Home Posts tagged Economic Development Council

Collaborating for the Community


Anne Kandilis (far left) and her team work to break systemic and racial barriers for local families.

Anne Kandilis (far left) and her team work to break systemic and racial barriers for local families.

Anne Kandilis likes to say Springfield WORKS serves as “a platform for change, innovation, and collaboration.”

Elaborating, she said those three ingredients, and many others, are needed to address a number of issues challenging this region, but especially the need to connect area residents with job opportunities and enable them to thrive in the workplace and outside it, and also assist employers as they contend with an ongoing workforce crisis.

“Our vision is to have thriving communities where economic opportunity, growth, and resilience is possible for all,” said Kandilis, director of Springfield WORKS, a program of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council. “Right now, not everyone is able to access the resources they need to thrive; employers are not finding the workers they need, so there’s a disconnect.”

This disconnect becomes apparent with a look at some statistics she provided to make her point: the average hourly wage in 1998 was $17 per hour; adjusted for inflation, that would equal about $30 per hour today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means wages have effectively declined in the past 20 years, she said, while the cost of goods and services has increased, making it more difficult for working families to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, the median income of Hispanic households in Springfield is roughly half that of White households, which is also true of the metropolitan region and for Massachusetts as a whole.

To address these disparities, Springfield WORKS, a community-wide initiative, is collaborating with about 40 area organizations to remove systemic and racial barriers and create pathways to real economic opportunity and family well-being.

“The changes that we make need to be scalable and sustainable so that all of our neighbors thrive and our businesses thrive.”

As she spoke about Springfield WORKS and its broad mission, Kandilis characterized this area as being “rich in programs and poor in systems.” The main goal is to build such systems through those traits she mentioned earlier — especially innovation and collaboration.

Partners include organizations from the community, including Holyoke Community College, Head Start, Square One, Home City Development, Springfield and Holyoke public schools, and employers such as Baystate Health and Big Y, as well as larger national organizations like the Aspen Institute and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

Over the past few years, Kandilis and her team have been working with these organizations to start programs like the Whole Family/Two Generation model, the Western Mass Anchor Collaborative; the Ready, Willing and Able model; and efforts to counter the so-called ‘cliff effect’ (more on these later). Experience has shown that these groups can do more working together than they can individually.

“You think about the scarcity of resources, but over time, what our partners have committed to is what we’ve shown: this is not a zero-sum game. Just because you get funds doesn’t mean I won’t get funds; what we’ve done is bring more funds into the region through our collaborative work,” Kandilis said. “The changes that we make need to be scalable and sustainable so that all of our neighbors thrive and our businesses thrive.”

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked at length with Kandilis about Springfield WORKS and its collaborative approach to creating opportunities, putting people to work, and enabling them to advance in their chosen field.


Work in Progress

Partner organizations allow Springfield WORKS to work directly with not only employers, but the people who need the resources and help the most: families and residents of Western Mass., said Kandilis, noting that the first step was to partner with 413Cares, a website for people in the 413, to increase the visibility and access to programs and services offered in the area.

The online tool allows individuals to search through lists of organizations to find the resources they need, like housing, job skills, early education, healthcare, and more. Its main goal is for everyone, no matter which door they come from, to be able to access a resource.

“We wanted to make it [our partnership] tighter so we’re actually working with them directly to create a Springfield WORKS component where we have our direct partners and our resource partners in a space that we call Ready, Willing and Able,” she explained.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to school and not work. So what are some of the policies employers can put forth to support workers and upward mobility?”

Anne Kandilis

Anne Kandilis

The Ready, Willing and Able model was created to allow Springfield WORKS and other organizations to learn how to better support local families, a need evidenced by statistics showing that 40% of them didn’t know where, or to whom, to turn for resources, whether for job searching, housing and food insecurity, healthcare, or other needs.

The individual is asked a series of questions to see if they are ready, willing, and able, said Kandilis. These include: do you have the resources in place that will support your success? Do you have a reliable childcare plan? Is your transportation such that you can get to training and work now and later, not just for today, but over the long haul?

This approach allows Springfield WORKS and its employer partners to meet individuals where they are instead of having them find the resources themselves.

“Families are receiving resources, but no one partner can provide all the resources a family might need in order to set up the worker for success,” she explained. “The second step, which is what we’re doing now, is to work directly with residents and families collaboratively to see what those system silos look like and break down those silos.”

While working in a collaborative fashion, Springfield WORKS and its partners will work with 160 individuals to see what this program looks like in practice. The hope for the Ready, Willing and Able model is to promote the systems in place and create needed change in how they serve individuals and families collaboratively, trying to keep families at the center of the equation.

This model is part of the list of strategies that goes into the Whole Family/Two Generation approach to careers — a model in which children’s and parents’ needs are addressed together.

“Oftentimes, there’s programming for parents and programming for children, but parents can’t focus on making the most of their education or job-training opportunities without early education or a safe place for their children,” said Kandilis, adding that partners for this model are mostly education institutions, such as Holyoke Community College, Tech Foundry, Head Start, Square One, the Department of Transitional Assistance, Springfield Partners for Community Action, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, Springfield public schools, and Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts, which delivers a career-readiness program called Foot in the Door.

Through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant, $400,000 was dedicated to helping facilitate systemic socioeconomic changes in the city of Springfield; the main goal is to mitigate the negative impacts of incarceration by identifying those most at-risk individuals at a younger age.

Nearly half of people with criminal backgrounds, nationally, are still jobless a year after leaving prison, and a criminal record can reduce the chances of a second interview by 50%, said Kandilis, adding that the unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. (27%) is higher than at any other point in the nation’s history.

“We realized that there just wasn’t any data in the system about the barriers for after incarceration or the families that are connected to somebody who is connected to the justice system,” she noted. “The issue is not only inside, but outside of the justice system within the families. So when we started the project a year ago, Springfield WORKS administered a survey directly to those connected to the system through their partners.”

Roughly 200 people answered that survey — 51.7% of local adult respondents were formerly incarcerated, while 90.8% have family members who have been incarcerated — indicating exactly what they needed to move forward, and Kandilis said she certainly wasn’t surprised by the two biggest needs identified: employment and housing.

Springfield WORKS came up with the solution of creating programs that kept the family at the center, addressing the needs of both the parents and children.

“It can start with being parent-focused first and then the child, or child-focused first and then the parent,” Kandilis said, “so if we work with Springfield public schools or Head Start, they’re working with the child, but they also have family engagement, so now we can connect — we are connected — to those organizations so that we’re not increasing the burden of work in those institutions.”


Stepping Away from the Ledge

This past year, Springfield WORKS and its partners were given another $500,000 through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant so it can expand on these two strategies and build onto it with the Anchor Collaborative, which is a way for employers to look at their policies related to investing in upward mobility.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to school and not work,” Kandilis said. “So what are some of the policies employers can put forth to support workers and upward mobility? How do I get a better job in the company I’m already working for? That’s a win-win for employers because they’re looking for retention.”

This reality motivates the employer to invest in its own workforce, not leaving it completely up to those outside of the system, whether it’s the workforce board or the state or other resources, she added.

When partners can collaborate, it allows for the families to be at the center, holistically. Using the Whole Family/Two Generation model, institutions are working together to relieve the burden on individuals navigating complex systems, instead shifting the navigation to the partners.

Meanwhile, the Anchor Collaborative blends workforce dollars, training dollars, and resources to support workers and worker access to opportunities. This is just one of the ways to help break the ‘cliff effect.’

In Springfield WORKS’ early days, Kandilis and her team learned that the benefit system can be a disincentive to work. The cliff effect is a phrase used to describe what happens when someone is receiving benefits — housing subsidies, food support with SNAP, childcare support — and they are working either part-time or full-time, but are doing just enough to still receive the benefits they need to make ends meet. They go over the cliff when they earn too much to qualify for such benefits, or receive a reduced amount, thereby creating a disincentive to work and advance.

“Many of the systems aren’t connected, so there is a lot of complexity in those systems; housing systems are not connected to the SNAP program, so the more money you make, the less benefits you get,” she explained. “So there is a point in time, and it happens very quickly, where, if you’re making a certain amount of money and you’re receiving a certain level of support to pay your basic needs, just a dollar more [per hour] might gain you $3,000 or $4,000 in income, but you might lose $1,200 in benefits.”

Springfield WORKS and its collaborators successfully proposed legislation to create a pilot that asks what would it look like if the government paid an individual what amounts to an earned- income tax credit or another kind of payment, “so that they’re no worse off as they start moving up the income scale beyond the cliff.”

This would give individuals and families the comfort and support they need to move from an $18-per-hour job to a $30-per-hour job over time and get them beyond that so-called cliff.

If the cliff problem isn’t solved, Kandilis added, people are going to keep being stuck in what is called the ‘benefits plateau,’ making enough money and working enough hours to be able to pay their bills, but also still receive their benefits.

Overall, Springfield WORKS is dedicated to serving families and individuals who need it most. In this economy, it’s not always easy to build oneself up when the price of everything is also going up. Meanwhile, employers continue to struggle with finding enough qualified help to fill open positions and keep their operations humming.

“What we’re doing is bringing resources to support the rest of the family,” Kandikis said in summarizing the ongoing efforts at Springfield WORKS. “That’s how we create the best families and prosperity.”

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 144: January 9, 2023

George talks to  Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Mass Economic Development Council

Rick Sullivan

As 2023 begins, there are many question marks —as well as an abundance of cautious optimism — concerning the region and it’s economy. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien and his guest, Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Mass Economic Development Council, sort through it all, touching on everything from workforce issues to the prospects for needed growth and new jobs. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local 413 and sponsored by PeoplesBank.


Sponsored by:

Also Available On

Economic Outlook

Selling Points

[email protected]



As he surveys the scene in Western Mass., especially the ongoing focus on encouraging entrepreneurship and helping startups get to the next level, Charlie D’Amour says he can see some parallels to when his father, Gerry, and uncle, Paul, were getting started in Chicopee nearly 80 years ago with a venture that would eventually become known as Big Y.

But this current surge in entrepreneurship is different in some respects from than the one in the mid-’30s, he told BusinessWest, adding that it is deeper and more diverse. And it holds enormous promise for the future of the region in terms of job creation and the vibrancy of individual communities.

“I continue to be impressed by the fact that we have a diverse and growing class of new entrepreneurs,” D’Amour noted. “Through the commitment of the EDC, the commitment of other organizations, and the commitment of anchor institutions in the area, if we can continue to grow, develop, nurture, and encourage these entrepreneurs, it’s only going to put us in a great position.

“That’s part of what gives me some optimism for the economy of our region — to see this growth in entrepreneurship,” he went on. “This is an interesting group of young entrepreneurs, and it’s a diverse group, and that speaks to where our future is going to be.”

Entrepreneurship and the prospects for more of it comprise one of many subjects touched on by D’Amour and other representatives of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) during a wide-ranging discussion of the issues facing the region as the calendar turns to 2023.

“I continue to be impressed by the fact that we have a diverse and growing class of new entrepreneurs. Through the commitment of the EDC, the commitment of other organizations, and the commitment of anchor institutions in the area, if we can continue to grow, develop, nurture, and encourage these entrepreneurs, it’s only going to put us in a great position.”

Charlie D’Amour

Charlie D’Amour

D’Amour is a long-time member of the EDC and member of its executive committee. Others joining the discussion were Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the EDC; Tricia Canavan, CEO of Tech Foundry and current EDC board chair, and relatively new board member Cesar Ruiz, president and CEO of Golden Years Home Care Services.

Together, they addressed subjects ranging from workforce issues to marketing of the region to the prospects for bringing more jobs to the area.

Overall, as the new year begins, those we spoke with are optimistic about the region and its fortunes, but there are reasons for concern, especially when it comes to workforce (more on that later), an issue touched on by many in this special Economic Outlook section.

“I’ve seen some real opportunities with some investments that I do believe will be coming with the new governor’s administration in terms of broadband and internet access,” Sullivan said. “There is a digital divide, in our urban communities but also in our rural communities, and I think there’s a real opportunity there with a significant investment by the state and federal government to make those final connections and finally bring high-speed broadband to people’s homes and businesses; that’s a real opportunity for us.

“And I also some see some significant investment in the field of cybersecurity, which is an industry that, unfortunately, is probably here for the long run, and we need to be doing a lot of work every single day to stay ahead of the bad guys,” he went on. “With Springfield already being designated as one of the centers of the statewide system … that’s a real opportunity for us in terms of both workforce and working with our municipalities and particularly with our higher-ed institutions, so I’m very optimistic about the opportunities that are going to present themselves for this region in 2023.”

D’Amour agreed.

“The good news is that the economy of Western Massachusetts, with its diversity and whatnot, has proven to be somewhat resilient, from what I’ve seen,” he noted. “Though I anticipate a downturn in the economy, a slowing of the economy, I do expect that we’ll be able to weather it fairly well.”

“We’re all experiencing challenges in hiring — we can’t hire fast enough; we can’t hire quality enough within our workforce. Hiring is certainly going to be a barometer for how successful we’re going to be with expanding our business.”

Cesar Ruiz

Cesar Ruiz

Canavan concurred, noting that the many lessons learned during the pandemic will serve to make the region’s economy and individual businesses stronger and more resilient.

“The silver lining of the pandemic has been some lessons learned,” she said. “I’ve seen people start to integrate these lessons into their businesses and organizations and into their collaboration in the community. I’m really excited about progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; digital equity and access; and additional community alignment. I think we’ve learned the importance of working together. I’m optimistic about Western Mass. — we are going to be resilient, and we’re going to recover from the pandemic, even if there are some additional bumps coming our way.”


Working Things Out

One of those bumps is likely to be a continuation of very challenging times when it comes to workforce and companies attracting — and then retaining — the talent they need to grow and prosper. Those we spoke with said this is easily the biggest challenge moving forward and perhaps the most difficult problem to solve.

Ruiz, whose industry, home care, has been particularly hard hit by the workforce crisis, said workforce issues are more than an annoyance — they are hindering the growth and progress of companies, including his own.

“In Massachusetts, we have roughly two open jobs for every candidate that’s in the market. This is a great time for people who may not have been able to access those jobs previously to get training, to get education, and to seize those opportunities.”

Tricia Canavan

Tricia Canavan

“We’re all experiencing challenges in hiring — we can’t hire fast enough; we can’t hire quality enough within our workforce,” he noted. “Hiring is certainly going to be a barometer for how successful we’re going to be with expanding our business.”

He said individual sectors and specific businesses are, out of necessity, forced to be creative when it comes to putting more talent into the pipeline. Golden Years, for example, is collaborating with area colleges to help ready them for careers in healthcare.

Still, the problem is acute, and he’s talking with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and others about ways to bring more people from other parts of the world into this country to work.

“Using foreign workers is nothing new — our resort areas bring them in by the hundreds,” Ruiz noted. “They come here for a six-month period, and there are certain obligations as an employer that we have to meet to tap that source. But we have to come with creative ways to tap these resources.”

Canavan concurred, and noted that the current workforce challenge presents a huge opportunity to engage those who are currently not engaged in education or work.

“That’s one of the big opportunities for us at this moment in time,” she said. “In Massachusetts, we have roughly two open jobs for every candidate that’s in the market. This is a great time for people who may not have been able to access those jobs previously to get training, to get education, and to seize those opportunities.”

“Our population has basically been flat, and in some areas, it’s declining. If we’re going to be vibrant, there has to be some growth; you need to grow to survive.”

Rick Sullivan

Rick Sullivan

D’Amour agreed, and said his company has been creative and also diligent in addressing the problem.

“Our staffing has improved — it’s much better than it was a year ago or a year and a half ago,” he noted. “But part of it is because we worked at it — we’ve addressed it proactively. We didn’t just put a sign in the window saying ‘now hiring.’ We’ve been a little bit more deliberate, a little bit more strategic, and a little bit more focused about it, and those are the kinds of things that we’re going to need moving forward.”

Elaborating, he said workforce issues require both creativity and a lengthy time horizon, meaning measures that will fill the pipeline with workers for the long term. And the focus needs to be on education.

“From early education to higher education, we need to make sure that we’re bringing our kids and our young people along so that they can be the workforce of the future,” he told BusinessWest. “If we don’t have that, we can’t do a lot of the things that we aspire to. We need to reach into these various communities and make sure that young people have the skills they’re going to need to be successful; that’s where our workforce is going to come from, and those are the kinds of things we have to do.

“I know that’s an area of focus for the EDC, and I know it’s an area of focus for the anchor institutions and many individual companies,” he went on. “We’re not going to get there in a year, but we need to start now; it’s probably a little bit overdue.”


Being Positive

As noted earlier, those we spoke with could find plenty of reasons for optimism concerning 2023 and beyond in this region. Collectively, they mentioned everything from the Victory Theatre project in Holyoke (Ruiz is among the many involved in that effort) to the growing number, and diversity, of new businesses being started in this region, especially within the Hispanic and African-American communities; from the strong education and healthcare sectors to the quality of life here and the opportunities presented by remote work for people to live in this region and work wherever they desire.

Meanwhile, those we spoke with said there are real opportunities to grow certain business sectors in this region — from cybersecurity to clean energy to water technology — with the area’s higher-education institutions taking lead roles in each one.

Sullivan said another often-overlooked or forgotten sector showing promise is manufacturing, what he called the “invisible backbone” of the region’s economy.

“Most of our manufacturers were classified as essential employers during the pandemic, so they were able to continue operating,” he noted. “They proved to be really flexible and able to pivot, in some cases even manufacturing PPE and other products that were not part of their portfolio before COVID. That flexibility, if you will, served them well, and now they’re well-poised for growth, and you’re starting to see them make significant investments.

“Whether it’s Advance Manufacturing, Boulevard Machine, or Advance Welding in Springfield, they’re making investment in their own facilities and their own people, and they’re creating jobs — and jobs that will exist well into the future because of the work they’re doing and the contractors that they have, whether it’s the Department of Defense or the Department of Transportation or healthcare,” he went on. “And these manufacturers have recognized that, while this region may not be the cheapest in terms of power or the cheapest in terms of taxation, we are the best when it comes to workforce.”

D’Amour agreed, and said another aspect of the local economy that is often overlooked is agriculture.

“We’re the garden of New England here in Connecticut River Valley, and there are a lot of young farmers in this region that are doing great stuff,” he said. “Agriculture and food products are an important part of our economy, and it adds to the diversity of the economy in our region. Having fields and orchards is also why many people like to live here; it leads to the whole genus of our community and what makes Western Mass. so special.”

Another priority for the region, Sullivan said, is to better leverage its many assets in higher education.

“Many of the other parts of the country, and even the eastern end of this state, really market the presence of higher ed,” he said. “And we have world-class institutions here; whether it’s the flagship campus for UMass or Smith or Mount Holyoke or Bay Path, the cohort of higher education we have here is really significant. And when we talk about workforce, the students that are sitting in the classrooms at the Elms and AIC and the other institutions are the workforce that everyone is looking for, and I really believe that economic vitality and higher ed are entwined tighter than they ever have been before.”


Work to Be Done

While there are reasons for optimism, there are also some concerns and priorities for the months and years to come, said those we spoke with.

Sullivan noted, for example, that the region — known in the banking sector and many others as a ‘no-growth’ area — certainly needs a growth strategy.

“Our population has basically been flat, and in some areas, it’s declining,” he told BusinessWest. “If we’re going to be vibrant, there has to be some growth; you need to grow to survive. We can absolutely sell our cost of living and quality of life here, but we need to have the housing for people to move into, and they need to be able to work from home or do their coursework from home, which means, again, that we have to make that investment in broadband and the internet across our region so we can take advantage of that opportunity.

“When people discuss work/life balance and what they want for their families, this lands in a sweet spot for us,” he went on. “That’s who we are; we can sell work/life balance and quality of life, as long as we have all the components. They’re not all going to happen in a month or a year, but there needs to a positive trajectory on all of those things.”

D’Amour agreed, noting that the region has a number of sellable assets, from location to transportation infrastructure to relatively inexpensive (and often green) power, as well as higher education. One priority moving forward is to more aggressively sell these assets and market the region.

“Our challenge has always been telling our story,” he said. “We have not participated as fully as we could have or should have in the economic boom that Eastern Mass. has had. How do we get some of the business community in Eastern Mass. to focus on us instead of going to Southern New Hampshire, or Rhode Island, or wherever?”

Canavan agreed. “We are, in some ways, our own worst enemy when it comes to not telling our story — or appreciating where we live,” she said. “And we do have a lot of assets here, starting with diversity; we’re very lucky to have people from all over the world here, people with different perspectives — that is a real asset. I also think we’re small enough to be agile and to pilot things … we’re like the scrappy player who can try new things, and that’s very exciting.”

Lastly, Sullivan said he is hopeful, and confident, that the state’s new governor, Maura Healey, will not just “talk about how we care about Western Mass.,” but make some significant investments in the region.

“And I think you’ll see them, whether it’s vocational education or community colleges, or broadband or cyber or clean energy,” he said. “I think that there’s an opportunity to make very strategic, intentional investments in Western Massachusetts that will allow it to grow.”

buy ivermectin for humans buy ivermectin online