewal in other cities, which unfortunately has meant urban removal of certain communities, usually the poor, ethnic minorities, people who speak differently,” he explained. “That’s the tarnished past of urban renewal; it’s just a reality. We have the opportunity here to do it differently and do it in a way that builds on the strengths of our community and creates opportunities for everyone in the community.”

And this brings him back to that subject of expectations, something he’s not intimidated by because there are others working with and beside him to meet them.

“The reality is that with expectations comes a lot of support, and people here are willing to go the extra mile,” he said, referring to a number of constituencies — “be it a board member or volunteer, people who just want to share their ideas, state partners that are willing to look at your proposals more than once, partners who provide vital funding to make projects happen, people who connect with other partners to make projects happen, like the Innovation District Task Force, and city employees who are willing to stay until 10 at night with you to get something done.

“You don’t see that everywhere and at anytime,” he went on. “And that’s why I feel comfortable with the expectations; it’s not just on me. I think this city expects a lot of itself, and people come through.”


Bottom Line

Returning to his thoughts on what he learned and what he experienced during his month of Holyoke-intensive studying, Marrero said there was a good deal of humility when it came to all the track-laying work undertaken by his predecessors in planning and economic development.

That emotion has essentially given way to resolve, he went on, and a commitment to take full advantage of the hand that he’s been dealt and fulfill those sky-high expectations for the city.

As Morse told him when Marrero was first introduced to the media, there is no promising little and then overdelivering in Holyoke — there’s too much progress in many key areas and too many critical building blocks already in place for that.

But, as he said in response to the mayor, ‘challenge accepted.’


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

Chamber Corners Departments



(413) 787-1555


• March 5: ERC5 March 2013 “High Five” Five-year Anniversary Event, 5-7 p.m., Spoleto Restaurant, 84 Center Square, East Longmeadow. For more information and to purchase tickets, contact [email protected]

• March 6: ACCGS [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., the Cedars, 375 Island Pond Road, Springfield. Guest speaker: Suzanne Bump, Massachusetts state auditor. The event will feature a salute to the YMCA of Greater Springfield on its 145th anniversary. For more information and to purchase tickets, contact [email protected]




(413) 253-0700


• Feb.  27: Chamber After 5, 5-7 p.m., Hampshire Athletic Club, 90 Gatehouse Road, Amherst. Admission is $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For more information, visit www.amherstarea.com.




(413) 594-2101

• Feb. 27: February Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., at NUVO Bank & Trust Co. Admission is $5 for members, $15 for non-members.

• March 1: Shining Stars Banquet, Castle of Knights, Memorial Drive, Chicopee. The event will recognize the Business of the Year — Birch Manor Rehabilitation & Skilled Nursing; Citizen of the Year — Lorraine Houle of Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen & Pantry; and Chamber Volunteer of the Year — Earl LaFlamme III of Marcus Printing. Diamond Sponsor is Chicopee Savings Bank; Gold Sponsors are Dave’s Truck Repair Inc., Hampden Bank, NUVO Bank & Trust Co., Pioneer Packaging Inc., Teddy Bear Pools Inc., the Gaudreau Group Inc., and Valley Opportunity Council. Silver Sponsor is MicroTek Inc. Tickets are $60 per person.

• March 20: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., MassMutual Learning & Conference Center, 350 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Cost is $20 for members, $25 for non-members.

• March 20: 19th Annual Table Top Expo & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m., the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, and Easthampton chambers of commerce. The event will feature more than 180 exhibitors and hundreds of visitors. Cost to attend: $5 pre-registered, $10 at the door. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org.



(413) 773-5463


• March 22: Breakfast Series, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by the Hallmark Institute of Photography, Industrial Boulevard, Turners Falls. Presentation by Robert McBride, founding director of the Rockingham (Vt.) Arts and Museum Project. He will share RAMP’s five-pronged approach to integrating the arts into a community-revitalization effort and long-term sustainability strategies. Sponsored by Franklin County Community Development Corp. and HitPoint Studios. Cost is $12 for FCCC members, $15 for non-members.

• March 22-23: Creative Economy Summit IV, a two-day seminar for artists, art lovers, business supporters, and everyone related to the creative economy. Registration fees and program details available at www.creativeeconomysummit.com.




(413) 527-9414


• March 8: St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon, noon-2 p.m., Southampton Country Club, 329 College Highway, Southampton. Guest speaker: U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. Honored guest: Rachel Connell, Distinguished Young Woman of Greater Easthampton. Sponsored by the Easthampton Learning Foundation and Finck & Perras Insurance Agency. Tickets are $21.95 for members, $23.95 for non-members.

• March 14: Networking by Night Business Card Exchange and Chamber Open House, 5-7 p.m., Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, 33 Union St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Innovative Business Systems and TechCavalry. Door Prizes, hors d’ouevres, host beer and wine. Tickets are $5 for members, $15 for future members.

• March 20: 19th Annual Table Top Exposition and Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m., the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Easthampton, Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. Exhibitor table fee: $100 (must be a member). Contact the participating chambers for information. Attendee-only tickets: $5 in advance, $10 at the door.



(413) 534-3376


• March 1-29: St. Pat’s Luck of the Irish Raffle. First prize, sponsored by Fln-Mar Rubber and Plastics: Red Sox Weekend Getaway for July 20 game vs. Yankees. Includes two game tickets, overnight stay at Boston Sheraton Back Bay Hotel, Peter Pan bus transportation, and $100 spending money. Second prize, sponsored by PeoplesBank and Pioneer Valley Railroad: Apple 32GB iPad Mini and case. Third Prize, sponsored by Mountain View Lanscapes, Barry J. Farrell Funeral Home, and Aubrey, Dixon &Turgeon LLC: $500 spending spree at Holyoke Mall. Drawing to be held March 20 at the Table Top Expo at the Log Cabin. Tickets are $5 each or book of three for $10. Tickets are available for purchase online, at the chamber, and at each chamber event through March 20.

• March 7: Leadership Holyoke Program, sponsored by PeoplesBank. Presented by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Holyoke Community College. Speakers, discussions, classroom time, and field trips are included in this 11-week session. Call the chamber at (413) 534-3376 for details or sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• March 13: St. Pat’s Salute Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Sponsored by PeoplesBank and Holyoke Mall. Tickets are $25. Call the office for reservations at (413) 534-3376 or sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• March 20: Table Top Expo, 4:30-7 p.m., the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Holyoke, Chicopee, Easthampton, and Northampton chambers of commerce. The public is invited. Admission: $5 in advance, $10 at the door; vendors: $100 per table. Corporate sponsor: the Log Cabin-Delaney House; Platinum sponsors: Taylor Rental of Holyoke, the Republican, Westover Job Corps Center, BusinessWest, Florence Savings Bank, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette; Gold Sponsors: Holyoke Community College, United Bank, Guenther Associates, Hadley Printing, the Valley Advocate, Northampton Rental, Charter Business, First Niagara Bank, and Harrington Insurance; Silver Sponsors: Dowd Insurance, Elms College, Freedom Credit Union, Hampden Bank, Health New England, Loomis Communities, Mountainview Landscape, PeoplesBank, New England Public Radio WFCR-WNNZ, TD Bank, Reminder Publications, United Personnel, Peter Pan Bus Lines, Peoples United Bank, and Valet Park of America. Call (413) 534-3376 or the participating chambers to reserve a table or to order admission tickets. Snow date: March 27.



(413) 755-1310


• March 20: March 2013 Meeting, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., the Basketball Hall of Fame, MassMutual Room. Catered by Max’s Tavern. Speaker: Hope Margala Klein, executive vice president of Brand, Innovation & Merchandising, Yankee Candle. Her program is titled “My Journey Through the Glass Ceiling.” Tickets: $25 for members, $35 for non-members. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact [email protected]




(413) 426-3880


• Feb.  28: Legislative Breakfast presented by the West of the River Chamber of Commerce, 7-9 a.m., Springfield Country Club. The breakfast will have a panel of various legislatures: state Sen. Michael Knapik, state Sen. James Welch, state Rep. Nicholas Boldyga, state Rep. Michael Finn, Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen, and West Springfield Mayor Greg Neffinger. Tickets are $25 for members, $30 for non-members. For more information on ticket sales, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

• March 6: Wicked Wednesday, 5-7 p.m., Raymour & Flanigan, 895 Riverdale St., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events hosted by various businesses and restaurants. These events bring members and non-members together to network socially in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected] Free for chamber members, $10 for non-members. Event is open to the public, but non-members must pay at the door.




(413) 568-1618


• March 4: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m., East Mountain Country Club, 1458 East Mountain Road, Westfield. Free and open to the public. To register, contact Pam Bussell at the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mail [email protected]

• March 13: March WestNet, 5-7 p.m., First Niagara Bank, 664 College Highway, Southwick. Come join us for a couple of hours to socialize and network with local businesses. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar. Walk-ins welcome. Cost: members, $10 in advance or cash at the door; non-members, $15 cash. To register, contact Pam Bussell at the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mail [email protected] by March 11.

• March 15: St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, 7:15 a.m., Westfield State University, Scanlon Hall, 577 Western Ave., Westfield. Registration is at 7:15, the breakfast begins at 7:30, and the program begins at 8. Judy Dumont, MBI director, will speak on Massachusetts 123, a project to bring high-speed broadband to every corner of the Commonwealth. Cost is $25 for members, $30 for non-members. To register, contact Pam Bussell at the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mail [email protected] RSVP for this event by March 11.


Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield



• March  21: Third Thursday, 5-7 p.m. at Nadim’s Mediterranean Restaurant & Grill, 1390 Main St., Springfield. Go to www.cafelebanon.com for more information about the restaurant.

Some Things We’d Like to See in 2013

As we prepare to put an intriguing, if unremarkable, business year behind us, it’s time to look ahead to 2013, with some hopes, expectations, and concerns.

Here’s a quick list of some of the things we’d like to see, or not see, in the year ahead.

• First, we only want to see Square One director Joan Kagan’s picture in the newspaper, or this magazine, if she’s at the annual tea wearing one of those big hats or, even better, wielding a ceremonial shovel at a groundbreaking for a new facility in Springfield’s South End. After the tornado in 2011 and the gas explosion in 2012 erased two facilities with Square One signs on the front, it’s time for this nonprofit agency and its leader to get a break and eventually turn these twin calamities into opportunities.

• And now, we return to the issue that dominated 2012 in every way — casinos. It is our hope that the process to determine the winner of the Western Mass. casino moves more quickly, and more civilly, than it did over the past several months. As we said back in the summer, it’s unlikely that anything else is going to get done around here, and especially in downtown Springfield, until we determine where the casino is going to go. So this needs to get settled. And while we understand that this is a competition with very high stakes, we’d like to see more energy put into making these projects work for the region and less energy spent criticizing rival plans.

• Meanwhile, we’d like the players in this market to take a page from the script written in Northeastern Pennsylvania (see story, page 6), where a revenue-sharing agreement was worked out among the communities around Bethlehem, where the casino was eventually built. This casino fight shouldn’t be a winner-take-all proposition. Many area communities will share in the headaches that come with a casino, and they should also share the wealth.

• And while the casino battle plays out, area economic-development leaders have to push ahead with other initiatives because the phrase ‘a casino is not a cure-all’ is not rhetoric — it’s a fact. This region will need other sources of new jobs and other efforts to spark revitalization efforts in area downtowns. We’re encouraged by the work both Springfield and Holyoke are doing to build opportunities with and around the creative economy, and these must continue and expand. At the same time, the region needs to continue to explore new job-creating opportunities in green energy, the life sciences, and other fields.

• UMass will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2013. It should be a big, year-long party. We’d like to see it capped off with strong movement toward creating a satellite campus in downtown Springfield. Such a facility, perhaps undertaken in conjunction with a casino development, would bring young people and a huge amount of energy to Springfield’s central business district. The timing isn’t good — the state budget situation is getting worse, not better — and there are many other priorities for the state university. But an expanded presence in Springfield would serve both the city and the school, and now might be the time to strike.

• Lastly, we’d like to see more area employers gain the confidence to start hiring again. There are many reasons why most people in business believe we’re still in a recession (even though technically we are not), but the jobless nature of whatever recovery we’re seen is the primary culprit. With more people working, spending should increase, and businesses across every sector would benefit. It’s all a matter of confidence, and we hope that, in the year ahead, this region can find some.

Holyoke’s Time Is Now


While much of the attention locally has been fixed on the issue of a Western Mass. casino, where it will go, when, and with what impact, there is an intriguing story being written just a few miles up I-91 from Springfield in Holyoke.

It’s not complete yet — in fact, it’s just getting started — but some of the chapters in progress are enough to warrant optimism in a city that has a rich industrial history but a turbulent recent past and status as one of the poorest communities in the Commonwealth.

As the story on page 44 reveals, there is considerable momentum building in what’s known as the Paper City, and there may be some important lessons here for those communities that don’t wind up with a casino — and even for those that do.

Holyoke is rebuilding itself the old-fashioned way, if you will, going one block, sometimes one building, at a time, using the creative economy as a way to create vibrancy and interest, and building a reputation as a place where technology and green-energy-related businesses can take hold.

As we said at the top, there is a long way to go in this, the nation’s first planned industrial city, but the signs of a strong comeback are there, and the elements for continued progress are in place or in the works.

Start with stories like Steve Porter’s. He was working and living in New York, and looking to take a traveling DJ business and expand it into a video-production venture. Real estate in New York was well out of his reach, so he started looking for another setting in which to set up shop. He found an oddly shaped building in a former textile complex known colloquially, and within Porterhouse Media, as the ‘wedge.’ Not much to look at on the outside, the building has become home to cutting-edge studios and offices with tight corners and unique square footage.

In many ways, Porter and his building represent the essence of the emerging Holyoke story — a small business finding a good home in a piece of property that many people wouldn’t bother to look at. It’s a story that could be replicated dozens of times, and that’s the simple message that Porter wants to leave with anyone who hears of how he came to Holyoke.

As he retells it, it wasn’t simply the price tag on the property that attracted him — although that was a big part of it. There was also a sense that something interesting, something exciting, was happening in Holyoke, and he wanted to be a part of it.

Vitek Kruta and Lori Devine felt the same way when they, like Porter, assumed a large amount of risk by opening Gateway City Arts in the former Judd Paper complex on Race Street.

Describing themselves as enablers, Devine and Kruta have a host of things going on in their complex — from tango classes to painting lessons; from performances and lectures to an incubator facility currently with a handful of tenants and potential for about 20 more.

The broad goal is to use the arts as a way to bring people to Holyoke, create energy and vibrancy, and perhaps give birth to some businesses that will repurpose more old mill space and put people to work.

As these stories and others unfold, the pieces of a puzzle are coming together for Holyoke. Creative-economy initiatives are introducing the city to more people and business owners, while the Green High Performance Computing Center, a collaboration involving several universities and technology corporations, give the community “affirmation,” as one entrepreneur out it, while also showing what this city can do. Rail service is returning on a limited basis, and old mills like Open Square continue to add new tenants and bring more vibrancy to the heart of the city.

Holyoke’s comeback story is far from complete, and there are many challenges ahead, but all the signs are there for a turnaround that will be real — and very inspirational.

Sections Travel and Tourism
MASS MoCA Fills In the Wide Canvas of Contemporary Art

Joe Thompson

Joe Thompson says MASS MoCA’s constantly changing installations and inclusion of performing arts make it more vibrant than a static art museum.

Joe Thompson was talking about how, over its 13-year history, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) had solidified its reputation as a unique showcase of what is called ‘new art’ — in all of the many forms that takes — and as a facility that is never afraid to take a chance on exhibits, programs, and events that are, in a word, different.
And with that, as if on cue, the sounds of people banging on metal drums, accompanied by a woman singing opera, could be heard from the floor below.
This was the New York City-based, multi-faceted classical-music organization Bang on a Can, which, according to its Web site, is “creating an international community dedicated to innovative music, wherever it is found.” With that mission in mind, the group, led by composers and founders Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon, sought out MASS MoCA as the home for a summer educational and residency program for fellows and students in all forms of music.
The 18-day festival, which concluded on July 28, is sometimes called ‘Banglewood,’ in reference to the nearby, and much more traditional, Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox. It is is dedicated, said the group, “entirely to adventurous contemporary music; we will write it, we will perform it, we will think about it, and we will talk about it.”
And for all that, the museum in North Adams, created out of several old mills that were part of the Sprague Electric complex, has become a venue Wolfe called both supportive and inspiring.
“MASS MoCA is a gold mine of support and atmosphere,” Wolfe told BusinessWest, “and this program, with all the surrounding art, allows for students to create and perform as colleagues, side by side with seasoned performers. It gets music into art spaces.”
Creation of this powerful learning environment is one of many ways to qualify and quantify the success MASS MoCA has recorded since opening in the summer of 1999, said Thompson, the museum’s director, adding that others include solid attendance figures (130,000 last year, a new record), a growing endowment (currently $14.5 million), and a large number of return visitors, a statistic that lies at the heart of the facility’s current operating philosophy.
Indeed, instead of a static museum dedicated to contemporary art, MASS MoCA is an ever-changing institution that showcases paintings in canvases, but also film, video, sculpture, and, yes, music.
“The farther away you get from North Adams, the more people think of MASS MoCA as a museum; the closer you get to North Adams, the more people think of MASS MoCA as the place where they see theater or dance events,” said Thompson, adding that this range of descriptions speaks to just how the museum has become different things to different people.
Julia Wolfe and David Lang

Julia Wolfe and David Lang say MASS MoCA helps enable Bang on a Can to “get music into art space.”

For this issue and its focus on the region’s tourism industry, BusinessWest looks at how MASS MoCA continues to grow and evolve while finding new ways to meet its two main goals: to provide a state-of-the-art (and arts) platform for contemporary works of all kinds, and create jobs in a corner of the state that needs some.

Exhibiting Determination
It’s called Solid Sound.
That’s the name that was given to a three-day music festival launched by MASS MoCA administrators in 2010, featuring Wilco, the American alternative-rock band based in Chicago.
Thompson said he and others were confident that Wilco and its opening acts would draw a good turnout, but they actually got a lot more than they bargained for — and more than the town was prepared for. More than 5,000 fans descended on North Adams, filling every available parking space and prompting restaurants to run out of food. Thompson and city officials who helped stage the event feared that litter would be scattered throughout downtown the morning after the event wound down.
“But all throughout downtown, all we saw were full garbage cans and neatly stacked cups and lined-up bottles — by recyclable type — next to each can,” said Thompson with a laugh. “It’s due to the type of engaged and environmentally conscious following that Wilco has.”
And this is, by and large, the same type of audience that is attracted to contemporary, or new, art, he continued, adding that the museum draws more than 120,000 visitors per year — a tribute, he believes, to an operating philosophy that he and others involved with this project agreed upon as they raised and then spent more than $31 million to convert portions of the Sprague complex into one of the largest (area-wise) contemporary-art museums in the world.
Going back to the early and mid-1990s, Thompson said he slowly grew away from his original, and firmly rooted, belief in the concept of a museum with large, fixed installations devoted to pared-down ‘minimal art’ of the ’70s and ’80s. While he admits they look great in the generous, rough-hewn spaces afforded by mill buildings, and don’t require fancy climate control, he came to think that static art offered far too limited a vision — perhaps a dangerously constrained one.
“Many people who shared my love of new art worried out loud whether visitors would make repeat visits to a permanent, fixed installation,” he explained. “That question — ‘would people come twice?’ — that was a tough question, and led me to think that a program of changing, shorter-term exhibitions might be a more engaging way to begin.
“As artists had become increasingly fluid in the way they work, with art-making practices that cross from sculpture to set design to video and film,” he continued, “it became clear that an institution that was to be truly responsive to the needs and trajectories of new art had to incorporate the performing arts as well.”
In a nutshell, the past 13 years of operation have essentially proven Thompson and others right in their thinking. The museum has changed exhibits regularly and hosted a broad mix of media — as evidenced by Solid Sound, Banglewood, and other projects and events — and visitors have come back repeatedly.

Creative Economy
The list of current and upcoming exhibits speaks volumes about the diversity created at MASS MoCA and the ability to present a different museum every time visitors venture to North Adams.
There’s “Oh, Canada” (through next April), the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art produced outside of Canada. It features the work of more than 60 artists who hail from every province and nearly every territory. There also “Invisible Cities,” showing through next February. Titled after Italo Calvino’s book — which imagines Marco Polo’s vivid descriptions of numerous cities of a fading era to Kublai Kahn — it features the work of 10 diverse artists who reimagine urban landscapes both familiar and fantastical.
Meanwhile, “Stanford Biggers: The Cartographer’s Conundrum” is a major multi-disciplinary installation by New York-based artist Stanford Biggers, and was inspired by the work of his cousin, the late artist, scholar, and Afro-futurist John Biggers.
And then there’s “Sol LeWitt; A Wall Drawing Retrospective, which is an ongoing, semi-permanent display that is the one notable exception to Thompson’s basic operating strategy of changing exhibits. It includes 105 large wall drawings — many would use the term murals — created by artist Sol LeWitt, who is considered by many in the art world to be the most influential conceptual artist of our time.
It is due to the sheer size of LeWitt’s large-scale art, some of it measuring more than 30 feet long by eight feet or more in height, that MASS MoCA was considered an ideal home for these works. Thompson told BusinessWest that a call early in 2003 from Yale University Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds set in motion the process for bringing LeWitt’s art to North Adams, but first he had to be sold on a permanent display.
As Thompson explains it, Reynolds and LeWitt needed the space to construct LeWitt’s legacy (the artist never lived to see the unveiling in 2007) and focused on MASS MoCA because no other museum in the Northeast could dedicate tens of thousands of square feet of space to such large works. Thompson said the collaboration between Yale, the Williams College Museum of Art, and MASS MoCA resulted in a stunning “museum within a museum,” as he called it, on three floors, totaling 30,000 square feet.
“As much as we love our changing program, and you’re only as good as your last show, this was a rule-breaker for us,” Thompson said. “Suddenly, we had this beautiful milestone installation of Sol LeWitt’s, and it’s super-high-quality, it’s colorful, full of detail, and it just leaves you smiling — it just makes you feel good.”
It was a turning point for Thompson. “It made me think that the ideal museum is one that has both a core, permanent collection, but also lots of room for change; you want masterpieces that people return to over and over again, but you also want a vibrant roster of changing exhibitions that trigger the return visit. Sol LeWitt helped us see that.”

Broad Strokes
While MASS MoCA hasn’t yet matched its goal for creating 600 jobs, it has succeeded in contributing to the economic development of North Adams and the Berkshires in general, said Thompson, adding that it has become a day-tripping destination while also filling some hotel rooms as well.
Meanwhile, it has become that proverbial ‘different sort of venue’ that has attracted the likes of Bang on a Can, Wilco, and visitors who want to experience the full range of new art.
Perhaps David Lang summed it up best when he said that, because the museum, perceptions of North Adams have changed.
“Before, it was always a place you could visit,” he said. “Now, it’s a place you have to visit.”

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Briefcase Departments

UMass President Awards $750,000 for Innovative Faculty Research
BOSTON — UMass President Robert Caret recently announced nearly $750,000 in grants to faculty members from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund to support six promising research projects, which range from creating standards for testing robotic systems to detecting financial fraud in large-scale securities data to developing new skin-cancer imaging technologies. 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 sectors, and extend the boundaries of human knowledge. The grants provide seed funding to accelerate research activity across all five campuses and position researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects. “The Science & Technology fund advances the work of producing the discoveries and technological breakthroughs that will improve lives, create jobs, and preserve our planet,” said Caret. “It supports the ideas and inventiveness of our faculty and fosters a culture of collaboration across all five campuses that attracts investments and underscores our role as an innovation engine for the Commonwealth.” This marks the ninth year the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund awards have been handed out. It’s one of three funds that President Caret taps to help advance the work of UMass faculty members: the other two are the Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property Technology Development Fund and the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund. Since 2004, the Science & Technology Fund has provided $7.5 million to UMass researchers, which, in turn, has generated $207 million in funding from outside sources for vital research efforts and led to the creation of nearly 20 research centers on the five campuses. UMass’s annual research expenditures climbed to $587 million in fiscal year 2011; that same year the university generated income of $36.5 million from faculty discovery and innovation. To date, the President’s Science & Technology Fund has financed more than 60 projects representing the breadth of academic inquiry at UMass. Locally, a grant project at UMass Amherst called ‘Big Data Informatics Initiative (BDI2)’ focuses on areas such as detecting financial fraud in large-scale securities data, correlating video/audio surveillance data to spot trends or anomalies in real time, and smart-meter data processing by energy utilities. Collaborators include the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, Holyoke Gas & Electric, MIT, and commercial partners such as EMC, Nokia, GE Global Research, and Yahoo Research. The total awarded was $136,250.

MCDI Transitions to Family Self-sufficiency Focus
SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Career Development Institute Inc. recently announced a transition in its core services that will increasingly revolve the agency around family self-sufficiency initiatives and de-emphasize some workplace-training programs, many of which are now being undertaken at the community-college and vocational-secondary-school level. The move will have the immediate impact of downsizing the organization by 15% of its current workforce. The agency will also plan to relocate to a smaller, more efficient training and educational facility within Springfield as it transitions to a more appropriate operating model, according to Timothy Sneed, executive director of MCDI. The new emphasis at MCDI will be on career counseling and training tracks that are in high demand, eliminating those that are being shifted to other training sources. However, MCDI will continue its vocational training programs that address the growing employer demand in health care through its Certified Nurse Aide/Home Health Aide and Medical Office Professional training programs. Sneed said he anticipates an opportunity for MCDI to grow into other health-related training programs based on employers’ needs. Sneed indicated that, in an effort to focus on program strengths, MCDI is evolving into an agency that supports “family self-sufficiency” and will provide a host of direct and indirect resources in support of the family. “There has been a shift in the funding landscape with respect to vocational training, and most federal and state dollars are targeted at funding community colleges and technical-high-school programs,” said Sneed. “So, in many areas MCDI has been duplicating services with more training funding going to the community colleges and vocational programs at the secondary-school level. We will continue to provide multiple levels of adult basic education and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) together with career and academic advising. Our support-services strategy will include job-readiness and life-skills training, which is so critical in today’s job market. We will temporarily discontinue our trade programs in culinary arts, precision-manufacturing technology, and sheet-metal welding and fabrication.” He continued, “while this reorganization is difficult, we see this as an opportunity to strengthen our core training programs with a vision of future expansion opportunities. The impact upon a portion of our workforce is truly unfortunate. At the same time, our management and board of directors see this as a positive step in the long-term viability of MCDI and, most importantly, those we serve in our community.”

GSCVB Unveils 2012-13 Pioneer Valley Visitor Guide
SPRINGFIELD — The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) has unveiled the new 2012-2013 Guide to Masachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, which is now available by ordering online at www.valleyvisitor.com. The guide is free of charge and is a collaboration between the GSCVB and the Franklin and Hampshire County Regional Tourist Councils. The guide, a 112-page publication, contains information about some of the region’s top attractions, accommodations, and restaurants. The book offers new features, including a listing of farmers’ markets and expanded listings of attractions, accommodations, restaurants, shopping, transportation, recreational sites, colleges, and prep schools.

A Passing of the Torch at the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce

Kathy Anderson, right, has taken the reins of the Greater Holyoke Chamber from the retiring Doris Ransford.

Kathy Anderson, right, has taken the reins of the Greater Holyoke Chamber from the retiring Doris Ransford.

Doris Ransford was looking back on her 26 years as director of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce when she paused for a short while at one of the seminal moments in her tenure — the chamber’s 100th anniversary in 1990.
This was a time of celebration, but also a chance to reflect on the many changes that had come to the community over that century, said Ransford during an interview in her last week on the job before stepping into retirement, adding that the pace of change has only accelerated since that milestone.
“I was looking over a special supplement we did as part of the 100th anniversary,” she recalled. “We honored all the companies that were over 100 years old, and there were a lot of them, mostly manufacturers. And, sadly, the majority of them aren’t here anymore.”
But while the complexion of the Holyoke business community has changed markedly over the past several years and the manufacturing base that put the city on the map has dwindled, there have been many positive developments as well, said Ransford, listing everything from new retail to a host of new small businesses to successful revitalization efforts downtown.
And the chamber has played a significant role in many of them.
Some of its most significant contributions, she said, have been in the broad realm of workforce development, a key issue in a community where business owners have long struggled to find employees with the requisite skill sets. The chamber has taken a leadership role in such initiatives as the creation of the one-stop career center CareerPoint, continuation of programs administered by the Mass. Career Development Institute after scandal there a decade ago, and a host of training and placement programs.
“Companies had job openings, but couldn’t find skilled workers,” she recalled, adding that the challenge persists today. “For many years, we were actually placing people into jobs from this office.”
Meanwhile, the chamber has been involved in other endeavors, ranging from the transformation of the old central fire station into a multi-modal transportation center and adult-education facility, to the advancement of plans for the return of rail service to the center’s downtown.
And while doing all this, the organization has been steadfast in its primary mission — providing effective service to its membership, said Ransford just a few days before she turned over the keys to her successor, Kathy Anderson, a veteran economic-development leader in the city, serving most recently as director of the Holyoke Office of Planning and Development.
Looking ahead, Anderson said she plans to continue building on the foundation created by Ransford and those who came before her, while also broadening the organization’s focus somewhat to include more work to assist and mentor fledgling entrepreneurs and small business owners.
“I’d really like to find ways to support small businesses that aren’t part of a chamber, and don’t have a lot of outside contact with others they can network with or learn from with regard to running their business effectively,” Anderson said. “We have to better understand the needs of the young entrepreneurs, and then help meet those needs.”
For this, the latest installment of its Getting Down to Business series, BusinessWest uses the leadership change at the chamber as an opportunity to look at where this venerable organization has been, and where it wants to go next.

History in the Making
The walls in many of the rooms of the Greater Holyoke Chamber office on High Street are covered with portraits of past board chairs. When asked if her likeness would eventually join them, Ransford laughed and said, “I seriously doubt it.”
But even if her picture doesn’t end up on the wall, there is no doubting Ransford’s impact on the chamber, Holyoke’s business community, and the city itself. Indeed, while many of the jokes at a testimonial staged at the Delaney House on May 29 concerned the length of Ransford’s tenure — Mayor Alex Morse noted that he wasn’t alive when she started, and state Sen. Mike Knapik recalled that he was still in college — there was also high praise for a long list of accomplishments.
And also recognition of a career in chamber work that spans more than 45 years and assignments in the region’s two largest cities.
Ransford started working for the Springfield Chamber of Commerce in the  late 1960s, and eventually held a number of positions with that organization, eventually rising to senior vice president. She handled a number of responsibilities as well, from public relations to program development to running two affiliates, in Agawam and West Springfield.
When the director’s position came open in Holyoke in 1986, Ransford saw it as an opportunity to lead her own chamber, while also taking a leadership role in a city undergoing significant change as it continued the process of reinventing itself from its legacy as the country’s first planned industrial city.
During her lengthy tenure, she has presided over a number of initiatives, from support of Greater Holyoke Inc.’s efforts to revitalize downtown to the creation of a fall trade show that involved a partnership with the Chicopee Chamber. But perhaps the most noteworthy accomplishments came in the broad realm of workforce development.
Indeed, in addition to being one of five agencies that collaborated to create CareerPoint in the mid-’90s, the Holyoke Chamber was one of six chambers to receive grants for workforce efforts through a partnership involving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Assoc. of Manufacturers, the Ford Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“That enabled us to put someone on staff and work with companies that were needing employees,” she explained. “We were doing a lot of work with employers at that time, especially in manufacturing and health care.”
Ransford, who announced her retirement several months ago, has spent the past several weeks working on transition issues with Anderson, who told BusinessWest that she sought the chamber job because it would enable her to continue working on many of the issues that have occupied her time and energy for the past 13 years, but also narrow what had been a very broad focus to local businesses and how to assist them.
“I saw this as a great opportunity to continue to work with the business community and support it in a different way than I did before,” said Anderson, who worked in the mayor’s office in Holyoke for several years before moving on to the Office of Planning and Development, where she succeeded Jeffrey Hayden as director in 2006.
Looking ahead, Anderson said she wants the chamber to continue to take active roles in economic-development and workforce-development initiatives. These include everything from support programs for young entrepreneurs and small-business owners to efforts to introduce young people to possible career paths and jobs within the city through summer internships and other programs.
She noted that the city has indeed lost many older, larger employers over the past several decades, and that one of the many strategies for replacing those lost jobs is to encourage entrepreneurship while also providing support and educational opportunities for small businesses with the hope that some will remain in the city and achieve solid growth.
“It comes down to understanding the needs of this new generation of entrepreneurs,” she said, “and try to tailor workshops, breakfast meetings, or speakers to help them understand how to run their businesses more effectively so they can grow.
“Also, funding is always an issue for businesses, especially small, startup businesses,” she continued. “The first part to get started is easy, but the next round, the one they need to grow their business, is much harder to attain, so I would like to put together programs that would help them understand their options for getting funding.”
Another priority is to continue work Ransford started to get city businesses more involved in the school system in what can be a mutually beneficial partnership.
“I’d like to get kids into internships, summer-job-placement programs, shadowing, and more,” she said, “so they can see what types of jobs are available here in Holyoke, and to get them thinking, ‘I can do that,’ and have have a focus, or goal, of getting back to that company to work someday.”
Overall, Anderson sees a number of positive developments in Holyoke, from the High-performance Computing Center to infrastructure projects such as the Canal Walk, to the plans for restoring rail service. These, coupled with a changing population that includes more young professionals and members of the creative economy, have many thinking positively about the city’s future.

Returning to that 100th anniversary celebration and all that’s happened since, Ransford said that, while looking back can be a somewhat painful exercise, it doesn’t have to be.
“There’s always been a ray of hope in this city, and people have always worked hard to make a difference,” she told BusinessWest. “So while people look back and see all that’s been lost, a lot has been gained, too; I think this is quite a different city from when I first came here.”
Ransford is one of those who made a difference, and because of what she and others have been able to accomplish, Anderson and the chamber can indeed look forward with optimism.

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

Berkshire Chamber Is Focused on Partnerships

The principals of 1Berkshire

The principals of 1Berkshire are promoting the initiative as “a one-stop shop” for economic development, according to Michael Supranowicz, second from right.

The present-day Berkshire Chamber of Commerce is the result of a merger, in 2000, of the then-so-called Chamber of Commerce of the Berkshires and the Northern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. The result is what current president and CEO Michael Supranowicz called “the absolute force for business advocacy in this county.”
Elaborating, he told BusinessWest, “we realized that it was getting harder to keep these separated organizations doing the same thing in their own spheres of influence. But it was pretty easy for both boards to see the opportunities possible in creating one large chamber, one that could address all the business issues of the greater good in Berkshire County.”
According to the BCC mission, the chamber “will lead and advance economic development and support the civic and social welfare of Berkshire County through the advocacy and support of our members and the Berkshire community.” And through some upcoming partnerships that are just weeks away from becoming a reality, the road to meeting that mission will be easier to navigate.
One such initiative, called 1Berkshire, is just a few weeks away for its official launch. The newly branded “one-stop shop,” as Supranowicz called it, will be comprised of the BCC, the Berkshire Visitor’s Bureau, the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., and the Berkshire Creative Economy Council.
“Out here in Berkshire County, we look at ourselves as an island,” he explained. “We stand alone. There isn’t great highway access, there are still many communities absent a good access point for Internet, and we’re losing a congressman. It sometimes feels like we have to fight for everything we have here in this county, but we’ve been lucky enough to keep our interests well-contained with our organizations.
“However, because of the singularity of our physical location,” he added, “we’ve had to rely on our own ingenuity to get things done. We gave it the name 1Berkshire because we want to be unique.”
The program is just one of many strategic initiatives through which the chamber carries out its multifaceted mission. Ashley Sulock, director of Communications and Marketing for the BCC, pointed BusinessWest toward another — the chamber’s comprehensive Web site, one that functions on a variety of levels. The site contains tools for current and prospective businesses, as well as site selectors, all with the intent of growing existing businesses and recruiting new ones.
“With all of the online components,” she explained, “this chamber is really a foundation upon which you can build your business.”
For this issue and its Getting Down to Business series, BusinessWest looks at the many ways in which the BCC backs up those words.

Economic Agenda
While the current incarnation of the BCC is only approaching adolescence, the chambers that precede it date back to the 19th century. A primary reason for the merger was, in Supranowicz’s words, “The union of the two largest and most advocacy-driven chambers in Berkshire County.”
The business sector of the county is unique, both he and Sulock noted, with one big reason being its challenging location.
“Approximately 80% to 85% of our membership represent a small business profile,” Sulock said. “Berkshire County has in the neighborhood of 4,700 businesses in total, and about 4,200 of those employ 19 or fewer people.
“We have a constituency that requires very specific programming,” she added, “and we try to support that with everything from educational workshops to professional-development opportunities to advertising opportunities for the small-business community to showcase their products and services. That’s one of our primary functions, to connect these members to the community at large.”
Supranowicz said his chamber’s advocacy has multiple strategies. Legislation and a political presence comprise one technique.
“If there’s a cumbersome business regulation that we can do away with, to allow the business community to be more productive, or to have something cost less for the purposes of their bottom line, then we’ll address that,” he explained. “We speak on behalf of the business community about split tax rates,we work hard on energy costs, and we’ve been a qualified intervener at some Department of Energy hearings regarding the construction of solar arrays; we’re working with other chambers across the state with regard to alleviating the pressures of health insurance.”
But a key tool in the BCC’s toolbox is its Web site, which both administrators noted. In addition to the customary business directory found on most similar sites, the BCC’s comprehensive site contains much more. There’s a cost-of-living index calculator and several tools for site selectors — those contracted individuals who seek regional information for business clients looking for new markets.
“On the Web site, we compare ourselves to about 360 other communities throughout the nation,” Supranowicz said. “And where that leads to economic development is when our larger companies are looking to recruit. They have a base of comparable costs of living when they’re looking to bring those potential employees here. They know how much they would need to pay them in order for that person to afford the same type of living that they could have somewhere else, or wherever else they’re located.”
The Berkshire Business Real Estate Locator is another of those tools, and Supranowicz explained how it worked. “What we did is utilize the International Economic Development Council’s basic set of comparable statistics,” he explained, “to create a section on the Web site dedicated to promoting the commercial land and buildings in Berkshire County. And tied into that, we have the minimum set of demographic information that site selectors look to, when they’re comparing one region over another.”
These online tools are also helpful for the current business community, he said, and are an asset in the chamber’s legislative advocacy. “They provide economic modeling help,” he said. “We can plug an event in, and we can determine what the direct and indirect benefits are for that event. For instance, we had an auto dealer who was looking to build a second location in Pittsfield, and was applying for a TIF package. The chamber was able to tell the city council that, if he built that building, and if he put X amount of people to work, it would mean X amount more jobs in Pittsfield could be spun off of that.”

One for All
1Berkshire had its origins not long after the BCC’s own merger. In 2006, the chamber initiated the Berkshire Strategy Project, focused on the prioritized issues facing the region, and a concern with how to make the county’s economy stronger.
Concurrently, the other three partnerships all had similarly tracked projects and missions. In 2009, a “meeting of the minds” formed a steering committee, and the individual efforts were rebranded as 1Berkshire. “Ultimately, this will satisfy most of the economic-development needs in Berkshire County,” Supranowicz said.
The organization will be located in Pittsfield’s former Central Fire Station on Allen Street, which was donated by Berkshire Bank. The project will launch in a few weeks, he noted, adding that, with the new structure and new organization, opportunities for business service, and educational resources, 1Berkshire will be a model for economic collaboration across a spectrum of agencies.
“Whether a visitor comes in,” he explained, “or maybe they’re a business prospect, or a current business owner looking for some help, there’s one number to call or one building to come to, and everyone will receive the assistance of all these organizations that help to create prosperity in Berkshire County.
“We’re looked at by other parts of the state when they want an example of collaboration and how to do it right,” he added.
As a lifelong resident of Berkshire County, Sulock said she was thrilled to be part of both the BCC and its expanding partnership. “Even though our focus is on business and our membership,” she said, “there is a major benefit to the social welfare of the county, and the civic development of the community at large.
“By uniting under one roof with these other organizations,” she added, “that speaks to our contemporary perspective on how to do business, and how we want to shape the business community in the Berkshires.”

Sections Technology
Could the Valley Become a Hub for Video-game Companies?

Allan Blair freely admitted his understanding of the video-game industry is limited. Or was, anyway.
“I had the simplistic view that gaming meant being frustrated by Angry Birds,” said Blair, president of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council (EDC). “The fact is, it’s truly a business, a real industry, and not just something to wile away time on. I had no idea.
“But once I got my mind around that,” he continued, “naturally, as an economic developer, I asked, ‘how do we nurture growth in this kind of industry in Massachusetts?’ As I learned about the industry, I came to believe we have in Western Mass. a lot of aspects necessary for this industry to grow and thrive.”
That was the general sentiment among more than two dozen panelists participating in “Digital Games: Playing in the Valley,” a recent symposium co-sponsored by host Hampshire College, the Mass. Digital Games Institute, and the EDC. The event drafted video-game entrepreneurs, professors from several colleges, political and economic-development leaders, and other speakers to discuss the potential of this fast-growing industry to take root and bring economic benefits to the Bay State.
“I am not part of what you would consider the ‘video-game generation,’ but video games encompass more than they used to,” said state Rep. Jim McGovern (D-3rd District). “Few industries these days can project the growth characteristics of the game industry … and those jobs should be in Massachusetts.”

Mike Levine

Mike Levine says Western Mass. won’t reach its full potential in video-game development and related fields until the region is adequately wired for high-speed Internet.

Many already are; the Bay State’s digital-games cluster employs nearly 4,000 people at more than 75 companies, with gross industry revenues estimated at around $2 billion. More than 20 colleges and universities in Massachusetts offer majors or courses in game design and development. And much of that activity is thriving in the Pioneer Valley.
“The Western Mass. region thrives on creativity and innovation, and I want to see these businesses blossom right here, and for these students to stay in the Valley and pursue their passion for video-game design,” McGovern said, noting that game technology has crossed over into other industries, from military training to medical applications, and is likely to expand further. “This is not a bunch of people talking about this in theory; this industry is growing now. And to get the economy back on its feet again, this is one of the answers.”

No Smokestacks
John Musante, Amherst’s town manager, called video games a potential “smokestack industry without the smokestacks. I enthusiastically believe that the gaming industry would be good for Amherst and good for our region.”
He mentioned that the three colleges in his town alone — UMass, Hampshire, and Amherst — include some 29,000 students at any given time, while others at the symposium noted that the 13 colleges in Western Mass. total some 65,000 students, many of whom are enthusiastic about gaming and might be likely to pursue jobs in the industry locally if they exist.
“Creativity and innovation are what our region is all about,” Musante added. “We believe the creative economy is part of our future, and the prominent potential of the gaming industry certainly seems like a perfect opportunity to build upon together, right here in the Valley.”
Take Raf Anzovin, for example. He launched Anzovin Inc., which creates character animation for games and other entertainment, in Florence in 1999 — a time when he was one of only a handful of people in the area doing that kind of work.
“There are both advantages and disadvantages to being in this area,” Anzovin said. “The cost of living is difficult to minimize. I’m not sure we could possibly start a small character-animation studio from nothing in a place where the cost of living wasn’t so low. We’ve also had a good relationship with the colleges; there’s a lot of good talent coming out of them, and that’s been very beneficial.”
Then there’s HitPoint Studios, a game-development outfit specializing in newer platforms such as social and mobile games. “We started HitPoint in 2008 with eight people in Greenfield,” said its founder, Paul Hake. “Now we’re in Hatfield with 37 people, and we’re anticipating growing quite a bit more.
“We’re excited about what’s going on in the Valley,” added Hake, who sees the region eventually becoming not just a mini-hub for the video-game industry, but a full-blown hub.
Musante said the region sells itself, especially at a time when industry professionals are virtually connected across the globe, and no longer have to be located in a major metropolitan center.
“We have a critical mass of higher education and talent. We have space,” Musante said, adding that the Pioneer Valley’s location less than two hours from Boston and less than four hours from Manhattan, combined with that aforementioned lower cost of living, is a major draw, as well as reputable public-school systems and the region’s natural beauty and outdoor activities. “We feel like we have a lot of things to nurture this industry so it can grow right here in the Valley.”
That growth is already happening, said Pat Larkin, director of the John Adams Innovation Institute, an arm of the Mass. Technology Collaborative. “In this region, the market has already spoken,” he argued. “Firms have flourished; they’re able to germinate, be disruptive, do startups, and grow on a sustained basis in this region.”

Ruth West (right, with Terrence Masson from Northeastern University)

Ruth West (right, with Terrence Masson from Northeastern University) says the fact that game development requires both creative and technical skills is a draw for many students.

However, precisely because it’s not New York or San Francisco or even Boston, this “middle-tier” region, as he called it, needs to more aggressively market itself. “We need to work harder, smarter, faster, better in order to build and sustain the critical mass we want to achieve.”

Getting Wired
The region poses some drawbacks, too — including one very basic problem in many rural communities.
“The Internet is really what made all this possible, in my opinion,” said Mike Levine, president of Pileated Pictures, an online- and mobile-entertainment studio in Shelburne Falls. “Amazingly, up in the hilltowns, many people do not have broadband. I really think this is a crime at this point; it’s like people not having electricity or television. That’s the number-one issue. Everyone should be connected in the state — not just for entertainment, but for public safety and other reasons.”
Hake agreed, noting that “broadband connectivity in Western Mass. is still not where it needs to be.” Another challenge, he said, is the lack of an experienced workforce to staff growing video-game companies. “We have huge amounts of talent coming out of the colleges, but we have a hard time finding industry veterans.”
There’s a sort of chicken-and-egg component to this issue, however, suggested Joe Minton, president of Digital Development Management in Northampton, which represents video-game-development studios; before that, he was president of game developer Cyberlore Studios.
Specifically, he said, the industry needs to expand in the region to attract that pool of available talent. “In San Francisco, you can walk down the street and meet five or 10 people willing to hire you.”
He talked about the importance of building critical mass in the region, forming a kind of ‘safety net’ so that talented designers, programmers, and others will know that, if one opportunity doesn’t work out, others will be available. Building many success stories, he said, “will make it much easier to bring talent here.”
Fred Fierst, a partner at law firm Fierst & Kane in Northampton, has represented video-game companies for 20 years, he said, amassing a strong reputation in the U.S. and overseas. But even he still sometimes encounters a “credibility issue” regarding Western Mass. that must be overcome. “They think if you’re not a New York or LA laywer, you can’t be a good lawyer; even a Boston lawyer is considered second-rate.”
Fierst noted another issue in video-game development, and that’s a pronounced dearth of women in the field. “I am constantly amazed how few women there are, and those who are [in the field] are in marketing and PR,” he said. “But that’s changing.”
Anzovin agreed. “I’d love to see more women in the industry,” he said, noting that he has worked with many female producers, but few artists and programmers — in other words, people on the creative side. “I don’t know that there’s a magical solution to that problem, but it’s getting better slowly.”

Back to School
Hake said colleges and universities are doing their part by recruiting more women into computer science and related programs.
Ruth West, associate professor and director of Computer Graphics at Springfield College, said the field has an appeal that should appeal to a wide variety of career seekers, no matter their gender. “It requires students to use their whole brain. It’s not just creative, but you have to think technically. There’s a whole mechanical side and a visual side, and it gets students to integrate their whole personality.”
It also requires professors to constantly keep up with trends, she said, which is why she and other faculty attend many conferences and continually track the industry in other ways.
“The only thing we can teach them is how to learn, because five years from now, it’s going to be something different,” West said. For example, social-media and mobile games have dominated the field recently. “I learned 56 programs, and they need to learn how to be that flexible.”
Paul Dickson, visiting assistant professor of Computer Science at Hampshire College, said video-game design is a motivator for students to learn many other skills. His program focuses on training students as generalists, so they can adapt to any platform, a trait valued by smaller video-game companies. Students who go on to specialized work — in a certain type of programming or animation, say — may find greater opportunities at larger companies.
“Games are a hook,” said Mark Claypool, professor and director of Interactive Media and Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “We get students coming through the doors passionate about the things they’ve been playing. That’s gold, to get a student who comes to college excited about learning something … not just about the latest game, but the physical calculus, the music, the storytelling. There are lots of elements that have to go into the next great game.”
Or the next great … whatever. “There are many applications outside entertainment,” Claypool said, “and that’s where the real action is going to be; that’s where the real money is.”
McGovern said Massachusetts clearly has the intellectual capital to build on this work and be an innovator in those future applications, adding that state leaders are continually trying to determine how best to invest in those growing industries through infrastructure and research dollars.
“I feel like there’s a renaissance period going on now,” Pileated’s Levine said, noting that, when he was in school, video games weren’t even mentioned as a possible career path. “Now we actually have schools teaching programs, and kids coming out of school knowing game design.
“I think it’s a very exciting time,” he continued. “As a company, we’re really interested in growing our business in this region, and we need young talent who understand mobile and social gaming far more than we do. What we learned was a very different business model. Things are changing very rapidly.”
And because of online connectivity, breakthroughs can happen anywhere, Minton said. “The world is flat, and it’s really exciting what can be done nowadays.”
He cited Rovio, the Finnish maker of the Angry Birds franchise. “This was a small company making a number of games that weren’t very successful,” he noted. “Now they have many, many hundreds of people. It just takes one hit — and there’s no reason that can’t happen here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Chamber Corners Departments

Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield
(413) 787-1555

• March 14: ACCGS After 5, 5-7 p.m.
• March 14: Professional Women’s Chamber Up the Ladder: The Healthcare Business, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., MassMutual Room at the Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield. Guest Speaker will be Susan Toner, vice president of Development, Baystate Health. Cost is $25 for members, $35 for non-members. Hosted by Max’s Tavern.
• March 21: ERC Board of Directors meeting, 8-9 a.m.,  the Gardens of Wilbraham Community Room, 2 Lodge Lane, Wilbraham.

Amherst Area
Chamber of Commerce

• March 14: Chamber Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., at the the Courtyard by Marriott. Craig Melin, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital, will will be the featured speaker. Sponsored by Cooley Dickinson Hospital and VNA & Hospice of Northampton. Cost is $5 for members, $10 for non-members.
• March 28: Margarita Madness, 5-7 p.m., at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The public is invited to this margarita-tasting event; guests can sample 12 margaritas and vote for their favorites. The cost is $25 per person, $40 per couple. Chamber members, $20 per person. Sponsored by MassLive.com, the Valley Advocate, Greenfield Savings Bank, Applewood at Amherst, Copycat Amherst, Encharter Insurance LLC, Hope & Feathers Framing, Johnny’s Tavern, Judie’s Restaurant, 30 Boltwood, Lit, the Pub, UMass Fine Arts Center, Your Promotional Consultant/NEPM, and more.

Chicopee Chamber of Commerce
(413) 594-2101

• March 21: March Salute Breakfast,  7:15-9 a.m. at the MassMutual Learning & Conference Center, 350 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Tickets are $19 for members and $26 for non-members. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org
• March 21: Table Top Expo & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m. at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road in Holyoke. Presented by the Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, Greater Easthampton, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. More than 175 exhibitors and 600 visitors are expected. Tickets are $5 pre-registered, $10 at the door. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org

Franklin County
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 773-5463

• March 23: Monthly Chamber Breakfast Series, 7:30-9 a.m., Greenfield Grille, Federal St., Greenfield. Theme: “Art and Business in Partnership: Fostering Our Local Economy.” The keynote speaker will be Peter Kageyama, authority on community development. Presenters: Meri Jenkins, Mass. Cultural Council; Matthew Glassman, Double Edge Theater; Dee Schneidman, New England Foundation for the Arts; and Erica Wheeler, Soulful Landscape Program. Tickets: $12 for members, $15 for non-members. Sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank. This is followed by the Creative Economy Summit 3 in downtown Greenfield, March 23 and 24. Theme is “Art and Business in Partnership.” Admission is $35. Features practical workshops for two days, and many noted speakers and presenters; www.creativeeconomysummit.com

Greater Easthampton
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 527-9414

• March 16: St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon, noon-2 p.m., at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center, One Atwood Dr., Northampton. Honored guest: Molly Bialecki, Distinguished Young Woman of Greater Easthampton. Sponsored by Easthampton Learning Foundation and Finck & Perras Insurance Agency. Tickets are $21.95 for members, $23.95 for non-members.
• March 21: 18th annual Table Top Exposition & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m, at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Easthampton, Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. Exhibitor table fee: $100 (must be a member). Contact participating chambers for more info. Attendee-only tickets: $5 in advance, $10 at the door.

Greater Holyoke
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 534-3376

• March 15: St. Patrick’s Salute Breakfast, 7:30 a.m., at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Cost: $20.
• March 19: Checkpoint Legislative Luncheon, 11:30 a.m., at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Presented by Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, and Greater Westfield chambers of Commerce. Keynote speaker will be U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. Sponsored by Charter Oak Insurance and Financial Services Co.; Associated Industries of Massachusetts; Sullivan, Hayes & Quinn, LLC; Columbia Gas of Massachusetts; Mestek Inc.; GZA Proactive by Design; and Westfield Bank. Cost: $35 for members of presenting chambers, $45 for non-members.
• March 21: Table Top Expo, 4:30-7 p.m. (March 28 snow date), at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Presented by the Greater Holyoke, Chicopee, Greater Easthampton, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. Annual event with up to 180 exhibitors and 700 attendees. Tables (members of presenting chambers only) are $100. Attendee cost: $5 in advance, $10 at the door. For a list of sponsors, check the BusinessWest ad.

Greater Northampton
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 584-1900

• March 21: 18th Annual Table Top Exposition & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m., at the the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Tickets are $5 in advance, $10 at the door.

Greater Westfield
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 568-1618

• March 16: Annual St. Patrick Day’s Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m. at Westfield State University, 577 Western Ave., Westfield. Guest speaker will be George O’Brien, editor of BusinessWest Magazine. Entertainment by some of the Dan Kane Singers. Cost: $25 for chamber members, $30 for non-members. To reserve tickets, contact Carrie Dearing at (413) 568-1618 or [email protected]
• March 19: CheckPoint 2012 Annual Legislative Luncheon at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Keynote speaker is U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. A collaboration between the Greater Westfield, Chicopee, and Greater Holyoke chambers of commerce. Cost: $35 for chamber members, $45 for non-members. To reserve tickets, contact Carrie Dearing at (413) 568-1618 or [email protected]
• March 28: WestNet Plus One!, 5- 7 p.m. Come and network with fellow chamber members and meet new members and businesses in the area. Guest speaker will be Patrick Berry, president of the Westfield News. Hosted by PeoplesBank, 281 East Main St., Westfield.  Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 cash for non-members. Don’t forget your business cards! To register, contact Carrie Dearing at (413) 568-1618 or [email protected]
• March 31: 2012 Spring Southwick Economic Development Commission (EDC) Home & Business Show, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Southwick Town Hall, 454 College Highway. This tabletop exhibit of Southwick businesses is free to the public, and the EDC will be collecting non-perishable food items for the local food pantry. Several free seminars will be held. Visit www.southwickma.info for more information.

Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield

• March 15: March Third Thursday Networking/Social Event, 5-7 p.m.,
the Still Bar & Grill,  858 Suffield St., Agawam. This event is, as always, free for YPS members and $10 for non-members, and will include food and a cash bar.

Chamber Corners Departments

Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield
(413) 787-1555

• March 6: Springfield Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors’ meeting, noon to 1 p.m., TD Bank Conference Center, Springfield.
• March 7: ACCGS Business @ Breakfast, Springfield Marriott. Doors open at 7:15 a.m. Cost is $20 for members, $30 for non-members.
• March 8: ACCGS Board of Directors meeting, 8- 9 a.m., TD Bank Conference Center, Springfield.
• March 9: ACCGS Legislative Steering Committee, 8-9 a.m., TD Bank Conference Center, Springfield.
• March 14: ACCGS After 5, 5-7 p.m.
• March 14: Professional Women’s Chamber Up the Ladder: The Healthcare Business, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., MassMutual Room at the Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield. Guest Speaker will be Susan Toner, vice president of Development, Baystate Health. Cost is $25 for members, $35 for non-members. Hosted by Max’s Tavern.
• March 21: ERC Board of Directors meeting, 8-9 a.m.,  the Gardens of Wilbraham Community Room, 2 Lodge Lane, Wilbraham.

Amherst Area
Chamber of Commerce

• March 14: Chamber Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., at the the Courtyard by Marriott. Craig Melin, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital, will will be the featured speaker. Sponsored by Cooley Dickinson Hospital and VNA & Hospice of Northampton. Cost is $5 for members, $10 for non-members.
• March 28: Margarita Madness, 5-7 p.m., at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The public is invited to this margarita-tasting event; guests can sample 12 margaritas and vote for their favorites. The cost is $25 per person, $40 per couple. Chamber members, $20 per person. Sponsored by MassLive.com, the Valley Advocate, Greenfield Savings Bank, Applewood at Amherst, Copycat Amherst, Encharter Insurance LLC, Hope & Feathers Framing, Johnny’s Tavern, Judie’s Restaurant, 30 Boltwood, Lit, the Pub, UMass Fine Arts Center, Your Promotional Consultant/NEPM, and more.

Chicopee Chamber of Commerce
(413) 594-2101

• March 2: Shining Stars Banquet, 6:30-10 p.m., Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., in Chicopee. Recognizing the Business of the Year — MicroTek Inc.; Citizen of the Year — Vern Campbell of Chicopee Visiting Nurse Assoc.; and Chamber Volunteer of the Year — Ron Proulx of Dave’s Truck Repair Inc. Tickets are $60 each. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org
• March 21: March Salute Breakfast,  7:15-9 a.m. at the MassMutual Learning & Conference Center, 350 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Tickets are $19 for members and $26 for non-members. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org
• March 21: Table Top Expo & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m. at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road in Holyoke. Presented by the Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, Greater Easthampton, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. More than 175 exhibitors and 600 visitors are expected. Tickets are $5 pre-registered, $10 at the door. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org

Franklin County
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 773-5463

• March 23: Monthly Chamber Breakfast Series, 7:30-9 a.m., Greenfield Grille, Federal St., Greenfield. Theme: “Art and Business in Partnership: Fostering Our Local Economy.” The keynote speaker will be Peter Kageyama, authority on community development. Presenters: Meri Jenkins, Mass. Cultural Council; Matthew Glassman, Double Edge Theater; Dee Schneidman, New England Foundation for the Arts; and Erica Wheeler, Soulful Landscape Program. Tickets: $12 for members, $15 for non-members. Sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank. This is followed by the Creative Economy Summit 3 in downtown Greenfield, March 23 and 24. Theme is “Art and Business in Partnership.” Admission is $35. Features practical workshops for two days, and many noted speakers and presenters; www.creativeeconomysummit.com

Greater Easthampton
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 527-9414

• March 8: Networking by Business Card Exchange, 5-7 p.m., at Harley-Davidson of Southampton, 17 College Highway, Southampton. Sponsored by Puffer Printing and Copy Center. Door prizes, hors d’ouevres, host beer and wine. Tickets: $5 for members, $15 for future members.
• March 16: St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon, noon-2 p.m., at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center, One Atwood Dr., Northampton. Honored guest: Molly Bialecki, Distinguished Young Woman of Greater Easthampton. Sponsored by Easthampton Learning Foundation and Finck & Perras Insurance Agency. Tickets are $21.95 for members, $23.95 for non-members.
• March 21: 18th annual Table Top Exposition & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m, at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Presented by the Greater Easthampton, Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. Exhibitor table fee: $100 (must be a member). Contact participating chambers for more info. Attendee-only tickets: $5 in advance, $10 at the door.

Greater Holyoke
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 534-3376

• March 1: Leadership Holyoke opening session, 8 a.m. Hosted by Holyoke Community College.
• March 15: St. Patrick’s Salute Breakfast, 7:30 a.m., at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Cost: $20.
• March 19: Checkpoint Legislative Luncheon, 11:30 a.m., at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Presented by Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, and Greater Westfield chambers of Commerce. Keynote speaker will be U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. Sponsored by Charter Oak Insurance and Financial Services Co.; Associated Industries of Massachusetts; Sullivan, Hayes & Quinn, LLC; Columbia Gas of Massachusetts; Mestek Inc.; GZA Proactive by Design; and Westfield Bank. Cost: $35 for members of presenting chambers, $45 for non-members.
• March 21: Table Top Expo, 4:30-7 p.m. (March 28 snow date), at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Presented by the Greater Holyoke, Chicopee, Greater Easthampton, and Greater Northampton chambers of commerce. Annual event with up to 180 exhibitors and 700 attendees. Tables (members of presenting chambers only) are $100. Attendee cost: $5 in advance, $10 at the door. For a list of sponsors, check the BusinessWest ad.

Greater Northampton
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 584-1900

• March 7: March Arrive @5, 5-7p.m., at the Montessori School of Northampton, 51 Bates St,, Northampton; $10 for members. Casual mix and mingle with colleagues and friends. Sponsored by King Auto Body.
• March 9: Annual Meeting, noon-2 p.m., at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center, 1 Atwood Dr., Northampton.
• March 21: 18th Annual Table Top Exposition & Business Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m., at the the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Tickets are $5 in advance, $10 at the door.

Northampton Area
Young Professional Society
(413) 584-1900

• March 8: NAYP Monthly Networking Event, 5-8 p.m., at Spare Time Family Fun Center, 525 Pleasant St., Northampton. Free for members, $5 for guests.

Greater Westfield
Chamber of Commerce
(413) 568-1618

• March 5: Mayor’s Coffee Hour, 8-9 a.m. Meet Mayor Dan Knapik and learn about what’s happening in Westfield. Open to the public. Hosted by Tighe & Bond, 53 Southampton Road, Westfield. To register, contact Carrie Dearing at (413) 568-1618 or [email protected]
• March 16: Annual St. Patrick Day’s Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m. at Westfield State University, 577 Western Ave., Westfield. Guest speaker will be George O’Brien, editor of BusinessWest Magazine. Entertainment by some of the Dan Kane Singers. Cost: $25 for chamber members, $30 for non-members. To reserve tickets, contact Carrie Dearing at (413) 568-1618 or [email protected]
• March 19: CheckPoint 2012 Annual Legislative Luncheon at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, 500 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Keynote speaker is U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. A collaboration between the Greater Westfield, Chicopee, and Greater Holyoke chambers of commerce. Cost: $35 for chamber members, $45 for non-members. To reserve tickets, contact Carrie Dearing at (413) 568-1618 or [email protected]
• March 28: WestNet Plus One!, 5- 7 p.m. Come and network with fellow chamber members and meet new members and businesses in the area. Guest speaker will be Patrick Berry, president of the Westfield News. Hosted by PeoplesBank, 281 East Main St., Westfield.  Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 cash for non-members. Don’t forget your business cards! To register, contact Carrie Dearing at (413) 568-1618 or [email protected]
• March 31: 2012 Spring Southwick Economic Development Commission (EDC) Home & Business Show, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Southwick Town Hall, 454 College Highway. This tabletop exhibit of Southwick businesses is free to the public, and the EDC will be collecting non-perishable food items for the local food pantry. Several free seminars will be held. Visit www.southwickma.info for more information.

Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield

• March 10: 2nd Annual “Young Professionals Cup” Dodgeball Tournament, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.,  Springfield College. The YPS is partnering up with Springfield College to bring the Pioneer Valley the most epic dodge ball tournament of this decade. The battle for the Young Professionals Cup will consist of 48 coed, eight-person teams. The tournament will be a points-based, round-robin format, with each team playing a minimum of three games.
• March 15: March Third Thursday Networking/Social Event, 5-7 p.m.,
the Still Bar & Grill,  858 Suffield St., Agawam. This event is, as always, free for YPS members and $10 for non-members, and will include food and a cash bar.

Holyoke’s Young Mayor Is Ready to Get to Work

Holyoke Mayor-elect Alex Morse

Holyoke Mayor-elect Alex Morse

Alex Morse’s triumph in November’s election captured the attention of the entire region — not to mention those who put  together the guest list for a dinner at the White House a few weeks ago. At 22, Morse is said to be second-youngest mayor in the state’s history, but his educational background and seemingly limitless confidence would appear to have him ready for the corner office. He says his primary goals are to aggressively market and rebrand the city, and enable it to take full advantage of what he called “its moment.”

Alex Morse graduated from Brown University last spring with a degree in Urban Studies.
This means that he knows a lot more than most people about what prompted the decline of every major Northeast city in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, and also about what some of those same communities have done to reinvent themselves and bring people back downtown.
And at Brown, he had a working laboratory in the form of one of the more intriguing urban comebacks, albeit one that is still very much a work in progress. In Providence, city officials, led by flamboyant and controversial mayor Vincent (Buddy) Cianci, literally moved a river, among other initiatives, in their efforts to reinvigorate a moribund central business district and make their community a destination.
Providence, its downtown, and its public school system became the subjects of many of Morse’s classroom projects in Urban Studies, but his hometown of Holyoke also figured prominently in his coursework; indeed, the recent Hope 6 project in the city’s Churchill neighborhood became the subject of one assignment, and his experiences growing up in a declining urban core gave him a unique perspective for the classroom — in the many forms it took.
“Unlike my classmates in Urban Studies and Political Science, I actually came from a struggling urban community, and could use my perspective from growing up here and going to public schools,” he explained. “A lot of the kids at Brown had gone to private schools and didn’t have the experience that I had; I thought that what I brought to the table was much more relevant than what my classmates had to offer. And at the same time, I could take what I learned at Brown and bring it back to Holyoke.”
And it was while working toward his degree — probably early in his junior year, by his estimation — that Morse boldly decided that he would like to continue his education in urban studies in Holyoke City Hall, specifically the spacious ground-floor mayor’s office.
It was with extreme confidence that Morse entered the race nearly a year ago, and it was this character trait, coupled with a solid game plan, a message of hope, and a positive campaign tone, captured in his lapel pin bearing the words ‘I Love Holyoke,’ that propelled him to victory over incumbent Elaine Pluta on Nov. 1.
In a wide-ranging interview with BusinessWest a few weeks before his inauguration, Morse, whose campaign exploits have made news well outside the 413 area code — at 22, he’s the second-youngest mayor in the state’s history, and he’s already been a guest at the White House — talked at length about his road to the corner office and what he plans to do when he officially takes office.
He said that, while his business card and door plaque will say ‘mayor,’ he considers himself, first and foremost, to be the city’s “chief marketing officer.”
Indeed, he told BusinessWest, while Holyoke has suffered (and continues to suffer) from many of the ailments facing Northeast cities — from high concentrations of poverty in the urban core to a struggling public school system —perhaps its biggest problem is perception and the fact that no one is telling the city’s story, or at least to the right people.
And he believes that, from the perspective of a marketer, or salesperson, he has a quality product to sell.
“Holyoke is a great city, and we’re at a great time,” he explained. “Things are really falling into place in a really great way for our city. And I’m prepared to be Holyoke’s biggest salesperson and spokesperson as mayor, and I think that’s what Holyoke needs, someone willing to stand up and promote our assets.”
Beyond marketing, Morse says his primary assignment is to help make sure that Holyoke takes full advantage of what he called “its moment.”
Elaborating, he said pieces of the recovery puzzle — an emerging creative economy, the possible return of rail service, investments in downtown, the Canal Walk, a growing reputation as a ‘green’ community, the Victory Theatre project, and especially the high-performance computing center and the attention it is generating — are coming together, and Holyoke must seize its opportunity to do something special.
“This is the moment; we have a window of opportunity over the next two years to take advantage of this incredible moment,” he said. “It comes down to what we do with that moment, and this is why I ran for mayor. We can either stay the same and cling to the status quo, or we can embrace the future and do things differently.”

News Flash
One of Morse’s biggest challenges since election night has been handling all the media requests.
They’ve come from far and wide, including the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor (which made him one of its ‘30 under 30’ subjects), New England Cable News, MSNBC, CommonWealth magazine, and the Brown University alumni magazine, among others.
He doesn’t say ‘yes’ to everyone — he’s spending most of his time on transition issues — but there haven’t been many ‘nos’ to date. That’s because he views such press encounters as opportunities — not for him, necessarily, but for Holyoke. He endeavors to take the focus of questioners from himself to the city, and often, the interviews take place while he’s offering a tour of the community to someone who has never seen it or knows little about it (he took the Globe on one just before meeting with BusinessWest).
And he can already see some tangible results from all that press.

The high-performance computing center

The high-performance computing center is one of many projects that Morse believes has “put all eyes on Holyoke.”

“It’s great for Holyoke to get this kind of exposure,” he explained. “Kathy Anderson [the city’s director of economic development] will tell you she’s received a number of calls and e-mails because of the stories done since the election. I’ve had people say, ‘I heard on the CBS clip that you have a lot of renewable energy; can we have a phone conversation about that?’”
Thanks to all that attention from the Fourth Estate before and after the election, many in the region know at least some of the Alex Morse story — that he’s young, openly gay, has had dinner at the White House (he said the invitation just appeared in the mail one day), and isn’t a supporter of a casino as an economic-development strategy. Those who have read a little more thoroughly know that he grew up in the city, attended Peck Middle School and Holyoke High School, where he was salutatorian, and was accepted at the only college he applied to — Brown.
They might also know by now that Morse’s parents have worked mostly blue-collar jobs — his father with Carando (he now has a manager’s position there) and his mother with a day-care facility she ran out of the family home — and that he was the first one in his family to earn a college degree.
He told BusinessWest that his upbringing has provided him a unique perspective on one of the main challenges facing his city and most others like it: narrowing the income gap between the poor and the wealthy, and bolstering the middle class.
“We need people with disposable income in downtown Holyoke,” he explained. “It’s not sustainable to have concentrated poverty in our downtown.”
What most have come to learn about Morse is that running for mayor certainly wasn’t anything spontaneous. Rather, it was a well-thought-out plan, a common-sense career path chosen because of his affection for his hometown, knowledge of urban challenges and models for revitalization, and a desire to bring real change to a city that has long been the butt of jokes.
“The last two years of my life have been pretty much consumed by the campaign,” he explained. “It’s something I’ve thought about for about four years. It didn’t matter exactly who I was running against; I could have been running against Elaine Pluta, I could have been running against another long-term city councilor — there was nothing personal about it, it was just something I wanted to do.”
Morse said his campaign strategy was fairly straightforward, and involved meeting as many residents and business owners as possible, framing everything in the positive — “I focused on my ideas and my plans, and people respected that” — and, in a nutshell, “getting people excited about Holyoke again.”
To say that he succeeded with all that would be an understatement. He won the endorsement of the Republican, a paper with a long and deep record of supporting incumbents, and was swept into office by a 53-47 margin.
And while some have suggested that the election results represent a vote against Pluta, a longtime city councilor elected mayor two years ago, and/or a vote against casinos, Morse certainly doesn’t see it that way.

Morse will soon become a resident of Open Square, seen here from just across the canal, in a move he equates to putting his money where his mouth is.

“I see those as votes for Holyoke and its future,” he said of the ballots cast for him. “This election was framed as a choice between the past and the future and what direction Holyoke wants to go in. I decided to run not because I’m particularly distraught or concerned about the direction of our community, but because all eyes are on Holyoke right now, whether it’s because of the computing center or other projects we have going on. The race came down to deciding what kind of mayor we want during these exciting times.”

A Moveable Feast
It’s called BYOR.
That’s short for Bring Your Own Restaurant, a rather unique grassroots initiative started by a group of city residents more than a year ago in response to a perceived lack of dining options in the downtown area.
Participants bring tables, chairs, and potluck dishes to designated spots — empty lots near the canals and the parking area of a closed gas station have worked — that in essence become those nights’ restaurant, said Morse, adding that he’s taken part in several of these get-togethers. He’s hoping, of course, that someday soon this BYOR tradition will end out of necessity — or lack thereof, in this case. And bringing that day closer to reality is just one of many formal and informal items on his list of goals and objectives.
At the top of that list is rebranding the city, or changing the long-held perceptions about it. He’s noticing incremental improvement in the way people talk about his community — he mentioned he’s heard people saying they should move to the city, or move back to it, as the case may be — but maintains that it still has a long way to go.
As chief marketing officer, Morse said he’ll essentially go anywhere and do anything to put Holyoke front and center and sell attributes ranging from cheap, ‘green’ energy to housing prices well below those in surrounding cities.
“We have a great foundation here — it’s not as if we have to start over,” he told BusinessWest. “We just have to restore it to what it once was and beyond that. During the campaign, I talked about bringing us from the Paper City to the Digital City, and I’m going to be the one to lead us into the future — and a better future.”
Rebranding is something he believes Providence did quite well, and its success in that realm is just one component of a broad revitalization strategy he would like to make one of many models Holyoke can borrow from in the years ahead.
Another was the partnerships forged with the business community, he went on, as well as the desire to take bold and dramatic steps, such as reclaiming the Providence River, once spanned by the ‘world’s widest bridge’ (1.5 miles) as recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records, and making it a true asset through initiatives such as the famed WaterFire installation.
“There’s a lot of good things happening in Providence in terms of what they’ve done to rebrand themselves,” he said. “Some of the reflections and experiences I’ve had in Providence will help inform what I want to do in Holyoke in terms of perception and the way Providence has used the artists’ community in the downtown, restaurants, how they’ve taken advantage of the river with WaterFire, and how they’re bringing people into downtown.
“They had some very concerted efforts on the part of the municipal government, and what they did well was partner with business,” he continued. “There were a lot of public-private partnerships to get investment back in Providence.”
Morse said he and his classmates at Brown studied a number of communities, including Baltimore, Detroit, Boston, and others, and that there are common denominators and lessons to be taken from many models for recovery.
“Holyoke is unique in many senses and special in many senses, but at the same time, we have followed the same trajectory as many Northeast and Midwestern cities in terms of deindustrialization and the moving of factories to the south and then overseas; Holyoke is just a part of that story,” he explained.
“Any urban community struggles with issues like public education; it’s how we respond to them that’s really going to make a difference,” he continued. “What I’m interested in as mayor is looking at what other mayors are doing, looking at what other school systems are doing, looking at best practices, and learning from what’s worked and what hasn’t worked.”

Live and Learn
Morse said much of his administration’s focus and energy will be directed toward the downtown area, where efforts will be concentrated on seizing momentum from the computing center, while also working on the many aspects involved with getting more people living in that area.
And the new mayor won’t just be talking about it — he’ll be doing it.
Indeed, he will be the first residential tenant in Open Square, the massive former mill complex now home to dozens of businesses, a café, a performing-arts group, and more, and is awaiting final touches on the space before moving in later this month.
“I made a statement that I wanted to move downtown to help change the perception there,” he told BusinessWest. “If I show a business owner our downtown or Open Square, or talk to young families about moving here, I can say, ‘hey, the mayor lives right down the street; it must be safe.’
“It’s a symbolic gesture, but I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” he continued. “Anything we can do to promote downtown and bring more people and more business there … I think that will help us.”
Overall, Morse says he sees a good deal of momentum downtown, and it comes in a number of forms — from the attendance at the regular BYOR events to growing interest in commercial property in that area, to a growing sense of community, coupled with changing demographics, that he believes are a very positive sign.
“There’s a community today that didn’t exist 10 years ago in Holyoke — a progressive, young, arts-friendly constituency here in downtown,” he explained. “There’s an interest in downtown moreso than I’ve ever seen before, and that’s very refreshing to me, someone who was born and raised here; it’s great to see interest from people who weren’t born here but want to move here and have things happen downtown.”
From his studies of other cities, Morse said he fully understands the chicken-and-egg scenario when it comes to growing the population in the urban core; professionals, empty nesters, and others with disposable income need good reasons to move to a downtown — safe streets, attractive housing, and nightlife are all high on the list — but many of those things, and especially the nightlife part, won’t happen unless there is already a critical mass of urban dwellers capable of supporting businesses.
“If we want to support a thriving small-business community — restaurants, cafés, and nightclubs — we need to have people with money in their pockets,” he explained. “And that means we have to convince people to move to Holyoke, bring their business here, and be a part of this.
“A lot of young professionals and even single people, men and women, want to live in urban communities; I’m convinced of that,” he continued. “Over the past 50 years, there’s been a lot of disinvestment in cities, as if cities were bad, but now, attitudes are changing, and we need to take advantage of that.”

Forward Thinking
When asked what someone ambitious enough to run for mayor of a major city while still a college student might do next for a career challenge, Morse smiled broadly and paused for a minute.
While he didn’t speculate on what else he might do, he mentioned Thomas Menino, the longest-serving mayor in Boston’s history (18 years) and hinted that this is a record of service he may try to emulate.
“Holyoke needs consistent leadership over the next decade,” he said, hinting that he plans to be around at least that long — if the voters are so inclined.
For now, though, he’s focused on getting on with his work as chief marketing officer and with enabling Holyoke to take advantage of that window of opportunity he mentioned.
He said he’s never seen people this excited about the city, and that he considers it his job to capture that excitement and have it translate it into tangible, positive change. He acknowledged that he certainly can’t change the citiy’s fortunes in two years, but he can certainly get the ball rolling.
And if he does, he might be back in the White House soon.

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

The Challenge for Domenic Sarno

When Springfield officials set the wheels in motion for a charter change that would double the length of mayoral terms in office to four years, we heralded the move as a tremendous opportunity for the city.
The sea change would enable the corner office holder to act and govern without the many pressures and limitations — real and imagined — that are part and parcel to running for re-election every two years.
Now, Domenic Sarno has that opportunity. We urge him to make the most of it, and we expect that he will. Indeed, he will welcome the breathing room and operating room that a four-year term provides, and in the meantime, we expect that he’ll be spending a lot less time over the next several years talking about how resilient the city is and how it plans to bounce back from the latest natural disaster;  the city is certainly due for a break.
Sarno’s four-year mission is rather simple, yet also quite complex: create real progress as this city, like many major Northeast urban centers that were once manufacturing centers, tries to reinvent itself. The main goal (again, simple to say but quite difficult to do) is make the City of Homes a place where people want to live and companies want to do business.
That’s it. There are myriad specific assignments and goals — improving schools and reducing a cripplingly high drop-out rate; making the streets safer; revitalizing neighborhoods; re-invigorating the downtown; and bringing more people out of poverty — but they are merely the means to accomplish those primary objectives.
Reversing a city’s fortunes certainly isn’t easy, but there is plenty of evidence that it can be done here. In the ’70s, Boston was one of the poorest cities in the nation, a community people were fleeing; now it’s among the wealthiest. Two decades ago, Cambridge was among the least-popular mailing addresses for businesses, and especially startups, in the state. Now, it’s one of the most popular. Only 15 years ago, Lowell was experiencing another in a seemingly endless string of declines. Now, it has become a model for urban revival that many cities are trying to emulate, following enormous success with those two basic missions listed above.
The common denominator in each case was hard work, effective planning, and realization that there are no short cuts and no silver bullets. In Springfield, this means resisting the inevitable proposals to place a casino here — perhaps even in the embattled, tornado-ravaged South End, where a casino will be billed as a savior  — and going about urban revitalization the old-fashioned way.
Jobs are at the heart of this assignment, as they are in every other city in this region, and across the country for that matter, and what the city needs is a multi-faceted approach to address this concern by focusing on several fronts: from workforce training, to creating a downtown that will attract and retain young professionals; from fostering a much stronger creative economy, to transforming the city’s ethnic diversity into a real asset.
There are other pieces to this puzzle — everything from effective marketing of the city and its attributes to increasing the inventory of market-rate housing in and around downtown — and they need to be addressed simultaneously.
The good news, as we said at the top, is that the mayor now has more time and freedom from the pressures of constant re-election campaigns with which to operate. That’s not a license to take one’s foot off the gas, but it is an opportunity to govern more effectively and aggressively.
It’s now up to Sarno to seize that opportunity.

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Arts Initiative Strives to Breathe New Life into Springfield’s Central Business District

Evan Plotkin and Annie Waters

Evan Plotkin and Annie Waters in the soon to be “activated” courtyard at Morgan Square. At top, one of Waters’ sketches of what the rejuvenated block would look like.

Evan Plotkin is a firm believer in the power of the arts as an economic driver. He says he’s utilized the creative economy to improve the ‘quality of life and experience’ for the tenants in two downtown office buildings — One Financial Plaza and 1550 Main — and now he’s planning to take his so-called “downtown revitalization through the arts” initiative to another dimension with ambitious plans for the Morgan Square area. As with those other properties, his plan is to take dormant or underutilized facilities, and “activate” them.

Evan Plotkin needed both hands as he gestured to various components of the spacious courtyard within the Morgan Square apartment complex in downtown Springfield — the ornate clock, the large shade trees, the walkway to the back door of the deli that’s been closed for nearly a decade, and an alleyway that would connect the courtyard with Main Street, except the gate at the front is always locked.
“It’s a beautiful area, but very underutilized,” said Plotkin, president of Springfield-based NAI Plotkin, which recently won a contract to manage the property. “It’s asleep … and we need to wake it up.”
He would use similar language as he discussed other aspects of the massive Morgan Square/Armory Commons complex — including a host of vacant storefronts, another courtyard behind a building along Taylor Street, and a traditionally large inventory of vacant residential space — and other properties in that section of downtown.
The word he used most often, and pointedly so, as he talked about various properties and assets was “activate.”
That’s what he intends to do through the expansion of an ambitious project he calls the “downtown revitalization through the arts” initiative, which, as that name suggests, attempts to use the arts as an economic driver to change the look and feel of that part of Springfield. There are many moving parts, but the concept is fairly simple — to incentivize artists to live and work in that area, and to provide them with vehicles for showcasing — and selling — their work.
Plotkin is quite optimistic about the prospects for the Morgan Square property, which would be rebranded as the “Art Space at Morgan Square,” because he’s already conducted a good amount of ‘activation’ in other buildings managed by NAI Plotkin, and with considerable success in his estimation.
He pointed to 1350 Main St., the office tower also known as One Financial Plaza, as an example. There, a long-dormant fountain has been restored, a café has been opened on the ground floor, the lobby’s walls have become artists’ galleries, and a small patio area has become a venue for performing artists. These changes and added amenities have no doubt contributed to a higher occupancy rate and success in turning on the lights within several previously dark floors, said Plotkin.

The lobby at 1550 Main

The lobby at 1550 Main, rebranded as the 1550 Gallery, is one of many locations downtown, where artists can now display their work.

Similar activation has occurred at 1550 Main St., the former federal building now occupied by the Springfield School Department, Baystate Health, and other tenants. Outdoor performances, art in the lobby (now branded as the 1550 Gallery) and imaginative landscaping have helped improve quality of life for tenants while bringing vibrancy to a location that for years had been cordoned off by Jersey barriers following the Oklahoma City bombing.
The Morgan Square project represents the latest and most comprehensive activation effort to date, said Plotkin. Based on models created in Pittsfield, North Adams, Washington, D.C., and other communities, the arts initiative calls for attracting artists to the vacant retail spaces in Morgan Square through reduced or forgiven rent, and using downtown office buildings, such as 1550 Main, One Financial Plaza, and others, as well as perhaps the downtown hotels, as galleries to showcase the art.
The broad objective is to use the arts to create energy in the downtown and make it a true destination, said Plotkin, who has spent the past several years advancing his theory that the creative economy is one of the keys — and perhaps the key to revitalizing Springfield’s central business district.
“This is the culmination of a lot of thinking, a lot of thought about the creative economy,” he said. “It’s a chance to really make something happen in the city; I almost look at this as the great Springfield experiment.”

Works in Progress
Plotkin told BusinessWest that the arts initiative amounts to a manifestation of a philosophy that defines the Plotkin company’s approach to property management.
“While most management companies can perform the perfunctory physical aspects of managing the property, our approach also focuses on improving the quality of life and experience for the individuals who live and work downtown,” he explained. “This is achieved in part by programming events, and improving downtown parks, neighborhoods, and other public places.”
The Morgan Square initiative contains all these elements, said Annie Waters, a Smith College student, artist (some of her work is currently hanging in the lobbies at 1550 Main), and summer intern at Plotkin who nonetheless has her own business card, complete with the title “chief imagination officer.”
Waters has been involved in many arts-related projects over the past few months, including a proposal to use scrap metal from Springfield junkyards to create industrial- history-themed sculptures — depicting the Duryea brothers’ car, the monkey wrench, and other Springfield firsts — that would be displayed at 1350 and 1550 Main St.
But most of her time has been spent blueprinting a plan of action for Morgan Square, an initiative aimed at removing those ‘Now Leasing’ signs from storefronts (some of which have been in the windows for years) and otherwise activating dormant or underutilized properties.
The broad goals are to inspire more artists to live and work in the complex, she explained, adding that the endeavor is modeled after a number of successful programs, such as Mather Studios in the Penn neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The 10-floor building has 50 loft-style condos occupied exclusively by artists, and it has become a destination, not simply a mailing address.
Moving past images from D.C., North Adams, and Pittsfield on a Powerpoint presentation she’s shown to many in the area, Waters stopped at images of the vacant storefronts in Morgan Square. Outlining the plans for the complex, she and Plotkin said these commercial spaces will be offered at reduced rents to qualified artists.
There will be a lottery of sorts, said Plotkin, noting that applicants must complete a questionnaire and impress those reviewing them with answers to such questions as ‘how do you plan to utilize the studio and gallery space if accepted?’ and ‘how do you plan to actively participate and contribute to the creative economy at Morgan Square?’
Other components of the initiative call for development of a restaurant/coffee shop (probably on the site of the former deli) and reactivation of that aforementioned courtyard through outdoor seating for the restaurant, decorative lighting, sculpture, art, and music.
In addition, the apartments would be marketed to teachers who work in the city’s public schools and Baystate employees working at 1550 Main. “The goal is to develop market-rate apartments that will attract talented professionals to housing in downtown Springfield,” he said. “The new workforce and talent pool will eventually attract site selectors and new businesses downtown.”
Still another component is to create gallery space in the downtown’s office buildings and perhaps its hotels, said Plotkin, adding that the overarching goal is help artists and their ventures become more economically viable.
“What we’re trying to do is offer artists living space, studio space, and gallery space,” he said. “They need all three to be successful.”
Plotkin told BusinessWest that he’s optimistic about the plans for Morgan Square, and this positive outlook is fueled by what has transpired at 1350 and 1550 Main St., but also by other developments currently unfolding or on the drawing board.
These include the ambitious development projects launched by the New England Farmworkers Council and its president, Heriberto Flores — the expanded portfolio now includes the Hippodrome and the Bowles Building (home to the Fort restaurant), across Main Street from Morgan Square — and the planned redevelopment of Union Station, which can be seen out the windows of some of the apartments.
“If I was a single person and an artist, I couldn’t think of a cooler place to do my work,” he said, expressing the hope that others will be saying such things in the not-too-distant future.

Brush with Fame
Time will tell how Plotkin’s great Springfield experiment, or at least the Art Space at Morgan Square component, shapes out.
But he believes that in time, and probably not much of it, the project will become a poignant symbol of how the creative arts have helped revitalize the downtown area.
Always the optimist, Plotkin said there is already plenty of evidence that the arts can improve the experience of working and living downtown, and he’s energized by the prospects of creating more.
“This is a very exciting project for Springfield that could really change the feel of this area,” he said, while standing in the Morgan Square courtyard. “All we have to do is activate the many assets we have.”

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

Cover Story
Former Musician Ron Ancrum Now Hits High Notes with the Community Foundation

July 4, 2011

July 4, 2011

Growing up, Ron Ancrum wanted to be the next Quincy Jones. He was a skilled trumpet player, but liked writing music even more than performing it. He put aside those interests a quarter-century ago as he was shaping a career in higher education and the broad realm of philanthropy, which continues today as president of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. He’s not writing music in that position, but he is working to orchestrate progress for the Pioneer Valley.

Ron Ancrum says he fell in love with jazz — and discovered the trumpet — when he was in the 7th grade.
And by the time he graduated from Rippowam High School in Stamford, Conn., he was, by his own admission, quite good at the craft, which he honed while playing with such groups as the Silver Falcon Drum & Bugle Corp and the Stamford Young People’s Symphony Orchestra. He wasn’t alone in that opinion, either; he earned a mention in Downbeat magazine in 1967 as a promising up-and-coming jazz musician.
“I was a senior in high school at the time,” he recalled. “They [Downbeat] did these jazz competitions where the magazine would go to different cities and have different groups compete; we didn’t come in first, but we got a mention.”
But as much as he liked playing music, he enjoyed composing it even more, and majored in theory and composition at UConn.
“My dream was to be the next Quincy Jones — I wanted to write for motion pictures,” he told BusinessWest, noting quickly that, while he had some success in music — one of many bands he played with, ANKH (his nickname), opened for Gladys Knight and the Pips back in 1973 at the Bushnell in Hartford, and another jazz band, Quintessence, released an album in 1981 — his career has gone in a completely different direction (actually, several of them), mostly out of necessity, but also desire.

Ron Ancrum (center) on the back cover of the 1981 album recorded by his former jazz band, Quintessence.

Ron Ancrum (center) on the back cover of the 1981 album recorded by his former jazz band, Quintessence.

“The major record labels were not picking up jazz — they were more into pop and R&B,” he said of the then-unusual step of releasing the album himself, as well as the primary motivation for his entry into the higher-education sector in the early ’80s, and then a subsequent move into the broad arena of philanthropy, first as a consultant with his own company and later with an outfit called Associated Grant Makers.
His current assignment, as president of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, carries with it some composition work of a different kind — in the realm of what’s known as ‘community leadership.’
Explaining the concept, Ancrum said it involves groups like the Community Foundation moving well beyond the work of managing funds and distributing grants to area nonprofits (although those are still important parts of the whole), and into efforts to address some of the many social and economic issues impacting the region — from school dropout rates to the creative economy to social entreprenuership.
This work has manifested itself in a number of ways, from the coordination of the first of what is expected to be several so-called ‘City to City’ tours — Springfield-area business and civic leaders visited Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C. last fall to learn how those communities have bounced back from adversity — to the funding of a new leadership-development program (see story, page 50). And more initiatives are in the formative stages, said Ancrum.
For this, the latest installment of its Profiles in Business series, BusinessWest talked with Ancrum about jazz, philanthropy, and community responsibility, and how they all involve hitting the right notes at the right time.

On-the-record Comments
Ancrum said his interest in jazz these days is confined mostly to listening to it — “picking up an instrument and playing is not what I’m interested in, although I would like to start writing again; that’s what I really enjoy.” But since he’s in Western Mass. at least five days a week (his permanent home is in Canton, Mass.), finding good listening can be challenging.
“I’m used to being in Boston, where there’s tons of jazz,” he explained. “There’s some here, but certainly not as much; there’s been a lot of good jazz at UMass through the Fine Arts Center, for example.”
He is putting his knowledge of the genre and the business to work as a member of the planning committee for the upcoming Hoop City Jazz & Art Festival, slated for July 8-10 at Court Square in downtown Springfield. “I found out that the person organizing it, John Osborn, is a UConn grad like myself, so we got together over lunch and I got involved,” he said, adding that his role is simply as adviser rather than band recruiter. “John’s more into smooth jazz, and I’m more into traditional jazz; I recommend people, but he doesn’t necessarily gravitate toward them.”
Ancrum thought he was destined for a career in music after UConn, where he ran the jazz band and was the arranger, French horn, and electric piano for a multimedia rock production of the Who’s Tommy, among other things. But the stars were simply not aligned for that eventuality.
“I actually took off for California right after graduating, but eventually turned around and came back,” he said, not wanting to go into details of that excursion. Instead of Hollywood, his next stop was a short stint in graduate school, studying music theory at UConn, while also finding different ways to remain active in the music business.
He wrote music and performed with the Voice of Freedom Gospel Choir, for example, and was leader, manager, arranger, and composer for Quintessence, which released an album with that same name in 1981 that has become a collector’s item of sorts.
“There’s a guy in New York who has it listed as a ‘rare-find album’ — he came up and purchased 200 of them from me,” said Ancrum, who found a copy for BusinessWest.
And while he continued to perform and compose until 1987, Ancrum was by that time well into a career in higher education. He started at UConn as a staff assistant in the Student Activities Department in 1972, and later became director of Admissions at Connecticut College. Next was a two-year stint as associate dean of Admissions at Colgate University in Upstate New York. “That’s one of the nicest places to work; it’s just in the wrong place,” he joked. “It’s in the middle of nowhere, and it snowed from Columbus Day to Easter.”
He then spent nearly a decade at UMass Boston as director of Undergraduate Admissions before starting his own consulting business in the Boston area, which provided services to numerous nonprofit organizations and higher-education instituitions. From there, he went to a Boston-based company called Third Sector New England, again providing consulting services to nonprofit organizations, and eventually on to a lengthy stint as president and CEO of Associated Grant Makers, a membership association for foundations and corporate-giving programs serving Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
During his tenure there, Mary Walachy, executive director of the Springfield-based Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, and Kent Faerber, then-president of the Community Foundation, both served on the board of directors, providing him some insight into Springfield and the Pioneer Valley in the process.
Over time, Ancrum said he developed a desire to work at a foundation, rather than for them, and began looking for such a position around the time Faerber announced that he would be retiring from his post. Following conversations with Walachy and others about the job and the region, Ancrum decided to apply and was ultimately chosen.

Projects of Note
Ancrum said that, when he took the helm at the foundation, he knew little about Springfield other than what he’d learned from Walachy, Faerber, and other funders. He had read of the city’s deep financial problems, but also that they were mostly a thing of the past by the time he started moving into his office on the 23rd floor of Tower Square.
“When I came here, I saw a lot of opportunity to do something,” he said, acknowledging that this was an outsider’s perspective, although little has changed since he’s become an insider. “I thought this was a place ready to take off; it has a lot going for it. There’s clearly some strength in the quality educational institutions, and the health community is quite strong.
“There are assets here,” he continued, “and culturally, there’s a lot of potential; there’s music and art and some museums. This should become one of the places in the state that people come to visit. It’s a destination stop; however, it needs to be marketed better.”
But along with all this potential there are issues and challenges, not only in Springfield, but in communities across the three-county (Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire) area served by the Community Foundation, said Ancrum, noting, among things, a clear need to create new sources of jobs, efforts to replace lost manufacturing companies, and a need to rebuild what he called the “economic infrastructure.”
The sum of these challenges and the need for a coordinated response have been the primary motivators for the foundation taking big strides into the realm of community leadership, he continued, noting that this is now the third leg of the Community Foundation’s mission.
The first leg is essentially providing a vehicle for individual donors to engage in philanthropy, he said, adding that the foundation manages roughly 500 funds ranging in size from $10,000 to $12 million. The second leg is grant making, including the largest scholarship program in the region, awarding nearly $2 million in the most recent cycle.
There are also competitive grants, awarded in several cycles, that have recently totaled roughly $1.4 million. “We recently made 77 awards totaling $720,000,” he said of the most recent round, which featured 104 requests, one of the highest totals in recent years. Following the recent tornadoes, the foundation created a relief fund and directed $50,000 toward it, with other donations coming from a number of financial institutions and other area companies (see related story, page 28). At present, the fund now totals more than $125,000, and will be used to assist nonprofits directly impacted by the tornadoes (and there were several) or that provide assistance to victims.
The community-leadership component is part of a nationwide trend among community foundations, said Ancrum, adding that the agency’s board of directors approved a broad plan to move in this direction in late 2008, and a big part of his job description is carrying out that assignment.

Getting Creative
There have been several manifestations of this initiative, he explained, many of them sparked by what he called “community conversations.”
“These are simple convenings where we invite our donors as a way of educating them, and we invite other people in the field who can contribute to the conversation,” he said of the sessions. “We basically try to figure out what the really hot issues are and bring in national, regional, and local speakers who we feel can add to the discussion and provide direction moving forward.”
One such conversation was about the controversial subject of dropout rates in inner-city schools.
“We took an angle that it’s not just an educational issue — it’s really an economic issue, and it’s really a public safety issue as well,” he explained. “So we had the sheriff there, the superintendent there, someone from the state who could talk about the research done on the subject … we brought people together who we thought would be good to have in the room for the kind of conversation that probably should happen.”
This was followed up by a session on the creative economy, he continued, adding that this featured speakers such as state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and others, who focused on the success achieved by North Adams and other communities as they have used the arts to stimulate economic development.
One of the most visible of the community-leadership initiatives was last fall’s City to City tour of Winston-Salem and Greensboro, this region’s first foray into a national program designed to let business and civic leaders in one area see, hear, and analyze how other urban areas of similar size and demographics have achieved progress with economic-development initiatives.
More than 50 representatives of area businesses, colleges, and nonprofit agencies spent three days in North Carolina, learning how the two cities had succeeded in revitalizing their downtowns, generating new sources of jobs, and making their cities safer and, overall, more livable.
Ancrum said he believes the program was a success on a number of levels, starting with how it brought a number of area leaders together for three days, giving them a chance to get to know one another, build relationships, discuss matters of importance, and analyze what they were seeing and hearing.
“We had people from the nonprofit sector talking with business leaders and also officials from the city,” he explained. “When you’re with people for several days like that, you can create relationships, and that makes it easier for people to pick up the phone later and talk with people and collaborate with them.”
The other obvious benefit was the rich learning experience, which yielded a number of potential takeaways, either in the form of projects to emulate or attitudes to embrace.
“Because we saw a baseball park in Greensboro, that doesn’t mean we need one here, necessarily,” he explained. “The lesson for me was that creating a venue that will bring families and individuals to the center of your city creates other business in that area that will help your economy overall; we need to create something like that, but it doesn’t have to be a ballfield.”
Another City to City tour is planned for late this fall, he explained, adding that trip organizers are currently researching several options, with Grand Rapids, Mich. and Jersey City, N.J. heading the list of possible destinations.
Meanwhile, the foundation continues to look for other ways to meet that stated commitment to community leadership.

A Major Hit
For $74.99, one can still obtain a copy of the Quintessence album. An outfit called Rarebro Records has it in stock, apparently.
Next to the item on the company’s Web site is a quick description and review of the album. “Recorded in 1980, the jazz arrangements here are soulful and full-bodied,” it reads, “with some nice texturing with the rhodes, saxophone, flute, trombone, flugelhorn, recorder, congas, bongos, bass, acoustic bass, handicaps, drums, and vocals by the lovely Kharmia.”
For this critic, at least, it appears that Ancrum was able to take a number of diverse elements (the flugelhorn?) and blend them into something distinct and meaningful. That’s not exactly his job description with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, but, given its new focus on community leadership, it would seem to fit.
He’s dying to start writing music again, but in the meantime, he’s helping to script some economic-development success stories.

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

UMass Football: A Risk Worth Taking

We can easily understand why there is considerable skepticism about the decision at UMass Amherst to take its football program up a considerable notch to what’s known as the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Indeed, this move, which involves taking the school’s home games to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, home to the NFL’s New England Patriots, comes complete with a big set of risks and question marks. Many are questioning the school’s contention that this move makes more economic sense than staying put in the Colonial Athletic Assoc., and they base this skepticism on questions ranging from ‘does anyone want to watch the Minutemen play Ball State?’ to ‘will students at the university board buses and kill a Saturday to take in football in Foxborough?’ to ‘just how many alumni living in the eastern part of the state will come out and support this team?’
These are all good questions, and many would answer them in a fashion that would fuel doubts about whether this move makes any sense at all.
But we think this is a risk — and there’s no other word for it — that is well worth taking at this time.
We won’t say the university has nothing to lose, because that’s simply not true; there’s plenty to lose, including money, time, and face. But there’s also plenty to gain, in terms of potential revenue, momentum, and much-needed respect and legitimacy — both in this state and well outside it.
What we like about this move is that it is consistent with others at the university to become more visible and also to become more of a force in this region and across the state. Of far more importance in these efforts is the work being done in the classrooms, the labs, and downtown Springfield, where the university is assuming a much greater presence. But football can be a part of it.
And in even simpler terms, we like the fact that university officials are reaching higher, and not settling for the status quo or moving backward. We could use a little more of that in this region. Despite all the questions about economics and geography (see story, page 6), we believe that this move sends a strong message that is consistent with other endeavors aimed at taking this school to a higher level.
As we said earlier, moving up a notch in football is nowhere near as important as the work UMass is doing off the gridiron. It’s certainly not as vital to this region’s or this state’s economic vitality as the efforts undertaken in conjunction with Baystate Health and other partners at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute. Or the work being done to promote entrepreneurship and mentor young business owners and thus providing them with better odds of succeeding, and succeeding in this area code. Or the initiatives being undertaken in conjunction with area precision machinists to develop new products, niches, and ways of doing business. Or the efforts to help stimulate a creative economy in Springfield’s central business district.
All of these are far more important and impactful than a move to the Mid-America Conference, games in a bigger stadium that may be only a quarter-full for many contests, the likelihood of a Thursday-night game on ESPN against Temple or the University of Buffalo, or, dare we dream, a trip to the Little Caesars Bowl some night in late December years down the road.
But football can be a part of taking this university to where everyone wants to see it go — a place of prominence, on par with the private institutions that have given this state its reputation as the place where the world comes to get an education.
We wish the Minutemen well in this endeavor. It could be a winning proposition in so many ways.

Departments Picture This

Send photos with a caption and contact information to: ‘Picture This’
c/o BusinessWest Magazine, 1441 Main Street, Springfield, MA 01103
or to [email protected]

Art & Soles
Picture This 1Organizers of the Art & Soles project, which brought colorful, five-foot-high sneakers to downtown Springfield, staged the official gallery opening for the celebrated footwear on Dec. 13 at 1351 Main St. Many of the artists were in attendance, as well as project coordinators and friends of the arts. At left, Evan Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, and Maryann Lombardi, director of Creative Economy at UMass Amherst and a program organizer, admire the works of art. Picture this 2Below left, Nancy Urbschat, left, owner of TSM Design and a project organizer, admires some of the sneakers along with Sue Bader, a life insurance consultant with Epstein Financial. Picture This 3Below, artist Misha Epstein with her sneaker, a tribute to the historic homes in the McKnight section of Springfield. A resident of that area, she called her sneaker “In My Neighborhood,” and along the bottom, the word ‘home’ appears in 23 languages.

After 5
Picture 4The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield staged their annual holiday After 5 event in Tower Square on Dec. 8. The event was held outside the Festival of Trees, giving attendees a chance to see this year’s collection and enter the raffle to win one of the dozens of entries. Picture 5Far left, a visitor admires one of the trees. At left, Courtney Merrill greets visitors to the booth of Robert Charles Photography, one of the event’s sponsors.

Cover Story
Taking Lessons — and Inspiration — from North Carolina

Cover December 6, 2010

Cover December 6, 2010

A group of 40 business and civic leaders from Greater Springfield were in two North Carolina municipalities — Winston-Salem and Greensboro — last week as part of the City to City program. As the name suggests, participants travel from one city to another, but they also take ideas and, hopefully, inspiration and determination back home. There were myriad thoughts expressed about what Springfield could learn from this excursion, but commentary centered around creating vibrancy downtown, focusing on steps to keep more young people in the 413 area code, crafting a more regional approach to economic development, and, perhaps most importantly, creating more positive energy in the City of Homes.

Allen Joines was explaining — sort of — just how it came to be that 40 business and civic leaders from Greater Springfield were having breakfast at the Marriott in his city, Winston-Salem, N.C., listening to him talk about economic development, downtown revitalization, and generating business diversity.
“The closer you get to the guillotine, the more you start to focus,” joked Joines, now in his ninth year as mayor of this city of 220,000, located about an hour from Charlotte.
‘Focus’ is a very general, perhaps overly simplistic way to describe what the leaders of Winston-Salem, or WS, as it’s called, did when, about 20 years ago, the bottom simply fell out of an economy based on tobacco, textiles, and furniture manufacturing, all industries on the decline. “We lost more than 10,000 jobs in about 18 months,” said Joines, who was then economic development director for the community. “In just a few years, RJ Reynolds [the tobacco giant headquartered in the city] went from 16,000 employees to under 3,000.”

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines says his city has been quite resilient, bouncing back from a series of economic calamities.

In the face of this precipitous decline, the city took dramatic steps to diversify its economy, said Joines, adding that it had no choice but to do so. And it has rebounded on the strength of small businesses — there are only five companies or institutions in the city employing more than 1,000 people.
Today, the manufacturing sector that once accounted for 45% of the jobs in Greater Winston-Salem now provides roughly 14%. Dramatic gains have been made in health care (now the largest employer), the biosciences (much of it happening at the Piedmont Triad Research Park created in the heart of downtown), the broad field of design, logistics and distribution, and others. Meanwhile, the city is making major strides in its efforts to become a center for something called regenerative medicine, or the engineering of tissue and organs (more on that later).
Over the past few years, the city has successfully attracted FedEx, which has built a regional air hub at nearby Piedmont Triad International Airport; prevailed in an intense competition to land a $426 million Caterpillar assembly plant; built a new baseball stadium downtown (not without controversy); opened dozens of new restaurants in the central business district; lowered its high-school dropout rate, and earned status as one of the few cities across the nation to curb, and actually reverse, the so-called brain drain.
All this and more explains why those 40 leaders from Greater Springfield were in the Bethabara Room at the Marriott for the opening act of a program called City to City, where representatives of one (usually distressed) municipality visit another — to see, hear, ask questions, and, hopefully, take back some ideas and inspiration. Winston-Salem was chosen, said Ron Ancrum, president of the Community Foundation of Western New England and organizer of this junket, because it is like Springfield in many ways, including size, demographics, its status as a former manufacturing center, and recent challenges. Greensboro, a slightly smaller city 30 miles to the east, was chosen for the same reason.
A day after hearing about Winston-Salem’s progress, the Western Mass. contingent learned how Greensboro had waged a similar comeback in the face of deep losses in manufacturing jobs.
Reflecting on what they had absorbed in Winston-Salem on day two of the junket, participants had varying thoughts on what could be taken away.
Paul Robbins, president of the Wilbraham-based marketing and public-relations firm that bears his name, said the progress Winston-Salem has made in its downtown — with regard to everything from housing to new restaurants — and the resulting improvement in the retention of young people should prompt Springfield officials to redouble their efforts in that realm.
Meanwhile, Maryann Lombardi, director of Creative Economy for UMass Amherst, came away impressed not only with the large role the arts has played in economic development in Winston-Salem, but also how Wake Forest University, located within the city, has been part of virtually every initiative mentioned by leaders in that community and is a true “economic engine.”
Russ Denver, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, joked that he loved the city’s $11 commercial tax rate, less than one-third Springfield’s levy, and thought officials in the City of Homes might try such a number. Turning serious, he had high praise for the vision and creativity it took to put a 200-acre research park downtown.
Sally Fuller, project director for the Davis Foundation, was among many to observe that the overwhelmingly positive attitude and can-do philosophy in Winston-Salem stood in stark contrast to the negativism that she says prevails in Springfield and stifles progress.
Her remarks prompted many to nod in agreement, and Denver to summon a remark made by one of those carrying out the Urban Land Institute study on the city several years ago. “He said, ‘some people see the glass as half-full, others see it as half-empty; in Springfield, people believe they don’t even have a glass.’”
For this issue, BusinessWest recaps the City to City experience, focusing mostly on Winston-Salem, and on what participants want to take back from Tobacco Road. Their comments speak volumes about just how much work needs to be done in Springfield.

Changing the Landscape
Gayle Anderson says she’s like most chamber of commerce directors. She tracks what people say and write about her community, and takes great pride in placement on those ‘best of’ and ‘top 25’ lists that publications like to put together.
So she has a lot to be proud of these days, because WS is on many such compilations, including:
• ‘One of the Best Places to Live and Launch’ from 2008 in Fortune Small Business;
• The ‘Top 25 Places for Business and Careers’ as compiled by Forbes in 2009;
• The ‘Top 25 Locations for Biotech’ as assembled by Business Facilities magazine in 2009; and
• The ‘Top 7 Intelligent Communities in the World’ as compiled by the Intelligent Community Forum in 2008.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported earlier this year that WS is one of only 14 cities across the country with more college graduates moving in than moving out, and North Carolina was listed on the most recent ‘Top Destination States for People Relocating’ list put together by United Van Lines.
“We didn’t get all of those people, obviously, but we certainly got our share,” said Lombardi, who like Mayor Joines and others, said Winston-Salem has come a long way over the past 20 years, and even a decade ago, when West Fourth Street, on which the WS chamber is located, was, in her words, “dead as a doorknob.”
How the business district, and the city as a whole, has come back to life, is a compelling story, one that placed WS in a 23-page report authored by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston called “Lessons from Resurgent Cities,” and garnered the attention of Ancrum as he and others considered possible destinations for a City to City tour involving Springfield area leaders.

Ron Ancrum

Ron Ancrum says the City to City tour was a learning expereince, but also a chance for participants to get to know one another so that they might better work together to implement what they've learned.

Ancrum, who came to the Community Foundation late last year, was familiar with City to City through his participation in a visit to Chicago by business and civic leaders in Boston. “That was a tremendous learning experience,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he wanted to create a similar tour for Springfield-area representatives as a way to provide an education in how other communities were getting things done, while also getting the Community Foundation more involved in economic-development matters.
Several destinations were considered for the City to City experience, Ancrum continued, noting that two in New England — Providence and New Haven — while meritorious, were rejected because the committee planning the program thought it would be difficult to get business leaders to commit to a three-day itinerary, which is the preferred length of such visits, in cities so close to home.
After considering Jersey City, N.J., a community in Michigan, and several others, the planning committee chose Winston-Salem and Greensboro because of both geography and their many similarities to Springfield. The tour would ultimately have four learning focal points: education, economic development, arts and culture, and public safety.
Ancrum said he and others had many goals in mind when they put the trip together. First among them was providing a learning laboratory of sorts, but there was also the desire to bring business and civic leaders together so that they may get to know one another, talk about their experiences, and then perhaps ultimately work together to help put some of the concepts they’d seen in North Carolina to work in Greater Springfield.
Participants visited a number of locations over the three days, including the research park; the WS chamber complex; the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, a renovated former Hanes underwear plant now home to galleries, meeting and event spaces, the Sawtooth School for Visual Art, and the Hanesbrands Theatre; the Goler Community Development Center in WS; Bennett College in Greensboro; the International Civil Rights Museum, also in Greensboro; and other stops.

Rolling with the Punches
As he recounted Winston-Salem’s near-miss with the guillotine, Joines said the city’s comeback — still very much a work in progress — has been marked by diligence and creativity, but even moreso by resiliency.
“When I look back on all that we went through, I think of that kid’s toy, the one where when you punched it, it would fall over, but then bounce back up again,” he explained during his opening remarks. “We took a lot of punches — and we still get punched today — but we’ve always bounced back up.”
Joines said he was a somewhat reluctant mayoral candidate, but was eventually compelled to run because he didn’t think city government was moving the city in the right direction. Running with the slogan ‘One City Pulling Together,’ Joines took nearly 80% of the vote in his first election.
Since assuming the corner office, Joines says he has focused economic-development activity on job creation in seven identified sectors:
• Financial services, in which the city already had a solid base, with Wachovia, recently acquired by Wells Fargo, headquartered there;
• Health care, a sector dominated by two large medical centers, including one at Wake Forest;
• Biomedical, an emerging sector that the mayor believes may yield more than 30,000 new jobs. This sector has been bolstered by the creation of the PTRP, which is anchored by the Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and now boasts more than 20 companies;
• ‘Design,’ a term that applies to the design of everything from clothing to furniture to medical devices, and has become a steady source of new jobs, said Joines;
• Advanced manufacturing;
• Logistics and distribution, a field bolstered by the arrival of FedEx, which has a history of attracting to its hubs companies that depend on overnight shipping, and the same is expected for Greater Winston-Salem; and
• Travel and tourism, which has historically been a reliable source of jobs.
Growth has come in fits and starts over the past 20 years or so, said Joines, noting that, after a great deal of activity in the mid- and late ’90s, things were slowed by the recession that followed 9/11. Meanwhile, the severe downturn of 2008 and 2009 also took a toll on several sectors, especially travel and tourism.
But there has been growth across those seven sectors, he said, adding that, despite measurable progress, city leaders were not satisfied. They studied 108 other communities, focusing mostly on 17 metropolitan areas that were growing twice as fast as WS.
“We wanted to determine if we were going at things the right way,” said Joines. “We looked at these cities to see what they were doing differently that we might do. We determined that what set them apart was a driver, or magnet, that was ruthless.
“And we set about creating our own driver,” he continued, adding that such an economic force would have to meet several criteria. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘is it feasible, is it unique, and is it impactful?
Eventually city leaders would answer ‘yes’ in each case to the field of regenerative medicine, which, says Joines, could eventually create perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 jobs.
The nucleus for this ‘driver’ is the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, led by Dr. Anthony Atala. The institute is an international leader in the engineering of multiple types of human tissue, allowing for the growth of replacement organs and transplanting them into patients.
“We’re galvanized around regenerative medicine,” said Joines, adding that the city now hosts all major conferences involving this field. “We believe that this is going to be a great source of growth and jobs for us.”

Young Ideas
To keep its many sources of jobs thriving, from a workforce perspective, WS officials realized that they had to do something to retain more young people and attract some from outside the region. “Jobs are the best way to do that,” said Anderson, adding quickly that the city has made major progress in creating well-paying jobs in exciting, potential-laden fields.
But there are other factors involved in attracting young people, she said, especially the need to create the kind of vibrancy that this constituency demands. With that in mind, city officials went to work downtown.
Some market-rate housing was created, and there are plans for more, Anderson continued. Meanwhile, an ambitious restaurant-loan program involving area banks and the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership was created to help boost the hospitality sector. Despite the volatility and high failure rate in the industry, only a few of the ventures that have received funding have folded, she told BusinessWest, and, at the moment, there are no restaurant-ready sites left downtown.
Beyond new restaurants and clubs, the city has scheduled a number of events downtown, said Jason Theil, president of the downtown partnership, noting that these happenings introduce the central business district to people and reinforce the notion that it is a good place to live, work, and play.
He said that any city looking to thrive must place a heavy emphasis on downtown development because it is the central business district that often defines a community.
“When you think about it, it’s a city’s skyline that you see in many pictures and postcards and marketing materials,” he explained. “The downtown is a reflection of how a community sees itself. Each one is different, each one is unique, each one gives a city its identity.”
To create still more vibrancy downtown, city officials, working with private developers, crafted plans for a baseball stadium. But halfway through construction, amid plans to double the size of the facility, the Great Recession hit and work ground to a halt, and Jones knew he had to get it started again.
“If we didn’t finish it, 60,000 people would be looking at failure, and we didn’t want that,” said the mayor, referring to the number of commuters who pass that site every day.
City officials eventually pumped more than $20 million in public funding into the project, drawing criticism from many quarters as they did so. But today, the public is supporting the park, filling it for most all the games played there to date, said Jones, adding that the ballpark struggle is a prime example of the resiliency he spoke of early and often.
That resilience has been one of the factors that have keyed Winston-Salem’s turnaround, said Bob Leak Jr., president of Winston-Salem Business Inc. (WSBI), an economic-development group focused on attracting and retaining businesses that he described as a “marketing agency.” When asked to list some of the others, he mentioned everything from that low commercial tax rate and comparatively low cost of living to an attractive workforce; from all the improvements made downtown that are attracting young people to the fact that North Carolina has the lowest percentage of union representation among its workforce in the country.
It is a package of benefits more than any single factor that has led to the city’s resurgence, Leak said, adding that financial incentives, in the form of tax breaks and other provisions, are, while important, just part of the equation.
“Right now, labor and facilities are the two most important factors,” he said, listing some others, such as energy costs, transportation, and schools. “Incentives are important, but not at the start, because if you don’t have the labor or the physical location or the other operating advantages, there’s not enough money you can throw at it for a long enough period to make it work.”
Meanwhile, a decidedly regional outlook on economic development has certainly helped as well, he said, adding that, while the WSBI is essentially selling WS, in many instances it first has to sell the Winston-Salem/Greensboro/High Point region, and its salability helps open doors.

Gaining Perspective
As she got up to leave at the conclusion of one of the sessions in Winston-Salem — this one involving the city’s Housing Authority and the Goler Community Center, both of which are involved in outside-the-box housing projects — Joan Kagan, executive director of Square One in Springfield, turned to BusinessWest and said, “this is a city of collaboration and creativity.”
Those were the two words heard most often amid discussion and reflection on the part of those in the Springfield contingent. Others included Joines’ favorite, ‘resilient,’ as well as ‘energetic’ and ‘imaginative.’
Overall, participants were impressed with the level of cooperation among the various players in the public and private sectors, including major corporations like RJ Reynolds and institutions like Wake Forest, and wondered out loud how to bottle it and bring it home.
While most in attendance considered many of the things WS has accomplished, such as the research park and landing Caterpillar, beyond Springfield’s reach, they said the real lessons from the city are to create a working plan, and then summon the wherewithal to carry it out.
“I think that’s the biggest thing I’ll take back from this,” said Ancrum. “I think we’ve seen the importance of having a plan and having everyone on the same page with that plan.”
For Robbins, the work done downtown, and its impact on overall vibrancy and the retention of young people, was perhaps the biggest takeaway. In recent years, he said, there’s been a ‘downtown versus the rest of the world’ mentality that needs to end.
“The neighborhoods don’t think we need a downtown, the suburbs don’t think we need a downtown,” he explained. “What we’ve seen here [in Winston-Salem] is that, to have a vibrant community, you must have a core center city that people want to go to. Cities are hot again, and the proof is right here.”
Bill Ward, executive director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, came away impressed with the candor of Winston-Salem officials, who, he said, weren’t afraid to talk about failures, and there have been many, nor were they taken down by them.
“They never let failure get in the way, and we can learn from that,” he said, while also making note of the many times Joines and others made use of the phrase ‘collaborative leadership.’
“Those words have also been heard in Springfield,” he said, adding that, for the most part, people are talking about it, not doing it. “We have to drill down and figure out exactly what that means.”
For Fuller, the positive energy in WS is palpable, and something Springfield needs to create for itself.
“We have so many of the ingredients in place,” she said, referring to downtown specifically but also the city as a whole. “But what we seem to be lacking is the excitement. Here [in Winston-Salem] people feel they can make things happen. In Springfield, I think we’re down on ourselves; we spend too much time agonizing about what we can’t do.”

On the Cutting Edge
A decade ago, Joines said, Winston-Salem certainly wouldn’t have been a destination for any City to City tours. It had escaped the guillotine he mentioned metaphorically, but most of the major success stories were still to be written.
The fact that the city is now hosting groups like the one from Springfield in its Marriott should provide some additional inspiration to those who took this trip, he said. And, indeed, some of those who listened to the mayor expressed the optimism that someday, probably no time soon, the City of Homes may just be on the other side of the City to City equation.
To get there, though, it appears that the city will first have to find a glass, and then make sure people consider it at least half full.
In other words, and to sum up and paraphrase those who took this excursion, there must be more focus.

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

Textbook Example of Business in a College Town



In October of 2009, Reza Rahmani and Arash Hashemkhani opened a Persian/Mediterranean restaurant in Amherst named Moti. It was a dream come true for Rahmani, who fell in love with the town during his years at UMass Amherst and had always been intrigued by the idea of opening a downtown eatery.
He was living in Phoenix, Ariz. when he finally found a site that suited his needs. “Two summers ago, I made the trip to Amherst four times to look for property,” he said.
So, when the space Moti now occupies became available, he and Hashemkhani rented it, then proceeded to gut it and renovate the entire interior.
Their restaurant has been so successful, they are expanding into space next door which recently became available. They are also gutting a large property on Boltwood Place with plans to turn it into a restaurant/lounge for working professionals.
“The rents here are equivalent to those in the back bay of Boston, but I love the demographics of this town; Amherst has a flavor you don’t find in many small towns, let alone bigger cities. There is a little bit of Europe here, especially uptown where our restaurant is located,” Rahmani said, adding that businesses are so supportive of each other that other restaurant owners have told customers to try Moti. “Within a year, we have built so many relationships, we almost feel we have been here our whole lives.”
Tony Maroulis, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, says the restauranteurs’ experience is in line with the Chamber’s motto: “The Amherst area is a perfect place.”
“The student population of UMass, Amherst College, and Hampshire College are right in our backyard. We have a vibrant downtown and interesting village centers in several sections of town,” he said. “Thousands of people come here each year because of the colleges and cultural institutions. There are eight museums in town, and we also have a wonderful year-round population that is engaged with the community, which makes for a fertile business environment. These are just some of the reasons why Amherst is a terrific place to live and work.”
Robert Green agrees. Since 1976, he has owned and operated Amherst Typewriter and Computer, which is a few doors away from Moti.
“Amherst is a well-educated community, which is compatible with the services I perform,” he said. “There are many poets, writers, and artists as well as liberal arts students here who use typewriters because their senses are greater than that of the average person and the typewriter becomes an extension of them. To me, there is more than a monetary reward in owning a business here, because I serve several generations.”
For this, the latest installment of its Doing Business In series, BusinessWest takes a comprehensive look at Amherst and at why its chamber’s slogan is on the money.

Schools of Thought
Jeremy Austin moved J. Austin Antiques from Boston to Amherst in 2005. Since then, he has combined his business with J. Austin Jewelers, which his mother owns.
“This is a good, family-oriented community, but also a very intellectual, sophisticated community,” he said. “People who visit here are looking for things to do, which results in a lot of business potential because there is a steady influx of students and their parents as well as people from all over the world who come to Amherst to see the Emily Dickinson Museum.”
Amherst has 50 working farms, and Austin says the combination of a walkable downtown surrounded by land is another bonus. “People tend to pigeonhole this as a college town, but there is also a lot of open land here and good proximity to Boston and New York, as well as high-end restaurants,” he said.
Town Manager Larry Shaffer says town officials have done a remarkably good job of using resources offered by the Preservation of Agricultural Land Program to keep the rural landscape intact. In addition, the town recently adopted a new master plan with a goal of concentrating development in specific village centers.
“We want to preserve agricultural land by not encouraging traditional urban sprawl,” Shaffer said. “The village center concept is new for Amherst and is an attempt to compact development while retaining areas of conservation and open space.”
New development will be concentrated in pockets located throughout the town. They include Atkins Center, Cushman Village, Pomeroy Potwine Village Center, the intersection of College Street and South East Street, and Main Street and North East Street. “New zoning is being crafted and will be brought to the town meeting to be voted on,” Shaffer added.
Maroulis believes the changes will make make the town more sustainable. “It is a really exciting time to be here,” he said.
Shaffer agrees and adds that Amherst is a great place to do business. “It is virtually recession-proof, because the community is based on education. The university is a center of excellence in a number of academic disciplines and has one of the best engineering schools in the country, which offers businesses a splendid opportunity to work with them for complementary activities,” he said. “We are a small town, but absolutely committed to getting projects underway that are consistent with our zoning regulations and are in the best interests of the town.”
The town and its colleges have forged strong relationships, which are evident in many projects they have completed together. Currently, Amherst College is undertaking a $15 million restoration of the Lord Jeffery Inn, which will include a pub and an upscale restaurant.
And in recent weeks UMass signed over a piece of property to the town. The transaction, called the Gateway Project, involves a collaboration between the town and the university to redevelop a 1,500-foot stretch of North Pleasant Street. It will connect the northern end of the town center with the UMass campus and contain its own center that will include private student housing, private commercial development, lodging, parking, and space for UMass functions.
Jeffrey Guidera also sees potential in Amherst. In January 2008, he and contractor Rus Wilson formed Hills House LLC, a real-estate development venture established to restore a cluster of historically significant homes on the property of the Henry Hills mansion, which was the former home of the Boys & Girls Club of Amherst. “There is interest and demand for living space downtown. People like to have services that are concentrated in one area. So, we are saving these old homes and providing new ones for people,” said Guidera.
He believes there is real opportunity for business growth in town. “This is due to the combination of the regulatory environment, zoning changes, and the mood of the population, who realize they need a more diversified tax base,” he said, adding that greater housing density will help promote growth.
Kyle Wilson and David Williams are about to break ground for a new, five-story structure situated directly behind the popular Judie’s restaurant on North Pleasant Street. The new building is slated for mixed use, with a dozen high-end residential apartments on floors two through five and retail/professional space on the first floor along with storage space for the residents.
Wilson said a large number of professionals have already moved to Amherst because of the quality of life there and the culture. “Almost all of the interest in our building is coming from the Boomer generation who want to sell their ranch-style homes and move downtown to a building with an elevator and access to the colleges and movie theater,” he said, adding that they will break ground this fall and expect residents will be able to move in by September 2011.
A Class Act
“We think Amherst has amazing potential,” said Wilson. “UMass is looking to grow by 3,000 students in the next 10 years, and if they and Amherst College hope to attract top researchers, faculty, and students, there needs to be an active and lively downtown,” Wilson said.
Maroulis wants people to understand how attractive Amherst is.
“We are not in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “There is always something happening here. As our slogan says, we are the perfect place to live, work, and play. We have a creative economy, and the economic landscape is quite diverse. It is a wonderful and interesting place to be that is on the rise, and the next five to 10 years will be really exciting.”

The Region’s Plan for Progress Continues to Change and Evolve

Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan says the Plan for Progress is in a constant state of evolution.

Originally drafted in 1994, the region’s Plan for Progress, authored and administered by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in conjunction with area economic-development leaders, is anything but a static document. It is being constantly changed and updated to reflect new priorities, challenges, and opportunities. Recent additions and amendments have been made to address workforce-development trends and concerns, the desire to create a ‘green’ regional economy, and the need to connect the region to other urban areas in an emerging ‘mega-region.’

Tim Brennan says the Plan for Progress, the comprehensive regional strategic economic plan for Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, receives a major overhaul every 10 years; the last one came in 2004, a decade after the plan was originally drafted.
There are smaller, yet significant, updates every five years, said Brennan, director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) and the document’s lead author, noting that the most recent of these came in 2009. But in reality, the plan is constantly changing — the word he chose to describe it was “fluid” — because it needs to reflect new p
riorities, challenges, and opportunities.
Take, for example, the somewhat recent national and regional emphasis on all things ‘green.’
Indeed, as of June 2009, ‘the plan,’ as it’s called, has a “strategy to develop a green regional economy.” There is a stated goal — to “establish a regional economy where sustainable living and business practices combined with clean-technology opportunities are core to our economic, environmental, and cultural vitality” — as well as identified action steps in six key areas: business development, agriculture, education and workforce development, management of natural and built resources, transportation, and communication.
Brennan said plan administrators want to take the regionwide clean-energy plan put in place in 2008, as well as several existing clean-energy companies, such as FloDesign Wind Turbine, Qteros, and others, and use these as a starting point from which to build a green cluster over the next decade or so.
“We started looking at it from the standpoint of how we can use this to our economic advantage, to grow new businesses and create more jobs,” he explained, adding that the new chapter in the Plan for Progress was added to keep the initiative in the region’s collective consciousness.
The informal plan moving forward is to take the various components of a ‘green sector,’ everything from existing companies to the planned high-performance computing sector in Holyoke to the annual Energy Connections Conference in Springfield, and shape them into something larger than the component parts.
“As someone said to me at a recent event, ‘there’s a lot of stuff going on in the region in this green sector; we need something to take all the snowflakes and make a snowball out of them,’” said Brennan. “I thought that was a good way to explain how we’re trying to get some traction and push this from an economic-development standpoint as well as an energy standpoint.”
The new strategy to develop a green regional economy is just one example of how the Plan for Progress is in a continual state of flux, said Brennan, adding that is in many ways like a roadmap in that it is always being amended to reflect changes in the landscape.
Other recent changes to the document include a rewrite of the plan’s workforce component to address issues such as the retraining of area residents for jobs in the knowledge-based economy; intensified efforts to brand the Knowledge Corridor and connect it to other urban centers in the Northeast “mega-region,” as Brennan calls it (more on that later); a new emphasis on the creative economy; and a commitment among plan administrators to turn plans into action and also measure what they’re doing.
“The plan is the roadmap to the future,” he said. “Once we finish doing the plan, I feel like there should be no more planning; instead, let’s get on to doing.”
For this issue, BusinessWest takes a look at some of the recent additions and adjustments to the plan, and why annual upgrades are needed to make sure the region is putting its attention — and its energy — in the right directions, and making more of those snowballs.

Connecting the Dots
As he talked about the plan’s new green component, Brennan said that emerging strategic initiative is predicated on the belief that, perhaps sooner than later, the region and nation will be moving away from fossil fuels to alternative, cleaner forms of energy.
The consensus seems to be that it’s not a question of if that will happen, but when, he told BusinessWest, adding that the plan’s new green component was added to “give the region a competitive edge” when that day comes.
Making the region more competitive is the simple, yet also quite complex, overriding purpose of the plan, said Brennan, as he traced the steps in its development. Putting things another way, he said the plan was put in place, and is continuously updated, to put the region out front, or ahead of whatever curve it was confronting, and be as prepared as possible to answer the proverbial ‘what’s next?’
As an example, he cited the plan’s long-term focus on improved rail service and connecting the region to points south and east, a strategic initiative that paid off when the Obama administration announced a serious commitment to rail-system improvements.
“We’ve been working on this rail plan for five years now,” he said, referring to an initiative to connect Springfield with New Haven and thus New York. “You wake up one morning and Obama says, ‘we’re going to put $8 billion into rail projects.’ Because we had been planning, we could flip our plan into a grant application and get it; Connecticut gets $40 million, Massachusetts gets $70 million, and Vermont gets $50 million. We’re the only corridor in New England to get funded.”
By continually tweaking the Plan for Progress, its administrators can script more success stories like the rail grant, said Brennan, adding there are many forward-looking strategic initiatives being considered, most all of them focused on the emergence of the so-called mega-region.
In a recent presentation to the Springfield Business Roundtable — and in other talks and documents — Brennan has identified 11 of these mega-regions: The Northeast, ‘Piedmont Atlantic’ (slicing through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama), Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, the Texas Triangle, ‘Front Range’ (in the Rockies), the Arizona Sun Corridor, Southern Calif., Northern Calif., and ‘Cascadia’ (the Seattle area).
The names given to these regions vary with the individual or group referencing them, he continued, but most analysts looking out 40 or 50 years believe these regions will be the main forces driving the economy, and it will be incumbent upon smaller regions within those areas to be players in those regional economies — or get left out of the party.
“Our work is designed to make the Knowledge Corridor more than a brand,” he told BusinessWest, acknowledging that, even a few years ago, awareness building was the primary objective when it came to the Hartford-Springfield partnership. “We want to make it real, make it connected, and make it a much bigger powerhouse from an economic point of view, and make sure it’s part of this constellation here in the Northeast corridor. We’re working to position ourselves to be not just a bystander, but a player.”
To thrive in the Northeast mega-region, said Brennan, Western Mass. must be effectively connected to other parts of the region, especially Boston and Hartford.
“We can’t end up as a cul-de-sac,” he said, using ‘we’ to mean the corridor, and implying that, while there is a degree of connectivity already, it needs to be improved.
To achieve the connectivity Brennan described, the region has to take full advantage of vehicles such as high-speed rail, improved broadband service in Western Mass. (a $71 million plan to do just that is on the drawing board), highways, and other forms of infrastructure. And with connection can come collaboration with other cities and regions, he said, which is how economic development is really achieved.
As part of the broad action plan on bolstering the corridor, officials on both sides of the border will be applying for a federal grant to create a sustainable development plan for the cross-border initiative. There will be considerable competition for such grants, said Brennan, adding quickly that he’s optimistic about the region’s chances.
“We’re going into this with our eyes wide open,” he said. “We’re going to be competing against the Chicagos, the LAs, and the Atlantas, but I think we have a story to tell, and we have some impressive accomplishments for a medium-sized area.
“The Knowledge Corridor brand now has some traction,” he continued. “The challenge now is to get a product that goes with that brand that has a lot of substance.”

For Good Measure
While moving beyond the brand is a top priority within the plan, there are many other initiatives as well, said Brennan, adding that they involve everything from keeping college graduates in the region to helping more area residents become workforce-ready to Connecticut River cleanup.
Returning to the new green strategic plan and that snowball he referenced, Brennan said there will likely be a number of components to a green cluster in the region, from new products and services, such as the Scuderi engine and FloDesign’s new wind turbine design, to existing products that could be ‘greened’ to help them achieve a larger market, to available green power that can be used to attract companies that want to reduce their carbon footprints.
“The high-performance computing center is coming to Holyoke for essentially one reason — low-cost, clean energy,” he said, adding that area municipal officials and economic-development leaders must look for ways to leverage that asset and others across Western Mass.
And when the computing center is up and running, it will become another huge asset to leverage. “There will be a number of businesses that will want to plug into that kind of computing power, and that’s where the job growth could come from if there can be a path to accessibility.”
The green strategic initiative is the most comprehensive new addition to the Plan for Progress, but there have been other tweaks, including revisions made earlier this year to a strategic initiative to integrate workforce development and business priorities.
Overall, said Brennan, the plan is putting more emphasis on devising methods to close the skills gap in the region, a gap that is keeping many unemployed, underemployed, and displaced workers from finding solid job opportunities.
“We need to address how to retrain workers who wake up one morning to find that what they’ve been doing for 15 or 20 years is now being done by machine, or is being done in Asia, or isn’t being done at all because some other product or service has trumped it and knocked it off the boards,” he said. “Figuring out to get people more gainfully employed if they run into some kind of quicksand is something that needs more attention.”
The revised strategy calls for several steps, including the creation of a regional workforce-development plan; engaging the business community, civic leaders, and various industry sectors to be involved in the plan’s development and implementation; and work to identify funding for regional workforce and educational planning. It also recommends formation of a workforce-development strategy team as a subcommittee of the Plan for Progress that will oversee the progress of the strategic initiative by working with various workforce and educational institutions, such as the regional employment boards.
Still another adjustment to the Plan for Progress is a greater sense of accountability, or measuring results, said Brennan, adding that the Web site www.stateofthepioneervalley.org has been created to show how the region, through various implementing agencies, is doing relative to key issues.
“We’re trying, 24/7, to show how we’re doing in these various categories,” he said of the indicators. “We’re trying to access whether we’re making progress with any of this, or if we’re in a steady state and need to try harder.”
Measuring is that third leg of the stool behind planning and doing, he said, adding that they are all equally important to achieving the larger goals of attaining progress and giving the region competitive edges.

When a Plan Comes Together
The next big overhaul for the Plan for Progress won’t come until 2014. But it’s safe to say that the document, if it can be called that, will see a number of changes and additions before then.
Keeping the plan current to reflect new challenges and opportunities is critical, said Brennan, to the ongoing efforts to make the region more competitive, at a time when the competition is mounting.
Planning, doing, and measuring, the three parts of this equation, are all keys to progress, or enabling sound ideas to snowball — literally and figuratively.

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

Departments Picture This

Arts & Soles

A flatbed truck carrying 20 six-foot-high fiberglass sneakers rolled into Springfield on July 8. Later in the day, an elaborate press event was staged to announce Arts & Soles, the community project involving the sneakers and the artists who will paint them in ways to answer the question, “what makes Springfield Great?” The footwear will be ready in time for the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in August, and will be displayed in various locations downtown. Above, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno addresses those assembled for the media event. Behind him are, from left, Maryann Lombardi, director of creative economy for UMass Amherst, a partner in the project; Nancy Urbschat, president of TSM Design, one of the organizers; and John Judge, Springfield’s chief development officer. At left, Don Courtemanche, executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, one of the organizers, stands by one of the giant sneakers.

Comcast Digital Connectors

The Urban League of Springfield, Comcast, and One Economy held a special graduation ceremony at the Urban League of Springfield recently to honor a group of Springfield youths who have completed the Comcast Digital Connectors program. A total of 26 students completed the vigorous program, a year-long technology learning and service initiative that teaches teens and young adults from diverse, low-income backgrounds how to use broadband technologies and how to put that knowledge to work in their communities. At the event, several students shared the experiences they gained from the program. Each of the students was also presented with their own personal NetBook laptop, courtesy of Comcast, and the announcement was made that the Comcast Digital Connectors program will continue in Springfield next year. From left, Henry Thomas, president and CEO of the Urban League of Springfield, and Doug Guthrie, Comcast senior vice president for the Western New England Region, hand out NetBook laptops to the graduating Comcast Digital Connectors.

All That Jazz

More than 12,000 people turned out in downtown Springfield for the 4th Annual Hoop City Jazz and Art Festival, staged July 9-11. The event featured a number of regional and national entertainers, arts, crafts, a variety of food, and much more. Clockwise, from above, KASIF gets the audience hopping; Greg Caputo’s big band Velocity performs; members of Terrance Blanchard belt out another tune; trumpeter Cindy Bradley performs with Zoe; and employees and friends of event sponsor Hampden Bank, from left: Nancy Mirkin; Shana Hendrikse; Carolyn Ware; Bank President Tom Burton and his wife, Kathy; Nancy and Glenn McCarthy; John Osborn, president of the Hood City Jazz & Art Festival; Deb and Rick DeBonis; and Debbie Andrews.

Bing Restoration Project Takes a Major Step Forward
Work of Arts

Brian Hale says great strides have been made to breathe new life into the old Bing Theater.

Brian Hale remembers a time when a rainy Saturday would have packed all 900 seats in the Bing Theater on Sumner Avenue, near the city’s X.

“My friend and I came to see Day of the Triffids and Fun in Acapulco, with Elvis, and it was so crowded we couldn’t get seats even near each other,” he said. It might not have been those two movies that led them back to the defunct theater years later, but both men are now board members of The X Main Street Corp. (XMSC), which owns the rechristened Bing Arts Center.

With the sounds of hammers and saws punctuating the conversation, Hale told the story of how the 1930s gas station known as Cossaboom’s Service Station on Sumner Avenue was transformed into Forest Park’s portal to Tinseltown, and became the place to be for the postwar Baby Boomer generation. The future of the Bing Arts Center, he said, has just as an important a role for arts and culture in the city.

The big theater space out back is still far from a return to celluloid spectacles, but for now, the front section of the building is completely refurbished and has been slowly but steadily hosting arts-education classes, movie screenings, and, very soon, its inaugural arts show.

With a soft opening planned for June 5, Hale, board president of the XMSC, plans to introduce the community to what the XMSC calls “a place which will enable our citizens of all ages, ethnic groups, genders, orientation, and economic status to gather, experience, and build the unifying bonds of civilization and community that active participation in the arts can and will provide.

“I live a couple miles away from the Bing, and almost every time my wife and I drive to go to see a show somewhere, we drive right by the Bing,” he added. “We are not alone in thinking how important it is to have something to keep people here.”

Hale took BusinessWest on a tour of the Bing and, with opening day just a short while away, projected his plans and hopes for the future of art and culture not only for Forest Park, but for Springfield and the surrounding area.

X Marks the Spot

In the freshly-painted room destined to be an arts classroom, Hale described the early history of the Bing. “They turned the front of the building into two storefronts, built the theater on the back, and named it after Bing Crosby. It showed films from 1950 through 1999, opening with Samson and Delilah, and ending with the remake of Psycho. How’s that for a programming arc?” he said with a smile.

After 50 years, the city took over the property for non-payment of taxes, and the neighborhood theater’s house lights dimmed for the last time. Suffering from neglect and lax security, the building was fortunately spared the fate of many other defunct urban theaters.

“Honestly, though, I think the city would have torn it down if it had the money,” Hale said.

However, Springfield put forth an RFP for redevelopment of the site, and one interested party intended to transform the theater into an arts center, but the scope of the project was just too great.

In 2002, the XMSC took control of the project. A nonprofit entity that Hale described as one of many Main Street-type redevelopment organizations around the country, the group immediately saw the importance of the history, location, and potential of the Bing Theater.

“The X used to be a fantastic urban retail district,” native son Hale explained. “More than 26,000 people live in Forest Park alone, with another 4,000 to 5,000 in East Forest Park. If you draw a five-mile radius around the Bing, I don’t even know … it’s probably 60,000 people. And completely diverse, too — from Section 8 to millionaires, all ethnic groups.

“We knew that, to have a true community arts center in Springfield,” he continued, “this is the place.”

And so the XMSC “sunk its teeth” into the project, he said, and in true community fashion with help from residents of that neighborhood.

One of those people, who happened to be painting the interior that day with his crew, was Mark Checkwicz, owner of a high-end commercial painting and restoration company in the city. He is one of the many people generously donating his time, resources, and manpower to see the BAC open on time.

“He lives just down the street,” Hale said, “and has been involved with the project from the beginning.”

Which was a project of titanic proportions.

“The first winter we took the building,” Hale said, “literally the lobby floor was covered in ice, and there was a frozen waterfall cascading from the ceiling, which encased the electric panel. In order to make handicapped-accessible bathrooms in the front, we had to jackhammer out the slab floor.”

After installing entirely new HVAC and electrical systems, gut-framing and re-insulating the front section of the building, and assessing the non-structural damage to the large theater in back, Hale joked that his day job owning and operating Design Workshop in Indian Orchard might be supplanted by his role as de facto general contractor for the Bing.

Getting the front section of the BAC in shape is what he calls ‘phase one,’ allowing for gallery space, art-education classrooms, and a modest performance space that will ultimately serve as the lobby for phase two, the larger theater.

The first exhibit, with work from three well-known area artists, is titled “Upcycled: Transforming the Unused into the Inspirational.” Featuring found-object sculptures, Hale said it is definitely fitting for the first show.

Some concerts have been staged in the lobby/entryway area, and that space is destined to be the ad hoc theater showing first-run arthouse films some time after the June opening.

Walking around the finished gallery and front section of the Bing, Hale said, “I’d say that the scope of the project has exceeded my expectations by a factor of three.

“Previously, I had been thinking, maybe $100,000 could get the front open,” he continued. “But then again, we were going to try to reuse a lot of the systems — the heating and such.

“Then I had a conversation with Dave Panagore,” he continued, referring to then-chief financial officer of the Springfield control board, “and he said, ‘you’re just not going to get there if you don’t do it right. People will recognize the difference.’”

Altogether, the BAC renovation has come to just under $300,000, and Hale said, “I think we’ve done very well with that.”

Go Ahead, Make My Day

Hale doesn’t mince words when he assesses the importance of a cultural center for the neighborhood. “Arts education really is pathetic right now,” he said.

While the theater component to phase two is important, providing a venue for film and performance that will easily compete for first-rate offerings, Hale is most thrilled by the possibility for art and culture to come to the city’s newest generations.

“We’ve started a collaborative partnership with the White Street School, two blocks down, which had no art programs for the kids,” he explained. “So we started two classes, a movie-production class, and an art-through-many-cultures program on Saturdays.

“Some people go, ‘well, until you get the theater open, who cares?’” he continued. “Regularly, though, there will be art on the walls, there will be all-ages educational programming going on, performance programming, neighborhood groups can use the space for meetings. We want to support the neighborhood economically with this presence.”

Citing an untapped cultural presence in the city, Hale said that there’s “no ‘scene’ per se; there’s no hub for people to make contacts. I know some amazing visual artists here in the city, some musicians also. But they are low-profile because they go to Boston, or New York.”

The benefits from an arts center transcend the immediate function of movies and a gallery, he said.

“It’s the creative economy that is our best hope as a city,” he explained, “and it doesn’t require a great deal of money to make it happen. We’re not going to get big retail in this neighborhood; we’re not going to get large-scale manufacturing in the city.

“I’ve often referred to this as the ‘cool neighborhood program,’” he continued. “If you make this area culturally attractive, then you’ll get people who want to come here, spend money here, and live here.”

The Show Must Go On

While phase one opens the doors this month, the theater out back will have to wait a bit.

“People keep asking about the big room in the rear,” Hale said, “because everyone is just dying to know when we’ll get that open.”

Like a seasoned GC, Hale added, “I tell people, it’s not when, it’s how much. It’s all about the dollars. If we had the money, we could have it open in about a year, but we’re working on the actual plans, thanks to the pro bono work of a well-known local architect. Hopefully by summer we can have those finished so we can put a budget to it.”

The XMSC hired a fund-development firm, the Hedgepeth Group, to assist with that capital campaign. Word will soon be out on the target figure for that project.

Hale estimates that the total bill will be anywhere from $3 million to $5 million, but that is a turnkey look at the theater, programming, and all expenses necessary to get the show back on the screen and on the stage.

For the more immediate future, the BAC is up and beginning to fill that expressed void as a catalyst for an increased art presence in the city.

“It’s a missing piece here in the city,” Hale said proudly, “but it’s finally falling into place.”

Sections Supplements
UMass Amherst Crafts a “Framework for Excellence”
Robert Holub

Robert Holub says the university’s vision plan stresses not only goals, but levels of accountability in striving to achieve those benchmarks.

Robert Holub is becoming a seasoned veteran in the art of creating vision plans for major universities.

He played a key role in developing such documents for Berkley and the University of Tennessee, the last two stops on his résumé, and, at the request of the board of trustees, he recently completed one for UMass Amherst, which he now serves as chancellor.

Through all that experience, he’s come to learn some things. First, that this must be an inclusive process, with input from a number of key constituencies. At the same time, however, the process can’t drag on for years — which it can if too many people get involved.

But maybe the most important thing Holub says he’s learned is that such plans must contain levels of accountability when it comes to goals and stated benchmarks. This is one of the keys to keeping a document like UMass Amherst’s “Framework for Excellence — the Flagship Report” from sitting on a shelf and gathering dust.

Holub, who came to the university late last summer, is confident that this won’t be the fate of his plan, because there are measures of accountability when it comes to stated goals on everything from faculty development to research; from development to establishing a larger physical presence in Springfield.

“What we want to do is create some sort of spread sheet with some of the goals, who’s responsible for them, and what kind of unit should be developing strategic plans that are in line with the overall goals for the institution,” he explained. “For example, I’d like to see the office of research come up with a plan of its own that will go into more detail than what’s in this plan, and get into what they need to do the make the Office of Research more effective.”

This process will continue on down to the department level, he continued, adding that the plan will play a large role in his efforts to take the university to the proverbial next level in terms of prestige, quality of the educational programs, and even size of the endowment.

In this issue, BusinessWest takes a look inside the Flagship Report and details how Holub intends to take what’s in print and make it reality.

Course of Action

Holub said the name of the report, which provides a roadmap of sorts for planning over the next decade, to 2020, was chosen carefully. This is not a detailed plan, he explained, but a true framework, created with the expectation that individual campus units will build upon it with their own plans as to how to meet stated targets.

“This is a good starting point,” said the chancellor, adding that, to the best of his knowledge, UMass Amherst has not drafted such a report in some time. And when putting it together, the authors acknowledged the current difficult economic conditions, but didn’t factor them into the goals or stated objectives.

The economy is an obvious caveat, however, said Holub, meaning it will impact when and to what degree many, if not all, of the stated goals can be reached. And in the meantime, the plan can help the college as it goes about deciding how and where to make cuts if the conditions demand them.

“I thought it was important at this time, when we’re faced with potential cutbacks, to have a framework in place for going forward,” he explained. “This will help guide in our decision-making; decisions on where to invest money and where to cut are determined by your strategic plan and the vision you have for the campus.”

When asked if there are priority areas within the report, Holub started by saying that there are things the university simply doesn’t do well, or as well as it should, and that these would obviously be considered priorities. He put development in this category, and noted that the university recently hired a vice chancellor of Development, and that one of his first assignments will be development of a strategic plan for that office to ultimately improve fund-raising efforts.

Research is another area Holub believes can and must be improved. “We’ve gone up in terms of our numbers, but we haven’t significantly improved market share; we haven’t moved up in the rankings, and we’re looking to see how to do that.”

Faculty development is still another area of concern, he said, noting that there are 225 or so fewer tenured faculty members than there were in 1987. However, this is one matter that will likely have to wait until the state’s fiscal condition improves before significant progress can be achieved.

Doing some quick math, Holub said that, to bring the number of tenured staff back to 1,200, the desired goal set down in something called the “Amherst 250 Plan,” created several years ago,” will cost roughly $25 million, a price that will be met, ultimately, through revenue from increased student enrollment and some help from the state.

Thus, a reasonable goal, he continued, would be to achieve net growth in the size of the faculty — there could be reductions in size over the next few years due to the state’s budget woes — by the middle to later years of the 10-year planning period.

One of the more subjective goals moving forward is the strengthening of the partnership between the university and the city of Springfield. Holub stressed that one already exists, as evidenced by the creation of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, which is a collaborative effort between UMass and Baystate Health, but the university and its trustees desire a larger presence.

“As the state’s land grant institution, we maintain commitments in many of the state’s ‘gateway cities,’ and as the public flagship institution located in the western part of the state, we have a particular and abiding interest in our closest neighbors and their welfare,” the report states. “We are committed to Amherst and Hadley, where the campus is located. However, we are also concerned about other communities in the region, especially the future of the city of Springfield, the largest city in the region and the third-largest city in Massachusetts, and one threatened by declines in its economic base.

“Our new partnership with the city will continue to nurture the various programs we have offered Springfield over the years, and will lead to the development of fruitful connections in the coming decade,” the report continues, “particularly in the areas of creative economy and green-industry development.”

Just how this nurturing process will play out remains to be seen, and much depends on the economy, said Holub, adding that there will be a physical presence of some sort, probably in the form of an office.

“I don’t think that presence will be in the form of giving instruction — we probably won’t be moving a college down there — but we will have activities that will be beneficial to Springfield and beneficial to the campus,” he said.

“We have many programs already running in Springfield, but we don’t have that physical presence,” he continued, adding that the university will likely explore doing something in the downtown area, where the school’s efforts will be visible and also provide support to other businesses.

Holub said that Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration supports the university’s plans for a greater partnership with Springfield and that he hopes this support translates into funding included in this year’s budget.

Learning Curves

Holub told BusinessWest that time will tell how well the university is able to meet the goals set down on that spreadsheet he wants to create.

The economy will obviously factor into efforts to achieve improvement in faculty development, fund-raising, research, and even the partnership initiatives in Springfield.

But the university now has a framework for excellence — something it hasn’t had in recent years — and, to the extent that it can, the school will now try to build on it.

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


State Unemployment Rate Rises to 7.4%

BOSTON — The state unemployment rate increased from 6.4% in December 2008 to 7.4% in January 2009, according to the latest data from the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The December unemployment rate, originally reported at 6.9%, was revised downward by 0.5 percentage point. In addition, job losses for the month of January totaled 4,900 as the national recession continues to negatively impact the Massachusetts economy. The national unemployment rate increased from 7.6% in January to 8.2% in February. One year ago in January, Massachusetts recorded a 4.6% rate while the U.S. rate stood at 4.9%. The state’s final annual average unemployment rate for 2008 was 5.3%, up from the 4.5% rate for 2007. The U.S. annual average rose from 4.6% in 2007 to 5.8% in 2008. Four sectors added jobs, with leisure and hospitality showing the largest increase. Professional, scientific, and business services recorded the largest over-the-month decline. A revision to the preliminary December 2008 jobs estimate resulted in a December job loss of 26,100 compared to the preliminary reported job loss of 16,800. At 3,225,300, jobs are down 72,600 or 2.2% from one year ago, with 61,300 losses since last September. Education and health services, Massachusetts’ largest sector, added 1,600 jobs in January. With job losses mounting across the industry spectrum, education and health services still managed to trend upward during the last half of 2008. In January, 3,174,100 state residents were employed, 38,800 fewer than in December, and 252,400 residents were unemployed, 32,700 more than the previous month, which resulted in a labor force of 3,426,500. The labor force is up 9,600 from January 2008, as 86,700 fewer residents were employed and 96,300 more were unemployed. Detailed labor market information is available at www.mass.gov/lmi

Supply Rates for Business Customers Decrease

SPRINGFIELD — Western Mass. Electric Co.’s (WMECO) medium and large commercial and industrial (C&I) customers who choose ‘basic service’ will see lower electric-supply rates beginning in April as a result of the latest round of competitive bidding. Medium and large C&I customers will see a fixed rate of 7.679 cents per kilowatt hour from April 1 through June 30, a decrease of nearly 25% over the current fixed rate of 10.205 cents. Peter Clarke, WMECO’s president and COO, noted that businesses can also learn how to maximize the efficiency of their energy use through WMECO’s energy-efficiency programs. For more information about energy-saving measures and programs, visit www.wmeco.com. WMECO, part of the Northeast Utilities System, serves approximately 200,000 customers in 59 communities throughout Western Mass.

Business Award Nominations Sought

SPRINGFIELD — The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield is seeking nominations for its 2009 Business Awards. Categories include: Small Business of the Year, Emerging Business of the Year, Small Nonprofit Organization of the Year, and Large Nonprofit Organization of the Year. The award recipients will be recognized at the chamber’s annual meeting on June 11. The nomination deadline is April 10. For more information and nomination forms, visit www.myonlinechamber.com

Consumer Confidence Nosedives in State

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Consumer Confidence Index has plummeted 20 points since October, the largest one-quarter drop in seven years, according to the Mass Insight Corp. As a result, consumer confidence is at its lowest point since October 1992. Many national and regional economists believe that the U.S. economy is in recession, due largely to the credit crisis and sagging home values. Additional polling data by Mass Insight shows significant public support for policies that would promote cost stability and economic competitiveness for Massachusetts employers. Specifically, the survey found that 88% of residents believed that controlling business costs was “very important” (66%) or “somewhat important” (22%), outpacing public support for reducing personal income taxes. The drop in consumer confidence is mostly a result of increased negative evaluations of current economic conditions, which fell 27 points, but the Future Expectations Index is also down 15 points. The poll showed significant support for controlling employer costs, including corporate taxes and unemployment insurance costs. Massachusetts still has the highest unemployment insurance costs in the nation, according to Mass Insight. The Massachusetts Consumer Confidence Index is published quarterly by Mass Insight, a Boston-based firm that organizes public-private initiatives on competitive issues. The index is modeled on the national Conference Board Index.

AIM’s Index Falls Further in February

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index fell to a new historic low in February, shedding 3.4 points to 33.3 — three points below December’s previous record. For the first time in its almost 18 years, the overall index and its sub-indices are all below 40, according to Raymond G. Torto, global chief economist at CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. and chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors. Torto notes there is a faint indication that the economic decline will bottom out within six months, which may draw further strength from the enactment of the federal stimulus act and other interventions. The Index, based on a 100-point scale on which 50 is neutral, was down 16.9 points from February 2008, and about 25 points from two, three, and four years before. The past three months have produced the three worst readings since the Index was initiated in July 1991. February confidence levels were somewhat higher in Greater Boston (34.6) than elsewhere in the state (31.6), and lower for manufacturers (31.7) than for other employers (35.7). The monthly index is based on a survey of AIM member-companies across Massachusetts, asking questions about current and prospective business conditions in the state and nation, as well as about respondents’ own operations.

Berkshire Leadership Program Seeks Applications

PITTSFIELD — Applications are now being accepted for the 2009 Berkshire Leadership Program (BLP). Now in its 12th year, the BLP seeks, prepares, involves, and sustains leaders from diverse backgrounds who are committed and competent to address community challenges and improve the quality of life in the Berkshires. The BLP kicks off with a two-day retreat which includes training in all aspects of leadership, problem-solving techniques, and networking. The retreat is followed by nine weekly, four-hour evening sessions on specific topics including government, energy, economic development, tourism and the creative economy, education, health care, and leadership. Each year up to 30 candidates are selected to participate in the program. Selection is based on a written application and written references. The cost to participate is $595 and includes all meals and overnight accommodations at Jiminy Peak during the retreat. Limited financial assistance is available. Applications are available at www.berkshirechamber.com and must be received by June 1, 2009. For more information, contact Christina Barrett, program coordinator, at (413) 499-4000, ext. 15. More than 300 individuals have graduated from the program since its inception in 1997.

Employer Outreach Breakfast Planned

SPRINGFIELD — The Regional Employment Board (REB) of Hampden County will host its second annual employer outreach breakfast on March 27 from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at Big Y Foods, Inc., 2145 Roosevelt Ave. REB representatives will detail how employers can help young people find summer jobs in the coming months. For more information and to register for the breakfast, contact Kathryn Kirby at [email protected] or call (413) 755-1359.

Federal Reserve Predicts More Recession

WASHINGTON — From factories to high-tech firms across the country, business owners are pessimistic about economic conditions in the coming months. Their pessimism was evident in the Federal Reserve’s current business activity report recently released. The Fed notes sharp cutbacks in both blue-collar jobs and those for white-collar professionals. Business people rated the prospects for near-term improvement in economic conditions as poor, with a significant pickup not expected before late 2009 or early 2010, according to the Fed.


‘Race and Entrepreneurial Success’

Nov. 25: Dr. Robert W. Fairlie will discuss “Race and Entrepreneurial Success” at noon as Western New England College’s Law & Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship as part of its ongoing lecture series. The gathering is planned in the S. Prestley Blake Law Center on Wilbraham Road in Springfield. Fairlie’s main research interests include ethnic and racial patterns of business ownership and performance, entrepreneurship, access to technology and the ‘Digital Divide,’ immigration, and education. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Economics from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Stanford University. The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call (413) 796-2030 or visit www.law.wnec.edu/ lawandbusiness.

Moonlight Magic in Shelburne Falls

Nov. 28: A family event titled “Moonlight Magic” takes over Shelburne Falls to start the holiday shopping season from 4:30 to 10 p.m. The event coincides with the annual “Holiday Lighting of the Village.” Highlights include sidewalk carolers, sidewalk sales, arts events, and craft demonstrations. There will also be vendor tables along the sidewalks with local nonprofit groups selling holiday wreaths, baked goods, and crafts, and the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum will be open. Live music and roving performers will round out the evening’s festivities, as well as a visit from Santa who will set up shop in the Shelburne Senior Center. For more information, visit www.sftm.org.

‘Internet for the Other 5 Billion’

Dec. 2: Andrew McLaughlin, head of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google Inc., and Ethan Zuckerman, researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, will present a lecture titled “Internet for the Other 5 Billion” at 7:30 p.m. in Hooker Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. For more information, call (413) 538-2209. The event is free and open to the public.

‘Nutcracker and Sweets’

Dec. 5: Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke will host the Mass. Academy of Ballet and members of the Ballet Educational Training Association in its production of “Nutcracker and Sweets” at 6 p.m. Through narration and dance, the story of the Nutcracker will come alive in the historic setting of Wistariahurst on Cabot Street. The production will be staged as it may have taken place in Holyoke in the 1890s. A dessert reception of sweets will follow the performance. Tickets are $10; children 12 and younger will be admitted free. Space is limited, and early registration is advised. For more information, call (413) 322-5660 or visit www.wistariahurst.org.

Holiday Pops

Dec. 6 and 7: The Springfield Symphony Orchestra will take audiences back to a traditional Christmas season in New England at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 3 p.m. on Dec. 7 in Symphony Hall. Guest conductor Matthew Savery will lead the orchestra and chorus, and Morton Shames, cantor emeritus of Temple Beth El, will bring greetings of Chanukah. Concert highlights also include a singalong. For ticket information, call (413) 733-2291 or visit www.springfieldsymphony.org.

The Creative Economy

Dec. 9: The Studio Arts Building at UMass Amherst will be the setting for an informative program on how the ‘creative economy’ plays an increasingly important role in Western Mass., in job creation, revenue growth, and quality of life. Speakers will be artists Josh Simpson and Scott Prior, who will speak about their work and their marketing efforts, beginning at 6 p.m. The cost is $25. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org.

RTC Meeting

Dec. 11: The Regional Technology Corp. (RTC) will stage is 1st Annual “All Networks” Convergent Meeting at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House starting at 7:30 a.m. The event with feature a keynote address and follow-up Q&A called “A Conversation with Scott Kirsner, The Innovative Economy.” Kirsner is the nationally known Boston Globe columnist who will discuss the challenges to be faced by the innovative economy in 2009. The half-day event will also feature a panel discussion with venture investors and entrepreneurs. The program is free to RTC members, and $75 for non-members. For more information, call (413) 755-1301; [email protected].


Instinctive Leadership Workshop

Oct. 28: Ravi Kulkarni and Lynn Whitney of Clear Vision Alliance will present a workshop on “Instinctive Leadership” from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at the Baystate Reference Labs conference center, 361 Whitney Ave., Holyoke. The session will focus on understanding and adapting communication styles to connect effectively with others, as well delve into the correlation between good parenting skills and good leadership skills. Pre-registration is required. For more information, call (413) 283-7091 or E-mail [email protected] Kulkarni and Whitney will also present a Nov. 11 workshop on inspiring and motivating others to take responsibility for their own actions, and a Dec. 9 workshop will explain how to empower others to develop the skills necessary to become future leaders.

Creating Business Plans

Oct. 30: The Mass. Small Business Development Center Network will present “Your First Business Plan” from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, 395 Main St., Greenfield. The workshop will focus on management fundamentals from start-up considerations through business-plan development. Topics will include financing, marketing, and business planning. The cost is $35. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org/wmass.

Estate Planning Talk

Oct. 30: Hyman Darling, JD, of Bacon Wilson, P.C. will discuss “Personalizing Your Legacy” during a free talk in the dining room at Loomis House, 298 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke, beginning at 7 p.m. Darling will discuss ethical wills, provisions for a child or grandchild with special needs, charitable bequests, and gift annuities. For more information, contact Carol Constant, director of development for the Loomis Communities, at (413) 532-5325, ext. 184.

Fusion Marketing

Nov. 6: The Mass. Small Business Development Center Network will present a workshop that delivers the essential elements necessary to boost customer visits and sales through what is known as fusion marketing. This concept can also be described as ‘tie-ins,’ ‘joint ventures,’ ‘strategic alliances,’ and ‘cross-promotions.’ Participants will take away a simple system, action plan, and accountability mechanism that will help them cultivate multiple fusion-marketing partners. The program from 9 to 11 a.m. includes a 20-page workbook. The session is planned at the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center, 1 Federal St., Springfield. The cost is $40. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org/wmass.

MHA Workforce Summit

Nov. 7: The Mass. Hospital Association will present “Hospitals as Employers of Choice: Maintaining a Competitive Edge by Being the Best of the Best” from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Conference Center at Waltham Woods in Waltham. The eighth annual workforce summit will highlight many of the best practices that are helping hospitals recruit and retain a strong workforce. Topics scheduled for discussion include: “Planning for the Future to Heal the Health Care Staffing Shortage,” “Creating an Engaged Workplace at all Levels,” “Mentoring as a Health Care Workforce Retention Tool,” and “Massachusetts’ Top-Rated Hospitals Share Retention Strategies.” For registration information, call (781) 262-6059 or visit www.mhalink.org.

Using the Internet To Grow Business

Nov. 12: Hidden Tech and the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network will host “Using the Internet to Grow Your Business” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center, 1 Federal St., Springfield. Meet the valley’s Web service resources — the people and companies that can help businesses start, improve, or expand their Web presence. The cost is $10. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org.

‘Your First Business Plan’

Nov. 13: The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce will co-sponsor “Your First Business Plan” from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network at the Amherst Town Hall, 4 Boltwood Walk. The workshop will focus on management fundamentals from start-up considerations through business-plan development. Topics will include financing, marketing, and business planning. The cost is $35. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org.

WMEF Annual Meeting

Nov. 14: Western Mass. Enterprise Fund Inc. will host its annual meeting from 8:15 to 10:30 a.m. at the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton St., Holyoke, with a focus on helping to create economic resilience. As part of the annual event, several awards will be presented, including “Micro Enterprise of the Year,” “Small Business of the Year,” and “Community Partner of the Year.” Local business product and service displays are also planned. For more information, contact Lee Reiner at (413) 420-0183, ext. 100. Attendees must RSVP via E-mail to [email protected] by Oct. 31.

City of Bright Nights Ball

Nov. 15: A Japanese Garden setting — complete with Tea House — will set the mood for the 2008 City of Bright Nights Ball in the Grand Ballroom at the Sheraton Springfield-Monarch Place. The event is the largest fund-raiser of the year for the Spirit of Springfield. The black-tie event features a gourmet dinner with the flavors of Japan, dancing, and the chance to win and purchase a variety of gift items. Tickets are $500 per couple, and tables of 10 are available for $2,500. For more information, visit www.spiritofspringfield.org or call (413) 733-3800.

Understanding the Basics of Cash Flow

Nov. 19: Representatives of Boiselle, Morton & Associates, LLP will present a workshop to help individuals understand the basics of cash flow, the timing of cash inflows and outflows, how to determine the company’s cash flow, how to improve cash flow, and how cash flow is different from profit. The program is an offering of the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network. The cost is $40. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org.

Clean-energy Conference

Nov. 22: Robert Pollin, an economics professor at UMass Amherst, will discuss results of his recent study on the outlook for green jobs and working toward a low-carbon economy at the Clean Energy Connections Conference from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. Pollin will identify sectors where new jobs and growth might be expected. The keynote speaker will be Bracken Hendricks, a founder of the national nonprofit Apollo Alliance, and co-author of Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy. Hendricks and Pollin collaborated on a national “Green Recovery” study produced by the Center for American Progress, which determined that a $100 billion national investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy would create at least 2 million jobs nationwide and more than 42,000 jobs in Massachusetts alone. Other featured speakers are State Sen. Benjamin Downing; State Rep. Daniel Bosley; Phil Giudice, a commissioner of the Mass. Department of Energy Resources; and Chris Kilfoyle, president of Berkshire Photovoltaics Corp. The conference is intended to be a forum for individuals and organizations accelerating the growth of the clean-energy economy in Massachusetts and those seeking clean-energy career information. Pre-registration is required. For more information, visit www.umass.edu/green or call (413) 545-2706.

The Creative Economy

December 9: The Studio Arts Building at UMass Amherst will be the setting for an informative program on how the ‘creative economy’ plays an increasingly important role in Western Mass. in job creation, revenue growth, and quality of life. Speakers will be artists Josh Simpson and Scott Prior, who will speak about their work and their marketing efforts, beginning at 6 p.m. The cost is $25. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org.

Sections Supplements
New Facility at UMass Should Prove to Be a Big Draw
Ron Michaud

Ron Michaud stands outside the new Studio Arts Building at UMass Amherst.

UMass Amherst recently opened the doors to a new, $26 million Studio Arts Building. The facility brings together a number of two- and three-dimensional art programs that had been scattered across the vast campus — often in facilities that were cramped and not up to modern building codes — and creates, with the nearby Fine Arts Center, what one administrator calls an “integrated arts district” on campus. But the center will also benefit the region as a whole, say school administrators, by making the university’s arts programs more attractive, thus bolstering the Western Mass. creative community.

Joel Martin has a number of descriptive nouns and adjectives he applies liberally to the new Studio Arts Building at UMass Amherst.

Martin, dean of the College of Humanities & Fine Arts, calls it a “well,” a “source,” a “talent magnet,” and even a “talent factory.” He deployed those terms and others to explain how the $26 million facility, which opened this past month and brings a host of two- and three-dimensional arts programs that were spread across the campus together under one roof and tons of glass, will help bring more talented art students to the school — and thus bolster the region’s creative community.

He believes this because he has data showing that many of the artists living and working in this area said in a recent survey that they probably wouldn’t be doing business in this market if they hadn’t been exposed to it while attending college here. And the new Studio Arts Building, which has heen roughly 30 years in the making, according to some long-time administrators in the College of Arts & Humanities, will be a very effective recruiting tool.

“Everything in it is state-of-the-art,” said Martin, acknowledging while also embracing the play on words, as he referred to everything from the air handlers to table saws in the woodworking area in the 47,000-square-foot building. “It’s a wonderful learning facility — it’s makes great use of light, and there are some grand spaces; we really needed to have a state-of-the-art, safe, environmentally sound facility so that our artists’ energies could be best used. And now we have one.”

Ron Michaud, associate dean of the College of Humanities & Fine Arts, and former chair of the arts program, has been advocating for something like the Studio Arts Building for years now. He said the university’s arts programs have functioned well over the past half-century, and have succeeded in helping a number of accomplished artists — painters Chuck Close and Shan Shan Sheng, among them — develop their talents and find their potential.

But it can do much more of the same with the gleaming new facility, which, when coupled with the nearby Fine Arts Center, creates what Michaud called “an integrated arts district” on the campus.

Like Martin, Michaud said the new arts center makes UMass a stronger player as it competes with such institutions as the R.I. School of Design, the Pratt Art Institute, and a host of public colleges and universities for top art students. And the hope — and expectation — is that some of this talent will remain in the Pioneer Valley.

“A building like this can really become a magnet for talented people across this region and also well beyond,” said Michaud. “This will put this university on a higher level, and also help this region and its economy.”

The Proper Framework The ‘art barn.’

That’s the nickname, if one could call it that, attached to one of the now former homes for studio arts programs at the university. The barn, located in the northwest corner of the campus not far from the Mullins Center, hosted painting classes for decades, said Michaud, and is now a facility housing lawnmower-repair operations “or something like that.”

Another former art program facility, one recently razed to make way for an integrated sciences building, was a post-World War II army barracks annexed by the college. It housed sculpture programs and some instructional space, Michaud noted, adding that, overall, programs have been spread across as many as 19 buildings, most of them cast aside by other departments that didn’t want or need them anywhere.

Some of these facilities, like the art barn, were considered warm and cozy, and actually had some fans, he continued, but they were not designed to house creative arts programs, were inefficient, and were often several hundred yards away from buildings hosting other programs.

Even the university’s Fine Arts Center, opened in the early ’70s and designed mostly for the performing arts, lacked what would be considered modern, efficient space for most of the studio arts programs offered by the school, said Michaud, noting that, in many respects, the sprawling complex has been “showing its age” with respect to considerations such as ventilation, waste disposal, ‘green’ design, an even instructional facilities.

A succession of students and, more importantly, administrators within the vast College of Humanities & Fine Arts, recognized the problem and the need to do something about it, he continued, but it wouldn’t be until the start of this decade before mobilized efforts succeeding in generating some action.

“In 1995, we conducted a comprehensive study of our inventory of facilities,” said Michaud, “and came away knowing that we needed a new studio-arts building to remain competitive nationally and internationally.

“People came together behind a common vision, and eventually convinced the administration that we needed something like … this,” he continued as he began a tour of the new facility, one that encountered several classes in progress and artists at work.

As he started down one wing of the V-shaped complex, it didn’t take Michaud long to make his point about bringing once-scattered programs together in one space. Indeed, the woodworking, welding, sculpture, and ceramics programs were all arranged in a row. “Before, these were spread across campus,” he explained, noting that most former settings simply weren’t designed to house kilns or welding equipment.

On its ground floor, the center features a high-end digital and computer-graphics studio, a central location for photography, and facilities for instruction in such disciplines as lithography, etching, and silk-screening.

“The instructional areas are much larger, in most cases, than what we had before, and they’re more efficient,” he explained, “giving students the facilities they need to learn.”

Martin agreed, and noted that for decades, the College of Arts & Humanities had been adjusting — or trying to adjust — whatever space came its way to accommodate whatever program, be it woodworking or pottery, that needed room. Now, it has space custom-designed for each discipline.

The center is also one of the ‘greenest’ on the UMass campus, said Michaud, noting that it makes use of sustainable building materials, operable windows for natural ventilation, and a variety of energy and water-conservation measures.

Breaking the Mold

As he stopped in the large, open common area that serves as the primary entrance point as well as a gathering space for students and faculty and venue for art shows and guest lectures, Michaud remarked at how quiet it was at that time (late afternoon).

“You won’t see it like this very often,” he said, adding that he and others expect that space, complete with high windows and expansive views of the campus, to help generate a stronger sense of community among artists who had been working in the four corners of the sprawling campus.

And that notion of ‘community’ is important, said both administrators, because those in the arts thrive in settings where they can share ideas and critique each other’s work.

“We now have facilities where people can meet, have lunch, talk about what they’re working on, and compare work,” Martin explained. “And that’s really important as they develop individual arts, but also as they compare and blend different forms of art, and perhaps even create new forms of art.”

But while creating a larger, stronger, and more-visible arts community on campus where all this can happen, the new Studio Arts Building is also expected to have a broad impact beyond the university’s borders, said Martin and Michaud.

Noting that many communities across the Pioneer Valley are looking to the arts and the so-called creative economy to help fill old mill buildings left quiet by the exodus of paper and textiles makers and other manufacturers and breathe new life into downtowns that can longer prosper through retail, Martin said the new facility can help provide the key ingredient to all those aspirations — artisans.

“The creative economy, no matter how you define it, ultimately rests on having creative people with talent generating fresh ideas, approaches, and designs, to help create art, but also to communicate, persuade, and market this art,” he explained.

And this is where Martin summoned those descriptive terms to drive home his points concerning what the Studio Arts Building is — and will ultimately become — as the region and individual communities focus on the arts as an instrument of economic development.

“We’re the talent magnet that attracts the greatest number of talented people in the Valley,” he explained. “And with this facility, we can now attract and retain the most talented student artists in the country and the most talented faculty and artists. We have a state-of-the-art facility that is a pump, a source, a well that will feed this Valley.”

Citing a survey of College of Humanities & Fine Arts alumni, released just a few months ago, Martin that a large percentage (nearly half) of those queried said they likely would not be working in the Valley as writers, photographers, painters, and sculptors if they had not attended the university and thus become exposed to the region’s amenities and quality of life.

“When you look at those numbers, it’s clear that if we can bring more top talent to this university, we can, potentially, keep more of it in this region,” he explained. “That’s why people pushed so hard for so many years to get a facility like this.”

Brush with Success

As he passed two students conversing in the undergraduate studio area on the second floor of the new facility, Michaud offered a question, and an opinion, with the words, “better than the art barn, isn’t it?”

There was a moment’s hesitation while the students thought this over — a reflection of how some liked the old accommodations, despite their limitations — but eventually some nods of approval.

There will be more of those as the building’s facilities, amenities, and displayed works of art — including a piece by Shan Shan Sheng due to be installed later this month — come to be known and fully understood.

That’s to be expected with a building that is truly state-of-the-art, in every sense of that phrase.

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


Robert A. Plasse has been named Assistant to the President for Communications at Westfield State College. Plasse is the founding member, president, and director of programs for Westfield on Weekends, and most recently served as Assistant Professor in the Human Services Department at Holyoke Community College.


Chuck Breidenbach has joined Mountain Development Corp., owner and manager of the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, as Managing Director of the MDC Retail Properties Group. He will oversee the retail business operations incorporating his wide variety of experience including development, leasing, management, marketing, and construction of both enclosed and open-air retail facilities. His background in new development, turnarounds, and expansions will help facilitate Mountain Development’s continued growth.


Carolyne Hannan has been named Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Comcast in Western Mass., Connecticut, and New York. In this role, Hannan will oversee all marketing and sales initiatives in the 128 communities that comprise the region. Hannan has 15 years of experience in the communications industry, including four years with Comcast.


Witalisz & Associates Inc. of Westfield announced the following:
• Bernadette Bain joins the firm as a Realtor/ Consultant;
• Grace Sullivan joins the firm as a Broker/Realtor, and
• Barbara Petrucelli joins the firm as a Broker/Realtor.


Mark Grumoli has been named Senior Vice President and Commercial Loan Officer at Greenfield Savings Bank. He brings more than 17 years of sales, commercial-banking, and management experience to his new position.


Maryann Lombardi, who for the past year has served as acting Director of Creative Economy for the UMass Amherst division of University Outreach, has been named to become the first full-time director for that office. In this role she also serves as Managing Director of the Sankofa Dance Project, which celebrates African roots in American dance through intensive summer study, choreographic residencies, performances, and events. She brings extensive directing and production experience to the new Outreach position, having served almost 10 years as producer, general manager, and resident director for boulevard arts, inc., and as artistic producer and resident director for the Leopold Project.


Edward J. Garbacik has been elected Vice President, Investment Executive of Financial Services of Florence Savings Bank. He has more than 20 years of financial services experience, having worked previously for UBS Financial Service Inc.


William E. Templeton has joined Berkshire Bank as AVP/Mortgage Loan Manager for the Pioneer Valley. He will concentrate his efforts on developing mortgage business in the Greater Springfield area.


Hogan Communications in Easthampton announced the following:
• Jenna Gable has joined the firm in the Accounting Department. She is creating policies and procedures that will further enhance the company’s customer service.
• Krystal Ayala has joined the firm as a Customer Advocate, specializing in increasing customer satisfaction.


UMass Amherst faculty and staff members have received recognition for their work in recent weeks:
• Fergus M. Clydesdale, Distinguished Professor and head of the Food Science Department, presented the 2008 Sterling B. Hendricks Memorial Lecture on Aug. 19 at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia;
• Ashoke Ganguli, Director of Auxiliary Services, received the Pinnacle Award from the (OS1) Users Group Aug. 18 in recognition of his “outstanding contributions to the cleaning industry and the (OS1) program”;
• Eliot Moss, Professor of Computer Science, shared an award for the most influential paper at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture June 21-25 in Beijing; and
• Brian D. Bunk, visiting Assistant Professor of History, co-edited Nation and Conflict in Modern Spain: Essays in Honor of Stanley G. Payne, published in August by the Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Co-edited by Sasha Pack and Carl Gustaf-Scott, the book is a collection of original scholarship and reflective essays written by students and colleagues of the distinguished Hispanist.


Pat French has been named SCORE Community Outreach Coordinator for the Western Mass, division at H&R Block.


FieldEddy has appointed Wendy L. Fitzgerald and Dina N. Rehbein as Personal Line Account Managers. Both are licensed property and casualty insurance agents in Massachusetts.


Andrew Ross has been promoted at Scottrade’s Springfield branch office at 1441 Main St. Ross is responsible for branch operations, managing personnel, and providing customer service.


Kristina Lavigne has been promoted to Personal Insurance Manager for Insurance Center of New England in West Springfield.


GCB Financial Services division in Greenfield announces the addition of Sharon A. Connery as a Financial Services Representative.


UMass Five College Federal Credit Union announced that Craig Layman, a registered representative affiliated with broker-dealer and registered investment adviser CUSO Financial Services, was a recent recipient of the CFS 2007 Bronze Pacesetter Award at the annual conference in San Diego. The award honors the top-producing registered representatives among 100-plus credit union programs. UMass Five serves UMass as well as the Five College System and other select employee groups.


Realtor Association of Pioneer Valley President-Elect Mark Abramson and Executive Vice President Edward M. Moore recently attended the 2008 National Association of Realtors Leadership Summit in Chicago.


Donna Huff, Minimum Data Set Coordinator for Jewish Geriatric Services, was recently awarded Minimum Data Set (MDS) certification granted by the National Assoc. of Subacute/Post Acute Care. MDS, a uniform set of elements for assessing the functional capacity of residents of long-term care facilities, is required for communication with designated state agencies as a condition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.


Bill Blair recently joined ERA Laplante Realty of South Hadley.


Peter Spedero, a Senior Analyst for Unemployment Tax Control Associates in Springfield, recently celebrated his five-year anniversary with the firm. Spedero services the multi-state accounts division, including the US Air-America West and Sovereign Bank accounts.


Terrie Edson recently joined Franklin County Home Care as Program Director of the Men’s Health Partnership and Women’s Health Network.

Sections Supplements
UWW’s Arts Administration Program Represents a Degree of Progress

What do a mural and a balance sheet have in common?

Ask an artist, and he may scratch his head. Ask an accountant, and he’ll probably compare costs of supplies versus profit from the sale of the piece.

For some artists, it’s all about their passion for a chosen medium, whether it be theater, paint, glass, or design. But what happens when their creativity becomes something more than just a whim, perhaps even a moneymaker? For some, the idea of balancing the accounting books and figuring out grant applications can be a daunting task, but that’s where the UMass Amherst University Without Walls program comes into play.

With a new Arts Administration focus area, artists and those interested in working for organizations, ranging from museums and nonprofits to personal businesses, can learn how to turn their creativity into a viable, sustainable company and earn a degree they’ve always coveted.

“A lot of people start working in an artistic field because they have a passion for something,” said Maren Brown, Director of UMass Amherst’s Arts Extension Service, which is collaborating with UWW on the program. “But then they move up the ladder and have to start figuring things out by the seat of their pants. This program is here to help them.”

For more than 37 years the University Without Walls program has been helping working adults achieve undergraduate degrees through online, weekend, and evening classes. The program allows individuals to not only take classes that fit their schedule and lifestyle, but also tailor their degree concentrations to their interests and goals. Recently, the program adopted a new Arts Administration focus through which students can learn about fundraising, marketing, financial management, and broad planning, among other topics pertaining to the administrative and financial aspects of a business.

The UWW Arts Administration focus area is the first of its kind for undergraduate arts degrees and is completely conducted online, which makes it even easier for those with busy schedules and family commitments to participate.

“It’s a unique opportunity for people who find themselves managing a variety of businesses in the creative economy,” said Cynthia Suopis, director of UWW.

She told BusinessWest that the idea for the degree program came from an Arts Management certificate program that the Arts Extension Service has offered for some time. “It was more like a marriage of convenience between the two entities [UWW and AES],” said Suopis. Since an increasing number of students from UWW were taking Arts Administration courses at AES, the two departments decided to allow students to actually pursue a degree focused on it. Cost per credit for the course ranges from $290 to $350.

The program also offers a certificate for those who already have a degree but still want the know-how.

Thus far, the program has seen more than 44 UWW students participate in the three semesters it has been in place.

But simply teaching individuals how to run a business isn’t the only thing that’s beneficial about the program. Students are also required to have hands-on experience either through an internship or from their own personal experience in a creative field. In addition, the program attracts people from all walks of life, and classes are taught by people working in the industry, making for helpful networking opportunities.

“We have students who are artists who want to open a business, those who already have one, others who work in nonprofits like museums or galleries, and some who simply want to make a career change to something that identifies better with their personal passions,” said Brown.

The Arts Administration focus is especially beneficial to those working in a nonprofit organization, maintains Marie Waechter, associate director of Corporate Support for WGBY.

“Nonprofits have to be more competitive and are often working with fewer resources than a for-profit company, thus nonprofit employees are often doing four jobs instead of one or two,” she said, adding that the program’s fundraising and finance classes can help nonprofit employees learn how to leverage their business enough to accumulate the funds they need to keep it moving forward.

And that’s not all. With the U.S. Department of Labor estimating a 30% growth in the arts and entertainment industries over the next eight years, more artists and professionals in the creative economy will be seeking business advice. Waechter says that’s especially true for Western Mass., where a number of thriving businesses are centered on the arts.

“This area is dependent on the arts and has become a cultural corridor that attracts many visitors,” she explained. Travelers are destination-driven, she pointed out, but the area’s cultural atmosphere and artistic feel often inspire visitors to stay longer, and take in more than just Six Flags or the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“They come for an event,” said Waechter, “but stay two or three more days for the atmosphere.”

Suopis said she hopes the program will benefit not only the creative community, but the regional economy as a whole, since it will be sending more-educated and newly transformed, business-minded individuals into the workforce.

“We’re training these students to be very informed, well-rounded, ethical, and critical decision-makers,” she said, adding that another benefit to be gained from the program is that it allows people who may have otherwise thought it unfeasible to pursue a career in the arts by arming them with the right skill sets to be successful. “Finally, people can follow their passion.”


State Gives Go-ahead for Massive Baystate Expansion

SPRINGFIELD — The state’s Public Health Council has given Baystate Health the green light to proceed on a $239.3 million expansion project. After hearing testimony from hospital administrators and civic and business leaders, the board voted unanimously to approve Baystate’s application for the project, which will add 48 beds to the 653-bed facility. Baystate President and CEO Mark Tolosky said he expects construction to begin in the summer of 2009, and that the facility will be open in 2012. Mercy Medical Center had initially opposed the expansion plans, but later dropped that opposition when state analysts clarified themselves and said the space will not be used for additional beds, but to supplant existing beds.

Center Untangling Wireless Communication Challenges

AMHERST — A new research center that will address far-reaching problems in wireless communication will be established at UMass Amherst, thanks to a $200,000 start-up grant from the UMass President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund and the President’s Creative Economy Fund. The Center of Excellence in Wireless Communications should lead to broad new capabilities in areas from emergency preparedness and homeland security to health care, education, and entertainment. Led by Dennis Goeckel, the new center will bring together more than 15 researchers from the fields of networking, communication systems, electromagnetics, and circuits to tackle the challenges that arise in an increasingly interconnected world. The UMass Amherst campus is providing an additional $40,000 in funding.

Study: Health Insurance Mandates Hurt Low-income Employees

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new study presented as part of a Cornell University symposium finds that ‘Pay or Play’ laws, which require employers to provide health insurance to their employees or pay a fine, will reduce employment for the least-skilled members of the workforce. The study, sponsored by the Employment Policies Institute and authored by Cornell University economists Richard Burkhauser and Kosali Simon, uses federal Current Population Survey data to calculate that for every 100 newly insured employees resulting from a Pay or Play law, 10 low-wage employees will lose their jobs. For a copy of the study, titled “Who Gets What From Employer ‘Pay or Play’ Mandates,” visit epionline.org. The Employment Policies Institute is a noprofit research organization dedicated to studying public-policy issues surrounding entry-level employment.

AIM Applauds Introduction of Comprehensive Energy Bill

BOSTON — The Green Communities Act of 2007, previewed at a press conference recently by Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi, will, when enacted, place an improved focus on cost-saving energy-efficiency programs and renewable energy for both citizens and business owners throughout the Commonwealth, according to Richard Lord, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Mass. (AIM). AIM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit employer association of more than 7,000 state businesses and institutes. AIM applauds those representatives from business, energy, and environmental groups for coming together to develop an energy-reform package designed to control costs by enhancing existing energy efficiency programs in Massachusetts and encouraging the development of additional cost-effective sources of alternative energy. Last summer, AIM issued a statement that called for the reinvigorating of state energy programs, in light of the fact that Massachusetts consumers face some of the nation’s highest costs for electricity. Most recently, AIM conducted several briefings across the state outlining the results of a member survey detailing the impact of high costs of electricity on businesses. While nothing in the short term can lower the cost of electricity to the level in some other states, the Green Communities Act should serve to ensure a more efficient use of current resources as a first step to more stable rates for electricity in the future, according to Lord.

Family Businesses Face Future Risks

SPRINGFIELD — Family businesses are optimistic about growth but not immune to future challenges, according to a survey sponsored by MassMutual, the Family Firm Institute, and the Cox Family Enterprise Center at the Kennesaw State University Coles College of Business. Increasingly led by women and driven by strong ethical and family-oriented values, family businesses are most at risk for financial troubles centered on the lack of formal succession planning and preparation, and the personal financial issues of family business owners, according to the study.

2008 Woman of the Year Nominees Sought

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Partnership, a division of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield Inc., is once again seeking nominees for its Woman of the Year Award. This is one of the highest regarded awards by citizens and is recognized as the top citation earned locally. Women in the Pioneer Valley are eligible for nomination and a Chamber affiliation is not required. The nominee should best exemplify ideals of outstanding leadership, accomplishments, and service to the community. Services can be rendered over a lifetime or for more recent achievements. Nomination forms can be requested by calling (413) 543-8000, via E-mail to [email protected], or at the Affiliated Chamber of Commerce of Greater Springfield office, 1441 Main St., Springfield. The deadline for nominations is Jan. 9.

Survey: Firms Pursuing Technology Upgrades

MENLO PARK, Calif. — When asked what initiatives were top of mind for their firms over the next two years, chief financial officers (CFOs) surveyed most often cited technology upgrades (53%) and business process improvement measures (50%). Companies are focused on shoring up their infrastructures to create greater efficiencies and control costs, according to Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. McDonald added that technology upgrades allow firms to boost critical network security, facilitate global collaboration and enable easier interaction with customers. The survey was developed by Robert Half Management Resources and includes responses from 1,400 CFOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.


The how and the why are often hard to peg, but Mass MoCA has spurred a rebirth in North Adams that is undeniable, if not always quantifiable. The fact of the matter is that, after years of economic strife and waning confidence, the old mill town in the Berkshires is entering a new age through the power of new art.

Mayor John Barrett III has led North Adams, the Commonwealth’s smallest city, for 23 years, and he knows the drill: when any community begins to show signs of new life, people want to see the proof of how and why in black and white.

And when it comes to arts and culture as an economic driver, the trend nationwide is to essentially prove a cultural venture’s worth through exhaustive studies, charting new dollars that a given entity brings into a community.

Those dollars are measured and classified in myriad ways, placed into columns with titles like ‘direct,’ ‘indirect, and ‘induced.’ Taxes are scrutinized, new business catalogued, housing trends tracked, and numbers of visitors tallied, all in the name of bringing some weight to the notion of art as a tool for struggling communities.
Barrett says he’s seen it all, and he doesn’t need those stacks of reports that typically cover his desk.

“The attention is wonderful, but I don’t need studies to tell me what’s happening here is working,” he said. “You can see it in the people. They’re … happy.”

What’s happening in North Adams is a ongoing rebirth, brought on primarily by the creation and building success of its cultural juggernaut, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, most often referred to as Mass MoCA.

The museum, dedicated to contemporary art in all its forms – visual, music, dance, and film among them – opened its doors to the public in 1999, a decade after the state Legislature announced its support for the project. The economic health of the Commonwealth, or lack thereof, during that decade threatened Mass MoCA’s creation more than once, and community-based and private-sector contributions totaling more than $15 million for construction and programming were integral to the ambitious development plan that amounted to $31.4 million (state grants took care of the rest).

Today, Mass MoCA is the largest center for contemporary visual and performance art in the country, including about 600,000-square-feet of developable space and providing office and loft space for a number of diverse businesses on its campus as well. Its executive director, Joseph Thompson, has been at his post since 1987, before he even had a museum to lead, and today oversees the creation of intriguing exhibits and events that herald the changes afoot. Sometimes, it’s a Latin dance party in the facility’s courtyard that pulsates into the evening. Other times, it’s a piece of art like Dave Cole’s ‘knitting machine,’ which enlisted the help of cranes to create a massive American flag, weaving patriotism and history with the undeniable proof that there’s a new mill in town.

“There are enough interesting things happening here to keep people engaged,” said Thompson. “I’d say every few months, something strange is going to happen.”

That alone has attracted attention to the complex and its goings-on, but with a significant turnaround being seen and felt in its host city, the economic effects of Mass MoCA are also being studied closely.

As Barrett points out, many of the improvements in the city are hard to quantify, but all can be documented, and at the top of the list is that sense of well-being within North Adams.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Barrett, “and it’s all about creating an atmosphere, which in and of itself is hard to trace. But there was a time when businesses didn’t even want to attach the name of the city to their company, because they were ashamed.

“Now,” he said simply, “they’re not.”

Art, History

The site where Mass MoCA now stands has been an economic force in Western Mass. for more than 200 years, though prior to the museum’s development it threatened to become a massive black hole in the northern Berkshires. The 13-acre, 26-building complex occupies nearly a third of the city’s downtown business district, and has a rich history that dates back to the Revolutionary War. However, it also has a history of prosperous rises and dramatic falls, and when plans for the new venture began, it was that mercurial uncertainty that Barrett and others hoped to avoid.

Throughout the past four centuries, the site has served as home to a shoe manufacturer, a saw mill, a sleigh maker, a brick yard, a marble works, and an iron works that forged armor plates for the Civil War ship Monitor, among many other businesses.

Its history is highlighted in particular by three industrial periods: from 1860 to 1942, when Arnold Print Works dominated the complex and employed upwards of 3,200 people at its peak; from 1942 to 1985, when the Sprague Electric Company operated a booming electronics plant, and from 1986 to today, the developmental and early operational years of Mass MoCA.

Thompson said natural downturns in the economy were usually the culprit as the mill buildings’ many residents came and went, and said as preliminary ideas for a contemporary arts center were discussed, the downtown landmark was presented early on as a potential site.

“The building was really the genesis of the idea,” Thompson said. “It was space that could hold some really great art that was looking for a home – new art, and also complicated installations that require space.

“Plus, the complete lack of activity in the downtown business district cast a shadow across all of Berkshire County,” he continued. “There was a great need for the town to redevelop itself, and there was more than enough space here.”

Several cities and towns in the region are well-acquainted with economic rise and fall, as major manufacturing mills brought boom years in their heydays, and later brought dark times as they downsized and closed.

As North Adams settles into its new identity as a small city in the midst of a rebirth, many similar communities are turning their attention to the reasons why, and hoping to spur a similar outcome for themselves.

“Any New England town that tied its fate to one company was, or is, in trouble, and looking for a magic bullet,” Thompson said, cautioning quickly that Mass MoCA is not such a quick fix, but rather succeeds through diversity, which in turn guards against history repeating itself. Over time, he said, the museum will prove to be a symbol and a starting point for North Adams, rather than a crutch.

“This is not a magic bullet – the museum itself only employs 58 people,” he said, going on to note that as a relatively young non-profit, Mass MoCA isn’t without its challenges. The museum’s budget hasn’t changed significantly since its first year in business, hovering around $5 million. As utility and insurance costs have risen, Thompson said, the complex has reduced programming to help close the gap, and is only now in the very early stages of planning an endowment-building campaign to augment the capital raised from the leasing of the property’s commercial space.

“But, ours is a story of diversification,” he said. “We’re a museum and a performing arts venue. We’re home to many mid-sized and small businesses, we’ve developed new commercial real estate and a new destination within North Adams, and we’ve also tried to be careful not to promise too much. Museums are fragile by nature; we’re getting stronger, but we still have a long way to go.”

A Study in Pen and Ink

Still, conversations regarding Mass MoCA’s successes to date continue. Locally, the Center for Creative Community Development (C3D), a joint project of Mass MoCA and Williams College made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation, has completed several lengthy studies of art centers and museums and their effects on the economy, including Dia:Beacon in Beacon, N.Y., Swamp Gravy in Colquitt, Ga., and Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conn.

C3D’s study of its home base at Mass MoCA found that among other positives, the museum attracts about 95,000 additional visitors to North Adams each year and spurred an estimated $9.4 million boost to the local economy in 2002, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. The report also states that tourism-dependent industries including restaurants, hotels, and retail have seen increases in business, as have service-based ventures that receive steady business from the museum, such as commercial printers and computer repair and networking providers.

In short, C3D concluded that Mass MoCA had made the city of North Adams a more desirable place to live, work, and visit through a number of channels, and even the data-heavy report concedes that the reasons why are not always easily identifiable.

“Even in cases where the community and the cultural arts organization work in collaboration, and where the project is a success, there has been an absence of tools for collecting and analyzing data and articulating its meaning,” the report states.

For Barrett, the belief that Mass MoCA is the origin of much of North Adams’ success is unwavering.

“Mass MoCA has become the poster child for the creative economy and the impact the arts can have on a community,” Barrett said. “It’s been a catalyst for growth for seven years, and it hasn’t even come close to reaching its full potential.”

Still, that belief can be bolstered by what numbers are gleaned from studies like that of the C3D.

Specifically, some of the most promising growth has been in areas the city has been struggling to improve for many years, such as the entertainment sector. The museum has led to new growth in this realm in the form of eight new cinemas and a planned renovation of the historic Mohawk Theatre downtown, which Barrett believes will lead to a ripple effect in the hospitality and retail climate downtown.

The city’s housing market on both sales and rental levels is also gaining speed, and the C3D report backs that claim, noting that housing values have improved city-wide and properties nearest to Mass MoCA have increased in value the most, by about $11,000 on average.

“We’re seeing condos being created out of apartment space and greater housing developments in the downtown area, including a use of previously vacant space,” Barrett said. “That’s something we’ve been trying to do for years.”

Further, the study estimates that Mass MoCA has increased the community’s assets by about $14 million and by about the same in new business activity, though Thompson argued that figure could be even higher.

“I argue that’s about $6 million short,” said Thompson. “It’s short because it doesn’t take into account the businesses that are located here, 14 of them, which employ about 320 people.”

Those businesses include a film special-effects producer, two major law firms, two restaurants, a publisher, a photography studio, and the corporate offices of the Steeple Cats minor league baseball team, and speak to the diversity that Thompson believes is the crux of Mass MoCA’s multi-faceted success.

Abstract Interpretations

“The most interesting effects are still those that are hard to identify,” said Thompson, returning to the common theme. “Downtown was at 25% capacity before we opened, and now it’s at 75%. That’s undeniable, but if you take the analysis one step further to look at how those businesses have changed downtown, it’s harder to articulate, yet it suggests that North Adams still has a developing economy, which is something the hard numbers don’t show.”

Thompson noted other positive signs in the city, among them a decrease in unemployment rates and a softening of the once-defined lines between North Adams and other Berkshire communities.

“North Adams was once on the top of many a ‘worst’ list,” said Thompson, “but we’re not on the top of those anymore. There also used to be some major lines of demarcation between North Adams and other towns, like Williamstown, but those and that ‘town and gown’ separation between commerce and academia are also modulating. Overall, there’s a much healthier flow of ideas and capital. All of that is hard to pin down, but those improvements are also the goal at the end of the day.”

He mused that North Adams’ return to health is also having a positive impact on the region as a whole, equalizing tourism business across the northern communities as well as the historically robust southern Berkshire towns, such as Lenox.

“For years the power of the Berkshires was highly concentrated in the south,” said Thompson, “and now, Berkshire County is in a position to market itself like Napa Valley, the Hamptons, or Santa Fe, with respect to its mix of natural and cultural attractions. Mass MoCA has definitely helped position the Northern Berkshires in that constellation.”

In closing, Thompson said Mass MoCA’s effect on North Adams has added significant weight to the cultural economy model, and as the museum grows and commercial and developable space continues to garner interest, the location will only increase in value.

“In creating an invigorating, interesting atmosphere, a dose of creativity is valuable,” he said, “and also an important part of the financial picture.”

Framework for Success

Barrett echoed those sentiments, but when referring to the city he’s led for nearly a quarter of a century, the mayor is wont to add a little chutzpah to the equation.
“Overall, the climate and attitude in North Adams continue to improve,” he said.

“This city has been beaten up for years and years. But now, we’re fighting back.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

buy ivermectin for humans buy ivermectin online buy generic cialis buy cialis