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Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

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In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new recognition program. Actually, it was a spin-off, or extension, of an existing recognition program — 40 Under Forty. The concept was rather simple: to recognize the individual (or individuals — there have multiple winners a few years) who has most improved upon their résumé of excellence, in both their chosen field and with their service to the community. Over the past several years, the competition for what has become known as the Alumni Achievement Award has been spirited, as it was this year. Indeed, a panel of three judges, including the 2022 honoree, Anthony Gleason III, scored nominations featuring individuals across several different sectors of the economy. The four highest scorers, the finalists for the 2023 AAA honor, are profiled here. They are: Ryan McCollum, owner of RMC Strategies; Orlando Ramos, state representative and Springfield mayoral candidate; Amy Royal, founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm, and Michelle Theroux, executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The AAA winner will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty gala on June 15 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House.

Select each finalist below to read their story:

Ryan McCollum

Owner of RMC Strategies

Orlando Ramos

State representative and Springfield mayoral candidate

Amy Royal

Founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm

Michelle Theroux

Executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy

This year’s 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award is Presented by:

Alumni Achievement Award

State Representative, 9th District

Orlando Ramos

Orlando Ramos’ 40 Under Forty photo in 2012 (below) emphasized he’s a fighter in more ways than one — and that hasn’t changed.

For his studio photograph when he became a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2014, Orlando Ramos chose to put on his blue boxing gloves and robe — he trained under legend Duke Belton and fought for several years — with a dress shirt and tie underneath.

The juxtaposition of those clothing items was well-thought-out, and quite poignant.

Indeed, at that time, when Ramos was 31 and serving as a Springfield city councilor (Ward 8) and district director for state Sen. James Welch, he was essentially sending a message — that he was still fighting … just not in the ring. Instead, he was fighting for Springfield, the city where he grew up (the Pine Point neighborhood, to be more specific), and its residents.

That fight took him to the presidency of the City Council, a role he carried out for two years, 2017 and 2018.

Today, the fight continues, but in a different setting. Sort of. Instead of City Hall in Springfield, Ramos’ professional mailing address is now the State House in Boston, where he serves as representative for the 9th District, which represents Pine Point and other neighborhoods in the northern part of the city.

But Ramos is looking to come back to City Hall, in this case the corner office. Indeed, he is a candidate for mayor in what promises to be a heated fight (there’s that word again) that will play out over the several months. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, there’s Ramos’s ongoing fight for the city and how it has evolved over the past several years, a progression, and an escalation, if one chooses to call it that, which impressed the panel of judges weighing nominations for the Alumni Achievement Award and made him a finalist for that coveted award.

His story of service to the community starts more than 15 years ago, when Ramos, who began his professional career as a carpenter and later was appointed union steward of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 108, was offered an internship in the governor’s Western Mass. office, whetting his appetite for public service.

He was later offered a full-time position as Welch’s district director, and successfully ran for City Council in 2013.

Ramos said he chose to take his work to fight for Springfield to the State House to essentially broaden his impact.

“I saw an opportunity to bring more resources back to the community,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he was first elected during the COVID pandemic, a time that “highlighted so many inequalities and so many needs in Springfield.”

He added that “we needed a leader with experience to navigate the Legislature, and that’s why I decided to run.”

He said his freshman term was a productive one, with three bills that he authored passing the House. Elaborating, he said the sports-betting bill that eventually passed was the version that included diversity, equity, and inclusion language that he wrote. Another bill he steered through concerned biomass plants and essentially removed state subsidies for such facilities, a measure he believes was the “final dagger” for a controversial biomass plant proposed for Springfield.

“I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job.”

The third bill concerned regulation of facial-surveillance technology. It passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Baker. He is hopeful that it will pass this year.

As for his decision to run for mayor, Ramos said he believes it’s time for a change in Springfield, and a time to seize more opportunities, especially within the broad realm of economic development.

“I see that there is a need in the city for a new vision,” he told BusinessWest. “I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job. We’ve had a lot of missed opportunities, and I feel that people are ready for a new mayor.”

He said he was the first person on the ballot and has hit the ground running when it comes to his campaign. “I’ve been knocking on doors ever since. And I’m going to continue knocking on doors until election day.”

Areliz Barboza, coordinator of the nonprofit agency known as Listening with Love, who nominated Ramos for the AAA honor, summed up Ramos’s work, and his passion for Springfield and its residents, this way:

“I believe he is an ambassador for our community. He is not only an elected official, but he is also a mentor to our young people,” she wrote. “He has the heart to serve our seniors. He has devoted himself to be the change within his family and in our community. Even with his busy schedule, he still manages to always make time to go above and beyond for our community. I believe his integrity and passion to serve our community speaks volumes and brings inspiration that creates the change we need in Springfield.”

Those sentiments explain why he has been elected city councilor and state representative, why he became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2014, and now, why is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.


—George O’Brien