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Sales and Marketing

The Art and Science of Story Telling

The team at BRIGADE

The team at BRIGADE shows off the many honors garnered at the recent Ad Club of Western Mass. award show.    Photo by Stephanie Craig Photography

It was just a few weeks after Kirsten Modestow and her husband relocated to Western Mass. from San Francisco that she got the phone call that would ultimately change her life. The person at the other end was looking for someone to do some freelance work for a fledgling vodka brand called Svedka. As many people know, Svedka has gone on to become the top-selling imported vodka in the U.S. What they may not know is that, with that notable first client, Modestow created the marketing firm BRIGADE, one that has certainly built on that solid foundation in every way.

Kirsten Modestow says the branding company she would call BRIGADE (yes, all caps) was started on her kitchen table.

Which doesn’t exactly make it unique; many startups are blueprinted in such a setting. Which makes this one different is what happened after it was conceived.

For starters, that kitchen table would later become an official work station for one of the first hires, and soon other parts of the house were absorbed by additional team members as they came on board.

“The first person was in the living room, the second person was at the dining-room table, the next one was in the spare bedroom … then we all moved into the garage,” she explained. “When there was no room in the refrigerator for people’s lunches, we knew it was time to go.”

By that, she meant move into larger quarters, which the company has done a few times, but we’ll get back to that later.

The other thing that separates BRIGADE from other ventures hatched on the kitchen table is the pace of growth. Indeed, over the past 13 years, the company has expanded to 35 employees, most of them artists and designers who commute to the current home on Route 9 in Hadley from across Western Mass. and well beyond.

And their client list includes a number of prominent national brands, including Svedka vodka, the Wyndham Hotel Group, Black Box Wines, and Vertical Water, as well as some local businesses, such as Esselon Café, just a few hundred yards down Route 9.

Actually, Svedka wasn’t a national brand when Modestow was hired as a freelancer to help with a branding campaign. It was a fledgling vodka label looking to break out — and it did, big time; a few years ago, it surpassed Smirnoff as the top-selling imported vodka in the U.S.

The team at BRIGADE designed packaging for Svedka strawberry seltzer.

The team at BRIGADE designed packaging for Svedka strawberry seltzer.

“We’ve been along for the ride,” Modestow said, noting how the growth of Svedka and BRIGADE have mirrored one another. “Over the past 13 years, we’ve grown with them.”

But BRIGADE hasn’t outgrown Modestow’s kitchen table, then a space on University Drive, and then a totally renovated foreign-car sales and service shop further down Route 9 because of one client — although Svedka certainly has played a huge role in that transformation.

Instead, it’s been the company’s ability to work with clients to create branding that resonates, builds name recognition, and drives sales, Modestow explained, adding that this is what branding, the company’s specialty, is all about.

Elaborating, she said BRIGADE focuses on helping clients tell their story, and to do that, she and her team must first understand what that story is and then develop effective ways to communicate it.

“We get to know a client by doing an audit of their existing brand,” she explained. “We always see it as the client being the expert in what they do in their industry, and we bring in the branding piece, so it’s crucial to work with them as a partner.”

That was certainly the case with the new coffee bags the company created for Esselon Café. Coffee had long been a key ingredient in the restaurant’s recipe for success, said Modestow, but a while back, its leaders decided a new look was needed.

“People are more open to working with remote agencies. Before, it was a case where you went to an agency in one of the larger cities. Around 2006, when we started, there was a willingness to work with people who weren’t down the street, and that had a lot to do with our success.”

“We worked with them to determine how to capture the heart of Esselon and capture who and what Esselon is,” she explained, adding that BRIGADE came up with new packaging that drew on the Western Mass. landscape — specifically the Seven Sisters portion of the Holyoke Range — as well as new language: “All roads, bike paths, and quests for the best cup of coffee lead to Esselon Café.”

Kirsten Modestow

Kirsten Modestow

“The whole idea is that they’re on the bike path and everyone comes to Esselon; the place is packed, and you have to park illegally,” she explained. “We decided to embrace all that — we have these bike paths and roads that wrap around the bag, and we told this café story, and it’s been awesome for them; the bag is loved by Whole Foods, and retail sales have tripled because of it.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how BRIGADE has moved well beyond that kitchen table and grown its own brand by delivering services that tell a story and generate results.

Seeking an Ad-vantage

Modestow told BusinessWest that the BRIGADE story really starts in Boston, where she worked for the acclaimed marketing agency Hill Holiday Advertising and such clients as Dunkin’ Donuts.

When the dot-com sector was at its pinnacle, however, the place to be was San Francisco, and Modestow went there and had the opportunity to join a firm and work with brands such as Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), the video-game maker.

Her firm eventually closed its doors, however, after losing one of its mainstay clients, and Modestow and her husband were at a crossroads.

“I could afford to live in San Francisco for about four and half minutes after that,” she joked. “I think we sold our house within seven days and left.”

The two then made a pact of sorts. They would relocate to wherever one of them found a job first.

“He beat me by a day; he got a job in Western Massachusetts — he’s originally from Worthington — and we came here,” she explained.

And it wasn’t long after they landed that she got that life-altering phone call.

“Someone called and said, ‘I have a freelance opportunity for you on this startup vodka brand called Svedka,’” she recalled. “Over the past 13 years, we’ve grown with them and helped them along the way; they’ve been really wonderful to us.”

As noted earlier, the company quickly outgrew Modestow’s kitchen table, refrigerator, and garage, and settled into that space on University Drive, above the popular Hangar restaurant. It wasn’t exactly a long stay, though, because the company continued to grow at a rapid rate, doubling in size from five to nine employees in a few years.

It then relocated to the foreign-car shop — a site that required a massive renovation effort — but outgrew that in just over a year, as Modestow recalled, adding that the next home is intriguing on many levels.

A portion of the 8,500-square-foot facility was home to a Registry of Motor Vehicles office, and even though it’s been closed for quite some time, people still walk in the front door looking to renew their driver’s licenses, said David Bosch, the company’s operations manager.

Another portion of the facility has home to Zoe’s Fish House, he went on, adding that, while BRIGADE renovated all the spaces into work areas, including a banquet facility that never became reality, it kept the bar intact.

The company doesn’t have a liquor license, obviously, but it does use the bar for company functions, said Bosch. Meanwhile, it’s an unusual decorative touch, and it give the company a chance to showcase many of the brands it has helped develop in what would be described as a natural setting.

The space is wide open, said Modestow, adding that this the desired environment for a marketing firm where people work together to create solutions for clients.

“We work in branding, and a lot of that is people coming together to solve a problem,” she explained. “So being in a very open space, one that’s conducive to gathering, is important.”

BRIGADE should be in this home for quite some time, because there is not only ample room to grow, but plenty of business coming through the door as the company continues to build strong word-of-mouth referrals.

The new coffee bag that BRIGADE created for Esselon Café has helped spark a surge in retail sales.

The new coffee bag that BRIGADE created for Esselon Café has helped spark a surge in retail sales.

Indeed, as noted earlier, Svedka has been a dream first client and solid foundation for BRIGADE. But the company has been able to build on that foundation, said Modestow, and for several reasons.

One is the large number of contacts she made from her previous career stops, and the experience she gained working for national and global clients, a tremendous asset in this business, as in any other.

“Having the exposure in Boston and San Francisco enabled me to work on some high-caliber clients and hone my skill set that I could then pass on to people here,” she explained. “We started off with an ability to work on those high-caliber clients; we’re really good at it, so we’ve attracted through our work the attention of others.”

Another factor is a growing willingness among corporations to work with agencies not based in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles, or whatever major metropolis the corporation was based in or near.

“People are more open to working with remote agencies,” she noted. “Before, it was a case where you went to an agency in one of the larger cities. Around 2006, when we started, there was a willingness to work with people who weren’t down the street, and that had a lot to do with our success.”

Getting the Message Across

But easily the best reason for the company’s success is the results it has garnered for its clients, said Modestow, adding that more important than the awards the company has gained for its work — and it has won many — are the gains registered by the companies looking for help with their brand.

Which bring us back to Esselon Café.

That new packaging has won a number of awards for BRIGADE, said Modestow, but the bigger story is that dramatic rise in retail sales at Whole Foods and other locations.

It came about through that art and science of storytelling and creating a brand that speaks to who they are.

When asked about the methods for gaining such results, Modestow returned to the subject of effectively partnering with the client to solve a problem or revitalize a brand.

The client knows their industry, their product or service, and their story, she went on. BRIGADE essentially takes that insight and uses it to create a brand that conveys the story in a way that resonates.

Steps include the brand audit she described earlier, and also creation of brand strategy.

“We would work through positioning statements with the client, help them figure out their key messages, how they’re different, how they talk about themselves, what their voice is, and more,” she explained. “And once we have that platform, then we would go into the visual component of all this — bringing it all to life visually through some kind of toolkit, which might be a refresh logo or packaging or a new website. We’re helping them see how this language and this new positioning can visually come to life.”

As the company creates these strategies and brings them to life, it does so not with a hard focus on targeting specific demographic groups — a mistake some companies make when marketing and branding — but building a brand that’s “authentic.”

“I don’t think you build a brand to speak to a specific group of people,” she told BusinessWest. “You build a brand that’s true to who the brand should be, and then it resonates with the right people.

“A mistake you see is when companies think the key to their success is going out and capturing the Millennials,” she went on. “Well, the Millennial doesn’t want to be captured — you have to find them because you have something compelling that made them want to believe in you. It’s about consumer experience and storytelling; people want an authentic experience with a company.”

As an example of how the firm partners with its clients, Modestow referenced the Wyndham Hotel Group and some of its specific brands, including one in particular — Travelodge.

“It was kind of an old brand with old, tired signage,” she explained, noting that, at the time, Wyndham hadn’t put much emphasis on branding, but has since changed that attitude. “We helped refresh the Travelodge brand, we helped them with an ad campaign, and we helped them with a new way to talk about themselves.”

Another example is work with Svedka to launch a new line of spiked seltzers. The company designed the cans in a way that were true to the Svedka brand but also resonated within the growing spiked-seltzer product category, said Don Magri, the company’s chief financial officer.

“They came to us with a good amount of research that they had already done on their consumer and who they were really trying to target,” he explained. “You go through iterations, but you’re really trying to creating a design that is true to the brand going into a new category, but also hitting the demographic they’re trying to reach.”

Looking down the road, those at BRIGADE said they look to continue providing clients with what they call ‘responsive branding,’ so that they are ready for the future and their brands are as well.

In short, they aim to do what the company’s done from the beginning — grow with its clients.

“We want to grow and create new opportunities for our employees and then for the people who don’t work here yet,” said Magri. “Growth for the sake of growth is not something we’re interested in, but growth for the sake of growing our skills and growing our client base and securing our client mix is our plan.”

Bottom Line

In other words, the company is going to continue doing what it’s been doing from the start, back when work was being done on Modestow’s kitchen table and her refrigerator was getting filled with employees’ lunches.

The company has come a long way since then — a quick tour of the facilities at 195 Russell St. make that clear — but the guiding principles remain the same.

And those are to tell the client’s story and create an authentic experience that resonates. When you that, it’s a lot easier to do what BRIGADE has done with and for Svedka and all its other clients — be along for the ride.

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

Daily News

BOSTON — Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), the statewide employer association, announced five senior-management promotions designed to ensure the future growth and vibrancy of the organization.

“These promotions are well-deserved and position us, as an organization, to achieve our policy objectives, growth strategy, and financial targets,” said Richard Lord, president and CEO of AIM, which represents the interests of 4,000 Massachusetts employers across multiple industries.

Robert Paine was promoted to executive vice president, Membership, Sales & Marketing. As head of the newly formed Membership, Sales and Marketing team, melding groups focused on sales and engagement, marketing, community, and events, he is responsible for growing AIM membership and developing initiatives targeted toward both existing and new markets. He manage membership, sponsorship, and event sales; marketing (including the AIM website), member-interest councils, and member benefits. He also leads the AIM mission sales team and co-leads the team overseeing AIM’s association-management and customer-relationship-management systems.

Christopher Geehern was promoted to executive vice president, Public Affairs & Communication. He will develop and execute communication strategies and initiatives to support the policy and growth objectives of the organization. He will direct all public-policy and organizational communication such as white papers, op-eds, speeches, letters, and blogs. He is the chief public spokesperson for the organization and will manage all public relations, including interactions with the news media. He will also manage the AIM board of directors and executive committee and serve as clerk of the corporation.

Cindy Lyman was promoted to executive vice president, Finance (CFO), and COO. She will broaden her current role and responsibilities as executive vice president of Finance (CFO) to include all operations of the organization. She is responsible for executing AIM’s short-term and long-term business strategy, promoting the organization’s culture and vision, and achieving financial and operational goals. She will continue to be responsible for managing the AIM annual budget and all matters business and financial.

Kristen Rupert was promoted to senior vice president, External Affairs. Having led the AIM International Business Council since 2005, she will expand her role by creating opportunities for collaboration among AIM and external business and community organizations. She will pursue alliances that advance the public-policy agenda of Massachusetts employers and help those employers navigate increasingly complex economic issues.

Kyle Pardo was promoted to vice president, Consulting Services. She will be responsible for assisting AIM-member employers in the areas of compensation, pay equity, healthcare, and affirmative action. She also oversees the development and implementation of AIM’s wage and benefits surveys.

Daily News

FLORENCE — American Benefits Group (ABG) recently welcomed Brad Ramer as vice president of Sales & Marketing. His responsibilities will encompass sales-team leadership, driving revenues through the acquisition of new clients, and contributing to the company’s marketing and business strategies.

Ramer boasts more than 20 years of business experience. For the past seven years, he occupied the role of area sales manager, Benefit Services for PrimePay, LLC in West Chester, Pa. While at PrimePay, he oversaw the sales department.

In his new position, Ramer will be responsible for overseeing sales and marketing at ABG and will strive to expand ABG’s client base, strengthening the company’s current broker relationships, along with developing new broker relationships.

Daily News

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — Waterford Hotel Group announced the appointment of Jaime O’Connor as director of sales at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel located inside Bradley International Airport. The Sheraton Bradley is managed by Waterford Hotel Group, a national hotel and convention-center management firm.

As director of Sales, O’Connor is responsible for the total sales efforts for the hotel, as well as supervising sales-related personnel and implementing sales and marketing strategies to maximize profits while also maintaining guest satisfaction.

O’Connor started her career in hospitality at the Sheraton Springfield in 2001. She quickly grew within the property, holding the positions of executive meeting manager and senior executive meeting manager, before joining Waterford Hotel Group as a sales manager at the Marriott Hartford in 2005. Most recently, she has been working as director of sales at the Sheraton Hartford South.

“We are pleased to welcome Jaime back to the Waterford Hotel Group team,” said Karen Bachofner, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Waterford Hotel Group. “We look forward to working with her in this new role.”

Company Notebook Departments

UMass Amherst Tops in Campus Dining for Second Straight Year

AMHERST — The food in the UMass Amherst dining halls is so good that the Princeton Review came back for another helping, choosing the school as the national leader in collegiate dining in the U.S. for a second straight year. The announcement further cements UMass Dining’s reputation for serving up healthy, sustainable, and delicious food prepared by award-winning chefs, said Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass Amherst. The rankings are based on surveys of 137,000 students at the schools in the guide. UMass Dining is the largest college dining-services operation in the country, serving 45,000 meals daily, or 5.5 million meals per year. Since 1999, overall participation the university’s meal plan has more than doubled from 8,300 participants to more than 19,200. A self-operated program committed to providing a variety of healthy world cuisines using the most sustainable ingredients, UMass Dining incorporates recipes from accomplished chefs and nutritionists as well as principles from the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard School of Public Health to its cycle menu.

Regnaleb Offers Sales Training for Digital Age

WESTHAMPTON — Regnaleb Enterprises, a sales and marketing consulting firm, announced it is offering high-caliber sales-management and growth strategies to small and mid-size companies throughout Western and Central Mass. The organization is led by Art Belanger, an experienced sales and marketing professional with more than 30 years in the industry. The Regnaleb process utilizes the salesQB program to conduct a complete audit of an organization’s current sales and marketing process. The results are used to benchmark performance and identify areas for growth and improvement. Following the audit, business leaders will be taken through an in-depth report that will pinpoint methods for increased efficiency throughout the entire sales process, from lead generation and management tactics to the use of digital technologies like CRM, software programs, and social media. A successful salesforce is empowered, efficient, and informed, Belanger said, adding that Regnaleb Enterprises will offer a custom road map to improve communications, management, customer service, and sales techniques to drive increased performance.

Talbots to Return to Longmeadow Shops

LONGMEADOW — Grove Property Fund and Talbots announced that the women’s-apparel retail store will be returning to Longmeadow Shops this fall. The announcement is the latest from the Longmeadow Shops, which recently expanded its retail footprint by 20%, attracting new tenants Verizon Wireless and J.Crew Mercantile while allowing CVS Pharmacy to move to a larger retail space with a pharmacy drive-thru. Talbots operated at the Longmeadow Shops from 2001 to 2013. The new store will utilize 5,334 square feet of retail space, the majority of the space previously occupied by CVS Pharmacy.

HCC Gateway to College Earns National Honors

HOLYOKE — For the second year in a row, the Gateway to College program at Holyoke Community College has received national recognition for exemplary performance. The Gateway to College National Network, based in Portland, Ore., honored HCC with its 2017 Gateway Program Excellence Award at a conference in Providence, R.I. last month. Gateway is a second-chance, dual-enrollment program for students who have either left high school or are at risk for dropping out. Gateway students take college classes and earn college credits while also working toward their high-school diplomas. The 2017 award recognizes Gateway programs that exceeded all four of the network’s performance benchmarks for the 2015-16 academic year: first-term GPA, one-year persistence, two-year persistence, and three-year graduation rate. Since its founding in 2008, HCC’s Gateway to College program has helped 251 students earn their high-school diplomas while also getting an early start on college. More than half have continued on to college, and so far 30 have earned their associate degrees from HCC, and six have earned bachelor’s degrees.

Austen Riggs Recognized as a ‘Best Hospital’

STOCKBRIDGE — Austen Riggs Center has been recognized as a “Best Hospital” for 2017-18 by U.S. News & World Report, ranking ninth in psychiatry nationwide. Noteworthy among the top group of psychiatry honorees for its small size and integrated approach, Austen Riggs Center is a therapeutic community, open psychiatric hospital, and center for education and research, promoting resilience and self-direction in adults with complex psychiatric problems.

PeoplesBank Among Top Charitable Contributors

HOLYOKE — The Boston Business Journal announced the region’s top corporate charitable contributors, and for the 10th year in a row, PeoplesBank is among the companies included on the list. The region’s top charitable companies, which in many instances include the companies’ corporate foundations, will be honored at the magazine’s 12th annual Corporate Citizenship Awards on Thursday, Sept. 7 at Fenway Park in Boston. The list is composed of companies that gave at least $100,000 to Massachusetts-based charities in 2016.

PV Squared Named Among Top 500 Solar Contractors

GREENFIELD — Solar Power World, the leading publication covering solar technology and development, published its annual Top Solar Contractors list in July. PV Squared, a local solar-installation company and worker-owned cooperative, was listed prominently among other top solar contractors and developers across the country. PV Squared is a local leader in the field of solar design, installation, and maintenance. A worker-owned cooperative, the company has provided renewable-energy solutions to a range of clients, including business owners, commercial property owners, farmers, and homeowners since 2002. PV Squared currently employs 42 people, 19 of whom are co-owners of the business. In 2016, it completed 188 projects in the Pioneer Valley and surrounding areas, installing 2.5 MW of solar power. It is also a certified B Corporation, demonstrating its commitment to a triple-bottom-line business model. It is currently involved in Franklin County’s first Habitat for Humanity project in five years and will be contributing a solar array to the construction of an energy-efficient home in Greenfield. Additionally, it is also exploring opportunities to partner with the Franklin County Technical School to mentor young people through a solar installation process. The donation of this solar array will not only eliminate upfront costs for the future homeowner, but will also help strengthen the local community.

Daily News

WESTHAMPTON — Regnaleb Enterprises, a sales and marketing consulting firm, announced it is offering high-caliber sales-management and growth strategies to small and mid-size companies throughout Western and Central Mass. The organization is led by Art Belanger, an experienced sales and marketing professional with more than 30 years in the industry.

“I’ve had the experience of working for large corporations, mid- to small-sized businesses, and successful startups, building sales teams from the ground up,” said Belanger. “Mentoring sales representatives and implementing long-term strategic plans has been my passion. I’m looking forward to working with local business leaders to streamline their tactics.”

The Regnaleb process utilizes the salesQB program to conduct a complete audit of an organization’s current sales and marketing process. The results are used to benchmark performance and identify areas for growth and improvement. Following the audit, business leaders will be taken through an in-depth report that will pinpoint methods for increased efficiency throughout the entire sales process, from lead generation and management tactics to the use of digital technologies like CRM, software programs, and social media.

A successful salesforce is empowered, efficient, and informed, Belanger said, adding that Regnaleb Enterprises will offer a custom road map to improve communications, management, customer service, and sales techniques to drive increased performance.

Daily News

BERLIN, Conn. — Comcast announced the appointment of four leaders for the company’s Western New England region, which is headquartered in Berlin, Conn. and includes more than 300 communities in Connecticut, Western Mass., New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

In the Human Resources department, Judith Rudge was named director of Talent Management, while Taissa Gawronski was named director of Human Resources. In Sales and Marketing, Matt Frascone was named director of Retail Sales, and in the Communications department, Elizabeth Walden was appointed manager of Public Relations.

Rudge came to Comcast with more than 12 years of recruiting experience. In her new role, she oversees talent management and recruiting efforts for the company’s Western New England Region, which currently employs more than 1,800 individuals across five states. Prior to joining Comcast, she was the senior manager of talent acquisition at Verizon in Atlanta, where she owned the end-to-end recruitment of information technology, engineering, product, and sales positions for 86 national office locations. She graduated from Dickinson College.

Gawronski joined Comcast with 10 years of human-resources experience. In her new role, she is responsible for the human-resources needs of the company’s retail and door-to-door sales channels, as well as those on the Comcast Business team and in Sales and Marketing administration. Before joining Comcast, she was director of Human Resources at C&M Corporate, a custom cable manufacturer in Killingly, Conn., where she evaluated and maintained the company’s organizational design, as well as oversaw its workforce-recruitment and retention efforts. She graduated from Framingham State College.

Frascone recently relocated from Comcast’s Greater Chicagor to Comcast’s Western New England region to oversee 10 XFINITY stores and three service centers across Connecticut, Western Mass., and Vermont. He is also responsible for Indirect Sales, which involves Comcast’s partnerships with Walmart, Target, and Best Buy. Previously, he spent the last year as director of Comcast’s flagship XFINITY store in Chicago. He joined Comcast with 20 years of retail experience and, prior to Comcast, was a director for two Apple stores in Atlanta, where he managed a staff of 177 sales associates. He was also a U.S. Navy Reservist.

Walden came to Comcast with seven years of public-relations experience. In her new role, she is responsible for helping shape the company’s image with external audiences across the Western New England region. Prior to joining Comcast, she was vice president at Quinn, a lifestyle public-relations firm in New York City, where she oversaw a team of public-relations executives who carried out day-to-day media and operations for a portfolio of 20 business, real-estate, and technology clients, in addition to being responsible for building the firm’s client base and developing strategic public-relations campaigns. She graduated from Clark University in Worcester.

Construction Sections

Home Makers

An example of Laplante Construction’s work

An example of Laplante Construction’s work creating both indoor and outdoor spaces.

When it comes to custom homes, trends come and go, but buyers are always looking for the next big thing — or, to be more accurate, the next not-so-big thing, as one of those trends favors downsizing in favor of easier maintenance and more energy-efficient touches. But high-end homebuyers aren’t shorting themselves on the interior; they still want the best floors, trims, and technology money can buy. And many are turning to Laplante Construction to get the job done.

Ray and Bill Laplante both grew up around the construction business, so it’s not surprising they’ve made a name among the region’s top luxury home builders.

“My dad was a builder, and my older brother was a builder,” said Ray Laplante, who launched East Longmeadow-based R.E. Laplante Construction — since shortened to Laplante Construction — in the early 1970s. “I started out doing a lot of work for them, and after a few years, there wasn’t enough for me, so I went out on my own, doing remodeling and framing and building.”

At the time, duplexes were in vogue in Springfield, and he cut his teeth there, but soon started building custom homes in Longmeadow, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow, and surrounding towns. “Business just took off from there,” he said, and soon he was developing entire subdivisions of high-end residences in those communities.

His son, Bill, grew up in the business too, helping on job sites when he was only 13 years old.


SEE: List of Home Builders


“I would clean out houses, do final cleanings upon completion of houses,” he told BusinessWest. “Then I started in the framing crew, working as a mason tender and doing some finish work. I basically worked through all the way through high school and college, through the summer breaks and vacations.”

He graduated from Trinity College in 1992 with a degree in economics, but a few days after graduation, he was back out on job sites, where he worked for about five years, framing houses and performing myriad other tasks. But, though the experience was invaluable, his heart wasn’t in the field.

“So I started working in the office,” he said, “in project management and then in financial management and sales and marketing, touching virtually all aspects of contruction and understanding how everything goes together — all facets of building.”

Company founder Ray Laplante (left) and President Bill Laplante

Company founder Ray Laplante (left) and President Bill Laplante say a healthy mix of residential and commercial building and remodeling keeps their business thriving.

That’s the part of the business he enjoyed most, Bill said — working with clients on the big picture, and shepherding their vision to reality.

“Growing up, I always liked the idea of seeing something built,” he continued, “but I knew pretty early on, after getting out of college, that I didn’t want to stay in the field; I wanted to work with people, helping design and build what is, in many cases, their largest investment: a new home. That’s really what I’ve enjoyed. My passion is in working with the people and selling our services.”

Today, Bill Laplante serves as the company’s president, working alongside its founder to bring those visions to life — including, in 2014, a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s famed Monticello estate in Somers, Conn.

But luxury homes are only one staple of this family business, as it expands its reach in commercial construction as well, delivering a range of building and remodeling services with the diversity to weather economic cycles and record continued growth.

Estate of Mind

In fact, Ray said, Laplante takes on many different types of jobs, from single bathroom remodels up to large commercial buildings. “And every once in a while, you get a Monticello thrown in there.”

That’s not quite true, of course, as both he and Bill acknowledged that Monticello Somers, built at the behest of Friendly’s co-founder S. Prestley Blake, was a once-in-a-generation project. Ray and Bill Laplante designed the project themselves based on copious research into the original Virginia estate, creating a ‘modernized replica’ that’s historically accurate in the façade, yet decked out in 21st-century amenities inside.

“It was extremely interesting trying to recreate a building like that,” Bill said. “One of the most challenging aspects was trying to create a modernized interior within a very old exterior. And there were code issues that didn’t exist in the original Monticello.”

To be sure, custom finishes, modern touches, and code compliance have long been facets of Laplante Construction’s work building and renovating high-end homes in the Greater Springfield region. But, contrary to a Monticello-scale project, Bill said the trend in luxury homes today is moving away from massive floor plans and toward spaces that are smaller, but still pack all the bells and whistles.

While many homeowners are looking to downsize, Bill Laplante says, the company still puts up plenty of large homes.

While many homeowners are looking to downsize, Bill Laplante says, the company still puts up plenty of large homes.

“We’re seeing people generally downsize. There has been an increased demand for single-family living, low maintenance, and high energy efficiency. Many people are selling their 4,000-square-foot, two-story, inefficient colonial and want a 2,500-square-foot, very well-appointed, single-family house that’s very low-maintenance, which they can shut down and head to Florida over the winter and really reduce their operating expenses.”

He credits a desire for a simpler lifestyle; people are staying home more and enjoying the space they have, but don’t necessarily want to maintain a sprawling estate.

“It’s amazing — 15 years ago, we built one or two ranches. Nowadays, we’re building, six, eight, 10 ranches a year,” he went on. “That’s because of downsizing. Everyone used to want a colonial, but now focus on ranches and other things. It’s becoming desirable to buy those smaller homes and put money into them.”

And they are investing plenty of money into them, he added. “They want all the amenities — granite countertops, expensive finishes, Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances. They want those outdoor spaces, the screen porches, the outdoor kitchens, all very well-appointed.”

That goes for remodeling as well, Bill added, which has long been a critical part of the business — which was fortuitous when the market for custom homes dried up in the years following the financial crash in 2008.

“People weren’t building homes, but they were still trying to renovate their homes,” he noted. “What served us well was, we never abandoned the remodeling. Other builders at the time wouldn’t take on smaller remodeling projects; they were busy with bigger housing projects. We always maintained smaller remodeling jobs. Then, when the new-construction market dried up, we were well-positioned to respond to demand for remodeling as well.”

Those home remodels, which are often aimed at creating a getaway without actually having to get away, often include outdoor elements, particularly features that blur the lines between inside and outside living, Ray noted. “We’re starting to see a lot of outdoor-living projects — carriage houses, pool cabanas, outdoor kitchens, things of that sort.”

These can all carry hefty price tags, but, interestingly, other home costs have come down in recent years, notably whole-home technology — the devices that control heat, cooling, lights, security cameras, and irrigation remotely.

“The old ‘smart house’ was very expensive, but nowadays, with technology and with the iPhones and apps available, virtually every manufacturer has a product or an app that can be controlled on a cell phone from anywhere in the United States,” Bill explained. “That goes for heating, lighting, security cameras, you name it — and people are really embracing that. I mentioned people closing up the house and going down to Florida for the winter; they can check in with their phones, see what the temperature reading is in the house, or turn the lights on and off.”

clients want the interior well-appointed with high-end flooring, tile, trims, and technology.

No matter the size of the home, Bill and Ray Laplante say, clients want the interior well-appointed with high-end flooring, tile, trims, and technology.

Homeowners appreciate the cost reductions in that area, as they do the savings they realize from energy-efficient investments.

“Because of the spike in energy costs a few years ago, everyone became much more concerned with energy efficiency,” Bill said. “When people move from 4,000-square-foot homes into smaller, higher-energy-efficiency houses, they’re shocked by the savings in operating costs. We’re doing a lot with spray-foam insulation, energy-efficient windows, air sealing, and super-energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment. Then there are people who want to go even further, into geothermal heating as well as photovoltaic and solar.

“Some of these technologies, there’s not a great payback on, but there are some tax credits available to explore alternative energies,” he added. “And it makes people feel good to reduce their carbon footprint and be energy-conscious.”

Down to Business

Laplante Construction is widely recognized as a custom home builder, but its commercial roster is deep and far-reaching — and has been expanding over the past decade.

“Going back to the ’80s, when my father did a lot of Jiffy Lubes in the area, that type of work has always been there,” Bill said, “but I would say there’s been a resurgence over the past eight to 10 years in commercial. We’ve done a wide range of things, from banks to an eye-care office to a behavioral health clinic to Kringle Candle Country Barn in Bernardston to a school in West Springfield. We have a pretty good diversity of commercial construction.”

That mix of expertise promises to keep Laplante growing as it moves forward with what has been one of its best years in the past decade.

“Maintaining that diversity, and keeping the commercial work going as we do our residential new construction and remodeling, allows us to be flexible and weather turns in one or two sectors,” he told BusinessWest. “With the increase in commercial work, we feel very comfortable and confident moving forward.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Departments People on the Move

United Personnel announced the following:

Jennifer Brown has been promoted to Vice President of Client Development. With more than 20 years of experience in the staffing industry, Brown brings a wealth of human-resources knowledge and recruiting expertise to her new role. She most recently served as United Personnel’s assistant vice president of Operations in the Springfield region, where she oversaw all aspects of operations for the Light Industrial and Professional placement divisions. She has an associate’s degree in business management from Burdett Business School and recently became a certified staffing professional through the American Staffing Assoc. Her community involvement includes membership in HRMA and serving as a board member of Dress for Success; and

• Mim Zayas has been promoted to Assistant Vice President of Operations, Springfield. Having recently celebrated her one-year anniversary with United Personnel, Zayas, formerly the director of Quality Assurance and Talent Acquisition, will now manage all operations for United Personnel’s Springfield-area offices, including the Professional and Light Industrial placement divisions. Zayas holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Elms College. She is a member of the board of directors for the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce.

•••••

Yogesh “Yogi” Malik

Yogesh “Yogi” Malik

Greenfield Savings Bank announced that Yogesh “Yogi” Malik has joined the bank as a premier banker and also joined the bank’s GSB Investments and Insurance Division as an Infinex Investments executive. Malik will assist customers with identifying opportunities to increase their earnings on their savings at the bank and through the investment opportunities offered by the GSB Investments and Insurance Division, through Infinex Investments Inc. He is based at the bank’s main office located at 400 Main St. in Greenfield. Malik came to the bank with more than four years of experience and has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Bentley University. He has passed the Series 6, Series 63, Series 65, and Series 7 examinations, which are required for individuals who sell certain investment products. In the fall, he is planning to begin working on an MBA.

•••••

W. Paul Harrington Jr.

W. Paul Harrington Jr.

Pope Francis High School, a faith-based college-preparatory school serving grades 9-12, announced W. Paul Harrington Jr. as its new head of school following a lengthy nationwide search. A native of Holliston, Harrington holds a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in economics from Fairfield University, and a master’s degree in school administration from Loyola Marymount University. He received his doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Southern California. He received the unanimous recommendation of the search committee, approval by the Pope Francis High School Board of directors, and the affirmation of Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski. “I am very pleased and excited that Dr. Harrington has accepted the position as the new head of school for Pope Francis High School,” said Rozanski. “Having personally met with him, I believe he has the vision that will help us realize the full potential for this new school, both academically and spiritually.”  Said Harrington, “I am humbled by this incredible opportunity to honor the rich traditions of Holyoke Catholic and Cathedral High Schools while inspiring a future filled with innovation, faith formation, and academic excellence as Pope Francis High School.”

•••••

Peter Pan Bus Lines  recently honored the country’s first 4-million-mile driver, Ed Hope, at the company’s annual S.T.A.R. (Super Team Achievement & Recognition) Awards Dinner at the Sheraton Springfield Hotel. Hope will be inducted into the National Safety Council Hall of Fame. The National Safety Council defines one million miles as the equivalent of 12 consecutive years of driving without an accident of any kind, or, as noted by Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly, 4.2 trips to the moon, or 40 times around the earth. This is a significant milestone in a professional motorcoach operator’s career. Peter Pan Bus Lines is proud to have more one- and two-million-mile drivers than any other transportation company of its size. In addition, it is the first bus company in the world to employ drivers who have driven three million, and now four million, miles without an accident.

•••••

Jim Kantany

Jim Kantany

J. Polep Distribution Services announced the promotion of Jim Kantany to Director of Sales. He has been with J. Polep since 2001, and has worked his way through the company, working in warehouse-control positions, as a field sales representative, and, most recently, district manager. Kantany brings a wealth of experience to the Sales department. According to the company, his continued, focused effort has been on creating and maintaining the business’ infrastructure. He possesses an excellent record of customer relations and can identify trends and emerging developments to improve customers’ margin dollars. He takes the time to understand their strategies for growth with the goal of making customers successful.

•••••

The Center for EcoTechnology, a nonprofit that helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste, has appointed two new members to its board of directors for 2017:

Jennifer Atwater is Vice President of operations at United Personnel, where she oversees the Northampton and Berkshire County markets. She has served on the board of directors for the American Red Cross, Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, and Easthampton Fall Festival; serves on the board of CareerPoint and Ella Clark Home for the Aged; and sits on the development committee for Look Park. She holds an associate’s degree from Bay Path College and a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts; and

Janet Warren is Director of Sales and Marketing at Fazzi Associates, the Northampton-based service provider for home-health and hospice agencies across the country. Her three decades of experience in marketing, sales, and product development have included serving as vice president of Marketing for Monson Savings Bank; president of her own marketing practice, MarCom Capital; and second vice president of Market Development for the Group Division of Phoenix Home Life. She is a past president of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and has served on the starter board of the Hampshire County Regional Chamber, the Hampshire County Tourism Advisory Council, and on the board of directors of United Way of Hampshire County. The Center for EcoTechnology helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste. For 40 years, CET has offered advice and resources to save residents money and help them feel more comfortable in their home, and help businesses perform better.

•••••

Jay Smith, Founder of Sports Travel and Tours, took over as Chair of the board of directors for the National Tour Assoc. on March 2, before the conclusion of the annual Travel Exchange convention in St. Louis. He will lead the board until the next convention in December in San Antonio, taking the reins from Justin Osbon of Image Tours Inc., which offers European tours. Smith has been sitting on the board for NTA — a leading business-building association for professionals serving customers traveling to, from, and within North America — for about six years. NTA acts as an advocate on behalf of its members and the tourism industry at large. Active with policymakers in Congress and the administration, the association coordinates with its partners on a number of key legislative issues. It is governed by a 17-member volunteer board of directors, which is advised by volunteer committees. Currently, NTA is focused on a number of policy priorities, including specialty travel markets in countries including India and China, travel between Cuba and the U.S., and funding for the National Park Service Centennial. As chair, Smith looks forward to helping the organization further stabilize after a transition over the past few years, which brought in Pam Inman as the new president. Founded 20 years ago, Sports Travel and Tours has been the official travel company of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum since 2007.

•••••

Jessica Chapin

Jessica Chapin

Jessica Chapin, American International College’s (AIC) Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance and senior woman administrator, has been appointed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Management Council through January 2021. As part of her commitment, Chapin will serve on two committees: the NCAA Research Committee and the Committee on Infractions. The Management Council is charged with recommending administrative policy and regulations that govern the division. It reports directly to the President’s Council and implements the policies adopted by the association’s Board of Governors and Division II President’s Council. The Management Council may sponsor legislative proposals, make interpretations of Division II’s bylaws, and may also handle resolution of Division II issues and recommendations from other committees and working groups throughout the division’s substructure. The council is comprised of Division II chief executive officers, faculty athletics representatives, athletic directors, senior woman administrators, conference representatives, and student-athletes. Chapin joins the council, currently 29 members strong, as a senior woman administrator.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — The Center for EcoTechnology, a nonprofit that helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste, has appointed two new members to its board of directors for 2017.

Jennifer Atwater is vice president of operations at United Personnel, where she oversees the Northampton and Berkshire County markets. She has served on the board of directors for the American Red Cross, Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, and Easthampton Fall Festival; serves on the board of CareerPoint and Ella Clark Home for the Aged; and sits on the development committee for Look Park. She holds an associate’s degree from Bay Path College and a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Janet Warren is director of sales and marketing at Fazzi Associates, the Northampton-based service provider for home-health and hospice agencies across the country. Her three decades of experience in marketing, sales, and product development have included serving as vice president of Marketing for Monson Savings Bank; president of her own marketing practice, MarCom Capital; and second vice president of Market Development for the Group Division of Phoenix Home Life. She is a past president of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and has served on the starter board of the Hampshire County Regional Chamber, the Hampshire County Tourism Advisory Council, and on the board of directors of United Way of Hampshire County.

The Center for EcoTechnology helps people and businesses in the region save energy and reduce waste. For 40 years, CET has offered advice and resources to save residents money and help them feel more comfortable in their home, and help businesses perform better.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Eight Massachusetts Restaurant Assoc. restaurants across the state will participate in Massachusetts Restaurant Day on Monday, March 27, for No Kid Hungry. Inspired by Chef Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, who has hosted a dinner for this cause for the past 20 years, the MRA announced the program’s expansion across Massachusetts.

Last year, participating Boston restaurants raised more than $60,000 to end childhood hunger in Massachusetts. This year, Hotel Northampton is hosting the Western Mass. branch of the event, a multi-course meal with wine pairings. The hotel’s culinary team is working alongside and co-sponsoring with four well-known restaurants in town, including Sierra Grille, Spoleto’s, Packard’s, and Union Station.

“It’s going to be a fabulous event,” said Ruby Meng, Hotel Northampton’s director of Sales and Marketing. “The local culinary talent is very impressive, and we’re going to bring you an unforgettable menu.”

Attendance at this event will not only help to curb childhood hunger in Massachusetts, but will also help local programs that feed children of all ages at school and in the home. The goal is to ensure all children get the healthy food they need, every day. To purchase tickets or to provide sponsorship, click here.

Class of 2017 Difference Makers

Cut and Dried

In Business and the Community, Denis Gagnon Is a Role Model

Denis Gagnon

Denis Gagnon

Denis Gagnon Sr. was asked about the origins of the signed, framed Tom Brady jersey that dominates one wall of his spacious office at Excel Dryer in East Longmeadow.

Rather than answer that question, he bolted up out of his chair and said, “think that’s nice? I’ve got something better … follow me.”

And with that, he walked briskly down the hall, with BusinessWest in tow, to the conference room, apologized as he ever-so-briefly interrupted a meeting in progress, and proudly pointed to a huge framed, autographed photo of Malcolm Butler, depicting the moment he stepped in front of Russell Wilson’s final pass in the 2015 Super Bowl, sealing a Patriots victory.

“How about that?” Gagnon, the company’s president, said of the photo, a gift from Pats owner Robert Kraft, who is now a valued customer of Excel Dryer, which, according to company literature — not to mention most people who have placed their hands under one of its products — has revolutionized the long-maligned hand-dryer industry.

Later, amid considerable and quite necessary prodding, he grudgingly revealed that signed photos and jerseys are just some of the many benefits that have come through what is now a very solid and multi-faceted marketing relationship between the Patriots and Excel (and donations to the team’s charitable foundation), up to and including the opportunity for Gagnon to actually get on the hallowed turf at Gillette Stadium, practice with the team, and play some catch with TB 12.

As noted, such reflections came reluctantly, because it is simply not in Gagnon’s nature to call attention to his actions or accomplishments. Those who know him well say he basically just goes quietly — and quite efficiently — about his business.

Denis Gagnon with his wife, Nancy, and sons Denis Jr., left, and Bill, right.

Denis Gagnon with his wife, Nancy, and sons Denis Jr., left, and Bill, right.

And by ‘business,’ they aren’t referring specifically to Excel and its signature product, the XLERATOR, although that’s certainly a big part of the conversation — the part referring to his strong entrepreneurial instincts, success in making the company’s products a global phenomenon, and even pride that the dryers are made not only in America (the only ones that can make such a claim), but in the 413 area code.

“I’m in the men’s room at Heathrow Airport … and I see East Longmeadow, Mass. on the XLERATOR,” recalled Gene Cassidy, president of the Big E, who has known Gagnon for years, “and it sends shivers up my spine; I wanted everyone in the lavatory to know that I knew Denis Gagnon.”

No, by ‘business,’ they were mostly referring to Gagnon’s strong track record of service to the community, which is notable for many reasons.

For starters, there’s simply the depth of that service, which includes everything from decades of work with the Boy Scouts and the Children’s Study Home to his multi-layered involvement with Link to Libraries (LTL).

There is also his ability to inspire others to become involved and make a difference in their own way.

He’s a man who not only sees the need, but takes action. He is very empathetic to those people in need and especially the young people of our community.”

Dana Barrows, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual, another long-time acquaintance and long-time LTL volunteer, explains.

“I was in Denis’ office four years ago, and I saw a picture of him with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno,” he recalled. “I said, ‘what are you doing?’ and he replied that he was reading a book to school kids as part of Link to Libraries. And he told me I should check it out.

“I did, I’ve been reading ever since, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it,” he said, adding that this is but a small example of how Gagnon not only gets involved, but gets others to follow suit.

Humbly, Gagnon said simply, “if you have the good fortune of being in a good corporate job or owning your own business, like we’ve been able to do, you have a responsibility to give back to that community.”

And this philosophy was certainly handed down to his children, including those involved with him at Excel, Denis Jr. and Bill, who are both very active in the community (Bill is a member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty class of 2013).

Mike Suzor, assistant to the president at Springfield Technical Community College and a serial entrepreneur himself, was a classmate of Gagnon’s at Cathedral High School, in the class of 1968. He remembers Gagnon as an excellent student, a multi-sport athlete, and someone who knew what it took to succeed on any stage, or playing field.

Mike Suzor

Mike Suzor, a long-time friend and former classmate of Denis Gagnon’s at Cathedral, says Gagnon has always understood what it takes to succeed at any level.

“I never met his parents, but they must have been great people,” he said, “because Denis learned very early on the value of honesty, integrity, and hard work — ‘don’t pass it off to someone else; get it done yourself.’ That attitude was there in high school, and it has stayed with him all through his career.”

“If you measure success financially, then he’s clearly successful,” Suzor went on. “But if you measure success by what kind of human being someone is … he’s one of the most successful people I’ve ever met.”

Rarified Air

Over the past 18 years or so, Gagnon has sat across from interviewers representing all manner of media outlets curious about the XLERATOR, from the small weekly paper that covers Longmeadow and East Longmeadow to the Wall Street Journal; from a host of trade publications, such as Restaurant Daily News, to Inc. magazine.

While the comments vary, obviously, he will undoubtedly tell the inquirer something he told BusinessWest back in 2003 — that, as entrepreneurial gambles go, Excel Dryer was anything but a rock-solid bet.

That’s because the company made a product that, by Gagnon’s own admission, people don’t like or want — electric hand dryers, a product that, historically, didn’t dry people’s hands as much as they would like.

As he explained back then, and has gone on explaining ever since, most businesses and institutions that installed hand dryers in those days did so because satisfying the customer — and that’s a relative term in this case — was not a priority, and saving money was. As examples, he listed airports, train stations, colleges, municipal buildings, sports stadiums, and even correctional facilities.

Today, businesses and institutions like those mentioned above, but also some certainly not on that list, are installing Excel models because they do place a premium on customer service — and also on protecting the environment and saving money.

Changing the hand-dryer landscape wasn’t exactly the stated mission when Gagnon bought a piece of Excel in 1992 and later acquired the entire company, but it quickly became not only a goal, but an obsession — one of those who knew Gagnon well firmly believed he would succeed with, even given the chosen product’s dubious history and uncertain future.

To explain, Suzor went into the wayback machine to Cathedral High, then home to 3,000 students, and memories of Gagnon the student-athlete.

“He was an incredible wrestler and first-team All-Western Mass. placekicker,” Suzor recalled. “In the wintertime, he would go out and kick field goals in the snow to practice; he was absolutely dedicated to excellence and doing whatever it took to be the best he could be. Going back to high school, he showed that.”

This pattern would continue at UMass Amherst and later in business, especially at what was then Milton Bradley, later Hasbro, and now Cartamundi, where Gagnon would rise in the ranks to vice president of International Sales.

This was a rewarding job in a number of ways, but also one that took him away from home quite often (he was responsible for the Pacific Rim region).

Desiring a change, and something closer to home, he and his wife Nancy would both join her family’s business, Springfield-based Bassett Boat, and he would help it achieve dramatic growth in the late ’80s. But the deep and lengthy recession that began at the end of that decade put a serious hurt on discretionary spending and thus the boat business, and Gagnon began searching for an entrepreneurial adventure of his own.

He and a partner thoroughly researched options, and set their sights on Excel Dryer, but the partner got cold feet, leaving Gagnon to pursue plan B, as he called it, which was to acquire a piece of that company and acquire the rest over time as he ran its sales and marketing efforts.

By 1997, when the acquisition was complete, he would begin the process of changing the equation when it came to the product that seemingly no one liked or wanted by partnering with (and essentially bankrolling) some inventors with a revolutionary new concept.

In time, it would come to be called the XLERATOR, which, as that name suggests, was painstakingly designed to reduce the time it took to dry one’s hands, while actually getting the job done.

Gagnon explains the technology, sort of, in one of the many interviews he’s given, this one with Restaurant Daily News.

“If I could describe the new drying system in layman’s terms, I would say that it delivers a focused, high-velocity air stream, which blows off excess water in three to four seconds,” he told that publication, “and evaporates the remaining boundary layer of moisture very rapidly. With a conventional hand dryer, it takes over 20 seconds before effective evaporation takes place, and 30 to 45 seconds overall to completely dry your hands.”

Denis Gagnon

Denis Gagnon stands beside one of the first XLERATORs, the hand dryer that changed perceptions about that product.

He skipped over much of the proprietary science and engineering that would eventually solve a noise problem and enable the XLERATOR to live up to its considerable promise and become the best-selling hand dryer in the world, with more than a million units now in use.

The map outside Gagnon’s office, the one with multi-colored push pins on seemingly every continent (covering more than 70 countries in which the product is now sold), does an effective job of explaining how far this company has come in less than two decades.

Having a Blast

But there are other ways to measure its success, and at Excel, there are many of them, including:

• Evolution of the venture into a true family business. Indeed, while Denis Gagnon is president, his wife, Nancy, who has been involved with the company from the beginning, serves as vice president, while son Bill, who joined after college when Denis was developing the XLERATOR and has since helped grow the company, is vice president of Marketing and Sales, and son Denis Jr. is vice president of International Sales;

• Continued expansion and diversification of the product line, including a new “XLERATOR integrated sink system,” as Gagnon described it (there’s a prototype at the Fort restaurant in Springfield and 168 of them at MGM’s new casino in Maryland). Developed in collaboration with Sloan Valve, it includes an automatic soap dispenser, automatic faucet, and an automatic dryer coming out of what looks like a faucet head. “You never have to leave the sink — you soap, wash, and dry your hands right there,” he explained, adding that the product is being brought to the marketplace by a separate LLC called D13 Group, run by his son Bill and son-in-law Lance;

• Continued expansion of the plant complex in East Longmeadow to accommodate a growing company and staff (the company now employs 49 people). Town officials recently approved plans for 5,000 square feet of additional warehouse, R&D, and engineering space;

• Official designation as an American-made product and being named as the inaugural winner of the ‘Made in the USA Certified Award’ in the ‘medium company’ category in 2013; and

• Continued exposure in the press. Over the years, the company and the XLERATOR has earned all kinds of ink and face time. It was one of Terry Bradshaw’s ‘picks of the week,’ on his CNN Headline News segment, for example, and has also been on the Science Channel’s How It’s Made show, the Discovery Channel’s Things We Love to Hate series (actually, the show was about how the XLERATOR is changing perceptions about hand dryers), and many more.

But, as noted earlier, success in business is really only one chapter in the Denis Gagnon story, and not the most important one, according to those who know him well.

Excel Dryer employees

Excel Dryer employees gather for a shot at the plant in East Longmeadow. The company has registered explosive growth in recent years.

Instead, it’s his work within the community that resonates most.

As he talked about that work — again, something he doesn’t like to do and would rather leave to others — he referenced a more-than-half-century-long relationship with the Boy Scouts of America and the many lessons imparted him through that involvement.

Especially those from his youth. Indeed, Gagnon, a member of Troop 424, which met at the Nativity Church in the Willimansett section of Chicopee, became an Eagle Scout at the age of 12, something that couldn’t be done today (one needs to be at least 14) and was a very rare achievement back then.

He remembers some of the scout credos, or marching orders, if you will, and said they’ve never left him.

“What’s the motto of the Boy Scouts? ‘Do a good turn daily’ — in other words, do something to give back to help other people,” he explained. “They teach you to be self-reliant, but they also teach you to give back, and that stays with you.”

Likewise, he’s never really left the Boy Scouts. He served as board president for eight years, for example, and, during that time, merged the Pioneer Valley Council and the Great Trails Council into the Western Massachusetts Council of the Boy Scouts of America. And he’s still on the board.

In addition, he’s been a long-time supporter of a number of agencies, including the United Way, the American Red Cross, Western New England University (he’s a trustee), and a host of veterans’ organization, including Wounded Warriors.

Also on that list is the Children’s Study Home, the oldest nonprofit in Western Mass., which was created in 1865 as the Springfield Home for Friendless Women and Children, serving mostly the widows of Civil War veterans.

He’s served that agency, which provides a host of innovative and educational programs to strengthen children and families, in a number of roles, including the current one — president emeritus.

“That means that, whenever something big happens, they know who to call,” he joked, adding that his son Bill is now on the board.

Buy the Book

Actually, a number of agencies have called Gagnon’s number over the years, generally because he rarely says ‘no,’ but especially because he does much more than simply write a check.

That was the case with Link to Libraries, which, as that name suggests, places books on school-library shelves, but also brings business leaders into the classroom to read and essentially adopt the school in question.

Excel Dryer now sponsors two schools, and eight people at Excel volunteer to read, he said, adding that this is a company-wide effort that goes beyond read-alouds. Indeed, the company has funded a field trip to Sturbridge Village and other initiatives. And, as noted, Gagnon has encouraged others, including Barrows, to become involved and sponsor schools themselves.

Susan Jaye-Kaplan, founder of Link to Libraries and one of the first Difference Makers brought to the stage at the Log Cabin back in 2009, said Gagnon’s involvement with LTL is a good example of how he immerses himself in a cause and offers support that goes well beyond a cash contribution.

“He’s one of the most humble and caring men that I know,” said Jaye-Kaplan, who was one of many to invoke the phrase ‘role model’ as she talked about Gagnon. “He has never forgotten where he comes from or the people who helped make him the man he is today.

“He’s a man who not only sees the need, but takes action,” she went on. “He is very empathetic to those people in need and especially the young people of our community.”

Cassidy agreed, and put to use some of the same words and phrases others would deploy as they talked about Gagnon: ‘quiet,’ ‘humble,’ ‘generous,’ ‘impressive,’ ‘family man,’ and ‘inspiring,’ to name a few.

“He works quietly and mostly behind the scenes,” he said. “I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from him throughout my career from the way he works with people, the way he deals with adversity, and especially his generosity to the community.”

Barrows, who’s been doing business in Western Mass. for more than 40 years now, went so far as to put Gagnon in the same company (and sentence) as the late Dick Stebbins, the long-time regional president of BayBank whom most credit with setting the standard locally when it comes to community service, and said Gagnon is essentially the standard bearer for his generation.

Stebbins and Gagnon had different platforms in the business community — the former with a large public corporation, and the latter with a much smaller, family-owned company, but both worked in essentially the same way, Barrows explained.

“When I think of the people of that stature in today’s Pioneer Valley business community, I think of John and Steve Davis, and I think of Denis Gagnon,” he explained, adding that there may be others he is less familiar with.

“Denis is a little more private, a little more anonymous with his work in the community,” he went on. “But his actions speak very loudly. He’s a major player, and he inspires others with what he does and how he does it.”

Suzor agreed, noting that, in his philanthropic efforts, as with his business exploits, Gagnon takes a measured, results-driven approach to his giving.

“Even with his generosity, he would want to know the plan — ‘if I’m giving you money, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to use it? And how are you going to measure how successful you are at using it?’” he explained. “He’s a very bright businessman who always says, ‘let’s do what makes sense, and let’s not do what doesn’t make sense,’ and it was the same with his work in the community.”

Cut and Dried

In Business and the Community, Denis Gagnon Is a Role Model
That’s the Ticket

Returning to the subject of the Patriots and the various perks derived from that relationship, Gagnon noted that the company now has several season tickets.

In what should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him, Gagnon doesn’t use them much himself. (In fact, by late December, he had taken in only the Rams game a few weeks earlier, and that very ugly loss to Buffalo in early October, when Brady was still serving his Deflategate ‘vacation,’ as the quarterback called it).

Indeed, as any smart businessperson would, he bestows most of those tickets on very good customers and those who may attain such status. But he also puts them to use within the community — he donates tickets to the Boy Scouts, for example, for one of its fund-raisers, and, through his son Denis Jr., a board member with the United Way, that organization has received a few as well.

That’s a small example, but one of many, of someone who very quietly and humbly goes about his business — or businesses, as the case may be.

There’s the one that makes electric dryers, and then there’s the business of giving back to the community.

He’s, well, very hands-on, as one might say, with both — and certainly making a difference across Western Mass. in every sense of that phrase.

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

Daily News

AMHERST — OrthoLite, a leading provider of comfort and performance insoles, announced three new additions to its marketing and sales team, including Dan Legor as director of Marketing; Andy Downes as sales manager, Key Accounts; and Matt Hennessey as sales manager, Performance East. These new appointments will support OrthoLite’s dedication to strengthening partner relationships across the globe.

In his new role, Legor will manage all aspects of marketing while elevating the brand’s global marketing and branding strategies. As an accomplished senior marketing professional, he brings more than 20 years of experience to OrthoLite. Most recently, he was the director of E-commerce at Lindt & Sprungli, and prior to that he was the head of U.S. Marketing at ECCO Shoes, senior Marketing manager at Timberland, and Retail Marketing manager at the Rockport Co.

Downes brings more than 20 years of product and sales experience to OrthoLite, and was most recently the Key Account sales manager for Inov-8 footwear. During his 13 years at Nike, he held sales and product-related roles in a variety of business units such as Running Specialty, Custom Footwear, and Special Make-up Groups. From Nike, he joined Adidas as category manager, Running Footwear for several years before moving to Innov-8.

Hennessey brings more than 16 years of senior-level sales and development experience to OrthoLite and most recently was the Product Development manager at Sperry. Prior to Sperry, he was a senior Development manager at Under Armour Footwear and a senior developer at New Balance Footwear, along with holding the National Sales manager position at Xterra.

“We’re thrilled to have these dynamic professionals joining our team and helping to drive continued growth within each of the key sales channels,” said Pamela Gelsomini, OrthoLite president. “The number-one priority of the sales and marketing team is to help our footwear partners sell more shoes by delivering the most comfortable product to their consumers. This has fueled our success together over the years, so we will continue to invest in ways to help each of these brands exceed their goals with OrthoLite. Dan’s deep leadership experience in brand strategy will help to shape new marketing initiatives with our footwear partners and with the brand overall. Andy and Matt also share OrthoLite’s unwavering commitment to deliver world-class service and collaborative support.”

Departments Picture This

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

Super 60

Super 60

More than 500 guests gathered at Chez Josef in Agawam on Oct. 28 for the Super 60 awards luncheon, presented by the Springfield Regional Chamber to honor the region’s fastest-growing privately owned companies. This year’s top honoree in the Total Revenue category was Stavros Center for Independent Living Inc. in Amherst, while the top honoree in Revenue Growth was Lavishlyhip, LLC in Feeding Hills. The event’s keynote speaker was Tree House Brewing co-founder Dean Rohan.

 

Justin Pelis, board treasurer of Stavros Center for Independent Living

From left, Justin Pelis, board treasurer of Stavros Center for Independent Living; Ashley Allen, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Health New England; Nancy Bazanchuk, board vice president of Stavros; and John Patrick, president and CEO of Farmington Bank

 

Bill Grinnell, president of Webber

Bill Grinnell, president of Webber and Grinnell Insurance (left), and Richard Venne, CEO and president of Community Enterprises

From left, Allen; Jay Ray, president of Detector Technology Inc.; and Patrick

From left, Allen; Jay Ray, president of Detector Technology Inc.; and Patrick

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — HUB International New England, a division of HUB International Limited, announced that, effective Dec. 1, Timm Marini, will lead the Personal Lines Division for HUB International New England. This is in addition to his responsibilities of overseeing the Western Mass. offices and serving on HUB’s executive management team.

Marini will lead the Personal Lines teams, which consist of close to 150 employees in more than 20 offices located throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island. His areas of focus will be developing and implementing sales and marketing strategies that result in value and pricing options while always meeting the underlying goal of “delighting the customer.”

“Developing an exceptional team is imperative in this fast-paced, technology-driven industry,” said Charles Brophy, CEO and Regional President, Eastern Region of HUB International New England. “The first person that came to mind for this position, without a doubt, was Timm Marini. His vision, leadership abilities, skillful thinking, discipline, and tact for customer service will be a great benefit for HUB New England as we continue to grow and expand into new markets.”

HUB New England was built through partnerships with long-standing, local brokerages housing years of experience in consulting on property and casualty insurance, personal insurance, and employee-benefits programs for New England businesses and individuals. As a full-service brokerage, HUB New England has access to the resources of a large, international company with local service and expertise.

Features

Moving Forward

wmassbusinesslogo2016

Workforce development and entrepreneurship.

Many issues, developments, trends, and concerns have come to the forefront — and dominated the headlines in BusinessWest — in recent years, but none more than these two.

Virtually every business sector and individual company in the region is faced with the considerable challenges of closing the skills gap, replacing the retiring Baby Boomers, and coping with multiple generations in the same office or manufacturing floor.

Meanwhile, the region is seeing a surge in entrepreneurial energy that is helping startups get off the runway, climb to a cruising altitude, or pick up needed speed on their way to a desired destination.

Thus, the floor of the Western Mass. Business Expo on Nov. 3 will, among other things, put these intriguing developments into sharp focus.

Of course, there will be plenty of other things to occupy the time and imagination of Expo-goers, from breakfast and lunch programs to educational programming on sales and marketing, tech trends, Big Data, and other topics; more than 100 exhibitors; and the day-capping Expo social, one of the best networking events of the year.

“This will be a day packed with activity from start to finish,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher at BusinessWest, which is now in its sixth year of producing the Expo. “Business owners and managers need to circle Nov. 3 on their calendars and clear whatever was on for the date so they can spend the day at the MassMutual Center.”

But now, back to the future — as in the future of the region’s workforce and the future of the area’s business community and some of the companies that may shape it. These will be two of the main focal points of the Expo.

It’s called the Workforce of Tomorrow Hub, and that name speaks volumes about what will take shape on this large segment of the Expo show floor.

The Hub will be, well, a hub, with activity all morning and afternoon. It will include everything from robotics demonstrations and training initiatives involving area vocational and technical high schools to booths featuring businesses and agencies focused on workforce development, to a seminar series focused on today’s multi-generational workforce.

Individual seminars will focus on the art and science of recruiting, training, and retaining top talent; motivating the Millennial generation; methods for getting the four generations at work today to function cohesively, and much more.

“Every business is struggling to attract and retain top talent; the skills gap is a formidable challenge,” said Campiti. “The Expo will bring together experts on the subject of workforce development to offer timely and invaluable insight into how to build, maintain, and maximize a company’s best asset — its workforce.”

Meanwhile, in other corners of the show floor, the focus will be on entrepreneurship and various initiatives taking place across the region.

Programming includes a panel discussion on ongoing efforts to build and refine an entrepreneurial ecosystem, a ‘where are they now’ panel featuring several high-profile participants in Valley Venture Mentors’ accelerator program, and a pitch contest, conducted by SPARK Holyoke, featuring several area startups.

“The efforts to stimulate entrepreneurship and mentor startups is one of the most important components of the region’s economic-development strategy,” said Campiti. “The Expo will shine a light on these efforts, while also providing attendees an opportunity to meet and hear about some of the entrepreneurs they’ve read and heard so much about.”

The Western Mass. Business Expo will again be presented by Comcast Business. Other sponsors include Express Employment Professionals, Health New England, the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Johnson & Hill Staffing Services, MGM Springfield, Wild Apple Design, the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, Savage Arms, the Better Business Bureau, and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. The event’s media partners are WMAS, WHMP, and Rock 102/Laser 99.3. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available.

Exhibitor spaces are also available; booth prices start at $725. For more information on sponsorships or booth purchase, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100. For more details, go HERE

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — White Lion Brewing Co., in collaboration with Williams Distributing and the Student Prince and the Fort, will commemorate the Eastern States Exposition’s 100th anniversary with an exclusive centennial ale.

This limited-quantity Kolsch ale will be featured at one of the newest Big E venues from Sept. 16 through Oct. 2: the Wurst Haus, located near the New England Center and the Coliseum, where the Student Prince and the Fort will feature its German menu.

“We are happy to share our appetite of delivering quality food and beverage to festival goers that have been supporting the Eastern States Exposition for 100 years,” said Andy Yee, the restaurant’s managing partner. “In our inaugural year, it made sense for us to partner with community-committed companies such as White Lion Brewing and Williams Distributing as a way to further enhance the overall experience.”

Heather Gawron, operations and sales manager at White Lion Brewing Co., added that “White Lion is very excited to be part of the centennial celebration and be showcased at New England’s largest fair. To stand with a regional pioneer, the Eastern States Exposition, and two great community partners, Williams Distributing and the Student Prince and Fort restaurant, is a historical moment for our brand. Our brewer, Mike Yates, worked with the Student Prince and Fort restaurant to determine what style would complement the German-themed venue. Fittingly, the beer will be called Eastern States Exposition Centennial Ale: Kolsch. The beer will be a light-bodied and crisp golden ale, brewed with German hops and malts.”

Anthony Frasco, director of sales and marketing for Williams Distributing, noted that, “as a long-standing partner with the Eastern States Exposition, we felt this celebratory occasion was worthy of a commemorative brew, and to see it come to fruition under a Western Mass. collaborative made it all the more special.”

The beer will officially debut at a kick-off party hosted by the Student Prince and the Fort on Thursday, Sept. 1. There will be limited availability to accounts looking to showcase the Eastern States Exposition Centennial Ale: Kolsch in Western Mass.

Features

A Focus on ‘Tomorrow’

WMassBusinessLogo2016

The Western Mass. Business Expo, produced by BusinessWest since 2011, has always put an accent on the future when it comes to programming and exhibits.

But this year, that emphasis will be taken to a still-higher level, said Kate Campiti, the magazine’s associate publisher. And this is out of necessity.

“Anticipating the future and preparing for it have always been stern challenges for all business owners,” she explained. “But now, these assignments take on even more urgency because the business world is changing rapidly and there are many powerful forces that will shape the competitive landscape in the years — and even the weeks — to come.

“These include everything from evolving technology, which presents a host of challenges and opportunities, to the emergence of younger generations, especially the difficult-to-read Millennials, in leadership positions, to a host of new social and employment issues that business owners and managers must face,” she went on.

All these focal points and more will take center stage at the Expo, set for Nov. 3 at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield. Details of the day-long event are still being finalized, but the broad themes have been identified, and organizers are now filling in the canvas. Here’s what we know:

• The Expo’s overriding emphasis will be on the future, meaning the short term, long term, and intermediate term, because business owners must keep their focus on all three.
• There will be a special accent on what would have to be called the ‘workforce of tomorrow,’ with emphasis on the issues facing all employers — those of quantity and quality.
• Education will again be one of the main stress points of the Expo, with three stages, or rooms, for informative seminars — one to focus on sales and marketing, another on emerging trends in the workplace, and the third on the younger generation now coming of age in the business community.
• Innovation will also be on display, and in many different forms, from robotics demonstrations to exhibitors on the cutting edge of technology and manufacturing.
• The Expo will again put the region’s business sectors in the spotlight. More than 150 companies of all sizes are expected to exhibit on the show floor, gaining the attention of more than 2,000 visitors.
• Also in the spotlight will be many of the emerging startups across the region — the Expo exhibitors of the future, if you will — that are taking full advantage of the services now available to them through a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem.
• Networking, networking, networking: there will be opportunities for this most important of exercises at the day-opening breakfast, again presented by the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce; at a lunch presented by BusinessWest; on the show floor; and at the popular, event-capping Expo Social.

“Since BusinessWest began producing the Expo five years ago, the basic strategy has been the same — to provide a value-laden event that will help business owners and managers gain exposure and also gain insight that will make them ever-more competitive in this increasingly global economy,” said Campiti. “For this year, the mission is the same, and this is shaping up as the biggest, best Expo ever.”

For details on the Expo as they emerge, and for sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities, visit www.wmbexpo.com.

What: The 2016 Western Mass. Business Expo

When: Thursday, Nov. 3

Where: The MassMutual Center, Main Street, Springfield

Features: More than 150 exhibitor booths; educational seminars; breakfast hosted by the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce; lunch hosted by BusinessWest; day-capping Expo Social

Sponsors: Comcast Business (presenting sponsor); Express Employment Professionals; Health New England; Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst; Johnson & Hill Staffing Services; MGM Springfield; Wild Apple Design

 

 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts will hold a press conference on Friday, Aug. 19 at 10 a.m. at TD Bank Conference Center, located on the first floor of 1441 Main St., Springfield, to officially announce the 101st William Pynchon Award recipients.

The Ad Club confers the Order of William Pynchon and the Pynchon Medal upon citizens of Western Mass. who have rendered distinguished service to the community. Recipients are nominated each year by members of the community, and are chosen by unanimous decision of the Pynchon trustees, who include the current president and five past presidents. The 2016 trustees include Gary Czelusniak, marketing consultant at gczinc.com; Nancy Urbschat, principal at TSM Design; Barbara Perry, vice president of sales and marketing, Envision Marketing Group; Jillian Gould, customer marketing manager, Yankee Candle Co. Inc.; Teresa Utt, director, nonprofit marketing and senior account executive at Andrew Associates Inc.; and David Cecchi, principal, Cecco – the Design Office of David Cecchi.

Recipients have been asked to invite family, friends, and the nominator(s) to share in the official announcement on Aug. 19. Each recipient will have the opportunity say a few words to the gathering of media, guests, Pynchon trustees, and Ad Club board members. This press conference is free and open to the public, although seating is limited.

This year’s 101st William Pynchon Award Celebration is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Details and ticket information will be posted at www.adclub.org.

Departments People on the Move
Jon Lumbra

Jon Lumbra

The Dowd Insurance Agencies announced the appointment of Chief Financial Officer Jon Lumbra. He will be responsible for directing the fiscal operations of the business and supervising the accounting department. In addition, he will assist in the planning, establishing, and maintaining of current systems and procedures. “We are pleased to welcome Jon to the team,” said David Griffin Sr., executive vice president and treasurer of the Dowd Insurance Agencies. “He is an excellent strategic and cultural fit whose breadth and depth of knowledge will help strengthen our brand and provide the best service to our customers and employees.” Lumbra brings nearly two decades of experience in financial services to the Dowd Insurance Agencies. His past experience includes working for Loomis Communities, the city of Holyoke, and Spectrum Analytical. He is a graduate of Southern Vermont College with a degree in criminal justice and minor in corporate espionage. He is currently working toward his MBA at the University of Southern New Hampshire. “The Dowd Insurance Agencies is one of the oldest insurance agencies in Massachusetts, and its headquarters remain in the city of Holyoke, where the business was started 118 years ago,” said John Dowd Jr., president and CEO of the Dowd Agencies. “Making positive contributions to the success of our community has always been important to us, which is why Jon is a great addition to our business. He has demonstrated these shared values by volunteering his time to support many organizations — many of which are based in Holyoke, Jon’s hometown.” Lumbra is president of the Knights of Columbus Council #90 board of directors, former executive board member of the Massachusetts Government Finance Officers Assoc., a member of the Holyoke Taxpayers Assoc., and a member of the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel Federal Advisory Committee. He is also immediate past chairman of the Holyoke Visiting Nurse Assoc. & Community Health Foundation, immediate past president of the Holyoke Rotary Club, and member of the Holyoke Medical Center board of directors.

•••••

Teresa Spaziani

Teresa Spaziani

The Gray House announced the appointment of Teresa Spaziani as the new Executive Director of the organization. In 2009, while attending Western New England University, Spaziani began volunteering at Kids’ Club, an after-school program for children from low-income families run by the Gray House, and soon after became a staff counselor for the program. In January 2015, she joined the organization’s board of directors. “After arriving in Springfield for college, I immediately immersed myself in the community through volunteer work and was so impressed by the people and services of the Gray House,” she said. “It is a true community program in every sense. I’m proud to be a part of the organization and work alongside our dedicated staff and volunteers to further the mission of the Gray House.” Spaziani’s brings experience in nonprofit fund-raising as former community relations and outreach manager at the Children’s Study Home in Springfield. There, she also gained experience in licensing and compliance as quality assurance manager. Her most recent role was in the field of marketing at Market Mentors in West Springfield. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration in marketing/communications and advertising from Western New England University as well as a certificate in professional fund-raising from Boston University. She graduated from Leadership Pioneer Valley with the class of 2015. An open house will be held at the Gray House, 22 Sheldon St., Springfield on Wednesday, Aug. 24. Members of the community are invited to stop by from 8 to 9 a.m. and noon to 2 p.m. to meet the staff and learn more about the services offered, as well as volunteer opportunities.

•••••

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce (AACC) board of directors announced the appointment of Timothy O’Brien as Executive Director, effective Aug. 1. He will assume responsibility for representing the chamber’s diverse business interests in the community, directing the organization’s growth, and maintaining the chamber’s financial stability and commitment to providing value to its members. “Tim brings a wealth of experience and the needed energy and commitment to the Amherst area to serve all of our members,” said Julie Marcus, board president. The appointment had the unanimous support of the board’s executive committee. “I am honored to help lead the Amherst Area Chamber team and excited to continue my career in destination marketing as part of this outstanding organization,” O’Brien said. “I look forward to working with the board, staff, and AACC members in writing the next chapter of the chamber’s influential history.” O’Brien has been active in the Western Mass. destination-marketing industry since 1987. He has served as communications director with the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as serving on that agency’s board of directors. He held top marketing and communications positions with Yankee Candle and Kringle Candle, as well as providing marketing services to the Yankee Candle founder Michael Kittredge and his family, charity, and business interests. O’Brien holds bachelor’s degree in resource economics from UMass Amherst.

•••••

Margo Armstrong

Margo Armstrong

Tighe & Bond recently welcomed Director of Human Resources Margo Armstrong to lead its human-resources functions, as well as strengthen the firm’s staffing growth and employee programs. She brings with her more than 20 years of high-level leadership experience in HR consulting, performance management, succession planning, and employee programs. She will work primarily out of the firm’s Westfield office. “We are delighted to welcome Margo to the Tighe & Bond team at this significant juncture of our accelerated growth. She is an accomplished HR leader who will strengthen employee-related programs across our organization,” said David Pinsky, Tighe & Bond CEO and president. Armstrong has held a variety of senior human-resources and change-leadership roles in several prominent and high-performing businesses. This includes overseeing performance management, employee recognition, talent review, and succession planning; HR planning and analysis; and HR consulting. Known for possessing a strategic business focus and technical expertise, her knowledge base includes influencing and leading in complex and rapidly changing environments. Armstrong holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Alfred University and a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of New Haven. She is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management.

•••••

With the goal of accelerating growth in international markets, OMG Roofing Products has created market manager positions for both Asia and Europe and promoted two executives into these roles. Kingbill Zhao, Asia Market Manager, is based in China and will support the Greater Asian market. Lennard Spirig, Europe Market Manager, is based in Switzerland, servicing the European market. Both are responsible for all OMG sales and marketing activities in their regions, including developing products and services tailored to local market needs. Zhao joined OMG in 2009 as a roofing specialist and was promoted to China sales manager in 2011, where he was responsible for launching the OMG Roofing Products line in China. Since then, he has built a sales and customer-service organization in China to support the company’s rapidly growing business. Prior to joining OMG, he was the international department manager for the China Waterproofing Assoc., where he worked with other international counterparts like National Roofing Contractors Assoc. and the Germany Roofing Contractors Assoc. to market the China Roofing & Waterproofing Show internationally. In addition, he organized Chinese company visits to the U.S. and Europe, and worked with organizations like FM Global and FLL to introduce approvals and standards to China. Spirig joined OMG in 2014 as Europe product marketing manager, responsible for marketing OMG products throughout Europe. Since then, he has been a great resource for helping to expand OMG’s footprint in Europe by assisting system manufacturer partners and developing new distribution in various European countries. Prior to joining OMG, he spent 10 years as product manager for mechanical attachment with SFS Intec. Earlier, he had been an international key account manager based in Mexico. “OMG’s products are designed to enhance rooftop productivity and improve roof-system performance,” said Web Shaffer, vice president of Marketing. “Lennard and Kingbill will be highly focused on developing value-added products and services that meet local market needs in order to accelerate our growth in Europe and Asia respectively, and I look forward to continuing to work with these two outstanding individuals.”

•••••

Chris Jablonski

Chris Jablonski

Mark Melikian

Mark Melikian

HZ Electric Supply (formerly Hampden Zimmerman Electric), a New England electrical distributor, announced the promotion of Chris Jablonski and Mark Melikian to Branch Managers. Jablonski (in the Northampton branch), and Melikian (Pittsfield) will manage the selling and warehousing of company products, as well as planning, administering, and controlling day-to-day operations. “Both Chris and Mark have been instrumental in the growth of business, and we are proud to recognize their contributions with these promotions,” said Regional President Mark Lauria. Jablonski graduated from UMass Dartmouth and John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in international business. He is also a member of Enactus and the National Assoc. of Electrical Distributors. Upon completion of his degree, Jablonski worked for two years as marketing manager of Hampden Zimmerman before entering the USESI 18-month management-trainee program. Melikian is a graduate of Salve Regina University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English communications. After being employed in the real-estate and retail industries, he interned at HZ in the marketing department the summer after his junior year at Salve Regina. After graduation the following year, he completed the USESI 18-month management-trainee program.

•••••

Monique Matz

Monique Matz

HUB International New England, a division of HUB International Limited, a global insurance-brokerage, risk-advisory, and employee-benefits firm, announced the hiring of two new employees in its East Longmeadow office. Monique Matz has joined as Commercial Lines Service Manager, and Jennifer Robinson as employee Benefits Account Manager. Matz joins HUB International with several years of underwriting and commercial-lines experience. At HUB International, her role is to provide service to medium to large commercial insurance accounts of moderate to high complexity. Acting as the primary liaison between the client and insurance carrier, she coordinates all facets of the clients’ needs from the initial setup procedures to audit processing to policy review. She handles day-to-day client requests while staying focused on meeting the needs of clients, carriers, and client executives. Robinson has been in the insurance industry for many years and has experience in the customer-service and data-management fields. As part of the employee benefits team, she will work to help employers maintain their employee-benefits packages, and acts as a guide and reference tool for their HR managers. She handles client inquiries and works closely in assisting the producers with new business and sales initiatives.

Departments Picture This

A photo essay of recent business events in Western Massachusetts July 11, 2016

Developers Conference

The Western Mass. Developers Conference, sponsored by the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., was staged on June 23 at the MassMutual Center. The event featured an address from Gov. Charlie Baker (top photo); an announcement from Lawrence Curtis (middle), president and managing partner of WinnDevelopment, that his firm intends to build market-rate housing, retail, and office space at the iconic clock tower building at Ludlow Mills; and a host of programs and seminars. The event drew hundreds of area developers and business leaders, including (bottom, from left) Maura McCaffrey, president and CEO of Health New England; Ashley Allen, vice president of Sales and Marketing at Health New England; Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors; Carol Leary, president of Bay Path University; and Dianne Fuller Doherty, director of the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network.
Photos by Ed Cohen

AM7J4747-6x4

AM7J4703-6x4

AM7J4640-6x4

Daily News

AGAWAM — With the goal of accelerating growth in international markets, OMG Roofing Products has created market manager positions for both Asia and Europe and promoted two executives into these roles. Kingbill Zhao, Asia market manager, is based in China and will support the Greater Asian market. Lennard Spirig, Europe market manager, is based in Switzerland, servicing the European market. Both are responsible for all OMG sales and marketing activities in their regions, including developing products and services tailored to local market needs.

Zhao joined OMG in 2009 as a roofing specialist and was promoted to China sales manager in 2011, where he was responsible for launching the OMG Roofing Products line in China. Since then, he has built a sales and customer-service organization in China to support the company’s rapidly growing business. Prior to joining OMG, he was the international department manager for the China Waterproofing Assoc., where he worked with other international counterparts like National Roofing Contractors Assoc. and the Germany Roofing Contractors Assoc. to market the China Roofing & Waterproofing Show internationally. In addition, he organized Chinese company visits to the U.S. and Europe, and worked with organizations like FM Global and FLL to introduce approvals and standards to China.

Spirig joined OMG in 2014 as Europe product marketing manager, responsible for marketing OMG products throughout Europe. Since then, he has been a great resource for helping to expand OMG’s footprint in Europe by assisting system manufacturer partners and developing new distribution in various European countries. Prior to joining OMG, he spent 10 years as product manager for mechanical attachment with SFS Intec. Earlier, he had been an international key account manager based in Mexico.

“OMG’s products are designed to enhance rooftop productivity and improve roof-system performance,” said Web Shaffer, vice president of Marketing. “Lennard and Kingbill will be highly focused on developing value-added products and services that meet local market needs in order to accelerate our growth in Europe and Asia respectively, and I look forward to continuing to work with these two outstanding individuals.”

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Corina Belle-Isle has joined Gage-Wiley & Co. Inc. in a dual role, serving as a financial advisor and also holding a new position the investment firm recently created: director of business development.

In her leadership position, Belle-Isle will work with President Christopher Milne to set firm and wide objectives and identify methods to reach these goals. She also will have a responsibility to develop, coordinate, and implement plans designed to increase existing business and capture new opportunities.

“Creating this new leadership position represents one more incremental step in our long-term goal of advancing Gage-Wiley as a comprehensive boutique wealth-management firm mand ensuring we are well-positioned to support the growing and complex needs of our clients,” Milne said.

Belle-Isle’s varied background includes experience in financial services, real estate, corporate sales and marketing, small-business ownership, and nonprofit development. Rounding out her business knowledge and experience are her creative pursuits; last year, she served as the principal and curator of the Quinn Marin Gallery Project in Rockport.

“The common thread among all her experiences is a demonstrated success in business development and building strong relationships,” Milne said.

Employment Sections

Joint Venture

HempDesk

The statute legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in Massachusetts presents a confounding dilemma when comes to the workplace. On one hand, the law states that any person who meets the requirements for medical marijuana may not be penalized or “denied any right or privilege” for such activity. On the other hand, employers aren’t required to accommodate marijuana use in the workplace. But what if an employee is fired for using the drug after hours, then failing a drug test? On issues like that, the statute is frustratingly vague, but cases winding their way through the system may soon provide some clarity.

Advantage Sales and Marketing never wanted to be a test case for medical marijuana, but that’s exactly what the Foxborough company has become.

It likely won’t be the only battleground, either.

The issue began when Cristina Barbuto, who suffers from Crohn’s disease and is prescribed marijuana to deal with painful flareups, applied for a job at Advantage.

“She told them, even before the pre-hire drug screening, that she was going to test positive,” said Timothy Murphy, an attorney with Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C. in Springfield, noting that her marijuana use, typically during the evening, was a doctor-directed strategy to deal with her condition.

She was hired. Then fired the next day.

“They brought her on, but when they got the test result, they said they had a zero-tolerance policy, and she had tested positive,” Murphy said. When Barbuto, who is now suing Advantage, reminded the company she had been upfront about her marijuana use, he went on, “they said, ‘sorry, but this is our policy.”

This type of confusion, he explained, is due to what seems to be conflicting language in the statute that legalized marijuana for medical reasons after Massachusetts voters approved it in a November 2012 ballot question.

On one hand, the law states that any person who meets the requirements for medical marijuana — which include suffering from a qualifying medical condition (such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and others) and being prescribed the drug by a physician — may not be penalized under state law or “denied any right or privilege” for such activity.

On the other hand, nothing in the statute requires employers to accommodate marijuana use in the workplace or requires health-insurance reimbursement for its use.

The grey area — what about employees who use medical marijuana at home, then come to work the next day? — is proving to be vexing for employers worried about crafting drug-use policies that protect their rights under the law. Because the law, so far, is largely silent on the matter.

“When it comes to this language, no one knows what it means,” Murphy said. “A registered user can’t be denied any rights or privileges, and [Advantage] is going to be a test case.”

While the medical-marijuana law says employers don’t have to accept marijuana use in the workplace, “that’s not really the question,” said Karina Schrengohst, an attorney with Royal LLP in Northampton. “The question is whether you can make employee decisions based on marijuana use outside the workplace and whether you need to make a reasonable accommodation.”

Barbuto seems to have some standing based on the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on a disability and requires employers to make a “reasonable accommodation” for that employee if it would not pose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the business, as long as the employee can perform the essential functions of the job.

“We have our own state anti-discrimination law which largely tracks the federal ADA,” Murphy said. “Under that law, discrimination against disabled employees is unlawful, and employers can’t take any negative actions against employees because of a disability.”

But Massachusetts employers have rights as well, and medical marijuana isn’t even legal under federal law, and … well, it’s easy to see why confusion reigns right now.

On the wording of the Bay State’s medical-marijuana statute regarding rights and privileges, “does that mean medical-marijuana use is protected, and employers can’t take any adverse action against employees who use it?” Murphy asked. “Nobody is entirely sure.”

However, cases like Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing and others winding their way through the Massachusetts courts should begin to add clarity to the issue. That clarity, Murphy said, can’t come soon enough.

A Question of Safety

The law does seem clearer, he noted, when the position in question involves issues of safety — say, truck drivers and forklift operators.

“Obviously, it’s an employer’s responsibility to ensure a safe workplace for all employees, and that’s important. The use of marijuana can impact an employee’s job. It’s a legitimate concern for employers … similar to alcohol use.”

Employers have a dilemma, he said. On one hand, Murphy said, “they probably want to be empathetic and understanding to medical marijuana users because they’ve been dealt a bad hand; they’re not in a good place with their health. Most employers tend in that direction, but at the same time, they’ve got to maintain safety for everyone.”

On-the-job impairment, regardless of the cause — whether it’s marijuana, other prescription drugs, alcohol, or illegal narcotics — and workplace safety should be the central piece of any substance-abuse policy, he said.

However, Schrengohst noted, many positions don’t involve issues of safety.

“Often this question comes up when employers are balancing workplace safety against this new law. On the issue of workplace safety, preventing workplace injuries, for people like factory workers and forklift operators, I’m going to advise clients to require drug tests because of a legitimate safety interest,” she told BusinessWest. “But in an office setting, there’s more confusion. Obviously, you don’t want your receptionist, as a face of the business, to be under the influence, but the safety issue is the clearer one.”

And what constitutes ‘under the influence?’ The argument Barbuto makes, Murphy said, is that her nighttime use of marijuana does not affect her daytime performance. “She’s saying, ‘I have this disability, and you have a responsibility to accommodate my situation, as long as I’m not impaired at work.”

In short, he went on, “does an employer in Massachusetts have to accommodate an employee who is a medical-marijuana user? That’s the question.”

It’s a question other states are dealing with as well. In Coats v. Dish Network in Colorado, the plaintiff is a quadriplegic who used medical marijuana outside working hours, a registered user who took the drug in a manner according to the state statute authorizing medical-marijuana use.

Yet, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld his firing earlier this year because marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, illegal under federal law. In other words, he couldn’t be arrested for using medical marijuana, but he could be fired.

“The court said the termination did not violate the employee’s rights. That’s really been the trend throughout the country,” Murphy said, citing two California cases: James v. City of Costa Mesa, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the ADA doesn’t offer job protections for medical marijuana, and Ross vs. RagingWire Telecommunications, which held that the state’s medical-marijuana law does not require an employer to accommodate the use of otherwise illegal drugs for chronic back pain.

Those cases date back several years, however, and are no indication of how Massachusetts courts will view similar complaints, Murphy said.

“We need more regulations as well as more guidance through case law,” Schrengohst said. “The cases I’ve looked at in other states inform this, but they’re not binding in Massachusetts. Those cases have ruled in favor of employers, but the bottom line is, our statute and regulations don’t actually address all the issues, so I’m going to deal with it on a case-by-case basis — whether workplace safety is an issue, what the risks are going to be, and how we think a court might look at it. It’s a hard question right now.”

“In the context of workplace safety,” she went on, “employers really struggle to balance a safe workplace with this new legislation that doesn’t provide clear guidance. The explicit statement that you don’t have to accommodate it in the workplace at first seems great, and then it’s not, really.”

That’s partly because of the potential for dishonesty.

“When you drug test someone, it’s not like when you do a breathalyzer when someone is drinking,” she said. “With a positive drug test, everyone is going to say, ‘weeks ago’ or ‘after hours.’ No employee is ever going to say, ‘that was during my shift yesterday.’ I think employers are concerned, and obviously they’re worried that they’re going to be faced with litigation. It’s new, and we don’t know what to expect. It’s a really interesting topic.”

Changing Times

Murphy noted that the medical-marijuana statute makes an effort to protect employers, even if some of the specifics get blurry.

“It’s now well-understood that employers don’t have to excuse employees from performing the essential functions of their jobs, and don’t have to exclude employees from following their other types of policies, whether attendance-related or other standards of conduct,” he said.

As for drug testing, Schrengohst said companies with well-understood safety concerns are on firmer ground.

“I want to know what the facts of the situation are, what the industry is. If you want to have a drug policy and you want to drug test, why? What are the reasons behind this? Like I said, it’s a lot clearer when you have employees where safety is really important — someone who’s driving or operating equipment, and they have to be focused.”

Meanwhile, Massachusetts also faces the possibility of changing winds on the federal side, a question that vexes many physicians concerned about prescribing patients a drug that is technically illegal.

“Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, but Obama’s administration has basically said, ‘we have bigger fish to fry, and we’re not going to be enforcing our medical marijuana and drug laws; we’re not going to punish marijuana users,’” Murphy said. “But that could change. There’s obviously going to be a change in the White House. Is the next president going to take a different view that could impact things? Or will the federal law be changed to allow for medical-marijuana use? That’s probably far less likely than state-by-state changes in laws.”

Massachusetts has progressed in this issue like many states, gradually changing its marijuana laws, Murphy noted. In 2008, the law was changed to decriminalize very small amounts of the drug. In 2012, voters ushered in the era of medical marijuana in the Bay State. In 2016, could full legalization follow, as Washington and Colorado have done?

“I expect there to be further efforts next year to liberalize our marijuana laws, and with each legislative step, maybe the picture gets clearer for employers,” Murphy said. “Advocates have tried to get the Legislature to pass it, but there doesn’t seem to be much appetite in the Legislature to do that. And, often, when the Legislature won’t act on things, people feel, ‘well, we’ve got no choice but to bring it to the voters.’”

Which would lay a whole new set of questions at the feet of employers already struggling to balance their employees’ rights and privileges with their own.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Departments People on the Move

Country Bank  announced the following:
• Susan Teixeira has been promoted to Senior Vice President. Teixeira has been with Country Bank since 2007. She has 23 years of experience in the financial-services industry and manages the bank’s Operations and Compliance departments. Prior to joining Country Bank, Teixeira worked for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Woronoco Savings Bank, and Florence Savings Bank. She earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Western New England College and is a graduate of Stonier Graduate School of Banking. She is a board member for the Randall Boys & Girls Club/Ludlow Community Center and serves on the advisory board for the Springfield Salvation Army.
• Shelley Regin was promoted to Senior Vice President, Marketing & Retail Banking. In this position, she draws on her 20-year tenure with the bank to lead marketing and retail-banking efforts. Regin holds a bachelor’s degree from Western New England University and earned a certification from the New England School for Financial Studies, a Mass. Bankers Assoc. program at Babson College. She serves on the Carson Center Advisory Board and the River East School to Career Board.
• Phil Goncalves has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Commercial Lending. Goncalves has been with Country Bank since 1992 in the Commercial Lending department. He has 31 years’ experience in the financial-services industry and manages the bank’s Commercial Lending team. Goncalves earned his MBA at Western New England University with a concentration in the field of finance and economics. He also attended the Massachusetts School for Financial Studies and the National School of Banking. He is active in the community and serves on the board of Junior Achievement, the Randall Boys & Girls Club, and the STCC Foundation. In addition, he is an adjunct professor at local colleges.
• Denise Walker has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Retail Lending. Walker has been with Country Bank since 2008 as first vice president, director of Retail Lending. She has 35 years of experience in the financial-services industry and is responsible for Country Bank’s Retail Lending division, including origination, processing, underwriting, secondary market, and loan servicing. “Her commitment to exceptional service along with her strong leadership skills has made her a valuable asset to her team and to the bank,” Scully said. “We are delighted to recognize her for her efforts.” Prior to joining Country Bank, Walker worked at Springfield Institution for Savings, Woronoco Savings Bank, and Monson Savings Bank, holding different positions in banking throughout her career. She attended the Massachusetts School for Financial Studies and the National School of Banking. Walker was a treasurer for the Belchertown Football Assoc. for many years and started the Belchertown Salvation Army Community Unit in 2010. In 2013, Country Bank’s Retail Lending team was voted #1 Residential Lender by Banker & Tradesman. Country Bank is a full-service mutual community bank serving Central and Western Mass. with 15 offices in Ware, Palmer, West Brookfield, Brimfield, Belchertown, Wilbraham, Ludlow, Leicester, Paxton, Charlton, and Worcester. For more information, call (800) 322-8233 or visit countrybank.com.

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Jim Madigan

Jim Madigan

Longtime WGBY producer and host Jim Madigan has been named a 2015 inductee for the prestigious Silver Circle Award of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) Boston/New England Chapter. He received his award in a ceremony in Boston. The Gold and Silver Circle Awards are a special recognition to honor television professionals who have “made significant contributions to their community and to the vitality of the television industry,” according to NATAS. Madigan is one of six Silver Circle award recipients, which honor those with more than 25 years of distinguished service to broadcasting. Madigan joined WGBY in December 1990 as senior producer for public affairs and is now director of public affairs. In addition to hosting WGBY’s Connecting Point public-affairs series, he is producer and host of “The State We’re In,” a weekly Connecting Point segment broadcast each Friday focusing on local, state, and national politics. Madigan is also a veteran moderator of seven gubernatorial debates over the past 20 years. Prior to joining WGBY, Madigan was a reporter and backup anchor for WGGB/ABC 40 in Springfield, where he specialized in political reporting and Massachusetts State House coverage. This included the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans and the presidential campaign of then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Before that, he was news director for WLDM Radio in Westfield/Springfield. Prior to his broadcasting career, he served on the staff of the minority leader of the New York State Senate in Albany. In 1992, Madigan was honored with both a New England Regional Emmy and National Public Service Emmy as a co-producer of the documentary Out of Work, a co-production by WGBH-Boston, WHYY-Philadelphia, and WGBY-Springfield.

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Four new board members have been elected to the Bay Path University board of trustees. Delcie Bean IV, Kathleen Devlin, John Heaps Jr., and Hamline Wilson will each serve a three-year term.
• Bean is the founder and CEO of Paragus Strategic, IT, one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in America. He also established Tech Foundry, a nonprofit technology institute that seeks to solve the shortage of computer-science professionals in the region. Most recently, he has been working with Valley Venture Mentors and DevelopSpringfield to launch the Springfield Innovation Center, which will include his Innovation Café concept, providing a place where people can share ideas, energy, and great coffee.
• Devlin is a recently retired executive director from Johnson & Johnson. She spent several years in the healthcare industry, where she was responsible for sales, training, hiring, and strategic alliances. In her role as executive director, she managed the interface with the Fortune 40 employers and the major insurers for the 250 operating companies under the Johnson & Johnson umbrella in the Northeast. Prior to her advancement to executive director, she was responsible for negotiating large contracts for Johnson & Johnson, and earlier consulted to nine bioscience, pharmaceutical, and device companies, as well as negotiating large contracts for Roche and Syntex Laboratories.
• Heaps is president and CEO of Florence Savings Bank (FSB). He joined the bank in 1995 following a distinguished 24-year banking career in Western Mass. that began in 1971 at Valley Bank in Springfield. Since joining FSB as its president in 1995, the bank has grown its assets from $272 million to a $1.1 billion. Heaps is currently a board member of the Hampshire County Regional Chamber, the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, the Depositors Insurance Fund, and Savings Bank Life Insurance. He was recently named chairman of the Western Mass. Sports Commission.
• Wilson is a retired insurance executive with a career that spanned more than 30 years with the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. In his last position, he was the senior vice president and managing director of investments for the Springfield-based Fortune 500 firm. Among his many professional memberships, he was an avid supporter of the Rotary and Jaycees, and he served as a trustee for Johnson Memorial Hospital. He is currently on the pension board for the town of Somers, Conn.

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Drew DiGiorgio

Drew DiGiorgio

Drew DiGiorgio was appointed President and CEO of Consolidated Health Plans Inc. (CHP) by the Berkshire Hathaway board of directors, including CHP founder Kevin Saremi. DiGiorgio has served as CHP’s president since 2013, and was previously director of sales and marketing. He began his career at CHP in 1995, shortly after receiving a bachelor’s degree in business from Framingham State University. In his new role as CEO, DiGiorgio will provide oversight of the company, reporting to the board of directors. He will continue expanding CHP’s business services to best meet the needs of clients and customers, with a focus on quality service. CHP is a claim administrator providing affordable health insurance and special risk solutions for thousands of policyholders worldwide. It offers student health and accident plans, employee health and dental plans, FSA and HRA administration, and participant accident insurance and backroom claim administration for carriers. Since 2012, CHP has increased its workforce locally by 26%, and continues to forecast stable growth.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Drew DiGiorgio was appointed president and CEO of Consolidated Health Plans Inc. (CHP) by the Berkshire Hathaway board of directors, including CHP founder Kevin Saremi.

DiGiorgio has served as CHP’s president since 2013, and was previously director of sales and marketing. He began his career at CHP in 1995, shortly after receiving a bachelor’s degree in business from Framingham State University.

In his new role as CEO, DiGiorgio will provide oversight of the company, reporting to the board of directors. He will continue expanding CHP’s business services to best meet the needs of clients and customers, with a focus on quality service.

CHP is a claim administrator providing affordable health insurance and special risk solutions for thousands of policyholders worldwide. It offers student health and accident plans, employee health and dental plans, FSA and HRA administration, and participant accident insurance and backroom claim administration for carriers. Since 2012, CHP has increased its workforce locally by 26%, and continues to forecast stable growth.

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — W.F. Young Inc., makers of Absorbine pet, equine, and livestock products, announced it has acquired Pure Ocean Botanicals, LLC of Petaluma, Calif.

Pure Ocean Botanicals products include Pet Kelp powdered supplements for dogs and cats, Kelpies soft chews for dogs, and Pet Kelp jerky for dogs. The acquisition expands Absorbine’s position in the pet-care market from its current topical flea/tick and grooming products into nutritional supplements, providing pet retailers with a more robust lineup from this dedicated animal health and wellness company.

“Since W.F. Young made the strategic decision to focus significant growth efforts in the companion animal market, we are always on the lookout for acquisitions to expand our presence, in addition to developing products in-house,” said Ken Oh, general manager, Pet Division. “Pure Ocean Botanicals is a perfect complement to our existing philosophy and way of doing business — namely, offering quality products intended to enhance the lives of our pets.”

Led by David Grover, who will remain involved as a consultant, Pure Ocean Botanicals was established in 2009. “W.F. Young has the sales and marketing strength and expertise to bring Pure Ocean Botanicals products to a much broader market,” Grover said. “I’m looking forward to helping expand distribution and consumer awareness of all our kelp-based nutritional supplements for dogs and cats.”

Many veterinarians and animal nutritionists recommend kelp as a holistic source of the essential nutrients pets require. Kelp, a class of seaweed, is known to be nutrient-rich, and kelp living in the ocean waters of Nova Scotia produce a particularly high nutrient content of 70 vitamins and minerals. The blend of Nova Scotia kelp used in Pure Ocean Botanicals products is among the purest and most nutrient-rich available, the company says.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber’s first Lunch-n-Learn of its 2015-16 season will focus on holiday marketing campaigns and take place on Wednesday, Oct. 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at La Quinta Inn & Suites, 100 Congress St., Springfield.

Liz Provo, authorized local representative for Constant Contact, one of the leading e-mail marketing service providers in the country, will return as a presenter with “Rock Your Holidays: Creating Marketing Campaigns That Are Perfect for the Holiday Season.”

Geared towards companies in all industries, the workshop will provide simple, practical tips for closing out 2015 on a high note. Participants will learn how to leverage social media to engage new and existing customers; which promotions and special offers work for business right now; best ways to drive response from e-mails and social posts; easy strategies to keep offers looking good on a cell phone or tablet; how to create and manage a campaign for the holidays; how to create a simple playbook to plan marketing activities all season long; and how to measure results.

Provo has been involved in sales and marketing throughout her career. A magazine publisher, blogger, and early adopter of social media, she has taught small-business owners throughout Western Mass. how to effectively use today’s marketing tools to grow their businesses. As an authorized local expert with Constant Contact, Provo joins a network of 200 professionals around the country who are available to associations, organizations, and event planners, speaking on relationship marketing.

Reservations cost $25 for members and $35 for general admission, which includes lunch, networking time, and one-on-one discussions with Provo. Attendees will also receive a pre-pay discount up to 25% on an existing or new Constant Contact subscription to its e-mail marketing, online survey, and event marketing tools.

Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by contacting Sarah Mazzaferro at [email protected].

Departments People on the Move

Insurance Center of New England (ICNE), one of the largest privately owned independent insurance agencies in the Northeast, has announced the appointment of four new staff members:
Marie Rosema has been named marketing coordinator. She earned her master’s degree in marketing management and holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and marketing;
David Farwell has been named account manager in ICNE’s Small Business Unit. He is a certified commercial lines coverage specialist and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice;
Mary Leveille has been named benefits administrator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in health science; and
Colleen Caban has been named personal lines account manager. She is a licensed insurance broker for personal lines.
“As an independent insurance agency, we put the needs of individuals, families and businesses first,” said William Trudeau, president and CEO of Insurance Center of New England. “We are independent agents for more than two dozen insurance carriers, but we represent our customers, working as their advocate and advisor in the often-complex world of insurance. We are proud to add Marie, Dave, Mary, and Colleen to our staff to continue our commitment to putting customer needs first.” ICNE is headquartered in Agawam and has six other locations throughout the state.

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University Products Inc. (UPI), manufacturer and distributor of archival quality storage products for museums, libraries, and archives worldwide, announced the realignment of its management team:

John Adamson

John Adamson

Bob Boydston

Bob Boydston

• Chief Financial Officer John Adamson, who joined UPI in 1995 and has worked in sales and marketing, human resources, and accounting, has been appointed president of the company and will be charged with coordinating and implementing the future direction of the company;
• Company founder David Magoon will continue as chairman of the board;
Scott Magoon will continue as CEO; and
Bob Boydston, who joined the company in 1976, will remain as senior vice president and is also chief operating officer of the corporation.
University Products is a privately owned business and manufacturer and distributor of archival quality materials. Museums, libraries, historical societies, archives, and similar institutions are among the company’s worldwide clients. UPI offers products for conservation, restoration, and preservation of books, photos, documents, collectibles, textiles, artwork, artifacts, and natural-history specimens.  University Products is also the manufacturer of Lineco brands, sold and distributed worldwide by art and framing retailers.

•••••

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced that John Ritenour, chairman of Insurance Office of America (IOA), has been unanimously elected to the Hall’s board of trustees. He will serve as one of 33 members, beginning a three-year term immediately. “It is an honor to be named to the board of trustees and to represent the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame,” Ritenour said. “I look forward to working with the highly talented and prestigious group that guides the Hall, including many legends of the sport and the outstanding roster of civic and business leaders, such as Chairman Jerry Colangelo and President and CEO John Doleva and his accomplished staff.” Ritenour and his wife, Valli, founded Insurance Office of America in Florida in 1988 with a vision to have an organization that gave ownership to its sales associates. The company now boasts more than 225 sales partners and more than 600 employees who claim ownership. IOA has grown from $188,000 in revenue the first year to more than $120 million today. “The Basketball Hall of Fame has had a tremendous relationship with IOA for a number of years,” said Doleva. “As a well-respected businessman, philanthropist, and fan of the game, John Ritenour will be an excellent addition to our board of trustees.” The trustees are responsible for preserving the fundamental mission and financial well-being of the Basketball Hall of Fame. They serve as ambassadors for the Hall, promoting its core mission, which is to celebrate the greatest moments and people in basketball. Made up of individuals that work in or have worked in the game, as well as business leaders that have supported the game, the board also elects all governors of the Hall.

•••••

First Connecticut Bancorp Inc., the publicly owned holding company of Farmington Bank, announced the election of John Green to the respective boards of directors of the corporation and the bank. “John’s extensive experience as both a leader of a successful, multi-generational family business and a tireless volunteer for many nonprofit organizations makes him a wonderful addition to our boards of directors,” said John Patrick Jr., chairman of the board of directors of First Connecticut Bancorp and chairman, president, and CEO of Farmington Bank. “In addition, John’s leadership of a successful retail business in today’s changing retail climate will be a valuable asset in the boardroom as we continue Farmington Bank’s organic growth strategy.” Green graduated from Boston College in 1978 and from the Gemological Institute of America in 1979. He earned the titles of registered jeweler and certified gemologist appraiser with the American Gem Society in 1981. In 1992, he was elected president and CEO of Lux Bond & Green. Today, Lux Bond & Green, established in 1898 by Green’s great-grandfather, has grown to seven locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts with more than 100 employees. Green has served on many nonprofit organizations and leadership positions within the Hartford community, including the Connecticut Historical Society, Old State House, Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, Connecticut Science Center, Bushnell Park Foundation, TheaterWorks, Hartford Ballet, Hartford Downtown Council, Young Presidents Organization, Connecticut Business and Industry Assoc., and Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. Currently, he serves as treasurer on the Saint Francis Hospital Foundation and a member of the economic-development committee of the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce.

•••••

Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. has appointed Ron MacDonald to the position of senior vice president, corporate auto sales leader. MacDonald joins Berkshire from First Niagara Bank, where he served as first vice president, national sales manager, focused on expanding the indirect auto finance business across the Northeast. He has more than 30 years of experience in the automotive business, including previous roles at TD Bank as the national sales manager for auto finance and various positions within the auto-dealer community. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire. “I am excited to have Ron join the bank and take on a leadership role in expanding our prime indirect auto unit,” said Sean Gray, executive vice president and head of Retail Banking. “With his extensive auto-lending relationships and experience across New England, he is the right person to expand on the successful platform Berkshire has established in New York. Ron will be leading Berkshire’s indirect team, providing strategic direction to develop and expand relationships throughout our footprint, with a focus on building long-term partnerships and managing the secondary marketing of this product. This is another example of our commitment to ongoing leadership recruitment and revenue diversification, and we look forward to profitable growth from this business line.”

•••••

Mary-Anne DiBlasio

Mary-Anne DiBlasio

Marge Pietras, founder of All About You, LLC, has appointed Mary-Anne DiBlasio chief operating officer of the eight-year-old home-care company. All About You has steadily grown since its inception. “With DiBlasio now as part of the team, we are excited to see the company expand its reach in an ever-growing market where families are keeping their loved ones at home and we, of course, are here to support them in those efforts,” Pietras said. “With her experience recruiting and marketing, we are focused on delivering the confidence of quality care to directly meet the ebb and flow of the market needs.” DiBlasio comes with years of healthcare experience in both elder care and staffing, and Pietras said both will provide value to the company’s mission.

•••••

Michael Ipekdjian

Michael Ipekdjian

Holyoke Medical Center has appointed Michael Ipekdjian as the hospital’s director of Transitional Care/Case Management.
With vast experience in nursing and case management in the community-hospital setting, Ipekdjian will lead HMC’s transitional care and case-management programs. In this role, he will oversee the hospital’s registered nurses and social workers, and communicate with internal and external partners to improve case management and care coordination. “Mike brings the leadership and vision necessary to help HMC achieve the highest levels of patient care,” said Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems Inc. “We are confident in his ability to leverage his case-management experience to ensure that patients can access a full scope of community services across the continuum.”
Added Ipekdjian, “joining HMC is a tremendous professional opportunity. I look forward to working with a highly committed team of colleagues to ensure that patients can access complete, comprehensive healthcare and the important community resources that contribute to quality healthcare.” Most recently, Ipekdjian served as case-management supervisor at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pa, where he coordinated the day-to-day operations of the Case Management department. He managed 21 full-time employees, including case managers and RN nurse navigators/transitional-care nurses. He coordinated with community agencies to facilitate communication and assure continuity of care, and reviewed and developed readmission programs and chronic-disease-management metrics. As that medical center’s MSICU case manager, he planned, coordinated, and facilitated the care and transition of patients through two intensive-care units Ipekdjian is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, earning both his associate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing. He is pursuing an MBA in healthcare management at Western Governors University and is expected to graduate in 2016.

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — Holiday Retirement recently hired Stephanie Zelazo to lead sales and marketing for Bluebird Estates in East Longmeadow.

Zelazo is a graduate of UMass Amherst with more than six years of sales and marketing experience for apartment communities throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas. In her role at Bluebird Estates, she will coordinate marketing activities, opportunities for community involvement, business outreach, and sales.

“Being able to help families find an affordable, safe, and fulfilling lifestyle option for their loved ones is very rewarding,” she said. “I am excited to be the newest member of the Bluebird family.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — University Products Inc. (UPI), manufacturer and distributor of archival-quality storage products for museums, libraries and archives worldwide, announced the realignment of its management team.

Chief Financial Officer John Adamson, who joined UPI in 1995 and has worked in sales and marketing, human resources, and accounting, has been appointed president and will be charged with coordinating and implementing the future direction of the company.

Company founder David Magoon, will continue as chairman of the board, and Scott Magoon will continue as CEO. Bob Boydston, who joined the company in 1976, will remain as senior vice president and is also chief operating officer of the corporation.

Museums, libraries, historical societies, archives and similar institutions are among UPI’s worldwide clients. The company offers products for conservation, restoration, and preservation of books, photos, documents, collectibles, textiles, artwork, artifacts, and natural-history specimens. University Products is also the manufacturer of Lineco brands, sold and distributed worldwide by art and framing retailers.

Luxury Living Sections
Demand for High-end, Custom Homes Grows as Economy Improves

From left, Jason Pecoy, Kent Pecoy, and Suzanne Clarke

From left, Jason Pecoy, Kent Pecoy, and Suzanne Clarke say outdoor living space has become a key component of luxury homes.

Think about a beautiful marble or tiled shower with multiple showerheads that pulse and even give off steam in a state-of-the-art bathroom that glows with warmth from a gas-burning fireplace.

Imagine a pool cabana that resembles a small but stately home and is fronted by fluted columns and floor-to-ceiling windows with a kitchen and bar inside. Or a four-season room with glass walls that open onto a gorgeous patio that extends the home’s living space into the outdoors.

These areas exist locally in luxury homes where every feature is designed to please the most discriminating buyer. The demand for them is growing, and local builders who specialize in this niche market report that they have a substantial number of projects underway or planned for the near future.

“The market is doing well, and the luxury-building market is in full recovery mode,” said Richard McCullough, president of Richard A. McCullough Inc. in Longmeadow, who finished his term as president of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass. “It took a while for things to improve after the recession, but it’s a different feeling today when I pick up the phone; it’s no longer surprising when someone says they have a lot and want to build a luxury home on it.”

Laplante Construction Inc. in East Longmeadow, which is known for custom-designed homes, has been busy for the past four or five years. It diversified into the remodeling industry long before the economy went into a downward spiral and has steadily built that business, said Raymond Laplante, who founded the company and does most of the design work. “We’ve been doing whole-house teardowns and rebuilds, and are putting up large contract homes today.”

But styles, as well as the size of custom-built homes, have changed dramatically in recent years, and today’s wish lists reflect a desire to save energy and utilize every square foot of space.

“Luxury doesn’t mean large,” said Kent Pecoy, president and founder of Pecoy Signature Homes and the Pecoy Companies in West Springfield. “In the past, luxury homes were usually about 7,000 square feet. Today, they are much smaller — 4,000 to 5,000 square feet — but still have the same appointments: beautiful kitchens, spacious family rooms, built-ins, custom finishes, and swimming pools.

“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on outdoor living, with covered porches, outdoor kitchens, built-in grills, and fireplaces, and are making much better use of basements,” he went on. “Some even have kitchenettes that lead outside to the pool.”

McCullough agrees. “In the ’80s, luxury homes were all about size. Bigger was better, and it was taken to the extreme. Most homes had massive, two-story foyers,” he told BusinessWest.

But that hearkens to a bygone era. Formal living rooms have become passé, and formal dining rooms are not important to most buyers.

“Space that would have been used for a living room in the past is being turned into studies or casual conversation areas,” Pecoy said. “People tell us they want space they can use every day or for more than one purpose, such as a sunroom that doubles as an eating area. As a result, what we’re building is very different than what we built five years ago, and completely different than 10 years ago.”

Lots are also much smaller and closer to workplaces. “In the past, people wanted a lot of land, but now they are happy with an acre or even a half-acre,” Pecoy said. “They don’t want to be way out in the country, so the lots they choose are closer to the center of town. They want convenient commutes; they want to be able to enjoy area restaurants and shopping without having to drive long distances to get there.”

Entertaining has become an important part of many peoples’ lifestyles, and to accommodate that, luxury homes typically have open-concept floor plans that contain a spacious, state-of-the-art kitchen, adjoining family room, and an area that opens into the backyard.

“People don’t want to waste space, so layouts are efficient,” Laplante said, adding that outdoor living plays a key role in design, and his company is building a large number of spacious cabanas, outdoor fireplaces, and kitchens.

Return to Health

The size of luxury homes has gone up and down as quickly as the economy over the past decade or two, and Pecoy said the upward spiral began after 9/11.

“People didn’t want to travel, and since they decided not to buy vacation homes and were going to stay home, they wanted bigger houses. We had built good-sized homes prior to that event, but not nearly as large as the ones that were built for a few years after.”

Richard McCullough

Richard McCullough says foam insulation and geothermal heating and cooling are popular options in newer luxury homes.

The belief that bigger was better continued until the economy tanked and homebuilding almost came to a halt. Some builders, including Pecoy, had branched out years before, so they still had plenty of work, but although that wasn’t true for everyone, McCullough said, companies with long histories didn’t despair. “Everyone in the industry who has been through this once or twice had a measured amount of optimism,” he explained. “And things are good right now, although that could change because we don’t know what could occur in this geopolitical environment.”

Still, local luxury homebuilders are busy again. McCullough is about to start his fourth home in a development he created in Somers, Conn. called Bridal Path Ridge, and is working on a large addition to a custom-built home there.

“The owners are putting on a new wing with a second family room, office, screened-in porch, pool, hot tub, and outside kitchen area,” he said, noting that he believes many people who could afford to remodel held back while the economy was in a state of flux. “A lot of money sat on the sidelines, but now it is being reintroduced into the market. The fear has faded, and builders are benefiting.”

Jason Pecoy said the demand for screened-in porches, four-season rooms, and covered patios is on the rise. “We just put a roof over a patio in Longmeadow with stone seating walls around it,” said the vice president of the Pecoy Companies and son of Kent.

Efficient use of space even extends into the bathroom, and whirlpool tubs that were rarely used have lost their appeal, while free-standing and claw-footed tubs have made a comeback. In addition, demand for oversized tile or marble showers has heated up.

McCullough said most of the luxury homes he builds today are under 4,000 square feet, and the majority of the space, or about 2,800 square feet, is on the first floor, especially if the home is being built for professionals approaching retirement age who want their master bedroom downstairs, but need bedrooms for visiting children and grandchildren upstairs.

In addition, a growing number of older adults are adding luxurious in-law apartments to their homes, then selling the homes to their children. “There is a big push for these apartments. But people want all the amenities available, and that includes an open floor plan,” Laplante said, adding that he has built in-law apartments that range in size from 1,200 to 1,600 square feet.

The second-home market is also beginning to gain strength.

“We just acquired four acre-plus lots in West Dennis across from the beach and are about to start building a 4,200-square-foot spec home there,” said Suzanne Clarke, director of sales and marketing for the Pecoy Companies. “And we just finished a 3,000-square-foot luxury home in West Dennis that has a beachy feel, with beautiful trimwork, built-in bunk beds for the children with carved seahorses, coffered ceilings, a gorgeous outdoor screened-in porch with a fireplace and TV, and a large patio.”

Attention to Detail

Although today’s luxury homes are smaller, interest in interior detail has grown.

“There is a focus on unique finishes,” McCullough said, citing a custom casing over a doorway with a crown and cap as an example, and adding that, during the course of many remodeling jobs, owners of luxury homes make the decision to change all of the trim on the first floor.

He builds many homes for professionals approaching retirement age, while Laplante has many clients with young children, who prefer a young, transitional style, which translates to elegant, custom-built moldings with simple lines, quartz countertops, and porcelain plank floors in the kitchen that look like hardwood. “They want a clean, modern look, and many choose character wood for the floors, which shows the knots and irregular grain,” he explained.

Keeping rooms off the kitchen have also become popular. “They usually have a fireplace, a small desk, and some seating. They’re small but comfortable nooks that give kids a place to study,” Laplante went on.

Richard Gale, project manager for Laplante Construction, said these rooms allow parents to converse with their children while they cook. “Sometimes we build a center island in them with desks around the perimeter. The room can be used as a place to eat or do homework.”

Raymond Laplante, left, and Richard Gale

Raymond Laplante, left, and Richard Gale say attention to detail is a critical component in the design of a new luxury home.

Advances in technology are also making their way into design, and Laplante said mudrooms often contain charging stations where children and adults can plug in all of their devices, and these areas typically have benches that double as storage areas with cubicles and shelves above them to hold books and outdoor clothing.

The playroom is another area where space is maximized. “Parents want things organized, so the rooms may have open shelves or cabinets with pullout drawers,” Gale noted.

The desire to utilize space to the fullest has even washed up in the laundry room, he added. “They’ve become a lot more complicated; they’re bigger and have more cabinetry and space to store things.”

Basements are another area used as part of the living space, and they are becoming recreation centers in new, luxury homes. Some buyers still request formal movie theaters, although builders say that trend is giving way to informal areas that contain a fireplace with a big-screen TV stationed over it.

“Game rooms are popular, and some people want spas, steam rooms, saunas, or lap pools in their basement,” Laplante told BusinessWest.

Incorporating ‘green’ building measures — particularly energy-efficient touches — is also an item on wish lists. “But for many people, it’s more about saving money than about saving the environment,” McCullough noted.

Laplante agrees, but says many of his clients want to make a contribution to the environment, and their desire is boosted by government subsidies that provide cash rebates and incentives for energy-efficient construction.

Pecoy says operating costs have become part of the conversation when people discuss the design of a luxury home.

“In 2004, even if I brought it up, no one wanted to talk about it,” he said. “But today, we’re setting up homes for solar and making sure the main body of the roof faces as much toward the south as we can.”

Foam insulation is slowly replacing fiberglass, and geothermal heating and cooling systems have become popular. “The heating systems cost two to three times more than a traditional system, but pay for themselves over a period of six to eight years,” Laplante said.

Pecoy added that people are also concerned about sustainability and where their building materials come from.

“We used to use a lot of exotic woods, such as ribbon stripe mahogany that came from rainforests,” he said. “But today, people prefer local hardwoods such as oak, ash, and maple.”

Fireplaces are still hot, but the demand for wood-burning models has gone up in smoke, being replaced with gas units that are easy to operate and don’t waste heat. “Saving energy has become ingrained in people’s minds, because no one knows where energy prices will go a year from now,” McCullough said.

Still, the warmth of a fireplace remains attractive, and Laplante’s clients are putting them in bathrooms and bedrooms and using zero-clearance models in hallways that allow them to be mounted on walls.

“They’re not all at ground level, and many look like artwork,” Gale said.

And because entertaining friends and family at home has become so popular, many luxury homes are designed with a guest bedroom and adjoining bathroom large enough to almost be called a second master suite.

Moving Forward

Although designs have changed in recent years, McCullough said, the biggest difference in the market today is people’s willingness to spend money.

“My view is that we’re on a precipitous rise. This year is much better than last,” he told BusinessWest, adding that it means work for builders, subcontractors, suppliers, and companies that make products for construction.

Laplante is building in East Longmeadow, Hatfield, South Hadley, and Southampton, as well as Connecticut. “Some of the homes are on individual lots, while others are in subdivisions. We’re also doing a lot of major renovations,” he noted. “For us, business is great.”

Pecoy said the majority of his firm’s business used to come from building luxury homes. “It has slowly picked up, and right now, it is about 40%,” he noted, adding that many existing luxury homeowners are remodeling and expanding their outdoor space.

Indeed, the list of projects his company is doing is staggering. “We have expanded our footprint, playing in a much bigger sandbox and traveling farther than we used to,” he said.

But for Pecoy and other custom homebuilders, it’s a joyous ride in a season that holds great promise.

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

Redeemed Christian Church of God Inc., 33 Kellogg Ave., Amherst, MA 01002. Kekeletso Mohasi, same. Church.

CHICOPEE

Iklim Inc., 76 Main St., Chicopee, MA 01020. Murat Citlak, 231 Howard St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Pizza shop.

She-Rock Interiors Inc., 19C Ames Ave., Chicopee, MA 01013. Jennifer Cavaliere, same. WBE construction company.

EASTHAMPTON

Arnould Inc., 181 Northampton St., Easthampton, MA 01027. Vicki Arnould, same. Family therapy practice.

FLORENCE

Blueway Art Alliance Inc., 50 Ladyslipper Lane, Florence, MA 01062. Kathleen D. Jacobs, same. Nonprofit education in arts.

Simply Serenity @ Franki’s Inc., 40 Main St., Suite 102, Florence, MA 01062. Salon and spa.

GRANBY

Pearl Construction Partners Inc., 58 Morgan St., Granby, MA 01033. John M. Lukasik, same. Construction.

HATFIELD

All Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., 93 Elm St., Hatfield, MA 01038. David B. Lampron, same. HVAC services.

Tempasure Inc., 139 Main St., Hatfield, MA 01038. Gregory C. Schurch, same. Sales and marketing.

HOLLAND

Halfway Home Cat Rescue Inc., 11 White Road, Holland, MA 01521. Robin Fiskaa, same. Cat shelTerrace

HOLLAND

Christians Chaplains Shama Inc., 172 Sargeant St., second floor, Holyoke, MA 01040. Efrain Ortiz Minister, same. Church organization.

Duygu Inc., 420 High St., Holyoke, MA 01040. Necmi Kupuc, same. Pizza restaurant.

SPRINGFIELD

Hora Zero Media Group Corporation, 156 Florence St., Springfield, MA 01105. Evelyn Edwards, same. Christian media network.

Iglesia Pentacostal Bajo La Uncion Del Santo Inc., 111 Renee Circle, Springfield, MA 01105. Adrian Lopez, same. Church organization.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Unemployment Tax Control Associates Inc. (UTCA), a national unemployment-insurance service provider based in Springfield, with offices in Boston and Houston, announced the addition of Carrie Jo Dennis as vice president of business development.

Dennis, based in Houston, will be responsible for managing sales and marketing strategies to accommodate corporate goals and will ultimately develop and lead the future sales team. As UTCA continues to grow its operations, Dennis’ presence in the heart of Texas will allow the company to better serve its clients.

“We conducted our search for vice president of business development nationwide,” said Suzanne Murphy, president and CEO of UTCA. “With more than a decade of sales and marketing experience, Carrie Jo possesses the analytical mindset and problem-solving ability we sought for our business-development leader. Carrie Jo’s strengths are manifested in her ability to not only create client relationships, but to increase sales opportunities. She is a valuable addition to our team.”

Prior to joining UTCA, Dennis was a client-development consultant for a background screening firm serving the healthcare industry, helping to ensure the safety of patients and staff. She holds a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing from Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, holds certifications in Paradigm Sales Training and Integrity Selling Training, and has completed the Franklin Covey Organizational Course.

As vice president of business development at UTCA, Dennis will develop and implement cost-saving measures; coordinate sales and marketing objectives by establishing sales territories, quotas, and goals; and help UTCA continue to grow by developing the sales force.

“I am pleased to be joining an organization as highly respected as UTCA,” she said. “My goals for this position include growing and mentoring our sales team and implementing strategic sales and marketing plans that ultimately increase our market penetration both in Houston and nationwide.”

Departments Picture This

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

Manufacturing the Future

IMG_3203IMG_3199IMG_3207IMG_3202More than 12,000 business owners, engineers, designers, production managers, and purchasing executives gathered at EASTEC, the East Coast’s premier manufacturing event, last week at the Eastern States Exposition. In its 34th year, the event showcased the latest manufacturing technologies and provided access to industry experts sharing insights on how to foster innovation, increase productivity, and improve profits. This year, more than 300 new products were highlighted at the show. Among the 650 exhibitors were many from Greater Springfield, including (from top to bottom) Ray Jack, senior sales representative, Steve Atkins, technical sales, and Don Quinn, inside sales manager, Lenox in East Longmeadow; Melinda Mitton, treasurer and management representative, Advance Welding in Springfield; Alex McGill, vice president, McGill Hose & Coupling Inc. in East Longmeadow; and Kathleen Trudeau, vice president, sales and marketing, Hayden Corp., West Springfield.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Olive Natural Beauty Inc. was the big winner at the first annual Accelerator Awards presented by Valley Venture Mentors last night, winning the top prize of $35,000 to advance the startup skin-care business.

More than 120 teams from across the Valley and beyond applied to the grant program. The top 30 were accepted and engaged in a series of 72-hour monthly training boot camps in downtown Springfield. A total of 29 teams made presentations recently in preparation for the awards.

Of those, 12 were chosen as finalists, and were awarded a total of $282,500 in funding last night: Olive Natural Beauty Inc., $35,000; PetSimpl, $32,500; Lobster IT Limited, $32,500; MachineMetrics, $32,500; Wonder Crew, $27,500; EDENIS, $27,500; Food on a Truck, $22,500; Artifact Cider Project, $20,000; Worksafe Technology Inc., $15,000; BeTH, $12,500; LocalTable, $12,500; and White Lion Brewing Co., $12,500.

The other 17 semifinalists, each receiving $2,000, include American Eagle Cycles Inc., Bakepedia, Broga LLC, Cell Zone Inc., CloudContacts, Digital Media Revolutions, East Coast Taps, Eureeka, Feat Socks, Heartfelt Fine Gifts, Lathrios, Norma Computers LLC, Nudger, NuPlanit, PeopleHedge, Piddx, and Voyaj.

VVM program participants judged each other on their customer segment, sales and marketing, scale, profitability, and size, as well as their revenue model and cost structure, to determine the finalists.

“VVM takes a lovingly critical approach to training its startups,” said Paul Silva, co-founder and president of the organization. “We put the entrepreneur first in every endeavor. I’m extremely proud of what these entrepreneurs and their mentors have been able to achieve.”

During the four-month Accelerator Program, startup teams collectively raised more than $1 million, hired employees, negotiated partnerships, secured and grew accounts, and increased product orders.

“We provide comprehensive, effective resources for our teams,” Silva added. “Our real aim is to provide our groups with preparation beyond the presentation. We want them to build their businesses for the long term.”

This year’s Accelerator Program was funded by MassMutual, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Mass. Technology Collaborative, with the mission to support an entrepreneurial renaissance in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) recently named the 12 finalists who will compete for their share of $250,000 in prize money at the organization’s first annual Accelerator Awards on April 30. During the awards ceremony, the finalists, which include startup companies from wide-ranging industries, will be in the running for grants of up to $50,000. The event runs from 5 to 8:30 p.m. and will include a networking reception and showcase of startup teams, as well as a dinner and awards program. Finalist startups include Artifact Cider Project, BeTH, EDENIS, LLC, Food on a Truck, Lobster IT Limited, LocalTable, MachineMetrics, Olive Natural Beauty Inc., PetSimpl, White Lion Brewing Company, Wonder Crew, and Worksafe Technology Inc. More than 120 teams from all around the valley, the state, and even around the world applied to the program. The top 30 were accepted and engaged in a series of 72-hour monthly training boot camps in downtown Springfield. A total of 29 teams made presentations recently in preparation for the awards. VVM program participants then judged each other on their customer segment, sales and marketing, scale, profitability and size as well as their revenue model and cost structure to determine the finalists. “VVM takes a lovingly critical approach to training its startups,” said Paul Silva, co-founder and president of the organization. “We put the entrepreneur first in every endeavor. I’m extremely proud of what these entrepreneurs and their mentors have been able to achieve.” During the four-month Accelerator Program, startup teams collectively raised more than $1 million dollars, hired employees, negotiated partnerships, secured and grew accounts, and increased product orders. “We provide comprehensive, effective resources for our teams,” Silva added. “Our real aim is to provide our groups with preparation beyond the presentation. We want them to build their businesses for the long term.” This year’s Accelerator Program is funded by Mass Mutual, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Mass. Technology Collaborative with the mission to support an entrepreneurial renaissance in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley.

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
President, Hadley Printing Co.; Age 38

Chris Desrosiers

Chris Desrosiers

Chris Desrosiers remembers Hadley Printing — the small, one-man shop started by his grandfather, Alexander, and then acquired by his his father, Mark, and uncle, Dean — being a huge part of his life growing up. He recalls being at the shop handling odd chores while in grade school, before graduating to more serious roles on the production floor during summers in high school.

But he never intended to be part of any third-generation ownership team. In fact, after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology and its printing management program, he went to work for a printer in Boston. Everything changed, however, in 2003, when Dean decided he wanted to sell his ownership stake in the company. Chris saw this as a unique, and unanticipated, opportunity to return to Western Mass. and scratch an entrepreneurial itch, and he partnered with his brother, Greg, to acquire those shares.

A decade later, they completed the acquisition, buying out their father, and today they’re full partners in a business that is setting the tone in a changing, increasingly competitive printing industry.

While Greg is focused primarily on sales and marketing, Chris is involved with operations, and he played a huge role in expanding the company’s services to the larger-scale printing projects demanded by many commercial customers, thus helping it double sales since 2003.

The third-generation owners have invested heavily in equipment and people, a trend that continues with the acquisition of a new Kumari five-color, 40-inch press recently installed at the Holyoke plant. “This will help us take that large-format commercial segment to a new level,” he explained. “This investment will pay dividends.”

He’s expecting a similar return on investment from the time and energy he’s contributing to efforts to groom the next generation of printing professionals, through his involvement with Dean Technical High School and its graphic communications program.

“A business like ours is so technology-driven, it’s really a trade handled by craftsmen,” he explained. “The staff we have here is in their 40s, 50s, and 60s; we have a lot of talent here, but over the next 10 years there’s going to a be a lot of attrition, and finding people who not only have interest, but also the talent and experience, is tough these days. I got involved at Dean because I wanted to help develop new talent for this trade — and this business.”

— George O’Brien

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

Daily News

AMHERST — Samantha Coulter recently accepted the role of assistant director of Sales and Marketing in the Event Service and Summer Program Office at Hampshire College. She is responsible for bringing in external clients for social, corporate, and summer events.

Her previous experience includes working with trade-show sales, where she covered the entire U.S. as her territory, handling the marketing, advertising, and sales for a Connecticut-based banquet facility and being the social-catering sales manager for a Massachusetts hotel with more than 300 overnight rooms, 20 meeting rooms, and a large ballroom.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to work with so many corporate, nonprofit, and social clients who are using our space daily,” Coulter said. “I am passionate about my new role at Hampshire College and look forward to bringing more groups on to the beautiful and unique campus.”

Departments People on the Move

PeoplesBank has announced the promotions of several key associates:

Karen Buell

Karen Buell

Karen Buell has been promoted to Vice President, Customer Innovation Lab. Buell possesses more than a decade of banking experience. She joined the bank in 2006 and previously served as assistant vice president, eChannel officer. Buell holds an MBA from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Houghton College. In 2010, she was recognized as a BusinessWest 40 Under Forty award winner, and she received the Uncommon Volunteer award from the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce in 2011. Buell volunteers at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, where she teaches financial literacy.


Gail Richard

Gail Richard

Gail Richard has been promoted to Vice President, Information Systems. Richard has more than four decades of banking experience. She joined the bank in 1971 and previously served as assistant vice president, Information Systems Officer. A resident of South Hadley, she graduated from the Mass. Bankers Assoc. School of Banking.





Michael Sugrue

Michael Sugrue

Michael Sugrue has been promoted to Vice President, Compliance. Sugrue has close to two decades of banking and auditing experience. He joined the bank in 2009 and previously served as assistant vice president, Compliance. Sugrue holds an MBA from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst and a bachelor’s degree in marketing from American International College. He is a graduate of the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Sugrue is vice president and a board member of the Western Mass. Compliance Assoc.
Cynthia Wszolek has been promoted to Cash Management Officer. She has 15 years of banking experience. She joined the bank in 2013, serving as a cash management sales and support specialist. She volunteers for the American Cancer Society, serving on the planning committee for the Evening of Hope Gala. Ms. Wszolek is currently working toward an associate degree in business administration at Springfield Technical Community College.
Starr McGrath has been promoted to Consumer Loan Officer. She has more than three decades of banking experience. She joined the bank in 1983 and previously served as consumer loan analyst.
Patricia O’Brien has been promoted to Underwriter Officer. With more than two decades of banking experience, she joined the bank in 2008 and previously served as underwriter. O’Brien holds an associate degree in business administration from Holyoke Community College. She serves as a director of the Holyoke Kiwanis Club.
•••••
Moyah Smith

Moyah Smith

William Crawford IV, CEO of United Financial Bancorp Inc. and United Bank of Glastonbury, Conn., announced the hiring of Moyah Smith, who has taken on the primary role of United’s community outreach officer, responsible for covering Western Mass. In this role, Smith has assumed a number of key responsibilities, including organizing and participating in financial-literacy programs and classes where local residents can learn more about a range of important topics such as money management, the homebuying process, and how to repair and maintain good credit. She will also leverage her mortgage banking experience and strong ties to the Western Mass. region to promote and guide local residents through the entire homebuying process from application to closing. Her volunteerism and reputation in the Western Mass. community is extensive; she has dedicated her time to several nonprofit organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together Springfield, Relay for Life, the Alzheimer’s Assoc., and Project Clean Up Springfield, among others. She also volunteers weekly as a personality for the local nonprofit community radio station WTCC-FM at Springfield Technical Community College. In addition to serving as the community outreach officer in Western Mass, Smith will also hold the title of mortgage loan officer for United Bank. She gained considerable mortgage banking experience while working as a MLO for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in West Springfield from 1998 to 2004. Smith was also a Realtor and MLO with Keller Williams Realty in Longmeadow from 2004 to 2009. Before coming to United, Smith was a regional account executive with Elavon Inc., where she worked with banks and credit unions in delivering business solutions for small to mid-sized banks and providing merchant services to the company’s commercial customer base. Smith is based at United Bank’s offices at 95 Elm St. in West Springfield. She reports to Lisa Kraus, vice president and Western Mass. sales manager.
•••••
The Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) announced that Peter Salerno will return to the post of Executive Director for an interim period as the board of trustees begins a nationwide search for permanent leadership. Salerno, a local business leader and long-time member of the orchestra’s board of trustees, served in this capacity prior to the hiring of outgoing Executive Director Audrey Szychulski. In January of this year, Szychulski announced her acceptance of a new position with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, leaving the Springfield Symphony Orchestra with enhanced sponsorship and a strengthened business plan. In addition to serving on the orchestra’s board of trustees, Salerno teaches at Bay Path University and Clark University, serves as Finance chair of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee, and is lead consultant for Management Solutions, LLC. He looks forward to bringing his decades of business experience to his position with the symphony. In the upcoming months, the SSO board of trustees will oversee a nationwide search for a permanent executive director, with the goal of having that individual in place by early fall 2015, as the symphony enters the beginning of its 72nd season.
•••••
Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin, president of Griffin Staffing Network, LLC in Springfield, has been selected as the recipient of the Urban League Community Builder Award for 2015. Griffin began her career in the financial industry, but after 12 years, she shifted into the staffing and recruitment field. She has several years of experience as a human-resources professional, including employee relations, recruitment, and retention. Her ability to understand the needs of a client led her to establish Griffin Staffing Network (GSN), now made up of a team with a combined 26 years of experience in staffing and recruitment. Focusing more on quality than quantity, GSN places top talent from call-center to C-level management positions in temp, temp-to-hire, contract, and permanent-placement structures. Griffin says her goal is to empower the community through employment opportunities and career development. Griffin was named to the 40 Under Forty by BusinessWest magazine in 2014. She serves on the board of SABIS International Charter School, the board of directors for Intercity Youth Inc., the committee of the Women Leadership Council, and the Plan for Progress Coordinating Council, and is a participant in the 2014-15 Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact Program. For more information about Griffin Staffing Network, visit www.griffinstaffingnetwork.com. For more information about the Urban League of Springfield, visit www.ulspringfield.org.
•••••
Samantha Peia

Samantha Peia

Residence Inn Chicopee announced that Samantha Peia has been appointed the hotel’s new Director of Sales. The four-story, 115-room hotel is located at 500 Memorial Dr. and has been open since September 2013. In her new role, Peia will be responsible for leading and directing the development and implementation of strategic sales and marketing plans. Prior to joining Residence Inn, she was senior sales manager at Courtyard by Marriott in Farmington, Conn. She holds a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Boston University and has worked in multiple positions with Marriott hotels. “Based on Samantha’s outstanding record, we are confident that she will be instrumental in ensuring the success of the Residence Inn Chicopee,” said Karen Warren, the hotel’s general manager.
•••••
Climate scientist and Distinguished Professor Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at UMass Amherst, has won a 2015 national Texty award for excellence for his book, Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary, which provides an overview of methods for reconstructing ancient climatic and of historical climate changes during the past 3 million years. The Text and Academic Authors Assoc. (TAA) announced seven 2015 Texty awards on Feb. 25. They will be presented to the authors during a lunch at the association’s 28th annual Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference in Las Vegas in June. Bradley’s 700-page text, published in its third edition by the academic press division of Elsevier this year, discusses such topics as natural climate variation, dating methods, ice cores, marine sediments, lake sediments, non-marine geologic evidence, pollen, corals, tree rings, and historical documents. In the introduction, he explains that paleoclimatology is the study of climate in the period before the tiny fraction of the Earth’s history that can be told using instrument measurements. He points out that a longer view can be obtained by studying climate-dependent natural phenomena that provide a proxy record of climate in the past. Such records can be combined and built up to help scientists theorize and test hypotheses about causes and mechanisms of climate variation that may still be at work today. Bradley, professor of Geosciences at UMass Amherst, said, “I was quite surprised to learn about this award, but I’m really pleased. I learned a lot writing the book, so it’s gratifying to know that others appreciate the result.” The TAA is the only nonprofit membership association dedicated solely to assisting textbook and academic authors. Its mission is to support textbook and academic authors in creating top-quality educational and scholarly works that stimulate love of learning and foster the pursuit of knowledge.

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