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Features

The Future Is Now

Both the immediate and long-term future of the manufacturing industry will be defined by the development of several evolving trends and cutting-edge technologies. According to the Assoc. of Equipment Managers (AEM), many of these are poised to have a significant impact in 2020 and beyond, so it’s critically important for manufacturers to develop a keen understanding of what they are and how they will grow over time. Here are the five most notable trends the AEM sees impacting those within the industry, both this year and in the future.

Wearable Technology

Manufacturers of all types and sizes are increasingly looking into — and investing in — wearable devices with different sensors that can be used by their workforce. According to a recent article from EHS Today, electronic features found in wearable devices allow for organizations to monitor and increase workplace productivity, safety, and efficiency. In addition, employers are now readily capable of collecting valuable information, tracking activities, and providing customized experiences depending on needs and desires.

Predictive Maintenance

Effective equipment maintenance is central to the success of any manufacturer. So the ability to predict impending failures and mitigate downtime is incredibly valuable. Predictive maintenance gives manufacturers the means to optimize maintenance tasks in real time, extending the life of their machinery and avoiding disruption to their operations.

However, iIn order to successfully build a predictive maintenance model, manufacturers must gain insights on the variables they are collecting and how often certain variable behaviors occur on the factory floor.

5G/Smart Manufacturing

Smart factories are becoming the norm in manufacturing, and they rely on connected devices to leverage technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, and more. In addition, these devices are capable of sensing their environments and interacting with one another. As factories of the future continue to grow and develop, manufacturers need to realize that they must be able to adapt the networks that connect them, efficiently and effectively.

VR and AR

When it comes to using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in manufacturing, the possibilities are endless. Whether it’s helping make processes more efficient, improving product design and development, or maintaining machinery more effectively, these technologies are capable of becoming game-changers in the coming years.

According to an article from PwC, manufacturers are becoming more adept at finding ways to incorporate these technologies within their organizations in an effort to drive a future defined by digital connectivity. In fact, one in three manufacturers have adopted — or will adopt — VR and AR in the next three years.

Cybersecurity

The importance of cybersecurity in manufacturing cannot be overstated. More and more connected devices are being integrated into organizational processes each day, so it almost goes without saying that the manufacturing industry needs to develop a keen understanding of how to best deal with them.

This year the GBMP conference turns its focus on recognizing the re-emergence of Total Employee Involvement (TEI) as the key to unlocking the full benefits of Lean transformation. In the early days of Lean implementation, company involvement of all employees at all levels was identified as the keystone to Lean. TEI recognized the innate capabilities and desire of employees to always make things better.

But, in the early 90’s, as Lean tools were popularized, the focus on broad employee involvement diminished and was replaced by subject matter experts and swat teams. New jobs were created to concentrate the tasks of problem solving and improvement in the hands of just a small segment of employees. But now, organizations seeking to change their culture are recognizing that this must involve everyone.

The Northeast Lean Conference was created by the non-profit GBMP to provide information and inspiration to Lean practitioners – from those just starting out to seasoned Lean leaders from the manufacturing, healthcare, service and other vital industry sectors. ​The practical learning format features exceptional keynote and breakout presentations, interdepartmental panels, peer-to-peer discussions, hands-on simulations, interactive learning and sharing, and unlimited networking opportunities. Meet more than 500 passionate Lean, Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement professionals just like you.

Features

Exciting STUFF

John Cook, president of Springfield Technical Community College

John Cook, president of Springfield Technical Community College, proudly displays the cribbage board given to him by students at Pathfinder Regional Technical High School in Palmer

John Cook, president of Springfield Technical Community College, says he doesn’t play the card game cribbage.

But that doesn’t mean the cribbage board given to him recently gathers dust sitting in a drawer or closet unused. In fact, it now occupies a prominent place on a desk already crowded with items that speak to his personal life and career in higher education.

That’s because the elaborate board was crafted by students at Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School in Palmer. It’s fashioned from metal — Cook isn’t sure exactly what the material is, although he suspects it’s aluminum — and it’s truly a one-off, complete with his name and title printed on it.

As noted, Cook’s never used the gift for its intended purpose, but he’s found an even higher calling for it.

“I take this around, and I tell people that, if they can create one of these at one of those labs like the one at Pathfinder, there’s a $50,000-a-year job waiting for you,” he said as he started to explain, making it clear that his cribbage board has become yet another strategic initiative in a multi-faceted effort to educate people about careers in manufacturing and inspire them to get on the path needed to acquire one.

Other steps include everything from taking young people on tours of area plants — and their parking lots (more on that later) — to working with the parents of those people to convince them that today’s manufacturing jobs are certainly not like those of a generation, or two, or three, ago.

“I take this around, and I tell people that, if they can create one of these at one of those labs like the one at Pathfinder, there’s a $50,000-a-year job waiting for you.”

And there’s good reason for all the time and hard work put toward this cause. It’s all spelled out in the latest Workforce Development and Technology Report prepared as part of the Precision Manufacturing Regional Alliance Project, or PMRAP for short.

Indeed, the numbers on pages 7 and 8 practically jump off the page. The chart titled ‘Workforce Indicators’ reveals that the 41 companies surveyed for this report project that, between new production hires and replacement of retiring employees, they’ll need 512 new workers this year. Extrapolate those figures out over the entire precision-manufacturing sector, and the need is 1,400 to 1,500, said Dave Cruise, president and CEO of the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, formerly the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Meanwhile, the number of people graduating annually from programs at the region’s vocational high schools and STCC is closer to 300, he said, noting quickly, and with great emphasis, that not all of those graduates, especially at the high-school level, will go right into the workforce.

Those numbers translate into a huge gap and a formidable challenge for this region and its precision-manufacturing industry, said Cruise, Cook, and others we spoke with, adding that additional capacity, and a lot of it, in the form of trained machinists, must somehow be created to keep these plants humming. But before finding the capacity (the expensive manufacturing programs) required to train would-be machinists, the region must create demand for those programs. Right now, there certainly isn’t enough, hence strategic initiatives involving everything from plant tours to Cook’s traveling cribbage board.

BusinessWest has now become an active player in this initiative with an aptly named special publication called Cool STUFF Made in Western Mass. It’s called that to not only confirm that there are a lot of intriguing products made in this region — from parts for the latest fighter jets to industry-leading hand dryers to specialty papers — but to grab the attention of area young people; Cool STUFF will be distributed at middle schools and high schools with tech programs, regional workforce development offices, state college career counseling offices, non-manufacturing employers, top manufacturing firms, BusinessWest subscribers, guidance counselors, community colleges, and employment offices.

Sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and MassDevelopment, Cool STUFF will include a number of profiles of area companies. These profiles will list the products made, the customers served, and the markets these companies supply. But the most important details are the job opportunities, the benefits paid, and the thoughts of those working for these companies.

As BusinessWest continues work on Cool STUFF, to be distributed later this fall (companies interested in purchasing profiles can still do so), it will use this edition of the magazine to set the table, if you will, by detailing the size and scope of the challenge facing this region when it comes to its manufacturing sector, and also highlighting many of the initiatives to address it.

Making Some Progress

Kristen Carlson is working on the front lines of the manufacturing sector’s workforce challenge — in a number of capacities, first as president of the local NTMA chapter, which has about 60 members, but also as owner and president of Peerless Precision in Westfield, a maker of parts for the aerospace and defense industries.

Kristin Carlson, owner of president of Peerless Precision

Kristin Carlson, owner of president of Peerless Precision, says area precision shops are very busy; the only thing holding them back is finding enough good help.

She told BusinessWest that business is booming for Peerless and most other precision manufacturers in this region, and it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future — a fact lost on many not familiar with the high quality of work carried out at area shops and this region’s reputation across the country and around the world as a precision hub.

“In the precision-machining side of the manufacturing sector, companies are not leaving this area,” she explained while debunking one myth about this industry. “There is a skilled workforce here that other states simply cannot compete with. So while it might cost a company less to do business in Tennessee or South Carolina, for example, they’re not going to see the same skill that we need in order to produce the parts our customers need.

“Right now, every industry is booming — aerospace, defense, oil and gas, even the commercial sectors,” she went on. “A lot of us are seeing really large growth percentages over the past 12 months; the only thing that’s holding us back is having the workforce to fill the jobs that we have.”

Peerless has seen 30% growth over the past year, and added six new people over the first six months, she continued, adding that, several years ago, the pace would have been closer to one new person a year.

“I could double in size if I had the workers,” she told BusinessWest, adding that there are many in this sector who could likely say the same thing.

The challenge of inspiring more individuals to become interested in manufacturing is not exactly a recent phenomenon in this region; it’s been ongoing for some time. However, the problem has become more acute as shops continue to add work and also as the Baby Boom generation moves into retirement.

The problem becomes one of supply and demand. There is considerable demand, but simply not enough supply. In most matters involving this equation, supply usually catches up with demand, but this situation is different in many respects.

Indeed, there are many impediments to creating supply, starting with perceptions (or misperceptions, as the case may be) about this sector and lingering fears that jobs that might be there today won’t be there tomorrow. These sentiments are fueled by memories of those with the Boomer generation, who saw large employers such as the Springfield Armory, American Bosch, Uniroyal, Diamond Match, Digital Equipment Corp., Westinghouse, and others disappear from the landscape.

Dave Cruise

Dave Cruise says surveys of area precision manufacturers reveal a huge gap between expected need for workers and the region’s ability to supply them.

Meanwhile, another challenge is creating capacity. Manufacturing programs are expensive, said Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council (EDC) of Western Mass., adding that it’s also difficult to find faculty for such facilities because potential educators can make more money working in the field than they can in the classroom.

Regarding those perceptions, the obvious goal is to change the discussion, or the narrative, surrounding manufacturing, said Sullivan, by driving home the relative security of most jobs today and the fact that “these are not your grandfather’s manufacturing jobs.”

“Manufacturing today … is not, for the most part, standing at a machine doing some kind of manual labor,” he told BusinessWest. “The high-end precision manufacturers today are very technology-driven; there’s lot of computer science, lots of IT. It’s a clean environment, and the jobs in manufacturing, especially precision manufacturing, are very-good-paying jobs, and you can have a very good middle or upper-middle lifestyle, particularly in Western Massachusetts.”

Cook, whose school has several manufacturing programs and is the region’s clear leader in supplying workers for the industry, said that, despite the costs and challenges, additional capacity can and will be created — if (and this is a big if) demand for such programs grows and becomes steady.

That’s why Carlson and others say that manufacturers must sell this sector and its employment opportunities to not only the region’s young people, but also their parents.

“And their parents are often the harder sell,” said Carlson. “If I have a class of 20 kids come in and three or four or five of them show a real interest in manufacturing, I consider that a good day. But then, those kids go home, and selling it to their parents is the difficult part, because many of them still believe this is your grandfather’s machine shop — it’s a dark, dingy place, and only people who can’t go to college do that work, which is not the case.”

Meanwhile, young people are not the only targets. Indeed, other constituencies include those who are unemployed and underemployed, those looking for new careers, and the region’s large and still-growing African-American and Latino populations.

Across all those subgroups, women have become a focal point, in part because they — and, again, their parents — have not looked upon manufacturing as a viable career option when, in fact, it is just that.

“We know there are really well-paying jobs out there, but there’s a lot of work to be done to invite new individuals into this career path,” said Cook. “And I talk about two groups in particular — women and students of color — and there’s work to be done there. We have to engage families, and at much younger ages.”

Still Some Work to Do

It’s called the Twisters Café.

That’s the name given to a ’50s-style diner at Sanderson MacLeod in Palmer, a maker of twisted wire brushes for the cosmetic, healthcare, handgun, and other markets.

It was created a year or so ago, not long after the company also added an appropriately named ‘appreciation garden,’ an outdoor break area complete with picnic tables, chairs, umbrellas, and more.

The additions are part of ongoing efforts to make the workplace more, well, livable and attractive to employees and potential employees.

“They’re little things, but they make this a better environment,” said Mark Borsari, the company’s president. “People are here more than they’re at home, and we hope these steps make this a more enjoyable place to be.”

Those sentiments are yet another indication of how manufacturing has changed in recent years. And making people aware of not just perks like the Twisters Café, but also, and more importantly, the jobs and careers available in manufacturing today, is the broad, multi-faceted mission of a growing group of individuals, agencies, and companies.

This constituency includes the EDC, the various MassHire agencies, the vocational high schools and STCC, the NTMA, and individual manufacturers.

Shop owners will go into the schools themselves to talk about what they do and how, said Sullivan, and the shops will host tours of students, taking them onto the floor, and later into the parking lot.

“That’s a big part of these tours,” he said. “They show the students what they can do, what they can have, with the money they can earn from one of these jobs.”

And such initiatives are starting to generate results on some levels, said Sullivan, noting that many of the vocational schools now have waiting lists, especially for their manufacturing programs — something that didn’t exist a decade ago or even five years ago, when such schools were largely viewed as the best option for students not suited for a typical college-bound curriculum.

But those numbers on pages 7 and 8 of the PMRAP report show there is still a huge gap between demand and the current supply, and therefore there is still considerable work to be done, said Cruise, noting that the goal moving forward is to reach more people overall, more young people, and young people at an earlier age.

Cook agreed, and to get his point across, he brought out another item he’s collected — a fidget spinner made by a young student during a summer STEM program staged at the STCC campus.

“We have to do more of that,” he explained. “We have to do more work with younger students; we have to engage their families over the summer, and we have to let the young people get their hands on the equipment and build things like this. And we have to do things like this at scale — we have to start inviting far larger groups of students to our campus to see these programs.”

Cook does a lot of promotional work for the manufacturing sector — and STCC’s programs — himself, and his cribbage board is very often part of the presentation.

“I bring it to meetings every once in a while,” he explained. “It’s that teacher in me that still likes to use something physical for people to see, to touch, and to hold. They can realize that there’s still a very important place for this in our economy, and there’s nothing better than to put this into people’s hands and make them realize that that’s something significant about the ability to generate something like this.”

Cool STUFF will hopefully act like that cribbage board in that young people can see the products many area companies are making, and, in the snapshot profiles of these company’s employees, they can maybe see themselves in a few years.

“Manufacturing has a rich history in this region, but too many people think ‘history’ means ‘in the past,’” said BusinessWest Associate Publisher Kate Campiti. “There’s still history being written in this sector, and the future looks exceedingly bright. Cool STUFF will hopefully drive this point home and encourage young people to include manufacturing in their list of career options.”

Parts of the Whole

Carlson was talking about the salaries and benefits offered by her company — most workers are paid $1,000 a week or more — when she paused for a moment.

“When you add up wages, overtime, and everything else, there are a few guys here making more money than I do,” she said, adding that this is not an exaggeration, but it is a fact lost on many young people, their parents, and other constituencies.

Bringing such facts, and numbers, to life is an ongoing priority for the region, and Cool STUFF will become part of the answer moving forward, as will John Cook’s cribbage board, plant parking-lot tours, and much more.

The stakes are high, but so is the number of opportunities — for potential job holders, the companies that will employ them, and the region as a whole.

People need to be made aware of these opportunities, said all those we spoke with, and, more importantly, inspired to reach for them.

(For more information on Cool STUFF Made in Western Mass., on how to have your company profiled, for advertising opportunities, and to receive copies, call (413) 781-8600.)

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

Opinion

Editorial

It’s certainly nothing new.

Workforce issues have long been a stern challenge for this region’s manufacturers, and especially its precision machine shops. Companies have long struggled to not only gain the attention of young people and their parents, but also convince them that manufacturing has a solid future in this region and is something they should be part of.

Like we said, that’s nothing new, nor are many forms of response to this problem, everything from bringing students on tours of plants (and their parking lots so young people can see what their solid wages can buy) to improving salaries and benefits, to plant owners going to area schools and making students aware of what they make, how, and why they should consider becoming part of that team.

But this problem is reaching what might be called a critical stage. Indeed, a recent survey of about 40 area precision manufacturers revealed that, at the rate they’re growing — and the rate machinists currently on the floor are retiring — they will need to hire more than 500 over the next few years.

Extrapolate that number over the entire sector, and the need is roughly three times that number. Meanwhile, over that same period, the region’s technical and vocational high schools and Springfield Technical Community College will graduate only about 300 people from their manufacturing programs.

You can do the math.

This is a problem not without real consequences. Area machine shops are very busy at the moment, especially with aerospace, defense, medical devices, and other work, and projections are that things will stay hot for the foreseeable future. Many companies say they have the potential to grow, but what’s holding them back is finding enough talented people.

As the story explains, BusinessWest is now taking an active role in work to find a lasting solution to this problem with a new publication called Cool STUFF Made in Western Mass. That name itself is a nod to the specific target audience for this publication — young people, as in students in high school and even (make that especially) middle school.

Many of them don’t know about the many cool things made in this region — the list includes everything from golf balls to the paper for the Super Bowl program; from parts for attack helicopters and night-vision goggles to components for artificial limbs. And they also don’t know that the jobs making all these things are those proverbial good jobs with good wages and benefits, the kind of wages and benefits that can lead to a comfortable lifestyle, especially in an affordable region like Western Mass.

Cool STUFF is intended to help make them aware. It will include profiles of many area companies, complete with the thoughts of young people now working for them, individuals who were in high school only a few years ago themselves. It will also include many facts, figures, charts, and graphs designed to bring home the point that manufacturing is a solid option and a solid career.

Sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and MassDevelopment, Cool STUFF will be distributed at area high schools with tech programs, middle schools, workforce-development offices, area employers and other locations, and BusinessWest subscribers.

It is intended to inform, but also to inspire the next generation of manufacturing employees. With their help, a sector that has a long and proud past can also have a secure future.

Manufacturing Sections

Doors to Opportunity

Amy Royal

When she started her law career with a firm in Springfield, Amy Royal didn’t consider herself an entrepreneur. But that quality emerged quickly, and she would go on to start her own firm. She soon realized, though, that she was a actually a serial entrepreneur with an appetite for developing and growing companies, the latest of which is a door manufacturer in Ludlow.

Amy Royal says she was given the small ‘Lenox’ sign, complete with that recognizable wolf logo, by officials at that East Longmeadow-based manufacturer soon after it became the first official client of the law firm that bore her last name.

And for years, it was prominently displayed on a wall in her office in Northampton, much like that ceremonial ‘first dollar’ you see under glass or in a frame at small businesses across the region.

Today, it has a new home, and that’s because Royal has one as well, professionally speaking, anyway. That would be 190 Moody St. in Ludlow, the address for West Side Metal Door Corp., a 60-year-old enterprise Royal acquired several months ago, because…

Well, there are many elements that go into that answer, and one of them is that Lenox sign. Sort of. That iconic Western Mass. company is just one of many manufacturers that have become clients of Royal, P.C., an employment-law firm. And over time, while representing many of them, Royal developed more than insight into that sector and much more than a passing interest in someday working within it.

Indeed, when she began a search for a small company to buy a few years ago, manufacturing morphed from one of several sectors being considered to the preferred sector.

“Because of the relationships I’ve had with manufacturers through my law firm, I felt that I had at least a basic understanding of workflow, operations … what it takes to run a manufacturing company,” she explained. “While I certainly explored a number of options, I really wanted to be in manufacturing.”

As she carried out her search, Royal told BusinessWest, the focus was on acquiring an established company, but one with considerable upside potential. And WSMD, as it’s called, certainly fits that description.

Launched in Holyoke in 1958, it has a diverse portfolio of products for commercial customers — diverse enough for Royal to make rebranding a top priority because the ‘MD’ in WSMD doesn’t really work anymore and hasn’t for a while now — and a lengthy list of clients as well.

Indeed, recent deliveries have been made to the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office — the county correctional facility is only a few blocks away — as well as Holyoke Medical Center, the Ludlow Police Department, a casino in Las Vegas, and Wrigley Field in Chicago, among many others.

“We make a lot more than metal doors,” said Royal, also listing custom wooden doors, door frames, distribution of door hardware, and other products, especially tin-clad doors, typically seen in warehouses but now gaining traction in a variety of locations as a retro look.

As evidence, Royal gathered up her phone and scrolled to pictures of tin-clad doors the company recently supplied to an art studio in Hollywood and a condominium tower in Boston. “They look really cool and have a lot of ‘wow’ to them,” she pointed out.

Getting back to that upside potential she saw, Royal said that, unlike her predecessor, an owner who did a little bit of everything for this company, she will focus her efforts on business development, relationship building, and, overall, positioning WSMD (for however long that acronym’s still in use) for continued growth and that proverbial next level.

Amy Royal, seen here with many of the team members at WSMD, says she was drawn by the company’s rich history and strong growth potential.

Amy Royal, seen here with many of the team members at WSMD, says she was drawn by the company’s rich history and strong growth potential.

Borrowing that increasingly popular phrase, she said she’s focused on working on the company, not in it.

“I saw a lot of areas we could build upon, including business development, marketing, and sales,” she explained. “There is brand awareness with this company, but I think we can take that to a higher level.”

As she goes about that assignment, she will borrow at least few pages from the script she wrote with Royal, P.C., which she is still a big part of, even if she and her Lenox sign now consider Ludlow home.

One page in particular involves becoming a certified woman-owned company, a designation that has opened a number of doors (no pun intended) for the law firm, and one she believes can do the same for WSMD.

Elaborating, she said Royal, P.C. is a member of the National Society of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, an organization that forges relationships with large corporations that want to do business with such firms. Corporations like the Macy’s department-store chain, which became a client of the Royal firm just last month.

Institutional clients of that ilk also need metal doors — and wooden doors and tin-clad doors — and Royal’s goal moving forward is to forge such relationships and take the WSMD brand to new heights.

For this issue and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest talked with Royal about her new venture and how and why she walked through that particular door.

Open to Suggestions

Getting back to that question of why Royal acquired WSMD, as noted there are many components to that answer.

Perhaps the main one is Royal’s realization that she is not merely an entrepreneur — something she really didn’t believe she was when she started practicing law with the Springfield-based firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser in the 1990s — but a serial entrepreneur.

“I sort of caught the bug of developing and building businesses after starting the law firm,” she told BusinessWest. “I knew that, even though I’ve had a lot of different business ideas over the years, I was looking for a company that had an existing structure and wouldn’t have to be built entirely from the ground up, like I did with the law firm.

“I wanted to branch out, diversify, and own another business,” she went on, “and really focus my energies and efforts on strategic planning and growing a company.”

Royal said she started her search for a company to buy probably two years ago, and approached that exercise with patience, an open mind, and a determination to find the proper fit.

She looked at everything from a spice-making outfit in Western Mass. (she didn’t identify which one) to a small cruise-ship line operating out of Boston (again, no specifics). But mostly, she looked at manufacturers, again because she liked that environment and understood a good deal about how such ventures operate.

WSMD came onto her radar screen because it was listed for sale. She was working with an area broker on her search, but essentially found WSMD on her own.

And what she found was a solid enterprise and brand with its owner looking to retire — a scenario being played out all across the region within companies in every sector as business-owning Baby Boomers become sexagenarians and septuagenarians.

She started looking at WSMD in late 2015, and kept on looking, undertaking that proverbial deep dive to determine if the company had the growth potential she desired.

And she goes about taking WSMD to a higher level, Royal said she will borrow lessons from her first experience with developing a growing a company, something she did without any formal training (like most all entrepreneurs) and in a fashion that could be described as ‘learning while doing.’

“When I decided I wanted to grow the law firm, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she conceded. “I went out on my own and built the firm, and figured out how to network, market, develop, and grow the brand. And that’s when I realized that that’s really my passion — growing a business, creating jobs, creating opportunities.”

There will be many aspects to doing all that at WSMD, including that aforementioned rebranding effort.

“We have a really established presence within our customer base, and they know that we do more than metal doors,” she explained. “But the name doesn’t really capture what we do, so we need to change it.”

Also on her to-do list is obtaining status as a woman-owned manufacturing business, a process already underway.

“That will be a huge lift for us,” she said, adding that the company’s application is currently being reviewed, and certification may come in the next few months. “There is a lot of competition in this field, so I do think the certification will help.

“One of the things that made me interested in this company is that it’s been very successful,” she went on. “But I think, I hope, I can take it to the next level.”

And by ‘next level,’ she meant more partnerships and opportunities with institutional clients, again similar to what’s she done at the law firm — opportunities that will hopefully enable her to grow sales and the workforce, currently at nine.

Closing the Deal

Royal told BusinessWest that she’s still involved with her law firm, obviously, and on a number of levels.

But when she leaves her home in Deerfield now, she keeps going past that exit off I-91 that spills onto downtown Northampton and goes another 20 miles down the interstate.

Like her Lenox sign, she’s taken up residence in a new office, this one just off a manufacturing floor, not a conference room filled lined with law books.

But as disparate as those settings may be, they have many things in common, said Royal, adding that, instead of building a strong case for her clients, she’ll now be building one for her doors.

And to borrow a phrase sometimes used in law, this will be — wait for it — an open-and-shut case.

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

Manufacturing Sections

Showing Their Metal

Bob LeDuc, seen here with sons Kurt, left, and Eric, started in a chicken coop and has recorded steady growth ever since.

Bob LeDuc, seen here with sons Kurt, left, and Eric, started in a chicken coop and has recorded steady growth ever since.

Bob Leduc says that, in many respects, there’s been a world of change since he affixed his last name to a sheet-metal fabrication company a half-century or so ago.

After all, he got his start in a 20-by-40-foot chicken coop in his backyard, taking some odd jobs and essentially moonlighting to help feed his growing family. Today, the venture he launched, RR LeDuc Corp., is in a state-of-the-art facility on Bobala Road in Holyoke near the West Springfield, and he has established clients ranging from Lockheed Martin to IBM to Whalley Computer Associates. He also has about 50 people working for him, including two of his sons, Eric and Kurt, both serving in vice presidents’ roles.

But looking at things another way, things really haven’t changed a whole lot since the photo on display in the company’s conference room was taken, the one with Bob sporting decidedly early ’70s clothing and a hairstyle to match, an image he finds almost cringeworthy today.

For starters, the 81-year-old not only comes to work every day, he is remarkably hands-on and involved in seemingly everything taking place at the plant — just as he did when he was by himself in the chicken coop, when that assignment was much easier.

More importantly, he noted, business is still being done just like it was back then, with a laser focus on the customer, on being flexible and responsive, and on not only meeting but exceeding expectations, an operating mindset that has created a steady growth curve over five decades.

“One of the keys to staying in business this long is really knowing your customer and partnering with them to meet their needs,” he said while summing up what amounts to his success formula.

Overall, the past 50 years have been marked by evolution and expansion. Indeed, the company that started by fabricating and installing HVAC ductwork and catwalks in Holyoke’s paper and textile mills — usually on weekends when the machines were quiet — now produces a wide range of metal enclosures and other products from a host of business sectors, including defense, communications, medical, electronics, and many others.

“All the cool stuff is on the inside, but we make the skin,” said Eric LeDuc, adding that the company fabricates this skin (enclosures) for everything from computers to ATM machines to portable generators.

For this issue and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest talked with the LeDucs on the occasion of their silver anniversary about where this company’s been, and where these two generations of leaders want it to go.

Manufacturing Milestone

The LeDuc company celebrated 50 years in style late last fall.

There was a party on the front lawn featuring a jazz band and catering by the Log Cabin. The invitation list included customers, vendors, a few elected officials, and employees past and present.

Those gathered were marking a half-century in business, a considerable feat in its own right, but they were really celebrating all it took to reach that milestone — entrepreneurship, evolution, persistence, innovation, and teamwork.

Those qualities came through clearly as the LeDucs collectively — one would often pick up where the other left off and fill in needed information — related the story of their first half-century in business.

The chicken coop gets brought up often, because it provides a colorful, down-to-earth start to the story. But it is only the first chapter.

Actually, we probably need to go back a little further, to the Holyoke Trade School, where LeDuc, concentrating on sheet metal, graduated in 1954. He served a four-year apprenticeship with the E.H. Friedrich Co., worked there for a few years, and then worked for a few other firms, including one in New Haven, which he served as supervisor, that specialized in HVAC ductwork.

He built a house in Chicopee, and on the lot was a World War II chicken coop, he told BusinessWest, adding that soon thereafter he began that aforementioned moonlighting.

“I bought some sheet-metal-bending equipment and shearing and welding equipment as well,” he recalled. “After eight hours of work, I’d come home, eat supper, and work until Jack Parr came on.” (That would be 11:30 p.m., for those too young to know that Parr preceded Johnny Carson as host of the Tonight Show).

In that chicken coop, the elder LeDuc mostly handled the HVAC ductwork he had become versed in, and as his workload became more steady, he eventually quit his day job — and soon flew the chicken coop — and moved into a sub-basement in a building on Sargeant Street.

His client list was dominated by the paper and textile mills surrounding him, and for those companies, LeDuc fabricated ductwork and also handled so-called trim work on the paper machines. He soon gained a reputation for quality work and flexibility that enabled him to stay busy.

“I would work for a couple of hours, change clothes, and go out and make sales calls,” he told BusinessWest. “I remember one customer saying, ‘what can you do for us that the people working for us now can’t do?’ I said ‘I can work for straight time on Saturdays and Sundays.’ That raised some eyebrows, but most of their machines were down on the weekend, so that’s when they needed someone.”

The work would evolve over time, involving a shift to working with stainless steel, which required investments in new equipment, and new assignments such as catwalks, guards for machinery, and exhaust hoods.

As the mills closed down or moved south in the ’70s and ’80s, the LeDuc company had to reinvent itself, said Eric, who, like Kurt, essentially grew up in the company, starting on the shop floor and working his way up. And it did, becoming a precision sheet-metal fabricator, essentially a contract manufacturer serving a wide range of clients.

There would be a move from Sargeant Street to Samosett Street in the Flats area, several expansions of the location there, and then a major investment in a new, 60,000-square-foot building on Bobala Road.

In the early ’90s, the company was approached by Atlas Copco about adding powder coating of the casings (skin) LeDuc was manufacturing for its portable generators to its roster of services.

“There was no one in this country that was doing it at that time,” Bob LeDuc recalled, adding that powder coating has become a strong component of the company’s overall roster of services.

Today, the company has a diverse portfolio of clients and an equally diverse portfolio of products it produces for them. And one of the keys to both is a tradition of continually investing in state-of-the-art technology, said Eric, noting that the company has made great strides in automated, or lights-out, manufacturing, as it’s called, because it can be done 24/7, or when the lights are out, at least for employees.

Recent additions to the shop floor, complete with many letters and numbers in their names, include:

• An EMK3610NT CNC punch press with ASR multi-shelf sheet loader, which enables multiple programs to run unassisted 24/7;

• The Astro 100NT automated bending robot, which, as name suggests, is the answer for forming parts unassisted (automated tool changing allows the sequencing of multiple programs);

• The FO 3015NT 4,000-watt laser, capable of cutting steel and aluminum in a wide range of thicknesses; and

• The EM3610NT CNC punch press, which, along with lights-out manufacturing, allows mass production of high-quality parts.

There are many other pieces of equipment on the floor, said Eric, adding that all those numbers and letters add up to flexibility and responsiveness, qualities that have enabled the company to continue to grow its client list over the years.

Shining Examples

There are a few other artifacts in the company’s conference room, including the time-worn ‘RR LeDuc’ sign that hung on the property on Sargeant Street.

It stands as another indicator of just how much things have changed for this company since Bob LeDuc would come back in from the chicken coop in time to watch Jack Parr.

But equally important is what hasn’t changed in all that time — the focus on the customer and forming a partnership with it to meet goals and needs.

That focus has enabled the company to shape opportunities in the same way that it has shaped metal.

George O’Brien can be reached at [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.

CHICOPEE DISTRICT COURT

Ronald J. Grandbois v. Bailey J. Jones and Alert Ambulance Service Inc.

Allegation: Negligence; vehicle owned by Alert Ambulance Service collided with plaintiff’s vehicle, causing injury: $8,694.57

Filed: 4/20/18

HAMPDEN DISTRICT COURT

American Builders & Construction Supply Co. Inc. d/b/a ABC Supply Co. Inc. v. David Kimball a/k/a David L. Kimball d/b/a Coastal Custom Remodeling

Allegation: Money owed for goods sold and delivered: $13,396.48

Filed: 4/6/18

Brandon Prior, a minor, by his father and next friend, Dennis Prior, v. Shawn McEwen, a minor, by his father and next friend, Brandon McEwen, and New England Fitness & Wellness, LLC

Allegation: Negligence; plaintiff struck by yoga ball at Healthtrax facility during hockey camp, causing injury: $4,120.95

Filed: 4/12/18

HAMPDEN SUPERIOR COURT

Carol Burns v. Medcare Emergency Health

Allegation: Negligence causing injury: $2 million

Filed: 3/23/18

US LBM Holdings, LLC d/b/a East Haven Builders Supply v. Whitman Restoration Inc. and Claude Whitman

Allegation: Breach of contract; money owed for construction materials sold and delivered: $22,914.23

Filed: 3/29/18

Gregory Heffernan v. Automatic Equipment Manufacturing Co. d/b/a Blue Ox, Diamond RV Centre Inc., and Keller Marine Service Inc.

Allegation: Product liability; plaintiff injured while unhooking trailer hitch from RV: $1 million

Filed: 3/30/18

Herman P. Cumby v. 110 Island Pond Road, LLC d/b/a Nathan Bill’s EFP Bar and Restaurant, et al

Allegation: Negligence causing injury: $1.1 million

Filed: 4/6/18

Jackie Ligon v. Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant and John Robert Sullivan

Allegation: Negligence causing injury: $101,000

Filed: 4/6/18

Jozelle Ligon v. Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant and John Robert Sullivan

Allegation: Negligence causing injury: $101,650

Filed: 4/6/18

Michael Cintron v. Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant and John Robert Sullivan

Allegation: Negligence causing injury: $101,000

Filed: 4/6/18

Ryan P. McConnell p/p/a Paul R. McConnell v. Town of Wilbraham and Hampden-Wilbraham County Regional School District

Allegation: Negligence; loose concrete capstone on brick support at Mile Tree Elementary School fell and struck plaintiff, causing injury: $150,000

Filed: 4/6/18

Paula Click v. Walmart

Allegation: Negligence; slip and fall causing injury: $32,945

Filed: 4/6/18

HAMPSHIRE DISTRICT COURT

W.B. Mason Co. Inc. v. Veracruz Foods Inc. d/b/a La Veracruzana

Allegation: Money owed for goods sold and delivered: $11,552.13

Filed: 4/16/18

HAMPSHIRE SUPERIOR COURT

DAS Property Group, LLC v. The Antiquarian, LLC

Allegation: Breach of lease: $73,965

Filed: 4/10/18

Country Bank for Savings v. Big Y Foods Inc.

Allegation: Breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of contract: $25,000+

Filed: 4/19/18

WESTFIELD DISTRICT COURT

John Nadolski v. Michael J. Bisgrove d/b/a Bisgrove Construction

Allegation: Defendant damaged equipment rented from plaintiff and failed to pay for damage: $7,967

Filed: 3/14/18

Daily News

AMHERST — The winning flavor in this year’s UMass Amherst student ice-cream competition is chili chocolate chip, as selected by judges in the fourth annual food-science event held on campus April 30. It will become the latest UMass student-created ice cream produced by Maple Valley Creamery of Hadley over the coming weeks, said owner Bruce Jenks.

For the event, creamery staff, local chefs, and guest judges sampled original ice creams created by four teams of senior food-science majors vying for the honor of developing a new flavor for the UMass label. “This year we had a pretty clear winner,” Jenks said, but he complimented all four teams on their hard work, ambitious goals, and thinking outside the box. “This is the highlight of our spring at Maple Valley Creamery. We really appreciate the students’ enthusiasm and hard work.”

Jenks said a new feature in this year’s competition, the use of Equal Exchange ingredients in the student ice creams, is a valuable marketing point and “very cool.” Equal Exchange, which provided samples to teams throughout the semester, sources ingredients from small-scale farmers around the world and supports their local communities.

The three other entries in this spring’s competition were a butternut squash flavor with lemon zest, ginger, turmeric, and semi-sweet chocolate bits; a chocolate banana graham-cracker flavor; and a strawberry-basil flavor with dark chocolate pieces. The strawberry-basil, dubbed ‘summer blush’ by its creators, won the audience’s vote for best flavor, and Jenks said he may make a seasonal batch of it in the summer.

Members of the winning chili chocolate chip team are Marina Gela, Gina Grimaldi, Rachael Montigny, Joshua Liao, Erica Snyder, and Jozxelle Tongson. In their presentation, they said their flavor, which uses a spicy Mexican chocolate mix from Equal Exchange, plus cinnamon, chili mixture, and churro extract, matches a recent trend in consumer acceptability by using authentic ethnic foods sourced from small farms while meeting the standards of a premium ice cream.

The 24 students in four teams developed the new flavors for their senior capstone project in Assistant Professor Maria Corradini’s food processing class and lab. Their creations must stay under a price-per-pint cost limit while maximizing taste, aroma and texture. The students also identify sources of food allergens and make sure their formulations comply with ingredient-specific food-safety regulations, clean manufacturing standards, and natural-ingredient rules.

40 Under 40 Class of 2018

Director of Marketing, MachineMetrics; Age 30; Education: BA, Wesleyan University

Graham Immerman

Graham Immerman

Immerman is an accomplished leader and experienced startup veteran with an integrated background in digital, social, traditional, and account-based marketing, growth strategies, and business development. After graduating from Wesleyan University with a double major in psychology and music, he spent his early career working on Madison Avenue at global and boutique marketing firms to help craft successful digital-marketing strategies for brands like Adidas, Reebok, H&R Block, and Starbucks. The youngest member of the Forbes Communications Council, Immerman is now director of Marketing for MachineMetrics, and has quickly become an industry expert in digital manufacturing transformation and industrial IoT applications. He currently lives in Northampton with his wife, Jessica Dupuis (a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2017), and their two loving, frisky cats.

Who has been your best mentor, and why? After I outgrew my first career aspiration of becoming the next Superman, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer like my father. He took great pride in helping people when they needed someone to stand up for them. In retrospect, I guess it was a logical next step from my initial superhero ambitions. He was not only my idol, but my inspiration, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without his mentorship.

How do you define success? Success is a satisfaction with how one answers the following questions: how happy am I with the person I’ve become, the efforts I’ve shared with the world, and the impact I’ve had on others? Thus, success is peace of mind, a self-satisfaction in knowing that you did everything you could do to become the best person you are capable of becoming.

What four words best describe you? Persistent, honest, loving, leader.

What are you passionate about? I’m most passionate about people. More than anything else, I love human interaction, communication, and connection. From the profession I work in to the friends I keep to the technologies I’ve built, it all comes from a desire to bring people together and connect us in some way. It’s what drives me and what I’m most dedicated to.

What will work colleagues say at your funeral? I’ve actually been waiting for someone to ask me this, and I prefer to approach it as my ideal tombstone quote instead. Option 1: “It is not for me to judge another man’s life. I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone.” —Herman Hesse, Siddhartha. Option 2: “He left this world as he came into it: terrified that there wouldn’t be enough food.” —Me. I like Option 2.


Photography by Leah Martin Photography

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — Griffin Staffing Network, a certified woman- and minority-owned business, has undergone a company rebrand to ManeHire and unveiled its new logo, tagline — “connecting great companies with great talent” — and website, manehire.com, to support its expansion from a local boutique staffing agency to a full-service regional staffing agency serving the Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Washington, D.C. markets.

Since 2013, Griffin Staffing Network has served a wide-range of local and regional clients operating in industries such as healthcare, financial services, insurance, manufacturing, and nonprofit, filling roles from entry-level to C-suite and everything in between.

The company is committed to customer service and being the right partner, with the right solutions and the right fit, said Nicole Griffin, owner and chief talent officer. “This approach has played a strategic role, with our client retention rates continuing to be above the industry average.”

ManeHire differentiates itself from competitors by listening to clients, problem solving, and building lasting relationships with service that exceeds the status quo, Griffin added. “ManeHire’s core values will remain the same. Relationships are our bedrock, and we will continue to deliver extraordinary experiences for our clients.”

Departments Incorporations

The following business incorporations were recorded in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties and are the latest available. They are listed by community.

AMHERST

Democracy Action Inc., 48 North Pleasant St., Suite 304, Amherst, MA 01002. Ben Clements, 256 Park St., Newton, MA 02458. Work to advocate progressive stances on civil rights and liberties, social and economic justice, sensible foreign policy, and sustainable environmental policy.

CHICOPEE

Czar Industries Inc., 1981 Memorial Dr., #256, Chicopee, MA 01020. Curtis P. Duval, Same. Metal door manufacturing.

HOLYOKE

Casa De Restauracion Nuevo Pacto, 384 High St., Third Floor, Holyoke, MA 01040. Luz Merari Torres, 26 Tracy St., Springfield, MA 01104. Restaurant.

PALMER

Aquatic Avengers Inc., 45 French Dr., Palmer, MA 01069. Corey Lomas, Same. Swim coaching.

PITTSFIELD

Bill White Insurance Agency Inc., 82 Wendell Ave., Suite 100, Pittsfield, MA 01201. William White, 710 Rimpau Ave., Suite 203, Corona, CA92879. Insurance producer.

SPRINGFIELD

Colby’s Path to The Cure; Hope. Love. Cure. Inc., 35 Palm St., Springfield, MA 01108. Colette Proctor, 33 Palm St., Springfield, MA 01108. Raising awareness and supporting research to cure synovial sarcoma.

Crowned with Excellence Inc., 1655 Main St., Suite 302, Springfield, MA 01103. Merlly D. Ortiz, 52 Casino Ave., Chicopee, MA 01013. To foster a holistic approach of healing, transformation and empowerment of woman. Crowned with excellence believes through empowerment by education, integrating wellness to the body, mind and spirit.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Aroma One Inc., 935 Riverdale St., Suite F105-107, West Springfield, MA 01089. Xian-Ming Zheng, same. Restaurant.

Buscoe Inc., 425 Union St., West Springfield, MA 01089. Elmo Coe, Same. Bus transportation.

Carolina Express Tours Inc., 425 Union St., West Springfield, MA 01089. Rheuben Herbert, same. Charter bus company.

Chrzan Founder Holdings Inc., 143 Doty Circle, West Springfield, MA 01089. Jan Chrzan, Same. Shipping and Delivery Service.

Departments People on the Move

Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. announced the promotions of Chelsea Cox, Lyudmila Renkas, Joseph LeMay, Dan Eger, and Francine Murphy.

Chelsea Cox

Chelsea Cox

Cox began as an intern at MBK in 2015 and became a full-time associate the following year. In her new position as senior associate in the Accounting and Audit Department, her primary focus is on nonprofit and commercial audits and employee-benefit plans. She is a member of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Lyudmila Renkas

Lyudmila Renkas

Over the past two years at MBK, Renkas has served as an associate accountant in the Audit and Accounting department at MBK. Having recently completed her MSA, she will turn her attention to new responsibilities as a senior associate. In her new role, she will be responsible for planning and leading client audit engagements, internal control evaluations, and pension audits. In addition, she prepares individual, partnership, and corporate tax returns for clients in the real-estate, construction, healthcare, and nonprofit industries.

Joseph LeMay

Joseph LeMay

Lemay joined MBK in January of 2015 as an associate. In his new role as senior associate, his responsibilities consist of being the lead accountant on review and compilation-level engagements, staff training, and tax-planning strategy for clients in the manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and distribution industries. He obtained his CPA license in 2017 and is a member of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Dan Eger

Dan Eger

Eger, who has been with MBK since 2005, has been promoted to senior associate. He focuses on preparing federal and state income-tax forms for corporations, individuals, and nonprofits. He has more than 12 years of tax experience and brings a wealth of knowledge to his role. In addition to serving as a tax preparer, he has developed an expertise in the firm’s specialized tax software, servicing as a resource to the entire Tax Department.

Francine Murphy

Francine Murphy

Murphy, who has served as a paraprofessional in MBK’s Accounting Department since 2013, has been promoted to tax associate. In that new role, her responsibilities include preparing federal and state income-tax forms for corporations, individuals, and nonprofits; preparing city and town tax filings; preparing annual reports; and responding to IRS notices.

•••••

Sofia Nardi

Sofia Nardi

CLICK Workspace, a co-working space located in downtown Northampton, announced the hiring of Sofia Nardi as a new member advocate. Nardi is a recent graduate of Bay Path University, where she double-majored in small business development and marketing, graduating summa cum laude. At CLICK, she manages all administrative functions, including financial accounting, office operations, purchasing, and troubleshooting routine problems with equipment and maintenance. Serving as the first point of contact for all inquiries and visitors, she aims to ensure a welcoming environment. As the member advocate, Nardi manages all communications within the organization and beyond. This includes maintaining website infrastructure, curating monthly e-mail newsletter content, managing the social-media presence of the organization, and actively marketing the firm in the immediate community and beyond.

•••••

Geraldine de Berly

Geraldine de Berly

Geraldine de Berly has been named vice president of Academic Affairs and chief academic officer at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), President John Cook announced. De Berly’s hiring comes after an extensive search and comprehensive vetting process. Currently vice provost for Continuing and Professional Education at UMass Amherst, de Berly begins her new position at STCC on May 1. De Berly, who holds a Ph.D. in education administration, has worked in higher education for more than three decades, in both faculty and administrative roles. At New Mexico State University, she was an associate English as a second language professor, as well as director of the Center for Intensive Training in English. She also worked for 18 years at Syracuse University, University College, including serving as associate dean for Academic Affairs and senior associate dean. University College offers degree, certificate, and non-credit courses and serves as the gateway across Syracuse University for part-time students. As vice provost at UMass Amherst, de Berly managed a budget with more than $50 million in revenue. During her time, enrollment expanded 6% to exceed 31,000 students. Since 2016, six new programs were launched under her leadership. Born in Cuba, de Berly is fluent in four languages. She began her higher-education journey at Miami Dade Junior College. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, a master’s from the University of Essex (England), and her Ph.D. in education administration from New Mexico State University.

•••••

Jesus “Laz” Montano

Jesus “Laz” Montano

Underscoring the importance it places on comprehensive, robust information security and risk-management capabilities, MassMutual named long-time information-technology executive Jesus “Laz” Montano its new head of Enterprise Information Risk Management (EIRM) and chief information security officer. In his new role, Montano will work closely with the company’s executive leadership team, directing a holistic risk-management approach across the company, including managing operational and cybersecurity risks, ensuring all regulatory and compliance requirements are met, and overseeing the safeguarding of MassMutual’s information assets. Montano joins MassMutual from Voya Financial, where he served as chief information security officer for the past four years, responsible for providing leadership, management, and strategy for all aspects of the company’s technology risk and information security. He has also held technology security leadership roles at OpenSky, MetLife, the Travelers Companies, and Lucent Technologies. A graduate of Charter Oak College, Montano earned his MBA in business and technology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is also a certified information security manager, certified in the governance of enterprise IT, and serves as a National Technology Security Council board member.

•••••

Elyssa Morgan

Elyssa Morgan

Julie Duffé

Julie Duffé

Florence Bank announced that Elyssa Morgan and Julie Duffé were recently selected as recipients of its President’s Award for 2018. The President’s Award was established by the bank in 1995, affording employees the annual opportunity to nominate their peers for an honor that recognizes outstanding performance, customer service, and overall contribution to Florence Bank. Both Morgan and Duffé were nominated by numerous colleagues. Morgan is the deposit operations manager at the main headquarters in Florence and has worked at the bank for seven years. She holds an associate’s degree in business administration from Bay Path University. Duffé, a customer service representative in Florence Bank’s main office, has been with the bank for seven years. She is a Springfield Technical Community College graduate and holds an associate’s degree in business administration and finance. In addition, she is also certified as an individual retirement account specialist through Ascensus.

•••••

Karrah Smith, owner of Something to Talk About Boutique, was recently named Business Owner of the Year by the Assoc. of Black Business Professionals, and was awarded a certificate by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Boston last month. Smith, a 24-year-old Springfield native, received her associates degree in criminal justice from Holyoke Community College. However, her passion for fashion took center stage in 2015 when her beloved older cousin, Diane Evans, original owner and founder of Something to Talk About Boutique, passed away from pancreatic cancer, leaving the store, located on the street level of Tower Square, to Smith and her mother, Stephanie. Smith has given back to the community in multiple ways, including donating proceeds from fashion shows to local charities. She also works with other young women, giving them pointers on how to run a business.

•••••

Chris Hakala

Chris Hakala

Springfield College named Chris Hakala director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship. The newly created academic-affairs position was developed through the college’s strategic planning process, and the center strives to foster intellectual engagement across the curriculum through evidence-based programs and services that increases collaboration, communication, and community to promote the enhancement of student learning. Hakala brings more than 20 years of experience as a faculty member at various institutions in higher education. Most recently, he served as executive director for the Center for Teaching and Learning at Quinnipiac University. Before joining Quinnipiac, he taught psychology at the University of New Hampshire, Gettysburg College, Lycoming College, American International College, and Western New England University, where he served as director of the Center for Teaching and Learning from 2009 to 2014. Hakala earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Castleton State College, and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of New Hampshire.

•••••

Nicholas Grimaldi

Nicholas Grimaldi

Nicholas Grimaldi has become a partner at Fierst, Kane & Bloomberg, LLP, while Peter Lane has been named of counsel in the law firm. Grimaldi joined the firm in 2014 and has more than 18 years of experience as a lawyer. His practice will continue to focus on representing individuals, businesses, and financial institutions in corporate transactions, real estate and secured lending, entertainment and interactive media law, creditor’s rights, and commercial matters. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Boston University School of Law. Lane has 10 years of experience representing individuals and businesses in civil and criminal litigation, including commercial litigation, landlord-tenant law, criminal defense, and civil rights. He is a graduate of Fordham University and Brooklyn Law School.

•••••

Kayla Drinkwine

Kayla Drinkwine

Kayla Drinkwine has rejoined Phillips Insurance Agency Inc. as a commercial lines account manager. She started in 2012 with Phillips Insurance and left earlier this year for an opportunity at another agency. She will be responsible for managing the insurance programs of businesses throughout New England. Drinkwine has her CRIS (construction risk and insurance specialist) and CISR (certified insurance service representative) designations and is a licensed Massachusetts insurance broker.

•••••

River Valley Counseling Center (RVCC) promoted Michael Chunyk to the position of site manager at its newest location at Liberty Commons on 2 Mechanic St. in Easthampton. Chunyk obtained his master of social work degree from Springfield College School of Social Work. He has been practicing at RVCC for the last three years as a licensed therapist specializing in working with men who have experienced emotional trauma and addressing symptoms that arise from post-traumatic stress disorder, such as anger issues, depression, and relationship difficulties. He is also a 2018 recipient of the UMass Community Salute Plaque for his dedicated commitment and humanitarian spirit, which has made a positive impact in Western Mass. communities. As the former executive director of Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and Pantry in Chicopee, he brings many years of organizational leadership to River Valley’s Easthampton team. Alexa Mignano has also joined the RVCC team in Easthampton as coordinator of School-Based Mental Health Counseling and works as a child-focused therapist. She received her master’s degree from from Springfield College and has been working at RVCC as a therapist in the Holyoke Public Schools for more than seven years. She specializes in treating trauma, adjustment problems, anxiety, self-regulation difficulties, disruptive behavior, and other challenges. Her goal is to help children engage their mind and body throughout the therapeutic process as they work towards healing; this includes play therapy, movement-based interventions, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and parenting support. She also provides training and consultation to schools in implementing trauma-informed practices.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Deerfield boasts drawing cards like Mount Sugarloaf

While Deerfield boasts drawing cards like Mount Sugarloaf (seen here), Yankee Candle, and others, officials there say this community is much more than a tourist town.

Wendy Foxmyn acknowleged that, when pressed to describe Deerfield with a word or two, most responders would say ‘tourist town,’ or something to that effect.

And, sounding somewhat like the Seinfeld characters in that infamous episode, she said there’s nothing particularly wrong with that.

But she quickly, and repeatedly, stressed that this community that is home to Yankee Candle’s flagship store — one of the most visited attractions in New England — as well as Mount Sugarloaf, Historic Deerfield, and the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservancy and Garden wants to diversify and broaden its commercial portfolio.

“We consider ourselves be more than a tourist town — much more,” said Foxmyn, who has served several area communities in the town administrator role, including Deerfield for the past two years. She noted that the town’s location, roughly halfway between Northampton and Greenfield, could make it ideal as a home from which a business or nonprofit could effectively serve both Hampshire and Franklin counties, something many are trying to do at a time of consolidation.

“We’re becoming more of a hub — a central Hampshire-Franklin hub,” she explained. “I’ve been getting calls from service agencies and others who serve both counties who would like to find a central place because they’ve lost funding or anticipate losing funding.”

Meanwhile, Deerfield, population 5,400 or so, wants to take far more advantage of that bevy of tourist attractions than it has historically, said Foxmyn, noting that, far too often, cars and buses filled with those buying candles and admiring butterflies get back in their vehicles and simply return home.

“We want them to look left and look right,” said Foxmyn, referring specifically to Routes 5 and 10, just two of the major thoroughfares the town is blessed with, with Routes 91 and 116 being the others. “We want them to stay and take in more of Deerfield.”

For this to become reality, the town must give visitors more reasons to look left and right, she acknowledged, adding that, while there is a new restaurant, Gianni Fig’s Ristorante, and a new Cumberland Farms in South Deerfield, more development is desired and needed to both broaden the tax base and lengthen the average stay of those coming to Deerfield for an afternoon.

“We’d like to develop more businesses that would be attractive to the people who come here,” she explained. “Maybe places for them to eat after they’ve gone to Historic Deerfield or they’ve hiked up Mount Sugarloaf or gone to Yankee Candle.”

But town leaders know that to attract new businesses — in hospitality and other sectors as well — they need to make their downtown area more inviting and pedestrian-friendly, and they are eyeing a host of improvements in the Elm Street corridor, the main commercial area in South Deerfield.

Planned improvements include work on sidewalks, lights, and perhaps storefront improvements, and the town is exploring avenues for funding such work.

Selectman Trevor McDaniel, a traveling salesman (windows) by trade, told BusinessWest that his work takes him to communities across the region, many of which have made significant investments in their downtowns, and with recognizable results when it comes to those public expenditures spurring private investments and new business ventures.

He believes the same can happen in Deerfield.

“I travel all over Western Mass. … you go to Pittsfield, the streets look great, Great Barrington, everything’s redone, Lenox is really nice,” he said. “A lot of communities have done extensive work to their downtowns — they’ve put in new brick, some granite, planters, new lighting and light poles, and new cement sidewalks, and it looks fantastic. And then businesses freshen up the front of their building.”

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at how a community known for its butterflies, candles, and arrowheads will look to expand that profile and create new ways for people to describe it.

View to the Future

While Deerfield, as noted, is well-known as the home of Yankee Candle, which has both its manufacturing facilities and flagship store within the town and is therefore a very large employer, it has historically been dominated by small businesses.

And they come across a host of sectors — tourism, obviously, but also agriculture, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and nonprofits.

The goal moving forward, as Foxmyn mentioned, is to simply broaden the portfolio. And the town has many assets to work with as it goes about that task, everything from that attractive location and presence on major highways to a uniform tax rate (several neighboring communities have a higher tax rate for businesses).

The assignment, simply, is to take full advantage of those assets and create still more of them.

Deerfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1677
Population: 5,400
Area: 33.4 square miles
County: Franklin
Residential and commercial Tax Rate: $16.57 (Deerfield), $18.24 (South Deerfield)
Median Household Income: $74,853
Median Family Income: $83,859
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Yankee Candle Co., Pelican Products Inc.
* Latest information available

The town’s location, as well as easy access to highways and ample farmland with space for greenhouses, could make it a potential landing spot for marijuana cultivation and/or retail ventures, for example, said Foxmyn, adding that the town, which has placed zoning restrictions on such businesses, has already fielded some inquiries and will carefully consider any that come its way.

“They are knocking on our doors — the industry is swarming us,” she told BusinessWest. “And they’re approaching people locally to get them involved, whether they’re farmers or people who have buildings that might become a retail site.”

Meanwhile, there have been some momentum-building endeavors over the past several months, with several projects in various stages of development.

A machining company, Dumont, will be relocating into the former Oxford Pickle complex, acquired by the town several years ago, joining New England Natural Bakers and a granola-making outfit on that parcel.

On the retail side, both Foxmyn and McDaniel mentioned Gianni Figs, located on the site of the former Sienna restaurant, which gives the community an intriguing dining attraction after the closing of Chandler’s restaurant on the Yankee Candle campus.

The Cumberland Farms is another important addition; plans are advancing for a small market to replace Savage’s, a small market that operated for decades; a bakery/café is going in the old Savage’s site; and an international market is being opened, among other retail developments.

Meanwhile, on the residential side, a large condominium project is now underway. Called the Condominiums at Sugarloaf because it will be built at the base of the mountain, it will have 70 units, presenting more options for those mulling Deerfield as an attractive place to live, including those working at the nearby Five Colleges.

On the municipal side, plans are emerging for a new senior center, said Foxmyn and McDaniel, noting a replacement is needed for an aging, largely inadequate facility. A church that closed several years ago has been donated to the town, and it may become the focus of efforts to create a new senior center.

But perhaps the most significant development involves plans for comprehensive improvements to improve South Deerfield Center, an initiative that has been long discussed, again with that goal of attracting both more tourism- and hospitality-related ventures and service businesses that would serve both the town and the larger region — and keeping tourists in town for a longer stay, spreading the wealth, if you will.

“With all that traffic that comes to Yankee Candle, and now they’ll be filling up at Cumberland Farms — they’ll pull out onto Elm Street and look left or right,” said McDaniel, imaging a scenario from down the road, literally as well as figuratively. “We want them to take that look and say, ‘what’s downtown? Let’s go take a look.’”

There are other items on what could be called a ‘wish list,’ said McDaniel, including much-needed improvements to the town’s sewer system, built in the ’70s and currently serving only a small percentage of the population, but finding the funding for such an endeavor will be a real challenge.

“We’re in the midst of trying to figure out what’s needed, how much it’s going to cost, and who’s going to pay for it,” he explained. “That’s a big topic we’ve been studying for the past 16 months or so; it’s hard to figure out what to do. There’s not a big base of users, and there’s huge expense involved.”

Scents and Sensibility

The more immediate goal is to undertake those improvements to Elm Street and, hopefully see those public investments inspire private investments in the form of new businesses and additional residential projects.

As Foxmyn noted, Deerfield has the location — and the potential — to become an important hub serving two neighboring but very different counties.

This community is already much more than a tourist town, she explained, but it wants to make that abundantly clear to everyone who might come for a visit.

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

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. announced the promotions of Chelsea Cox, Lyudmila Renkas, Joseph LeMay, Dan Eger, and Francine Murphy.

Cox began as an intern at MBK in 2015 and became a full-time associate the following year. In her new position as senior associate in the Accounting and Audit Department, her primary focus is on nonprofit and commercial audits and employee-benefit plans. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Westfield State University and is currently pursuing her master of accountancy degree at Bay Path University. She is a member of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Over the past two years at MBK, Renkas has served as an associate accountant in the Audit and Accounting department at MBK. Having recently completed her MSA, she will turn her attention to new responsibilities as a senior associate. In her new role, she will be responsible for planning and leading client audit engagements, internal control evaluations, and pension audits. In addition, she prepares individual, partnership, and corporate tax returns for clients in the real-estate, construction, healthcare, and nonprofit industries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Elms College and a master of acountancy degree from Westfield State University.

Lemay joined MBK in January of 2015 as an associate. In his new role as senior associate, his responsibilities consist of being the lead accountant on review and compilation-level engagements, staff training, and tax-planning strategy for clients in the manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and distribution industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business, with a concentration in accounting, from Westfield State University, and received his master of accountancy degree there in 2015. He obtained his CPA license in 2017 and is a member of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Eger, who has been with MBK since 2005, has been promoted to senior associate. He focuses on preparing federal and state income-tax forms for corporations, individuals, and nonprofits. He has more than 12 years of tax experience and brings a wealth of knowledge to his role. In addition to serving as a tax preparer, he has developed an expertise in the firm’s specialized tax software, servicing as a resource to the entire Tax Department. Eger holds a bachelor’s degree in accountancy from American International College, where he graduated as a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society.

Murphy, who has served as a paraprofessional in MBK’s Accounting Department since 2013, has been promoted to tax associate. In that new role, her responsibilities include preparing federal and state income-tax forms for corporations, individuals, and nonprofits; preparing city and town tax filings; preparing annual reports; and responding to IRS notices. She holds an associate degree in accounting from Holyoke Community College.

“My partners and I are deeply proud of this group,” said MBK Managing Partner James Barrett. “We have a standing commitment to the next generation here at MBK, and to see such a talented and vital group of young accountants develop and thrive in our firm is not only encouraging, but a testament to the future. Chelsea, Mila, Joseph, Francine, and Dan each offer distinct qualities to warrant their individual promotions, but what they have in common as a group is a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, strong leadership qualities, and dedication to adding value to our clients and the firm as a whole.”

Opinion

Editorial

Over the years, we’ve written many times about how, when people hear the term ‘economic development,’ thoughts turn to building large industrial parks and luring major corporations from other states or other countries.

And that’s certainly a big part of the equation — everywhere and right here in Western Mass., where we’ve seen several industrial parks take shape and many large businesses recruited into the 413.

But there are many other, dare we say less glamorous sides to economic development, from workforce-development initiatives to marketing, to creating support systems for startups and next-stage companies. And in this issue, we see two excellent examples of that last dynamic at work — an important, but also often overlooked component of economic development.

Indeed, the Western MA Food Processing Center (WMFPC) in Greenfield and the Greentown Labs Manufacturing Initiative are excellent examples of economic development in the form of needed assistance to entrepreneurs looking to take an idea or a family recipe, as might be the case with the WMFPC, and turning it into a successful business enterprise.

Let’s start in Greenfield. The WMFPC, launched in 2001, in a large commercial kitchen created to help farmers and other entrepreneurs launch new, value-added products. The center provides the pots, pans, and freezer space, but it also offers technical support with labeling; meeting local, state, and federal guidelines; marketing; and many other aspects involved with taking a salsa recipe and moving from making a few dozen gallons to several thousand.

The center, managed by the Franklin County Community Development Corp., has helped farmers put crops to work in new, often profitable ways, but it is also helping to create jobs — more than 100 of them to date — and some very successful companies.

Meawhile, the Greentown Labs Manufacturing Initiative was launched just over a year ago with the goal of matching hardware startups with manufacturers doing business in Western Mass.

Such matches are critical for several reasons. First, these startups are often unaware of the capabilities and specialties of area manufacturers, and often believe they have to look elsewhere — to China or somewhere else offshore — to bring a product to market.

But with 7,000 manufacturers in this area making everything from plastic packaging to parts for the aerospace industry, there is a very good chance they can find someone 20 or 30 miles away instead of 12,000 miles away.

But there is another reason why these matches are so important: often, they can accelerate the process of taking a product off the drawing board and bringing it to reality, as we see with the company called Quikcord. “Springboarding effect” was the phrase used to describe the impact, and it gets the point across.

This initiative has many obvious benefits — from bringing work to area manufacturers that are doing very well in most cases but always need more work, to giving hardware startups a needed boost that get them going or to the next stage. And the biggest prize could be more jobs.

All this equates to economic development — though maybe not the kind that many people think of when they say or hear that phrase — and progress for the region.

Opinion

Opinion

By Sen. Eric Lesser

How should we — here in Massachusetts, and across the U.S. — prepare for autonomous vehicles taking over our roads or for artificial intelligence replacing manufacturing jobs on a massive scale? We may want to look across the pond for some answers.

Last fall, the British government published an ‘industrial strategy’ to address these two major challenges and two others: advancing economic growth while curbing pollution, and meeting the needs of an aging population.

The strategy is more a call for proposals than a top-down list of recommendations for cities, towns, and businesses to follow. In a nationwide public-private partnership, Britain is inviting organizations and companies to submit designs for the streets of the future that would pave the way, so to speak, for autonomous vehicles to join its roads. The winner will see their blueprints built, serving as prototypes for the rest of the country.

Instead of fearing tectonic shifts in technology, the U.K. is embracing them as opportunities to position their workers and industries at the forefront of the future economy. Here in America, and specifically in Massachusetts, we could take a page out of Britain’s book.

Training workers for the jobs of the 21st century often makes a good sound bite, but there are already thousands of unfilled high-tech manufacturing jobs in Western Mass. alone.

That is why I have made high-tech job-training a focus of my work at the State House, including a bill to study vocational education across the Commonwealth and establish programs where access to that education is inadequate.

Fortunately, some local companies and schools have stepped in to fill the gap. Tech Foundry trains young people and adults in computer science, and Springfield Technical Community College has formed a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to host one of the premier laser manufacturing programs in the country.

Not only is Britain embracing high-tech development; it is localizing that development in places that have fallen behind. Investing in regional cities is one of the five foundations of the industrial strategy.

Through its Transforming Cities Fund, Britain is funding infrastructure projects — such as high-speed rail — that improve connectivity between cities for the express purpose of driving growth across the country. The construction of HS2, a major high-speed rail project, is expected to support 25,000 jobs.

Here in America, President Trump unveiled his long-promised infrastructure plan in February. But it was essentially a mirage. It claimed to create $1.5 trillion in repairs and upgrades, but actually invests only $200 billion — expecting the states to pick up the rest of the tab. States and major cities have been waiting for injections of federal funds that will help them push their shovel-ready projects across the finish line — projects like railroad upgrades, bridge and school repairs, and other improvements that put people to work and rebuild our forgotten cities and towns.

Meanwhile, places that have fallen behind are, in many ways, the core of Britain’s strategy itself. That strategy has served to focus attention on the challenges the world’s changing economy poses to cities and regions. We need a similar focus here.

In America, former manufacturing towns should be the focus of our redevelopment as well. One solution is giving incentives to those who choose to live there — and the companies that choose to employ them. In the state Senate, we introduced bills offering student-loan-repayment plans to young people who move to former industrial cities after college and to those who invest in high-tech businesses based in those cities.

We can — and should — look to other countries’ efforts at rebuilding industrial areas and maintaining a skilled and educated workforce. Britain is not alone in offering lessons. Germany has long had a vocational education and training system that turns high-school-aged students into apprentices ready to take manufacturing jobs right after graduation. This is one reason why Germany is able to maintain trade surpluses while other western economies have faltered: Each year, workers trained in the latest manufacturing techniques step in to fill the open jobs.

The U.K.’s industrial strategy offers a template for how to spur economic growth and prepare our workforce for the future. It also offers a warning: if we fail to develop our own strategy, we will all be left behind.

State Sen. Eric Lesser is co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Mass.

Modern Office Sections

Playing by the Rules

John Gannon

John Gannon says putting a policy in writing isn’t enough — an employer then needs to follow it — but it’s a first step in showing a company takes workplace law and ethics seriously.

Most companies, especially larger ones, have employee handbooks that detail everything from vacation time to reasons for termination. Yet, too many are content to draft a handbook and shelve it for years, never reviewing it for changes in the regulatory landscape or confusing or contradictory language. In the ever-changing world of employment law, those are mistakes that can prove costly in more ways than one.

An employee handbook isn’t a contract, nor is it a legally binding document. But in a legal proceeding, it helps to have one.

Take, for instance, the case of an employee suing a company for allowing a culture of sexual harassment — a particularly timely example.

“In court, the first thing the judge will ask is to see the company’s policy,” said John Gannon, partner with Skoler, Abbott & Presser. “If your response is ‘we don’t have one,’ that suggests the employer doesn’t care about harassment and discrimination in the workplace. And that’s really getting off on the wrong foot in the event you’re sued for harassment or discrimination.”

The #MeToo revolution has certainly sent HR departments scrambling to make sure their policies on that issue are up-to-date, clear, and enforced. But if they’re smart, said the attorneys BusinessWest spoke with, they’re also regularly reviewing all sorts of policies that govern workplace rules and expectations — from disciplinary procedures to time off — and, hopefully, including them in an employee handbook.

“Every company that has employees should have a handbook,” said Daniel Carr, an associate with Royal, P.C. in Northampton. “But we use the term ‘handbook’ loosely; there’s no requirement that they have to be bound in a single document. It could mean whatever collection of policies you have, as long as it’s applied to all employees.”

Even if the employee signs a statement that he has read and understands the handbook, that doesn’t create contractual rights, Carr explained, noting that Massachusetts is, after all, an at-will state when it comes to hiring and firing, and an employee can be terminated for any reason that is not explicitly illegal, such as discrimination.

“I can’t tell you how many cases we’ve seen where the employee claims his termination was a violation of his contract. When asked, ‘what contract?’ they argue the employee handbook is a contract. It’s not.”

Gannon agreed. “One of the nice thigns about a handbook is that you can reaffirm the principle that everyone is an at-will employee,” he explained. “That’s why it’s really important, if you’re going to have a handbook, it should make it clear this is not a binding contract, your employment is at-will, and we can change the terms of the handbook and your employment relationship at any time with or without notice.”

So, if it’s not a contract, what is a handbook, and why should employers have one — and take it seriously?

“A handbook is a collection of policies, an ever-living document that can be changed at any time by an employer with or without notice,” said Mary Kennedy, partner with Bulkley Richardson in Springfield. “The purpose of a handbook is to give information to employees about expectations at work.”

Employers use the policies in an employee handbook as a sort of roadmap to both the treatment of employees and, conversely, expectations for their behavior. They protect themselves from lawsuits, such as harassment claims, wrongful termination claims, and discrimination claims. Employee handbooks generally contain a code of conduct for employees that sets guidelines around appropriate behavior for the individual workplace.

Mary Kennedy says the first goal of a handbook is to lay out clear expectations for workplace behavior.

Mary Kennedy says the first goal of a handbook is to lay out clear expectations for workplace behavior.

Under Massachusetts law, for companies with at least six employees, part of that collection of expectations must be policies reflecting the state’s own guidelines governing sexual harassment, accommodations for pregnant workers, sick leave, and other issues — many of which have changed recently.

Other contents should typically include policies governing discipline, rules of behavior, when and how to take time off, sick-time guidelines, how much vacation and personal time employees get, when they are paid, and what health benefits are available and how to access them.

The contents of any handbook vary from industry to industry, Gannon noted. For instance, the time an employee clocks in may be more important on the manufacturing floor than in an office setting, while safety guidelines for construction workers will be different than those for accountants.

“It’s an inexact science, and obviously no handbook is foolproof, and you can’t account for every possible contingency,” Carr said. “There may be at times you have to deviate from it. Certainly, you don’t want to be hemming yourself in to something you can live up to. As an employer in an at-will state, you have the right to set the policies. The handbook is more about setting expectations than setting hard and fast rules.”

Law and Order

The benefits of having a handbook fall into two buckets, Gannon said: The legal obligations governed by state and federal employment law, and basic HR practices that aren’t necessarily required by the law.

For the latter, written policies must make it clear to the employee what the employer’s expectations are.

“If you do need to discipline an employee, if you need to write them up or suspend them, you never want an employee to turn around and say, ‘wait a minute, I didn’t know I was going to get written up if I was absent more than three times in a month.’ Or, ‘I didn’t know it was a violation of your company policy to raise my voice at a meeting’ — whatever the case may be. A handbook sets expectations.”

It also provides guidelines to managers so they can treat employees fairly and consistently, he added. If the policy is clear, it can be applied to everyone across the board. If not, one supervisor may write someone up for a violation, while another supervisor doesn’t. That leads to inconsistency and, sometimes, hot water in court.

“Inconsistent application of your rules can lead to a lot of legal problems if the employee challenges the reason for his or her reason for separation from employment,” Gannon said, adding that the actual enforcement of the rules is more important than what a handbook says, “but if you don’t have, at minimum, a written policy, you have a big risk of inconsistent enforcement of your work rules.”

Kennedy said having clear policies in the handbook is the first step when defending a claim of wrongful termination in court.

“If you have a no-show policy where, after three violations, the employee is terminated, and it’s in writing and the employee was told it applies to all employees, and the employer can show it was uniformly applied to all employees, then the employer has a better shot at defending itself.

“For example, if a bank teller continually makes mistakes on the line and keeps coming up short, that’s certainly not beneficial for the employer,” she explained, so a written policy outlining the consequences of coming up short multiple times would be reasonable. “Whereas, if the bank said, ‘we don’t like people with red hair,’ well, that’s different.”

Supervisors and managers, Gannon said, typically appreciate a hard-and-fast policy because it’s something they can fall back on. He recalls one client whose employee showed up to work intoxicated, and at first, his supervisor didn’t know what to do. “Fortunately, they had a policy that made it clear, if you detect someone is under the influence, this is what you should do. It helped the supervisor navigate what his options were. Without that, they’re left wondering what to do.”

Communicating the policy to employees is just as important, Kennedy said, whether it’s a physical document passed out, with the employee signing an acknowledgement of receipt, or an electronic document distributed through the company intranet, or, for a larger business, explaining new policies in a meeting and making a list of who attended. “You certainly want to give it out when onboarding people, and then when there are any changes in policy.”

Even progressive discipline can be altered if the employer can prove the action is reasonable, Carr said — again, going back to the at-will concept. “If the handbook says a first violation is a verbal warning, the second is a written warning, third is probation, and fourth is termination, you have the right to revise that if someone commits a terminable offense the first time out.”

Trouble Spots

With all the protections a handbook may provide, Gannon said, some pitfalls do exist. One is trying to put everything in a handbook.

“The more words you have in the handbook, the less likely an employee is going to read it all,” he noted. “Sometimes I’ll see one that’s 120 pages long. I’m not sure any handbook needs to be that long.”

A smarter option, he said, is to include a short, two-paragraph summary of each policy, directing the employers to ask a particular person, maybe someone in human resources, if they need a more detailed explanation.

“Another mistake is not getting it reviewed enough,” he added. “It’s great to have a handbook — most employers do — but sometimes they get stale. You don’t want to have a policy that’s outdated, or you don’t want a handbook that misstates the law, because there are often changes in the law.”

For example, on April 1, Massachusetts employers will be required to have a policy that adheres to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. “You need to review your handbook — it doesn’t necessarily have to be annually, but I would say every two or three years — just to make sure you’re not missing anything and there haven’t been changes in the law that would require rewording a policy.”

In a union shop, Kennedy said, employers want to make sure the handbook gels with the collective bargaining agreement, but even in a non-union shop, certain written policies may run into conflict with rulings from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). A few years ago, several companies made news by terminating workers for complaining about their job on social media — and took their cases to court, where they won.

“Social media has become the equivalent of the so-called water cooler,” Carr said, noting that the NLRB has long protected the rights of employees to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment, even in a public forum. However, the composition of the board has changed under President Trump and may be less willing to side with employees in all such matters.

“A few years ago, handbook provisions that restricted employees’ right to discuss terms and conditions of employment were considered overbroad — that was all the rage for awhile,” Gannon said. “New administration has scaled some of that back. With all the ebbs and flows in the world of employment law, you need to make sure the handbook stays up to date with those changes.”

Kennedy agreed. “Employment law changes on a regular basis, so handbook policies should be reviewed on a regular basis, to make sure they contain up-to-date language.”

Still, amid all the talk of violations and firings, Gannon said, the greatest value of a handbook is in its power to prevent some of those incidents in the first place.

“If an employee knows what can potentially lead to discipline, I think the employee is less likely to engage in that behavior,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s one of the really nice things about a handbook — it sets out what your expectations are. The goal of discipline is not to create a path that justifies termination. The goal of discipline is to correct behavior so that somebody can stay with the company for a long time and be a valued contributor to the group.”

To that end, he continued, “if you do need to discipline, it’s easier to explain why when you can point to handbook and say, ‘look, this is company policy, and you violated it. Sorry, but I have to write you up.’”

Turn the Page

That said, a handbook also helps with a company’s defense is they are sued, Gannon noted.

“If an employee claims they were fired because of a protected characteristic, it’s the employer’s burden to demonstrate to a judge or jury that, no, this is the real reason this person was fired. It’s nice to be able to point to a policy in a handbook that makes it clear this is why the employer took a particular action, that it wasn’t an arbitrary decision one supervisor just came up with. The company considered this particular issue, went to the extent of drafting a handbook putting this policy in place and having the employee sign off on it, and there’s an expectation the policy is going to be followed.”

Carr, who told BusinessWest he has drafted or reviewed “many, many handbooks,” emphasized, however, that a good policy holds up in court only if the employer actually enforces that policy uniformly and consistently.

“Otherwise, it’s just empty rhetoric. Sexual harassment is a perfect example, and a timely one,” he said.

Elaborating, he said virtually every company has an anti-sexual-harassment policy, and one of the tenets of sexual-harassment law is the question of whether an employer knew about, or should have known about, the alleged violations. “If the employee can show the employer was not diligent about enforcing their own policies, it creates the impression they dropped the ball and should have known.”

It’s a lesson many companies continue to learn the hard way.

Simply put, Kennedy said, “what’s bad about having a handbook is if you don’t follow it.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Departments People on the Move
John Dowd Jr.

John Dowd Jr.

Dennis Fitzpatrick

Dennis Fitzpatrick

Diane LaCosse

Diane LaCosse

James Wall

James Wall

John Dowd Jr., Dennis Fitzpatrick, Diane LaCosse, and James Wall were recently named to the board of the Sisters of Providence Ministry Corp. (SPMC). SPMC functions as the holding company for Providence Place Inc., Mary’s Meadow at Providence Place Inc., and Providence Ministries for the Needy Inc., all in Holyoke; and Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center in Westfield. The Sisters of Providence executive council serves as the corporation’s members on the SPMC board and as corporation officers; they include Sr. Kathleen Popko, president; Sr. Mary Caritas Geary, vice president; and Sr. Senga Fulton, secretary/treasurer. Dowd is president and CEO of the Dowd Insurance Agencies, and has served on numerous boards, including the Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS) and foundation board, NUVO Bank & Trust, and CityStage and Symphony Hall. Fitzpatrick is president of the O’Connell Companies and former board chair of Brightside for Families and Children, SPHS, and Catholic Health East, of which SPHS was a founding member. LaCosse is senior vice president of United Bank’s commercial banking division in West Springfield and a member of the Providence Place/Mary’s Meadow board and finance committee. She is a volunteer for the WestMass Eldercare Money Manager Program, an associate of the Sisters of Providence, and formerly served on the Brightside for Families and Children Board. Wall retired in 2012 as global managing director of talent and chief diversity officer for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., U.S. He currently serves on two boards of trustees: as vice chair of American Management Assoc. International, NYC, and chair-elect of Providence Ministries for the Needy Inc. in Holyoke.

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Mark Wysk

Mark Wysk

Guardair Corp., the largest U.S. manufacturer of OSHA-compliant safety air guns and pneumatic vacuums, announced the hiring of Mark Wysk as the new director of Global Supply Chain. Wysk brings 30 years of industrial purchasing management experience, including international sourcing, tool-industry knowledge, and materials expertise. In his new role at Guardair, he will support manufacturing through innovative sourcing strategies and optimizing cost-saving opportunities in conjunction with annual operating plans. His focus will be on building and strengthening partnerships, providing true strategic relationships. “Mark’s expertise in improving productivity, quality, and efficiency of supply-chain operations is a tremendous asset as we continue to grow,” said Tom Tremblay, president of Guardair Corp. “We are thrilled to have him join our team.” Wysk was most recently the corporate director of Procurement at Simonds International. Prior to that, he held the position of senior manager of Global Sourcing for Lenox. He holds a master’s degree in engineering management and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, both from Western New England College. He currently serves as president of the Institute for Supply Management of Western New England and has published articles in Supply Chain World and Cutting Tool Engineering.

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Tom Schiff

Tom Schiff

Tom Schiff, the founder and executive director of Phallacies Inc., will receive an Innovative Initiative Award in March for his work with the nonprofit, which helps men create healthy masculinities through dialogue and theatrical performance. Schiff will receive the honor in person from the Men and Masculinities Knowledge Community of the National Assoc. of Student Personnel Administrators at the organization’s 100th annual conference in Philadelphia on March 3-7. The honor comes as Schiff is poised to begin to expand the organization in the region to reach and impact a broader audience of men of all ages. Phallacies Inc. provides leadership development, health education, and violence prevention for men via dialogue and innovative educational theater. It was born four years ago through Schiff’s work as a health educator at UMass, where he also founded the Men and Masculinities Center. Through Phallacies, people who identify as male between the ages of roughly 19 and 35 engage in a dialogue about masculinity and the intersections with other identities, health, violence, and relationships, and then create performance pieces as educational and thought catalysts to encourage changing the cultural scripts about masculinities. Performances take place at colleges, human-service organizations and forums, conferences, and local high schools and middle schools. Men who are involved include teachers, staff from youth and human-service agencies, and medical students. “They’re interested in getting support for themselves about how to be healthier as a man — physically, emotionally, and psychologically — and to find support for that. They are trying to rethink what it means to be a man in the world,” Schiff said. “People also get involved because they’re interested in violence prevention. Men need to speak up and speak out about these issues to help support more men and boys in creating healthy masculinities.” Schiff holds a doctoral degree in organization development from UMass, a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, and a bachelor’s degree in history with certification in secondary social studies from the State University of New York at Cortland.

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The board of directors at Pioneer Cold announced that Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Bryan Hedge has been elected president. He joined Pioneer in 2007 as vice president of Operations, and was promoted to chief operating officer in 2012. Hedge will be responsible for all areas of Pioneer, including customer and employee satisfaction. A major part of his job will be to set priorities in strategy, asset utilization, and revenue growth, and to ensure operational excellence across the company. As COO, Hedge was the operations leader and delivered consistent improvement in all areas, including safety, capacity planning and utilization, customer satisfaction, and productivity. As a result, Pioneer achieved industry-best operational metrics as benchmarked against industry standards. Hedge came to Pioneer from Sleepy’s, where he was vice president, Logistics. Prior to that, he was vice president, Business Operations at CIS in Lenox. He also held executive-level supply-chain-management roles at Save-A-Lot Foods, Performance Food Group, and Springfield Foodservice. He spent 20 years with TruServ Corp., where he was consistently promoted to roles with increasing responsibility. Hedge is an active member of the International Assoc. of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW) and serves as a member of that organization’s supply chain operations committee. He also currently serves as treasurer of the North Atlantic Chapter of the IARW. He is also a member of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals. Pioneer Cold also announced two more promotions, with Susanne Gagnon becoming director of Operations and Michael Carr becoming Customer Service manager. Gagnon served most recently as Customer Service and Transportation manager. She came to Pioneer in 2004 as a Warehouse manager and was promoted to Customer Service manager in 2006. Prior to joining Pioneer, she was with C&S for 10 years and was promoted to roles with increasing levels of responsibility, working on the ‘SWAT Team’ setting up and opening new distribution centers for three years, and was promoted to Warehouse supervisor, where she spent her last two years. Carr joined Pioneer in 2003 as a Customer Service representative. In 2007, he was promoted to senior Customer Service representative and has spent the last 11 years in that role. Prior to joining Pioneer, he was a route sales/DSD delivery driver for a magazine and book distributor.

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Dr. Angela Belmont

Dr. Angela Belmont

Cooley Dickinson Health Care President and CEO Joanne Marqusee announced the appointment of Dr. Angela Belmont as vice president, Patient Care Services and chief Nursing officer (CNO). “In her new role, Angela provides leadership, oversight, and support of our leaders in the Patient Care Services division at Cooley Dickinson Health Care,” Marqusee said. “Angela is responsible for advancing our dyad program of nursing and physician collaboration, and partners with our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Estevan Garcia to focus on quality and patient safety. In this regard, Angela will help us to drive improvements in patient satisfaction and nursing practice at Cooley Dickinson.” A successful nurse administrator with more than 30 years of experience, Belmont has held progressively responsible leadership positions in acute-care hospitals throughout her career, including more than 20 years with Faxton-St. Luke’s Hospital, a 370-bed acute-care hospital in Utica, N.Y. Prior to joining Cooley Dickinson, Belmont was assistant vice president of Nursing for Mohawk Valley Health System, a community healthcare system with more than 4,000 employees that serves patients throughout three counties in upstate New York. In this role, she led efforts to significantly improve patient-care services and outcomes across the two hospital campuses. Belmont earned both her bachelor’s degree in Nursing and master’s degree in nursing administration at the State University of New York, and her doctorate in nursing practice in system leadership from Rush University in Chicago.

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Brittany Weiss, associate director of International Admissions at Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, has joined the all-volunteer board of directors for the International Language Institute of Massachusetts (ILI). “We are very pleased to have Brittany as part of the ILI family,” said Eric Wirth, ILI board president. “Her extensive academic and professional background around the world and here at home will go far in supporting our work, including high-quality language instruction and teacher training, free English classes for immigrants and refugees, and volunteer opportunities throughout the Pioneer Valley.” Weiss has considerable experience abroad in Asia, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Prior to joining Stoneleigh-Burnham, she was Admissions associate at the American International School of Budapest in Hungary, where she worked with students and families from more than 60 nationalities. Earlier, she served as assistant director of Alumni Engagement at her alma mater, Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, and as a resident faculty member at Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Siena College and a master’s degree in educational administration and policy studies from the University at Albany.

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The Melha Shriners, a philanthropic organization based on fun, fellowship, and Masonic principles, announced the official election and installation of their potentate (president) and his Divan (executive board). At its annual meeting, the Melha Shriners presented the potentate’s fez to Glenn Surprenant, the 108th top-ranking Shriner in Western Mass. as the organization enters its 120th year. A lifelong resident of Western Mass., Surprenant graduated from Classical High School and later pursued his passion for laboratory sciences. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from American International College in 1976, he became a registered medical technologist in Laboratory Sciences and is currently the director of Radiology at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. In 1976, Surprenant married Diane Ruggeri, an assistant nurse manager, Labor & Delivery for Baystate Medical Center. After many years of observing other members of his family join the Masonic fraternity and then the Shrine, Surprenant was raised a Master Mason in the Indian Orchard Lodge in February 2006 and joined the Melha Shriners in March 2006. He has been an active member and past president of the Hadji Unit in 2014. During parades, he can be seen driving one of the brightly colored Jeepsters. Surprenant’s journey toward becoming the head Shriner in Western Mass. began in 2014 when he was appointed to the Divan line. The fellowship he espouses is seen throughout the Shrine and Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield, as his cousin, Al “Poppy” Surprenant, is a member of the clown unit; his brothers, Joseph and Gary Surprenant, are both board of governors members at the hospital; and his son, Andrew, is president of the Melha Oriental Band Unit. The First Lady’s project, titled “Nursing Education: Making a Difference for the Kids,” will raise funds to provide items not normally allocated in a hospital budget; these educational items will assist the nurses in the transition to acute pediatric rehabilitation care. Said First Lady Diane, “I’d like to add more educational items that will help the staff to do even greater things than they are doing now. My hope is that my project will provide additional tools and the necessary training to expand the high-quality care the children receive here in Springfield.”

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Kayla Drinkwine

Kayla Drinkwine

Kayla Drinkwine joined Webber & Grinnell Insurance as commercial lines marketing manager. She will be responsible for quoting, negotiating, and placing the agency’s larger commercial accounts with the various insurance carriers represented by the agency. Drinkwine started her career at Phillips Insurance Agency in Chicopee. Starting as the office receptionist, she moved quickly to personal lines customer service representative and then to commercial account manager. She maintains her construction risk and insurance specialist (CRIS) and certified insurance service representative (CISR) designations from the Massachusetts Assoc. of Insurance Agents.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The CRRC MA rail-car manufacturing facility at the former Westinghouse site was honored as the state’s outstanding engineering achievement of the year by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts. Plaza Construction, which served as the design-build contractor for the property, accepted the award at a ceremony Wednesday.

The $95 million project, spanning more than 204,000 square feet — not including the 2,240-foot test track — is the largest industrial investment in Greater Springfield in generations. The Chinese-owned company will start building new cars for the MBTA Orange Line in April, and for the Red Line later this year.

In 2014, CRRC received a $566 million contract from the MBTA to build 152 Orange Line cars and 252 Red Line cars at the Page Boulevard site. Two years later, the state ordered an additional 120 Red Line cars at a cost of $277 million, with production set to begin in 2022.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDSpringfield Technical Community College (STCC) will host an open house on Tuesday, March 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. in Scibelli Hall (Building 2), seventh floor.

All high-school students and adult learners interested in learning more about an STCC education are invited to attend. Representatives from Admissions, Academics, Athletics, Dual Enrollment/College Now, Financial Aid, HiSET & English Language Learner classes, Non-credit Training & Certifications, Online Learning, and Transfer Services will be available to speak with attendees.

“In addition, anyone who brings their official high-school transcript(s) or GED or HiSET will be instantly accepted for the fall 2018 semester,” said dean of Admissions Louisa Davis-Freeman. “Our spring open house attracts a large crowd of prospective students who are still exploring plans for the fall. Our academic deans, faculty, and staff look forward to speaking with students and their families about the affordable career pathways STCC offers. I encourage all prospective students — whether you’re in high school or a returning adult — to come learn more about how STCC works.”

Staff will also be available to discuss the new collaboration with Northeastern University offering bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering technology and advanced manufacturing systems on the STCC campus, Davis-Freeman said.

For more information, contact the STCC Admissions Office at (413) 755-3333 or visit www.stcc.edu/admissions.

Daily News

BOSTON — Massachusetts employer confidence strengthened during February as optimism about long-term economic growth outweighed a volatile month in the financial markets.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 0.4 points to 64.5, setting another 17-year high. The Index has gained 2.4 points during the past 12 months as confidence levels have remained comfortably within the optimistic range.

Enthusiasm about the U.S. and Massachusetts economies, along with a bullish outlook on the part of manufacturers, fueled the February increase. At the same time, hiring remained a red flag as the BCI Employment Index fell 4 points between February 2017 and February 2018. Almost 90% of employers who responded to the February confidence survey indicated that the inability to find skilled employees is either a modest, large, or huge problem.

“Fourteen percent of respondents said finding employees represents a huge problem that is hampering their company’s growth. One-third of employers see employee recruitment as a big problem, while 29% see it as a modest issue,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “For the short-term, however, the state and national economies remain strong, and the recent announcement by Amazon of a major expansion in Boston indicates that the trend should continue.”

The survey was taken before President Donald Trump roiled the financial markets by pledging to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

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. It has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during February. The most significant gains came in the Manufacturing Index, which surged 3.9 points to 66.2, and the U.S. Index, which rose 2.1 points for the month to 66.9 and 8.0 points for the year. The Massachusetts Index fell 0.4 points to 68.5, but was up 5.3 points for the year and still higher than the national outlook for the 96th consecutive month.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 2.4 points to 64.1. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, declined 1.6 points to 65. The Current Index has risen 4.2 points and the Future Index 0.6 points during the past 12 months.

The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, was essentially flat, gaining 0.1 points to 62.4. The Employment Index also rose 0.1 points, to 56.4, versus 60.4 in February 2017.

Manufacturing companies (66.2) were more optimistic than non-manufacturers (61.9). Large employers (69.8) were more bullish than medium-sized (62.0) or small businesses (62.7).

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Guardair Corp., the largest U.S. manufacturer of OSHA-compliant safety air guns and pneumatic vacuums, announced the hiring of Mark Wysk as the new director of Global Supply Chain.

Wysk brings 30 years of industrial purchasing management experience, including international sourcing, tool-industry knowledge, and materials expertise. In his new role at Guardair, he will support manufacturing through innovative sourcing strategies and optimizing cost-saving opportunities in conjunction with annual operating plans. His focus will be on building and strengthening partnerships, providing true strategic relationships.

“Mark’s expertise in improving productivity, quality, and efficiency of supply-chain operations is a tremendous asset as we continue to grow,” said Tom Tremblay, president of Guardair Corp. “We are thrilled to have him join our team.”

Wysk was most recently the corporate director of Procurement at Simonds International. Prior to that, he held the position of senior manager of Global Sourcing for Lenox. He holds a master’s degree in engineering management and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, both from Western New England College. He currently serves as president of the Institute for Supply Management of Western New England and has published articles in Supply Chain World and Cutting Tool Engineering.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — It was in 1995 that Big Y expanded its three smaller distribution facilities into the former Rexnord Roller Chain Manufacturing Co. on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield. At the time, a staff of 27 people distributed produce and other products to 31 supermarkets throughout the region. Three years later, Big Y’s corporate headquarters and store support center moved to the same site.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Big Y’s distribution now supports 70 supermarkets out of the same space, and it is easy to see the need for an expanded facility. The current 189,000-square-foot distribution center has 19 receiving bays and operates round the clock seven days a week with a staff of 92 moving product through this system. In 1995, 3.5 million cases of product were shipped each year from this facility. Even eight years ago, Big Y’s distribution-center team shipped out nearly 15 million cases to stores. By the end of last year, that number had increased to more than 20 million cases.

A rendering of Big Y’s future expanded distribution center.

Therefore, Big Y plans an expansion in order to provide capacity for the next 20 years, with includes plans for 20 new supermarkets. The company anticipates a total of 53 dock doors are needed to manage this growth, along with an additional 232,000 square feet of space for a total of close to 425,000 square feet — the size of nearly nine football fields. This expansion will improve the efficiency of the flow of goods to all of stores and will require an additional 32 full-time employees at this site. It will include 152,000 square feet of additional dry product storage and 82,000 square feet of specialized refrigerated storage for various products.

Big Y’s distribution center also houses a large recycling area for cardboard and plastic wrap and serves as a staging ground for meat donations as they are sent to area food banks.

Currently, local farmers have the option of delivering their fruits and vegetables to this distribution facility in order to save them the time and expense of driving to Big Y’s individual stores while ensuring freshness and speedy deliveries. This expansion will make it more efficient for them to get their fresh produce to the distribution center so that they can quickly get back to their farms.

Big Y has worked with Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief Development officer, along with Mayor Domenic Sarno to develop a plan for this $35 million to $40 million project. In addition, Big Y is working with Springfield based Dennis Group, a local full service planning, architecture, engineering and construction management firm on this project. It is expected to be completed over the next 18 months.

Other elements of this expansion include some renovation within Big Y’s headquarters including a new employee café and a test kitchen to develop and test new recipes, concepts, meals, dietary and nutritional options, and products before rolling them out to consumers. In addition, the test kitchen can host food tastings and focus groups as well as serve as additional training for store teams each week. Plans also include a new employee entrance and visitors welcome and reception area.

Big Y Foods Inc. is one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England, operating 78 locations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut — including 70 supermarkets, 39 pharmacies, Fresh Acres Market, Table & Vine Fine Wines and Liquors, and six Big Y Express gas and convenience locations — and employing more than 11,000 people.

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Begins 2018 with Increase

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers began 2018 much the way they ended 2017 — with growing confidence in the economy and optimism about their own business prospects. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose a half-point to 64.1 during January, setting another 17-year high. The Index has gained 2.7 points during the past 12 months as employer confidence levels have remained comfortably within the optimistic range. Growing enthusiasm about the Massachusetts economy and a brightening outlook on economic conditions six months from now fueled the January confidence increase. At the same time, the hiring outlook remained muted as low unemployment and demographic shifts continued to impede the ability of employers to find the workers they need. The survey was taken prior to major declines in global financial markets during the past several days. “Rising confidence is not surprising in a state with 3.5% unemployment and an economy that grew at a 3.3% annual rate during the fourth quarter,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “Economic output, job growth, and spending all rose at a healthy clip in Massachusetts during the final three months of the year, and economists expect modest growth to continue during the first half of 2018.” 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. It has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during January. The most significant gain came in the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, which rose 1.3 points to 68.9. The Massachusetts Index has gained 3.7 points in the past two months, 5.5 points year over year, and now stands at its highest level since November 2000. The U.S. Index of national business conditions also continued a yearlong rally by gaining 0.6 points to 64.8. January marked the 95th 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, decreased a point to 61.7, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 2.1 points to 66.6. The Current Index has risen 2.1 points and the Future Index 3.3 points during the past 12 months. The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, rose slightly, gaining 0.2 points to 62.3. The Employment Index was essentially flat, leaving it 2.1 points below its level of January 2017. Non-manufacturing companies (66.6) were more optimistic than manufacturers (62.3). Large employers (67.2) were more bullish than medium-sized companies (62.7) or small businesses (63.5). “The strong Future Index readings signal that employers anticipate steady growth during the first two quarters of 2018. The only fly in ointment remains the prospect that labor shortages may constrict the ability of companies to grow and expand,” said Paul Bolger, president, Massachusetts Capital Resource Co., and a BEA member. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also BEA member, said 2018 brings with it significant risk for employers as progressive groups push ballot questions that could create a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program, impose a punitive tax on many small businesses, and raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour. “The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will today hear arguments in a challenge that I and four other business leaders filed to the constitutionality of the income surtax question,” Lord noted. “Meanwhile, the business community is seeking common ground on a compromise paid-leave proposal that will not harm the economy.”

Home Sales in Pioneer Valley Post Gains in 2017

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales posted gains in both volume and price last year, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley, with total sales up 1.7% from 2016 to 2017, and median price up 4.5%. In Franklin County, sales were up 3.0% in 2017, and median price up 2.3%. In Hampden County, sales rose 3.6%, and median price saw a 5.5% gain. However, in Hampshire County, sales were down 3.4%, though median price rose 4.1%.

Departments Picture This

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

A Sneak Peek

MGM Springfield gave area officials and the press a sneak peek at the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute (MCCTI) Gaming School on Feb. 13. Located on the ninth floor of 95 State St., MGM Springfield’s headquarters, the facility was designed to develop and train individuals interested in applying for gaming positions with the resort casino slated to open this fall. MCCTI is operated by Training and Workforce Options, a collaboration between Holyoke Community College (HCC) and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Below, from top to bottom, MGM President and COO Mike Mathis talks with guests at one of the poker tables. Middle, MGM Springfield General Manager Alex Dixon is flanked by STCC President John Cook and HCC President Christina Royal. Bottom, below, Cook is one of the interested spectators as Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, right, is given some lessons in how to deal blackjack from Robert Westerfield, vice president of Table Games for MGM Springfield.   Photos by MGM/Springfield Mark Murray



Grand Tour

The West of the River Chamber of Commerce (WRC) board of directors and elected officials recently toured the OMG Inc. manufacturing facility in Agawam. Employing more than 350 people in the Agawam facility alone, OMG is a domestic manufacturer of specialty fasteners, adhesives, tools, and related products for the commercial and residential construction markets. Below, pictured top to bottom, from left: West Springfield Mayor Will Reichelt, Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi, WRC Executive Director Robin Wozniak, Agawam Mayor Bill Sapelli, and state Rep. Nick Boldyga. Bottom, from left: Boldyga, Sapelli, and OMG CEO Hubert McGovern.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Charlie Epstein, an investment adviser and author who specializes in retirement consulting, has been appointed to the Holyoke Community College board of trustees by Gov. Charlie Baker. He was sworn in Feb. 2, and is expected to join the board for its next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Epstein is principal of the Holyoke-based Epstein Financial Group LLC and Epstein Financial Services, a registered, investment advisory firm providing corporate retirement-plan consulting as well as wealth-management and financial-planning services for business owners, professionals, and individual plan participants.

He is also owner of the 401K Coach Program, which offers financial-adviser education services and training; the author of two books: Paychecks for Life: How to Turn Your 401(k) into a Paycheck Manufacturing Company and Save America, Save! The Secrets of a Successful 401(k) Plan; and an industry conference speaker and commentator who has appeared on the Fox Business Network.

In 1994, he founded the Family Business Center of the Pioneer Valley in Amherst and remains on its board of directors. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Colgate University.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Graduates of the biotechnology programs at Springfield Technical Community College are well-prepared for careers in the life sciences, according to a leading science-education organization.

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation (MassBioEd) endorsed STCC’s biotechnology associate degree and certificate programs at the Gold Level. MassBioEd concluded that graduates of the degree and certificate programs “are ready for the life-sciences workforce.”

The STCC program met the core competencies defined by biotechnology industry and academic leaders who worked with MassBioEd, a nonprofit organization with a mission to build a life-sciences workforce in the region through educational programs that inspire students and engage teachers. Core competencies required for endorsement include following good laboratory practices, lab techniques, and exhibiting appropriate workplace behaviors, among other requirements.

“As the life sciences, and biotech in particular, expand in Western Massachusetts, it is clear STCC is positioned to respond to workforce needs,” said STCC President John Cook.

Graduates from STCC’s biotechnology program find themselves in demand for jobs in a growing field. The industry trade group Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) released an annual report in November that reveals Massachusetts has more jobs classified as biotechnology research and development than any other state. Biotech R&D employment grew by 9% in 2016. Employment in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry has grown 28% since 2007, according to the report.

“Graduates of your programs are ready for the life-sciences workforce. With nearly 12,000 new life-sciences industry jobs being projected over the next five years in Massachusetts, our intention at MassBioEd is to effectively convey to hiring managers throughout the region’s life-sciences industry that your graduates are well-prepared for biotechnology technician positions,” MassBioEd Executive Director Peter Abair stated in a Jan. 5 letter to STCC.

Lisa Rapp, professor and Biotechnology Department chair at STCC, noted that “we are honored to receive this recognition, which reflects our commitment to supporting students. Our program is designed to prepare students for the life-sciences workforce. Since 2012, we have received $375,000 in grants, which has allowed us to acquire state-of-the-art equipment and supplies. Students learn techniques used in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.”

The STCC biotechnology associate-degree program offers options to either transfer to a four-year program to complete a degree in any of the biological sciences or start a career after graduation. Graduates who complete the career option are qualified for a variety of jobs such as laboratory assistant, laboratory technician, or manufacturing technician.

The biotechnology certificate of completion enables students to acquire skills in one year and can benefit students who already have a science degree but lack the necessary hands-on lab skills for industry employment.

Daily News

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers began 2018 much the way they ended 2017 — with growing confidence in the economy and optimism about their own business prospects.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose a half-point to 64.1 during January, setting another 17-year high. The Index has gained 2.7 points during the past 12 months as employer confidence levels have remained comfortably within the optimistic range.

Growing enthusiasm about the Massachusetts economy and a brightening outlook on economic conditions six months from now fueled the January confidence increase. At the same time, the hiring outlook remained muted as low unemployment and demographic shifts continued to impede the ability of employers to find the workers they need. The survey was taken prior to major declines in global financial markets during the past several days.

“Rising confidence is not surprising in a state with 3.5% unemployment and an economy that grew at a 3.3% annual rate during the fourth quarter,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “Economic output, job growth, and spending all rose at a healthy clip in Massachusetts during the final three months of the year, and economists expect modest growth to continue during the first half of 2018.”

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. It has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during January. The most significant gain came in the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, which rose 1.3 points to 68.9. The Massachusetts Index has gained 3.7 points in the past two months, 5.5 points year over year, and now stands at its highest level since November 2000.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions also continued a yearlong rally by gaining 0.6 points to 64.8. January marked the 95th 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, decreased a point to 61.7, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 2.1 points to 66.6. The Current Index has risen 2.1 points and the Future Index 3.3 points during the past 12 months.

The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, rose slightly, gaining 0.2 points to 62.3. The Employment Index was essentially flat, leaving it 2.1 points below its level of January 2017. Non-manufacturing companies (66.6) were more optimistic than manufacturers (62.3). Large employers (67.2) were more bullish than medium-sized companies (62.7) or small businesses (63.5).

“The strong Future Index readings signal that employers anticipate steady growth during the first two quarters of 2018. The only fly in ointment remains the prospect that labor shortages may constrict the ability of companies to grow and expand,” said Paul Bolger, president, Massachusetts Capital Resource Co., and a BEA member.

AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also BEA member, said 2018 brings with it significant risk for employers as progressive groups push ballot questions that could create a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program, impose a punitive tax on many small businesses, and raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will today hear arguments in a challenge that I and four other business leaders filed to the constitutionality of the income surtax question,” Lord noted. “Meanwhile, the business community is seeking common ground on a compromise paid-leave proposal that will not harm the economy.”

Construction Sections

On the Horizon

In the construction industry, many firms, general contractors, and individual construction workers have done their job a certain way for decades. They learned a certain technique, process, or order of operations that they trust and has worked for them time and time again in the past. For this reason, many construction companies and workers are hesitant and skeptical of adopting new and emerging trends in the industry.

However, the technology developing for the construction industry has grown at an exponential rate, and companies that fail to adopt these new practices could seriously fall behind their competition.

Currently, the construction industry faces a variety of issues that have stifled many projects and raised concerns from the general public. One of the biggest issues facing the industry in 2018 is an overall shortage of laborers that are considered ‘qualified’ construction workers. Another major issue is the glaring number of fatal work injuries that the industry faces, highest among any sector in the U.S. Construction projects have grown increasingly intricate, causing contractors to underestimate the time it will take to complete the project on time and under budget. So, what will 2018 bring to help resolve these issues?

Cutting-edge Robotics

One of the ways the construction industry will try to address its issues with skilled labor is with cutting-edge robotics to streamline and standardize many of their work processes. There have already been great advances in this avenue of construction. Robotic bricklayers have been manufactured to correctly lay up to 3,000 bricks per day, equal to six times faster than a typical bricklayer. By using a combination of a conveyor belt, robotic arm, and concrete pump, this cutting-edge machine will not be able to fully take over a construction site but could offer a construction company huge efficiencies, when used in the right scenarios. These types of robots have only just started to be used in major construction projects.

So, why has this trend not already taken off? So far, the technology and reliance on these machines is still relatively new to the sector. As mentioned earlier, many general contractors are hesitant to adopt new technologies or new ways to complete projects, not to mention having to make a giant investment to do so. Plus, relying solely on a relatively new piece of equipment to lay thousands of bricks is a bold move. However, as these types of construction robots prove themselves more and more, work out their kinks, and skilled laborers become scarcer, a larger number of companies will be willing to make this plunge into the new age of construction robotics.

Internet of Things

As everyone has heard, the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to revolutionize everything: the manufacturing sector, retail, construction, even each individual household. Currently, there are companies offering machine-to-machine construction equipment that offers communication between the two, plus offering diagnostics on the machinery’s fluids, temperature, and even motion sensors. This instant communication between equipment and updates for operators means far less downtime for the construction company and easier maintenance.

So, why would the construction industry not have already adopted these IoT-connected machines, or be more hesitant to adopt these machines than a sector like manufacturing? Well, for the more sophisticated IoT-enabled machines, they can have a fairly high initial cost.

Now, this is the same for the manufacturing industry, too but with one major difference. A manufacturing environment is much more controlled and consistent than a construction environment. On a construction project, it can be very difficult to judge how much a company will use any particular set of machinery and, to go even further, how much they will use it from project to project. In a manufacturing environment, it is much easier to know exactly how often a piece of equipment is used for each process, and, therefore, it is easier to know where to invest in the IoT.

However, as these products become more common, prices will begin to decrease, and construction companies will find the smartest areas to invest in the IoT and begin to see just how beneficial it can be to the bottom line.

3D Model Videos

From architects to general contractors to the customers themselves, 3D models of a construction project helps the overall visualization of the project. For architects, a 3D tour of the structure allows them to see their building come to life rather than being a picture on a piece of paper or a CAD file. A 3D model allows them to see how the building will act and feel for the people using it, to see how each room compliments the next, and to see if everything makes logical sense.

General contractors have a similar reaction to the video, except in a practical sense, inspecting it for potential problems or issues in the construction process. It will not give as much information as a CAD file, but the 3D-model video could provide some insight that they may not have put together otherwise.

Finally, for the customer, they will get to see their final product. The customer will be able to familiarize themselves with the new structure and be able to point out the things they like and, potentially, the things they do not like.

Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons have drawn huge hype for the last few years, not just for the construction industry but for applications as far as military combat. These exoskeletons are mechanical suits that are worn outside of clothing that will help with lifting heavy equipment, machinery, or supplies. Basically, they give an outer shell that is sturdier and stronger.

However, these suits have had a hard time coming to fruition for a couple of major reasons. First off, the power supply of the exoskeleton has been very tough to develop (small engine doing lots of work over long periods of time). Second, they do not always provide the proper joint flexibility (can cause accidents on tough terrain).

However, strides have still been made in their development. Many of today’s exoskeletons use a combination of springs and counterweights in order to store potential energy and turn it into kinetic energy when you need it. There is still a long way to go for this technology, but these basic suits could prevent job-site injuries due to fatigue and general tiredness.

Autonomous Handling of Materials

Autonomous material handling is another technology that is easier served to a manufacturing or warehousing environment than a job site, and for the same reasons. A manufacturing environment has a set layout that can be programmed into the robot. The layout never changes, so the machine can easily predict where to go without things going awry. However, for a job site, things are constantly changing, not just from one job site to another, but even while the structure is being built. Plus, a construction site will not have the same uniform surface to travel over like a manufacturing facility.

So, how will the construction industry make it over these hurdles? One of the prevailing ideas is heavy-duty drones that provide a 3D map of the job site with designated loading and unloading zones. These drones would have a variety of cameras and sensors in order to account for variables not calculated in their original flight path. Also, it would use the Internet of Things to coordinate with other pieces of heavy machinery.

This article first appeared in Digital Journal.

DBA Certificates Departments

The following business certificates and trade names were issued or renewed during the month of January 2018.

AMHERST

Amherst Welding Inc.
330 Harkness Road
Darrin Brown

Pria Music Marketing
27 Montague Road, #36
Kara Kharmah

Sandy’s Barber Shop
96 North Pleasant St.
Stacy Kelliher

CHICOPEE

Design and Machine Services
31 Broad St.
Craig Goebel

Gerry Ruel Remodeling
29 Arcade St.
Gerald Ruel

Millie’s Pierogi
129 Broadway
William Kerigan

Stop & Run
1057 Montgomery St.
Amir Paracha

DEERFIELD

Deerfield Design
101 North Main St.
Paul Patterson

Deerfield Pharmacy
45 Main St.
Robert Fydenkevez

The Washboard
5A Tina Dr.
Robert Fydenkevez

EASTHAMPTON

Advanced Business Solutions
54A Northampton St.
Paul Backholm

Worghy Creations and Creator Goods
9 Briggs St., Apt. 1
Brittany Graves Shoup

EAST LONGMEADOW

Duets Salon
42 Harkness Ave.
Shelly Cotton, Sharon McLean

H & N Home Improvement
40 Waterman Ave.
Nhac Truong

Lek’s Spa
13-15 Gerrard Ave.
Somchai Daniels

Stephanie LaBelle, LMMC
280 North Main St.
Stephanie LaBelle

GREENFIELD

Absolutely Fabulous Hair
305 Wells St.
Tereia Ivantchev
Adam & Eve
18 Main St.
Scott McGregor

Cathy’s Cutting Edge
30 Mohawk Trail
Cathy Flood

Common Ground Fitness Center
368 High St.
Hannah Mosher

Early Bird & Stuff
44 Smith St.
Rachel Yong Ung

Jeanne Mietsche
30 Mohawk Trail
Jeanne Mietsche

Sidewalk 167
144 South Shelburne Road, Apt. 3
Stephanie Gerulimatos

Sheperd Masonry & Slate
32 Forest Ave.
Peter Sheperd, Justin Sheperd

Smoke Haven
239 Main St.
Shahid Habib

HADLEY

Flayvors of Cook Farm
129 South Maple St.
Gordon Cook Jr.

Greggory’s Pastry Shop
195 Russell St.
Greggory Thornton

McDonald’s
374 Russell St.
Gomex Enterprises III, LLC

Olde Hadley Flea Market
45 Lawrence Plain Road
Ray Szala

HAMPDEN

TSMA Auto Trade, LLC
484 Main St.
Talal Mhanna

HOLYOKE

El Cherufe
43 Chapin St.
Sara Orellana

Highlands Cards & Gift
903 Hampden St.
Earl Dandy III

Mister Bluster
46 Elmwood Ave.
Thomas Lund

A Taste of Mexico
50 Holyoke St.
Armando Chaires

LUDLOW

John Quill Automotive
542 Holyoke St.
John Quill

NORTHAMPTON

The Dish Collective
10 Aldrich St.
Rachel Rice

Coles Meadow Music
470 Coles Meadow Road
William Hunt Jr.

Northampton Athletic Club
306 King St.
Perry Messer, Judy Messer

Northeast Painting Associates Inc.
881 North King St.
Christopher Hellyar

Patrick Bella Game Studio
15 Orchard St.
Patrick Gaughan

Pinocchio Pizzeria
122 Main St.
Oscar Saravia

Robyn Brokos LMT Massage
16 Center St.
Robyn Brokos

The Vault
135 Main St.
Adam Hazel

PALMER

Lady Solstyce Designs
P.O. Box 183
J. Danusia Lokee-Braese

Seven Rails Auto Sales
1316 South Main St.
David Muir

Talbot’s Landscaping
54 Mount Dumplin Road
Ryan Talbot

SOUTHWICK

Susan’s Sanctuary Social Daycare
68 Powder Mill Road
Susan Drapeau

Tina Vieu-Zalowski
610 College Highway
Tina Vieu-Zalowski

SPRINGFIELD

Benson’s Bagels
598 Sumner Ave.
Yousef Hamedah

C.L. Cleaning Service
103 Spring St.
Elijah Lyles

Denail Music Group
44 High St.
Denail Group, LLC

The Home Team
1294 Worcester St.
Jesus Cedeno

Knots Indeed
63 Lakevilla Ave.
Rita Bartholomew

La Faverita Mini Mart
179 Walnut St.
Shazia Nizam

PITC Products
76 Palo Alto Road
Brandon Behnk

Plink Plunk Play
63 Lakevilla Ave.
Rita Bartholomew

Preferred Property Management
34 Seymour Ave.
Melissa Santiago

Prostar Courier Services
22 Healy St.
Luis Rodriguez

Tranquility Day Spa & Salon
1655 Boston Road
Charles Tran

Viera Thrift Shop
2625C Main St.
Noel Viera-Alejandro

Wonderland Cleaning Service
277 Frenbank Road
Amanda Vega

Worship Clothing
16 O’Connell St.
Sean Chaez

WARE

Hillside Farm
219 Babcock Tavern Road
Joseph Knight, Irene Kulas

Shop Motherhood Defined
167 Osborne Road
Kimberly Fox

Timeless Treasures
4 Woodland Heights
Barbara Rolla

WESTFIELD

Alo Saigon
116 Elm St.
Alo Saigon

Crafty Teachers
643 Holyoke Road
Crafty Teachers

EMN
19 Oakdale St.
Nadia Mocan

Floors for Less
22 Country Club Dr.
Floors for Less

Journey Massage & Wellness
33 Phillip Ave.
Jean Fisher

Law Office of Robert Walker
146 Elm St.
Bay State Title & Escrow, P.C.

Lifetime Tilers Inc.
565 North Road
Lifetime Tilers Inc.

Moylan’s Snow Removal
62 Janis Road
Ian Moylan

New Home Improvement
12 Conner Ave.
Anatolii Federiuc

TLC Social Strategy Corp.
29 Morningside Dr.
Jessica Gottsche

White Oak School
533 North Road
Massachusetts Foundation for Learning Disabilities

Willey Landscaping, LLC
260 Prospect St.
Dylan Willey

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Metal Craft Manufacturing
54 Myron St.
Peter Urbanek

Pillar to Post
109 Morton St.
Kyle Steinbock

R and D Marine, LLC
1654 Riverdale St.
Harold DeMarco Jr.

Super 8
1500 Riverdale St.
Dilip Rana

Supreme Brass and Aluminum
210 Windsor St.
Domenico Rettura

TJ Maxx #648
239 Memorial Ave.
Kristin Adams

VN Home Improvements
27 Craig Dr.
Vadim Botezat

Wicked Salon
338B Westfield St.
Arthur Hawk

WILBRAHAM

4L
19 Pearl Lane
James DeForest Jr.

A.C.T. Cleaning
207 Mountain Road
Marshall Robar

King
920 Stony Hill Road
Michael Matuszczak Jr.

Neighborhood Pizza
2421 Boston Road
Arvind Treyan, Ilyas Yanbul

Upland Farm
583 Main St.
Nancy Schechterle

Briefcase Departments

Unemployment Rate Drops to 3.5% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 300 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector lost 200 jobs; gains occurred in construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities. The November estimate was revised to a gain of 7,800 jobs. From December 2016 to December 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 63,000 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force decreased by 500 from 3,647,500 in November, as 1,900 more residents were employed and 2,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in December 2016. There were 17,900 more unemployed residents over the year compared to December 2016. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.3% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to December 2016. The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Union Station Wins Prize for Brownfields Redevelopment

WESTFIELD — Springfield Union Station has won the prestigious Phoenix Award grand prize for the best brownfields-redevelopment project in the nation. Announced during the December National Brownfields Training Conference in Pittsburgh, the Union Station project also won the Region 1 Phoenix Award. Both awards recognize exemplary brownfield redevelopment and revitalization. These awards highlight the critical environmental cleanup phase at Springfield Union Station, as well as the demolition and removal of a massive baggage warehouse and the remediation of the former site of the Hotel Charles. It also celebrates the redevelopment of a long-vacant historic train station into a state-of-the-art intermodal transit center. Built in 1926, the original Union Station was boarded up for 44 years before taken over by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority in 1989. After many fits and starts, the $94.1 million redevelopment project was funded by numerous federal, state, and local sources. This included grants from the EPA Brownfield Assessment and Cleanup program, MassDevelopment, the Federal Transit Administration, state transportation bond funds, a state parking grant, and more. Tighe & Bond provided extensive hazardous-building-material evaluations, abatement monitoring, building demolition design, and the assessment and remediation of widespread areas of subsurface contamination. After almost 10 years, Union Station has been transformed and repurposed into a LEED-certified building that opened last June, and is the new headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines. It has also spurred a new, adjacent, $15 million, 265-unit housing redevelopment. Besides the Phoenix Award, the project has already won other statewide awards for historic preservation, including the Preservation Massachusetts Paul & Nikki Tsongas Best Then & Now Award for 2017.

Expedia Names Lenox ‘Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts’

LENOX — The Lenox Chamber of Commerce announced that travel-booking website giant Expedia has named Lenox as the “Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts.” Expedia released its “Best Place to Escape in Every State” feature on Jan. 3. These places made the list for being ideal for a relaxing getaway where visitors can recharge, take a breather, and revel in serene solitude. “From quaint small towns to quiet nature preserves, this country is full of places to escape to, and we’ve chosen our favorite in each state, highlighting the perfectly restful things to do there. So, sit back, relax, and start dreaming of better times ahead — these calm places are calling your name,” Expedia author Lily Rogers wrote. Lenox and Berkshire notables highlighted in the article included Blantyre, Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home, and Berkshire Grown.

Study Examines Veterans’ Addiction Risk Related to Childhood Adversity

AMHERST — Results of a national study led by public health scientist Elizabeth Evans at UMass Amherst, along with others at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and UCLA, suggest that risk for alcohol- and drug-use disorders among U.S. military veterans is increased by childhood adversity, and in ways that are different between women and men and different compared to the civilian population. According to Evans, assistant professor of Health Promotion and Policy at UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, in the general population, fewer women than men have an alcohol- or drug-use disorder. “Veterans are different in that there is no gender difference in the prevalence of these problems,” she explained. “Among veterans, a similar proportion of women and men — about 37% — have ever had an alcohol or drug-use disorder. This finding that women veterans are similar to men veterans, and are so different from civilian women, is unexpected. Also surprising are the high rates of childhood adversity among veterans, especially among women; 68% of women veterans report some childhood adversity, and they have the highest rates of childhood sexual abuse.” The study results appeared in a recent early online edition of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology and will be in print this year. “One of the implications of this study is the need to assess for childhood adversity, to help people recognize its relationship with substance use and cope with its health impacts,” Evans noted. “When people join the military or when veterans access healthcare at the VA or in the community would be good times to assess and treat childhood adversity, and we’re often missing those opportunities now.” The researchers found that, with increasing exposure to adversity in childhood, risks of alcohol-use disorder among civilian men and women grew more similar, but for drug-use disorder, the gender differences in risk widened. By contrast, among veterans, more childhood adversity elevated men’s alcohol risk and increased women’s drug risk. “In general right now, we don’t assess for childhood adversity until there’s a problem, in particular with alcohol or drugs, or attempts to harm oneself or others,” Evans said. “However, we know that childhood adversity is an early life experience that is associated with anxiety, depression, and other risk factors for later health and social problems. We in public health, along with others in the community, can do more to prevent childhood adversity altogether. Also, more can be done to assess and address childhood adversity when it does occur so that we mitigate or undo its harmful effects. The need for such efforts is especially critical now given the devastating impacts of the current opioid epidemic on families and communities.”

Nominations Open for Ubora and Ahadi Awards

SPRINGFIELD — The African Hall subcommittee of the Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the 27th annual Ubora Award and the ninth annual Ahadi Youth Award. The African Hall subcommittee is a volunteer group comprised of educators, business people, and community leaders from the African-American community. The nomination deadline for both awards is March 31. The Ubora Award is presented to an African-American adult who has demonstrated a commitment to the Greater Springfield area and exhibited excellence in the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, or the arts. The Swahili word ‘ubora’ means ‘excellence.’ Named for the Swahili word for ‘promise,’ the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who has excelled in academics and performed admirable service to the Greater Springfield community. Eligible candidates must be age 19 or younger, live in or have strong ties to the Greater Springfield area, and be currently enrolled in grade 10, 11, or 12. The Ubora and Ahadi Awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in September. Nominations forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. For additional information, call (413) 263-6800, ext. 325, or e-mail to [email protected] Nominations may be e-mailed to [email protected] or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

Berkshire Bank Launches $52,500 Scholarship Program

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced it will honor 35 high-school seniors across Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for their volunteer service with Berkshire Bank scholarships. The scholarships recognize students who excel academically, have a financial need, and share the bank’s commitment to community service. Additionally, students must attend a high school that is located in a county with a Berkshire Bank or Commerce Bank office. The recipients will share in $52,500 in scholarship funds. Through the program, 35 $1,500 scholarships will be awarded to high-school seniors who will be attending a two-year or four-year college in the fall. Applications are evaluated based on the student’s record of volunteerism in the community, academic standing, and financial need. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of a 3.0 and a family household income under $100,000 to be eligible to apply. A team of 200 bank employee volunteers will review the applications and select this year’s recipients. Recipients will include 15 students in Massachusetts, nine in New York, three in Connecticut, three in Vermont, three in New Jersey, and two in Pennsylvania. Students can apply online at www.berkshirebank.com/scholarships. To be considered, all applications must be submitted online by Wednesday, March 21 at 4 p.m. Additional information about this year’s program can be obtained through the bank’s website or by e-mailing the Berkshire Bank Foundation at [email protected]

Daily News

NEWTON — Will automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics help Massachusetts employers solve the shortage of skilled workers that threatens the future of the economy?

That will be the topic as Richard Lord, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, delivers the fourth annual State of Massachusetts Business address before an audience of 300 business leaders on Friday, Jan. 26, at 8 a.m. at the Newton Marriott hotel.

Lord’s speech will be followed by commentary from a panel of experts moderated by WBZ Radio Business Editor Jeff Brown. Panel members include David Askey, founder of Ascend Robotics of Cambridge; Martha Sullivan, president and CEO of Sensata Technologies of Attleboro; and Peter Russo, director of Growth and Innovation at the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The State of Massachusetts Business speech will last 20 minutes and be followed immediately by the panel discussion.

Commercial Real Estate Sections

Progress in Site

An aerial shot of 70 Turnpike Industrial Park Road in Westfield.

An aerial shot of 70 Turnpike Industrial Park Road in Westfield.

Michael Grossman says his New York-based firm, HMC Real Estate Partners, looks at several hundred properties in the Northeast corridor over the course of a year — at least a few per week, by his estimate.

When asked what prompts he and partners Barry Lefkowitz and Brendan Kolnick to move beyond looking — or well beyond, as the case may be — and make an addition to their growing portfolio of properties, he said there are a number of factors that go into that equation.

These include everything from that time-honored first consideration in real estate — location, location, location — to the condition of the property, the condition of the local market, demand for the type of real estate in question, and a host of other variables.

And every one of those boxes could be checked when it came to a property now marketed as 70 Turnpike Industrial Road, known to most as the National Envelope site, because that was the tenant there for a number of years before it vacated the property in 2015.

“We saw great potential for value creation,” said Grossman. “The project represents an excellent opportunity to turn a non-performing property into a productive asset for the community as well as our investors.”

Elaborating on this potential, Grossman noted that the property is located roughly a mile from Mass Pike exit 3 (you can almost see the highway from the property), and also has rail accessibility. What’s more, it has size (238,575 square feet) and flexibility in that it is suited for both production and warehousing, and is in good condition, especially following more than $1 million in work to the roof, replacement mechanical systems, and more.

Add in a strong market for manufacturing and distribution space, fostered by dwindling inventory, and a city eager to replace the jobs lost when National Envelope left the city, and it’s easy to see why HMC pursued the property and thus greatly increased its presence in the region.

Indeed, this is the company’s second major acquisition in Western Mass. in 2017; the other was the fully leased, 187,840-square-foot warehouse building in the Agawam Regional Industrial Park, home to OMG and Vaupel.

Michael Grossman

Michael Grossman says acquisition of the Turnpike Industrial Park property represents an opportunity to turn a non-performing property into a real asset for the city and the region.

The company also owns a large industrial property in New Jersey, and the portfolio now boasts nearly 1 million square feet of industrial and distribution facilities.

Grossman joined fellow industry veterans Lefkowitz and Kolnick in creating HMC in 2016, with Grossman and Lefkowitz both having left Mack-Cali Realty Corp., a public, multi-billion-dollar real-estate investment trust, to start their own company.

HMC focuses primarily on acquiring multi-tenant industrial and office-flex properties, Grossman explained, adding that the company had developed a strong working relationship with many of the top real-estate-services firms, including Cushman & Wakefield, which put the Westfield property on HMC’s radar and is now its agent.

The company’s principals saw a property that needed some work — there was a considerable amount of deferred maintenance — but also great potential in what would be a new role, that of home to multiple tenants.

And Grossman, as he offered BusinessWest a tour and pointed out its open spaces, high ceilings (up to 36 feet in some portions of the facility), and 12,000 square feet of office space, envisioned up to four tenants.

“We’re looking at assembly, manufacturing, and straight distribution,” he explained. “The building lends itself to manufacturing because of the extensive power.”

The logo created to accompany marketing materials for the property does an effective job of highlighting some of its many assets, especially that strategic location part.

Indeed, curving their way around a large ‘70’ (the street address) are four lanes of highway and some railroad track. The roadway is the Turnpike, obviously, the west-bound lanes of which are less than 100 yards from the back of the property. The railroad track signifies the potential to create a spur that would connect the property to a rail line running through the north side of the city. National Envelope never used rail service, but the potential is certainly there for future tenants to do so, Grossman said.

Potential is a word you hear early and often in reference to this property, and Grossman and his partners are confident that it won’t be long before this potential is realized.

— George O’Brien

Daily News

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 300 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector lost 200 jobs; gains occurred in construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities. The November estimate was revised to a gain of 7,800 jobs.

From December 2016 to December 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 63,000 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Throughout 2017, the Commonwealth continued to experience steady economic growth, adding 63,000 jobs, over 64,000 additional residents participating in the labor force, and closing out the year with a low unemployment rate of 3.5%. While much of these job gains continue to be in sectors like professional, business, and scientific services, manufacturing also posted a preliminary 2,800 over-the-year job gain, the first over-the-year over job gain in that sector in 18 years,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said.

The labor force decreased by 500 from 3,647,500 in November, as 1,900 more residents were employed and 2,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month.

Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in December 2016. There were 17,900 more unemployed residents over the year compared to December 2016.

The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.3% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to December 2016.

The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Marty Holmes was recently named top corporate search consultant at Management Search Inc.

Holmes, president of the West Springfield division of the privately held recruiting firm, was recognized with the organization’s prestigious President’s Club Award for sales excellence in 2017. This year also marked Holmes’ 30th anniversary with Management Search Inc.

Throughout his tenure, Holmes has worked to perfect a time-tested recruitment process and, in the process, has established deep roots in the market with a diverse client base in manufacturing and a niche focus within the shooting-sports industry. His hands-on consultative approach, along with his extensive knowledge of the industries he works in, have worked together to build and strengthen his reputation among clients and candidates alike.

Headquartered in West Springfield with an office in Providence, R.I., Management Search Inc. has grown to become one of the largest privately held recruiting firms in New England, boasting 35 years of recruiting experience and 15 established consultants.

Daily News

BOSTON — Surging optimism about the state and national economies left Massachusetts employers with their highest level of confidence in 18 years as 2017 drew to a close.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose one point to 63.6 during December, its highest level since November 2000. The BCI gained 3.2 points during a year in which employer confidence levels remained comfortably within the optimistic range.

Every element of the overall index increased during 2017 except for the Employment Index, which dropped a half-point. Analysts believe low unemployment and demographic shifts are impeding the ability of employers to find the workers they need.

“Massachusetts employers maintained a uniformly positive outlook throughout 2017, and passage of the federal tax bill only added to that optimism,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, the 12-month decline in the Employment Index reminds us that the persistent shortage of skilled workers has reached an inflection point for the Massachusetts economy. Massachusetts companies have postponed expansions, declined to bid for contracts, or outsourced work because they simply can’t find people.”

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. It has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly higher during December. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, surged 2.4 points to 67.6, leaving it 5.8 points better than a year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions continued a yearlong rally by gaining two points to 64.2. December marked the 94th 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, decreased 0.7 points to 62.7, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.7 points to 64.5. The Current Index gained 3.6 points and the Future Index 2.8 points during 2017.

The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, declined 0.2 points to 62.1. The Employment Index rose slightly to 56.7, but still ended the year 0.5 points below the 57.2 posted in December 2016.

Manufacturing companies (64.3) continued to be more optimistic than non-manufacturers (62.6). Another unusual result was that employers in Western Mass. (64.6) posted higher confidence readings than those in the eastern portion of the Commonwealth (62.7).

“Employer attitudes largely reflect a national economy that grew at its fastest pace in three years during the third quarter on the strength of business spending on equipment. The headline is that unemployment is down and the financial markets are up,” said Michael Tyler, chief investment officer at Eastern Bank Wealth Management and a BEA member.

AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also BEA member, said employers received an early Christmas present from a federal tax bill that reduced corporate rates from 35% to 21% and reduced rates for pass-through entities such as subchapter S-corporations as well.

“The tax bill produced short-term benefits, ranging from companies like Comcast and Citizens Financial providing bonuses to employees to the utility Eversource reducing electric rates in Massachusetts,” Lord said. “At the same time, employers are cautious about the effect that other provisions — including limitations on the deduction for state and local taxes — will have on the overall Massachusetts economy.”

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Growth Engine

Tracey Gaylord of Granite State Development Corp. (right) with Shannon Reichelt, who used Granite State’s services to finance a new property for her company, S. Reichelt & Co.

Tracey Gaylord of Granite State Development Corp. (right) with Shannon Reichelt, who used Granite State’s services to finance a new property for her company, S. Reichelt & Co.

Certified development companies, or CDCs, are entities that partner with banks to help small businesses secure financing to grow their operations. But in doing so, they’re also growing the economy by promoting economic development, which is, in fact, a key element of their mission. Since its inception in New Hampshire in 1982 — and its subsequent, ever-expanding work across Massachusetts — Granite State Development Corp. has been executing that mission.

Shannon Reichelt recently purchased a building in Holyoke to consolidate her CPA organization, S. Reichelt & Co.

Meanwhile, Ben LaRoche and Jared Martin purchased a property in Lanesboro to house their technology-integration business, Amenitek; Gordon and Patricia Hubbard bought Hidden Valley Campground in Lanesboro and renamed it Mt. Greylock Campsite Park; and Pat Ononibaku purchased the adult day-care operation known as ThayerCare and renamed it Bakucare.

Then there are Anthony Chojnowski, who is building a new structure for his clothing store, Casablanca, in Lenox, and Frank Muytjens and Scott Cole, who are developing the Inn at Kenmore Hall in Richmond, near the New York line.

While those are six very different businesses, the common thread is how they financed their property purchases: through the certified development company (CDC) called Granite State Development Corp. (GSDC).

“We work with businesses looking to either acquire an existing business that has tangible assets, or take a loan on real estate or piece of equipment,” said Tracey Gaylord, Granite State’s vice president and business development officer.

Specifically, Granite State is a nonprofit lender authorized to process and service Small Business Administration (SBA) loans utilizing the 504 lending program (more on that later). It’s the second active certified development company (CDC) in New England and provide financing in the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“The main goal is to promote economic development and job growth,” Gaylord said. “We help banks do loans they might not be able to do otherwise.”

Those loans are spread among a broad range of sectors, she added. “We do anything from manufacturing companies to wineries to restaurants to healthcare facilities to assisted living to campgrounds. And equipment financing for manufacturing — big machines they might buy every 10 or 15 years — we do a lot with those types of projects as well.”

For this issue’s focus on banking and financial services, Gaylord explained why companies find the 504 loan program — and Granite State’s services — an attractive option when financing a purchase or investing in future growth.

Impressive Growth

GSDC President Alan Abraham created the company in 1982 in Portsmouth, N.H., with a geographic territory initially limited to three counties in that state. In 1986, its territory expanded to include the entire state of New Hampshire, and it has since grown to provide statewide coverage for the four northernmost New England states, including Massachusetts.

Granite State Development is one of the largest CDCs nationwide, ranking fifth in both loan volume and dollars, and has been the most active 504 lender in New England for almost a decade. Since 1990, in cooperation with its bank lending partners, the nonprofit has participated in more than 4,000 transactions worth more than $1.5 billion, helping create more than 20,000 jobs in New England in the process, based on borrower growth stemming from the loans.

Meanwhile, 2017 was a banner year for GSDC in Western Mass., where it has poured increasing resources in recent years, as most of its Bay State projects have historically been farther east.

Those projects fall under the SBA’s 504 loan program, which provides approved small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing to acquire assets for expansion or modernization. These 504 loans are made available through CDCs like Granite State. CDCs — there are more than 260 nationwide — are certified and regulated by the SBA, and work with SBA and participating lenders, typically banks, to provide financing to small businesses.

A typical 504 loan is structured in three parts: 50% is a lien from the bank, 40% is a second lien through the CDC, and 10% is a required down payment from the borrower.

This is an important element in the program, Gaylord noted, as many banks require 20%, 25%, even 30% down for certain loans, simply as a matter of policy, “and this actually allows them to do projects people may need.”

At the same time, it’s a win for the borrower, she added, because a bigger down payment may cut into funds they need to get through a lean time. “Maybe it’s a seasonal business, and they need money to get through the winter, to fill that gap.”

The bank sets its own interest rate and term for its 50% share of the loan, she went on. “If they want to do a fixed five-year rate, they can do that. They do not have to match what we do. That’s the benefit for the bank.”

As for GSDC’s portion, it determines terms based on the type of project, she explained. A real-estate project might come with a 20-year term, while 10 years might be more appropriate when purchasing a piece of equipment with a useful life of 10 to 15 years.

“Whatever the type of project, the bank chooses what to do with the other 50%,” Gaylord said. “People say, ‘why would I use this program?’ My quick response is, ‘it’s a low capital investment and a low fixed rate.’”

There are limits to what 504 loans may be used to purchase, however. They are specifically intended for fixed assets and certain soft costs, including the purchase of existing buildings; the purchase of land and land improvements, including grading, street improvements, utilities, parking lots, and landscaping; the construction of new facilities or modernizing, renovating, or converting existing facilities; the purchase of long-term machinery; or the refinancing of debt in connection with an expansion of the business through new or renovated facilities or equipment.

The 504 program cannot be used for working capital or inventory, consolidating or repaying debt, or refinancing, except for projects with an expansion component.

Bigger Picture

At its heart, the 504 lending program and CDCs like Granite State exist not only to help small businesses, but to boost economic development over an entire region. In short, applicants must demonstrate that their purchase or investment will create jobs.

“That’s one of the primary purposes of this,” Gaylord said. “We have to track the number of jobs the business has at the current time and how many jobs they’re predicting they’ll have in the first year and the next 24 months.”

That calculation incorporates job retention as well, she noted. “If they have only two employees but doing the project means they’ll be able to retain those two, that’s fantastic. If they can create more jobs, that’s even better.”

According to the SBA, community-development goals of the 504 loan program include improving, diversifying, or stabilizing the local economy; stimulating other business development; bringing new income into the community; and assisting manufacturing firms and production facilities located in the U.S.

Public-policy goals include revitalizing a business district of a community with a written revitalization or redevelopment plan; expanding exports; expanding small businesses owned and controlled by women, veterans, and minorities; aiding rural development; increasing productivity and competitiveness; modernizing or upgrading facilities to meet health, safety, and environmental requirements; and assisting businesses in, or moving to, areas affected by federal budget reductions, including base closings; reduction of energy consumption by at least 10%.

There are a few environmental goals as well, including increased use of sustainable design, building design that reduces the use of non-renewable resources and minimizes environmental impact; reduction in the use of greenhouse-gas-producing fossil fuels; and production of alternative and renewable forms of energy.

These are worthy goals, obviously, but businesses that qualify for 504 loans are typically more concerned with how the program affects their bottom line.

“We see ebbs and flows, just like conventional banks do, but we’re obviously in a good market right now,” Gaylord said. “This is a good opportunity for people to lock in those loan rates before they start to rise. Now is a really good time.”

There have been many of those good times since Granite State Development Corp. took root in New England 35 years ago, with a mission to help small businesses expand and grow, thereby helping the New England economy.

“It’s a very easy process,” Gaylord told BusinessWest. “I think that the bankers are comfortable with it, and look to us for guidance. We’re bankers and want to work with them.

“People ask, ‘are you competing with banks?’” she went on. “No, we don’t compete with banks, we work with them. We look at banks as our partners. And I get excited when I see the jobs and economic growth. That’s the best part.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

Life’s Work

Lisa Rapp

Lisa Rapp says many biotech students find inspiration in the fact that their work may someday make a difference — for example, in developing a key new drug.

For college students — or career changers — seeking a career path with plenty of opportunity close to home, biotechnology in Massachusetts is certainly enjoying an enviable wave.

For example, drug research and development — one key field in the broad world of biotech — has been surging in Massachusetts for well over a decade, and isn’t slowing down, according to the annual report released in November by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, or MassBio.

According to that report, Massachusetts has more jobs classified as biotechnology R&D than any other state (see table below), with 34,366 currently employed — a 40% increase since 2007 — barely edging out California, a state with six times the Bay State’s population, and a well-defined high-tech landscape.

Meanwhile, the total number of biopharma workers in Massachusetts rose by nearly 5% in 2016, to 66,053, a 28% growth rate since 2007, which was the year former Gov. Deval Patrick launched a 10-year, $1 billion life-sciences investment program. More recently, Gov. Charlie Baker renewed the state’s commitment to the industry when he announced a five-year, $500 million ‘life sciences 2.0’ initiative.

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“Massachusetts is historically one of the first states that got into biotechnology, then Deval Patrick made a real financial commitment, and provided funding, to try to keep it here,” said Lisa Rapp, who chairs the associate-degree Biotechnology program at Springfield Technical Community College, adding that Cambridge has long been the key hub, but biotech companies can be found throughout the Commonwealth.

Still, while the industry is growing rapidly, Rapp noted that biotechnology often is not on the radar of people considering their career options. Biotechnology encompasses a broad range of applications that use living organisms such as cells and bacteria to make useful products. Current applications of biotechnology include industrial production of pharmaceuticals such as vaccines and insulin, genetic testing, DNA fingerprinting, and genetic engineering of plants.

“I don’t think many students are aware how many jobs there are in the state. There are more jobs the farther east you go, but there are absolutely jobs here too,” she said, noting that research and development companies tend to cluster closer to Boston, while Western Mass. tends to be stronger with biomanufacturing.

The research and development job gains come as the state’s collective pipeline of drugs is rapidly expanding. According to the MassBio report, companies headquartered in the state have 1,876 drugs in various stages of development, nearly half of which — 912 — are being tested in human trials. That’s a significant increase from last year, when 1,149 drugs were in development, including 455 in human trials. Treatments for cancer, neurological disorders, and infections are among the most popular.

“There are more opportunities now than ever to get good jobs in Massachusetts,” Rapp said. “The state has the highest concentration of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the world.”

“We’re in the middle of a genomic revolution right now, on the cusp of this brave new world,” said Thomas Mennella, associate professor of Biology at Bay Path University, who directs the master’s program in Applied Laboratory Science & Operations, which has become a key graduate degree in the biotech world (more on that later).

“My read on the field is that no one is sure where this is going to go, but everyone believes it’s going somewhere special,” he went on. “This generation now coming out will advance that revolution, and we’re preparing them the best we can to make them as adaptable as possible and follow the flow wherever the field leads.”

Meeting the Need

Since 2012, Rapp said, STCC has received $375,000 in grants to enhance its Biotechnology program, and especially the cutting-edge equipment and supplies on which students learn current techniques in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“Our curriculum is designed to meet the ever-expanding need for trained biotechnology personnel, she added, noting that students who complete the two-year program can apply for jobs in the biopharma industry, or may advance to four-year institutions to pursue higher degrees in biotechnology.

“The career-track associate degree is meant to lead to direct employment in the field, and then we have a transfer track for students looking to transfer to a four-year college and get a bachelor’s degree or additional education,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s about half and half, but the last few years, there has been a little more interest in the transfer pathway.”

Bay Path’s bachelor’s-degree program has evolved over time, Mennella said, first in response to industry talk that students nationally weren’t emerging with high-tech instrumentation skills, and then — when programs morphed to emphasize those skills — that job applicants were highly technically trained, but not thinking scientifically.

“Our degree here is meant to bridge that gap, meet in the middle,” he explaned. “They’re graduating with the best of both worlds.”

But he called the master’s program in Applied Laboratory Science & Operations the “cherry on top of the program,” because it sets up biotech undergrads with the tools they need to manage a lab — from project management to understanding the ethical and legal implications of their work — which, in turn, leads to some of the more lucrative and rewarding areas of their field.

“We’ve packaged four courses together as an online graduate certificate program, so even students who just want to learn how to manage a lab and manage people can take those four online courses as a graduate certificate,” he explained.

The idea, Mennella said, is to make sure graduates are as competitive as they can be, in a field that — like others in Massachusetts, from precision manufacturing to information technology — often has more job opportunities available than qualified candidates. He wants his graduates to demonstrate, within six months to a year, that they can slide into lab-management positions that, in the Bay State, pay a median salary of almost $120,000.

“The state is hungry for highly skilled technicians that can do the day-to-day work to keep the lab running,” he noted. “We want them geared toward the really good technical jobs in this area, but have that second [managerial] purpose in mind. We’re striking both sides of the coin.”

Cool, Fun — and Meaningful

Rapp noted that many students are looking for a challenging role in medical research that doesn’t involve patient contact, and a biotechnology degree is a clear path to such a career.

“Generally, they have some underlying interest in science — they think science is cool and fun, which, of course, it is. And with laboratory jobs, they might have an interest in science and not necessarily in patient care,” she explained. “And they like the hands-on work in a laboratory setting.”

Whether working for pharmaceutical companies, developing and testing new drugs, or for biomanufacturing companies working on medical devices, or even in a forensics lab, opportunities abound, she said.

“I feel like many students want to feel like they’re doing something meaningful here,” Rapp added. “If they’re involved in designing or testing drugs, helping some future patient, I feel that’s a message that reonates with the students — that maybe they’ll be doing a job that helps someone in some way.”

At a recent Biotechnology Career Exploration Luncheon at STCC, professors from area colleges discussed opportunities in the field, and agreed that job reports like the one from MassBio may only scratch the surface when it comes to opportunities in a field that grows more intriguing by the year.

“Biochemistry and molecular-biology principles are critical in a number of growing fields in health and technology,” said Amy Springer, lecturer and chief undergraduate advisor at UMass Amherst. “Having a fundamental knowledge in these topics provides a student with translatable skills suitable for a range of areas, including discovery research, medical diagnostics, treatments and engineering, and environmental science.”

As Mennella said, it’s a brave new world — and a story that’s only beginning to unfold.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Briefcase Departments

UMass, Research Partners Aim to Improve Flu-season Forecasts
AMHERST — Research teams, including one led by biostatistician Nicholas Reich at UMass Amherst, are participating in a national influenza-forecasting challenge to try to predict the onset, progress, and peaks of regional flu outbreaks to aid prevention and control. This year, the Reich Lab is leading an effort to improve the forecasting by increasing the collaboration between groups. “Every year, the Centers for Disease Control host a flu-forecasting challenge,” Reich said. “It’s the most organized and public effort at forecasting any infectious disease anywhere in the world. Our lab is now in our third year of participating, and we find that each year we get a little better and learn a bit more. This year, we wanted to take it to the next level, so we worked with other teams year-round to develop a way that our models could work together to make a single best forecast for influenza. This entire effort is public, so anyone can go to the website and see the forecasts.” While this flu season has started earlier than usual in the northeastern and southern regions of the U.S., according to the most recent data, the forecasts are still showing a fair amount of uncertainty about how big a season it will be, Reich said. “The holiday season is a notoriously difficult time to forecast because typically fewer people go to the doctor, and yet everyone is traveling around spreading or being exposed to infections such as flu.” Reich and colleagues at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences collaborate with teams at Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, and a group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, in a group they have dubbed the FluSight Network. It issues a new flu season forecast every Monday for public-health researchers and practitioners that compares the flu trajectory this year to past years. In a recent publication, Reich and colleagues state that their aim is to “combine forecasting models for seasonal influenza in the U.S. to create a single ensemble forecast. The central question is, can we provide better information to decision makers by combining forecasting models and, specifically, by using past performance of the models to inform the ensemble approach.” Added Reich, “we are working closely with our collaborators at the CDC to determine how to improve the timeliness and relevance of our forecasts.” To prepare for this flu season, he and colleagues spent many hours designing a standard structure that each team needed to use when submitting models. This allowed for comparison of methods over the past seven years of flu data in the U.S. They also conducted a cross-validation study of data from the past seven flu seasons to compare five different methods for combining models into a single ensemble forecast. They found that four of their collaborative ensemble methods had higher average scores than any of the individual models. The team is now submitting forecasts from their best-performing model and are posting them once a week this season to the CDC’s 2017-18 FluSight Challenge. Reich estimates there are about 20 teams this year participating in the CDC challenge nationwide, who produce about 30 different models. Each model forecasts the onset of the flu season, how it will progress over the coming few weeks, when it will peak, and how intense the peak will be compared to other seasons. In a heavy flu season, between 5% and 12% of doctor’s visits are for influenza-like illness, and that number varies regionally in the U.S. This metric is one of the key indicators for the CDC of how bad the flu season is, and it is the measure used in the forecasting challenges. “Certainly for the CDC, there are policy decisions that could be impacted by these forecasts, including the timing of public communication about flu season starting and when to get vaccinated. Models can help with all of that,” Reich said. “Also, hospitals often try to have enhanced precautions in place during a certain peak period for the disease. If you do that too early, or for too long, you run the risk of individuals getting tired of taking the extra time to comply with the policies.” Hospital epidemiologists and others responsible for public-health decisions do not declare the onset of flu season lightly, he noted. In hospitals, flu onset — a technical set of symptoms reported to physicians — triggers many extra time-consuming and costly precautions and procedures such as added gloves, masks, and gowns; donning and doffing time; special decontamination procedures; increased surveillance; and reduced visitor access, for example. There is also healthcare worker fatigue to consider. Hospitals want to be as effective and efficient as possible in their preparations and response to reduce time and money spent and worker burnout. The public-health effort to improve flu season forecasts is relatively recent, Reich said. “There has been tremendous progress in how we think about infectious disease forecasting in just the last five years. If you compare that to something like weather forecasting, which has been going on for decades, we’re in the middle of a long process of learning and improvement. Someday, we might be able to imagine having a flu forecast on our smartphones that tells us, for example, it’s an early season and I’d better get Mom to the clinic to get her vaccination early this year. We’re close, but that’s not here quite yet.”

Massachusetts Adds 6,700 Jobs in November
BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% in November, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 6,700 jobs in November. Over the month, the private sector added 7,300 jobs as gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; education and health services; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; and manufacturing. The October estimate was revised to a gain of 3,200 jobs. From November 2016 to November 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,200 jobs. The November unemployment rate was five-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Year-to-date the jobs and labor force estimates indicate a strong and stable economy in the Commonwealth. Since December 2016, Massachusetts is estimated to have added 62,200 jobs, 64,300 more residents are participating in the labor force, and the unemployment rate remains low, averaging 3.8%. November also marks the 13th consecutive month of private-sector job growth, with manufacturing adding 1,600 jobs,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force decreased by 8,200 from 3,656,000 in October, as 4,000 fewer residents were employed and 4,200 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased five-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in November 2016. There were 18,300 more unemployed residents over the year compared to November 2016. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.4% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to November 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services.

Applications Open for 2018 Local Farmer Awards
AGAWAM — The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF), in partnership with Big Y and a sponsorship team, announced the fourth year of the Local Farmer Awards, supporting local farmers in Western Mass. with funds for infrastructure improvements and farm equipment. Launched in 2015, the awards draw attention to the importance of local farmers to the region’s economy and health. “Big Y has been supporting local farmers since we began over 80 years ago,” said Charles D’Amour, Big Y president and COO. “Through our partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, we are providing one more way to help the local growers to thrive in our community.” Awards of up to $2,500 will be given to each recipient farmer. The 2017 awards were made to 49 of the 116 applicants. Essential to the program’s success has been the ongoing advice and assistance from the two regional Buy Local farm advocates, Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA). “Local family farms are a part of our culture and economy and the reason we call this area home,” said Philip Korman, executive director of CISA. “This unique farm awards program makes it possible for family farms to strengthen that connection in our communities.” Added Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, “we’re thrilled about the continuation of these financial awards for farmers in Western Massachusetts. This helps build the local food economy in our region.” The application is open through Jan. 31, 2018. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit the website for more information: www.farmerawards.org.

DevelopSpringfield Sells 700 State St. to Pride Stores for Redevelopment
SPRINGFIELD — DevelopSpringfield announced the sale of property at the corner of Thompson and State streets to Pride Stores for redevelopment. The site had been identified as a priority for redevelopment in the State Street Corridor Redevelopment Program, a plan focused on the economic revitalization of State Street and adjacent neighborhoods. DevelopSpringfield acquired the former River Inn at 700 State St. in 2013 with adjacent lots on Thompson Street to remove a blight on the neighborhood, promote revitalization, and prepare the site for appropriate commercial redevelopment. The organization performed extensive asbestos remediation, demolished the building, and prepared the site for redevelopment. “We listened closely to the interests of community members, including the Springfield Food Policy Council and the McKnight Neighborhood Council, to identify a developer whose project would meet community needs and be a good neighbor to the many residents near the site,” said Nicholas Fyntrilakis, DevelopSpringfield’s chairman. “Pride’s new store will offer fresh food and produce and address the community’s interests for healthier food options.” Added Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, “this is exactly why my administration created this public/private partnership of DevelopSpringfield. This in-question property had been a troublesome area for the neighborhood for many years. I look forward to the redevelopment of this site with a project that will bring jobs, tax revenue, and a quality retail operator who cares about our community.” The sale of the property was complete on Dec. 15. Construction is targeted to begin in the spring. The new store will include a Pride gas station and convenience store and will feature a variety of convenient food items, Pride Café Bakery, local produce, and fresh healthy food offerings. In addition, incubator space will be provided to a local food entrepreneur. “We are excited to bring Pride Markets to this important area of the State Street corridor,” said Bob Bolduc, owner of Pride Stores. “Not only will the store have the amenities our customers traditionally expect, but it will also have fresh local produce available through an innovative collaboration led by local food advocate Liz O’Gilvie, who will coordinate a farmer’s market on the site.”

MassDOT: $1B Invested in Infrastructure in 2017
BOSTON — The Mass. Department of Transportation announced that approximately $1 billion was invested in improving and upgrading roads, bridges, sidewalks, multi-use paths, and intersections across the state in calendar year 2017. This $1 billion in capital investments included repairs and improvements to 386 bridges in 123 communities and improved road conditions in more than 155 cities and towns across Massachusetts. An additional $30 million was programmed through the Complete Streets and Municipal Small Bridge programs in order to support local transportation planning and community bridges not eligible for federal aid. “The Baker-Polito Administration has focused on improving the reliability and resiliency of our transportation infrastructure to ensure that people throughout the Commonwealth are able to drive, walk, bike, or use public transit and reach the places they need to go,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “By investing in our roads, bridges, sidewalks, multi-use paths, and intersections, we can provide better options to travelers and allow them to utilize their preferred mode of transportation to reach their jobs, homes, businesses, and places that improve their quality of life.” Among the notable construction project highlights from 2017 are reaching the full beneficial use milestone for the $148 million I-91 viaduct rehabilitation project in Springfield approximately eight months ahead of schedule. The majority of the work has now been completed, and the lanes and ramps on I-91 have reopened.

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.

HAMPDEN DISTRICT COURT
LKQ Corp. v. E & T Auto Body Inc.
Allegation: Money owed for goods sold and delivered: $3,647.50
Filed: 11/20/17

Angel N. Quintana v. Karaaslan Realty, LLC and Pizza Works
Allegation: Negligence, slip and fall causing injury: $6,688.04
Filed: 12/7/17

McCormick-Allum Co. Inc. v. Atlantic Furniture Inc.
Allegation: Money owed for HVAC and gas repair work: $14,891.69
Filed: 12/11/17

HAMPDEN SUPERIOR COURT
John Maloni v. James Garini
Allegation: Breach of contract: $25,000+
Filed: 12/1/17

Raymond Tirrell v. Eastern States Exposition
Allegation: Wage and hour violations, misclassification of employee as part-time and withholding of overtime pay: $100,000
Filed: 12/6/17

Specialty Bolt & Screw Inc. v. Stored Solar J&WE, LLC
Allegation: Money owed for goods sold and delivered: $28,695.06
Filed: 12/6/17

Ellen Zordani v. Centro Enfield, LLC and Global Management Solutions Inc.
Allegation: Slip and fall causing injury: $20,000+
Filed: 12/11/17

HAMPSHIRE DISTRICT COURT
Split Excavating Inc. v. Wildwood Court Management Inc.
Allegation: Failure to pay for plowing services: $11,525
Filed: 12/6/17

Melissa O’Neill v. Full Tilt Auto Body Inc.
Allegation: Unfair and deceptive business practices, conversion of automobile: $15,000
Filed: 12/13/17

HAMPSHIRE SUPERIOR COURT
Donald Kendall v. Home Depot USA Inc. and Electric Eel Manufacturing Co.
Allegation: Product liability, negligence causing injury while using electric-powered plumbing snake: $50,000
Filed: 11/27/17

Richard P. Halgin v. William J. Botempi, DMD, MD and Berkshire Facial Surgery Inc.
Allegation: Dental malpractice
Filed: 12/7/17