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Employment Sections

An Engaging  Topic

Janice Mazzallo

Janice Mazzallo

Danielle St. Jean

Danielle St. Jean

Elba Houser

Elba Houser

PeoplesBank was in news again recently, bringing more ‘top employer’ honors, this time from both the Boston Globe, again, and the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, also again. While the awards are newsworthy, the real story is what’s behind them, a culture of employee engagement. In a roundtable discussion, some bank leaders talk about this culture and how other businesses can create one of their own.

They might have to start thinking about securing a bigger display case for the front lobby at PeoplesBank’s headquarters at 330 Whitney Ave. in Holyoke.

It was already crowded with various awards and commendations — many of them in the broad realm we’ll call ‘top employers’ — and now, it is even more so, with some recent additions. Indeed, for the sixth year in a row, the bank has been named a ‘top place to work’ by the Boston Globe, and for the second time, the institution has been named an ‘employer of choice’ by the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast.

But while what’s in the trophy case is significant, it’s what’s behind all that ‘best employer’ hardware (and we don’t mean the wall) that is actually more important to the company.

When asked to talk about all that in the form of advice to other business and owners and managers, Janice Mazzallo, executive vice president and chief Human Resources officer at the bank, paused for a moment.

It was a poignant pause to be sure, and it essentially said what she was about to say before she even said it — that becoming worthy of these ‘best employers’ awards takes time, patience, energy, imagination, and much more than a flex-time policy and allowing people to wear jeans on Friday, although that helps.

It’s about creating an environment where people feel good to come to work every day; it’s not just a place to make a living, but it’s more of a family environment.”

“It’s sounds cliché, but it’s about walking the walk and talking the talk, and it all starts in the C-suite,” she said. “It’s about creating an environment where people feel good to come to work every day; it’s not just a place to make a living, but it’s more of a family environment.

“It’s a place where people don’t just come to do a job, but get involved in the community, get involved with each other,” she went on. “We have a lot of people here who do more work outside, in the community, than they do in their 9-to-5 work.”

It is impossible to sum all this up with one word, she said, but ‘engagement’ does the job as effectively as any other (see sidebar, page 16). There are many types of engagement, she went on — with others at the company, within the community, with mentors, with new team members, and more — and the bank works hard to ensure that employees have experience with all of them.

And this hard work goes a long way toward explaining not only all those plaques in the display case, said Mazzallo, but the bank’s continued growth and success in the local market.

tptw_logo-smallIn an effort to dive deeper into this discussion of culture and employee engagement, Mazzallo was joined in a broad roundtable discussion on this subject by Danielle St. Jean, Human Resources coordinator and training specialist at the bank, and Elba Houser, commercial banking credit analyst, both fairly recent additions to the team.

The stories about how and why they came to the bank and what they’ve experienced since help drive home the importance of culture to a company’s success — not in winning awards, but in building teams, promoting innovation, attracting and retaining talent, and, yes, gaining market share.

The three stressed that a culture of engagement starts at the top — in this case bank President Tom Senecal — and filters down to all levels, and all locations (the institution has 17 branches scattered across Hampden and Hampshire counties), within the company. And it also encompasses a number of other words and phrases, including communication, listening, connecting, mentoring, empowerment, volunteerism, even fun.

“It’s really a personal experience,” said St. Jean as she sliced through all those words and what they mean collectively. “When people feel supported from day one, they perform better and are more likely to be engaged in what they do.”

Houser agreed. “From day one, there have always been people I could reach out to who have guided me through the ropes,” she explained. “It’s a community here, and it’s a family; these are not only people you work with, but people you can depend on.”

Listen Up

To effectively get many of those talking points and bullet points across, Mazzallo recounted Senecal’s recent decision to visit many of the branches personally with the stated desire to meet with employers and listen to them about their work and any issues or concerns they may have.

She said some of the employees were initially intimidated by the notion of the boss coming for a visit, but soon, most fears evaporated.

Manager-employee Engagement Tips

Engagement Is a Word; Being Engaging Is Your Responsibility
Too often managers can develop the bad habit of saying what they want versus doing what they want. Nowhere is this more systemic than with employee engagement.

Managers can have ideals, but they also have to practice them. Here are some suggested strategies to create a true culture of employee engagement.

Read More …

“At first, people were scared and shocked, saying, ‘here’s the CEO coming out to my branch and my department,” she recalled. “But when he came in and genuinely wanted to learn more about what they did, with a mindset of ‘how can I understand your role to make this a better place to work and walk a mile in your shoes?’ the word spread very quickly that not only did he want to understand, he really wanted to hear their ideas.”

Better still, he responded to what he heard.

“He brought some of the ideas to management meetings, and we talked about them,” Mazzallo went on. “And changes were made as a result.”

Senecal’s road trips represent just one of many ways in which the bank’s operating mindset, or culture, has generated benefits in the form of improved communication, idea generation, and continuous improvement.

Others, as noted, include a greater ability to attract and retain talent, which is significant at a time when many in banking can relate their careers through a large stack of business cards they’ve disseminated over the years, and also when individual lenders — and sometimes whole teams of them — are moving from one institution to another with great regularity.

And it’s significant also because, from a big-picture perspective, PeoplesBank is still a relatively small institution (about $2.3 billion in assets) based in Holyoke.

“Were competing with larger banks, and at the end of the day, there are other organizations that can offer more money and probably big bonuses,” said Mazzallo. “And so, I have to be able to answer the question, ‘why should someone be excited work with us? And once they’re here, why should anyone be excited to stay with us?’”

Why indeed? The answer, she said, lies in that fact that, for most people, contentment goes well beyond money and to things that “pull at the heartstrings,” as she put it.

For St. Jean, who was working in Boston before she came to the bank, it was the culture she said was in clear evidence starting with her first interview with the company roughly six months ago.

She and her boyfriend, who is from this area, had made the decision to leave the Hub and relocate to the 413.St. Jean needed a job, but more than that, she needed the “right employer and the right community.” And she found both at the bank.

“The strength of the culture here really does begin before day one; it all begins with the recruitment and onboarding process,” she explained. “For me, personally, leaving behind the city life, I had a lot to do to get ready. When I first started here and accepted the offer, I had to find a car, move all my belongings, and get established. And the team here really helped me with all of that.”

And she said she’s seen that scenario — meaning several layers with assistance with the process of relocating and starting the next chapter in a career — repeat itself several times since she arrived, re-emphasizing that this is the culture at the institution.

“This is a place that can help individuals with that type of transition in their life,” she said, “which speaks greatly to the culture and to what keeps associates engaged.”

Houser tells a somewhat similar story. Her transition involved returning to work after taking some time off to start a family, and, like St. Jean’s, it wasn’t an easy journey, and one for which support was appreciated.

“I started as a management-development trainee, and when I came in, I had a network of colleagues who were management-development trainees prior,” she explained. “That first day, they took me out to lunch, and they discussed what was to be expected of me in that role, and that helped a lot, especially after not being in the workforce for two years and having to build a career again. That help is the reason I succeeded as I did.”

The Not-so-secret Sauce

Returning to the subject of retention, a key ingredient in any company’s success, Mazzallo said one of the main reasons why people leave an organization is a feeling that they’re not being heard, or that their input isn’t entirely welcome or appreciated.

“People get wooed by other companies because they’re getting attention, and often, they don’t feel they’re getting attention from their current employee,” she explained. “So it’s very important, especially with your higher performers, that you’re paying attention, and sometimes it’s just as simple as making time to listen to them and listen to their ideas.”

If that sounds like advice to other business owners and managers, it is. And those we spoke with at the bank had lots of it as they addressed the question of how other companies can become more engaging and, in the process of doing so, become better competition for ‘top employer’ awards.

For starters, they said, repeatedly, that a culture of engagement starts with those at the top setting the tone, walking the walk, and giving employees at all levels a voice.

“Ideas can come from anywhere, and they should be encouraged,” said Mazzallo. “And companies should look to not only implement them when it’s appropriate, but communicate that they’ve been implemented. We do that here, and it takes on a life of its own; people hear about these ideas, they get inspired, and that creates more innovation and involvement.”

But while listening and encouraging ideas and innovation, a company must also take the proper attitude when things don’t go as well as everyone would like. In other words, a company can’t be afraid of — or in any way punish — failure.

“Failure comes with the territory, and you have to be careful with it,”Mazzallo explained. “You don’t want to have too much, obviously, but here, when we work on a project and it runs off course, we take the opportunity to bring the team together, to course-correct, to find out what’s happened, and learn from those experiences.

“You embrace the problem and find out what out what’s happened,” she went on. “That way, people aren’t hesitant or afraid of making a mistake in the future. If you’re in an environment where you’re afraid to make mistakes, that’s where innovation gets squashed.”

Still another big part of the equation, she went on, goes back to that notion of a workplace being more than a place where people go to work.

“Just show people that you care,” Mazzallo said simply. “Show people that they’re more than just there from 9 to 5. Show people you value them as more than just a worker.”

As an example, she said the bank’s leaders, recognizing how stressful the holiday season can be and usually is, scheduled a lunch-and-learn (a healthy lunch) that addressed the many stress-inducing aspects of the holidays and how to deal with them head on.

There’s also that fun factor, which all those we spoke with said cannot be overlooked.

Which brings us to something the bank calls Employee Fest, which is a week, not a day, of what amounts to employee recognition and celebration.

Staged in September to coincide with the United Way’s Day of Caring, Employee Fest involves volunteerism, a luncheon, team games, visits to the branches, and more.

This year, there was a carnival theme, said Houser, adding that activities were designed, many with some assistance from the Internet, to bring the branches and the main office together.

This year’s festival was St. Jean’s first, and she was struck by its ability to connect people, even if they were working in branches separated by miles of asphalt.

“It really strengthens the community,” she told BusinessWest. “It connects different groups within the organization with friendly competition and provides insight into what different people are doing for the institution; it helps keep them productive and engaged.”

Bottom Line

There’s that word again. Engaged.

It’s a simple term, but it covers a lot of ground, said Mazzallo, reiterating that, ideally, employees should be engaged in everything from the community to innovation; from the well-being of their co-workers to the art and science of listening.

Creating such a culture doesn’t happen overnight, and there are absolutely no quick fixes.

But all the hard work that goes into creating and maintaining such a culture and making it part of the company’s DNA pays off in all kinds of ways.

And we’re not even talking about the those plaques in the display case.

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

Employment Sections

There Are Many, for Employers and Employees Alike

By Erica E. Flores

Erica E. Flores

Erica E. Flores

As 2017 winds to a close, society continues to be rocked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the #MeToo movement, and the unending torrent of allegations against prominent and powerful men. We find ourselves wondering what happened.

Or, more importantly, how this has been going on for so long, seemingly undetected. But sexual harassment isn’t a new problem. And it’s not a problem that went away and is just now returning. No, sexual harassment has always existed, in one form or another.

After the Mad Men era, perhaps it became a bit more taboo, and less an accepted norm, but it did not go away. So why now? And more importantly, what can we — the concerned bystanders, responsible business owners, and innocent professionals — take away from all of this?

It is clear that the first allegations against Weinstein struck a chord in the collective consciousness of the American woman, but we may never fully understand how or why the dam broke as and when it did. After Bill Cosby, maybe we had simply had enough, and when those first cracks appeared, the levee was inevitably doomed. Ultimately, the why is not so important.

Because, just as sexual harassment is not a new problem, it is also not a problem that will ever be solved completely. People behave badly, especially when emboldened by an imbalance of power. And the workplace provides both the temptation and the authority for bad people to do bad things.

Which brings me to the second question — the takeaways. As a management-side employment attorney and a woman, I see in this avalanche of public shaming both lessons and warnings. The lessons are caution and vigilance. Whether you are a man, woman, or gender-fluid; straight, gay, or bisexual; supervisor, subordinate, or human-resources professional, you must exercise caution as you go about your affairs at work. No matter what side of the power equation you are on, you should always be aware of the effect your words may have on others, the messages and signals you are communicating, and the risks you run when the lines between friend and colleague start to blur.

While being cautious about your own behaviors, however, you must also be vigilant when it comes to what is going on around you, and you cannot be afraid to speak up, no matter how high or low on the totem pole you are. We all share a responsibility to protect our co-workers, at every level; to make sure that we all can enjoy a safe and comfortable workplace where we can and will perform at our best. We also share a responsibility to protect our company’s brand, the reputation each of us has worked so hard to earn and maintain, for the benefit of every one of us and our families.

Which brings me to the warnings. The law is not forgiving when it comes to sexual harassment. Employers are strictly liable for sexual harassment committed by managers, and anybody — yes, anybody — can be held legally responsible for aiding and abetting sexual harassment. What does that mean? It means whatever a judge or jury decides it means, and in this moment in time, I suspect it means much more than you might think.

Make no mistake — society is desperate for consequences, and this public purging will not stop at the top. Small businesses in small communities are just as vulnerable, and there will be lots of blame to go around for the behavior of those who are eventually outed.

So before you or your business become the story, take steps to protect yourself. Employees cannot be afraid to speak up, and employers should encourage them to come forward. Businesses should also consider reviewing and revising their sexual-harassment policies, reiterating that employees who come forward will not face retaliation, and perhaps even provide additional training to supervisors and human resources personnel.

Most importantly, employers must make sure they are addressing complaints promptly and properly. That means being thorough but objective, and fair but strict. It means talking to the right people, asking the right questions, looking in the right places, and preparing the right forms of documentation. None of this is obvious or easy, so when in doubt, get your employment attorneys involved.

After all, while the tide will eventually ebb, sexual harassment will never go away completely.

Erica E. Flores is an attorney at Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., which exclusively represents management in labor and employment matters. She has successfully defended employers before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. In addition to her litigation practice, she regularly advises clients with respect to day-to-day employment issues, including decisions regarding adverse employment actions and litigation avoidance;(413) 737-4753; [email protected]

Employment Sections

Labor Pains

Angst.

You won’t see that colorful noun written anywhere in the National Business Trends Survey conducted by the Employers Associations of America (EAA), said Mark Adams, but there is quite a bit of that commodity lurking behind the words and especially the numbers that are contained in that document.

There is angst — or concern, or anguish, or anxiety (all quality synonyms) — when it comes to the labor market and what is becoming increasingly a labor shortage. There is more of it when it comes to wages — employers want to raise them, but there are hindrances to doing so, especially rising healthcare costs.

And there is more angst when it comes to the juxtaposition of wages and the labor market, said Adams, director of HR Services for the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE). Indeed, he said that, as wages remain fairly stagnant (3% increases are the norm, as they have been for several years) and the increases amount to less amid the rising cost of living, many employees are exercising their right to pursue greener pastures. And they’re finding them, leaving employers to replace them in a job market where good help is increasingly hard to find.

“It’s definitely a buyer’s market,” said Adams, noting that employees are the buyers. “With unemployment being so low, and people looking to add bodies to their organization, either through new jobs being created or replacing existing workers that are going to leave, employees realize that now is the time to explore all their options if they haven’t been fully satisfied with what they’re been earning in their organization.

“The 2.8% to 3% increases they’ve been getting are being cannibalized by rising health costs and the cost of living in general,” he went on. “So they’re not advancing financially within the organization they’re in, and a lot of them are sitting there saying, ‘I’m going to start exploring other options.’ For companies, there are a lot of openings, and they’re not finding adequate replacement workers, which puts a whole premium on ‘are we paying people enough? Are we providing a workplace that’s engaging enough?’”

Like we said, angst. There’s enough of it to temper the considerable optimism reflected in the report, said Adams, adding that nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%, to be exact) expect their 2017 revenues to exceed those of 2016, and 73% project that 2018 will be better than 2017.

Meanwhile, more employers expect to be hiring in the year ahead than in 2017. In the Northeast region, 51% of the executives surveyed plan to increase staff in 2018, a sizable increase from a year ago, when 41% responded in such fashion.

But these positive numbers are couched in the reality that, for many employers across virtually every business sector, hiring is becoming a real challenge. Indeed, 42.3% of regional respondents (those in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states) identified the skilled labor shortage as a ‘serious’ challenge in the short term (up from 37.8%), while 52% identified it as a serious challenge long-term, up from 47% last year.

Adams noted that these numbers clearly reflect what he’s heard anecdotally and seen directly through EANE’s efforts to assist members with finding and hiring talent.

“We’re experiencing all that with the members we’re serving,” he explained, adding that many of the recruitment-and-hiring projects EANE has undertaken with members have taken much longer than anticipated, and some have been relaunched, simply because employers have not been satisfied with the response they’ve seen in terms of the quality of the job aspirants.

Elaborating, Adams said EANE will assist members with searches for managers or professional staff, providing services including ad placement, sourcing of candidates, prescreening, help with interview questions, actual interviewing, and more.

And, as he noted, many of these searches are taking much longer than they did even a year or two ago, and a growing number of them are not ending successfully, and for a host of reasons, ranging from lack of satisfaction with (or consensus on) finalists to disparity between what the candidate is seeking compensation-wise and what the company is willing to pay.

As the challenges to hiring and retaining good help grow, employers are responding, said Adams, adding that many are making investments in technology, equipment, benefits, training, recruitment, and other areas in an effort to navigate a job market increasingly defined by full employment or something close to it.

Indeed, the survey showed that 60% of respondents plan to invest in technology in 2018, up from 45% in 2017; 54% plan to invest in equipment, up from 45% a year ago; 41% intend to increase the training budget, up from 26% in 2017; 38% plan to heighten their emphasis on recruiting, up from 30% a year ago, and 35% intend to shift more healthcare costs to the employer, a huge increase from the 15% who responded in that fashion a year ago.

“Companies are realizing that, if they can’t go dollar for dollar to keep people in the organization or attract people, they’d better bring other things to the table to make them a company that’s going to be worthwhile to someone,” said Adams, adding that these numbers speak loudly about the extent of the problem and growing awareness of the need to do something about it.

And while it is still too early to gauge the full impact of MGM Springfield’s ongoing efforts to create its workforce of roughly 3,000 people on all of this, it’s to assume that it will only exacerbate the problem, Adams said, adding that employers are certainly expressing concerns about this development at EANE HR Roundtables.

As for wages, many companies are in a bind because, as much as they feel compelled to raise them and want to, strong forces, especially double-digit increases in healthcare insurance, act as considerable roadblocks.

“The rising benefit cost is a countermeasure that’s creating a barrier toward putting more on the table financially to induce people,” Adams explained. “And it’s becoming a paradox for companies; they want to pay people more to attract and retain them, but they have these rising benefits costs, and there’s only so much in the budget to cover both of those things.”

Meanwhile, the pay-equity act set to take effect July 1 becomes what Adams called a “wild card” when it comes to wages in 2018.

“The question becomes whether there will be additional needs to invest money into compensation budgets because of concerns employers may have about questionable difference in pay structures,” he noted.

— George O’Brien

Columns Law Sections

Law Column

By Marylou Fabbo

Marylou Fabbo

Marylou Fabbo

During the holiday season, employers may have been faced with a variety of religion-related requests such as whether they may display certain religious icons in their work areas. Throughout the year, employees may want time off to observe certain holy days rather than conforming to the employer’s holiday schedule, request breaks to pray, or seek an exemption from an employer’s dress or grooming standards so that they may express themselves consistent with their religious beliefs.

While employers do not question most requests, what should an employer do if it suspects that the requested accommodation is being made to upset a co-worker or that an employee is requesting certain days off to go shopping or take a long weekend?

What Constitutes a Religious Belief?

Both state and federal law prohibit discrimination against employees and applicants based on religion, and employers are required to reasonably accommodate bona fide religious beliefs.

A ‘bona fide religious belief’ means that the individual has a religious and sincerely held belief or practice. Title VII defines ‘religion’ very broadly. It includes traditional, organized religions as well as those that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, or held only by a small number of people. Religious beliefs don’t need to be part of organized religion, and moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right or wrong could constitute religious beliefs. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), however, “social, political, or economic philosophies, or personal preferences” are not religious beliefs.

What Religious Accommodations Must an Employer Provide?

Employers may not refuse to accommodate an employee or applicant’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless accommodating them would impose an undue hardship.

Some examples of accommodations that an employer would have to provide, absent undue hardship, include excusing a Catholic pharmacist from filling birth-control prescriptions or permitting a Muslim employee to take a break schedule that will permit daily prayers at prescribed times. With the holidays approaching, an employee may request other accommodations, such as the ability to take certain days off (other than Christmas) or to display religious symbols in their work areas. What should an employer do in response? Read on.

When May an Employer Deny a Request for a Religious Accommodation?

Employers must grant a request for a religious accommodation unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer. The ‘undue hardship’ burden is lighter when it comes to religious accommodation than it is when talking about disability-accommodation requests. For religious-accommodation purposes, an undue hardship exists if it would cause more than de minimis cost in terms of money or burden on the operation of the employer’s business. Generic co-worker complaints usually are not valid reasons to deny a request for religious accommodation.

What If an Employer Suspects the Employee Wants an Accommodation for Non-religious Reasons?

Certain behaviors may make an employer question an employee’s assertion that the employee sincerely holds a religious belief that forms the basis of a requested accommodation. The EEOC has suggested that these behaviors may include whether the employee has behaved in a manner markedly inconsistent with the professed belief, whether the accommodation sought is a particularly desirable benefit that is likely to be sought for secular reasons, whether the timing of the request renders it suspect, and whether the employer otherwise has reason to believe the accommodation is not sought for religious reasons.

The courts, too, have recognized that an employee might use ‘religious beliefs’ to obtain an accommodation for a personal preference rather than a religion. In a recent case, a hospital employee refused to receive a mandatory flu vaccination based on her religious beliefs, which included the notion that her body is a temple. The hospital excused the employee from the mandatory vaccine and instead required her to wear a mask. She claimed that the mask was not an acceptable alternative because it interfered with others’ ability to understand her. During the litigation, the employer sought a detailed description of the ways in which the employee adhered to her belief that her body is a temple, and, despite the employee’s protest, the court required her to answer the question.

It’s probably the best practice to ask the same questions to everyone who makes a religious-accommodation request, or question whether an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, when there is objective evidence that the request may have been made for ulterior reasons.

How Should Employers Handle Requests for Religious Accommodations?

When an employer receives a request for a religious accommodation, the employer should let the requesting employee know it will make reasonable efforts to accommodate their religious practices.  Employers should assess each request on a case-by-case basis.

Remember, while an employer should consider the employee’s requested accommodation, employers are not required to provide an employee’s preferred religious accommodation if there’s another effective alternative. However, be wary of affording employees who practice certain religions different treatment than afforded to those who practice other religions. Employers should train supervisory personnel to make sure they are aware that a reasonable accommodation may require making exceptions to regular policies or procedures.

Marylou Fabbo is a partner and head of the litigation team at Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. She provides counsel to management on taking proactive steps to reduce the risk of legal liability that may be imposed as the result of illegal employment practices, and defends employers who are faced with lawsuits and administrative charges filed by current and former employees; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]

Briefcase Departments

HCC, STCC Launch Gaming School, Open Registration for Classes

SPRINGFIELD — Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College officially launched the new MCCTI Gaming School, where area residents interested in working as professional card dealers or croupiers at MGM Springfield can start taking training classes early next year. HCC and STCC, through TWO, their Training and Workforce Options collaborative, and MCCTI, the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, will run the gaming school on the ninth floor of 95 State St., Springfield. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently issued a certificate to MCCTI to operate the school. “MGM Springfield is inspired by our educational and workforce-development partners’ strong commitment to creating a healthier regional economy through career opportunities,” said Alex Dixon, general manager for MGM Springfield. “We are grateful for their willingness to learn about and adapt teachings for the gaming and hospitality industry. Today, we celebrate this milestone and look forward to hiring the first-ever table-game professionals in the Commonwealth.” The launch event also signaled the opening of registration for training classes, which will begin Feb. 26 in anticipation of the opening of the $960 million MGM Springfield resort casino in September 2018. Jeffrey Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services for HCC, who also serves as executive director of TWO and MCCTI, noted that the MGM International website prominently features two new resort casinos MGM is building that are literally half a world apart, one in Springfield and another in Macau. “There will be a $1 billion facility one block from here,” he said. “The show is coming to Springfield.” A full schedule of training classes, along with course descriptions, prices, and school policies is available on the MCCTI website at www.mccti.org under ‘Gaming School,’ where job seekers can also register and explore other employment possibilities with MGM. “The citizens of the region want to work in positions that provide a livable wage and the potential for advancement,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. “MGM Springfield will provide both, right in the heart of our region in downtown Springfield. I want to thank the community-college presidents for their continued dedication to providing people with the education and skills they need to be successful in the job market.” Robert Westerfield, vice president of Table Games for MGM Springfield, said starting out as a dealer with MGM can truly open up career pathways with the organization. “I started off as a craps dealer,” he said. “I stand before you as vice president of Table Games. Anybody can do it. If you bring the attitude, we’ll give you the aptitude.” In 2012, the presidents of the state’s 15 community colleges signed a memorandum of understanding with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to work collaboratively to provide training for casino jobs in each of the state’s three defined casino regions: Greater Boston, Southeastern Mass., and Western Mass. In the Western Mass. region, MCCTI is operated by TWO. “We know that economic development and workforce development are not separate efforts,” said STCC President John Cook. “It is imperative that economic and workforce development are integrated for the benefit of our region’s businesses and citizens. The investment of MGM Springfield will allow many of our citizens to begin the process of getting employed and establishing a career pathway.” Added HCC President Christina Royal, “I particularly appreciate HCC’s historic and continuing partnerships with STCC in support of the workforce needs of area businesses. Both colleges offer a wide variety of educational and training options for job seekers and incumbent workers in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, culinary arts, and many other fields. MCCTI and events like today reinforce the important role community colleges play in the state and regional economy.” The MCCTI Gaming School will provide dealer training in blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, and other casino games. Participants who successfully complete training programs for at least two different table games will be guaranteed an ‘audition,’ or tryout, for a job at MGM Springfield.

Report: Massachusetts Is Healthiest State in the Nation

BOSTON — Massachusetts is the healthiest state in the nation, according to the 28th annual America’s Health Rankings report. Among the state’s strengths are its low percentage of uninsured people, low prevalence of obesity, and high vaccination rates. The 2017 report also ranked Massachusetts first for the health of women and children. “This report highlights the notable progress that our state is making to improve the health and well-being of every individual living in the Commonwealth,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Massachusetts is proud to have the lowest number of uninsured residents in the country and robust public-health efforts, and our administration will keep working across all levels of government to ensure quality healthcare and a safe, healthy environment for our residents to live, work, and play.” The 2017 report analyzed 35 measures covering behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care, and outcomes data. The report serves as a benchmark for states — and the nation — to measure progress, identify emerging trends, and drive action for improving public health. Last year, Massachusetts ranked second, behind Hawaii. “This year’s findings demonstrate that our focus on improving health outcomes is making a real difference in the lives of Massachusetts families and communities,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “Today’s news is a testament to the hard work and dedication of many people working across state and local government, healthcare providers, and at the community grassroots level to make Massachusetts healthier.” Among other categories in which Massachusetts was ranked first were immunizations of children ages 19 to 35 months; immunization of adolescents ages 13 to 17 years with Tdap vaccine, a combination vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough); percentage of the population that is uninsured; number of dentists per 100,000 people; and number of mental-health providers per 100,000 people.

Court Dockets Departments

The following is a compilation of recent lawsuits involving area businesses and organizations. These are strictly allegations that have yet to be proven in a court of law. Readers are advised to contact the parties listed, or the court, for more information concerning the individual claims.

CHICOPEE DISTRICT COURT

Julio Toledo v. Baystate Medical Center
Allegation: Negligence and assault and battery causing injury: $1,194.17
Filed: 11/24/17

HAMPDEN DISTRICT COURT

All-Terior Painting, LLC v. 6 Woods Restoration Inc. d/b/a Rainbow Restoration and Joseph Wood individually
Allegation: Breach of contract, money owed for services completed: $19,646
Filed: 11/21/17

Julie Donahue v. PRRC Inc. d/b/a Price Rite
Allegation: Slip and fall causing injury: $24,000
Filed: 11/22/17

HAMPDEN SUPERIOR COURT

Cynthia Girand v. Big Y Foods Inc.
Allegation: Slip and fall causing injury: $63,508.25
Filed: 11/14/17

Jessica Rodriguez v. Pioneer Spine & Sports Physicians, P.C.
Allegation: Negligence causing injury: $14,894.08
Filed: 11/20/17

Emily McKay, et al, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. Mardi Gras Entertainment d/b/a Center Stage, Anthony L. Santaniello, and its other corporate officers
Allegation: Employment contract dispute; misclassification as independent contractors, thereby depriving plaintiffs of wages, tips, and other benefits of employment
Filed: 11/20/17

Alton E. Gleason Co. Inc. v. Rykor Concrete & Civil Inc. and United States Fire Insurance Co.
Allegation: Money owed for services, labor, and materials: $61,192.40
Filed: 11/28/17

Erica Diaz v. Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and Springfield Area Transit Co.
Allegation: Negligence causing injury when PVTA bus struck plaintiff’s motor vehicle: $51,290.74
Filed: 11/30/17

HAMPSHIRE DISTRICT COURT

Rieker Shoe Corp. v. Shoefly Shoe Salons, LLC
Allegation: Money owed for goods sold and delivered: $22,552.31
Filed: 11/15/17

HAMPSHIRE SUPERIOR COURT

Easthampton Precision Manufacturing v. Samson Manufacturing Corp.
Allegation: Breach of contract: $418,972.35+
Filed: 11/15/17

Dorothy Gabriel v. Turn It Up Inc.
Allegation: Slip and fall causing injury: $227,346.14
Filed: 11/24/17

Theodore Z. Davidson and Susan Davidson v. OSJ of North Adams, LLC
Allegation: Negligence causing injury: $796,105
Filed: 11/24/17

Daily News

PALMER — Baystate Wing Hospital announced an investment of $43,226 in grants to benefit local social service, health, and educational programs to area community-based nonprofit organizations.

“These grant investments represent Baystate Wing Hospital’s commitment to support and work with our community partners to focus on public-health-related programs and initiatives that reduce health disparities, promote community wellness, and improve access to care in our region,” said Michael Moran, president and chief administrative officer for Baystate Health’s Eastern Region, which includes Baystate Mary Lane and Baystate Wing Hospital.

Programs supported by the hospital’s grant investments include:

• Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., $30,000 to support the Quaboag Connector, addressing the serious lack of transportation to employment, education, healthcare, workforce training, shopping, and benefit services within and outside the region;

• The Ware High School Fire Science Program led by Ware Fire Department Deputy Chief Edward Wloch, $7,034 toward the goal of improving Emergency Medical Service (EMS) care in the region; and

• Ware River Valley Domestic Violence Task Force, $6,192 to continue improved screening and response to those facing domestic and sexual violence in the Baystate Health Eastern Region.

“Our physicians, nurses, and staff all strive to improve the health of the people we serve through exceptional care and innovative health initiatives,” said Moran. “The Baystate Wing Corporation is proud to partner with area agencies to help us do this important work together to improve the health and well-being of our community.”

Agenda Departments

Freedom Credit Union Gift Drive for Needy Kids

Through Dec. 21: For the 10th year, Freedom Credit Union is partnering with the Department of Children and Families to provide gifts to children in need this holiday season. Every branch of the credit union has a tree filled with tags that show the gift request from area children. Anyone who goes into Freedom branches can choose a tag from the tree, purchase the requested gift, and bring it back to the branch unwrapped by Thursday, Dec. 21.

Santa’s Trains at Look Park

Through Dec. 24: All aboard! Next stop … Santa’s Trains at Look Memorial Park. This holiday season, the park is celebrating with running model trains and locomotives whirling by displays set in a whimsical wonderland of Christmas favorites and village landscapes. The Garden House, transformed into a Victorian-style train station, offers all the sights and sounds of the holiday season. View enchanting, themed holiday trees; say hello to Santa’s helpers; chat with authentic engineers; and share that special visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus before relaxing with a holiday cookie and hot chocolate. Each evening features a special guest conductor and station master from the community greeting visitors. Santa’s Trains at Look Park is open to the public daily through Dec. 23 from 4 to 8 p.m. and Dec. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Garden House at Look Memorial Park, 300 North Main St., Florence. This special holiday event is free for all ages. Visit www.lookpark.org for more information. Also, join us for a traditional hayride around the park to view more than 50 holiday light displays made by the grounds and maintenance staff. The cost is $5 per rider. Departures are every 20 minutes from 4:20 p.m. until 7:40 p.m., weather permitting. More than 20,000 visitors annually visit the park during the holiday season to visit Santa’s Trains, view the wonderland light displays, and share holiday dreams with Santa.

Strategic Alliances Webinar on ‘Impostor Syndrome’

Dec. 14: Strategic Alliances at Bay Path University will present a free online webinar, “Confident or Impostor?” on Thursday, Dec. 14 from noon to 1 p.m. Registration is strongly encouraged. For more information and to register, visit bit.ly/2jNcXB3. Research shows that 70% of the U.S. population has experienced ‘impostor syndrome’ at one time or another. Webinar participants will learn how to combat self-doubt and overcome the lack of confidence that results from impostor syndrome. The webinar will feature three panelists, Karen Hinds, Roxanne Kaufman Elliott, and Maureen Zappala, who will share their extensive knowledge and experience with leadership. Hinds is the founder and CEO of Workplace Success Group, an international firm that has been referred to as a training ground for future business leaders. She is also the author of The Leader’s Manual – A Young Adult’s Guide to the Global Workplace, Get Along, Get Ahead: 101 Courtesies for the New Workplace, and Networking for a Better Position & More Profit. She serves as a visiting professor for the Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University; is a frequent guest on radio, TV, and podcasts, and is a former board member with the Connecticut chapter of the World Affairs Council. Elliott is a certified leadership development coach and facilitator with more than 30 years of business, strategy, and leadership-development experience across many different industries in both the profit and nonprofit worlds. She is an i3 Leadership Master and holds degrees from Sinclair College and Bowling Green State University, as well as numerous executive and leadership-development certifications from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the American Marketing Assoc., the Leadership Challenge, RAC, LLM Inc., and others. Zappala is an award-winning speaker, author, and presentation-skills coach. She is the founder of High Altitude Strategies and helps propel teams and individuals to peak performance. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame, and spent more than 13 years at NASA’s Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center), conducting aircraft engine research. She became the youngest and first female manager of NASA’s Propulsion Systems Laboratory, a jet-aircraft-engine test facility. Strategic Alliances is recognized by SHRM to offer professional-development credits (PDCs) SHRM-CPSM or SHRM-SCPSM. The webinar “Confident or Impostor?” is worth 1 PDC.

Boronski to Meet Business, Community Leaders

Dec. 18: Debra Boronski, regional director for the Massachusetts Office of Business Development (MOBD), will  hold office hours for business and community leaders on Monday, Dec. 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center office located in Building 101 of the STCC Technology Park, 1 Federal St., Springfield. Meetings will be held in the Peter Pan Room, located on the second floor. MOBD is the state’s one-stop source for businesses seeking to relocate to Massachusetts and businesses wishing to expand their current operations here. It offers a range of expertise and services to help businesses flourish in Massachusetts. Its staff operates in regions across the state, providing businesses with on-the-ground knowledge and viable connections. It works closely with the private and public sectors to coordinate a range of resources. Boronski oversees 117 cities and towns in Western Mass. and the Berkshires. Interested parties mail e-mail [email protected] or call (413) 733-5357 to reserve a time slot.

EMT Training, CNA Plus Programs at STCC

Starting Jan. 22: Springfield Technical Community College will again offer its popular Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Training Program, as well as the Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) Plus Program, both starting in January. The EMT program consists of about 171 hours of lectures, 15 to 20 hours of online instruction, an auto-extrication class, and an eight-hour clinical hospital emergency-room observation designed to prepare the student for the Massachusetts State Certification Examination. The program, based on the Department of Transportation curriculum for Basic Emergency Medical Technician, is approved by the Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services. “The EMT program gives the student an excellent foundation in Basic Life Support skills and techniques and patient assessment,” said Paul Sheehan, director of the Workforce Development Center at STCC. “This program always fills up long before the start date, and applications are now being accepted. Daytime and evening classes start Jan. 22. Visit www.stcc.edu/wdc or call (413) 755-4225 to enroll. Meanwhile, the employment of CNAs is projected to grow by 19%, faster than average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which projects employers will add 279,600 CNA positions during the next decade. The CAN Plus Program at STCC is designed to provide participants with job skills that will allow entry into the healthcare field as well as preparation for the Massachusetts state board examination to become a certified nurse aide. Day classes, which start Jan. 22, will be held Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Students will receive clinical experience in a local nursing home under the supervision of registered nurse (RN) instructors. Major topics will include vital signs; moving and turning patients; personal-care basics; bed making; bed, bath, and feeding; record keeping; and responding to emergencies. This course will also include a Home Health Aide Training Certificate and an Enhanced Alzheimer’s Module. Students will attend a job fair scheduled at the conclusion of this program. Evening Classes for BASIC CNA start Jan. 28, and will be held Monday through Friday, 4-9:30 p.m. The Workforce Development Center at STCC offers a wide variety of entry-level health programs. Visit www.stcc.edu/wdc or call (413) 755-4225 to enroll.

EMT Training at HCC

Jan. 30 to April 28: Holyoke Community College is now enrolling students for its spring-term Emergency Medical Technician training program. The HCC EMT Training Program consists of 170-plus hours of in-class lectures and additional online study, training, field trips, and workshops that prepare students to take the state certification exam. The majority of the training takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays fom 6 to 10 p.m. at HCC’s new, state-of-the-art Center for Health Education, home to the college’s Nursing and Radiologic Technology programs. Last year, HCC received a $127,741 state Workforce Skills Capital Grant to purchase new equipment to enhance its EMT training program. The course uses equipment identical to that found in modern ambulances. The program makes extensive use of the medical simulation labs in HCC’s Center for Health Education. Some of the grant money was used to purchase a patient simulator specifically designed for EMT and paramedic training that hemorrages and can be hooked up to a defibrillator. The course is taught by instructor Mike Marafuga, an EMT with the Southwick Fire Department. For more information or to register, contact Ken White at (413) 552-2324 or [email protected]

Difference Makers

March 22: The 10th annual Difference Makers award program, staged by BusinessWest, will be held at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. The winners will be announced and profiled in the Jan. 22 issue. Difference Makers is a program, launched in 2009, that recognizes groups and individuals that are, as the name suggests, making a difference in this region. Tickets to the event cost $75 per person, with tables of 10 available. To order, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100 or visit www.businesswest.com. Sponsors to date include Sunshine Village and Royal, P.C. Sponsorship opportunities are still available by calling (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College officially launched the new MCCTI Gaming School, where area residents interested in working as professional card dealers or croupiers at MGM Springfield can start taking training classes early next year.

HCC and STCC, through TWO, their Training and Workforce Options collaborative, and MCCTI, the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, will run the gaming school on the ninth floor of 95 State St., Springfield. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently issued a certificate to MCCTI to operate the school.

“MGM Springfield is inspired by our educational and workforce-development partners’ strong commitment to creating a healthier regional economy through career opportunities,” said Alex Dixon, general manager for MGM Springfield. “We are grateful for their willingness to learn about and adapt teachings for the gaming and hospitality industry. Today, we celebrate this milestone and look forward to hiring the first-ever table-game professionals in the Commonwealth.”

The launch event also signaled the opening of registration for training classes, which will begin Feb. 26 in anticipation of the opening of the $960 million MGM Springfield resort casino in September 2018.

Jeffrey Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services for HCC, who also serves as executive director of TWO and MCCTI, noted that the MGM International website prominently features two new resort casinos MGM is building that are literally half a world apart, one in Springfield and another in Macau.

“There will be a $1 billion facility one block from here,” he said. “The show is coming to Springfield.”

A full schedule of training classes, along with course descriptions, prices, and school policies is available on the MCCTI website at www.mccti.org under ‘Gaming School,’ where job seekers can also register and explore other employment possibilities with MGM.

“The citizens of the region want to work in positions that provide a livable wage and the potential for advancement,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. “MGM Springfield will provide both, right in the heart of our region in downtown Springfield. I want to thank the community-college presidents for their continued dedication to providing people with the education and skills they need to be successful in the job market.”

Jim Peyser, Massachusetts secretary of Education, added that “this is truly a great day for Springfield and a great day for Massachusetts. MCCTI is not just a targeted solution to a specific workforce challenge, it’s also a model for how we, collectively, can work together as employers, colleges, state government, local government, and a variety of other public and private partners.”

Robert Westerfield, vice president of Table Games for MGM Springfield, said starting out as a dealer with MGM can truly open up career pathways with the organization.

“I started off as a craps dealer,” he said. “I stand before you as vice president of Table Games. Anybody can do it. If you bring the attitude, we’ll give you the aptitude.”

In 2012, the presidents of the state’s 15 community colleges signed a memorandum of understanding with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to work collaboratively to provide training for casino jobs in each of the state’s three defined casino regions: Greater Boston, Southeastern Mass., and Western Mass. In the Western Mass. region, MCCTI is operated by TWO.

“We know that economic development and workforce development are not separate efforts,” said STCC President John Cook. “It is imperative that economic and workforce development are integrated for the benefit of our region’s businesses and citizens. The investment of MGM Springfield will allow many of our citizens to begin the process of getting employed and establishing a career pathway.”

Added HCC President Christina Royal, “I particularly appreciate HCC’s historic and continuing partnerships with STCC in support of the workforce needs of area businesses. Both colleges offer a wide variety of educational and training options for job seekers and incumbent workers in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, culinary arts, and many other fields. MCCTI and events like today reinforce the important role community colleges play in the state and regional economy.”

The MCCTI Gaming School will provide dealer training in blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, and other casino games. Participants who successfully complete training programs for at least two different table games will be guaranteed an ‘audition,’ or tryout, for a job at MGM Springfield.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College will again offer its popular Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Training Program, as well as the Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) Plus Program, both starting in January.

The EMT program consists of about 171 hours of lectures, 15 to 20 hours of online instruction, an auto-extrication class, and an eight-hour clinical hospital emergency-room observation designed to prepare the student for the Massachusetts State Certification Examination. The program, based on the Department of Transportation curriculum for Basic Emergency Medical Technician, is approved by the Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services.

“The EMT program gives the student an excellent foundation in Basic Life Support skills and techniques and patient assessment,” said Paul Sheehan, director of the Workforce Development Center at STCC. “This program always fills up long before the start date, and applications are now being accepted.

Daytime and evening classes start Jan. 22. Visit www.stcc.edu/wdc or call (413) 755-4225 to enroll.

Meanwhile, the employment of CNAs is projected to grow by 19%, faster than average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which projects employers will add 279,600 CNA positions during the next decade. The CAN Plus Program at STCC is designed to provide participants with job skills that will allow entry into the healthcare field as well as preparation for the Massachusetts state board examination to become a certified nurse aide.

Day classes, which start Jan. 22, will be held Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Students will receive clinical experience in a local nursing home under the supervision of registered nurse (RN) instructors. Major topics will include vital signs; moving and turning patients; personal-care basics; bed making; bed, bath, and feeding; record keeping; and responding to emergencies.

This course will also include a Home Health Aide Training Certificate and an Enhanced Alzheimer’s Module. Students will attend a job fair scheduled at the conclusion of this program.

Evening Classes for BASIC CNA start Jan. 28, and will be held Monday through Friday, 4-9:30 p.m. The Workforce Development Center at STCC offers a wide variety of entry-level health programs. Visit www.stcc.edu/wdc or call (413) 755-4225 to enroll.

Entrepreneurship Sections

Venturing Forth

Paul Silva

Paul Silva says Launch413 one of two new startups he has launched himself, will fill a recognized gap in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Paul Silva uses the word ‘retired’ when he references his departure (at least as a full-time employee) from Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), the groundbreaking nonprofit he co-founded to assist startups and next-stage companies.

And he acknowledged that he gets some strange looks when he does, not simply because he’s only 40 — and people that age usually aren’t retired from anything other than professional sports — but also because they can’t fathom why he would leave the organization he has helped lead to great success.

As for that word ‘retire,’ he said it sounds better than most all of the alternatives he could use, like ‘moved on,’ or ‘left,’ or even ‘transitioned from,’ all of which, or at least the first two, have largely negative connotations, at least in his opinion.

“Unfortunately, we really don’t have a good word for when you hand your startup off to the next group of people,” he explained. “Maybe someone will come with one; I’m open to suggestions.”

Meanwhile, as to why he retired, that will take a lot longer to explain. There is a short answer — that he considers doing so beneficial for him (ultimately), VVM, and the region as a whole — but one couldn’t possibly leave it at that. One would need to explain why that’s the case, and we’ll do most of that in a bit.

First, though, we’ll get to that ‘better for the region’ part.

In short, Silva said he can now focus his efforts — or a good portion of them, anyway, because his time will now be split in a number of ways — on filling what he called the next “gap” in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

That would be the one between organizations like VVM and the services they provide, and investing groups like the one Silva leads, River Valley Investors (RVI).

“For the past three years, VVM has been kicking ass at graduating startups, and good ones,” he explained. “And they come to my angel group and…”

His voice tailed off a bit as he noted that some come to angel investors ready, willing, and able to get to the next stage, and thus have relatively little trouble gaining all-important financial backing. Many others are willing, but not exactly ready or able. And this is where Launch413 comes in.

“Most early-stage investors don’t want to pay for the entrepreneur’s education in the many aspects of running a business, like selling and financials,” he explained. “So they don’t know how to operationalize and execute their business model. They graduate from VVM with a great business model, with evidence that it’s the right business, but they’re often missing great chunks of skills on how to get there; Launch413 parachutes in and fills the gap.”

But such skydiving will only fill part of Silva’s calendar. Indeed, as noted earlier, he is splitting his time between a number of different endeavors, including not one, but two new startups.

You have to know what your strengths and weaknesses are professionally. I know what I love to do; I love to teach and work with the entrepreneurs, and I’m really good at that. To be the CEO of an organization that’s scaling up is a very different set of skills.”

“I’m a glutton for punishment,” he said, adding that the second is called the Lean Innovation Institute (LII).

In simple terms, this initiative is an adaptation, and expansion, of VVM’s manufacturing accelerator, initiated last year, but orphaned by that agency (Silva’s word) because it didn’t exactly meld with its mission.

Sensing an opportunity, he essentially took ownership of that initiative with the intention of selling it to a host of sectors. And he’s already making headway with one he didn’t exactly expect — nonprofits, as we’ll see later.

The new adventures of Paul Silva — yes, he’s the one who wears the ties patterned with the likenesses of cartoon characters — are all spelled out on the back of his new business card — if you should happen to get one and have the time to read everything on it.

On the front, it declares he’s a startup advisor, angel-group leader, and innovation accelerator. For this issue and its focus on entrepreneurship, BusinessWest talked with Silva about those various talents and how he’s developed them into his own intriguing startups.

In Good Company

Getting back to why he was phased out of VVM at his request — that’s another way he phrased what’s happened — Silva said it’s beneficial for VVM because the agency is growing, expanding, and moving in new directions, and he is not exactly suited to lead an agency at that stage. By retiring, others more suited to that work can step in, he said, mentioning Liz Roberts, VVM’s CEO, by name.

As to why it’s better for him … well, if he stayed in a role he wasn’t really suited for, he said he wouldn’t enjoy it much, if at all.

“You have to know what your strengths and weaknesses are professionally,” he told BusinessWest. “I know what I love to do; I love to teach and work with the entrepreneurs, and I’m really good at that. To be the CEO of an organization that’s scaling up is a very different set of skills.

“I knew I had reached my limit,” he went on. “And if I wanted VVM to keep growing, either it was going to grow slower while I learned, or it could grow faster with Liz, who had already been there, done that, and been successful. And even if I could learn, I don’t think I would like it.”

So, after some due diligence and explaining to people that he was soon to be a ‘free agent,’ as he put it, Silva moved on to some things he does like.

Such as the broad mission of Launch413.

That name pretty much says it all — it’s focused on helping companies in Western Mass. get well off the ground — but its method of operation needs some explaining.

Working with several venture partners, Silva will parachute in, as he put it, and act as a venture fund in many ways, but the investment is in time and expertise, not dollars. In exchange for those investments, Launch413 gets a piece of the company’s future revenue.

This concept is called royalty financing, and while not exactly new, it has been gaining traction in recent years. That’s because entrepreneurs don’t want to give up a piece of their business, as in equity financing, but are more willing to part with a percentage of future revenues.

But royalty financing has benefits for both sides in this equation, especially in a smaller market like Western Mass., Silva explained.

“If I take equity in a company, the only way I get paid is if the company sells,” he said, adding quickly that there are other ways investors can reap dividends in such cases, but the company in question would have to be doing very well. “With a royalty deal, my incentive is in line with helping the company succeed; if they make money, I’ll get paid faster.”

Launch413 is currently working with one company, and Silva expects to soon be working on a batch of up to four. He will limit the number and start small, he said, to learn about what works and what doesn’t.

“We’ll figure out how much larger we can make the batches over time,” he said, adding that, given the great amount of entrepreneurial energy in the region, he expects Launch413 to flourish.

As for LII, as noted earlier, it is solidly based on VVM’s manufacturing accelerator, which was different from a traditional accelerator in that it focused on established companies rather than those just getting off the ground, which is why it became a business opportunity for Silva.

“VVM wants to focus on startups, which makes sense, because one of the great dangers with nonprofits is mission creep and losing focus,” he explained.

But the manufacturing accelerator was very similar to the traditional model in the way it prompted participants to identify who their customers were, what they wanted and needed, and how this should drive change moving forward.

And the LII (so named because it will hopefully involve companies in all sectors) will do all of the above with established entities, including a constituency Silva wasn’t exactly expecting when he launched: nonprofits.

He’s working with one at present — Pathlight, formerly the Assoc. for Community Living — and running pretty much the same curriculum put to use with the manufacturers at VVM.

Elaborating, Silva said Pathlight, which helps intellectually disabled individuals lead full and productive lives, developed a curriculum to help it meet that mission, one that could be adopted by other nonprofits doing similar work.

“They see this as an opportunity to create revenue from something they built that would help further their mission,” he explained, adding that the accelerator he’s running is focused on developing and maximizing this opportunity — one that amounts to a startup business.

“It looks like we have something that might make a difference here,” he went on, adding that he believes there is potential to add many more nonprofits to the portfolio moving forward because of changing dynamics within that sector, which has a huge presence in this region.

“The competitive pressure to raise grant dollars is intense,” he explained, “especially because Western Mass. has more nonprofits than just about anywhere else. So they need to find new ways of generating revenue; they need to think differently and in more innovative ways. It’s shocking how many of them don’t actually think about their customers and what they really need because they believe they know already.”

Meanwhile, he’s had discussions with Ira Bryck, director of the Family Business Center of Western Mass., about possibly running similar accelerators for groups of that agency’s members.

Overall, he said his business plan, like LII’s website, is very much a work in progress because, at the moment, he’s busy practicing what he preaches — meaning he’s figuring out who his potential customers are and what they want.

“If you asked me a year ago if nonprofits would be excited by this curriculum, I would have said ‘no,’” he explained. “But it turns out, among the sectors I’ve talked to, nonprofits are the most excited about this.”

Transition Game

Summing up the many changes in his life, career-wise at least, over the past several months, Silva acknowledged that he has taken a fairly sizable risk when it comes to leaving the steady employment provided by VVM.

But with the blessing of his wife — “she said, ‘this is the right thing for VVM; I’m proud of you’” — he gladly accepted that risk and moved on to something different and, in his opinion, at least equally rewarding, only in different ways.

This is what entrepreneurs do, and anyone who knows Silva is quick to grasp that he not only mentors and motivates such individuals; he is one himself.

 

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

Accounting and Tax Planning Sections

A Time to Plan

taxplanningbw1117a

It’s never a bad time for companies to assess their tax situation and plan ahead, but with the end of 2017 approaching — and plenty of uncertainty over potential tax reform clouding the picture — it’s an especially good moment to start formulating a strategy to save tax dollars down the line. Here’s a checklist of actions based on current tax rules that may help businesses do just that.

By Kris Houghton, CPA

Taxes and the possibility of tax reform have been in the news so frequently, many are just tuned out on the subject. However, with year-end approaching, it is a good time to think of planning moves that will help lower your tax bill for this year and possibly the next.

Kristina Drzal-Houghton

Kristina Drzal-Houghton

For many years, experts have suggested the approach of deferring income until next year and accelerating deductions into this year to minimize taxes. This time-honored approach could turn out to be even more valuable this year if Congress succeeds in enacting tax reform that reduces business tax rates beginning next year in exchange for slimmed-down deductions.

Regardless of whether tax reform is enacted, deferring income also may help you minimize or avoid AGI-based phaseouts of various tax breaks that are applicable for 2017. Except in general terms, I will refrain from comparing the current tax laws to proposed legislation since its enactment in its current form is very speculative.

Regardless of whether tax reform is enacted, deferring income also may help you minimize or avoid AGI-based phaseouts of various tax breaks that are applicable for 2017.”

The following is a checklist of actions based on current tax rules that may help you save tax dollars if you act before year-end.

Year-end Tax-planning Moves for Businesses and Business Owners

• Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business-property-expensing option.

For tax years beginning in 2017, the expensing limit is $510,000, and the investment-ceiling limit is $2,030,000. Expensing is generally available for most depreciable property (other than buildings), off-the-shelf computer software, air-conditioning and heating units, and qualified real property-qualified leasehold improvement property, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvement property. The generous dollar ceilings that apply this year mean that many small and medium-sized businesses that make timely purchases will be able to currently deduct most if not all their outlays for machinery and equipment.

What’s more, the expensing deduction is not prorated for the time that the asset is in service during the year. The fact that the expensing deduction may be claimed in full (if you are otherwise eligible to take it), regardless of how long the property is held during the year, can be a potent tool for year-end tax planning. Thus, property acquired and placed in service in the last days of 2017, rather than at the beginning of 2018, can result in a full expensing deduction for 2017.

• Businesses should also consider making expenditures that qualify for 50% bonus first-year depreciation if bought and placed in service this year (the bonus percentage declines to 40% next year). The bonus-depreciation deduction is permitted without any proration based on the length of time that an asset is in service during the tax year. As a result, the 50% first-year bonus write-off is available even if qualifying assets are in service for only a few days in 2017.

• Businesses may be able to take advantage of the ‘de minimis safe-harbor election’ (also known as the book-tax conformity election) to expense the costs of lower-cost assets and materials and supplies. To qualify for the election, the cost of an item of property can’t exceed $5,000 if the taxpayer has a certified audited financial statement along with an independent CPA’s report. Otherwise, the cost of an item of property can’t exceed $2,500.

• Businesses contemplating large equipment purchases also should keep a close eye on the tax-reform plan being considered by Congress. The current version contemplates immediate expensing — with no set dollar limit — of all depreciable asset (other than building) investments made after Sept. 27, 2017, for a period of at least five years. This would be a major incentive for some businesses to make large purchases of equipment in late 2017.

• A corporation should consider deferring income until 2018 if it will be in a higher bracket this year than next. This could certainly be the case if Congress succeeds in dramatically reducing the corporate tax rate, beginning next year.

• A corporation should consider deferring income until next year if doing so will preserve the corporation’s qualification for the small-corporation AMT exemption for 2017. Note that there is never a reason to accelerate income for purposes of the small-corporation AMT exemption because, if a corporation doesn’t qualify for the exemption for any given tax year, it will not qualify for the exemption for any later tax year.

• A corporation (other than a ‘large’ corporation) that anticipates a small net operating loss for 2017 (and substantial net income in 2018) may find it worthwhile to accelerate just enough of its 2018 income (or to defer just enough of its 2017 deductions) to create a small amount of net income for 2017. This will permit the corporation to base its 2018 estimated tax installments on the relatively small amount of income shown on its 2017 return, rather than having to pay estimated taxes based on 100% of its much larger 2018 taxable income.

• If your business qualifies for the domestic production activities deduction (DPAD) for its 2017 tax year, consider whether the 50%-of-W-2 wages limitation on that deduction applies. If it does, consider ways to increase 2017 W-2 income, e.g., by bonuses to owner-shareholders whose compensation is allocable to domestic-production gross receipts. Note that the limitation applies to amounts paid with respect to employment in calendar year 2017, even if the business has a fiscal year. Keep in mind that the DPAD would be abolished under the tax-reform plan currently before Congress.

Year-End Tax-planning Moves for Individuals

• Higher-income earners must be wary of the 3.8% surtax on certain unearned income. The surtax is 3.8% of the lesser of: (1) net investment income (NII), or (2) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over a threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers or surviving spouses, $125,000 for a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case).

As year-end nears, a taxpayer’s approach to minimizing or eliminating the 3.8% surtax will depend on his estimated MAGI and NII for the year. Some taxpayers should consider ways to minimize (e.g., through deferral) additional NII for the balance of the year, others should try to see if they can reduce MAGI other than NII, and other individuals will need to consider ways to minimize both NII and other types of MAGI.

• The 0.9% additional Medicare tax also may require higher-income earners to take year-end actions. It applies to individuals for whom the sum of their wages received with respect to employment and their self-employment income is in excess of an unindexed threshold amount ($250,000 for joint filers, $125,000 for married couples filing separately, and $200,000 in any other case).

Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax from wages in excess of $200,000 regardless of filing status or other income. Self-employed individuals must take it into account in figuring estimated tax. There could be situations where an employee may need to have more withheld toward the end of the year to cover the tax. For example, if an individual earns $200,000 from one employer during the first half of the year and a like amount from another employer during the balance of the year, he would owe the additional Medicare tax, but there would be no withholding by either employer for the additional Medicare tax since wages from each employer don’t exceed $200,000.

• Realize losses on stock while substantially preserving your investment position. There are several ways this can be done. For example, you can sell the original holding, then buy back the same securities at least 31 days later. It may be advisable to discuss year-end trades with a qualified advisor.

• Postpone income until 2018 and accelerate deductions into 2017 to lower your 2017 tax bill. This strategy could enable you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2017 that are phased out over varying levels of adjusted gross income (AGI). These include child tax credits, higher-education tax credits, and deductions for student-loan interest. Postponing income is also desirable for those taxpayers who anticipate being in a lower tax bracket next year due to changed financial circumstances. Note, however, that, in some cases, it may pay to actually accelerate income into 2017.

• If you believe a Roth IRA is better than a traditional IRA, consider converting traditional-IRA money invested in beaten-down stocks (or mutual funds) into a Roth IRA if eligible to do so. Keep in mind, however, that such a conversion will increase your AGI for 2017.

• It may be advantageous to try to arrange with your employer to defer, until early 2018, a bonus that may be coming your way. This could cut as well as defer your tax if Congress reduces tax rates beginning in 2018.

• Consider using a credit card to pay deductible expenses before the end of the year. Doing so will increase your 2017 deductions even if you don’t pay your credit-card bill until after the end of the year.

• If you expect to owe state and local income taxes when you file your return next year, consider asking your employer to increase withholding of state and local taxes (or pay estimated tax payments of state and local taxes) before year-end to pull the deduction of those taxes into 2017 if you won’t be subject to alternative minimum tax (AMT) in 2017. Pulling state and local tax deductions into 2017 would be especially beneficial if Congress eliminates such deductions beginning next year.

• Estimate the effect of any year-end planning moves on the AMT for 2017, keeping in mind that many tax breaks allowed for purposes of calculating regular taxes are disallowed for AMT purposes. These include the deduction for state property taxes on your residence, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal-exemption deductions. If you are subject to the AMT for 2017, or suspect you might be, these types of deductions should not be accelerated.

• You may be able to save taxes by applying a bunching strategy to pull ‘miscellaneous’ itemized deductions, medical expenses, and other itemized deductions into this year. This strategy would be especially beneficial if Congress eliminates such deductions beginning in 2018.

• Take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other employer-sponsored retirement plan). RMDs from IRAs must begin by April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½. That start date also applies to company plans, but non-5% company owners who continue working may defer RMDs until April 1 following the year they retire. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn.

Although RMDs must begin no later than April 1 following the year in which the IRA owner attains age 70½, the first distribution calendar year is the year in which the IRA owner attains age 70½. Thus, if you turn age 70½ in 2017, you can delay the first required distribution to 2018, but if you do, you will have to take a double distribution in 2018 — the amount required for 2017 plus the amount required for 2018.

Think twice before delaying 2017 distributions to 2018, as bunching income into 2018 might push you into a higher tax bracket or have a detrimental impact on various income-tax deductions that are reduced at higher income levels. However, it could be beneficial to take both distributions in 2018 if you will be in a substantially lower bracket that year.

• Make gifts sheltered by the annual gift-tax exclusion before the end of the year and thereby save gift and estate taxes. The exclusion applies to gifts of up to $14,000 made in 2017 to each of an unlimited number of individuals. You can’t carry over unused exclusions from one year to the next. Such transfers may save family income taxes where income-earning property is given to family members in lower income-tax brackets who are not subject to the kiddie tax.

• If you were affected by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or Maria, keep in mind that you may be entitled to special tax relief under recently passed legislation, such as relaxed casualty-loss rules and eased access to your retirement funds. In addition, qualifying charitable contributions related to relief efforts in the Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or Maria disaster areas aren’t subject to the usual charitable deduction limitations.

These are just some of the year-end steps that can be taken to save taxes. Consider meeting your tax advisor to discuss your unique tax situation so they can tailor a plan that will work best for you.


Kristina Drzal-Houghton, CPA, MST is the partner in charge of Taxation at Holyoke-based Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.: (413) 536-8510.

Community Profile Features

‘Something’s Bubbling’

Downtown Greenfield

Downtown Greenfield is becoming a destination, as are other communities in Franklin County.

Franklin County, the state’s most rural county, and also its poorest, faces a host of challenges today — from a declining and aging population to poor broadband service in most of its communities, to statistically lower wages for comparable jobs. But those working to spur economic development and improve quality of life here see progress in many forms and vast opportunities to attract the young people who covet many of things this region can offer them.

John Lunt was looking to make a point about Franklin County in general, and the amount of developable land in and around Greenfield in particular, and to do so effectively, he recalled a recent conversation he had with Jay Ashe, the state’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

“We were talking about land that small precision manufacturers could potentially develop on, and he said something like, ‘you’re in Western Mass., Franklin County — you must have a ton of land,’” said Lunt, director of Special Projects and Economic Development in Greenfield, adding quickly that this is not the case at all.

“The land that we have available for those kinds of manufacturing jobs is pretty much gone,” he explained, referring especially to Greenfield. “We have some land that’s zoned ‘planned industrial,’ but there isn’t a business in the world that would build on it because of slope and ledge and things that make it to difficult to prepare.”

John Lunt

John Lunt says collaboration is a necessary quality in rural Franklin County, as is independence and an entrepreneurial approach to progress.

Lunt recalled his conversation with Ashe to make another point — that many of the perceptions about rural Franklin County, like the one about land to develop, are not exactly on the mark.

Others include the widely held belief that families and businesses do not want to locate there, the notion that the region doesn’t have much of what the Millennial generation is looking for, and the perception that manufacturing is all but dead in a region that had been economically dominated by it for centuries.

“Manufacturing is still doing very well here, but it’s changed somewhat; many large companies involved in traditional manufacturing have left,” said Patricia Crosby, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board. “Many smaller ones have stayed, and new companies have come here; they’re mostly involved in precision manufacturing or fabricated metals, and they’re doing extremely well, and they’re adding a few employees each year.”

Meanwhile, others we spoke with said Franklin County is, in fact, becoming a landing spot for Millennials — generally older Millennials who are ready to settle down, and especially those who are active and into outdoor sports (much more on that later).

Unfortunately, though, many other perceptions about this region are far more accurate, to the point where they become statistics. These include the fact that this is the poorest county in the state; that wages here are well below the state average for comparable jobs — a real factor in the region’s struggles to attract young people; that broadband service doesn’t exist in many of the communities in the county; that public transportation is sorely lacking; that the age of the population in those communities is rising at almost alarming levels; and that, while unemployment is fairly low at 3%, this is a misleading statistic because many individuals have stopped looking for work, and others are unemployable.

But while rural Franklin County has more than its fair share of challenges, there are a number of signs of progress and abundant hope that there will be many more in the months and years to come.

Start with the Five Eyed Fox, a restaurant and bar in Turners Falls that is making that community just east of Greenfield a destination and what some even called a ‘hot spot,’ a term not used in that community for some time.

“It’s super hip and cool to be in Turners Falls,” said Natalie Blais, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, and also the local tourism board. “It’s the place to be; Turners is sort of leading this whole retro, hip scene.”

It’s super hip and cool to be in Turners Falls. It’s the place to be; Turners is sort of leading this whole retro, hip scene.”

Then there’s the Orange Innovation Center, a co-working space in a community in what’s known as the North Quabbin area, the eastern edge of the county. Created in a factory where General Foods once produced Minute Tapioca pudding for roughly seven decades, the space now hosts an eclectic group of tenants ranging from a music studio and to a fitness club to the Center for Human Development.

And at Greenfield Community College (GCC), the only college in the county, a number of new programs have been created to help provide job seekers with the skills they’ll need to succeed in a changing, information-based economy.

Linda Dunleavy

Linda Dunleavy says Franklin County is becoming an attractive landing spot for what she called ‘older Millennials,’ who are looking for a place to settle down.

Perhaps most importantly, though, an ecosystem is emerging. It’s comprised of a number of nonprofits, the college, government entities, and employers across several sectors, and while it’s still taking shape and finding its bearings, it is addressing the issues and problems facing the region through collaboration and efforts to maximize available resources. And it is also taking a more organized approach to the work of bringing families, businesses, young people, retirees — and opportunity — to the region.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with several individuals who are part of this ecosystem about the various forms of progress being recorded — and the considerable work that remains.

Buy the Numbers

Collaboration is needed because the challenges facing Franklin County are numerous, and many of them are complex and defy easy answers — or any answers, for that matter.

Indeed, after talking about how wages in Franklin County are statistically lower than those in other areas and roughly 65% of what is paid statewide, Crosby, who noted that it’s been this way since she came to the REB 16 years ago, was asked the obvious question: why?

She paused for a moment and said simply, “because employers can get away with it.” And they can, because the factors that drive wages higher in other areas — a scarcity of workers and heightened competition for qualified talent — are not in evidence here, with some exceptions, as we’ll see.

That statistic regarding wages is only one of many eye-opening numbers that come to the forefront when talking about Franklin County. Many of the others drive home just how rural this area is: there are 72,000 people living in 26 communities across 725 square miles. In several communities, such as Rowe, Hawley, Heath, and others, stating the total population requires only three digits. In Monroe, one barely needs three; the latest census had 121 people living there.

The people living in those 26 towns are the poorest in the state in terms of per-capita income and, as noted, average wage per job, said Linda Dunleavy, executive director of the Franklin Region Council of Governments.

And, by and large, the population of the county is falling, said Alyce Stiles, dean of Workforce Development & Community Education at GCC. She said the enrollment at the county’s public schools is down significantly in recent years — which doesn’t bode well for the college or the region and its business community.

“That has layers of ramifications for us,” she said. “There are fewer people going into the community-college system, and then fewer people going into the workforce.”

And the population is getting older, said Roseann Martoccia, who should know. She’s the executive director of LifePath Inc., a nonprofit that works to help seniors age in place. She noted that 17% of the county’s residents are over age 65 (the state average is 15%), and in some of the smaller, western communities, the number exceeds 20%.

“And those percentages, in some communities, are expected to double by 2030,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s not that far away.”

Behind all the numbers is a kind of operating mindset, if you will, one defined by a form of independence that is understandable when one considers how far away this county is from Boston or even Springfield — and not just in terms of geography.

“Collaboration comes from necessity,” said Lunt. “We have to be more independent, and we have to be more entrepreneurial, because whether we want it or not, most people realize that help isn’t really coming from farther east.”

The statistics, as well as this mindset, are just some of the things that Cindy Russo has learned she since became president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, the county’s largest employer, roughly 18 months ago.

“I knew absolutely nothing about Franklin County before I came here, and about the only name I recognized was Yankee Candle,” she said, referring to the iconic Deerfield-based manufacturer and retailer. “Everything else, I had to learn.”

Cindy Russo

Cindy Russo, who became president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center in 2016, says she can sense gathering momentum in the region.

She’s learned, among other things, that the region has a strong sense of community spirit, as well as a great deal of natural beauty and a bounty of outdoor recreation to offer, from fishing to hiking; from skiing to whitewater rafting. She’s also learned that a large number of nonprofits operate in the region — often in collaboration with each other to meet a wide variety of missions.

She’s also come to recognize that it’s somewhat difficult to recruit doctors and other medical professionals to this rural area, despite its various amenities and lower lost of housing and living in general.

“That is certainly a challenge,” she said. “One of the biggest ways we’re able to attract people is if there’s a connection — they have family here or their roots are here — but also the beauty of this region and the hiking and other outdoor activity; those are strong selling points.”

Another challenge, meanwhile, is keeping young professionals, she said, adding that more than 50% of Baystate Franklin’s employees have less than five years of experience.

“Many times, we’ll get a new nurse from GCC, and they’ll start their practice at Baystate Franklin,” she explained. “But then they might be looking out for the sexier markets, like Boston. So we have to think of ways to keep them here.”

But since arriving, she’s observed something else — gathering momentum when it comes to the region being a destination for everything from a fun night out to a place to raise a family, to a spot where one can enjoy retirement. “There’s something bubbling here; even in the short time I’ve been here, I’m feeling it,” she said, adding that the region is becoming something it probably doesn’t want to become — a best-kept secret.

Land of Opportunity

There was some general agreement about that notion of something bubbling among those we spoke with. People talked about momentum and the region making strides toward becoming something it’s never really been, or hasn’t been for some time — a destination, on several levels.

Start with a night out — at the Five-Eyed Fox, or a growing number of alternatives.

“There’s great food and drink; there’s much more of a local arts scene than people than people think,” said Lunt. “We actually toured the Mass. Cultural Council around, and they were kind of blown away by what they saw out here.

“There are a lot of artists studios,” he went on. “There’s a lot of local theater, and Greenfield’s gone from having not that many restaurants to having 13 different kinds of cuisine. It’s not uncommon at all to do something you really couldn’t do here 10 or 15 years ago — families go out, have something to eat, and then go to a local show or theater or listen to some music.”

And then, there’s tourism in general. Blais said the region has built a solid infrastructure of attractions that includes ski resorts, ziplining and whitewater-rafting outfits, fishing, boating, and more, and needs to more aggressively promote what it has and build that important sector of the economy.

But those within this ecosystem also talked about destination in a bigger sense — as in a place for a family to settle or a business to put down roots.

And some younger families are moving into Greenfield and other communities, like Turners Falls, because of what they offer, said Blais.

“There’s lots of culture and live music,” she explained. “And with all the breweries and cideries in the region, we’re really seeing young people being interested in coming here.”

Dunleavy agreed, but narrowed the definition of ‘young’ somewhat. She said the region is more attractive to older young people, those with familes, those who might have roots in the region, or those who might have left in search of something else and now value what they left behind.

“It’s Millennials at a different stage of their life,” she said, adding that, despite recognized progress in this realm, there needs to be a large, concerted, and collaborative (there’s that word again) effort to sell the county as an attractive place to live.

“As a group of organizational leaders, we were talking about how we need to have the same mission — attracting young people and young families to Franklin County,” Dunleavy explained. “We should all identify how our organization will do that and work together to implement a region-wide strategy, because we need to bring more people to Franklin County and younger people to Franklin County.”

As for attracting businesses and jobs, the region faces a number of challenges, ranging from those broadband issues to the lack of developable land that Lunt mentioned.

“We never turn anyone away,” he said. “But we struggle when someone says, ‘we want a 40,000-square-foot building and 22 acres’ — we just don’t have that available.”

What is available are smaller lots, some old mill spaces, and office buildings downtown, he noted, adding that all of the above can be used toward something that Millennials, in general, seem to like: co-working space.

Several projects in this realm are already underway or in the planning stages, said Lunt, adding that they will helped by the town’s creation of a municipal broadband network that includes Internet, phone, and data services.

“The goal is to move people into these spaces by offering them more 21st-century infrastructure,” he explained, “because, as manufacturing-driven as we’ve been, we just can’t be in the future, because we just don’t have the space for it; we have to try to develop higher-tech businesses, and those are also businesses that pay well.”

Another challenge for the region involves the workforce. As noted earlier, unemployment is relatively low, but there are many who lack needed skills, have stopped searching for work, or are unemployable.

Stiles said the broad goal is to help individuals gain needed skills and fill positions in growing fields, such as healthcare and precision manufacturing.

She mentioned specific programs created at GGC for the precision-manufacturing and medical-assisting fields, just two of many where jobs exist and will exist in the years to come, and where companies consistently struggle to find good help.

Moving forward, she and others said the primary goal is to make the workforce larger and stronger, an initiative that is, in all ways, a work in progress.

Moving the Needle

Surveying the situation from many different angles, including that of a long-time resident and also someone working to stimulate economic development in the region, Lunt said the path Franklin County is on is the right one.

Elaborating, he said the many groups working to spur economic development and improve quality of life are moving the needle when it comes to generating progress and addressing the overriding challenge facing the county — creating enough good jobs to support the lifestyle that is the primary draw for this region.

“We could all live somewhere else, but we don’t — we choose not to,” Lunt told BusinessWest. Speaking for all those now part of the county’s emerging ecosystem, he said the broad goal is simply to inspire more people to take that same attitude.

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

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Hits Another High for 2017

BOSTON — Employer confidence in Massachusetts hit another high for 2017 during October as economic growth accelerated and companies remained optimistic about the national outlook. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index edged up 0.3 points to 62.7, leaving it 6.5 points better than in October 2016. The uptick was driven by a brightening view of employment growth and firming confidence among manufacturers. The reading came as MassBenchmarks reported that the Massachusetts economy grew at 5.9% during the third quarter, almost double the rate of the national economy. Payroll employment grew at a 2.1% annual rate in Massachusetts in the third quarter as compared to 1.2% nationally. “The acceleration of the Massachusetts economy in the third quarter provided additional fuel to an already solid sense of confidence among employers as we head for 2018,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, optimism about the national economy suggests that employers believe growth rates throughout the U.S. will increase even more if Congress follows through on its proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.” The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were largely higher during October. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, slipped 0.3 points to 65.1, still 4.1 points more than a year earlier. October marked the 91st consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.7 points to 62.5, continuing a 13.3-point surge for the 12-month period. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.7 points to 63.6, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, remained even at 61.9 points. The Current Index has risen 7.6 points and the Future Index 5.6 points during the past year. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.3 points to 62.0. There was better news in the Employment Index, a key predictor of economic health, which rose 2.0 points to 57.8.

Arrha President Testifies on Bill to Modernize Credit-union Laws

SPRINGFIELD — Michael Ostrowski, president and CEO of Arrha Credit Union, testified on an act to modernize credit-union laws before the state Joint Committee on Financial Services. Ostrowski testified on allowing technological advances, increasing transactional authority for chartering and merging credit unions, and increasing state authority for low-income designation. “A top priority of Arrha Credit Union is to be able to fully utilize today’s advances in technology. We are not allowed to offer electronic loan applications, along with other credit unions. Our members want technological convenience in today’s advanced electronic world,” Ostrowski said. “Also, mail was meaningful during the time this law was enacted; however, today’s electronic voting has largely taken the place of mail ballot voting, and is more easily accessible for members to actively participate in our governance. Such technological advances will provide convenience, time-saving opportunities, and cost-saving opportunities. It is important for Arrha Credit Union to stay as technically advanced as possible to best serve our membership and communities.” Arrha Credit Union supports the provisions of this bill, which allows the Massachusetts commissioner of Banks to recognize the credit-union low-income designation for state-chartered credit unions. A credit union that receives the low-income designation is a credit union in which has more than half of its members have a family income 80% or less than the median family income for the metropolitan area where they live or national metropolitan area, whichever is greater. This authority will open an opportunity for credit unions to gain access to grant money to provide additional training opportunities for its staff, better and more tailored products for its low-income base, and other such improvements. It will also allow for expedited and easier recognition of credit for Community Reinvestment Act purposes. “Arrha Credit Union is considered a low-income-designated credit union and has used its low-income designation in the area of auto lending with 100% loan-to-value ratios, which allows us to better and more timely serve our members,” Ostrowski said. “It is clear that values and general banking business dynamics change very quickly in this day and age; as a result, it is necessary that our laws are also kept up-to-date, modernized, with today’s needs.

Unemployment Rates Decrease Across State in September

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 19 labor-market areas, increased in two areas, and remained the same in three areas in the state during the month of September, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to September 2016, the rates were up in 18 labor-market areas and remained the same in six labor-market areas. Six of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in September. The gains occurred in the Springfield, Worcester, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, New Bedford, Peabody-Salem-Beverly, and Leominster-Gardner areas. From September 2016 to September 2017, 14 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the New Bedford, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Barnstable, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead, and Springfield areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for September was 3.5%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% in the month of September. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 9,300-job gain in September and an over-the-year gain of 62,300 jobs. The unadjusted unemployment rates and job estimates for the labor market areas reflect seasonal fluctuations and therefore may show different levels and trends than the statewide seasonally adjusted estimates. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Board of Higher Education Votes to Join Agreement on Online Learning

BOSTON — The state Board of Higher Education recently authorized the state’s commissioner of Higher Education to submit an application to join the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), a multi-state approach to regulating the growing number of online learning programs offered by colleges and universities across the U.S. The board’s unanimous vote follows an extensive review of what joining SARA would mean for the Commonwealth. Last year, Massachusetts Education Secretary James Peyser chaired a legislative Special Commission on Interstate Reciprocity Agreements, which issued a report that was reviewed by the Board of Higher Education as part of its decision-making process to join SARA. In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Education incorporated recommendations from the state Board and Department of Higher Education, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Executive Office of Education in final authorization regulations for postsecondary online education. “As we strive to make higher education more affordable and accessible for residents of the Commonwealth, adding online learning options is a critical step in the right direction,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “We are pleased to join SARA with the assurance that we would be able to continue vital consumer protections for our students, and look forward to preparing our application.” Added Peyser, “if Massachusetts’ application for SARA membership is approved, students in the Commonwealth will see a multitude of options in online education open up for them, and our state’s colleges and universities will find it less cumbersome and costly to offer online courses to students in other states.” Massachusetts will be the 49th state to join SARA, if its application is accepted by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. Currently, the Board of Higher Education regulates the degree-granting authority of most post-secondary institutions with a physical presence in the Commonwealth, granting them the ability to offer specific credit-bearing programs of study and to use the terms ‘college’ or ‘university’ in their names. At present, it does not exercise oversight over out-of-state institutions that offer only online programs to Massachusetts students. With the proliferation of distance-learning providers and modalities, the need for a new, more nimble regulatory approach that will allow for greater access and options for students — while maintaining robust student protections and safeguards — has emerged. “Massachusetts has a strong history when it comes to regulations and standards that benefit consumers — in this case, students — and we were willing to take our time in deliberating whether to join SARA rather than rush into an agreement that might shortchange them,” said Carlos Santiago, state commissioner of Higher Education. If Massachusetts’ application to join SARA is accepted, institutions in the Commonwealth may be able to submit applications to begin operating under SARA by the summer of 2018.

Connecticut Airport Authority Seeks Development Proposals

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority is seeking developers to enter into a long-term land lease to develop, operate, and maintain commercial property owned by Bradley International Airport located on a vacant, 4.8-acre parcel on Ella Grasso Turnpike. A pre-proposal meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 10 a.m. in the Human Resources Conference Room located at 334 Ella Grasso Turnpike, Suite 100, Windsor Locks. Full copies of the request for proposal may be downloaded at www.ctairports.org/economic-development/procurement, or by e-mailing [email protected].

Court Dockets Departments

The following is a compilation of recent lawsuits involving area businesses and organizations. These are strictly allegations that have yet to be proven in a court of law. Readers are advised to contact the parties listed, or the court, for more information concerning the individual claims.

FRANKLIN SUPERIOR COURT
Kevin v. Chickering v. City Tire Co. Inc. d/b/a Lodge Tire Co. and John Doe
Allegation: Motor-vehicle negligence causing injury: $105,822.54
Filed: 9/21/17

HAMPDEN DISTRICT COURT
Bob Pion Buick-GMC Inc. v. Daigle’s Truckmaster Inc.
Allegation: Failure to pay for vehicle repairs: $9,619.23
Filed: 9/29/17

HAMPDEN SUPERIOR COURT
Leah LaRock and Sarah Chartier v. Mardi Gras Entertainment Inc. and Anthony Santaniello, individually
Allegation: Breach of employment contract: $1,000,000+
Filed: 10/2/17

Dontay Hall v. Marc L. Nierman, M.D.
Allegation: Medical malpractice, wrongful death: $101,400
Filed: 10/2/17

Emilio Hernandez v. Pyramid Management Group, LLC; Holyoke Mall Co., LP; Fahad Alsadoon; and Sarah Ali
Allegation: Negligence, escalator suddenly stopped, causing injury: $41,371.54
Filed: 10/3/17

Desert Aire, LLC f/k/a Desert Aire Corp. v. Sage Engineering & Contracting, Wojtkowski Bros. Inc., and Khem Organics Inc.
Allegation: Breach of contract/mechanic’s lien: $39,338.62
Filed: 10/4/17

Matthew Buchberg v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp.
Allegation: Negligence causing injury on roller coaster: $40,866.79
Filed: 10/5/17

Geraldine DePretto v. Sears Roebuck & Co. and Pyramid Management Group
Allegation: Negligence, trip and fall causing injury: $24,055.03
Filed: 10/10/17

Peter M. Phillips v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp. d.b.a Stryker Orthopaedics
Allegation: Product liability: $2,500,000
Filed: 10/11/17

HAMPSHIRE SUPERIOR COURT
Thomas Mulrooney v. Whole Foods Market and WS Asset Management
Allegation: Negligence, slip and fall causing injury: $48,000+
Filed: 10/3/17

Lalla Orman v. Cumulus Media Inc.; Atwood Drive, LLC; Securitas Security Services USA; Amherst Development Associates, LLC d/b/a Hampshire Hospitality Group; and Oldway Leasing
Allegation: Negligence, fall in unlit area causing injury and property damage: $96,000
Filed: 10/12/17

Daily News

BOSTON — Employer confidence in Massachusetts hit another high for 2017 during October as economic growth accelerated and companies remained optimistic about the national outlook.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index edged up 0.3 points to 62.7, leaving it 6.5 points better than in October 2016. The uptick was driven by a brightening view of employment growth and firming confidence among manufacturers.

The reading came as MassBenchmarks reported that the Massachusetts economy grew at 5.9% during the third quarter, almost double the rate of the national economy. Payroll employment grew at a 2.1% annual rate in Massachusetts in the third quarter as compared to 1.2% nationally.

“The acceleration of the Massachusetts economy in the third quarter provided additional fuel to an already solid sense of confidence among employers as we head for 2018,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, optimism about the national economy suggests that employers believe growth rates throughout the U.S. will increase even more if Congress follows through on its proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were largely higher during October. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, slipped 0.3 points to 65.1, still 4.1 points more than a year earlier. October marked the 91st consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.7 points to 62.5, continuing a 13.3-point surge for the 12-month period.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.7 points to 63.6, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, remained even at 61.9 points. The Current Index has risen 7.6 points and the Future Index 5.6 points during the past year. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.3 points to 62.0. There was better news in the Employment Index, a key predictor of economic health, which rose 2.0 points to 57.8.

“The Massachusetts economy continues to grow at a robust pace and to add jobs in a broad array of sectors despite tightening regional labor markets. With the statewide unemployment rate now below 4%, it is not clear the Commonwealth’s economic expansion is sustainable at its current pace,” said Professor Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth and a BEA member.

AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employer optimism continues to be tempered by the prospect of three potentially destructive ballot questions appearing on the 2018 state election ballot.

“Massachusetts employers face an unprecedented public-policy crisis as activists seek to place three questions on the 2018 Massachusetts election ballot that would together impede economic growth for a generation: a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million, an expansive and bureaucratic paid-family-leave program, and an increase in the minimum wage,” Lord said. “Having just honored 16 Massachusetts employers for creating jobs and economic opportunity for the people of Massachusetts, AIM remains concerned about ballot questions that are clearly intended to be punitive toward employers.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Western Mass. is known for many things — its beauty, its many distinguished colleges and universities, its recreational facilities, high quality of life, and much more.

It is also known, historically, as a region defined by entrepreneurship and innovation — people who started business ventures, and people who created better products and ways to do things. Examples abound, from the Blanchard Lathe and the M1 rifle, both invented by those working at the Springfield Armory, to the monkey wrench, ice skate, automobile, and motorcycle — all either invented or first manufactured here.

This legacy of entrepreneurship and innovation continues today, and it is visible in every corner of the region, from Williamstown to Hampden; Greenfield to Great Barrington. And this is what is being celebrated at the Business & Innovation Expo of Western Mass., produced by BusinessWest and HCN and presented by Comcast Business. The event takes place on Thursday, Nov. 2 at the MassMutual Center.

The event’s exhibiting businesses and educational seminars will reflect and spotlight the many aspects of entrepreneurship and innovation and leave attendees both inspired and better able to confront the many challenges facing those in business today — and those they will face tomorrow as well.

The day will get off to an an inspiring, energizing start with a fund-raising breakfast for Revitalize Springfield’s JoinedForces program, with master of ceremonies state Rep. Aaron Vega. Later, at the luncheon, keynote speaker Ron Insana, senior analyst and commentator with CNBC, will present a talk titled “Trumponomics,” which will address how Washington will affect the economy in the years ahead.

Throughout the day, there will be informative seminars and special programs tailored to address the issues and challenges facing all those in business today. Highlights include an “Ask the Expert Roundtable” that will feature area experts answering questions on subjects ranging from employment law to social media; from the Affordable Care Act to becoming a better public speaker; from family businesses to interviewing job candidates. There will be a number of informative seminars on subjects ranging from cybersecurity to marketing myths to innovation in continuous improvement, as well as programs to introduce attendees to the transformative technology of virtual realty, robotics, and machine-tooling demonstrations.

Attendees can also take part in the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Speed Networking event; a match-making program featuring corporate sponsor MGM Springfield, which will be opening its $950 million casino in less than a year; the day-capping Expo Social, featuring a best-in-show food-sampling competition; and much more.

Cover Story Features

Star Power

 

Lenny Recor attends to the second floor at the TD Bank building, a position he secured with the help of Sunshine Village.

Lenny Recor attends to the second floor at the TD Bank building, a position he secured with the help of Sunshine Village.

Back in the mid-’60s, a group of parents, advised by friends, family members, and attorneys alike to put their developmentally disabled children into an institution, collectively rejected that idea and, far more importantly, came up with a much better one. The result of their innovative, forward-thinking outlook was Sunshine Village, which, 50 years later, remains an immensely powerful source of light, warmth, hope, and lives fulfilled.

 

Lenny Recor was in a good mood — or as good a mood as you might expect someone to be in on a Monday morning.

Actually, the day of the week doesn’t seem to matter much to Recor, who appears to wear a smile on an almost permanent basis. And such was the case as he went about his work vacuuming, mopping, dusting, and cleaning bathrooms at 1441 Main St. in Springfield, a.k.a. the TD Bank Building.

“I like to work … it’s meaningful, and I get to meet people and say hello,” said the 39-year-old. “Besides, it’s good to have money in your pocket — really good.”

The ability to work and put money in one’s pocket is something that many people might take for granted, but not Recor.

He has managed to secure several such opportunities thanks to Sunshine Village, the Chicopee-based nonprofit that this year is celebrating a half-century of doing what it does best — creating ‘great days’ for hundreds of individuals with developmental disabilities and help them lead rich, meaningful (there’s that word again) lives.

And these great days come in many forms, said Gina Kos, long-time executive director at Sunshine Village, noting that, for some, it means a day of working and earning. For others, it might mean volunteering at one of a number of area nonprofits. For still others, it might mean using a computer or practicing yoga. And for some, a great day may involve learning to shake hands or hold a spoon.

“A great day is a collection of small, proud moments,” she told BusinessWest, noting that this simple definition covers a significant amount of ground, to be sure. “What goes into ‘great’ depends on the individual.”

Elaborating, she said the agency’s mission, and its mindset, are neatly summed up with a collection of words — a summary, if you will, of what the agency provides for its participants — now filling one wall inside the agency’s administration building:

“Warm welcomes, new skills, shared laughs, many choices, caring staff, friendships, creativity, new experiences, safe travels, big smiles, helping hands, happy people, kind words, unique opportunities, lifelong learning, fun times, teamwork, dedication, shining moments, celebrations, personal accomplishments, sunshine, great days,” it reads … with those last two words in bold red letters.

Over a half-century, Gina Kos says, Sunshine Village has evolved, but has always remained true to its core mission.

Over a half-century, Gina Kos says, Sunshine Village has evolved, but has always remained true to its core mission.

But it’s not what’s on the wall that defines Sunshine Village, but what goes on inside the walls — and, in Recor’s case and many others, well outside them.

At the hangars and administration buildings at nearby Westover Air Reserve Base, for example, where participants at Sunshine Village have been employed for more than 40 years, handling various cleaning duties. Or at a host of nonprofit agencies such as the Cancer House of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and many others. Or at area businesses and office buildings ranging from the Trading Post, a large convenience store just down the street from the agency’s headquarters on Litwin Drive in Chicopee, to the TD Bank building.

And while on the subject of great days, Kos said Sunshine Village strives to provide them for both its participants and the team of employees who serve them.

“We work very hard to be a provider of choice and an employer of choice,” she noted, adding that these are the broad organizational goals outlined in a three-year strategic plan for the agency, one due to be updated in the near future. “And in the third year of our plan, we’ve realized outcomes with both of those goals that have really exceeded our initial expectations.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Village as it marks a key milestone, and at how, as it looks forward to its next half-century of creating great days, it will continue its evolutionary process.

Bright Ideas

When asked about the circumstances that brought her to the corner office at Sunshine Village, Kos quickly flashed back more than 25 years to the agency’s first annual fund-raising golf tournament at Tekoa Country Club in Westfield.

“I was a volunteer — I drove the beer cart,” she recalled, adding that she had such a good time, and was so impressed with the agency’s mission and how it was met, that she volunteered again the next year.

And through those experiences, Kos, who was, at the time, working in the banking sector, decided she wanted to get involved at a much higher level.

Indeed, she joined Sunshine Village in a marketing position, and a few years later rose to director. She told BusinessWest that, early on, her focus was on putting the agency on a stronger financial footing and enabling it to operate more like a business, or a nonprofit business, to be precise.

Kori Cox, a participant in Sunshine Village’s community-based day services, describes herself as an ambassador committed to generating positive thinking.

Kori Cox, a participant in Sunshine Village’s community-based day services, describes herself as an ambassador committed to generating positive thinking.

“When I came here, people in the human-services world didn’t talk about money,” she noted. “But I said, ‘you need to talk about money.’ And today, I think a lot of organizations follow Sunshine Village’s path of talking about money and acting like a business; in order to achieve your mission, you need to have a solid financial base.”

And while that work continues, she said the primary assignment for the team at Sunshine Village has been to continue a 50-year process of evolution and refinement in order to better meet the needs of those the agency serves and create more of those great days.

This is a broad constituency, individuals 22 and over, for the most part, who have one of many types of development disabilities, including, and increasingly, those on the autism spectrum.

To fully understand this evolutionary process, it’s best to start at the beginning, when a small group of parents of children with developmental disabilities set on a course that would change lives for decades to come.

“These parents were told by their physicians, their lawyers, their families, and friends that they needed to put their children into an institution — either Belchertown State School or the Monson Developmental Center,” she said, adding that they had a different, considerably better idea.

“These families were pretty radical at that time — this was the mid-’60s — and they said, ‘no, institutions are not for us; we’re going to keep our children at home with us,’” she went on. “But they also realized that the resources to help them raise their children weren’t there; they couldn’t go through the school system, and just bringing their kids to nursery schools and the local playground didn’t feel right 50 years ago.”

So this group of parents, under the leadership of Joseph Casey, owner of Casey Chevrolet, who had a young daughter with a developmental disability, started a group called Friends of the Retarded Children and set about creating an organization that would become what Sunshine Village is today.

On land donated by the city and local sportsmen’s club, and with money raised through an involved grassroots effort, a playground and the first building (eventually named after Casey) were built and opened in the spring of 1967.

In its early years, the agency served children, said Kos, noting that it had a nursery school and recreational facilities that reflected playgrounds of that era. As those original participants grew older, the roster of programs evolved accordingly, including the addition of employment services as well as a skills center for those who wanted to work, but needed the skills to do so.

It Takes a Village

Today, Sunshine Village, which has a $13 million annual operating budget, serves roughly 450 adults with developmental disabilities across Western Mass. Many stay with the agency for years or decades, and one participant in its programs recently turned 86.

In addition to its facility in Chicopee, there are other locations in Springfield, Three Rivers, and Westfield, added over the years to bring participants closer to the services being offered.

Day programs provided by the agency cover a broad spectrum. They include:

• Community Engagement Services, also known as community-based day services, or CBDS, which offer individuals activities promoting wellness, recreation, community engagement, technology, self-advocacy, and personal development;

• Contemporary Life Engagement Services, a highly structured program specifically designed to support individuals on the autism spectrum. This is a medically based day ‘habilitation’ program with services augmented with clinical supports as necessary, including speech and language, physical, and occupational therapies, and access to a board-certified behavior analyst;

• Traditional Life Engagement Services, a medically based day habilitation program focused on building functional life skills, including social, communication, personal wellness, and independent living; and

• Employment Services, which support participants in obtaining a job or working as a member of a supervised team. It does this through placement services, and also through Village Works, an agency-owned business located just off exit 6 of the Turnpike, as well as Westover Maintenance Systems, a commercial cleaning company operated by Sunshine Village, which, as noted, provides maintenance services for all the buildings and hangars at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Over the years, and on an ongoing basis, the programming at the Village evolves to meet changing needs within society and area school departments and their special-education divisions, said Kos.

“Over the years, we’ve offered different kinds of services — residential services, shared-living services, different kinds of day and employment services — but we’ve always remained true to our mission,” she told BusinessWest. “And that is to serve people with disabilities and to serve them regardless of the level of disability; we’ve served people that other organizations can’t and won’t serve.”

As one example of this evolutionary process, she noted additions and changes undertaken to meet the dramatic rise in the number of individuals on the autism spectrum.

“There are a lot more people graduating from area high schools who are on the autism spectrum,” she explained, adding that the reasons for this are not fully known. “And on the autism spectrum, 40% of the individuals also have an intellectual disability, meaning their IQ is less than 71.

“And one of the things we’re doing at Sunshine Village is redefining and redesigning our services so that we’re able to meet the needs and support people on the autism spectrum who do not have intellectual disabilities,” she went on, “because that is a growing need in the community.”

Denise Simpkins and Bill Denard have been working at Westover Air Reserve Base for several years now through Sunshine Village’s employment-services arm.

Denise Simpkins and Bill Denard have been working at Westover Air Reserve Base for several years now through Sunshine Village’s employment-services arm.

It’s also an example of how the agency is constantly listening to the constituencies it serves when they’re asked about needs and concerns — and responding to what it hears.

These traits have certainly benefited the agency as it works toward that goal of being a provider of choice, said Kos, adding that the same is true when it comes to being an employer of choice.

Elaborating, she said the competition for talent in the nonprofit sector is considerable, and Sunshine Village looks to stand out in this regard by working hard to enable employees to shine as well as those they serve.

“We see our employees as our best asset, and we invest a lot of money in training, recognizing, and thanking them,” she said of her team of more than 250.

Shining Examples

Kos said the official 50th anniversary date for the agency was in April of this year, and in many respects it has been a year-long celebration.

There was a dinner for employees last spring, several outreach events, and a community celebration in September, called, appropriately enough, the ‘Great Days Gala,’ that was attended by more than 250 people.

But in most all ways, Sunshine Village has been celebrating 50 years by doing more of what it’s been doing for 50 years — enabling people with developmental disabilities to shine.

And as BusinessWest talked with some of the clients served by the agency, it became clear that there are many ways for that verb to manifest itself.

For Jonathon Scytkowski, a participant in the CBDS programs who came to Sunshine Village in 2015, there are several components to his great days. He works at the Trading Post, cleaning floors, taking out the recyclables, and other duties. Meanwhile, he also volunteers at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and other nonprofits, and takes visits to the libraries in Chicopee and South Hadley and area malls.

Add it all up, and he’s busy, active, and, most importantly, involved.

“I like volunteering — at the Food Bank I do a lot of volunteering putting food in boxes for those who need it,” he told BusinessWest, noting, like Recor did, that working is important on many levels, from making money to having a sense of purpose.

Those sentiments were echoed by Denise Simpkins and Bill Debord, who have both worked at Westover, through Sunshine Village, for several years.

In fact, for Debord, it’s been almost 30 years, long enough to see a number of personnel come and go, but also long enough to feel like he’s part of that important operation.

“I really like working there — you feel like you’re part of the family,” he said, adding that he knows people by name, and vice versa.

As for Simpkins, who has been doing it for 12 years, she likes the work, the pay, and especially the perks — like the special occasions where she gets to see the planes close up and take some pictures.

“It’s good to have a job because you get to pay you bills and manage your money,” she told BusinessWest.

Meanwhile, for Kori Cox, another participant in the CBDS program, shining, if you will, takes a different form.

Indeed, as part of initiative called Positive Behavior Supports (PBS), she said she has an important role she described this way. “I do a lot of stuff to try to prevent the Village from being negative.”

Elaborating, she said she made a sign that reads “Positive Attitude, Positive Life,” and she works to encourage others, inside and outside Sunshine Village, to not only read the sign, but live by those words. Specifically, she works diligently to prompt people to stop using the ‘R’ word.

“We remind people that’s not nice to use that word — ever,” she said, adding that her efforts in this regard dovetail nicely with her broader mission.

“I love positivity — it really helps life; there’s no negativity,” said Cox, 24, who described herself as an ambassador, advocate, and peer leader.

As for Recor, well, let’s just say he seems to embody the words on Cox’s sign.

A World of Difference

Sunshine Village still stages a golf tournament every year. In fact, it’s the agency’s most successful fund-raising effort.

Its new, permanent home is Chicopee Country Club — only a drive and a wedge away from the Litwin Drive campus — and Kos no longer drives the beer cart, obviously.

Her role has evolved and grown — as has the agency’s.

But the basic goals are still the same — to create great days and enable those with developmental disabilities to shine, however those words are defined.

Half a century later, Sunshine Village is delivering on those promises.

Just ask Lenny Recor. He’s the guy with a smile on his face — on a Monday morning no less.

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

Employment Sections

Hire Degree of Difficulty

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The region’s staffing industry has always been a solid barometer of the overall economy, and that is certainly true in this economy. Firms report that demand for qualified workers is high, and the pool of talent is small and in some respects shrinking. Meeting the demands of various sectors, firm owners and managers say, requires a mix of persistence, imagination, and, well, hard work.

Andrea Hill-Cataldo calls it the ‘Perm Division.’

That’s ‘perm,’ as in permanent-hire, or direct-hire, work. The venture she founded nearly 20 years ago, Johnson & Hill Staffing Services, has always provided such services. But they didn’t comprise a division of the company, and there weren’t staff members dedicated directly to them.

Until recently.

Indeed, the Perm Division is now staffed, and it is quite busy, said Hill-Cataldo, helping companies secure everything from administrative assistants to CFOs and CEOs. And it’s busy for several reasons.

They include the fact that many businesses, bolstered by a prolonged recovery that shows few if any signs of slowing down and challenged by everything from retiring Baby Boomers to on-the-move Millennials, are hiring. And also the fact that many of them need some help with that hiring.

“When businesses aren’t sure what they want to do, they might go temp or temp-to-hire, or they might just wait and see,” Hill-Cataldo explained, noting that the third option involves trying to get by without filling a vacancy. “But when they’re hiring on a permanent basis right off the bat, they’re pretty confident, and they know they need that position filled.”

The creation and consistent growth of Johnson & Hill’s Perm Division — and the reasons for both — are clear examples of how the staffing industry, as it’s called, is an effective economic indicator in its own right, and also how its operations essentially reflect, as a mirror would, what is happening with the local economy.

Andrea Hill-Cataldo

Andrea Hill-Cataldo says her company is meeting client clients and creating effective matches — but it is has never had to work harder to do so.

Discussions with Hill-Cataldo and others in this sector reveal that they are busy virtually across the board, meaning nearly all sectors of the economy; that they are handling increasing volumes of work in temp-to-hire and permanent hiring scenarios; and that they are becoming increasingly challenged when it comes to meeting the needs of their clients for qualified, motivated workers.

“Our work becomes more difficult as the pool of candidates gets smaller,” said Jennifer Brown, a certified staffing professional and vice president of Business Development at Springfield-based United Personnel, noting that, despite these challenges, the firm is meeting growing client needs across two main divisions — manufacturing and ‘professional’ positions.

All these developments reflect what is happening regionally, where companies are reasonably confident, need qualified help, and are having trouble finding it. And also where workers are equally confident, not shy about moving on to different challenges seemingly every few years, and are doing so in huge numbers, leaving their employers with the task of somehow replacing them, a situation that will certainly be exacerbated as MGM Springfield goes about filling roughly 3,000 positions over the next 10 months or so.

They also reflect the unemployment numbers and what’s behind them. This area’s jobless rate is higher than the state’s and the nation’s, which might sound beneficial for staffing agencies. But observers say it’s higher for a reason — most of those out of work lack many of the skills (technical and ‘people’ skills alike) to attain work.

The mirror-like quality of the staffing industry even extends to the broad realm of technology.

Jackie Fallon, president of Springfield-based FIT Staffing, which specializes in finding IT personnel for clients large and small, said a growing number of clients want and often desperately need individuals to collect and mine data, keep their systems safe from hackers, and enable computers (and therefore people) to continue working.

But in addition to now knowing how to find and evaluate good candidates (one big reason FIT is extremely busy these days), they are often surprised by and put off by the sticker price of such qualified individuals. They often want help at lower wages than what the market is often dictating, thereby adding a degree of difficulty to the search process.

“Think about a small manufacturer,” said Fallon while offering an example of what she’s running into. “Someone running a plant doesn’t want to pay an IT guy more than he or she is paying the plant manager. But that’s what the market is like out there; that’s what people are getting, and it’s creating challenges for companies.”

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked at length with several staffing-agency executives about what they’re seeing, hearing, and doing, and how all of that reflects the bigger picture that is the region’s economy.

Getting the Job Done

Hill-Cataldo was asked about how challenging it is to meet the needs of various clients and whether she was, in fact, able to keep up with demand. And with her answer, she probably spoke for not only everyone in her specific sector, but almost every business owner in Western Mass.

“It’s much more challenging to find qualified candidates than it probably ever has been, and I’ve been doing it for 25 years,” she explained. “We’ve never had to work this hard to get the right people; we’re getting them, but we’re just putting tremendous amounts of resources into doing that, and more hours. We have to work very hard.”

Jackie Fallon

Jackie Fallon says the need for data and security specialists continues to soar, making her company extremely busy.

Brown and Fallon used similar language, by and large, and collectively, their words speak volumes about the employment situation and this particular cycle that the region and its staffing agencies find themselves in.

And like all businesses, staffing firms see life change considerably with those cycles.

When times are worse, or much worse, as they were during and just after the Great Recession a decade ago, there are large numbers of skilled people looking for work. The problem is, there isn’t much of it to be had as companies, out of necessity, make do with fewer bodies.

During such cycles, more hiring is done on both a temporary and temp-to-hire basis (providing some work for agencies) because companies generally lack the confidence to bring people on permanently.

When times are better, of course, the situation is reversed. There are more positions to fill as companies staff back up, but fewer qualified individuals to fill them. There are still large amounts of temp-to-hire work because companies generally want to try before they buy (and with good reason), but also considerably more permanent hiring, hence Johnson & Hill’s Perm Division.

If it sounds like there are no easy times for staffing agencies, that’s about how it is, although these would obviously be considered better times, or even, for some, the best of times.

“Technology is always in high demand because everyone needs it,” said Fallon. “We’re really busy; we had our best year ever last year, and this year, we’re continuing that trend.”

Both United and Johnson & Hill are also having a very solid year, continuing a recent run of them, and for a variety of reasons that have to do with the economy and a changing environment when it comes to the process of hiring.

Elaborating, Hill said busy managers often lack the time to recruit and interview candidates. Meanwhile, others aren’t fully up on the methods required to reach younger audiences and assemble a strong pool of candidates. Thus, they’re leaving it to the experts.

“The way companies recruit now has become so complex that, if you don’t need to hire on a large scale, you don’t have the time to invest in social-media campaigns and all the things you need to do to build that pipeline of people coming into your organization,” she explained. “That’s what we do all day; we’re building a pipeline of people for the positions we need to fill. That makes it cost-effective for us, and far less so for small companies that can just offload the whole process.”

Brown agreed, and said this helps explain why United’s Professional Division, as it’s called, is quite busy. But there are other factors, and they include the fact that, in most all respects, the market has shifted in favor of the employees and job seekers, who, like employers, have large amounts of confidence.

“With this economy, there are opportunities,” she explained. “People aren’t fearful about moving from one company to another, whether they want to enhance their skill set to get ready for the next step or relocate, or just earn more money.”

Meanwhile, larger numbers of Baby Boomers are making the decision to retire, leaving companies with the often-challenging task of replacing long-time, valued employees.

Pipeline Projects

In this environment, where agencies have to commit more time, energy, and financial resources to the task of creating solid matches (that’s the operative word in this industry), staffing work requires persistence, resourcefulness, imagination, and often working with partners to help individuals gain the skills needed to enter the workplace and succeed there.

“Before, it might take a few days to find someone; now, it might take a few weeks,” said Hill-Cataldo, as she addressed that persistence part of the equation. “Searches are more difficult and time-consuming.”

Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown says the key to making successful matches is to fully understand a company’s culture, and finding individuals who can thrive in that environment.

Brown agreed, but stressed that, while the work is harder and it takes longer, there can be no shortcuts, because a firm can only succeed in this business if client needs are met — that is, if successful matches can be made.

And one key to accomplishing this is understanding not only a firm’s needs, but its culture, and then essentially working in partnership with the client to create what all parties concerned would consider a proverbial good hire.

“We need to make sure that the candidate we’re seeking aligns with what the client is looking to fulfill with the position,” Brown told BusinessWest, adding that this often goes beyond expected technical skill sets and into the realms of teamwork and company culture.

And with both sides of that equation, United is devoting time and resources to many forms of workforce development to help provide candidates with needed skills, she said.

As an example, she said the firm works with Goodwill Industries to present a training program to assist individuals with acquiring the essential skills to succeed in the workplace today.

“We need to make sure that the candidate’s character aligns with what the company is looking for, but also their competency as well,” she explained, adding that this is both an art and a science.

All of these traits are also needed within the broad spectrum of technology, said Fallon, adding that this has proven to be a lucrative, yet still challenging niche for the agency because, as she noted, technology is a critical component in every company’s success quotient, and also because the needs within this realm continue to grow.

This is especially true on the data side of the equation, as evidenced by growing use of the acronym DBA, which still stands for ‘doing business as,’ but increasingly, it also stands for ‘database administrator.’

“These are individuals in high demand,” said Fallon. “Data is a company’s goldmine; they need to protect it, and they need to make sure it’s running smoothly.”

Likewise, system security specialists are in equally high demand, said Fallon, adding that such professionals can and usually do demand a six-figure salary, a number that causes sticker shock in this region, which further complicates that aforementioned process of creating solid matches for both temp-to-hire and, increasingly, permanent-hire scenarios.

Matters are even further complicated by the fact that, increasingly, IT specialists can work remotely, which makes competition for them regional if not national or even international in scope.

“Someone can live here, work for a company in Boston, and maybe go into Boston once a week or maybe even less,” she explained, adding that firms in urban areas not only understand this, but they are generally less intimidated by the salaries such individuals are commanding.

The lesson companies can take from this is to be flexible and, when possible, allow people to work remotely, said Fallon, adding that, for various reasons, including an unwillingness, or inability, to meet those six-figure salaries, FIT has to cast an extremely wide net in its efforts to make matches.

“It’s easier for us to find someone from the Midwest to come here than it is someone from Boston — unless they were originally from this area,” she explained. “There’s more opportunity in Boston and places like it; if something doesn’t work out, they can walk down the street and find something else.”

Body of Work

While there are opportunities for staffing agencies during virtually all economic cycles, it is times like these when firms are particularly busy and when, like FIT, they are likely to record that proverbial ‘best year ever.’

But, as Hill-Cataldo noted, the rewards don’t come easy, and firms like hers must work harder than ever to not only meet the needs of clients, but exceed them.

In this respect, and many others, the staffing industry is reflecting the bigger picture and the economy of this region.

In other words, it’s a work in progress — in all kinds of ways.

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

Law Sections

The Big Picture

businessmansilhouetteartWhile large in scale and scope, the unfolding Harvey Weinstein story nonetheless offers invaluable lessons to employers in every sector about their responsibilities and the steps they must take to protect their employees and themselves. That’s the main takeaway from this matter, according to several employment-law attorneys, who note that the main objective should be zero tolerance.

Kathryn Crouss says that, in many respects, the Harvey Weinsten story — three words that cover a lot of territory, to be sure — is outwardly extraordinary in several respects.

Starting with the individual at the center of it all.

He was (the tense is important here, so please note it) not only the leader of the company in question — Miramax and then the Weinstein Company — but an executive who seemingly had the ability to alternately make or break a career depending on his disposition at a given moment.

Also extraordinary was the extent of the allegations lodged against him by a growing number of women — from random, or not-so-random, as the case may be, acts of sexual harassment all the way up to rape. (Weinstein adamantly denies the latter.)

Other manners in which ‘extraordinary’ fits include everything from the number of alleged victims of harassment (or worse), to the number of people who evidently shirked their responsibilities in this matter (from other officials at the company to board members), to how long it took for this story to break. Indeed, several reporters have come forward to say their efforts to uncover allegations against Weinstein were thwarted for years by everything from alleged victims’ refusal to talk to heavy-handed threats of litigation from Weinstein and his lawyers.

But when you slice through all that, ‘extraordinary’ might not be the most effective adjective after all, said Crouss, an employment-law specialist and associate with the Springfield-based firm Bacon Wilson. She told BusinessWest that, in many respects, what happened at the Weinstein Company still goes on at firms that are exponentially smaller and with individuals who might lack the star power of actresses like Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow, but who nonetheless have the same basic rights.

Kathryn Crouss

Kathryn Crouss

“I’m glad all this has come out, because we really do have to have this conversation,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s not only in Hollywood, it’s everywhere, and this is a good opportunity to have the discussion.”

Specifically, she was referring to sexual harassment in its two most basic and legally identified forms — the presence of what’s known as a “hostile work environment,” and also the quid pro quo variety, where one individual promises something in exchange for something else.

They both go on at companies and institutions large and small and across all sectors of the economy, said Crouss, basing those remarks simply on how much time she’s spent in court and in clients’ boardrooms handling such matters.

Amelia Holstrom, an associate with Springfield-based Skoler, Abbott & Presser, agreed.

Amelia Holstrom

Amelia Holstrom

“Sexual-harassment cases are on the rise, and, more importantly, retaliation cases have increased from 18,000 in 1997 to 42,000 in 2016,” she said, adding that some of those harassment cases involve individuals who reported sexual harassment and allege that some action was taken against them as a result of their complaint.

Thus, the Weinstein story serves up some important lessons, or a wake-up call, if you will, said Crouss and others we spoke with, about employers’ responsibilities under the law, and what is really necessary to keep them from running afoul of those laws.

In short, while the law requires companies with six or more employees to have a formal sexual-harassment policy on the books — meaning in the handbook — having a policy on paper is only the starting point.

Peter Vickery, an employment-law specialist based in Amherst, said employers should be diligent about making employees aware of the policy, provide training to workers at all levels in recognizing and avoiding sexual harassment, and follow through on everything in the policy.

Peter Vickery

Peter Vickery

“When they receive complaints, they have to investigate them immediately, or as promptly as possible, and follow up,” said Vickery as he listed clear takeaways from the Weinstein saga. “And whatever they do, under no circumstances should they retaliate against the employee who brought the complaint. Also, depending on what their investigation uncovers, take remedial action.

“What the Weinstein case is showing is that a lot of powerful people chose not to protect Weinstein’s victims; they had a choice, they were employers, they knew that this was going on, and they chose to do the wrong thing,” he went on. “They chose not just to turn a blind eye, but to become complicit and to be his enabler. It looks like a lot of powerful people chose to put their employees in harm’s way.”

For this issue’s focus on law, BusinessWest looks at the Weinstein case and, more specifically, what employers should take from it.

Action! Items

Getting back to the Weinstein story and that word ‘extraordinary,’ it would also apply to the price that Weinstein and his company will be paying for all that transpired over the past few decades.

Indeed, Weinstein the man and Weinstein the company name would both appear to be highly radioactive at this point and with very uncertain futures. The same can be said for other officials at the company, including Harvey’s brother, Bob. There will likely be criminal charges filed and enormous penalties to pay.

Again, extraordinary. But the price to be paid by small-business owners and managers who run afoul of sexual-harassment laws are equally significant, at least when adjusted for scale.

“There can be damages for back pay if someone lost their job or quit,” Holstrom explained. “There can be damages for emotional distress, which is common in these cases and can range from $50,000 to one I’ve seen at $500,000. There can also be punitive damages, attorney’s fees, the other side’s attorney’s … the list goes on.”

So how do employers protect themselves and their businesses from paying such penalties? The simple answer, said those we spoke with, is by taking the matter seriously, or very seriously, as the case may be.

Most already do, said Holstrom, but the rising number of sexual-harassment and retaliation claims would seem to indicate they’re not taking it seriously enough.

Or, to put it another way, they’re not taking a ‘zero-tolerance’ stance on the matter, a phrase used by all those we spoke with.

There is much that goes into zero tolerance, as we’ll see, starting with the need to go well beyond placing a sexual-harassment policy in the company handbook. Additional steps could and should include yearly training, said Crouss, noting, for example, that this takes place at her firm.

Beyond training, employers looking to protect their interests must take each complaint, investigate it thoroughly, and, when there is harassment between co-workers, take steps to stop it, said Holstrom, adding that when the matter involves a supervisor harassing a co-worker, the employer is automatically liable. And while she acknowledged that ‘thoroughly’ is a subjective term, she said objectivity is required, and she had her own advice for clients on such matters.

“They have to meet with the accuser and get all the facts from that person,” she explained. “And then, they have to meet with the accused and gather information from that individual. And then, they have to meet with any witnesses that are identified by the accused, the accuser, or anyone else. And then, they have to follow up if necessary.

“And then, the employer, using some common-sense principles and some evidence, decide who they believe,” she went on, adding that this is sometimes, if not often, an inexact science.

Beyond acting ‘thoroughly,’ however it might be defined, companies must also act consistently, said Crouss, meaning that all cases are investigated and handled with equal vigor, regardless of who is accused of harassment.

That includes women; top officials at a company, up to and including those who might have the names over the door and on the stationary; and the proverbial ‘golden boy or girl’ — a top producer, for example, or a popular employee, or even someone who has been around a long time and is generally well-respected.

Creating an environment where employees feel they can lodge warranted complaints against anyone and they will be taken seriously and acted upon is inherently difficult, she went on, but this should be the goal for all employers; otherwise, complaints can and will go unreported, as they were in Weinstein’s case.

“What happens if it’s the golden boy?” she asked rhetorically. “This is someone the rest of the company values and likes, but this is going on behind the scenes. The harassed employee is likely to think, ‘they’re never going to come after so and so.’”

One of the most troubling aspects of the Weinstein case, Crouss said, is the alleged perpetrator himself, the boss and power broker, a situation that, in some respects, goes a long way toward explaining why harassment still takes place.

“Those women didn’t feel supported or safe in reporting it,” she said of the Weinstein allegations. “And I think the reason in this case, and in so many cases, why these types of things are able to go on as long as long as they are is because women either don’t understand what’s happened or don’t define it in their heads as sexual harassment, or don’t feel safe in their own jobs and their own employment reporting it.”

And this is why, she went on, at the grassroots level on up, it’s important for employers to be proactive and very clear about just what sexual harassment is and what employees can and must do if they believe they are victims of it.

Cast of Thousands

Zero tolerance and protecting a company and its leadership also means knowing, fully understanding, and taking steps to prevent (through training and other measures) those two main types of sexual harassment mentioned earlier.

The first is the presence of a hostile work environment, which, said Holstrom by way of offering the legal definition, “is unwanted or unwelcome conduct focused on or because of an individual’s protected class that unreasonably interferes with job performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

“Typically, someone must prove that she or he was subject to unwelcome/unwanted, verbal/non-verbal communication or action that was severe and pervasive enough to alter the terms and conditions of employment,” she went on, adding that, in sexual-harassment cases, examples of such conduct or actions include sexual advances, touching, and sexual jokes.

‘Hostile’ is another one of those words that seems laden with subjectivity, and in some respects it is, said Holstrom, who takes this approach on the matter:

“What I always tell my clients is that, when they do these investigations, they’re not necessarily making a legal determination about whether it would constitute a hostile-environment claim to a jury or another decision maker,” she explained. “I tell them, ‘you’re looking at whether it violates your policy and whether it belongs in your workplace.’”

Vickery agreed, and noted that employers should be mindful of the fact that hostile-work-environment claims can, and often are, lodged by those not being directly harassed but who are nonetheless working — or trying to work — in the same environment.

“They also have the right to be free from a hostile work environment,” he noted. “So they can file claims as well.”

As for quid pro quo harassment (the term comes from the Latin and means “this for that”), it occurs when submission to or rejection of conduct is used as the basis for an employment decision, said Holstrom.

“Examples include a supervisor promising an employee a raise if she goes on a date with him,” she noted, “and a supervisor giving an employee a negative performance review because he refused to go on a date with her.”

But safeguarding a company from trouble with regard to sexual harassment extends beyond the walls of a company, said Vickery, adding that this is another possible lesson from the Weinstein story.

Indeed, he said employers must be diligent about protecting employees from what’s known as third-party harassment, that committed by vendors, customers, and other parties employees might interact with.

The key in such matters is employers “sending employees into harm’s way,” said Vickery, meaning that a supervisor likely knows harassment is possible or even likely, and sends the employee into that environment anyway.

“A company’s policy should make it clear that employees can and must report sexual harassment by third parties,” he explained, “because that sexual harassment by a third party, if it occurs in the context of an employee’s job, can be a claim of hostile work environment. So employers need to be mindful of that to possibly avoid liability.”

Roll the Credits

As extraordinary as the Weinstein case is, and despite the fact that it will be in the news for quite some time, this story, like so many others that came before it, has the potential to fade from memory, or fade to black, as they say in the film industry.

Employers can’t afford to let that happen, in any sense of that phrase, said the lawyers we spoke with.

They should acknowledge that this case represents extremes in many, if not all, aspects of sexual harassment and the prices to be paid for such transgressions. But they should also understand that it also represents the basics.

And that there are important lessons to learn and remember.

 

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

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, in partnership with Springfield Technical Community College and Training & Workforce Options, are piloting a Metrology & CNC Foundations training program.

This eight-week, 160-hour, advanced-manufacturing training program, which started on Sept. 25, is training 12 laid-off workers in manufacturing skills in quality control utilizing micrometers, calipers, and coordinate measurement machinery. In addition, trainees will receive training in blueprint reading, shop mathematics, ISO 9001 and AS9100 quality systems, and basic CNC setup and operations.

The goal of this program is to provide the trainees with manufacturing skills that are in high demand with manufacturing employers and to place them in into on-the-job training opportunities. Future programs will be based on employer response to this pilot training program.

Opinion

Opinion

By Michael Rudman

One of the most highly anticipated changes with the transition in Washington from one political party to another involves the makeup of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Once known exclusively for its oversight of unionized workplaces, the agency has in recent years expanded its scope to include decisions and actions favoring unions and people trying to organize unions.

Traditionally, the board is composed of five members, three of which, including the chair, are from the president’s party, and two from the opposition party. Political fights over the years have led to nominees not being confirmed for long periods of time, leaving the board without a majority or sometimes without even a working quorum.

With Senate action this summer, the NLRB now has two Republicans and two Democrats. The status of the president’s final nominee is currently on hold within the Senate confirmation process, with no firm date for a vote. Given the likely tie vote on contentious matters until the final board member is approved, employers can expect that existing case law and precedents established over the past administration will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.

Does the NLRB matter now that there is a Republican administration? The answer is yes. NLRB still has a great deal of power in shaping some aspects of the American workplace. Employers must still be cautious about running afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) if they engage in unfair labor practices.

To help minimize the risk of getting in trouble anytime an employer may be dealing with a union organizing drive, it is handy to remember the acronym TIPS. It serves as a reminder that, when an employer has a union or is facing a union drive, mistakes can be costly.

• An employer may not THREATEN employees with reprisals or other negative actions for discussing, supporting, or voting for a union. An employer may not threaten to close or relocate a business in the face of union activity.

• An employer may not INTERROGATE an employee about union activity, discussions, meetings, or any other events or activities relating to a union.

• An employer may not PROMISE rewards, different working conditions, new benefits, or other changes in status, compensation or employment in an attempt to discourage an employee from considering a union.

• An employer may not SPY on employees or union organizers for the purposes of gaining insight into union sympathizers, union promises, union activities, and the like. An employer cannot request or require an employee to act on the employer’s behalf in monitoring or reporting on union activities.

Michael Rudman is senior director at Associated Industries of Massachusetts. This article first appeared on the AIM blog.

Cover Story Sections Super 60

Saluting Success

super60logoA large technology company that has been a fixture in Western Mass. for decades and a craft-beer startup that has quickly shot from obscurity to a large cult following may boast very different histories, but they have one thing in common: they are the top honorees in this year’s Super 60 awards.

“The success of this year’s winners is a clear indication that our regional economy is strong and reflects the diverse nature of our industries,” said Nancy Creed, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber, which is presenting the Super 60 honors for the 28th year. A celebration event honoring this year’s class will be held Friday, Oct. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam.

Whalley Computer Associates Inc. of Southwick placed atop this year’s Total Revenue listing, followed by Marcotte Ford Sales Inc. of Holyoke and Commercial Distributing Co. Inc. of Westfield. In the Revenue Growth category, which recognizes the fastest-growing firms in the region, Tree House Brewing of Charlton tops the 2017 list, followed by Five Star Transportation Inc. of Southwick and LavishlyHip, LLC, an online outfit based in Feeding Hills.

“In just two short years of operation, Tree House Brewing, Inc., has moved straight to the top of the Revenue Growth category in its first year as a Super 60 winner,” she said.  “And LavishlyHip, an online retailer that garnered the top honors last year has returned in the top three this year.”

To be considered, companies must be based in Hampden or Hampshire counties or be a member of the Springfield Regional Chamber, have revenues of at least $1 million in the last fiscal year, be an independent and privately owned company, and be in business at least three full years. Companies are selected based on their percentage of revenue growth over a full three-year period or total revenues for the latest fiscal year.

Creed noted that this year’s winners hail from 17 communities across the region and represent all sectors of the economy, including nonprofits, transportation, energy, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, retail, and service. One-quarter of the Total Revenue winners exceeded $30 million in revenues. In the Revenue Growth category, one-quarter of the top 30 companies had growth in excess of 100%.

Four companies in the Total Revenue category also qualified for the Revenue Growth category, while 15 companies in the Revenue Growth category also qualified for the Total Revenue category, although each honoree is listed in only one category.

Tickets to the Oct. 27 event cost $60 for chamber members, $75 for general admission. Reservations may be made for tables of eight or 10. The deadline for reservations is Wednesday, Oct. 18. No cancellations will be accepted after that date, and no walk-ins will be allowed. Reservations must be made in writing, either online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by e-mail to [email protected].

Total Revenue

1. Whalley Computer Associates Inc.
One Whalley Way, Southwick
(413) 569-4200
www.wca.com
John Whalley, president
WCA is a locally owned family business that has evolved from a hardware resale and service group in the ’70s and ’80s into a company that now focuses on lowering the total cost of technology and productivity enhancement for its customers. Boasting nearly 150 employees, Whalley carries name-brand computers as well as low-cost compatibles.

2. Marcotte Ford Sales Inc.
1025 Main St., Holyoke
(800) 923-9810
www.marcotteford.com
Bryan Marcotte, president
The dealership sells new Ford vehicles as well as pre-owned cars, trucks, and SUVs, and features a full service department. Marcotte has achieved the President’s Award, one of the most prestigious honors given to dealerships by Ford Motor Co., on multiple occasions over the past decade. It also operates the Marcotte Commercial Truck Center.

3. Commercial         Distributing Co. Inc.
46 South Broad St., Westfield
(413) 562-9691
www.commercialdist.com
Richard Placek, Chairman
Founded in 1935 by Joseph Placek, Commercial Distributing Co. is a family-owned, family-operated business servicing more than 1,000 bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as more than 400 package and liquor stores. Now in its third generation, the company continues to grow by building brands and offering new products as the market changes.
A.G. Miller Co. Inc.
57 Batavia St., Springfield
(413) 732-9297
www.agmiller.com
Rick Miller, president
Early in its history, A.G. Miller made a name in automobile enameling. More than 100 years after its founding in 1914, the company now offers precision metal fabrication; design and engineering; assembly; forming, rolling, and bending; laser cutting; punching; precision saw cutting; welding; powder coating and liquid painting; and more.

Aegenco Inc.
55 Jackson St., Springfield
(413) 746-3242
www.aegisenergyservices.com
Spiro Vardakas, president
Aegenco, an energy-conservation consulting firm and the manufacturing arm of Aegis Energy Services, has grown steadily since its inception in 2005.

Aegis Energy Services Inc.
55 Jackson St., Holyoke
(800) 373-3411
www.aegischp.com
Lee Vardakas, owner
Founded in 1985, Aegis Energy Services is a turn-key, full-service provider of combined heat and power systems (CHPs) that generate heat and electricity using clean, efficient, natural-gas-powered engines. These modular CHP systems reduce a facility’s dependence on expensive utility power, reduce energy costs, and reduce one’s carbon footprint.

Baltazar Contractors Inc.
83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow
(413) 583-6160
www.baltazarcontractors.com
Frank Baltazar, president
Baltazar Contractors has been a family-owned and operated construction firm for more than 20 years, specializing in roadway construction and reconstruction in Massachusetts and Connecticut; all aspects of site-development work; sewer, water, storm, and utilities; and streetscape improvements.

Braman Pest
147 Almgren Dr., Agawam
(413) 732-9009
www.bramanpest.com
Gerald Lazarus, president
Braman has been serving New England since 1890, using state-of-the-art pest-elimination procedures for commercial and residential customers, and offering humane removal of birds, bats, and other nuisances through its wildlife division. The company has offices in Agawam, Worcester, and Lee, as well as Hartford and New Haven, Conn.

City Enterprises Inc.
38 Berkshire Ave., Springfield
(413) 726-9549
www.cityenterpriseinc.com
Wonderlyn Murphy, president
City Enterprises Inc. offers skilled general-contracting services to the New England region. Priding itself on custom design and construction of affordable, quality homes and the infrastructure surrounding them, the firm executes its mission in a way that supports community empowerment through job opportunities and professional development.

filli, lcc d/b/a con-test                                     analytical laboratory
39 Spruce St., East Longmeadow
(413) 525-2332
www.contestlabs.com
THOMAS VERATTI SR., FOUNDER
Established in 1984, Con-Test provides environmental consulting and testing services to clients throughout Western Mass. The laboratory-testing division originally focused on industrial hygiene analysis, but expanded to include techniques in air analysis, classical (wet) chemistry, metals, and organics, analyzing water, air, soil, and solid materials.

EG Partners, LLC d/b/a Oasis Shower Doors
646 Springfield St., Feeding Hills
(413) 786-8420
www.oasisshowerdoors.com
tom daly, President
Oasis Shower Doors, New England’s largest designer, fabricator, and installer of custom frameless glass shower enclosures and specialty glass, has rapidly expanded its operations in recent years, with showrooms located at Feeding Hills, Weymouth, and Peabody, Mass., as well as Avon, Conn.

Fuel Services Inc.
95 Main St., South Hadley
(413) 532-3500
www.fuelservices.biz
Steve Chase, President and CEO
Full-service home-comfort and energy-solutions firm offering heating oil and propane delivery; plumbing, air-conditioning, and natural-gas services; installation of heating, cooling, water, and indoor-air-quality equipment; and more. The company serves more than 30 communities in Western Mass. and provides 24-hour emergency service.

The Futures Health Group, LLC
136 William St., Springfield
(800) 218-9280
www.discoverfutures.com
Brian Edwards, CEO
Futures provides occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language therapy, special education, nursing, mental health, and other related services to schools and healthcare facilities across the U.S. Founded in 1998, it continues to be managed by expert practitioners in their fields.

The Gaudreau Group
1984 Boston Road, Wilbraham
(413) 543-3534
www.gaudreaugroup.com
Jules Gaudreau, president
A multi-line insurance and financial-service agency established in 1921, the Gaudreau Group helps clients respond to an ever-changing economic environment. The agency offers a broad range of insurance and financial products from basic life, home, and auto insurance to complex corporate services, employee benefits, and retirement plans.

Haluch Water Contracting Inc.
399 Fuller St, Ludlow
(413) 589-1254
Thomas Haluch, president
For more than 30 years, Haluch Water Contracting has served the region as a water-main construction and excavation contractor specializing in water, sewer, pipeline, communications, and power-line construction.

JET Industries Inc.
307 Silver St., Agawam
(413) 786-2010
www.jet.industries
Michael Turrini, president
Jet Industries Inc. is a leading design build electrical, mechanical, communications and fire sprinkler contractor. What began as a small, family-run oil company founded by Aaron Zeeb in 1977 has grown into one of the nation’s largest companies of its type with over 500 employees servicing projects all across the country.

Kittredge Equipment Co. Inc.
100 Bowles Road, Agawam
(413) 304-4100
www.kittredgeequipment.com
Wendy Webber, president
Founded in 1921, Kittredge Equipment Co.is one of the nation’s leading food-service equipment and supply businesses. It boasts 70,000 square feet of showroom in three locations. The company also handles design services, and has designed everything from small restaurants to country clubs to in-plant cafeterias.

Lancer Transportation & Logistics and Sulco Warehousing & Logistics
311 Industry Ave., Springfield
(413) 739-4880
www.sulco-lancer.com
Todd Goodrich, president
In business since 1979, Sulco Warehousing & Logistics specializes in public, contract, and dedicated warehousing. Lancer Transportation & Logistics is a licensed third-party freight-brokerage company that provides full-service transportation-brokerage services throughout North America.

Louis and Clark Drug Inc.
309 East St., Springfield
(413) 737-7456
www.lcdrug.com
Skip Matthews, president
Since 1965, Louis & Clark has been a recognized name in Western Mass., first as a pharmacy and later as a resource for people who need home medical equipment and supplies. Today, the company provides professional pharmacy and compounding services, medical equipment, independent-living services, and healthcare programs.

Maybury Associates Inc.
90 Denslow Road, East Longmeadow
(413) 525-4216
www.maybury.com
John Maybury, president
Since 1976, Maybury Associates Inc. has been designing, supplying, and servicing all types of material-handling equipment throughout New England. Maybury provides customers in a wide range of industries with solutions to move, lift, and store their parts and products.

Notch Mechanical Constructors
85 Lemay St., Chicopee
(413) 534-3440
www.notch.com
Steven Neveu, president
A family-owned business since 1972, Notch Mechanical Constructors provides piping installation and repair services to facilities throughout southern New England. Its team has the capacity to address process and utility piping challenges at any business within 100 miles of its locations in Chicopee and Hudson, Mass.

O’Connell Care at Home
One Federal St., Bldg. 103-1, Springfield
(413) 533-1030
www.opns.com
Francis O’Connell, president
For more than two decades, O’Connell Care at Home, formerly O’Connell Professional Nurse Service, has grown to deliver a range of home-health and staffing services across the Pioneer Valley. Services range from nursing care and geriatric healthcare management to advocacy and transportation.

PC Enterprises Inc. d/b/a Entre Computer
138 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
(413) 736-2112
www.pc-enterprises.com
Norman Fiedler, CEO
PC Enterprises, d/b/a Entre Computer, assists organizations with procuring, installing, troubleshooting, servicing, and maximizing the value of technology. In business since 1983, it continues to evolve and grow as a lead provider for many businesses, healthcare providers, retailers, and state, local, and education entities.

Rediker Software Inc.
2 Wilbraham Road, Hampden
(800) 213-9860
www.rediker.com
Andrew Anderlonis, president
Rediker software is used by school administrators across the U.S. and in more than 100 countries, and is designed to meet the student-information-management needs of all types of schools and districts. For example, 100,000 teachers use the TeacherPlus web gradebook, and the ParentPlus and StudentPlus web portals boast 2 million users.

Specialty Bolt & Screw Inc.
235 Bowles Road, Agawam
(413) 789-6700
www.specialtybolt.com
Kevin Queenin, president
Founded in 1977, Specialty Bolt & Screw (SBS) is a full-service solutions provider of fasteners, vendor-managed inventory (VMI) programs, and C-class commodities. Based in Agawam, it has locations in Valcourt, Quebec; Juarez, Mexico; Queretaro, Mexico; Rovaniemi, Finland; and Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Troy Industries Inc.
151 Capital Dr., West Springfield
(413) 788-4288
www.troyind.com
Steve Troy, CEO
Troy Industries was founded on the principle of making reliable, innovative, over-engineered products that function without question when lives are on the line. Troy is a leading U.S. government contractor that designs and manufactures innovative, top-quality small-arms components and accessories and complete weapon upgrades.

United Personnel Services Inc.
1331 Main St., Springfield
(413) 736-0800
www.unitedpersonnel.com
Patricia Canavan, president
United provides a full range of staffing services, including temporary staffing and full-time placement, on-site project management, and strategic recruitment in the Springfield, Hartford, and Northampton areas, specializing in administrative, professional, medical, and light-industrial staff.

W.F. Young Inc.
302 Benton Dr., East Longmeadow
(800) 628-9653
www.absorbine.com
Tyler Young, CEO
This family-run business prides itself on offering a variety of high-quality products that can effectively improve the well-being of both people and horses with its Absorbine brands.

Webber & Grinnell Insurance Agency Inc.
8 North King St., #1, Northampton
(413) 586-0111
www.webberandgrinnell.com
Bill Grinnell, president
Webber and Grinnell’s roots can be traced back to 1849, when A.W. Thayer opened an insurance agency on Pleasant Street in Northampton. The agency, which offers automotive, business, homeowners, employee benefit, and other types of products, serves more than 5,000 households and 900 businesses throughout Western Mass.

WestMass ElderCare Inc.
4 Valley Mill Road, Holyoke
(413) 538-9020
www.wmeldercare.org
Priscilla Chalmers, Executive Director
WestMass ElderCare is a private, nonprofit agency with a mission to preserve the dignity, independence, and quality of life of elders and disabled persons desiring to remain within their own community. Programs include supportive housing, home care, options counseling, adult family care, nutrition programs, and adult foster care.

Revenue Growth

1. Tree House Brewing Company Inc.
129 Sturbridge Road, Charlton
(413) 523-2367
www.treehousebrew.com
Nate Lanier, Damien Goudreau, Dean Rohan, Owners
The opening of a 45,000-square-foot facility in Charlton speaks to the recent growth of this brewery. Tree House was founded in Monson 2011, but in 2015 counted just one employee and 55 barrels of cellar space. The new facility can accommodate 50,000 barrels of cellar space, which will enable the brewery to produce up to 125,000 barrels a year.

2. Five Star Transportation Inc.
809 College Highway, Southwick
(413) 789-4789
www.firestarbus.com
Nathan Lecrenski, president
Five Star provides school-bus transportation services to school districts and charter schools throughout Western Mass. From its launch a half-century ago with a single bus route, the company currently services more than 12 school districts and operates a fleet of more than 175 vehicles.

3. Lavishlyhip, LLC
Feeding Hills
www.lavishlyhip.com
Rika Woyan, owner
This online retailer of jewelry and accessories offers accessory collections from the latest top designers. By meeting with the designers in their showrooms and at industry events, it stays on top of what is trending. Shoppers will find hip and classic jewelry for women and men, cashmere, silk and blend scarves, and hair accessories.

Adam Quenneville Roofing and Siding Inc.
160 Old Lyman Road, South Hadley
(413) 525-0025
www.1800newroof.net
Adam Quenneville, CEO
Adam Quenneville offers a wide range of residential and commercial services, including new roofs, retrofitting, roof repair, roof cleaning, vinyl siding, replacement windows, and the no-clog Gutter Shutter system. The company has earned the BBB Torch Award for trust, performance, and integrity.

Alliance Home Improvement Inc.
375 Chicopee St., Chicopee
(413) 331-4357
www.alliancehomeinc.com
sergiy suprunchuk, president
Alliance is a professional local contractor providing quality and reliable residential services. Its products are Energy Star certified, and most of them have lifetime warranty provided by the manufacturer. Services include siding, windows, doors, roofs, gutters, faux stone siding, and custom-built homes.

Baystate Blasting Inc.
36 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow
(413) 583-4440
www.baystateblasting.com
Paul Baltazar, president
Baystate Blasting, Inc. is a local family owned and operated drilling and blasting firm located in Ludlow, Massachusetts that began in 2003.   Sitework, heavy highway construction, residential, quarry, portable crushing and recycling, ATF licensed dealer of explosives as well as rental of individual magazines.

Center Square Grill
84 Center Square, East Longmeadow
(413) 525-0055
www.centersquaregrill.com
Michael Sakey, Bill Collins, Proprietors
Center Square Grill serves up eclectic American fare for lunch and dinner, as well as an extensive wine and cocktail selection and a kids’ menu. The facility also has a catering service and hosts events of all kinds.

Charter Oak Insurance &                        Financial Services Co.
330 Whitney Ave., Holyoke
(413) 374-5430
www.charteroakfinancial.com
Peter Novak, General Agent
A member of the MassMutual Financial Group, Charter Oak been servicing clients for more than 125 years. The team of professionals serves individuals, families, and businesses with risk-management products, business planning and protection, retirement planning and investment services, and fee-based financial planning.

Chicopee Industrial Contractors Inc.
107 North Chicopee St., Chicopee
(413) 538-7279
www.chicopeeindustrial.com
Carol Campbell, president
Founded in 1992, Chicopee Industrial Contractors is an industrial contracting firm specializing in all types of rigging, heavy lifting, machinery moving, machine installation, millwrighting, machine repair, heavy hauling, plant relocations, concrete pads, foundations, and structural steel installations.

Community Transportation Services
288 Verge St., Springfield
(413) 732-1500
Houshang Ansari, president
Community transportation is a locally owned medical, elderly, and VIP transportation service founded in 1991. Its goal is to provide the community with safe and affordable transportation services. It is especially committed to meeting the transportation needs of senior citizens and the physically and mentally challenged.

Courier Express Inc.
20 Oakdale St., Springfield
(413) 730-6620
www.courierexp.com
Eric Devine, president
Courier Express is committed to providing custom, same-day delivery solutions for any shipment. Its focal point is New England, but its reach is nationwide. The company strives to utilize the latest technologies, on-time delivery, customer service, and attention to detail to separate itself from its competitors.

Court Square Group Inc.
1350 Main St., Springfield
(413) 731-5294
www.courtsquaregroup.com
Keith Parent, president
Court Square is a technical strategic advisor to the life-science and biotech industries. Consulting services include business analysis and consulting, information security and disaster recovery, SharePoint and document management, long-term archiving, project management, and much more.
FIT Staffing Inc.
25 Bremen St., Springfield
(413) 363-0204
www.fitstaffingsolutions.com
Jackie Fallon, president
FIT Staffing, founded in 2005, provides a personal approach to connecting companies to the right IT professionals. FIT takes the time to meet the hiring manager to determine the exact qualifications, skills, and personality traits for the client’s ideal candidates. Meanwhile, FIT’s extensive listing of local IT openings is continuously updated.

Fletcher Sewer & Drain Inc.
824A Perimeter Road, Ludlow
(413) 547-8180
www.fletcherseweranddrain.com
Teri Marinello, president
Since 1985, Fletcher Sewer & Drain has provided service to homeowners as well as municipalities and construction companies for large pipeline jobs. From unblocking kitchen sinks to replacing sewer lines, Fletcher keeps up to date with all the latest technology, from high-pressure sewer jetters to the newest camera-inspection equipment.

Gleason Johndrow Landscaping Inc.
44 Rose St., Springfield
(413) 727-8820
www.gleasonjohndrowlandscaping.com
Anthony Gleason II, David Johndrow, Owners
Gleason Johndrow Landscape & Snow Management offers a wide range of commercial and residential services, including lawn mowing, snow removal, salting options, fertilization programs, landscape installations, bark-mulch application, creative plantings, seeding options, pruning, irrigation installation, maintenance, and much more.

Kelley & Katzer Real Estate, LLC
632 Westfield St., West Springfield
(413) 209-9933
www.kelleyandkatzerrealestate.com
Joe Kelley, Christine Katzer, Co-owners
Kelley & Katzer combines more than 40 years of real-estate experience with a modern approach. It is involved every step of the way of the real-estate process, guiding clients with a hands-on approach and knowledge of the real-estate market, blended with a genuine understanding of clients’ needs.

Knight Machine & Tool Company Inc.
11 Industrial Dr., South Hadley
(413) 532-2507
Gary O’Brien, owner
Knight Machine & Tool Co. is a metalworking and welding company that offers blacksmithing, metal roofing, and other services from its 11,000-square-foot facility.

Market Mentors, LLC
30 Capital Dr., Suite C, West Springfield
(413) 787-1133
www.marketmentors.com
Michelle Abdow, principal
A full-service marketing firm, Market Mentors handles all forms of marketing, including advertising in all mediums, media buying, graphic design, public relations, and event planning.

Martinelli, Martini & Gallagher Real Estate Inc.
1763 Northampton St., Holyoke
(413) 736-7232
www.buywesternmass.com
Paul Gallagher, president
Gallagher Real Estate boasts four locations in Holyoke, Agawam, South Hadley, and Springfield, offering commercial and residential sales and leasing services, as well as a real estate school and a separate division devoted to handling property-management needs.

North Atlantic Trucking Inc.
100 Progress Ave., Springfield
(413) 455-3981
www.northatlantictrucking.com
James Vieu, Director of Fleet Services & Financials
North Atlantic Trucking began by hauling a variety of products, including paper, plastic, metal, and more. The company is rapidly growing with a current fleet of 15 vehicles providing transportation services for miscellaneous products throughout the U.S.

Northeast IT Systems Inc.
777 Riverdale St., West Springfield
(413) 736-6348
www.northeastit.net
Joel Mollison, president
Northeast is a full-service IT company providing business services, managed IT services, backup and disaster recovery, and cloud services, as well as a full-service repair shop for residential customers, including file recovery, laptop screen replacement, PC setups and tuneups, printer installation, virus protection and removal, and wireless installation.

Paragus Strategic IT
112 Russell St., Hadley
(413) 587-2666
www.paragusit.com
Delcie Bean IV, president
While still in high school, Delcie Bean founded Paragus IT in 1999, first under the name Vertical Horizons and then Valley ComputerWorks. Under the Paragus name, it has grown dramatically as an outsourced IT solution, providing business computer service, computer consulting, information-technology support, and other services to businesses of all sizes.

Rock Valley Tool, LLC
54 O’Neil St., Easthampton
(413) 527-2350
www.rockvalleytool.com
Elizabeth Paquette, president
Rock Valley Tool is a 17,000-square-foot facility housing a variety of both CNC and conventional machining equipment, along with a state-of-the-art inspection lab. With more than 40 years of experience, the company provides manufactured parts to customers in the aerospace, commercial/industrial, and plastic blow-molding industries.

Rodrigues Inc.
782 Center St., Ludlow
(413) 547-6443
Antonio Rodrigues, president
Rodrigues Inc. operates Europa Restaurant in Ludlow, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine with an interactive dining experience, presenting meals cooked on volcanic rocks at tableside. Europa also offers full-service catering and banquet space.

Royal, P.C.
270 Pleasant St., Northampton
(413) 586-2288
www.theroyallawfirm.com
Amy Royal, owner
Royal, P.C. is a woman-owned law firm that exclusively represents and counsels businesses on all aspects of labor and employment law. It represents a wide range of businesses throughout the New England states and nationally, and is an approved panel counsel for insurance companies that provide employment-practices liability insurance to employers.

Safe & Sound Inc.
428 East St., Chicopee
(413) 594-6460
www.safeandsoundhq.com
Michael Laventure, owner
Since 1983, Safe and Sound Inc., a family-owned company, has been providing customers with a wide selection of quality components such as home theater speakers, audio/video receivers, amplifiers, subwoofers, as well as car audio, remote starters, and security.

Taplin Yard, Pump & Power
120 Interstate Dr., West Springfield
(413) 781-4352
www.fctaplin.com
Martin Jagodowski, president
Taplin has been servicing the local area since 1892, and is an authorized dealer for parts, equipment, service, and accessories for a wide range of brands. It boasts a large inventory of zero-turn mowers, commercial lawn equipment, lawnmowers, lawn tractors, trimmers, blowers, generators, pressure washers, pole saws, sprayers, chainsaws, and more.

Valley Home Improvement Inc.
340 Riverside Dr.,
Florence
(413) 517-0158
www.valleyhomeimprovement.com
Steven Silverman, owner
Valley Home Improvement has specialized in home improvement, renovations, and remodeling service since 1991. Home-improvement and remodeling services include kitchen design, bathrooms, additions, sunrooms, screen porches, basement finishing, weatherization/insulation services, garages, and custom cabinetry and countertops.
VertitechIT
4 Open Square Way, #310, Holyoke
(413) 268-1600
www.vertitechit.com
Michael Feld, CEO
Calling itself a group of advisors, confidantes, strategists, and innovators for hire, Vertitech has, in its own words, created a new path to IT transformation, aiming not just to solve technical problems, but to develop the strategic solutions that make an organization or healthcare institution thrive.

Western Mass  Demolition Corp.
50 Summit Lock Road, Westfield
(413) 579-5254
www.wmdemocorp.com
Dale Unsderfer, president
Western Mass Demolition Corp. has a wide range of services to meet clients’ demolition and recycling needs, including complete structure removal, selective works, emergency and fire on call, lowboy and equipment hauling, building separation, abatement and remediation, concrete cutting and breaking, oil-tank removal, recycling, reuse, and salvage.

Briefcase Departments

Eastern States Exposition Breaks Attendance Record

WEST SPRINGFIELD — A record number of visitors attended the Big E this year, breaking the fair’s all-time high attendance figure, with a final tally of 1,525,553. The previous record of 1,498,605 was set in 2014. Oct. 1 attendance was 137,208, also a new record for the final Sunday of the 17-day fair. During the fair’s run, the all-time-highest single-day attendance record was also broken when 171,897 visitors attended Saturday, Sept. 23. Three additional daily attendance records were set: Sept. 21, 85,019; Sept. 28, 89,905; and Sept. 29, 109,871. “I am humbled to see the incredible support of Eastern States Exposition by our loyal fair patrons,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Exposition. “The 2017, 101st edition of the Big E broke records again, recording for the first time in history over 1.5 million guests. Patrons of New England’s Great State Fair braved days of punishing temperatures that pushed the heat index to above 100 degrees, they endured a 55-degree drop in temperature accompanied by rain, and yet they came in great numbers to participate in, enjoy, and support this organization and all it stands for.”

Employer Confidence Rebounds in September

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index broke a two-month slide in September, rising 1.2 points to 62.4. The reading equaled its high for 2017 and was 6.5 points better than a year ago. Employer confidence has moved in a narrow range so far in 2017, as employers appear bullish about the growth prospects of their companies. The September uptick was driven in part by a 5.7-point surge in the Sales Index, which is often a leading indicator of increased business activity. “The Index was also taken prior to the announcement of an effort by Congressional Republicans and the White House to significantly reduce corporate taxes, a move that enjoys broad support among employers,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The prospect of tax reform and tax simplification is likely to buoy employer sentiment through the end of the year.” The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were generally higher during September. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, rose 2.2 points to 65.4, a reading that was 8.4 points higher than in September 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions dropped 0.4 points to 59.8 after surging more than 10 points during the previous 12 months. September marked the 90th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 1.6 points to 62.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.7 points to 61.9. The Future Index ended the month 5.9 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, gained 1.4 points to 62.3. Finally, the Employment Index fell 2.2 points to 55.8, continuing an up-and-down pattern within the mid-50s on the 100-point scale. “The Massachusetts economy continues to maintain a steady recovery, with employers adding 10,800 jobs during August and the state jobless rate declining to 4.2%,” said Elmore Alexander, dean of Ricciardi College of Business at Bridgewater State University, and a BEA member. “The surge in the AIM Sales and Future indices suggests that business activity may actually accelerate in coming months, so the primary challenge for employers will remain hiring and retaining skilled workers in a tight labor market.” AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers generally support federal initiatives to reduce business taxes, but also remain concerned about the potential effect those reductions might have on the deficit. It is ironic, Lord added, that the proposed Republican tax plan would lower levies for subchapter-S corporations and other small pass-through businesses, while Massachusetts voters may be voting on a surtax next year on those same companies. “Subchapter-S corporations and other companies that pay taxes on the individual level are generally small to medium-sized enterprises that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy,” he noted. “What a shame it would be if the federal government were to help these companies while Massachusetts penalizes them.”

MGM’s 95% Document Submittal Consistent with HCA Commitments

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, announced that the MGM 95% construction-design submittals are consistent with the commitments outlined within the city’s host-community agreement (HCA). “As we move closer to the completion and grand opening of this unique urban development, I am pleased to be able to announce another milestone as the city accepts the 95% construction-design submittals,” said Sarno. “Through this continued collaborative effort between the city of Springfield and MGM, the designs submitted remain consistent with what has been outlined within the host-community agreement.” This determination of compliance is based on a detailed review of the submittal documents by a number of city departments, including the Office of Planning & Economic Development, the Law Department, the Building Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Casino Liaison Office. A full review of the 95% construction-design documents was also completed by Chicago Consultants Studio Inc., an urban-planning consultant that has been used extensively by the city of Springfield throughout the casino design-review process. “Based on a thorough review and engaged process over the past few months, we believe that MGM’s 95% construction documents continue to illustrate a high-quality, attractive, and innovative design,” said Kim Goluska of Chicago Consultants Studio Inc. “MGM’s cooperation with the city and its positive enhancements and completion of the key design components has resulted in a project that not only conforms to the HCA intent and requirements, but also creates a new, truly innovative precedent for urban casino developments.” Added Kennedy, “with MGM Springfield nearing completion and the numerous other economic-development efforts underway throughout the city, including the recent grand opening of Union Station, we are really starting to see the new Springfield take shape. Our focus will continue to be on capitalizing on these larger transformative developments to help attract other private investment and jobs to the city of Springfield.”

New England Unemployment Holds Steady in August

BOSTON — The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released New England and state unemployment numbers for August 2017. These data are supplied by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program, which produces monthly and annual employment, unemployment, and labor-force data for Census regions and divisions, states, counties, metropolitan areas, and many cities. The New England unemployment rate was little changed at 4.0% in August. One year ago, the New England jobless rate was 3.9%. The U.S. jobless rate was little changed from July at 4.4%. No New England state had a significant over-the-year jobless rate change.

Departments People on the Move
Amanda Sbriscia

Amanda Sbriscia

Holyoke Community College announced that Amanda Sbriscia has been hired as its new vice president of Institutional Advancement. Sbriscia will lead HCC’s fund-raising efforts as head of the HCC Foundation as well as oversee Alumni Affairs, Resource Development, and Marketing and Communications. She begins Oct. 30. “I am thrilled to be joining HCC at a very exciting time in its history,” Sbriscia said. “I look forward to connecting with our alumni, friends, faculty, and staff, and to engaging the community in our efforts to support students and build on the college’s excellent reputation.” Sbriscia  comes to HCC with more than 10 years of experience in education and fund-raising. Most recently, she has been serving as senior director of Advancement at Bay Path University, following her role there as director of Annual Giving and Alumni Relations. Before Bay Path, Sbriscia worked in fund development for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts and as director of Annual Giving for Anna Maria College in Paxton. Her experience in higher education also includes work in major gifts, volunteer management, corporate sponsorship, and strategic planning. “We were fortunate to have four extremely qualified finalists to consider, and we put each of them through a full day of rigorous interviews,” said HCC president Christina Royal. “In the end, though, Amanda’s experience, presence, and passion really made her stand out. She has an energy that I believe will integrate fluently with our current campus leadership and help propel us forward as we begin to develop a strategic plan for the future of HCC. I’m excited that she will soon be here.” Sbriscia has served on the board of the Assoc. of Fundraising Professionals and is a member of Women in Philanthropy and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield. She is also a classroom reader through Springfield School Volunteers. She is currently pursuing her doctor of education degree in organizational leadership from Northeastern University.

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Jaime O’Connor

Jaime O’Connor

Waterford Hotel Group announced the appointment of Jaime O’Connor as director of sales at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel located inside Bradley International Airport. The Sheraton Bradley is managed by Waterford Hotel Group, a national hotel and convention-center management firm. As director of Sales, O’Connor is responsible for the total sales efforts for the hotel, as well as supervising sales-related personnel and implementing sales and marketing strategies to maximize profits while also maintaining guest satisfaction. O’Connor started her career in hospitality at the Sheraton Springfield in 2001. She quickly grew within the property, holding the positions of executive meeting manager and senior executive meeting manager, before joining Waterford Hotel Group as a sales manager at the Marriott Hartford in 2005. Most recently, she has been working as director of sales at the Sheraton Hartford South. “We are pleased to welcome Jaime back to the Waterford Hotel Group team,” said Karen Bachofner, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Waterford Hotel Group. “We look forward to working with her in this new role.”

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Valerie Krolicki

Valerie Krolicki

Valerie Krolicki recently joined Ayre Real Estate Co. Inc. as a full-time real-estate sales associate. She is a graduate of Hopkinton High School and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education from Northeastern University in Boston. Krolicki is the daughter-in-law of the late Cynthia ‘Cindy’ Ayre, formerly of Ayre Real Estate and past president of the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley and Realtor of the Year.

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With the upcoming departure of DevelopSpringfield’s President and CEO Jay Minkarah, the organization has tapped Jeff Daley to provide consulting services on an interim basis to manage project oversight. Daley is founder and principal of CJC Development Advisors, LLC with more than 15 years of experience in real-estate development, construction project development, government relations, and public-private partnership development. He was formerly the Economic Development director for the city of Westfield, executive director of the Westfield Redevelopment Authority, and a member of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority board of directors, in addition to roles on other nonprofit boards and advisory panels. “I am excited for the opportunity to assist the team at DevelopSpringfield to move their projects forward,” Daley said. “CJC Development Advisors has been engaged in development projects around the region, and I feel this is a perfect opportunity to help DevelopSpringfield through their transition on some very important projects.” Nick Fyntrilakis, DevelopSpringfield’s board chair, added that “we are pleased to have Jeff step in to help ensure the advancement of DevelopSpringfield’s projects. Jeff has a strong background in large-scale development projects, and I’m confident his experience will be invaluable to the organization as we look to begin a search for a permanent replacement for Jay Minkarah.”

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Claudia Pazmany

Claudia Pazmany

Claudia Pazmany was recently named director of Development & Marketing for Providence Ministries. “My guiding core philosophy is to honor the work of today but to bring people together in the form of support to enable a vision for tomorrow,” Pazmany said. “It exemplifies how I feel about the power of philanthropy and how it can transform communities. I hope to transform how we think about our most vulnerable in my new role here at Providence Ministries, and how we can all play a vital role in that transformation.” Pazmany is a community leader with more than 16 years of experience in professional fund-raising. Her business-development skills, combined with a long history in capital campaigns, philanthropy, community engagement, social media, and alumni relations, helped her build visionary and sustainable movements of giving. She continues to apply her leadership skills to creating a more just and equitable world. Pazmany has an MBA from UMass, served on the executive team as former director of Development at the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, is a graduate of the Women’s Fund’s Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact, and is currently a board member at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County.

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Morrison Mahoney LLP announced the election of six new partners, representing a range of practice areas including appeals, insurance coverage, construction litigation, professional liability defense, medical malpractice, fraud, transportation, and employment-law disputes.

“The election of so many highly qualified partners speaks volumes of the depth of talent that we have in all offices of Morrison Mahoney and quality of our mentoring and professional development,” said Managing Partner Scott Burke.

The new partners are:

Jeffrey O’Connor

Jeffrey O’Connor

Joseph Ciollo

Joseph Ciollo

Jeffrey O’Connor (Springfield), who focuses his practice on the defense of medical and legal professionals, healthcare law, employment litigation, and general liability defense;

Joseph Ciollo (Hartford, Stamford), who represents insurance companies, insureds, private businesses, attorneys, and other licensed professionals in matters involving automobile, homeowner, and property insurance coverage; insurance fraud investigation; general liability defense; automobile liability defense; bad-faith claims; subrogation; professional liability; and employment discrimination;

Christopher Davidson (Boston), who specializes in the defense of corporate clients involving claims of catastrophic injury or death in the context of construction-site accidents, product liability, premises liability, and transportation/trucking matters;

Larry Slotnick (Boston), who has successfully represented insures in a wide range of coverage and bad-faith disputes, both at the trial and appellate levels, and also represents businesses in commercial-litigation disputes;

Christopher Keenoy (New York), who focuses his practice on cases involving professional liability, construction defects, product liability, lead paint, trucking, and general liability; and

James McKenney (New York), who litigates complex commercial and civil matters, including healthcare and insurance-coverage issues, regulatory violations, Medicaid fraud claims, contract disputes, and civil RICO actions in federal, state, and appellate courts.

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Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso

Jean Deliso, CFP has been named a member of the 2017 Chairman’s Council of New York Life. Members of the elite Chairman’s Council rank in the top 3% of New York Life’s sales force of more than 12,000 licensed agents in sales achievement. Deliso has accomplished this level of achievement for six consecutive years. Her passion for finance and strategic planning led to the creation of Deliso Financial and Insurance Services in 2000. She began her career in corporate accounting in Tampa, Fla., where she consulted with small-business owners on financial operations and maximizing performance. Deliso has been a New York Life agent since 1995 and is associated with New York Life’s CT Valley General Office in Windsor, Conn. She is currently chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Foundation and a board member of the Community Music School of Springfield. She is past chairman of the board of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, past board member of AAA Pioneer Valley, and past trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and the advisory council at Bay Path University. Deliso Financial and Insurance Services is not owned or operated by New York Life Insurance Co. or any of its affiliates.

Agenda Departments

Springfield Symphony Orchestra 2017-18 Season

Through May 19, 2018: An evening with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) is more than a musically memorable experience. To attend an SSO concert is to be part of a rich cultural tradition. Single tickets and subscriptions, including the SSO’s new pops-oriented Wild Card 4 package, are on sale now for the SSO’s 74th season. The public may purchase tickets by visiting the box office at 1441 Main St., Springfield (ground-floor level in the TD Bank Building), or calling (413) 733-2291. The season began Oct. 14 and runs through May 19, 2018. In addition to offering its traditional subscriber options, which include four to all seven of its classical performances, the SSO has introduced the new Wild Card 4 package. Perfect for fans of the pops, the new subscription package includes all three special events — “Holiday Extravaganza with the Grinch,” “Star Wars & Star Trek Sci-Fi Spectacular,” and a performance by the Texas Tenors — as well as one classical performance of the subscriber’s choice. For the opening-night concert on Oct. 14, the SSO and Kevin Rhodes, its longtime music director and conductor, presented selected works of celebrated composers Rossini, Prokofiev, and Brahms, featuring guest pianist Claire Huangci. Next up, on Nov. 4, guest cellist Julian Schwarz joins the musicians for “Viva America,” a toe-tapping nod to American masters Gershwin, Copeland, Bernstein, and Liebermann. Then, on Dec. 9, the Springfield Symphony Chorus joins the orchestra for the much-anticipated “Holiday Extravaganza.” Both this festive show and “Star Wars & Star Trek Sci-Fi Spectacular,” the season’s second special event (March 3, 2018), feature interactive family fun. For the season’s third and final special event on April 21, 2018, the SSO will bring audiences the Texas Tenors, a popular vocal trio whose signature crossover style has topped Billboard charts. The group’s widely viewed debut on NBC’s America’s Got Talent quickly led to a worldwide concert tour and a 2014 PBS special, “You Should Dream,” which earned three Emmy Awards. Free parking at three downtown garages is available to all attending an SSO concert. Subscribers, whether they choose a classical package or the Wild Card 4, enjoy additional benefits, including savings of up to 20% over single-ticket purchases and exclusive access to special events. An SSO subscription makes an ideal holiday gift for friends and family members of all ages. For more information on SSO subscriptions, single-ticket sales, or the 2017-18 concert series, call the SSO box office at (413) 733-2291 or visit springfieldsymphony.org.

Hoarding Conference

Oct. 18: To promote greater understanding of research and treatment for hoarding disorder, a conference titled “Hoarding Disorder: Recovery Is Real” will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Hadley Farms Meeting House, 41 Russell St., Hadley. Jesse Edsell-Vetter, stabilization case manager, Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership Hoarding Team, will be the keynote speaker. CEUs will be offered for licensed professionals. Funding for the conference is being provided by a grant from the Center for Human Development. According to the American Psychiatric Assoc., people with hoarding disorder excessively save items that others may view as worthless. Typically, they save random items they feel have value or that they may need in the future. Their persistent difficulty parting with possessions leads to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces. People with hoarding disorder often feel safer surrounded by the things they save, but items can fill, block, and clutter active living spaces at home. Hoarding can cause problems in social or work settings, too, including hindering a productive and safe environment. Serious hoarding can lead to fire hazards, tripping hazards, and health-code violations, as well as interpersonal strain and conflict, isolation, and loneliness. “Contrary to negative pop-culture portrayals, people who have accumulated a problematic amount of possessions tend to be creative, intelligent, and resourceful,” said Lee Shuer, a consultant with Mutual Support and the creator of WRAP for Reducing Clutter. “Such people are mostly just unsuccessful in the pursuit of moderation, although some people call us the ‘H’ word: hoarders. I call myself a finder/keeper because hoarding has become such a derogatory label, helped in no small part by sensational reality TV shows. People like us who acquire and keep too much stuff are stuck, hung up on something emotional, something unseen beneath the surface of life. What can be seen is merely the tip of the iceberg. It’s complicated. But hoarding disorder is real, and so is recovery.”

Homework House 10-year Celebration

Oct. 19: Homework House is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, and it will mark the occasion with a 10th Anniversary Celebration and Fund-raising Breakfast from 7:45 to 9:15 a.m. at the Log Cabin in Holyoke to share its story and inspire the financial resources Homework House needs to sustain its programs for the next 10 years and beyond. The anniversary breakfast’s theme is “A Decade of Inspiring Children, Supporting Families, and Transforming Community,” which reflects the broad ripple effect that occurs as a result of children’s participation in Homework House’s academic after-school and summer programming. Founded by retired educators Sr. Maureen Broughan and Sr. Jane Morrissey, Homework House promotes educational success through free, individualized tutoring and mentoring for children. Featuring a program that will highlight the stories of Homework House alumni, parents, and stakeholders, the breakfast will reflect on the powerful work of the past 10 years while looking forward to Homework House’s continued growth. The breakfast is free and will feature a focused ask for donations. Community members interested in attending the event or taking a leadership role as a table captain can register by visiting www.homeworkhousetenth.com.

Healthcare Heroes

Oct. 19: BusinessWest and the Healthcare News will present the inaugural Healthcare Heroes Awards at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse in Hampden. This new recognition program was created by the twin publications to recognize outstanding achievement across the region’s broad and diverse healthcare sector. From a pool of 70 nominations, panel of judges chose eight winners in seven categories, who were profiled in the Sept. 4 issue of BusinessWest, the September issue of HCN, and at businesswest.com. American International College and Trinity Health Of New England are the presenting sponsors of Healthcare Heroes. Partner sponsors are Achieve TMS East, HUB International New England, and Health New England. Additional sponsors are Bay Path University, Baystate Health, Elms College, Renew.Calm, and Cooley Dickinson Health Care. This event is sold out.

Dress for Success Panel

Oct. 24: Area employers and human-resource professionals are invited to join Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts for a panel discussion about breaking down the barriers that stand between the region’s workforce and sustained employment. With sponsorship support from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, United Personnel, Sperion Staffing, Armbrook Village, and Western MA HRMA, the event will be held from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. Tickets for the event cost $25 and may be purchased online at westernmassachusettsdressforsuccess.org or by calling (860) 638-8980.

Business & Innovation Expo of Western Mass.

Nov. 2: Comcast Business will present the Business & Innovation Expo of Western Mass. at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, produced by BusinessWest and the Healthcare News. The seventh annual business-to-business show will feature more than 150 exhibitor booths, educational seminars, breakfast and lunch programs, and a day-capping Expo Social. Current sponsors include Comcast Business (presenting sponsor), Johnson & Hill Staffing Services, Wild Apple Design Group, and Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. (executive sponsors), Inspired Marketing and Go Graphix (show partners), MGM Springfield (corporate sponsor), Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst (education sponsor), Xfinity (social sponsor), Elms College (information booth sponsor), Smith & Wesson (Workforce Support Center sponsor), Savage Arms (JoinedForces parking sponsor), WMAS, WHMP, Rock 102 & Lazer 99.3, and MassLive (media partners), and the Better Business Bureau and Cartamundi (contributing sponsors). Exhibitor spaces are available; booth prices start at $800. For more information on booth purchase, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

ToGetHerThere Awards

Nov. 3: Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts (GSCWM) announced the recipients of the inaugural ToGetHerThere Awards. The five award recipients have a shared vision of creating a culture of creativity and caring, where young women feel confident in their ability to work hard, dream big, and face with courage any obstacle that stands in the way of making their dreams come true. The winners have affected hundreds of lives and serve as role models for other organizations grappling with how to support underserved members in their communities. The awardees are:

• Entrepreneur: Cassandra Abramson, president and founder, ECi Stores;

• Financial Literacy: Amy Roberts, vice president of Human Resources, Balise Auto Group;

• Health & Wellness: Katie Gauvin, regional safety director, SODEXO; major, Logistics Readiness Squadron, 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base;

• Man Enough to Be a Girl Scout: Timothy Murphy, Esq., partner, Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C.; and

• STEM: Martha Baker, associate dean, College of Natural Sciences, UMass Amherst.

Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts will honor the winners at the ToGetHerThere Awards Luncheon at the Tower Square Hotel (formerly the Springfield Marriott). Tickets are $50 each or tables of 10 for $500. To order tickets and for more info on each awardee, visit www.gscwm.org/en/events/special-events/TGHTA.html or contact Melanie Bonsu at (413) 584-2602, ext. 3623, or [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Attorney Keith Minoff has been selected to Massachusetts Super Lawyers for 2017. Super Lawyers selects attorneys based on peer nominations and evaluations combined with independent research. The final published list represents no more than 5% of Massachusetts lawyers.

Minoff has also been recognized by his peers for inclusion in the most recent edition of The Best Lawyers in America in the areas of commercial litigation and corporate law. He specializes in business litigation and employment law and also serves as a mediator with Minoff Mediation Solutions. He maintains a law office in Springfield.

Daily News

HADLEY — The UMass Donahue Institute released an analysis of the impacts from Plainridge Park Casino’s first year of operation.

The Institute worked directly with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) and Plainridge Park Casino (PPC) in Plainville to determine the economic footprint of PPC’s operations, including employment, wages, vendor spending, and fiscal impacts from taxes and other assessments paid to government. Researchers also analyzed how shifts in patron spending as a result of gaming expansion affected the state.

The economic impacts of a new casino opening in Massachusetts are not limited to the impacts of employees spending new wages in their communities. The casino also purchases goods and services from other firms, and state and local governments collect taxes and other assessments from the casino, allowing them to spend more than they would otherwise have been able to. Alternately, and as with any new attraction, some of PPC’s revenue is coming from consumers who previously spent their money at other Massachusetts businesses, and those businesses are affected by the loss of support.

Among the report’s highlights:

• In PPC’s first 12 full months of operation (July 2015 through June 2016), patrons spent approximately $172.5 million on gambling and non-gambling activities at the facility.

• The majority of patrons surveyed at PPC were identified as ‘recaptured’ patrons who would have spent their money gambling out of state had PPC not opened, while others were out-of-state visitors whose visit was prompted by the casino. Recaptured patrons are responsible for $100 million of the $172.5 million spent at PPC. Out-of-state residents spent $36 million at PPC. Another $36.6 million was spent by Massachusetts residents who otherwise would have spent their money elsewhere.

• The largest single source of new economic activity came from $81 million in taxes and assessments collected from the casino’s gross gaming revenue. Of those funds, $77.6 million in payments were made to various Massachusetts government entities, with $66.4 million given directly to cities and towns in the form of local aid.

• PPC created approximately 556 new jobs at the casino and $17.8 million in wages. In total, PPC created or supported 2,417 jobs in the Commonwealth with 1,633 jobs in the private sector.

• PPC supported $19.1 million in spending on vendors, membership organizations, and charitable causes.

• Visitors to PPC spent an estimated $3.2 million in the Plainville area in the course of visiting the casino.

“The principal motivation for the Legislature in crafting the gaming law was to recapture the approximately $1 billion spent annually by Massachusetts residents at out-of-state casinos,” said MGC Chairman Steve Crosby. “This report demonstrates emphatically that we are in the process of accomplishing that important objective.”

Daily News

BOSTON — The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released New England and state unemployment numbers for August 2017. These data are supplied by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program, which produces monthly and annual employment, unemployment, and labor-force data for Census regions and divisions, states, counties, metropolitan areas, and many cities.

The New England unemployment rate was little changed at 4.0% in August. One year ago, the New England jobless rate was 3.9%. The U.S. jobless rate was little changed from July at 4.4%. No New England state had a significant over-the-year jobless rate change.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Business & Innovation Expo of Western Mass., the seventh annual business-to-business show produced by BusinessWest and the Healthcare News, will introduce a new feature this year, called the “Ask an Expert Roundtable.” Ten business professionals in the community will share their expertise with a table of guests for 45 minutes. During that time, they will give a rundown of their professional experience, take questions, and participate in an open, relaxed dialogue with attendees.

Participants include Pam Thornton of Name Net Worth (who will focus on LinkedIn and social-media marketing); Amy Royal of Royal, P.C. (focus on employment law); Jenny MacKay of the Gaudreau Group (focus on healthcare reform); Sheila Magalhaes of Heartsong (focus on modern mindfulness); Angela Lussier of Speaker Sisterhood (focus on finding one’s voice and being more assertive); Ira Bryck of the Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley (focus on family-business work balance); Tracey Gaylord of Granite State Development Corp. (focus on funding one’s next big idea, big or small); Lorenzo Macaluso of the Center for EcoTechnology (focus on how to make a company green); and Jonathan Butler of 1Berkshire Chamber (focus on board of director succession planning); and Tiffany Appleton of Johnson & Hill Staffing (focus on recruiting, interviewing, and hiring).

The Expo, set for Thursday, Nov. 2 at the MassMutual Center, will also feature more than 150 exhibitor booths, educational seminars, breakfast and lunch programs, and a day-capping Expo Social. Current sponsors include Comcast Business (presenting sponsor), Johnson & Hill Staffing Services and Wild Apple Design Group (executive sponsors), Inspired Marketing (show partner), MGM Springfield (corporate sponsor), Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst (education sponsor), Xfinity (social sponsor), Elms College (information booth sponsor), Smith & Wesson (Workforce Support Center sponsor), Savage Arms (JoinedForces parking sponsor), and the Better Business Bureau (contributing sponsor). Additional sponsorship opportunities are available. Exhibitor spaces are also available; booth prices start at $800. For more information on sponsorships or booth purchase, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Area employers and human-resource professionals are invited to join Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts for a panel discussion about breaking down the barriers that stand between the region’s workforce and sustained employment.

With sponsorship support from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, United Personnel, Sperion Staffing, Armbrook Village, and Western MA HRMA, the event will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 24, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

“The right dress or suit might give you the confidence you need to perform well in an interview,” said Dawn Creighton, president of Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts. “But in order to truly be successful in the workplace, there are many barriers that must be overcome. Real success happens when employees and employers can work together to resolve some of these issues.”

Tickets for the event cost $25 and may be purchased online at westernmassachusettsdressforsuccess.org or by calling (860) 638-8980.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Morrison Mahoney LLP announced the election of six new partners, representing a range of practice areas including appeals, insurance coverage, construction litigation, professional liability defense, medical malpractice, fraud, transportation, and employment-law disputes.

“The election of so many highly qualified partners speaks volumes of the depth of talent that we have in all offices of Morrison Mahoney and quality of our mentoring and professional development,” said Managing Partner Scott Burke.

The new partners are:

• Jeffrey O’Connor (Springfield), who focuses his practice on the defense of medical and legal professionals, healthcare law, employment litigation, and general liability defense;

• Joseph Ciollo (Hartford, Stamford), who represents insurance companies, insureds, private businesses, attorneys, and other licensed professionals in matters involving automobile, homeowner, and property insurance coverage; insurance fraud investigation; general liability defense; automobile liability defense; bad-faith claims; subrogation; professional liability; and employment discrimination;

• Christopher Davidson (Boston), who specializes in the defense of corporate clients involving claims of catastrophic injury or death in the context of construction-site accidents, product liability, premises liability, and transportation/trucking matters;

• Larry Slotnick (Boston), who has successfully represented insures in a wide range of coverage and bad-faith disputes, both at the trial and appellate levels, and also represents businesses in commercial-litigation disputes;

• Christopher Keenoy (New York), who focuses his practice on cases involving professional liability, construction defects, product liability, lead paint, trucking, and general liability; and

• James McKenney (New York), who litigates complex commercial and civil matters, including healthcare and insurance-coverage issues, regulatory violations, Medicaid fraud claims, contract disputes, and civil RICO actions in federal, state, and appellate courts.

Daily News

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index broke a two-month slide in September, rising 1.2 points to 62.4. The reading equaled its high for 2017 and was 6.5 points better than a year ago.

Employer confidence has moved in a narrow range so far in 2017, as employers appear bullish about the growth prospects of their companies. The September uptick was driven in part by a 5.7-point surge in the Sales Index, which is often a leading indicator of increased business activity.

“The Index was also taken prior to the announcement of an effort by Congressional Republicans and the White House to significantly reduce corporate taxes, a move that enjoys broad support among employers,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The prospect of tax reform and tax simplification is likely to buoy employer sentiment through the end of the year.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were generally higher during September. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, rose 2.2 points to 65.4, a reading that was 8.4 points higher than in September 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions dropped 0.4 points to 59.8 after surging more than 10 points during the previous 12 months. September marked the 90th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 1.6 points to 62.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.7 points to 61.9. The Future Index ended the month 5.9 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, gained 1.4 points to 62.3. Finally, the Employment Index fell 2.2 points to 55.8, continuing an up-and-down pattern within the mid-50s on the 100-point scale.

“The Massachusetts economy continues to maintain a steady recovery, with employers adding 10,800 jobs during August and the state jobless rate declining to 4.2%,” said Elmore Alexander, dean of Ricciardi College of Business at Bridgewater State University, and a BEA member. “The surge in the AIM Sales and Future indices suggests that business activity may actually accelerate in coming months, so the primary challenge for employers will remain hiring and retaining skilled workers in a tight labor market.”

AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers generally support federal initiatives to reduce business taxes, but also remain concerned about the potential effect those reductions might have on the deficit. It is ironic, Lord added, that the proposed Republican tax plan would lower levies for subchapter-S corporations and other small pass-through businesses, while Massachusetts voters may be voting on a surtax next year on those same companies.

“Subchapter-S corporations and other companies that pay taxes on the individual level are generally small to medium-sized enterprises that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy,” he noted. “What a shame it would be if the federal government were to help these companies while Massachusetts penalizes them.”

Cover Story

Mission Control

Mark Fulco

Mark Fulco

Roughly 21 months ago, Mark Fulco left Mercy Medical Center for a position with the hospital’s parent company, Trinity Health, one that would groom him for a leadership role somewhere within the vast Trinity system. As it turned out, somewhere became Mercy Medical Center.

Mark Fulco called it the “president track.”

Formally, he was carrying out a role within the Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health system, specifically that of ‘vice president, Health Ministries & System Office Communications Interface.’ While doing that, though, he was learning and essentially being groomed for a leadership position in one of the system’s many hospitals and medical centers.

“The idea behind this role was to bring in what they considered a high-potential executive for advancement to come here, work for the system office, learn some new things about how the system worked, and help set the operating model and the agenda for some of what the organization was going to do moving forward,” he explained, “and then return back to the regional help ministries at a level higher than they left the field at.”

He called it providential — a word he chose very carefully because of the significant meaning it carries — that the later stages of his 18- to 24-month tenure on this president track coincided with a presidential search at his former place of employment, Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, part of the Sisters of Providence Health System.

He became a candidate and prevailed in what became a nationwide search. Thus, he’s essentially coming home, as he put it, to a hospital and a system with a somewhat unique mission, one he came to fully appreciate during his tenure there, which included work in everything from fund development to marketing; new-business development to operations of the accountable-care organization and clinically integrated network.

Fulco said the Mercy presidency was essentially the first job at that level that he applied for, and it’s one he sought enthusiastically, because of what he experienced there and was part of.

Mercy Medical Center

Mark Fulco says one of the items at the top of his to-do list is to make Mercy Medical Center’s high-quality care far less of a best-kept secret.

“In this role [at Trinity], I’ve had the opportunity to see how healthcare is delivered across the country,” he told  BusinessWest. “And from that, I can say that the people of Western Mass. are really lucky to have such a talented and caring team at Mercy. And this is what really called me back to Springfield.

“It’s a great community,” he went on, referring to the Greater Springfield area. “But the real driving factor for me was the Mercy team; I’ve seen 94 or 95 different hospitals in our system, and I’ve met great caregivers from across the country, but Mercy has among the best I’ve seen, and the legacy of the Sisters of Providence … that’s a calling, it’s an honor, and it’s also a big responsibility to carry on that healing legacy.”

Fulco returns to Mercy at what he acknowledged was an ultra-challenging — and uncertain — time for the hospital, the system, and seemingly every healthcare provider in the country, with the uncertainty coming in many forms but especially the unknown fate of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.

Fulco said all providers are operating in an environment where reimbursements from most payers, and especially Medicare and Medicaid, do not fully cover the cost of providing care. This is not a recent phenomenon, but the situation has grown steadily more precarious in recent years.

In response, systems and individual providers must become ever-more efficient, he said, and, in a word, they must innovate.

To do to that effectively, he said he intends to take full advantage of the know-how, resources, and, yes, buying power of the Trinity Health system and its New England region. As an example, he cited a project that is in some respects already underway — conversion to a new electric medical record (EMR) system known as EPIC.

“This is something Mercy would not be able to do on its own,” he said of the EMR conversion. “If we weren’t able to rely on our colleagues in the region, this is something we couldn’t afford to do, and that’s just one example of taking full advantage of our regional resources.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Fulco just days before his formal return to Springfield about his new role and that big responsibility he accepted to carry on the work of the Sisters of Providence.

Back to the Future

It’s not listed on his résumé, but Fulco still considers it one of his more important career stops.

He was referring to his time as an advanced-life-support EMT roughly 30 years ago, while he was in graduate school.

“That was my first job in healthcare,” he recalled, adding that, like all those that followed and especially his most recent assignment in Michigan, it was quite a learning experience. “That time as an EMT gave me some unique experience as a caregiver, and it gave me an appreciation for the clinical side of healthcare and incredible respect for physicians and nurses and the work they do.”

Mark Fulco, seen here with team members at Mercy Medical Center

Mark Fulco, seen here with team members at Mercy Medical Center, says that, in this challenging time, Mercy, and all healthcare providers, must be focused on innovation.

Over the next three decades, Fulco would move off the front lines in healthcare and take a series of management positions, with each one bringing new and different responsibilities.

After a stint as president of Masonic Management Services Corp. in Wallingford, Conn., a nonprofit affiliate of Masonicare, he became senior vice president of Cardium Health Services in Simsbury, Conn. From there, he took the role of vice president of Strategic Marketing and Business Development at Saint Francis Care in Hartford, another member of the Trinity Health system.

In 2005, he took the position of ‘chief transformation officer’ for the Sisters of Providence Health System. This was a broad role with a host of responsibilities that included strategy formation, accountable-care organization and clinically integrated network operations, and business-development activities, including marketing, communications, and fund development.

And as transformation officer, he helped oversee a good deal of, well, transformation in many areas, including formation and operation of an accountablecare organization, one of many areas where Mercy was out front and in many ways ahead of other providers within the Trinity Health system.

It was roughly 21 months ago that he joined Trinity Health in that aforementioned ‘interface’ role, and he described his time in Michigan as invaluable when it comes to meeting the challenges he will face as he leads Mercy Medical Center.

But as much as he enjoyed working behind the scenes, if you will, he was anxious to get back to a hospital setting.

“Healthcare is not necessarily delivered in the boardroom,” he told  BusinessWest. “Here in Michigan, I have an opportunity to see how the large healthcare system boardroom works, and how the large healthcare system team works in support of what’s delivered at the local level. But care is delivered at the bedside, and while this work here at the system office was exciting and invigorating, and it was wonderful to work with some of the best and brightest in healthcare, the hospital is where hope and healing occurs, and I wanted to be part of that again.”

He said he will bring to that role a management style grounded in the fundamentals of servant leadership, something he says comes to him naturally, because it has been his style throughout his career. And it’s also something that fits nicely with the missions of SPHS and Trinity.

“It dovetails with being a people-centered healthcare organization,” he explained. “And a lot of this was my upbringing — my father was a career public servant, and I was taught to be of service to others. It’s ingrained in me; it’s part of my DNA.”

Bringing it Home

As he talked some more about what made a return to Mercy so attractive to him, Fulco got his message across by relating the reactions he got from others when he would talk about the system.

“People here [in Michigan] are impressed when they hear about what the sisters have done, how they’ve served that community, and what that legacy is,” he explained. “But it’s interesting … they also tell me that me that, when I talked about the Sisters of Providence Health System and Mercy Medical Center, I had a twinkle in my eye that told them there was something special there. And I told them that you couldn’t help but have that if you spent any amount of time within that organization.”

mercy-exterior-front

Fulco will now get to spend considerably more time within that system, and he is already compiling a to-do list of sorts, or what he called a game plan for his first 100 days, one that came together through input gathered during the interviewing process, discussions with Interim President Beth O’Brien, and his decade of experience in the system.

And at or near the top of that list is doing a better job of telling Mercy’s story, he told BusinessWest.

“When I look at the challenges at Mercy, I think the care provided there is one of the best-kept secrets in Western Massachusetts,” he explained, adding that no business or organization, especially a hospital, needs or wants that particular quality, if that’s what a best-kept secret is.

“It’s been the organization’s culture to serve and be humble — that’s how the sisters taught us to be,” he went on. “But I think the community needs a better understanding of the physicians, the nurses, and the comprehensive services that are provided at Mercy and through the Mercy network.”

As he goes about working with those providers to better communicate Mercy’s services and mission, Fulco said he will put a heightened focus system-wide on the need to innovate, especially amid reimbursements that do not cover the full costs of providing care.

“Anyone who manages a household budget knows that you can’t spend more than you earn,” said Fulco. “So Mercy and Trinity Health New England are continuing to innovate with some of these approaches to deliver the absolute best and highest-quality care, but also deliver that care at the highest possible efficiency.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “But no matter where it goes, we’ll need to continue providing the very best care we can for people, and it needs to be done in a more efficient way at a lower cost year over year.”

There will be several initiatives in this broad realm, and some are already underway, he said, putting the EMR project in this category.

Improved EMR makes a system more efficient, he explained, because it allows for improved communication between providers across the region, giving physicians and nurses immediate access to information, an ability that often eliminates redundancies and mistakes in treatment, thus enabling Mercy, and the healthcare system as a whole, to reduce costs.

“When a test is done, other specialists don’t necessarily have to redo that test, so we’re able to save the system and, ultimately, all of us, as the payers for care, quite a bit of money,” he explained. “If a lab test is done, another physician isn’t redoing that lab test; when an X-ray is done or an MRI, you don’t necessarily have to redo that.”

Putting in the new EMR system is a massive undertaking with a lot of moving parts, said Fulco, adding that such enhancements have been undertaken at several facilities under the Trinity umbrella, and he intends to take full advantage of this accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience.

“We have a great team on the ground both at Hartford that has had experience implementing these systems, and the incredible team at Mercy that will help with the heavy lifting done,” he said. “It will be a process, and a big process, for us to undertake, but we’ll do that and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

“One of the best things about being part of a system like this is that we’ve done this several times before,” he went on. “And with each one, you do you learn some things; we can now avoid the bumps in the road that others have encountered.”

Mission: Statement ‘Providential.’

That adjective, which Webster defines, variously, as ‘destined,’ ‘divine,’ and even ‘preordained,’ certainly works when Mark Fulco talks about coming home and all that goes with that territory.

He told BusinessWest that carrying on the work of the Sisters of Providence is an honor, but also a very big responsibility. It is all of that and more.

But it’s an assignment he’s looking forward to — as much as he is having still more people recognize that twinkle in his eye when he talks about not just where he works, but where he carries out the sisters’ mission.

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

Construction Sections

Happy Returns

President Joe Marois (left) and Vice President Carl Mercieri

President Joe Marois (left) and Vice President Carl Mercieri

A construction company doesn’t grow and thrive for almost a half-century — through some dramatic economic ups and downs — without the kind of client loyalty that makes it a go-to option for any number of job types. For Marois Construction, those include educational facilities, public buildings, medical offices, bank branches, and more. The firm has certainly left its mark on the Valley — with no signs of slowing down.

There are advantages to being in business for 45 years. One is that it’s plenty of time to build a reputation.

“People are looking for quality work — people they know they can trust,” said Joe Marois, president of Marois Construction in South Hadley, a business he built from the ground up — literally and figuratively — starting in 1972. “We’ve established that trust. We’ve made a lot of friends on our projects.”

A lot of friends means plenty of repeat business, and that has been a key component of the success of one of the region’s iconic names in construction, an entity that quickly grew beyond its roots building cabinets and restoring furniture from a small shed. Five years after that humble beginning, Marois boasted seven employees and five trucks. Today, headquartered in a large building on Old Lyman Road, the company currently employs about 45 people.

The repeat business has long been buoyed by the firm’s close relationships with area colleges and universities and expertise in niches as diverse as bank branches and medical offices. Current projects have the company busy at UMass Amherst, Elms College, a new Polish National Credit Union branch in Chicopee, the new state office building in Springfield, Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam, and Central High School in Springfield, to put up a new press box and scoreboard.

The company also has a standing contract with the city of Springfield to perform needed maintenance and renovation jobs on public schools. “We’re all over the place there,” Marois said. “We never know what the needs will be.”

Carl Mercieri, Marois’ long-time vice president, said those assignments can be for just about anything. “They’re more maintenance-type things, on-call services, everything from changing a window to replacing ceilings in the classrooms over the summer, or repair old plaster. It’s pretty interesting. It’s more service work, but it’s good for the guys; they go to a job for two or three days, then move on to another for some change of scenery.”

Marois Construction workers prepare to install equipment on the roof of John Adams Hall at UMass Amherst.

Marois Construction workers prepare to install equipment on the roof of John Adams Hall at UMass Amherst.

In short, times are better for Marois — and for the industry as a whole, of course — than they were a few years ago, in the shadow of the Great Recession, when all firms were scrambling just to keep their crews reasonably busy.

“We were really coming off a bad time during the recession, where it was all about survival,” Marois said. “A few of our contemporaries did not make it. It was a culling of the industry, I guess you’d say. And it was further complicated by an influx of outside contractors into our area from New York and Boston; they were hungry too. Right now, we’re turning the corner and staying busy.”

Getting Around

A quick rundown of some of the firm’s recent project reflects its diversity. To wit:

• An upgrade of the electrical and fire-pump systems at John Adams Hall at UMass, a residential tower, included installation of twin emergency generators on the roof of the 22-story building, placed on a new structural steel frame.

• Also at UMass, a renovation of the Amherst Student Affairs Suite in the Whitmore Administration Building included the demolition of a 4,000-square-foot space, rebuilding of interior partitions, and finishes including porcelain tile flooring, recessed light fixtures, and a bamboo slat ceiling.

• A project at Veritas Preparatory Charter School included more than 22,000 square feet of demolition and renovated spaces, including new classrooms, a science lab, a music room, a reception area, and office space.

• The Keating Quadrangle at Elms College features the inlaid college logo and a large firepit that’s popular with students and staff. The project consisted of new drainage systems, underground electrical work, and multiple landscaping features including concrete, pavers, stone, and plantings.

• On the medical side, the Raymond Center at Baystate Health – South Hadley Adult Medicine consisted of developing 14,000 square feet of primary-care space within an existing building.

• At the Lee Hutt Gallery at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, the existing building was converted into a working sculpture studio, as Marois worked closely with the owner on all aspects of the design-build project.

• The company also built a single-story addition to Plainfield Congregational Church to provide new bathrooms and meeting space. Site improvements included a new well, septic tank, and grading. Repairs and improvements to the existing structure included replacement of piers supporting the existing timber-framed floor, thermal improvements to walls, and more.

• Marois also designed and constructed a facility to house supplies and equipment required to maintain the runways and grounds at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee.

These cupolas are being designed for a project in Amherst.

These cupolas are being designed for a project in Amherst.

The jobs are still coming, but a new obstacle looms, he said. “Now we’re being faced with a labor shortage, which is always a challenge. That’s the nature of construction — it’s never perfect. I don’t know to what extent the casino is affecting that, but basically, the labor pool for tradespeople is very small.”

National data bear that challenge out. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, construction employment increased by 28,000 jobs in August, yet contractors still face a lack of experienced workers. Association officials say construction job growth would have been even higher had a majority of firms not reported having a hard time finding qualified staff.

“Construction firms have stayed busy, adding employees in the past year at nearly twice the rate of employers throughout the economy, but more than two-thirds of contractors report difficulty finding craft workers as the number of unemployed, experienced construction workers hit a 17-year low in August,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Although construction spending has fluctuated recently, many contractors are still looking for qualified craft workers and project managers.”

More than half of the survey’s respondents said they were having trouble finding carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, concrete workers, or plumbers, while some salaried positions, such as project managers and supervisors, are also hard to fill, Simonson added, noting that federal, state, and local leaders should act on measures aimed at recruiting and preparing more young adults for high-paying construction careers. “Exposing students to construction as a career path will encourage more of them to pursue these high-paying careers,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s CEO.

Marois would welcome that development. “I just don’t see a lot of evidence of new tradespeople or young people who are enthusiastic about learning a trade.”

Brave New World

Marois and Mercieri have an old-school ethos when it comes to quality work, but recognize that the way jobs are processed today is different than it used to be.

“It has gotten to be technically advanced as far as the computer systems we are using at the insistence, many times, of our clients,” Marois said. “For a dinosaur like me, that’s a challenge.”

Added Mercieri, “sometimes we run into a situation where a project requires specific software, either scheduling or reporting, and some are good, some are bad. It takes away from the normal, day-to-day business, and it’s something we do more to satisfy others than ourselves.”

Green building, however, is a building trend that has grown well past trendiness in recent years; instead, it’s standard operating procedure for many clients. Marois has worked on multiple LEED-certified structures, but even those that don’t reach for those goals are subject to a new world of sustainability.

“There are always new heating and cooling standards, new insulation values on buildings — seismic standards are another thing that’s a great concern for people — to the detriment of renovating older facilities that are non-correctable, for lack of a better word,” Marois said. “With these 100-year-old mill buildings they want to converting to loft apartments, none comply with the basic structural requirements in place today, and they either get variances on them, or it’s not affordable, with the money it takes to bring it to the standard they expect.”

The business has changed in other ways, too, such as Marois’ increased reliance on outsourcing some of the framing and demolition work than in the past, but he’s still keeping his crews active, after 45 years of loyal clients, technological advances, and economic ups and downs.

“I couldn’t even count how many repeat customers we have,” Mercieri said. “The past 18 months have been busier than we’ve been in a long time.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Chamber Corners Departments

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• Oct. 3: Table Top Expo with the Greater Holyoke, Greater Westfield, Quaboag Hills, and Springfield Regional chambers, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Sponsored by Holyoke Medical Center, PeoplesBank, Polish National Credit Union, HG&E,  BusinessWest, Grzelak, Grzelak & Associates, P.C., and Westfield Bank. Cost: $5 pre-registration, $10 at the door. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• Oct. 12: Business After Hours, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Red Fez, 70 Exchange St., Chicopee. Sponsored by the Red Fez and Westfield Bank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members, including food and beverage. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• Oct. 18: Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Salute Breakfast with Kay Simpson of the Springfield Museums, 7:15-9 a.m., hosted by Collegian Court, 89 Park St., Chicopee. Sponsored by the Arbor Kids and Westfield Bank. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members, including breakfast buffet. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• Oct. 19: Oktoberfest Collaborative Event with Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Munich Haus Biergarten, 13 Center St., Chicopee. Free to YPS and chamber members. Call (413) 594-2101 for more information.

• Oct. 26: Lunch & Learn: New Marijuana Legislation, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., hosted by Residence Inn, 500 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Sponsored by the Greater Chicopee Chamber and Residence Inn of Springfield/Chicopee. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members, including lunch. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• Oct. 12: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., at Eastworks, 116 Pleasant St., Easthampton. Sponsored by Easthampton Travel. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org, or call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

• Oct. 3: Meet the Candidates, 6-8 p.m., hosted by Eastworks, 116 Pleasant St., Suite 320, Easthampton. An opportunity to meet and get to know candidates running for mayor and City Council positions in Easthampton. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

• Oct. 25: The Hampshire County Tourism Council will launch its new tourism guide at Northampton Country Club, 135 Main St., Leeds, 5-7 p.m. For more information, visit www.easthamptonchamber.org or call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• Oct. 3: Table Top Expo & Networking, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. Five area chambers — Greater Holyoke, Greater Chicopee, Greater Westfield, Springfield Regional, and Quaboag Hills — are getting together to present a table-top show. Cost: $125 for a table. Visitors are $5 in advance and $10 at the door. Call the Holyoke Chamber at (413) 534-3376 to secure your table, or sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• Oct. 11: Chamber Business Development/Salute Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m. hosted by Gateway City Arts, 92 Race St., Holyoke. Sponsored by PeoplesBank, Holyoke Gas & Electric, and Holyoke Medical Center. Join emcee Linda Noonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, for a discussion on education and workforce development, internships, career exploration, and job shadowing. Speakers include Dr. Steve Zrike, Holyoke Public Schools; Maggie Gifford, William J. Dean Technical High School; and Eileen Bresnahan, Bresnahan Insurance. Plus, a sneak peek at the new high-school redesign. New chamber members will be recognized: Midas of Chicopee, Tradesmen of New England LLC, Northeast Powersports, Midas of Westfield, Paper City Art Kids, Strategic Alliances, Bay Path University, and Volleyball Hall of Fame 2017 induction. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for guests and walk-ins. Reservations may be made online at holyokechamber.com.

• Oct. 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Westfield Bank, 1642 Northampton St., Holyoke. Business networking event. Refreshments, 50/50 raffle, and door prizes. Cost: $10 members, $15 for guests. Call the chamber at (413) 534-3376 to register, or sign up at holyokechamber.com.

• Oct. 25: Holyoke Chamber Business Person of the Year/Volunteer of the Year Award Dinner, 6 p.m, hosted by Delaney House, Country Club Way, Holyoke. Social hour 6-7 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. A dinner honoring the 2017 Business Persons of the Year: Michael Hamel, owner of Hamel’s Creative Catering and the Summit View Banquet and Meeting House, and the Henry A. Fifield Volunteer of the Year, Harry Montalvo, Community Development specialist at bankESB. Cost: $65. Register online at holyokechamber.com, or call the chamber at (413) 534-3376.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) 584-1900

• Oct. 4: October Arrive @ 5 and Chamber Open House, 5-7 p.m., at the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St. Cost: $10 for members. Sponsors: Clinical & Support Options, Florence Bank, Innovative Business Systems, and Pioneer Training.

• Oct. 19: “Microsoft Excel: Tips, Tricks, & Shortcuts,” 9-11 a.m., presented by Pioneer Training, hosted by Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, 99 Pleasant St., Northampton. This workshop will present tips, tricks, and shortcuts that we have collected and developed over 20 years of teaching and using Microsoft Excel. Participants are encouraged to bring laptops and follow along with the instructor, but this is not required. Pre-registration is required, and space is limited. Cost: $35 for members, $45 for non-members.

• Oct. 24: Start Your Business, 9 a.m. to noon, at TD Bank, 175 Main St., Northampton. Presented by SCORE of Western MA. This three-hour workshop will help you clearly understand the details, challenges, opportunities, and rewards of owning and operating your own business. This workshop is a suggested prerequisite to our Business Planning Workshop. Cost: $25. RSVP, as space is limited. To register online, visit westernmassachusetts.score.org/content/take-workshop-38.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• Oct. 3: Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce 20th Annual Table Top Expo & Networking Event, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Castle of Knights, 1599 Memorial Dr., Chicopee. The Greater Westfield, Greater Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, and Springfield Regional chambers invite you to the 20th annual Table Top Expo. With approximately 110 businesses represented and hundreds of visitors, this event is an excellent marketing tool for area businesses. Cost: $125 for a draped 8-foot table. Includes two exhibitor passes with fee. Must be a member of one of the four chambers to have an exhibitor table. New Westfield Chamber members may use new-member benefit and pay $62.50 for a table. Admission: $5 for pre-registered tickets, $10 at the door. Call the Pam at the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 for more information, to register, or to inquire about sponsorship opportunities.

• Oct. 6: Workshop: “Family Medical Leave Act,” 8:30-10 a.m., hosted by Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Join Attorney Timothy Netkovick of Royal, P.C. for this informational workshop on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers are well aware of the challenges presented by the FMLA. Employers need to be familiar with the provisions of the FMLA in order to be able to respond to all employee requests, from intermittent leave to unforeseen leave. Cost: free for members, $30 for non-members. Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org, or call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• Oct. 11: October After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., hosted by East Mountain Country Club, 1458 East Mountain Road, Westfield. Sponsored by Fresh Look Interiors and Vivid Hair Salon and Spa. Cost: free for members, $10 for non-members. Refreshments will be served, and a cash bar will be available. A 50/50 raffle will benefit the chamber scholarship fund. Bring your business cards and make connections. This month: speed connecting. Online registration will be made available at www.westfieldbiz.org. For more information, call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

• Oct. 16: Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce – Best Practices – Hiring & Firing, 8:30-10 a.m., hosted by Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Attorneys Mary Jo Kennedy and Jennifer Cannon from Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP will present on the subject of best practices for hiring and firing to avoid discrimination claims. This interactive and informative program will include an overview of federal and state employment laws, tips for preventing liability under these laws , what questions can be asked in an interview and what questions are prohibited, reviewing protected classes under federal and state law, documenting performance management and reviews, steps the employer should take when preparing for a termination, and protecting the business from liability for discrimination when terminating employees. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. Cost: Free for members, $30 for non-members. Online registration is available at www.westfieldbiz.org, or call Pam at the chamber at (413) 568-1618.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.springfieldregionalchamber.com

(413) 787.1555

• Oct. 3: Annual Multi-chamber Table Top Showcase and Networking Event with Greater Chicopee, Greater Holyoke, Greater Westfield, and Quaboag Hills chambers, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by Castle of Knights, 460 Granby Road, Chicopee.

• Oct. 4: [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., Crestview Country Club, 281 Shoemaker Lane, Agawam. Sponsored by United Personnel Services. Joshua Weiss, co-founder of the Global Negotiation Initiative at Harvard University and program director of Bay Path University’s master of science program in Leadership and Negotiation, will keynote the event, with a focus on “The Negotiator in You.” Attendees will learn how to negotiate with confidence and calm for successful results. The chamber will also recognize Anthony Hayes as the new general manager for WGBY and Tim Kennedy as the new president of MassLive Media. Cost: $25 for Springfield Regional Chamber members in advance ($30 at the door), $35 for general admission in advance ($40 at the door). Register online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by e-mailing Jessica Hill at [email protected] Sponsorship opportunities are also available. Contact Hill at (413) 755-1310 for more information.

• Oct. 11: Pastries, Politics, and Policy, 8-9 a.m, hosted by TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Featuring new Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta, in her first Western Mass. appearance.

• Oct. 27: Super 60, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., hosted by Chez Josef, 176 Shoemaker Lane, Agawam. The 28th annual Super 60 awards luncheon celebrates the success of the fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the region. Cost: $60 for members in advance, $75 for non-members.

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

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• Oct. 4: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Candlewood Suites. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. For more information about this event, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or register at www.westoftheriverchamber.com.

• Oct. 19: Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., hosted by Cal’s Woodfired Grill, West Springfield. Must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately that day. We cannot invoice you for these events. Register online at [email protected]

• Oct. 25: Food Fest West, 5:30-8 p.m., hosted by Springfield Country Club, West Springfield. Local restaurants show off their cuisine at this well-attended event. Vote for your favorite restaurant or enjoy a cigar on the patio of Springfield Country Club. A DJ, raffle, and entertainment round out this event. Proceeds raised by Food Fest West will go toward the Partnership for Education and the WRC Educational Fund, which provides grants to businesses for on-the-job training and continuing-education needs. Cost: $25 in advance, $35 at the door. Tickets may be purchased online by visiting www.westoftheriverchamber.com. For more information about this event, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD

www.springfieldyps.com

• Oct. 18: Professional Breakfast Series: “The EQ Exchange,” 7:30-9 a.m, hosted by the Colony Club in Tower Square, Springfield. Use emotional intelligence to manage your boss. Cost: free for members, $15 for non-members.

• Oct. 19: Oktoberfest Third Thursday with Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Munich Haus. Join us for live music, light appetizers, and networking. Cost: free for members, $10 for non-members.

Agenda Departments

Labor & Employment Law Symposium

Oct. 5: Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. will hold a Labor & Employment Law Symposium from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel. “The past year has brought significant changes in labor and employment law, and employers need to be aware of these changes; not knowing the law is no excuse for not following it,” said attorney Timothy Murphy, a partner at Skoler Abbott. “We are offering this symposium to provide local and regional HR professionals and employers with the latest developments, and to help them prepare for what’s coming next.” The symposium is geared toward human-resources professionals and business owners. Topics will include “Labor Law Update: Change Is Coming,” “Massachusetts’ New Pay Equity Law and the Effects of Implicit Bias in the Workplace,” “Top Ten Wage & Hour Mistakes Made by Employers,” “Insurance Coverage in Employment Litigation: Limiting Your Risk & Knowing Your Rights,” “After Barbuto: Strategies for Addressing Drugs in the Workplace,” and “How You Should (and Shouldn’t) Conduct a Workplace Investigation.” Attendees will be able to select three of six breakout sessions, and the symposium will close with an overall question-and-answer session. The symposium has been pre-approved by the HR Certification Institute for five hours of general recertification credit toward PHR and SPHR recertification. The cost to attend is $99 per person and includes continental breakfast and lunch. Registration is available at skoler-abbott.com/trainingprograms.

Holyoke Medical Center ACE Awards

Oct. 7: Holyoke Medical Center announced that Esmat Ezzat and Tom Hazen will each be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for their outstanding dedication and hard work on behalf of Holyoke Medical Center and the Holyoke community. Valley Health Systems, which includes Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke VNA Hospice Life Care, River Valley Counseling Center, and Western Mass. Physician Associates, will also recognize select members of the VHS team who exemplify exceptional care. Award recipients will be honored at this year’s ACE Awards event at UMass Amherst.

“The dedication and continued support provided to Holyoke Medical Center and the entire Pioneer Valley from both Mrs. Ezzat and Mr. Hazen make them true assets to our community. We are honored to recognize them for a lifetime of service,” said Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems Inc. Ezzat retired as the director of Speech and Hearing at Holyoke Medical Center in 2007, after a 40-year-long career with the hospital as a speech pathologist. She developed many innovative programs and built a reputation for the center as a regional leader in speech and language therapy. She credits the success of her career and of the center to the support she received from the community and her staff. “The support we have received from the community over the years has been tremendous,” said Ezzat. “When we needed something, the community gave it to us.” Hazen is a past partner in his family’s Holyoke-based Hazen Paper Co. and served on the board of directors for Holyoke Medical Center for 11 years. He continues to be involved with the hospital and currently serves on the investment committee. He has also been an active member in the community, serving in volunteer leadership roles for many local and regional organizations, including the Holyoke Public Library, the Holyoke mayor’s Industrial Development Advisory Committee, the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, the Holyoke Taxpayers Assoc., Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “I’ve had a long kinship with the Holyoke community,” Hazen said. “The people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years are a distinguished group. I have many fond memories of citizens and friends who are dedicated to both the hospital and the Holyoke community, and contribute readily to the long-term well-being of both.” ACE Awards will also be given in the categories of Best Physician, Best Caregiver, Best Supporting Employee, and Best Leader. Tickets to the event, which is open to the public, are available by contacting Denise Rebmann at (413) 534-2579 or [email protected].

Homework House 10-year Celebration

Oct. 19: Homework House is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year, and it will mark the occasion with a 10th Anniversary Celebration and Fund-raising Breakfast from 7:45 to 9:15 a.m. at the Log Cabin in Holyoke to share its story and inspire the financial resources Homework House needs to sustain its programs for the next 10 years and beyond. The anniversary breakfast’s theme is “A Decade of Inspiring Children, Supporting Families, and Transforming Community,” which reflects the broad ripple effect that occurs as a result of children’s participation in Homework House’s academic after-school and summer programming. Founded by retired educators Sr. Maureen Broughan and Sr. Jane Morrissey, Homework House promotes educational success through free, individualized tutoring and mentoring for children. Featuring a program that will highlight the stories of Homework House alumni, parents, and stakeholders, the breakfast will reflect on the powerful work of the past 10 years while looking forward to Homework House’s continued growth. The breakfast is free for guests and will feature a focused ask for donations at its culmination. Community members interested in attending the event or taking a leadership role as a table captain can register by visiting www.homeworkhousetenth.com.

Healthcare Heroes

Oct. 19:  BusinessWest and the Healthcare News will present the inaugural Healthcare Heroes Awards at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse in Hampden. This new recognition program was created by the twin publications to recognize outstanding achievement across the region’s broad and diverse healthcare sector. From a pool of 70 nominations, panel of judges chose eight winners in seven categories, who were profiled in the Sept. 4 issue of  BusinessWest, the September issue of HCN, and at  BusinessWest.com. American International College and Trinity Health Of New England are the presenting sponsors of Healthcare Heroes. Partner sponsors are Achieve TMS East, HUB International New England and Health New England. Supporting sponsors are Bay Path University, Baystate Health, Cooley Dickinson Health CareElms College, and Renew.Calm. Tickets to the event are sold out.

Super 60

Oct. 27: Ralph Crowley Jr., president and CEO of Polar Beverages, will serve as the keynote speaker at the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Super 60 event. Now in its 28th year, the program celebrates the success of the fastest-growing and privately-owned businesses in the region which continue to make significant contributions to the strength of the regional economy. Worcester-based Polar Beverages was founded by Crowley’s great-grandfather, Dennis Crowley, in 1882, primarily as a wholesale and retail liquor business. However, prohibition put a stop to the family’s liquor sales, forcing them to focus on bubbly waters and bottled water instead. Under the entrepreneurial and visionary leadership of fourth-generation Ralph Crowley Jr., Polar Beverages has grown to be the largest privately owned soft-drink bottler in the U.S., having completed more than 30 acquisitions, including proprietary brands Adirondack, Waist Watcher, Clear ‘n’ Natural, and national brands 7Up, A&W, Sunkist, Seagram’s, Royal Crown, and Diet Rite, along with new-age brands Snapple, AriZona, Fiji Water, O Water, HyDrive, and Nantucket Nectars. Polar also bottles home and office water. In September 2001, Polar Beverages formed a joint venture with Cott Corp. that produces and distributes most of the retailer-branded beverages in the Northeast. At one time, Polar Beverages maintained a warehouse in Springfield. “Polar Beverages is an example of a regional, family-owned business that has remained true to its roots, while at the same time growing its brand by smart acquisitions and innovative, entrepreneurial thinking,” said Springfield Regional Chamber President Nancy Creed. The Super 60 Celebration event honoring this year’s class will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef, 176 Shoemaker Lane, Agawam. Reservations are required. The cost is $60 for members, $75 for general admission. Reservations may be made for tables of eight or 10. The deadline for reservations is Oct. 18. No cancellations will be accepted after that date, and no walk-ins will be allowed. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by e-mail to [email protected] The Super 60 event is presented by Health New England and sponsored by Farmington Bank. The event is also sponsored by the Republican, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, and Zasco Productions.

Business & Innovation Expo of Western Mass.

Nov. 2: Comcast Business will present the Business & Innovation Expo of Western Mass. at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, produced by  BusinessWest and the Healthcare News. The seventh annual business-to-business show will feature more than 150 exhibitor booths, educational seminars, breakfast and lunch programs, and a day-capping Expo Social. Current sponsors include Comcast Business (presenting sponsor), Johnson & Hill Staffing Services and Wild Apple Design Group (executive sponsors), Inspired Marketing (show partner), MGM Springfield (corporate sponsor), Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst (education sponsor), Xfinity (social sponsor), Elms College (information booth sponsor), Smith & Wesson (Workforce Support Center sponsor), Savage Arms (JoinedForces parking and workforce development sponsor), and the Better Business Bureau (contributing sponsor). Additional sponsorship opportunities are available. Exhibitor spaces are also available; booth prices start at $800. For more information on sponsorships or booth purchase, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

Court Dockets Departments

The following is a compilation of recent lawsuits involving area businesses and organizations. These are strictly allegations that have yet to be proven in a court of law. Readers are advised to contact the parties listed, or the court, for more information concerning the individual claims.

CHICOPEE DISTRICT COURT

Orange Park Management, LLC v. Arch Properties, LLC

Allegation: Failure to return $8,000 and accrued interest according to contract: $8,000+

Filed: 8/17/17

U.S. Foods Inc. as successor in interest of Cara Donna v. OZKA, LLC d/b/a Maggio’s Pizza

Allegation: To enforce credit application, for food goods sold and delivered, unjust enrichment, and account annexed: $6,344.81

Filed: 8/29/17

HAMPDEN DISTRICT COURT

Geraldine Talbot v. Five Below Inc.

Allegation: Negligence, slip and fall causing injury: $6,816.04

Filed: 9/5/17

Liani Zabik v. Springfield Area Transit Co. Inc.

Allegation: Negligence of bus driver causing injury: $6,216

Filed: 9/11/17

HAMPDEN SUPERIOR COURT

BP Environmental Services Inc. v. Allen Burke Construction, LLC

Allegation: Money owed for delivery and removal of storage containers: $29,865

Filed: 8/21/17

Angel Vazquez, personal representative of the estate of Vilma Vazquez v. Daniel Engelman, M.D. and Baystate Health Inc.

Allegation: Wrongful death, failure to properly treat infection: $25,000+

Filed: 8/25/17

Peter Yaffe v. LMERG Inc. d/b/a Homewatch Caregivers and Lori Mgrdichian

Allegation: Breach of employment contract: $56,448

Filed: 8/28/17

White Glove Caterers Inc. d/b/a Partners Restaurant v. Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

Allegation: Negligence causing injury and property damage: $250,000

Filed: 8/31/17

Colin Drury v. Town of East Longmeadow

Allegation: Employment contract and wage violations: $70,000

Filed: 9/1/17

HAMPSHIRE DISTRICT COURT

Jean Bess v. Ricky C. Hoy, United Parcel Service Inc., and Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.

Allegation: Motor-vehicle negligence causing injury: $20,111.28

Filed: 8/30/17

Departments Picture This

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

 

Great Days Gala

Sunshine Village in Chicopee celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sept. 14 with a Great Days Gala. More than 250 guests enjoyed food stations and passed hors d’oeuvres under a tent, along with tours of the buildings on its main campus in Chicopee. As an industry leader in disability services, the organization serves more than 450 people and employs mre than 250 in its day programs and employment services for adults with developmental disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum. The event focused on the innovation surrounding the next 50 years of the organization, including finding new programs to serve the growing population of individuals with disabilities. Board President Ernest Laflamme Jr. and Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos cut the ribbon on the Davis Building that was recently renovated by A. Crane Construction and Caolo & Bieniek Associates to allow for future growth. The building houses administration offices and a new contemporary day-habilitation program geared toward younger adults. In addition, the board room was also dedicated to the leadership of Laflamme as a board member.

Mayor Kos, state Sen. Donald Humason, Executive Director Gina Kos, board Clerk Michael Siddall, A.J. Crane of A. Crane Construction, board President Ernest Laflamme Jr., board Vice President Stephen Melnyck Jr., board member Peter Benton, board Treasurer Clifford Bordeaux, Chicopee Treasurer and board member Marie Laflamme, board member Debra Schneeweis, board member Teri Szlosek, and Curtis Edgin of Caolo & Bieniek Associates. At

Mayor Kos, state Sen. Donald Humason, Executive Director Gina Kos, board Clerk Michael Siddall, A.J. Crane of A. Crane Construction, board President Ernest Laflamme Jr., board Vice President Stephen Melnyck Jr., board member Peter Benton, board Treasurer Clifford Bordeaux, Chicopee Treasurer and board member Marie Laflamme, board member Debra Schneeweis, board member Teri Szlosek, and Curtis Edgin of Caolo & Bieniek Associates.

from left: Ernest Laflamme Jr., Program Manager Jenny Galat, former Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, and Marie Laflamme

From left: Ernest Laflamme Jr., Program Manager Jenny Galat, former Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, and Marie Laflamme

Those gathered listen to a succession of speakers marking the occasion

Those gathered listen to a succession of speakers marking the occasion

Day of Caring

Sept. 15 marked United Way of Pioneer Valley’s 23rd annual Day of Caring. More than 700 volunteers from 25 different companies rolled up their sleeves and gave a helping hand to a non-profit in need. United Way’s Day of Caring is the largest day of volunteerism in Western Massachusetts, with 39 non-profit agencies participating and more than 70 projects happening on that day alone.

 A group of 15 volunteers from AAA of Pioneer Valley, led by Tammi Benson, sort through various donated food items at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield

A group of 15 volunteers from AAA of Pioneer Valley, led by Tammi Benson, sort through various donated food items at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield

Three employees from MassMutual spent the day volunteering with Girls Inc. in Holyoke and washed down all over their transportation vehicles.

Three employees from MassMutual spent the day volunteering with Girls Inc. in Holyoke and washed down all over their transportation vehicles. From left, Jennifer Bolduc, Wendie Dilk, and Charlene Pafumi

Katie Martin, Kathy Dube, Christina Sousa (in camo hat), and Kare LaFleche are among those who volunteered at the Center for Human Development by cleaning up the Residential Center for Young Women—a transitional house for women who suffered trauma from abuse in Holyoke

Katie Martin, Kathy Dube, Christina Sousa (in camo hat), and Kare LaFleche are among those who volunteered at the Center for Human Development by cleaning up the Residential Center for Young Women—a transitional house for women who suffered trauma from abuse in Holyoke

A group of volunteers from Westfield Bank show off a hard day’s work spent doing landscaping projects at Highland Elementary School in Westfield; and Marco Gomes of MassMutual works diligently on a painting project at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke

A group of volunteers from Westfield Bank show off a hard day’s work spent doing landscaping projects at Highland Elementary School in Westfield; and Marco Gomes of MassMutual works diligently on a painting project at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The regulations governing the workplace in Massachusetts are changing again, and PeoplesBank is bringing back employment-law specialist attorney Meghan Sullivan on Thursday, Oct. 12 to help area business owners navigate this new landscape.

Sullivan’s presentation will include an overview of the legal obligations and recommended compliance strategies related to the new Massachusetts Equal Pay Act and the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. She is a managing partner of Sullivan, Hayes & Quinn, LLC and an employment-law litigator. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College and a juris doctor from Quinnipiac College School of Law, where she was awarded the West Publishing American Jurisprudence Award for academic excellence in the field of Constitutional Law. She is experienced in the areas of labor and employment law, discrimination law, labor relations, affirmative action, OSHA compliance, personnel policy, and training.

The event will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield. The seminar is free and open to the public with registration, but seating is limited. To register, visit peoplesbank32.eventbrite.com.