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The Heat Is On

Springfield Operations Manager Meagan Greene

The culinary world is a notoriously challenging place to forge a career, and turnover at the entry level is often high, a problem that constantly challenges restaurants, hotels, colleges, and a host of other food-service companies. Enter Snapchef, which has built a regional reputation for training those workers and matching them with workforce needs to help them get a foot in the door — and then, hopefully, kick it in.

It’s called ‘backfilling.’

That’s a concept businesses in many area industries — from financial services to marketing, from security to hospitality — have been thinking about as MGM Springfield has ramped up its efforts to hire some 3,000 people for its August opening.

Backfilling, simply put, it’s the replacement of an employee who moves on to a different opportunity, and MGM has undoubtedly caused a wave of that phenomenon locally. Because of the casino’s food-service operations, area restaurants, hotels, and other facilities that prepare and serve food have been doing quite a bit of backfilling as well.

If they can find adequate replacements, that is. That’s where Snapchef, a regional food-service training company that opened up shop in Springfield last year, can play a key role.

CEO Todd Snopkowski, who founded Snapchef 16 years ago, said the business model has proven successful in its other four locations — Boston, Dorchester, Worcester, and Providence, R.I. — and has found fertile ground in the City of Homes, where the need for restaurant workers has been on the rise.

“We train folks that are looking to make a career change,” he told BusinessWest. “And, being a staffing company, we don’t only train, we also match folks looking for work in the industry with jobs that are available. If they don’t have the skills to do a job, we actually train them, whether it be dishwashing, cooking, cheffing, you name it. We cover those bases and give them a foothold in the industry.”

As the largest culinary training and staffing company in New England, Snapchef essentially trains and provides staffing help to area food-service establishments. Clients range from large colleges and universities and hospitals to food-service corporations; from hotels and corporate cafeterias to hotels and restaurants.

We train folks that are looking to make a career change,” he told BusinessWest. “And, being a staffing company, we don’t only train, we also match folks looking for work in the industry with jobs that are available. If they don’t have the skills to do a job, we actually train them, whether it be dishwashing, cooking, cheffing, you name it. We cover those bases and give them a foothold in the industry.”

“If they come to me with little or no skills or just want to brush up, we guide individuals in that track,” said Meagan Greene, operations manager in Springfield, noting that Snapchef’s 13-week courses include fast-track culinary training, ServSafe food handling, and workplace safety, among other offerings.

“When the finish the apprentice program, we try to find them full-time jobs, where they can utilize their skills in the workforce,” she went on, noting that all of that is free. The training programs are grant-funded, while Snapchef’s partner employers pay for the hours the employee works, while SnapChef pays the employee directly, with pay depending on the position.

This isn’t culinary school, Greene stressed, but a place to learn enough to get into the culinary world, and advance career-wise from there — an idea Greene called “earning and learning.”

“We go over soups, stocks, sauces, emulsions, salad bar, deli prep. Sometimes, people will go out into the field, come back, and say, ‘hey, Meagan, I did this today at work; is there a better way to do it?’ We also do a little bit of baking, which isn’t our specialty, but you’ll learn how to make pies, quick breads, muffins, and danishes.”

The need for culinary workers, especially at the entry level, is constant, Greene noted, sometimes year-round and sometimes seasonally — for example, colleges need help between September and May, while Six Flags requires a wave of help between April and October.

“For some of the colleges, this will be their second school year with us, so they may buy out some of our employees because they liked them last year,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s kind of bittersweet for us, because the people who get bought out or move forward or find their own job — those are your keepers. Those are the ones who show up for work every day, people who are clean and on time and ready to rock. I’m like, ‘noooo!’ But it’s nice to see somebody move forward.”

Moving forward, after all, is what it’s all about once that foot is in the door.

Slow Burn

Snopkowski has grown Snapchef from its original home Dorchester into a regional force that has trained thousands of workers for potentially rewarding careers in what is, admittedly, a tough field to master, and one where good help is valuable.

Clients have ranged from individual restaurants and caterers to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Gillette Stadium, as well as large food-service corporations like Aramark, Sodexo, and the Compass Group.

Snapchef CEO Todd Snopkowski

Snapchef CEO Todd Snopkowski

“With my background, being a corporate chef, I saw the need for an organization like Snapchef 25 years ago. And I think there’s a huge opportunity down the road for even more expansion,” said, noting that MGM Springfield itself poses significant opportunity. “We’re supporting them, and for businesses suffering the loss of people taking these awesome jobs MGM has to offer, we’re there to make sure we backfill the vacancies.”

Snapchef’s growth has led to a number of accolades for Snopkowski, including the 2015 SBA Small Business Person of the Year award for Massachusetts, and the 2016 Citizens Bank Good Citizens Award. And it has inspired people like Greene, who see the value in training the next generation of food-service workers.

She works with the state Department of Labor and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County to create apprenticeship models, teaching participants everything from basic knife skills to how to conduct themselves in a kitchen. She also helps them append their résumés based on what they’ve learned.

After studying culinary arts at a vocational high school and earning three degrees from Johnson & Wales University, she became a sous chef at Sturbridge Host Hotel, not far from her home in Warren. She loved the job — and the commute — but traded it in for an opportunity to work for Snapchef.

“To be honest, I’m never bored. I’m always doing something different,” she said, and that’s true of many of her trainees, who typically begin with temporary placements, which often become permanent. But not all are seeking a permanent gig, she added; some love the variety of ever-changing assignments.

“Some people love it because it’s a lifestyle for them,” she said. “They want to work over here, then they come back to me and say, ‘hey, Meagan, I wasn’t really liking that spot; I don’t want to go back there. I didn’t like the size of the kitchen. It was too big for me; I’m used to working in a smaller kitchen.’” I’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll try not to send you back there.’ And it’s a two-way street; clients can say, ‘I don’t want Joe Smith back.’”

Because the training is free, Snapchef offers an attractive opportunity for people who want to get a food in the door in food service.

Finishing Touches

As a company that fills a needed gap — as culinary schools aren’t typically training for entry-level positions — Snopkowski said Snapchef has made significant inroads in Western Mass. over the past year, especially working with FutureWorks Career Center to identify individuals looking to shift into the world of food service.

“Our employees don’t have to pay for transition training and all those attributes that are needed to get a foothold in the business,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s good to see that MGM recognizes it, the colleges as well.”

Speaking of financial perks, Snapchef-trained employees may access round-trip transportation from the Springfield office to their job sites across the region, for only $3 per day, Greene said. “It’s cheaper than Uber, cheaper than Lyft, and better than having your mom come pick you up and drop you off. If you live in the city and are used to taking the bus everywhere, you don’t have to worry about how to get to work.”

As for Greene, she continues to enjoy the variety of her work — a pickling enthusiast, she taught a recent class how to pickle vegetables, and they prepared 300 jars worth — as well as the success stories that arise from it, like a man trained by Snapchef who went on to further his education at Holyoke Community College and is now opening a restaurant with his daughter.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see people progress in a short period of time,” she said. “It’s nice to see someone grow so fast. I love that.”

Snopkowski has seen plenty such stories unfold in the 16 years his company has been training people for a new, challenging career, and then helping them build a foothold in the industry.

“We’ve only been able to scratch the surface; there are so many other opportunities out there,” he said. “The future is bright in culinary.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Golf Preview Sections

Course of Action

This rendering shows the new pool and addition to LCC’s stately clubhouse.

This rendering shows the new pool and addition to LCC’s stately clubhouse.

Longmeadow Country Club will turn 100 in a few years (the easy-to-remember 2022, to be more specific).

It is a venerable institution with considerable history, much of it focused on two of the most famous names in the history of golf: Donald Ross and Bobby Jones.

The former designed the course, and it is considered one of his best — in this region if not the country (he designed more than 400 courses worldwide). The latter is considered the greatest amateur in the history of the game. The winner of seven major championships, he played Spalding clubs, and the Chicopee-based company put his name on some of its equipment. When he visited the plant, he would often play Longmeadow Country Club and became a member there.

The club has hosted a number of tournaments over the years, including several Massachusetts Amateurs and the 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur, won by current PGA Tour pro Kevin Tway. Popular current players Rickie Fowler and Sam Saunders (Arnold Palmer’s grandson) also competed that year.

Meanwhile, the club has long been the only one in the region to have caddies, and its program has involved young people who would become captains of industry — and even captains in the military (an admiral, actually) — who would proudly recall their time at LCC.

There’s so much tradition and lore here that you often see adjectives placed before the club, like historic, fabled, and storied. And while those still apply, all that doesn’t make LLC immune from the powerful forces impacting the game — and business — of golf and private clubs everywhere, said current President Patrick O’Shea, a lawyer by trade and avid golfer.

“We no longer have a situation where the younger generation aspires, as a sign of success, to join a country club,” he said, summing up a complex matter rather simply. “The family money is going to a lot of places other than a country club.”

The need to respond to this sea change was the catalyst for a nearly $5 million renovation at the club. There is some work taking place on the course itself, O’Shea noted, adding that several hundred trees have been taken down, mostly in an effort to bring sunlight into areas of the course that sorely need it. But the most sweeping changes will be in and around the stately clubhouse.

Indeed, the facility is being made more casual and more family-friendly, he said, citing everything from a completely new look and feel inside the clubhouse to a new pool and patio area outside.

The plans call for demolishing the old tap room and nearby patio area and replacing that with a new 19th-hole/bar area with seating for about 50 people, with an adjacent casual dining space for nearly 100 people, with an open, family-friendly design.

Those we spoke with would wear out those words ‘open’ and ‘casual,’ in large part because these are things the old clubhouse wasn’t, but needs to be moving forward, because this is the environment members want.

“The focus is on the casual, fun social-gathering spaces,” said Rod Clement, LCC’s general manager, adding that the club is moving away away from the ‘white linen’ look and feel — although there will still be some of that if it’s appropriate. “People want spaces where they can see each and other and interact; they don’t have to be segregated in different venues of the club. People want to be part of a community and see people coming in and out.”

The Donald Ross-designed course at LCC

The Donald Ross-designed course at LCC is among the region’s finest. This view is from the back of the par-3 16th hole.

The extensive renovations bring with them a discernable level of risk for the club — it has lost some members as a result of the assessment levied to help pay for it, and replacing them is challenging in this environment, even for LCC.

But all those we spoke with said it was something the club needed to do as it strives to thrive not only in its second century, but in a new environment for private country clubs.

For this issue and its focus on sports and leisure, BusinessWest toured the new clubhouse and talked with several of those involved with this ambitious project to gain some insight into the latest chapter in the club’s long history.

Reshaping History

That tour took place on St. Patrick’s Day, when the club scheduled an open house at which members could see the work in progress.

More than 100 people would come through the new front door at the course that day, said Jim Kennedy, the club’s vice president, adding that this number reflects the size and scope of this project, as well as the level of investment on the part of the membership.

renovated clubhouse at LCC

This rendering shows the renovated clubhouse at LCC. The two words used most to describe it are ‘open’ and ‘casual,’ qualities it did not possess before the makeover.

Longmeadow is one of only two member-owned clubs left in this region (Ludlow is the other), and every aspect of this project had to be approved by committee — actually, two of them. First, the long-range planning committee, which took ownership of the project, and then the membership as a whole.

“I think it went quite smoothly,” said O’Shea, tongue firmly planted in cheek as he talked about what became several years of planning, revising plans, and revising them some more.

He said talks concerning a serious makeover at the club actually began about five or six years ago, and escalated over time. The talks commenced because the scene was changing at private clubs regionally and across the country.

“We had different national consultants come in and talk with the members and let them know that there are changes on the horizon in the country-club scene,” he told BusinessWest. “They said that it’s more family-centric, with women making more of the decisions about joining clubs, where before it was men.

“We have a spectacular golf course here — everyone knows that, we know that, we love it, we appreciate it, we’re stewards of it,” he went on. “But we realized that we need more than that; we recognized that we need to enhance the family and social gathering places. Some of the spaces we had were more set up for the 1950s dining and dancing culture than the culture of today.”

By late 2015, a plan emerged — and was actually approved by the members — for a $7.4 million renovation focused entirely on the clubhouse, with nothing slated for the course or pool and related facilities.

After much consideration, and despite approval from the membership, the panel created for this initiative decided to “tap the brakes,” as O’Shea put it, and consider something on a smaller yet broader scale. What eventually emerged is what members toured on St. Patrick’s Day.

As they drove in, they could probably see some of the changes on the course itself, undertaken in accordance with a 54-page golf-course master plan prepared by golf architect Ron Prichard, a well-known Donald Ross restoration specialist (changes to Ross-designed courses are not undertaken lightly).

While there will be repair work to the cart paths and installation of improved drainage on holes 9,12, and 17, the biggest change involves the removal of trees.

This is a movement taking place across the golf landscape, literally and figuratively, said Tim Quirk, head pro at LCC, noting that, while trees can define a golf hole, some trees don’t contribute to a course’s design or degree of difficulty but do keep areas in almost constant shade, thus impacting turf condition.

It is trees of this latter variety (more than 300 of them by the latest count) that the club has taken down since late last fall. A good number of trees have come down on the right side of the 10th fairway, but the biggest change is the removal of a large stand of trees between the 3rd and 6th holes.

Indeed, as they walked BusinessWest out for a look, Kennedy and Quirk stopped at the tee of the par-3 7th and gestured out to something that could never be seen from that spot before — the 3rd green.

But as dramatic as the on-course changes are, those inside and around the clubhouse are even more so. Overall, though, they were blueprinted in a way that would change the look and feel of the interior of the clubhouse, but yield what O’Shea called “minimal exterior transformation to make sure it looks like it’s been here for 100 years.”

Bill Laplante and his father, Ray, principals with East Longmeadow-based Laplante Construction, were assigned the task of designing and undertaking the renovations. But as long-time members, they were already heavily invested in it — in every way.

As he walked BusinessWest through the new clubhouse-in-progress, Bill Laplante also used the words ‘open,’ ‘casual,’ and ‘family-friendly,’ but he added some others that hadn’t been used to reference to the LCC facilities historically — like ‘modern,’ ‘flexible,’ and ‘energy-efficient.’

“We tried to marry the new with the old to make sure that it’s consistent with regard to the original design of the building,” he explained. “But at the same time, we’re trying to modernize the space.”

By modernize, he meant amenities like an elevator for handicap accessibility between the main level, pool-deck level, and the pool locker-room level below it. But he was also referring to foam insulation, new windows, and new roofing in some sections for increased efficiency.

And also to how everything has been designed — with the goal of creating an environment that is open, bright (there’s much more natural light), and easy to navigate.

The Next Chapter

Overall, this is an extensive makeover that includes everything from that new front door to a new private dining room; from a new and expanded kitchen with energy-efficient equipment to a new audio-visual system. As LaPlante said, it’s a marriage of the old and the new, which is important here.

Indeed, from the road, the clubhouse still says ‘1922,’ which is what the members want and demand.

But inside, it says ‘2018,’ and in all the important ways, that is also what is wanted and needed.

Thus, a course and a club steeped in tradition and lore is writing an important new chapter in its history.


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

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Features

Something’s Cooking

Chef Warren Leigh in one of the teaching kitchens at the new Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute.

Chef Warren Leigh in one of the teaching kitchens at the new Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute.

The Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute opened its doors to considerable fanfare last month. Officials at the school wore out the phrase ‘state-of-the-art’ as they talked about its five kitchens and other facilities. But that’s only part of the story. The institute is also a key ingredient, as they say in culinary arts, in workforce-development initiatives, as well as efforts to revitalize
downtown Holyoke.

Chef Warren Leigh knew something was up when students arrived for the first class of the semester more than an hour early.

More to the point, he knew exactly what was up, and he didn’t blame those early birds one bit.

Indeed, it seems that people can’t wait to get a look at the $7.5 million Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute, now occupying the first two floors of the building in downtown Holyoke with a name that matches its shape: the Cubit. And that includes the students in Leigh’s classes, specifically the ones a semester or two into their studies within the culinary and hospitality programs who kept hearing about what was being built to replace the aging, insufficient facilities on the HCC campus. And hearing about them. And hearing about them.

So it’s no wonder they altered their schedules and gave themselves what amounted to — wait for it — a cook’s tour. Well, not really. Instead, it was an involved, quite lengthy tour, again for good reasons, as we’ll see when Leigh takes BusinessWest around in a little bit.

Several years in the making, the new, 20,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility boasts five kitchens, a separate bakery, an 80-seat dining facility that will host a variety of events, ultra-modern classrooms, a well-appointed student lounge, an area to change clothes, and much more.

“Aside from Johnson & Wales and the Culinary Institute of America, this is the most current, purpose-built culinary-arts facility in New England, maybe in the Northeast,” said Leigh, chair of the Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts programs at HCC. “It’s truly a regional resource.”

Beyond all that, and those points are noteworthy to be sure, the new center is a significant development, in every sense of that phrase, in many other respects.

First, it represents a huge step forward in the broad realm of workforce development within the culinary-arts field, both locally and regionally, a segment of the economy that was already growing and will now get a huge boost with the arrival in about eight months of MGM Springfield and a host of new restaurants.

The need to hire what will likely be several hundred food-service-related personnel is a big reason why MGM contributed $500,000 to this project and now has its name on the facility.

‘State-of-the-art’ is a phrase that defines all aspects of the new facility in the Cubit Building in downtown Holyoke.

‘State-of-the-art’ is a phrase that defines all aspects of the new facility in the Cubit Building in downtown Holyoke.

But, overall, the food-service and hospitality sectors in Western Mass. are growing, and, as is the case in many fields, finding sufficient numbers of qualified help is becoming an ever-greater challenge.

The Culinary Arts Institute will help close the gap, said Michele Cabral, HCC’s interim dean for Business and Technology, who told BusinessWest that, like other initiatives undertaken at HCC in recent years, the institute is a direct response to recognized needs within the business community and a desire to meet them.

Meanwhile, the institute is both the cornerstone of efforts to renovate the Cubit Building into a mixed-use facility, with apartments on the upper floors, and one of the key ingredients (that’s an industry phrase) in efforts to bring people, businesses, and vibrancy to a surging downtown Holyoke.

For this issue, BusinessWest takes a tour of, and an in-depth look at, the Culinary Arts Institute to fully explain its significance to the college, the students who will learn there, and the region as a whole.

Food for Thought

Leigh wears a number of hats in his role as chair of hospitality management and culinary arts, including the traditional chef’s hat.

He’s added another one, but only figuratively.

Indeed, he doesn’t wear any headgear when he’s giving tours, which has become a big part of his job description these days. He’s led walkthroughs taken by constituencies ranging from elected officials to prospective students to media members, and there are many more already on the calendar.

He doesn’t mind this intrusion on his schedule, though, because, like all those at HCC, he’s quite proud of all the hard work that went into designing and building this facility — and obviously with the final product itself.

Before getting one of those tours, BusinessWest first wanted to talk about what brought everyone to this moment.

There has a been a culinary-arts program, in one form or another, at HCC for roughly 30 years, said Leigh, whose tenure covers roughly a third that period. The program, which years ago was more hospitality-related than culinary-focused, has had several homes over the years, none of them large or particularly well-equipped. The most recent was in the Frost Building in what he believes was the old music room.

The need for a larger, better facility was apparent, he went on, but so were the challenges to securing one, including a location and, especially, the funding. Finally, a plan was conceptualized that would make the college — and MGM — partners in the bold plans to revitalize the Cubit Building, which had been underutilized for many years.

This is a true public-private partnership, one that involves the college (and thus the state), the city of Holyoke, the federal government (specifically the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration), MGM, and brothers Denis and Marco Luzuriaga, who purchased the Cubit Building and have invested heavily in its redevelopment.

As the partners in the ambitious initiative came together and plans started to materialize, those involved came to understand what this opportunity meant, and how they needed to take full advantage of it.

“A cross-functional team was put together, and it was told that, if we have the space, we have one chance to get this right — let’s talk about how to build what we actually want,” said Cabral. “Faculty, hospitality, and culinary were part of the team from day one in designing the space and selecting the equipment.”

They certainly did get it right, and the resulting facility enables HCC to greatly expand capacity and thus better serve the region and its culinary- and hospitality-related businesses.

Warren Leigh and Michele Cabral

Warren Leigh and Michele Cabral have devoted considerable time recently to the leading tours of the new Culinary Arts Institute, and there are many more scheduled.

Cabral qualified and quantified what it all means.

“This gives us the capacity to teach multiple sections of our credit programs,” she explained, “while at the same time responding to the needs of the community and teaching workforce development, professional development, and adult basic education related to culinary hospitality. In our old space, we only had one and a half kitchens, so we could only do one thing at a time.”

Leigh agreed, and noted that the institute is a “purpose-built facility” and one of the few in the region, if not the country, when it comes to culinary arts and hospitality centers of study.

“As we grow, we can use every one of these kitchens and classrooms running simultaneously, all day long,” he explained, adding that there is considerable room for expansion as well as expectations that it will be used as demand for workers in these fields escalates.

Five-course Facility

BusinessWest visited the institute on the first day of classes for the spring semester, and, as noted at the top, many of the students were a tad eager — and more than a tad early.

Leigh said he’s been teaching a long time and has never witnessed anything quite like, but, as he said, it’s understandable.

There’s lots to see, and he started the tour where he usually does, with the fully equipped demonstration kitchen, which, as that name suggests, is for demonstrations and teaching exercises.

“In here, we can do any method of cooking,” he said. “And we have three cameras that will put it onto monitors so the students can see close up. We can save it and we can broadcast it over the World Wide Web to anywhere we want.”

From there, he went to the dining room, which can be set up for gatherings of up to 90-100 people, said Leigh, adding that this facility also has cameras and monitors, and students will handle every aspect of events to be staged there, and several have been booked already.

The tour continued in the “production kitchen,” set up European style, as he described it, with the student chefs facing each other (rather than a wall as is the case in most area restaurants) and communicating with each other as they work together to prepare a meal. And then on to two teaching kitchens, a bake shop, classrooms, and that student lounge. Each area is large, open, bathed in natural light thanks to huge windows, and built to enhance the learning process.

The ‘production kitchen’ in the new culinary arts institute is spacious and state-of-the-art.

The ‘production kitchen’ in the new culinary arts institute is spacious and state-of-the-art.

“What I like about our design is that I can stand almost any place in here as a professor and I can see the whole kitchen, I can see all the students, I can talk to all the students,” Leigh explained, adding that it will even be equipped with a microphone because it can get quite noisy in those spaces and even his “kitchen voice” might not suffice.

As noted earlier, these facilities enable a number of classes to be taught at one time, said Leigh, including all segments of HCC’s new associate’s degree program in Culinary Arts, a four-semester program that is now a cornerstone of a program that Cabral described with the term “stackable.”

Elaborating, she said that students could choose a one-year certificate program in Culinary Arts. If they wanted to go further, they could enter the associate’s degree program and essentially build on what they started.

“They can come in and go as far as they want to go; and we’ve made it easy and mapable for them to do that,” she went on, adding that, an individual can start with professional-development classes in mind and segue into the culinary certificate program and then, perhaps, the degree program.

And with that associate’s degree, a student could transfer to Johnson & Wales or another school that offers a four-year program, such as UMass Amerst’s offering in Food Science, said Leigh, adding quickly sending the first two years at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school has become an increasingly popular option for cost-conscious families and individuals.

Meanwhile, that two-year program will certainly open a lot of doors to those who choose that route, he went on, adding that with MGM’s arrival and a host of other additions within the hospitality sector, there are a lot more doors to go through if one is qualified.

Tastefully Done

Helping individuals become qualified was the primary driver behind the new culinary arts institute. Actually, there were several, including a desire among those at the college to play an even more direct role in economic development efforts in Holyoke.

Both of those assignments will play out over coming years as Leigh puts to use his kitchen voice — as well as that microphone — in that demonstration area.

“This is a unique, purpose-built facility that really doesn’t exist anywhere else,” he told BusinessWest, adding that students needed to arrive an hour before the first class started to take it all in.

he was going to say more … but he had to go give yet another tour.

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

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Clair Yiting Gu was nearly 2,000 miles from Springfield Technical Community College, but she felt at home at the annual conference of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Gu was one of eight STCC students who traveled to Austin, Texas, for the SWE conference to join 14,000 attendees, including college students, academic women, and professional women.

“It’s awesome,” said Gu, a computer science student who spoke from the STCC campus after returning from the conference. “You see a lot of women engineers there. You feel like you are not alone. It’s very exciting.”

Another computer science student who attended, Darya Bandarchuk, loved the opportunity to meet women who are interested in engineering. “It was great. It was my second time going to a SWE conference. There are not a lot of events like the SWE conference. You get completely immersed in engineering. You get to go to a career fair, which is a great opportunity,” she said.

The conference, which was held in October, is billed as the world’s largest conference and career fair for women in engineering and technology. STCC prepares students for careers in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“As a technical community college, but also as a ‘STEMinist’ institution, I am thrilled our students had the opportunity to attend this important conference,” said STCC President John Cook.

Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh, professor of Physics and Engineering at STCC and the SWE faculty advisor, helped raise money to bring a contingent of students and three faculty and staff to the conference. She said STCC was better-represented than any other community college in the country.

The conference provided an opportunity to attend workshops and meet with major employers from technology companies such as Google, Amazon, and Texas Instruments, among others. STCC students who want to transfer after receiving their two-year associate degree were able to meet with representatives from four-year engineering programs.

STCC students participated in presentations at the conference. McGinnis-Cavanaugh’s presentation focused on a proposal to form a SWE network among the 15 Massachusetts community colleges. STCC staff member Isabel Huff presented on gender stereotypes that can hold women back from pursuing careers in STEM.

“They’re exposed to students from all over the country, mainly from four-year schools,” said McGinnis-Cavanaugh. “They’re also exposed to a lot of professional women and professionals who are there recruiting. They have a huge career fair. They do on-site interviews and résumé reviews. For our students, it’s great exposure. They don’t generally have these kinds of opportunities.”

While the employers were mainly looking to hire students graduating with four-year degrees, STCC students received a tremendous opportunity to practice interview skills, obtain feedback on their résumés, and chat with professionals in the field, she added. As engineering is still a field dominated by men, most companies are seeking a more diverse workforce and are eager to hire qualified women.

SWE, a national professional society for women in engineering and related STEM fields, supports collegiate sections nationally and internationally. STCC is one of only 14 community colleges in the country affiliated with SWE. The chapter, formed in 2014, comprises about 20 women majoring in engineering and science transfer and engineering technologies.

“It was an unbelievable event, and it was great that the college supported their trip,” McGinnis-Cavanaugh said. “We had at least one student who had never been on a plane before. To have an opportunity to visit a city like Austin, which is a real tech hub, and then be with 14,000 women who are in STEM, is pretty incredible.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) will host sections of the internationally celebrated AIDS Memorial Quilt, the 54½-ton, handmade tapestry that stands as a memorial to more than 96,000 individuals lost to AIDS. In conjunction with its 30th anniversary, the quilt will be on view at the Griswold Theatre Lobby and West Wing Gallery in the Karen Sprague Cultural Arts Center on the AIC campus from Thursday, Nov. 30 through Sunday, Dec. 3.

Officially beginning in 1987, the quilt is a memorial to and celebration of the lives of people lost to AIDS. In the 1980s, many who died of AIDS-related causes did not receive funerals due to the social stigma attached to the disease and the refusal of many funeral homes and cemeteries to handle the remains of the deceased. Without the ability to hold memorial services or have access to burial sites, the quilt was often the only opportunity family members, friends, and survivors had to remember and celebrate the lives of those they lost.

Today, the quilt is maintained and displayed by the NAMES Project Foundation. Individual quilt panels are typically very personalized and are created by the loved ones of an individual who died of AIDS-related causes. By design, each panel is 3 feet by 6 feet, the size of a human grave. Panels are donated to the NAMES Project Foundation where they are grouped with other similar panels and assembled into 12-by-12-foot sections called blocks, which are on view at local displays of the quilt. There will be 20 blocks on display at AIC. The response to the announcement that the college will host the quilt has been positive, with requests from the Boston area, Cape Cod, and Connecticut to have specific panels included.

One goal of the quilt is to bring awareness to the enormity of the AIDS pandemic and to provide support to those affected by it. Another objective is to raise funds for community-based AIDS service organizations and to increase funding for AIDS prevention and education.

The AIDS Quilt display will be open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 1 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 2 from noon to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 3 from noon to 5 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in Lot I across from the Karen Sprague Cultural Arts Center on the corner of State and Maynard streets. Visit aic.edu/quilt for more information.

Landscape Design Sections

Weighty Business

Joseph AlexopoulosTrees serve both practical and aesthetic functions, and people can become quite attached to them. But work to maintain, trim, and even remove trees should be left to the professionals, who say their profession is often dangerous, but in all ways rewarding.

Joseph Alexopoulos has given many customers quotes for taking down a tree. But he will never forget the day he arrived at a house, saw a rope hanging from the tree the homeowner wanted removed, and asked about it.

“I was told the man they hired before me died trying to fell it,” said the president of Tree 413 in Longmeadow, adding that the tragedy is an example of how dangerous the work can be.

Local experts agree it’s critically important to hire professionals with the knowledge, training, proper equipment, and insurance to prevent homeowners from being sued if an accident occurs on their property.

The Tree Care Industry Assoc. says successfully felling a tree requires knowledge of tree physics, biology, dangerous tools, and advanced cutting techniques, and homeowners who attempt their own tree removal may be injured by falling limbs, malfunctioning equipment, or the tree itself.

The work is hazardous by nature, and professionals are completely outfitted in protective gear and trained to climb trees, operate cranes, and use chainsaws, ropes, wood chippers, and stump grinders safely.

Manager Randy Sample of Arbortech Tree Service LLC in Springfield says the company holds weekly meetings led by employees to discuss situations they encounter and the safest way to deal with them.

“Unforeseen scenarios can occur, but we go to great lengths to eliminate the possibility of accidents,” he said, adding that employees use a wide range of equipment, adhere to OSHA standards, and are certified annually in electrical hazard and prevention, which ensures they are familiar with equipment utility companies use to provide electricity and the dangers associated with tree care and utility lines.

Tree pruning and felling is a major source of income for most local tree-service companies, but many have branched out, and the scope of their work includes a wide variety of jobs.

Arbortech created a Plant Healthcare Division five years ago to keep trees healthy, because problems almost always begin in the root system.

Randy Sample

Randy Sample says Arbortech employees meet weekly to discuss potentially dangerous situations and how to handle them.

“By the time they are noticeable, it may be too late to save the tree,” Sample said, adding that he has heard countless stories from families about their emotional attachment to a particular tree, and, therefore, the company strives to prevent damage that can threaten the health of these woody plants.

Tree 413, meanwhile, specializes in difficult tree removal that typically requires cranes, special equipment, and skilled climbers. “Many trees literally need to be lifted over the house with a crane as a whole or in pieces; it’s not a job where you can cut corners,” said Alexopoulos, adding that the company’s business has doubled every year for the last three years and workers do everything possible to ensure that limbs don’t fall on a roof, power line, vehicle, or anywhere else that could cause damage.

The company also does excavation and demolition, plans to start selling colored mulch, and recently opened a store in Southwick that carries equipment for professionals and homeowners that can be rented or purchased. It ranges from heavy-duty machinery to chainsaws and leaf blowers and includes clothing appropriate for tree work, because professionals are outfitted from head to toe to ensure safety.

Northern Tree Service Inc. in Palmer does a wide range of residential, industrial, and commercial work in three divisions that include tree service, land clearing, and construction. Its work ranges from felling trees to identifying potential hazards such as overhanging branches, dead limbs, or diseased trees for municipalities, golf courses, and other venues, as well as providing access for utilities.

For this issue and its focus on landscape design, BusinessWest looks at the scope of work that tree service companies do and the reasons they are called upon for help.

Diverse Services

Local tree-service companies say homeowners should never hire anyone without asking for proof they have liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

Nick Powers

Nick Powers says Northern identifies problems like weak limbs for its clients before they cause damage or injury.

“Many small contractors let their insurance lapse, so even if the person hands you a copy of a policy, you should call the phone number on it to ensure they are paid up to date,” Alexopoulos told BusinessWest.

Sample concurred. “People need to do their homework; the level of danger is very real, and there are many companies that are not qualified to do this type of work,” he said, adding that homeowners should also ask for referrals, make sure the company adheres to industry standards, and check if its arborists are certified through websites such as www.treesaregood.com, which offer educational materials and links to helpful information.

In addition to tree trimming and removal, Tree 413 performs excavation and demolition ranging from removing a sidewalk to an entire garage and foundation, or a Gunite pool made entirely of concrete. When the demolition is complete, workers fill in the cavity, spread topsoil over it, then seed it.

The company recently took down three trees for a homeowner in a project that was similar to a major demolition project, because they weighed a total of 60,000 pounds.

“The job was very involved and required skilled tree climbers, a crane, and a police officer in the road near our groundsmen who were cutting and chipping sections and putting logs in a truck to be taken away,” Alexopoulos said.

He added that dead trees are very difficult to take down, and the job often has to be done in sections. “If a cut branch slams into a dead tree, it can shatter,” he explained, noting that a small limb can weigh 600 pounds.

Arbortech also does a large amount of residential work, but its slogan is “more than just tree removal.” The company employs certified arborists who evaluate trees, shrubs, and woody plants and diagnose and treat disease, insect problems, and the type and amount of fertilizer needed for optimal growth.


SEE: List of Landscape Design Companies


“We try to care for trees from the roots up; we focus on tree preservation rather than removal,” Sample said, adding that indications that a tree is in trouble include problems such as leaves that fall too early.

He told BusinessWest that most problems stem from improper planting. Trees can be too close to a driveway, home, or power line, and choosing the right location for a specific species and its future growth is critical.

“The root system is the foundation of a tree and is typically as large as its crown or the drip line from the farthest branch,” Sample said.

The company’s arborists uncover roots, which are usually buried a foot or two beneath the ground, take soil samples, and inspect the root collar to make sure roots aren’t choking each other, which can affect the nutrients the tree is able to absorb.

Arbortech also plants trees and maintains orchards for customers that include apple, pear, and peach trees, as well as raspberry and blueberry bushes.

In addition, it sells mulch, loam, topsoil, and both green and 100% seasoned firewood.

“It can be a frustrating endeavor to buy firewood that is dirty, not properly seasoned, and doesn’t give the heat people are looking for,” Sample said, noting that the company purchases wood from logging contractors that has been specially cut to fit their machines, tests it with a moisture meter, rotates it so it will dry properly, then puts it through another screening process after it is purchased to ensure the delivered product doesn’t include any loose bark or chunks of wood.

Northern Tree Services performs jobs in many settings. It builds roads and work pads for utility companies, and has cleared sections of land that range from a half-acre to 550 acres to make way for power lines, solar fields, gas and oil pipelines — including the Keystone Pipeline — and large commercial contractors.

The company has 220 employees across the U.S., but the majority of its work is done in New England, and it also has contracts with colleges, golf courses, apartment and condominium complexes, 40 airports, the cities of Springfield and Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the state Department of Transportation, and Eversource. It has also developed a Google Earth program to identify trees that need to be pruned, thinned, or felled.

“It’s our job to identify hazards before they happen,” said company spokesman Nick Powers, noting that Northern also has a contract with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which is responsible for monitoring and maintaining vegetation on its roads, including the well-traveled Storrow Drive in Boston.

The company also does residential and commercial plantings and tree removal and pruning, which is especially important for utility companies because falling limbs can cause power outages.

Kevin Ferguson, project manager and estimator, told BusinessWest that arborists identify weak limbs that need to be supported or removed so they don’t fall during a windstorm or from the weight of snow.

“It doesn’t take much wind to knock deadwood out of a tree,” he said, explaining that, when they are called to a home, they examine the entire property and point out potential dangers. Some trees can be thinned to eliminate shade and the growth of moss on a roof, while helping prevent gutters from getting clogged with leaves, while others need low-hanging or dead limbs removed.

Safety First

Local tree companies do everything in their power to prevent accidents, but tree work is a risky business and can lead to damage or injury when unqualified people are hired to do a job.

It all comes down to respecting the power of nature and checking a company’s credentials, but anyone who hires licensed professionals to plant, prune, or fell trees can rest assured that every possible safety precaution will be taken, and their trees will add beauty and life to their property and be enjoyed by generations to come.

Building Trades Sections

Floor Plans

The team at Best Tile in Springfield

The team at Best Tile in Springfield includes, from left, Sarah Rietberg, showroom manager; Chad Hart and Beverly Gomes, design consulants; and Karen Belezarian-Tesini, store manager.

Harry Marcus started installing tile way back in 1955, so Karen Belezarian-Tesini considers herself lucky to have known him.

“Harry would say, ‘why are you here? Why do you like the business?’” said Belezarian-Tesini, manager of Best Tile in Springfield — one of some 30 locations that have sprung from Marcus’ original business 60 years ago. “I said, ‘I have a passion for it.’ Harry said, ‘that’s why you’re going to last. You have to have a passion for what you do.’”

Marcus Tile was born in the City of Homes, but there were no tile distributors in Springfield, meaning he had to travel to Hartford almost every day to pick up tile for his four-man team of installers. So he and his wife, Mollie, decided to start their own tile-distribution business. They sold their installation business and partnered with the Wenczel Tile Co. to open up Standard Tile Distributors in August 1956.

“It was a true rags-to-riches story,” Belezarian-Tesini said. “He was selling so much and so well, Wenczel asked him, ‘if we got you a bricks-and-mortar shop, would you open a store?’ He said yes and opened up his store.”

That’s where the story began — a story that has since expanded well past the Springfield-Hartford corridor, across the Northeast and down the Atlantic Coast. The Marcuses’ oldest son, Steve, eventually entered the family business and, after managing the Hartford branch, opened a new location in Albany, N.Y., naming it Best Tile — the word ‘Best’ representing the first two letters of his first name and that of his wife, Beverly.

By the early 1970s Best Tile was importing tile from around the world, and Steve Marcus and his business partner, Bob Rose, had expanded well into Central and Western New York. Meanwhile, Steve’s brother, Brad, expanded the company into the Boston area, and Steve Marcus and Rose later expanded into Pennsylvania with another partner, Chet Whittam. Following that, the company set up shop in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, and more recently Vermont and North Carolina.

Karen Belezarian-Tesini

Karen Belezarian-Tesini says a slowing of the building boom over the past 20 years has coincided with an uptick in remodeling, which certainly benefits Best Tile.

“They’ve done very well managing and growing the business. It’s a great company to work for,” Belezarian-Tesini said. “They’re smart investors, and they direct-import everything, buying direct from factories. They’ve kept a great relationship with these factories over the years, which gives them great buying power.”

Those factories are based in countries as far-flung as Spain, Italy, Brazil, England, Turkey, Mexico, and the U.S., she added. “We pride ourselves on quality. In all the years I’ve worked here, no one’s ever come back and complained about quality of the tile, which is huge.”

Hitting the Wall

From her position managing the bustling shop on Belmont Avenue — where customers come looking to inject new life into their kitchen and bathroom floors and walls, among other areas — Belezarian-Tesini has seen a number of changes in the tile business.

“Twenty years ago, it was a contractor-driven industry, big time. It’s now more of a remodeling industry, with maybe 50% of the business retail — years ago, there was not as much retail,” she explained. “The building boom isn’t there like it used to be; you don’t see big tracts of homes going up. There’s a lot more remodeling going on.

“It’s still the City of Homes; I do believe that,” she went on. “You can tell by the remodeling going on in our neighborhoods. People are retiring to over-55 communities, and the younger generation is moving in and remodeling the home. That’s where a lot of our business is coming from nowadays.”

She noted that the contractors working in this field are an aging lot. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I wish trade schools would introduce more tile-related careers, because it’s an industry that should continue to grow.”

It’s growing in part through social media, websites, and especially home-improvement networks like HGTV and DIY, which showcase transitions that inspire viewers to tackle tile jobs themselves or hire someone to bring their vision to life.

“That’s what’s driving people, opening their eyes to what’s current, what’s hot,” she said. And that means Best Tile needs to stay on the cutting edge of what shoppers are looking for.

“Flooring has gone from a marble look to a wooded look,” she noted as one example. And large-format floor tiles are extremely popular, like 8-by-48-inch floor sections and 12-by-24-inch wall tiles; 12-by-12 pieces have become a bit passé. Meanwhile, “mosaic is hot, hot, hot — glass mosaic, glass and stone mixed, all stone, stone and ceramic. It can be for a floor, wall, backsplash, bathroom, kitchen, you name it. It’s everywhere, and it’s beautiful.

“The industry has come a long way,” she added. “The digital imaging, the handcrafted tile, so superior to what we had years ago. It’s beautiful.”

Happy Wife, Happy Life

Since the 2000s, the third generation of Roses and Marcuses have led the company through continued growth, showroom upgrades, and product expansion, under the umbrella of the East Coast Tile Group of companies.

But that’s the big picture; Belezarian-Tesini is more invested in the individuals — and, more often than not, couples — that show up at Best Tile looking to realize their vision of a beautiful bathroom or kitchen.

“You do this with your spouse; it’s not usually something you do alone. Husbands and wives make decisions together. And when they shop, they’re generally shopping together,” she said, adding, however, that some husbands embody man-shopping clichés. “Most of the time, we offer the husbands coffee or water, or ask if they want to sit down somewhere. Some spouses are very involved, and some are just here for the ride.”

It’s a ride that began with Harry Marcus’ vision, and passion, for building a business from the ground — well, the tile floor, anyway — up.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

Building Expectations

constructiondpartThe construction sector has always been a good barometer when it comes to the economy and what may happen with it in the foreseeable future. And this historical trend is one of many reasons why cautious optimism abounds in the region. Indeed, many firms report that they have a number of projects on the books for the year ahead and beyond, and that these projects involve a number of economic sectors.

 

Gagliarducci Construction in Springfield has been in business since 1916, and the fourth-generation, family-owned company has had to switch its focus many times over the years to keep pace with change. It specializes in excavation, earth moving, site work, and mobile crushing of stone, concrete, and asphalt, and the majority of its current projects are centered in educational and healthcare settings.

And it is extremely busy, reflective of a trend involving many players within the broad construction sector — one that is generating a good deal of optimism within the industry, and probably outside as well, because the sector has historically been a good barometer regarding the economy and what will happen with it.

“We have jobs on the books that extend well into 2018,” said Jerome Gagliarducci as he and his son Jay talked about their business history and projections for the future. “Most of the jobs are in the private sector and involve hospitals and schools. Between 2000 and 2006, we did a lot of work for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, but education and healthcare are a big part of the Western Mass. economy, and this is where the money is being spent now. There are a lot of colleges in the Pioneer Valley, and we’re glad to be involved in their ongoing projects.”

Still, having jobs booked this far in advance of a new year is not something they take for granted. “There have been times when all of our projects were completed by the end of the fall or winter and we had nothing scheduled for the upcoming year,” said Jay Gagliarducci. “We have been lucky: it’s unusual to have so many new jobs lined up this early that will continue into the future.”

Eric Forish, president of Forish Construction Inc. in Westfield, said his firm has also fared well.

“We’re celebrating our 70th year in business, and the last few years have been good ones; I credit that to our staff and expect that work in the commercial construction industry will continue to move in a positive direction,” he told BusinessWest, noting that the company typically has six or seven major projects taking place simultaneously.

Holyoke-based Daniel O’Connell’s Sons Inc. also reports that 2016 has been a good year. The company also has offices in Franklin, New Haven, Conn., and Kingston, N.Y., and President Jeff Bardell is often on the road. He told BusinessWest that entirely different dynamics exist in Eastern and Western Mass.

“Things are booming in the Boston area inside of Route 128. It’s obvious to drivers because there are so many cranes up,” Bardell said. Construction is also taking place in Western Mass., but not at the same level, and work in the public sector has declined.

“Work has been pretty steady here for the past few years, but the amount of roadwork, wastewater-treatment work, and public infrastructure spending has decreased over the past 12 months,” Bardell went on, noting that work in that sector was much more prevalent four or five years ago.

However, institutional jobs have filled the gap. “Colleges are still spending money, and we have done some nice projects,” he said.

Bardell believes some people are waiting for the work on Interstate 91 and the MGM casino in Springfield to be complete before launching new projects.

“A lot of people are looking at Springfield and hoping redevelopment will occur when the casino is finished,” he said, adding that one of O’Connell’s largest jobs in Springfield is the $60 million Union Station intermodal transportation center.

Eric Forish

Eric Forish says the $4 million, LEED-certified Westfield Transit Pavilion at Elm and Arnold streets is one of many projects his firm is working on at present.

It includes a 120,000-square-foot historical renovation to the old station in the downtown Railroad Historic District. The project has been complex and includes construction of a new, 24-bay bus terminal; a 480-car parking facility; and upgrades to the landscaping and hardscapes around the area.

Before the work began, Union Station consisted of two vacant buildings: a three-story terminal and a two-story baggage building that were both constructed in 1926.

“We’ve been working vigorously to wrap up the project and are very close to being done,” Bardell said, adding that he expects that to happen in the first quarter of 2017.

For this edition and its focus on construction, BusinessWest looks at a host of projects keeping commercial builders busy, as well as what they have lined up for the future.

Going Up

Bardell said O’Connell recently completed new residence halls at Amherst College. Four new dorms were erected as part of a greenway campus project, which will include demolishing the old dorms and building a 250,000-square-foot science center and expansive greenway along the full length of the landscape that can be used for recreation and relaxation.

Jerome and Jay Gagliarducci

Jerome and Jay Gagliarducci say they have work booked into 2018 and expect to be very busy in the coming year.

Another project at UMass Amherst will be completed in January, but right now work is still underway on its historic South College building. It includes a renovation of 30,000 square feet in the structure, built in 1886, and a four-story, 67,500-square-foot addition that will provide new common areas, faculty offices, classrooms, and an auditorium.

“The new building will be LEED-certified,” Bardell said. “It will be used next semester, and furniture is being moved into it now.”

The company has other ongoing projects in the educational sector. It just finished a $110 million job at Vassar College centered around an 80,000-square-foot Bridge Building that spans two sections of campus terrain and connects to the school’s Olmsted Hall via a two-level skywalk.

In addition, a $2 million renovation and addition to Philips Exeter Academy Center’s theater in Exeter, N.H. is underway. The job started two months ago and will expand the space to 63,000 square feet.

Four months ago, O’Connell began working on the $9 million Dartmouth College Hood Museum expansion and renovation project, which involves a restoration and addition to the existing gallery space. When it is finished by the end of next year, there will be five new galleries and advanced technology classrooms.

The company also has a few smaller jobs, including a renovation project at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Another project in that state is at the Trinity-Pawling School, where O’Connell began working on a 27,000-square-foot addition to the Smith Field House about a month ago that will be complete sometime next year. “It will be used for basketball, lacrosse, and other sports,” Bardell said.

In addition to jobs in the educational sector, O’Connell has projects in other realms. Six months ago, it began a $29 million dollar upgrade to an existing wastewater-treatment plant that serves Mansfield, Foxborough, and Norton in the eastern part of the state.

Work on the MFN Regional Treatment Plant entails installing new aeration facilities, chemical facilities, and electrical upgrades as well as concrete work, and is expected to take another two years.

O’Connell is also doing a $17 million project in Providence, R.I. on the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge that connects two sides of the city and includes sections of a riverfront park.

“We’re optimistic as we look ahead at the coming year,” said Bardell. “We have some backlog, which we like, and are always looking for new work.”

Varied Portfolios

The majority of Gagliarducci’s projects take two to three years to complete.

“We’re usually the first on a site and the last to leave it. But it is a challenge to predict a year ahead of time exactly when we will be needed,” Jay said, explaining that schedules change from one month to the next, and although the end date is usually firm, weather and production by other trades affect the timetable.

Right now, all of the company’s work is institutional, and there has been plenty of it.

It just finished an addition at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield and started one at Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer that will open in 2018.

“We dig the foundations and put in sewer, water, and drainage systems, which is work that people don’t see,” Jerome explained, adding that such work takes place at the start of a project, while work at the end of a project involves paving, curbing, sidewalks, and more.

Galiarducci has also broken ground at the site of the new Pope Francis High School in Springfield, which is slated to open in the fall of 2018. This school is being built on 40 acres of open space, which is unusual in this area; most of the company’s projects involve working in or around existing structures.


List of General Contractors in Western Mass.


The company was just hired to undertake work in a massive renovation of what’s known as Building 19 at Springfield Technical Community College, and that job will carry over into 2018.

Gagliarducci worked with O’Connell on the Amherst College greenway residence project, and will complete phase 1 of another large project at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst this month, which involves relocating water, sewer, and drainage lines in the footprint and moving them to allow for new construction.

Although the work may not sound complex, renovations and additions in tight spots can be quite challenging. “UMass presented real challenges because we had to work around the student traffic,” Jay told BusinessWest.

Deerfield Academy has also hired the firm to do site work for a new hockey arena. The project began in March and will be completed in 2018.

“It involves a lot of digging inside the foundation to support the renovation,” Jerome said, explaining that the firm will put in new sewer lines, curbing, and a parking lot.

Later this winter, it will begin a drainage project at Springfield Armory Museum.

This is a federal project, as the museum is owned by the government, and will include new sewer lines and curbing, sidewalks, and pavement. The work should be finished by the end of next year. “We’re also starting phase 2 of an over-55 community in Hadley,” he noted.

The first phase consisted of building seven or eight units, most of which have been spoken for, and the second phase will commence next spring when Gagliarducci will do site work to allow additional housing units to be built.

The company is also involved with the new South End Community Center in Springfield. Jay noted that Fontaine Brothers is building the new center on Marble Street and his firm is doing the sitework, which began in September.

Westfield’s Gaslight District Improvement Project is also on Gagliarducci’s roster. “It was our job to put in the water, sewer and drainage lines, as well as the sidewalks, curbs, and two parking lots, in addition to reconstructing several streets,” Jerome said, explaining that the project began two and a half years ago and involves major reconstruction in the area.

Future Endeavors

Forish Construction has a mix of ongoing projects that include the new $4 million Westfield Transit Pavilion at Elm and Arnold streets. The glass and steel building will have five bus berths, a shelter for passengers, a coffee shop, and administrative offices, and will be surrounded by brick walkways. Parking will be available in an adjacent facility, and there will be repair stations and racks for bicycles.

“It is the first major piece of the city’s long-term downtown redevelopment plan that will be completed,” Forish said, noting that the pavilion will be LEED-certified.

Several buildings were knocked down to make way for the new pavilion, which will make it more convenient for Westfield State students to travel to and from the university via a shuttle that runs between them.

The company has also several projects underway or that have been recently completed at UMass Amherst, including a roughly $4 million renovation to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. “It is our third major project in this library, which they are redoing floor by floor,” Forish said.

Auto dealerships rank high on the company’s list of projects, and include work for Sarat Ford, Curry Nissan, and Sarat-Lincoln.

“We’re just wrapping up a renovation and addition to Lia Chrysler on King Street in Northampton,” Forish said, noting it is adjacent to Lia’s Honda store.

No one can predict the future, but work has been steady for Forish and other commercial contractors.

“We have a number of projects already under contract for 2017,” Forish said, noting that they include auto dealerships as well as private industrial buildings and the company is always active in the public sector and plans to bid on some local projects.

He told BusinessWest his optimism stems in part from the fact that Donald Trump is the new president-elect.

“It appears he is business-friendly and wants to see growth in U.S. and an increase in jobs here as opposed to abroad. We are already seeing a rise in the stock market, and people are optimistic about the direction the country is headed in, so we are hopeful that good things will come to fruition,” Forish said.

In the meantime, commercial contractors will continue to work hard to complete current projects, bid on new jobs, and rely on the stellar reputations that have kept them busy for generations as they plan for the New Year and beyond.

Opinion

Editorial

Over the years, BusinessWest has worn out the ‘question-mark’ key when writing stories and headlines for its Economic Outlook sections each December.

Any why not? No one really knows what lies ahead, especially when it comes to the economy. And over the past 15-20 years, there have been some times — such as the months after 9/11 and the very darkest days of the Great Recession in the fall of 2008 — when trying to speculate what might come next was all but impossible.

This isn’t exactly one of those times, but it’s close, and all because of history. Actually, two kinds of it.

First, that election about a month or so ago, because it ushered in a presidency seemingly defined by unpredictability and speculation — about what will happen domestically and abroad. And second, the nation’s economic track record.

Indeed, not once in the full history of this country has it gone more than 10 years without a recession. Don’t look now, but that means, sad to say, that we’re just about due for one. And if it comes soon — we’ve had almost nine years of mostly unspectacular growth — we’ll likely be entering it without the two most common methods of fighting one: lowering interest rates (because they’re already at historic lows and just can’t get any lower) and tax cuts (especially if President Trump makes good on his pledge to almost immediately lower them after getting sworn in).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Sort of.

While it might be time to talk about that recession seemingly certain to come some time in Trump’s first term, the immediate future seems worthy of something else that gets typed often when writing about the year ahead — that phrase ‘cautious optimism.’

That’s especially true of the Western Mass. region, which, while it continues to lag maddeningly well behind most of the rest of the state in terms of growth and prosperity, is, for the most part, riding on an arrow pointed upward. Here are some reasons for the optimism:

• Springfield’s continuing climb. Last issue, we wrote about cranes and their uplifting abilities, no pun intended. It’s not hyperbole. Cranes do generate optimism and, well, more cranes. But it’s not just those machines at the casino site generating positive energy. It’s everything from new vibrancy downtown to the Thunderbirds; from Union Station to subway-car manufacturing. Springfield still has considerable work to do, but it is in what we believe are the early stages of a renaissance, which means there is more progress to come, and it will likely have a strong ripple effect throughout the region.

• Progress in other communities. As we’re written before, the process of reinventing a city — moving from a manufacturing hub to the proverbial ‘something else’ — is slow and often difficult. But many cities in this region, including Holyoke, Easthampton, Pittsfield, and Westfield, are making substantial progress in that regard, becoming centers for entrepreneurship, the arts, small business, tourism, and combinations of all of the above. This progress bodes well for the region, and it should continue in the year ahead.

• Promoting entrepreneurship. One of the most encouraging developments in this region in recent years, as we’ve noted, has been the efforts to not only promote and encourage entrepreneurship, but to create a population of smarter, more resilient entrepreneurs. Springfield has become the hub of this activity, but it’s happening region-wide. And while the landscape won’t change overnight, certainly, a stronger, more diverse economy will result.

• Eds and meds. Or is it meds and eds? While the region continues to diversify its economy, these two stalwarts continue to grow and become ever-more pivotal forces in overall economic development. Healthcare continues to be an ultra-steady source of jobs, and the region’s higher-ed institutions, led by UMass Amherst, are developing new degree programs and initiatives aimed at providing area businesses with their most important asset — qualified talent. These sectors are not only strong, but getting stronger, and the region will benefit accordingly.

While there are still many question marks regarding the economy and which way it will go in the year ahead, there are seemingly fewer of them. And this is a byproduct of the optimism (OK, guarded optimism) that is growing in intensity and bound to generate more progress in the year to come.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

 

Mayor Luke Bronin and Jamie Bratt

Mayor Luke Bronin and Jamie Bratt stand in front of the 95-year-old Hartford Times building on Prospect Street that will become the center of University of Connecticut’s new downtown campus.

Jamie Bratt says that when many people think of Hartford, they envision the city as it was decades ago; a bustling metropolis where a lot of people worked and lived.

A sharp decline began in the ’80s, but over the past decade there has been a gradual upswing, and a flood of investments that began several years ago are aimed at restoring it to its former vibrancy.

“It’s a very exciting time for the city,” the director of Economic Development told BusinessWest. “One of the things that makes Hartford attractive is its size. It has an extremely robust arts and cultural scene, great restaurants, and access to the movers and shakers in state government, but it’s a small city that’s easy to get to.”

Mayor Luke Bronin, who took office in January, agrees and says economic development is focused on three main areas downtown: increasing the number of residential living units; adding new transportation options; and growing the number of medical and educational facilities.

The city is making major inroads on all three fronts, but the first is critical to growth, and there has been a concerted partnership between the City of Hartford and the state to increase the number of downtown residences.

“We’ve added 650 units over the past five years and the projects hold a lot of promise,” Bronin said, noting that many of the new apartments are in converted office buildings, the majority have been completed over the past 18 months, and the Capital Regional Development Authority (CRDA) established by Gov. Dannell Malloy to stimulate economic development and new investment in and around Hartford has served as an economic engine by providing gap financing and coordinating a significant number of public-private partnerships.

And although surveys indicated that downtown housing would be difficult to rent out, that prediction has been proven to be inaccurate. “Studies showed we would be lucky if five units a month were leased,” Bratt said. “But developers have been beating performance expectations and have been leasing 10 to 20 units a month.”

She added that the majority of renters come from outside of the city and are Millennials; the average age of people leasing new units is 40, although empty nesters also comprise a fair share of that population.

“Millennials don’t want to have a lot of property or a large house. They like to live in cities and a large number don’t have cars or a driver’s license,” Bratt contined.

Increasing the number of people who live downtown will balance the weekday versus weekend equation, because in recent years there has been a decided difference, as the population on weekends is reduced by 100,000 people.

“We’ve focused on establishing a balanced equilibrium and so far we have been very successful,” Bratt told BusinessWest. “The jobs are here and if residential living follows, retail growth will increase in response to it.”

The CRDA has also been working to expedite what Bronin referred to as a “long and stagnant development effort” on Front Street, which is finally coming into its own as a restaurant and entertainment district.

“It was a wasteland before, but now there’s a collection of retail shops and restaurants across from the Hartford Convention Center. They all involve new construction and have become a strong draw for residents,” Bronin said, explaining that the Front Street neighborhood includes the Marriott Hotel and the Connecticut Science Center, which attract large numbers of visitors as well as business travelers.

There is also a new 121-unit apartment building that was built as part of the second phase of the Front Street District development project that features 15,000 square feet of street-level retail space with five stories of studio and one and two-bedroom apartments priced at market rates.

For this edition, BusinessWest takes an inside look at major changes taking place in downtown Hartford that are expected to promote vibrancy and make the city an attractive place to live, work and play.

Laying the Groundwork

The University of Connecticut (UConn) left the city in 1970 and moved to West Hartford, but it is returning to its former home and creating a large campus downtown.

“It will really add energy and feet on the street,” Bronin said, adding that the university is part of the push to attract more educational facilities to the city because they have been shown to increase growth, diversity, and job options.

Indeed, UConn and city and state leaders have said the 220,000- square-foot downtown campus will transform the area into a thriving neighborhood with 2,300 students and 250 faculty members, especially since food service will be limited, which will make downtown eateries inviting.

The center of the UConn Greater Hartford Campus will be situated in the old Hartford Times building, which is undergoing a $115 million renovation. Its façade is being maintained, but the interior is being entirely renovated, and a three-story atrium and classroom building will be added to the back of the building. The new campus is expected to open sometime in 2017.

Other institutions of higher learning add to the mix. Bronin noted that Trinity College is a long-standing Hartford institution, the University of St. Joseph has its School of Pharmacy in a state-of-the art building downtown, and Capital Community College redeveloped the former G. Fox building 10 years ago.

“It was a huge risk for them, but they were early pioneers in downtown development,” he noted.

News is also taking place on the medical front: Hartford Hospital held a ribbon cutting earlier this month for its new $150 million Bone and Joint Institute downtown. Surgery is expected to begin next month and will help the hospital compete with leaders in bone and joint surgery in New York and Boston.

The new facility will create jobs and draw visitors and other medical professionals to Harford as is expected that the hospital will collaborate with other medical facilities. “Hartford Hospital is a growing major employer and has become a center for many medical subspecialties,” Bronin told BusinessWest. “We’ve worked closely with them on their new building and another one that is under construction on the southern edge of their downtown campus that will house a training center for robotic surgery, which is a program that brings in healthcare professionals from all over the country.”

The third critical pillar of economic development is transportation, and the planned increase in commuter rail service will make a difference, especially to people who choose to live or work downtown. Twenty trains a day are expected to start running in 2018 that will travel between Springfield and New Haven, Conn.

“They will be a major driver of economic growth and the combination of new housing, medical, and educational facilities will really support revitalization of a vibrant city center,” Bronin said, adding that the rail service will extend to New York, and the hope is that Massachusetts will complete the link between Worcester and Springfield.

Additional access to the city may come via the I-84 viaduct that runs over the city. Bronin said the roadway is reaching the end of its useful life and the Connecticut Department of Transportation is planning work that would lower sections and reconnect it to parts of the city.

Hartford also just adopted a Complete Streets policy, and earlier this month was feted as a Bicycle Friendly Community by The League: Bicycle Friendly America.

In addition, 10 streetscape projects are in various stages of development and two are finishing up downtown, that include widening the promenade that borders Bushnell Park.

Varied Ventures

Economic development is also taking place north of the downtown area. Chester Bowles Park public housing complex, which was built after World War II in the city’s Blue Hills neighborhood, is being demolished to make way for a new mixed-use development called Willow Creek. Hundreds of old buildings have been taken down and 62 mixed-income rentals and 29 town houses are being built as the first phase of the project, which will cost about $40 million.

The park is part of a larger, 130-acre complex that includes Westbrook Village, which contains 360 units of public housing on 65 acres that were also built after WWII. The plan is to demolish outdated structures and replace them with a mixed-use development that will include housing, retail, and commercial space.

Bronin said the project is especially significant because Westbrook Village fronts Albany Avenue, which is a main city corridor.

The CRDA has $20 million set aside for neighborhood development in the North End Promise Zone,” he told BusinessWest, explaining that the federal designation gives the area priority in terms of funding because it has been deemed “high need.”

Entrepreneurship in Harford is also poised to grow, thanks to two projects.

Avon residents Bryan Patton and his wife Devra Sisitsky have raised $1.3 million to build the state’s largest Maker Space at the Colt Armory Complex. They hope to attract 400 members and plan to outfit the space with CNC machines, lathes, a sand-blasting booth, a water-jet cutting machine, a metal-fabrication area, design software and monitors, 3D printers and other equipment that could be used by hobbyists and professionals for a monthly fee.

Another space for start-ups known as Innovate Hartford recently opened at 20 Church St. with the goal of bringing in 100 high-tech companies a year to a 27,500-square-foot space in Stilts Building.

Bronin said the former Colt Armory was one of the first factories in the nation and a tremendous amount of repurposing has been done there.

“The city has partnered with the state and private investors to revitalize the residential neighborhood and attract new commercial tenants,” he noted, adding that the National Park Service adopted a large portion of the complex and turned two buildings into a museum that will become part of a national park.

The Capewell Horse Shoe Nail Company building, which is a 10-minute walk from downtown, fell into disrepair about 30 years ago but has also been redeveloped.

“The Corporation for Independent Living purchased it, turned it into apartments and began leasing them a few weeks ago,”Bratt noted, explaining that the building is one of about 15 properties that have been under construction, with the majority being renovated for residential use.

“They include diverse options; some are affordable housing and others are market-rate,” she said. “Hartford is a wonderful choice for anyone interested in an urban lifestyle.”

Ongoing Progress

Officials say attracting Millennials to the city, bolstering transportation options, creating new maker space, and adding new medical and educational facilities will make a real difference in downtown Hartford’s vitality.

“Revitalization all comes down to feet on the street, and that is increasing,” Bratt said. “Progress is a patchwork quilt of individual projects slowly knit together over time and each one of these projects is a patch that will help make the city more beautiful, walkable, and connected.”

 

Hartford at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1784
Population: 125,432 (2014)
Area: 17.95 square miles
County: Hartford
Residential Tax Rate: $74.29 (at 30% of fair market value)
Commercial Tax Rate: $74.29 (at 70% of fair market value)
Median Household Income: $72,275 (2015)
Family Household Income: $91,759 (2015)
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: State of Connecticut, Hartford; United Technologies Corp.; Yale New Haven Health System
* Latest information available

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Denise Menard and Robyn Macdonald

Denise Menard and Robyn Macdonald say the gas station and convenience store under construction at 227 Shaker Road will give people in the southern portion of town access to needed services.

East Longmeadow has grown and flourished in recent years thanks to its excellent schools, pastoral landscape, and thriving Industrial Garden District, where manicured lawns and flower gardens belie the scope of commercial and manufacturing companies that do business there.

However, last year, the town’s bucolic character was upset by repeated controversy that was ignited and fueled by reports of corruption. “The town went through a year of turmoil, and some businesses were hesitant to move here due to the negative publicity,” said Robyn Macdonald, the town’s Planning, Zoning Board, and Conservation director.

She added that these issues were essentially put to rest in April when residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new charter that replaced the town meeting and three-member Board of Selectmen with a town manager and Town Council that features seven elected members.

Its first official meeting was staged July 1, and a few weeks later, former East Windsor, Conn. First Selectman Denise Menard was hired as interim town manager.

“The charter expanded the town’s leadership, and work has already been done to preserve the good things that exist here, while promoting healthy living and balanced growth,” Macdonald said.

To that end, plans are in place to establish East Longmeadow’s first human resources department. In addition, several new positions have been added that include a director of finance; a director of Planning and Community Development; and a full-time health director. Aimee Petrosky was recently hired to fill that role and is working with the newly appointed three-member Board of Health.

She told BusinessWest that the town held its first flu clinic last month, which was highly successful and will be repeated next year. In the meantime, the board plans to seek funding to vaccinate uninsured residents, and the next event will include the shingles vaccine.

Other changes include a new sharps-disposal program that offers disposal units to residents at an affordable price because they can be cost-prohibitive; new regulations that make it illegal to smoke any type of tobacco, including e-cigarettes and vapor cigarettes, within 50 feet of a public building; a fine policy for restaurateurs who fail to comply with health regulations; and new rules that require companies that serve or produce food to install traps to prevent grease from entering sewers and affecting business operations or private residences.

“The Health Department also recently purchased an electronic inspection system that will post the outcomes of health inspections online,” Petrosky said, noting that food-safety training sessions were held for the School Department, the Council on Aging, and at churches that requested it to insure that the most vulnerable populations are protected.

Menard applauds these changes because they add to the town’s offerings, and notes that, when a permanent town manager is named, it will be important for the person to promote intelligent economic development and take a proactive stance in attracting new businesses.

“There is room for growth in the underutilized areas of our industrial and commercial sections of town,” she said.

Macdonald agrees, and says there are a few dormant parcels they hope to fill in the future, including the long-vacant Package Machinery site. “East Longmeadow has always welcomed new businesses, but we try to maintain a good balance between residential and business growth,” she noted.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at projects on the drawing board as well as developments underway that will help East Longmeadow retain its small-town character while offering new venues that will boost the tax base and provide services for people who live and work in the town.

Major Projects

Officials are happy that several sites in town that have been vacant for more than a decade are being redeveloped.

For example, L.E. Belcher broke ground three months ago on a 6,500-square-foot convenience store with five gas pumps, 10 pumping stations, three outdoor tables, and 28 parking spaces on a lot at 227 Shaker Road that was empty for many years.

The company has secured a license to sell wine and beer, and worked closely with the Planning Board to ensure the new business is a good fit for the town. Ownership has installed flashing pedestrian safety lights to facilitate safety on the Chestnut Street side of the Redstone Rail Trail that runs behind the property, and contributed to a mitigation fund that will assist the Department of Public Works with roadway and traffic improvements in the Shaker Road and Chestnut Street corridor.

“It’s a busy intersection, and their gift of $25,000 to the DPW was a great gesture from a new business,” Menard said.

Macdonald concurred. “L.E. Belcher is a community-minded company, and the facility they are building will provide the industrial area with a service that doesn’t exist in that part of town. There is nothing like it from there until Route I-90 in Enfield, and it is expected to bring in people from Connecticut, while reducing congestion at the rotary,” she said, adding that the new convenience store and gas station are expected to open in mid- or late January.

A new restaurant called Green/Wich is also under construction at 16 Maple St. on the rotary. The eatery’s plans were recently approved, and the owner has also secured a beer and wine license.

“It’s a great addition to our center, and we’re happy to have a building that sat empty for many years put to use by a business that will help people attain a healthy lifestyle. It will offer high-end wraps and salads with indoor seating,” Menard said.

Macdonald told BusinessWest that Green/Wich had to do a major renovation of the building that included asbestos abatement, and has worked closely with the town to ensure the restaurant meets all safety requirements when it opens in about a month.

Several businesses in the town are experiencing rapid growth, including Go Graphix, which relocated from a shopping plaza on North Main Street to a 5,000-square-foot space on Benton Drive in the industrial park several years ago.

“The organization takes a concept through design, production, and installation. Their focus is on individual brands and messaging, and they incorporate big-picture objectives while paying close attention to the smallest details,” Macdonald said. “They have done so well, they are planning a 2,584-square-foot addition to their existing building. “

That project is still in the planning stages, but in September the Planning Board approved construction of an 18,000-square-foot medical office building on 250 North Main St.

The new, two-story structure will be constructed by Associated Builders for Baystate Dental Group and will have 90 parking spaces. The dental office will occupy the first floor, and the second floor will be rented as medical or office space.

Two other significant projects were also recently proposed. The first is an expansion: Excel Dryer wants to put an addition onto its existing building at 357 Chestnut St. that will include 1,300 square feet of warehouse space and 3,700 square feet of office space.

“This is a family-owned and -operated company that revolutionized the industry and set a new standard for performance, reliability, and customer satisfaction,” Macdonald said. “They have continued to grow, and the addition will enhance their ability to move forward in the future.”

The second project is much more complex, as it involves the towns of East Longmeadow and Longmeadow.

Macdonald said the planning boards in both towns have been working with Michael Crowley of Michael Crowley Associates and Middle Franklin Development, Robert Levesque of R. Levesque Associates Inc., David Dunlop of David Dunlop Associates, and Fuss & O’Neill to create a medical complex that will add to East Longmeadow Skilled Nursing Center at 305 Maple St., cross town lines, and provide benefits to both communities.

Crowley presented plans for the project in June. It includes four structures on a 20-acre site: a 50,000-square-foot medical office building in Longmeadow that would be occupied by Baystate Health; a two-story, 25,000-square-foot conventional office building in East Longmeadow; and an assisted-living facility and an expansion of the existing skilled-nursing facility that would be run by Berkshire Health in the town.

“The complex will feature state-of-the-art technology and have every safety system installed possible, including fire alarms, an emergency generator, and rooftop units with individual room controls,” Macdonald said, explaining that the two towns have commissioned a traffic study to mitigate any problems that could result from the project because it will affect some of their busiest intersections, namely Benton Drive and Chestnut Street in East Longmeadow, the Converse Street area in Longmeadow, and that town’s intersection at Dwight Road, Williams Street, and Maple Street.

Work in Progress

The Department of Public Works has an ongoing project that involves installing new sidewalks in East Longmeadow’s center and around the schools to make pedestrian travel safe and help make the town more desirable.

Historically, that hasn’t been a problem.

“Businesses are thriving in East Longmeadow and want to stay here,” Macdonald said, explaining that, although the town doesn’t have its own utility companies, manufacturers in the Industrial Garden District including Sullivan Paper Co., Tiger Press, and the recently sold Lenox Newell Rubbermaid have installed solar panels on their roofs, and panels have also been approved for the Reminder building in the commercial district.

“We still have plenty of room for new companies, and the opportunities here are great. The town welcomes large and small businesses, and our Industrial Garden District is a beautiful area which is easy to get to from I-91,” she noted.

Indeed, the negative publicity has come to an end, the town is moving forward, and the future looks bright for residents and businesses alike.

East Longmeadow at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1894
Population: 15,720 (2010)
Area: 13.0 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $21.12
Commercial Tax Rate: $21.12
Median Household Income: $78,835
Median Family Income: $99,707
Type of Government: Town Council; Town Manager
Largest Employers: Cartamundi; Redstone Rehab and Nursing Center; Lenox Newell Rubbermaid
* Latest information available

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts recently launched its redesigned website, adclubwm.org, with the assistance of Envision Marketing Group of East Longmeadow.

“It’s been on our radar screen for months, and we finally pulled the trigger on the redesign project with the help of our communications committee, headed by Gary Czelusniak, interim communications director,” said David Cecchi, Ad Club president. “For too long, we were like the cobbler’s children without shoes.”

The Ad Club’s new website is organized into three distinct sections: enroll, engage, and explore. The objective is to create an electronic user experience that is responsive with mobile devices, relevant, elegant, and simple to navigate. ‘Enroll’ allows visitors to understand the value of becoming an Ad Club member or sponsor, view the club’s leadership, and access the club’s current members. ‘Engage’ provides information and an online reservation system to attend the array of Ad Club engagement opportunities throughout the year. ‘Explore’ is a resource featuring the ‘Chatter,’ providing news and information about the club and its members, as well as a job-posting service.

At the same time, the Ad Club revamped its social-media strategies on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and added an Instagram account.

“The method in which the club engages its membership and prospective members, and vice versa, has absolutely changed forever,” Czelusniak said, “and we must continuously adapt — simply, relevantly, and elegantly.”

Building Permits Departments

The following building permits were issued during the month of July 2016.

Agawam

SBA Towers II, LLC
369 Main St.
$15,000 — Swap three existing cell antennas with three newer- technology cell antennas
Amherst

25 Avocado St. LLC
292 College St.
$5376 — Replace doors and patch hole in shop ceiling

Amherst Cinema Arts Center Inc.
28 Amity St., Unit 1H
$137,004 — Install 110 solar panels on roof

Amherst-Presidential Village LLC
950 Pleasant St.
$591,180 — Construct 3,300-square-foot building to service residents

Woodgreen Amherst Limited Partnership
6 University Dr., 109
$3000 — Creating dividing wall, separating an open class space

Ev Realty Trust
11 Amity St.
$225,000 — Renovate former bank space to co-worker office

Hadley

Public Safety Complex
15 East St.
$3,650 — Create walkway in attic to access heating and cooling units

Northampton

293 Northampton Realty LLC, c/o William Lia
263 King St.
$1,060,000 — 6,000-square-foot addition to the existing facility and 1,064 sq. ft. to service drive

Button Street Associates
32 Masonic St.
$3,200 — Replace and fix four windows

City of Northampton, Smith School
Haydenville Road
$70,000 — Construct 36’ x 70’ storage building

Colvest/Northampton LLC
327 King St.
$30,000 — Modify antennas and equipment on existing cell site

Coolidge Park Condos
50 Union St.
$27,226 — Repair stairs on Cherry Street side

Dimension Realty LLC
395 Pleasant St.
$32,548 — Install membrane roof system over existing metal roof

First Congregational Church of Northampton
129 Main St.
$14,400 — Remove and replace pews, carpet, and railings

Raps Real Estate
79 Masonic St.
$496,000 — Renovate existing and add 1,341-square-foot addition

Smith College Office of Treasurer
College Lane
$15,000 — Replace 1,600-square-foot EDPM roofing

Smith College Office of Treasurer
College Lane
$234,500 — Construct new dormer

Springfield

A. Boilard Sons Inc.
210 Verge St.
$26,407 — Partial reroof of warehouse

Baystate Health
257 Marvin St.
$480,000 — Foundation for new CHP Building

Blue Tarp ReDevelopment Inc.
MGM Way
$213,883,377 — Core and shell of hotel and podium type 1A construction

Blue Tarp ReDevelopment Inc.
1214 MGM Way
$2,456,563 — Install underground utilities under hotel and podium slab Type 1A construction

Caron Management LLC
116-120 Longhill St., Unit #7C
$193,961.85 — Renovations

Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless
90 Memorial Drive
$12,322 — Remove nine existing antenna panels and replace with nine updated antenna panels and install 6 remote radio heads, on an existing telecommunications tower

GF Enterprise LLC
456 Sumner Ave
$41,700 — Install new slat walls, canopies, sconce lights. New interior artwork package

Mulberry House Condominium Trust
101 Mulberry St.
$60,000 — Replacement of concrete precast panels (exterior) with EFLS panels to match. Historical Commission has approved.

Paul’s Crane Service
700 Berkshire Ave.
$40,940 — Reroofing

St. George Cathedral
2320 Main St.
$55,000 — Demolish existing bathrooms in basement and put back with new finishes. H/C accessible bathrooms

Sunset Properties LLC
216, 218, and 220 Pearl St.
$400,000 — Demolition of existing five story wooden stairs at buildings 216, 218, 220 and construction of new steel framed stairs with concrete footing foundation system

Trammell Crow Co.
1500 Main St.
$74,500 — Pharmacy remodel

West Springfield

Dr. Frederick Frangie
274 Westfield St.
$78,586 — Replace roof

Medeiros Realty
1111 Elm St.
$121,254 — Reroof A & B roofs front and middle sections

Nutmeg International Trucks
268 Park St.
$2,000 — Remove existing steel structures embedded in concrete floor, patch concrete floor as required

Westfield

T-Mobile Northeast LLC
16 Chestnut St., Suite 420
$15,000 — Addition to existing installation

Law Sections

By Jennifer Butler

Jennifer Butler

Jennifer Butler

Nonprofit organizations face a multitude of compliance issues every day, and keeping up with them can be a challenge. Because compliance failures may result in the loss of funding, organizations need to know what the current applicable regulations are and make sure their programs conform to them.

For providers of home and community-based services, that means understanding the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) updated regulations and ensuring their programs comply with them. Referred to collectively as the ‘community rule,’ the CMS regulations are intended to provide individuals receiving long-term services and supports with full access to the benefits of community living and the opportunity to receive services in the most integrated settings possible.

All providers who operate home and community-based services (HCBS) programs under sections 1915(c), 1915(i), and 1915(k) of the Medicaid statute, in both residential and non-residential settings, are subject to the rule.

While much of the community rule focuses on states’ responsibilities, providers are responsible for bringing their programs into compliance with the regulations in two key areas: settings requirements and person-centered planning. Providers who operate residential programs must also ensure that their programs satisfy the additional requirements specific to provider-owned or -controlled residential settings.

Home and Community-based Settings Requirements

All HCBS providers must ensure their programs meet certain settings requirements outlined in the community rule. The goal of the rule’s settings requirements is to maximize participants’ access to the benefits of community living and enable them to receive services in the most integrated setting. Per the rule, HCBS settings must:

• Be integrated in and support full access to the greater community;
• Allow the individual to select the setting from among setting options, including non-disability specific settings and an option for a private unit in a residential setting;
• Provide individuals with opportunities to seek employment and work in competitive integrated settings, engage in community life, and control personal resources;
• Ensure the individual receives services in the community to the same degree of access as individuals not receiving Medicaid home and community-based services;
• Ensure the individual’s rights of privacy, dignity, respect, and freedom from coercion and restraint;
• Optimize individual initiative, autonomy, and independence in making life choices; and
• Facilitate individual choices regarding services and supports, and who provides them.

Additional Requirements for Provider-owned Residential Settings

In addition to the general settings requirements, the community rule imposes further requirements on providers operating programs in provider-owned or -controlled residential settings. Per the rule, residential settings must:

• Provide the individual with a lease or other legally enforceable agreement providing similar protections;
• Ensure the individual has privacy in their unit, including lockable doors, choice of roommates, and freedom to furnish or decorate the unit;
• Allow the individual to control his or her own schedule, including access to food at any time;
• Provide that the individual can have visitors at any time; and
• Be physically accessible.

Any modification of the additional requirements for residential settings must be supported by a specific assessed need and justified in a person-centered service plan. For example, if the provider determines that it would be unsafe for a particular individual in its care to have lockable doors, the provider must document that need in the service plan.

Person-centered Planning

Finally, the community rule requires that service plans be developed for all program participants through a person-centered planning process which results in a plan that reflects his or her unique goals and preferences.  The person-centered planning process must:

• Be driven by the individual;
• Include people chosen by the individual;
• Reflect cultural considerations and use plain language;
• Offer choices to the individual regarding services and supports the individual receives and from whom;
• Include strategies for solving disagreement;
• Provide a method to request updates;
• Identify the strengths, preferences, needs (clinical and support), and desired outcomes of the individual; and
• Include individually identified goals and preferences related to relationships, community participation, employment, income and savings, healthcare and wellness, and education.

Additional planning-process requirements, as well as specific requirements for person-centered service plans, are also outlined in the rule.

All providers of community-based programs should carefully review them to make certain they fully comply with the community rule. Some requirements of the rule, such as the provision regarding leases, may raise complex legal issues that are best addressed by an attorney. Providers are encouraged to consult with counsel if they have any questions about bringing their HCBS programs into compliance with the community rule.

Jennifer Butler, Esq. specializes exclusively in management-side labor and employment law at Royal, P.C., a woman-owned, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm, which is certified as a women’s business enterprise with the Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office, the National Assoc. of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council; (413) 586-2288; [email protected]

Agenda Departments

‘Wolf to Woof’

Through May 12: In today’s society, dogs enhance the lives of millions of people in countless ways, but they are also some of our oldest friends. Ancient clues like cave paintings and burials reveal that dogs and people have lived together for thousands of years. But why have humans formed such close relationships with dogs, and not cows or chickens? “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” is the largest and most comprehensive traveling exhibition ever created on the history, biology, and evolution of dogs. The exhibit, on view at the Springfield Science Museum through May 12, attempts to sniff out the facts on dogs and explore what makes the human/dog relationship so unique. It uses the familiarity and love of these four-legged friends to explore science and biological concepts. The exhibit has four themed sections including multi-media displays, artifacts, photo murals, and dioramas of taxidermied wild canines and sculpted modern dog breeds. Additionally, interactive, hands-on components demonstrate key exhibit concepts. For example, visitors can enter a ‘howling area’ and guess what dogs are saying, test their nose against a dog’s great sense of smell, and examine fossil and genetic evidence of how modern-day dogs are descended from wolves. “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” is sponsored by United Bank. MassMutual is the 2015-16 Premier Sponsor of the Springfield Museums.

Valley Gives Day

May 3: Nearly 500 community organizations will participate in the Pioneer Valley’s 24-hour e-philanthropy event, Valley Gives — the fourth year for the event, but the first time it is being held in the spring. Valley Gives is hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Valley Gives will take place from 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Participating community organizations span the Pioneer Valley and are eligible if their work is focused on Franklin, Hampden, or Hampshire county. Organizations include nonprofits, schools and educational institutions, places of worship/religious organizations, and local community groups that can be fiscally sponsored by nonprofit organizations. Since Valley Gives began in December 2012, $5.8 million has been raised from more than 24,000 donors in support of 559 nonprofits that are doing good work in every corner of the Pioneer Valley. With nearly 500 organizations signed on to participate this May, Valley Gives is expected to add substantially to those numbers again this year.

Kentucky Derby Day

May 7: Starting at 4:30 p.m., the Colony Club in Springfield will the setting for hats, horses and hors d’oeuvres to celebrate the 142nd annual Kentucky Derby. Presented by The Gaudreau Group, with support from Northeast IT, as well as the Colony Club and host Jeffrey Lomma, the event will raise much-needed funds for Square One’s programs and services. Tickets are $35 and include big screen monitors to enjoy the race, hearty hors d’oeuvres, and a complimentary mint julep. Prizes will be awarded for the best Derby attire. Tickets may be purchased via Eventbrite or by contacting Heather at Inspired Marketing at (413) 303-0101.

‘Creating a Western Massachusetts Renaissance’

May 11: The Springfield Regional Chamber, in partnership with the Western Mass. Economic Development Council (EDC), will present a panel discussion, “Creating a Western Massachusetts Renaissance,” from 7:15 to 9 a.m. at the MassMutual Center, 1277 Main St., Springfield, sponsored by People’s United Bank. Panelists will discuss the Massachusetts economy and how communities across the Commonwealth can work together to create a broader and more robust economy. Panelists will also outline local economic-development initiatives at work in Western Mass. and how the region can capitalize on its existing assets and develop its growth engines, and the important role the healthcare sector plays in developing centers of excellence for future growth. Panelists will include John Traynor, executive vice president and chief investment officer at People’s United Bank; Rick Sullivan, EDC president; and Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, and the discussion will be moderated by David Hobert, the bank’s regional president. Reservations for the breakfast event are $35 and may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by e-mailing Sarah Mazzaferro at [email protected].

Community Enterprises 40th-Anniversary Luncheon

May 12: Richard Venne, president and CEO, invites the public to join Community Enterprises Inc. in celebrating 40 years of empowering individuals with disabilities to live, learn, work, and thrive in the community. A luncheon will be held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $50 per person, a reserved table for eight is $400, and tickets for clients and staff of Community Enterprise are $30. For more information about tickets, sponsoring the event, or placing an ad in the program, e-mail Krystle Bernier at [email protected] or call (413) 584-1460, ext. 120. Community Enterprises is a human-service organization that provides employment, education, housing supports, and day supports for people with disabilities. Headquartered in Northampton, it maintains 27 service locations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Kentucky. Massachusetts offices include Gloucester, Greenfield, Holyoke, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Salem, Somerville, Springfield, Wakefield, and Worcester.

‘Maximize Your Website for Business Growth’

May 13, 20, 27: MarketingWorks, a series of educational programs for business owners, marketing professionals, and entrepreneurs hosted by Stevens 470 in Westfield, announced an upcoming program called “Maximize Your Website for Business Growth.” It meets weekly for three Friday mornings, May 13, 20, and 27. Customers, prospects, and associates make an immediate assessment of a business based on the content of its website. Participants in this group program will evaluate their current website and clarify the steps needed to make it the company’s most valuable marketing channel. For program details, visit www.stevens470.com/educational-programs.html or call Tina Stevens at (413) 568-2660.

Youth Mental-health First-aid Training

May 13, 20: Funded by a three-year grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) through the White House’s “Now is The Time” initiative, Clinical & Support Options Inc. is now offering free youth mental-health first-aid trainings to the community. The free, two-day training will be held at CSO’s administrative offices in Northampton; attendance both days is required. Youth mental-health first aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or is in crisis. The training is primarily designed for adults who regularly interact with young people. The course introduces common mental-health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including ADHD), and eating disorders. Identified on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, the training helps the public better identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses. Registration is required; e-mail [email protected] for a registration form. CSO is also available to bring this training on site to local agencies and businesses that wish to have a group of people trained for free. For more information on bringing this training to your agency or business, contact Allison Garriss, director, Business Development and Projects at CSO, at (413) 773-1314, ext. 5502 or [email protected].

‘Grieving the Death of a Child’ Workshop

May 14: The Garden: A Center for Grieving Children and Teens announced a free workshop, “Grieving the Death of a Child,” from 12:30 to 4 p.m. The workshop is open to adult parents and caregivers who have experienced the death of a child. The workshop will include a screening of the video “Helping Parents Grieve: Finding New Life After the Death of a Child,” which was produced by Paraclete Press and features real stories about families who have lost a child. The video has five parts, including knowing you are not alone, loss of hopes and dreams, death of a baby, families, and honoring and remembering. Following each section there will be a break for discussion and an activity. Parents and caregivers who have experienced the death of a child are welcome, and there are no limits on how, where, or when the child died. The workshop is for appropriate for adults only and is open to the public. It will be held at the Cooley Dickinson VNA & Hospice, 168 Industrial Dr., Northampton. The event is free, but registration is required. For more information, contact Shelly Bathe Lenn, coordinator at the Garden, at (413) 582 5312, or [email protected].

Mental Health and Wellness Fair

May 18: In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, Clinical & Support Options Inc. (CSO) will host its 14th annual Mental Health and Wellness Fair at the Energy Park in Greenfield from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Featuring CSO’s Green River House and Quabbin House Clubhouse members, the fair will be an afternoon of music, singing, poetry, and testimonials by members to highlight mental-health illness, wellness, and recovery. The fair started in 2002 in an effort to bring awareness and information to the community about mental-health illness and recovery. The event is an opportunity to dispel the stigma around mental-health illness, encourage people to seek support, and spotlight agencies available to assist. This year, the theme is “Mental Health Matters.” Local mental-health and wellness providers are welcome to present their materials and programming for free by registering for a table by calling the Green River House at (413) 772-2181. In addition to local community providers sharing information, there will be live music, a food vendor, and raffles, and WHAI will be on site doing a live broadcast. For questions or more information on how to be a part of this event, call the Green River House at (413) 772-2181.

‘Women Lead Change’

May 23: The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) will host “Women Lead Change,” a celebration of the Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI) class of 2016, at the Log Cabin in Holyoke from 6 to 8 p.m. The event will include remarks from Mass. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and a keynote address from Julie Chavez Rodriguez, special assistant to the president and senior deputy director of Public Engagement at the White House. WFWM will acknowledge the lieutenant governor as well as Rodriguez with a “She Changes the World” award presented to honor exceptional contribution to social change, creating economic and social equity for women and girls. More than 300 participants are expected to attend the annual celebration of graduates of the Women’s Fund LIPPI program. LIPPI is the only program of its kind in Massachusetts. Through 11 sessions over eight months, the program is designed to respond to the shortage of women stepping into leadership at all levels. LIPPI gives women the tools and confidence they need to become more involved as civic leaders in their communities and to impact policy on the local, state, and national levels. The event is open to the public with online registration at www.womensfund.net. The current graduating LIPPI Cohort  represents 60% women of color, and LIPPI graduates also embody a wide spectrum of backgrounds, ethnic groups, and ages with ranges from 18 to 60. They represent the entire state of Massachusetts, from the Berkshires to Boston-area counties. Together, graduates form a strong cohort of like-minded women who support each other when they run for office, meet with policy makers, form coalitions, and get-out-the-vote efforts. The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) is a public foundation that invests in local women and girls through strategic grant-making and leadership development. Since 1997 the Women’s Fund has awarded more than $2 million in grants to over 100 organizations in Western Mass.

40 Under Forty

June 16: The 10th annual 40 Under Forty award program, staged by BusinessWest, will be held at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke, honoring 40 of the region’s rising stars under 40 years old. An independent panel of judges has chosen the winners, and their stories were told in the April 18 issue. This is a sell-out event, and only a limited number of standing-room-only tickets remain. The event is sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and Paragus Strategic IT (presenting sponsors), EMA Dental, Health New England, Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Moriarty & Primack, United Bank, and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield. For more information, call (413) 781-8600s, ext. 100.

Agenda Departments

‘Wolf to Woof’ Exhibit

Through May 12: In today’s society, dogs enhance the lives of millions of people in countless ways, but they are also some of our oldest friends. Ancient clues like cave paintings and burials reveal that dogs and people have lived together for thousands of years. But why have humans formed such close relationships with dogs, and not cows or chickens? “Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” is the largest and most comprehensive traveling exhibition ever created on the history, biology, and evolution of dogs. The exhibit, on view at the Springfield Science Museum through May 12, attempts to sniff out the facts on dogs and explore what makes the human/dog relationship so unique. It uses the familiarity and love of these four-legged friends to explore science and biological concepts. The exhibit has four themed sections including multi-media displays, artifacts, photo murals, and dioramas of taxidermied wild canines and sculpted modern dog breeds. Additionally, interactive, hands-on components demonstrate key exhibit concepts. For example, visitors can enter a ‘howling area’ and guess what dogs are saying, test their nose against a dog’s great sense of smell, and examine fossil and genetic evidence of how modern-day dogs are descended from wolves.

‘125 Years Of Memories’ at Academy of Music

April 21: The Academy of Music Theatre will host a “125 Years of Memories” benefit at 6:30 p.m. in the theater. In the late 19th century, Edward H.R. Lyman, a philanthropist and Northampton native, had a vision for a new venue for culture and theater in his hometown. On May 23, 1891, the 800-seat Academy of Music Theatre opened its doors to the public for the first time, and it quickly became a favorite stop on tours of leading troupes and big-name performers. Today, the 800-seat Academy of Music has been renovated and reclaimed as a venue for live theater, as well as dance, film, music, and performing-arts education. The “125 Years of Memories” benefit will begin with a cash bar reception in the lobby, where guests will mingle and enjoy hors d’oeuvres, craft beer, and wine. In addition, silent-auction items donated by local businesses and artists will be on display. At 6:30 p.m., guests will move into the theater for a brief program, paying tribute to the Academy through the decades. Following the production, attendees will be invited onstage for the party, with musical accompaniment by jazz pianist Jerry Noble, appetizers from River Valley Market, craft beer, and wine provided by Black Birch Vineyard. Tickets for the event are $50, and can be purchased online at www.aomtheatre.com. For those who prefer to pay by check, tickets are available at the Academy of Music Theatre box office, Tuesday through Friday, from 3 to 6 p.m. Any questions can be directed to Development Coordinator Kathryn Slater at (413) 584-9032, ext. 101, or [email protected]

Spring Sip & Shop

April 28: The Arbors at Chicopee will host a Spring Sip & Shop event in honor of Mother’s Day on Thursday, April 28 from 4 to 8 p.m. at 929 Memorial Dr. More than 15 vendors will gather and display their products for sale. Items include scarves, jewelry, totes, bags, makeup, homemade lotions and soaps, and much more. The event is sponsored by Tastefully Simple, and all proceeds will go toward the Alzheimer’s Assoc. The event will feature a silent auction, raffle, passed hors d’ouvres, and complimentary sangria. The suggested donation upon admission is $5. RSVP by calling Noelle at (413) 593-0088 or e-mailing [email protected] Walk-ins are welcome.

‘A Night of Laughter’

April 30: Smith & Wesson will host its annual live comedy show, “A Night of Laughter,” to support two local children’s charities, Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Ronald McDonald House. The event will be held at the Cedars Banquet Facility, 419 Island Pond Road in Springfield. The show will feature two comedians, Chris Zito and Tony V. Zito is a mainstay of the Boston comedy scene and made appearances on Comedy Central, USA, A&E, and NESN. He has been heard on New England radio for more than 20 years, and currently “Zito and Kera” can be heard on weekday mornings on Mix 93.1. Tony V started his comedy career in 1982 in Boston. In 1986, he was named “Funniest Person in Massachusetts” by Showtime. He has also appeared on HBO, A&E, Comedy Central, and MTV. His big-screen performances include State and Main, Celtic Pride, Housesitter, One Crazy Summer, and Shakes the Clown. The doors will open at 5:30 p.m., and the comedy will begin at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person and include an evening of laughs, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, raffles, and more. Tickets are now available at eventbrite.com. For more information, contact Elaine Stellato at (413) 747-3371 or [email protected].

Community Enterprises 40-Year Luncheon

May 12: Richard Venne, president and CEO, invites the public to join Community Enterprises Inc. in celebrating 40 years of empowering individuals with disabilities to live, learn, work, and thrive in the community. A luncheon will be held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $50 per person, a reserved table for eight is $400, and tickets for clients and staff of Community Enterprise are $30. For more information about tickets, sponsoring the event, or placing an ad in the program, e-mail Krystle Bernier at [email protected] or call (413) 584-1460, ext. 120.

‘Maximize Your Website for Business Growth’

May 13, 20, 27: MarketingWorks, a series of educational programs for business owners, marketing professionals, and entrepreneurs hosted by Stevens 470 in Westfield, announced an upcoming program called “Maximize Your Website for Business Growth.” It meets weekly for three Friday mornings, May 13, 20, and 27. Customers, prospects, and associates make an immediate assessment of a business based on the content of its website. Participants in this group program will evaluate their current website and clarify the steps needed to make it the company’s most valuable marketing channel. For program details, visit www.stevens470.com/educational-programs.html or call Tina Stevens at (413) 568-2660.

Youth Mental-health First-aid Training

May 13, 20: Funded by a three-year grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) through the White House’s “Now is The Time” initiative, Clinical & Support Options Inc. is now offering free youth mental-health first-aid trainings to the community. The free, two-day training will be held at CSO’s administrative offices in Northampton; attendance both days is required. Youth mental-health first aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or is in crisis. The training is primarily designed for adults who regularly interact with young people. The course introduces common mental-health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a five-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including ADHD), and eating disorders. Registration is required; e-mail [email protected] for a registration form. CSO is also available to bring this training on site to local agencies and businesses that wish to have a group of people trained for free. For more information on bringing this training to your agency or business, contact Allison Garriss, director, Business Development and Projects at Clinical & Support Options, at (413) 773-1314, ext. 5502 or [email protected].

‘Grieving the Death of a Child’ Workshop

May 14: The Garden: A Center for Grieving Children and Teens announced a free workshop, “Grieving the Death of a Child,” from 12:30 to 4 p.m. The workshop is open to adult parents and caregivers who have experienced the death of a child. The workshop will include a screening of the video “Helping Parents Grieve: Finding New Life After the Death of a Child,” which was produced by Paraclete Press and features real stories about families who have lost a child. The video has five parts, including knowing you are not alone, loss of hopes and dreams, death of a baby, families, and honoring and remembering. Following each section there will be a break for discussion and an activity. Parents and caregivers who have experienced the death of a child are welcome, and there are no limits on how, where, or when the child died. The workshop is for appropriate for adults only and is open to the public. It will be held at the Cooley Dickinson VNA & Hospice, 168 Industrial Dr., Northampton. The event is free, but registration is required. For more information, contact Shelly Bathe Lenn, coordinator at the Garden, at (413) 582 5312, or [email protected]

Mental Health and Wellness Fair

May 18: In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, Clinical & Support Options Inc. (CSO) will host its 14th annual Mental Health and Wellness Fair at the Energy Park in Greenfield from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Featuring CSO’s Green River House and Quabbin House Clubhouse members, the fair will be an afternoon of music, singing, poetry, and testimonials by members to highlight mental-health illness, wellness, and recovery. The fair started in 2002 in an effort to bring awareness and information to the community about mental-health illness and recovery. The event is an opportunity to dispel the stigma around mental-health illness, encourage people to seek support, and spotlight agencies available to assist. This year, the theme is “Mental Health Matters.” Local mental-health and wellness providers are welcome to present their materials and programming for free by registering for a table by calling the Green River House at (413) 772-2181. In addition to local community providers sharing information, there will be live music, a food vendor, and raffles, and WHAI will be on site doing a live broadcast. For more information, call the Green River House at (413) 772-2181.

40 Under Forty

June 16: The 10th annual 40 Under Forty award program, staged by BusinessWest, will be held at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke, honoring 40 of the region’s rising stars under 40 years old. An independent panel of judges has chosen the winners, and their stories are told in the pages of this issue. The event is sponsored by Northwestern Mutual (presenting sponsor), Paragus Strategic IT (presenting sponsor), EMA Dental, Health New England, the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Moriarty & Primack P.C., United Bank, and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield.

Sections Technology

Model Business

3DprintingDPart

3D printing is hardly a new development, but its applications have rapidly expanded over the past decade as companies use it to produce both inexpensive design prototypes and large runs of manufactured parts. Connecticut-based ACT Group has been at the forefront of this revolution regionally, selling and servicing 3D-printing equipment for a wide range of clients in myriad industries. Its success mirrors that of a technology that, clearly, is no longer flying under the radar.

 

When it comes to the capabilities and applications of 3D printing, Nick Gondek said, “the sky’s the limit.” Which is why he’s glad his company, ACT Group, has established a strong presence in that field.

Specifically, the firm — based in Cromwell, Conn. and formerly known as Advanced Copy Technologies — sells and services 3D printing equipment to a wide range of clients in fields as diverse as aerospace, medicine, and shoe manufacturing.

The company’s bread and butter, said Gondek, the company’s director of Additive Manufacturing and applications engineer, is a process called rapid prototyping, by which manufacturers can produce individual 3D models of potential products much more quickly and cost-effectively than previously possible.

Take, for example, ACT’s clients in shoe manufacturing, which include Timberland, New Balance, and Puma. Rapid prototyping using 3D printing — also known as additive manufacturing — can produce full-scale models of new designs, which can be easily modified numerous times at little cost, compared to making changes after manufacturing a large run.

Nick Gondek

Nick Gondek

“The technology has been around for some time, but flew under the radar,” said Gondek, whose parents, Greg and Cindi Gondek, purchased the company in 1999, when it focused solely on office-equipment supply. “Now it’s got everyone’s attention.”

They rebranded as ACT Group a couple of years ago to reflect a broadening in scope, including the company’s rise to prominence in the 3D-printing world.

“Five or six years ago, my father was traveling in Europe and was introduced to 3D printing,” Nick Gondek said. “After doing some research to better understand the clientele, he saw opportunity in this industry, on the service side of things.”

3D-printing technology allows users to create three-dimensional, solid objects using a computer-aided design (CAD) program. With a 3D printer, companies can now print a single part, or even complete product, in a matter of hours, when it used to take months. The technology can be used to create both precise, durable prototypes and final products for businesses of all sizes.

“We have a good customer base,” said Gondek, noting that ACT also services clients of 3D Systems, one of the nation’s premier 3D-printing companies, in the Northeast region.

The testimonials and success stories, as shared by Gondek with BusinessWest, are numerous. Daniel Copley, research and development manager at Parker Hannifin, which engineers products for industrial, hydraulic, and aerospace applications, said the company’s in-house 3D-printing capabilities reduced lead time for its prototypes as well as the number of iterations needed, and are saving some $250,000 a year in the cost of prototype parts.

Other clients have similar stories of efficiency and cost savings. Powermate, USA, a provider of power-supply-converting solutions, reports that prototype models of its products can be created in a half-day, with a 65% cost reduction over traditional production.

Meanwhile, John Reed, master prototype specialist at Black & Decker, noted that, “while a design may look good on the computer screen, there is really no substitute for actually holding something in your hand.”

Toby Ringdahl, computer aided design manager for Timberland, cited a dramatic reduction in prototype costs and turnaround time, resulting in more prototyping, better designs, and increased revenue, noting that 3D printing has succeeded in “compressing our design cycles, lowering our costs, and helping us produce better products for our customers.”

Expanding Scope

The 3D-printing process begins with a concept, which is digitally modeled using CAD software — in effect, creating a virtual blueprint of the object to be printed. The program then divides the object into digital cross-sections so the printer is able to build it layer by layer.

The manufacturer then chooses a material, which is sprayed, squeezed, or otherwise transferred onto a platform. The 3D printer makes passes over the platform, much like an inkjet printer, depositing very thin layers of material (each about one-tenth of a millimeter) atop each other to create the finished product.

ACT Group

ACT Group was formerly known as Advanced Copy Technologies, which focused solely on office equipment before expanding its scope, including its recent success with sales and service of 3D-printing equipment.

ACT first specialized in servicing this equipment for its client companies, but, not long after, saw opportunity in the sales of 3D printers, incorporating that end of the business as well.

Increasing numbers of manufacturers are turning to 3D printing, not only for prototyping, but for design, tooling, and delivery of parts and products. Cindi Gondek told Forbes that jewelers can use it to create new pieces, while museums can use it to reproduce rare items for study or display, just to name two applications that might not seem obvious at first.

3D printers can produce precision parts with impressive accuracy in a variety of materials, Nick Gondek said, including plastics, ceramics, wax, and metals.

Invisalign braces, manufactured by Align Technology, are a good example of a rapid-prototyping application most people have heard of, he went on. They are built using CT scanners and 3D printing techniques to fabricate a product that’s different for each user — to the tune of 17 million sets per year.

“Invisalign has a very unique production capacity. They have mastered customized production; every person’s braces are specific to that patient. They 3D print all the models and basically build a retainer over the custom-made molds,” he noted. Without the rapid prototyping allowed by 3D-printing technology, this process — and product — would be much more expensive and labor-intensive.

In fact, the broad field of medicine provides fertile soil for 3D printing, Gondek said, starting with the education and training of future doctors and other medical professionals.

“We have technologies that mimic the properties of human bone for pre-surgical practice, with students cutting bones, drilling bones … and we now have technology to mimic tissue as well, so we can cover them,” he explained.

The technology is also used for designing patient-specific braces and implants to mend broken bones and aid in surgery, Gondek added. “In the news, there’s a lot of talk about printing human tissue. No machine can print organs today, but that’s something that might become a possibility in five or 10 years.”

One ACT client is Maimonides Bone and Joint Center, which produces a 3D color bone model quickly and accurately from a CT scan. This 50% scale model helps doctors discuss medical issues with patients and assists with surgery practice sessions. “I found the 3D model invaluable in patient education, surgical planning, and physician training,” said the company’s Dr. Howard Goodman.

Meanwhile, Battelle Center for Mathematical Medicine developed a full-color 3D model of the F protein, which aided in the development of new perspectives on how respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) works, which promises to aid in vaccine research. “Even with prior access to stereo-3D monitors and professional graphics cards, nothing compares to a full-color, physical 3D model,” said Dr. William Ray, principal investigator and faculty member.

From the Ground Up

Additive manufacturing is also revolutionizing the architecture, engineering, and construction world, Gondek said, producing scale models of buildings faster and at lower cost than before, and allowing designers to make earlier decisions and reduce time to market.

Andrew Chary of Andrew Chary Architect PLLC, another ACT Group client, characterizes 3D printing as a natural outgrowth of building information modeling (BIM), which generates digital representations of buildings in the design phase. “BIM doesn’t reach its full persuasive potential on a computer screen,” he said. “The model comes to life when you hold a 3D print in your hands.”

The dominant material for prototyping is a liquid plastic that turns into a solid when exposed to UV light, Gondek explained. A ceramic material is typically used to mimic human bone, and any number of metals may be used when manufacturing industrial parts.

The move into 3D printing required some major shifts at ACT. The equipment involved in that realm is so different from the traditional office products the company sells that a dedicated team was established for 3D sales, service, and support. They were sent to MIT for professional education in the latest processes. “We couldn’t have their traditional 2D salespeople sell this equipment,” he explained. “The applications are too diverse.”

Thus, ACT Group continues to keep up with the latest 3D printing technology — a rapidly expanding field.

“We do our homework to a high extent so the customer fully understands the capacities as well as the limitations. We can’t be everything to everyone,” Gondek said. “But this is pushing the boundaries of what is possible.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In today’s society, dogs enhance the lives of millions of people in countless ways, but they are also some of our oldest friends. Ancient clues like cave paintings and burials reveal that dogs and people have lived together for thousands of years. But why have humans formed such close relationships with dogs, and not cows or chickens?

“Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” is the largest and most comprehensive traveling exhibition ever created on the history, biology, and evolution of dogs. The exhibit, on view at the Springfield Science Museum from Jan. 30 through May 12, attempts to sniff out the facts on dogs and explore what makes the human/dog relationship so unique. It uses the familiarity and love of these four-legged friends to explore science and biological concepts.

The exhibit has four themed sections including multi-media displays, artifacts, photo murals, and dioramas of taxidermied wild canines and sculpted modern dog breeds. Additionally, interactive, hands-on components demonstrate key exhibit concepts. For example, visitors can enter a ‘howling area’ and guess what dogs are saying, test their nose against a dog’s great sense of smell, and examine fossil and genetic evidence of how modern-day dogs are descended from wolves.

The Museums have planned a variety of programs in conjunction with the exhibit, starting with an opening celebration on Saturday, Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The day’s events will include a performance by magician Greg McAdams and his dog Axel, animal demonstrations by Rae Griffiths of Teaching Creatures, and themed art and science activities. All these events are free with museum admission, but there is a $5 special-exhibit fee for visitors ages 3 and up to view “Wolf to Woof.”

In addition, the weekly Museums à la Carte lecture on Thursday, March 17 will feature a talk by Eliot Rusman, president and CEO of Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. Tickets for this lecture are $4 for the general public and $2 for members.

“Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs” is sponsored by United Bank. MassMutual is the 2015-16 Premier Sponsor of the Springfield Museums.

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Delayed Reaction

By BOB CUMMINGS

Bob Cummings

Bob Cummings

For many employers, their first challenge with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be compliance with the new reporting requirements.

Under the ACA, the Internal Revenue Code added IRS Section 6056, which requires ‘applicable large employers’ to file information returns with the IRS and provide statements to their full-time employees about the health-insurance coverage that the employer offered. Under the terms of the ACA, an applicable large employer generally means an employer that had 50 or more full-time employees (including full-time equivalent employees) in the preceding calendar year.

Last month, the IRS released IRS Notice 2016-4, which delays Sections 6055 and 6056 reporting for the 2015 reporting year. Forms 1095-B and 1095-C must now be distributed to employees by March 31, as opposed to the original due date of Feb. 1. If filing by paper, forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C must be filed with the IRS by May 31 (changed from Feb. 29). If filing electronically, the forms are due to the IRS by June 30 (changed from March 31). The extended deadlines apply to all filers automatically. In summary, the deadline for distributing forms to employees has been extended two months, while the filing deadline with the IRS has been extended three months.

The original due dates were aligned so that individual taxpayers could use the information contained in the forms to file their individual tax returns. Specifically, the information is needed by individuals to help determine whether they were eligible for the premium tax credit or subject to the individual mandate. The IRS has granted this automatic extension due to the fact that insurers, self-insuring employers, and other providers of minimum essential coverage need additional time to adapt and implement systems and procedures to comply with the reporting requirement.

As a result of this delay, if individuals have not received the information by the time they file their individual tax return, they may rely upon other information received from employers or coverage providers when filing their returns. They need not amend their returns once they receive the forms, but they should keep them with their tax records.

The IRS reinforced that an employer should make a good-faith effort with reporting. If an employer does not comply with the extended deadlines, the employer could be subject to penalties. Applicable large employers must report whether an individual is covered by minimum essential health benefits coverage, and that an offer such was made to each full-time employee.

Applicable large employers will need to file IRS Form 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns, and IRS Form 1095-C, Employer-provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, to report the information required. These 1095-C forms are to be provided by Jan. 31 for the calendar year 2015 coverage periods. (The final versions of these forms will not available until February.)

What qualifies as an offer of ‘minimum essential health benefits coverage?’ Well, the IRS says it is an offer that satisfies all of the following criteria:

1. An offer of minimum essential coverage that provides minimum value and includes 10 minimum essential healthcare services: outpatient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity/newborn care, mental-health and substance-abuse services, prescription drugs, rehabilitation (for injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions), lab services, preventive/wellness programs and chronic-disease management, and pediatric services;

2. The employee’s cost for employee-only coverage for each month does not exceed 9.5% of the mainland single federal poverty line divided by 12; and

3. An offer of minimum essential coverage is also made to the employee’s spouse and dependents (if any).

These new employer-health-benefits reporting forms and instructions look complicated even to benefits professionals, and they will require gathering quite a bit of information. For example, Form 1095-C is a form an employer is supposed to use to give employees the health-benefits information they need to fill out their own tax forms and insurance coverage applications, and to give the Internal Revenue Service, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the information they need to detect individual taxpayers’ violations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) rules.

An employer is also supposed to send the IRS a 1094-C summary form, or report, on the information provided in the 1095-C forms, along with copies of the 1095-Cs.

The IRS and other agencies are supposed to use the 1094-Cs, together with the 1095-Cs, to detect any problems with employer compliance with the PPACA employer mandate rules described in Internal Revenue Code Section 4980(H).

This is a major new compliance burden for employers, and the IRS and other federal agencies will most likely show some compassion initially for employers who are making a good-faith effort to comply with the rules.

Most benefits-compliance professionals believe the IRS will begin a major enforcement initiative by this May, because as many as 50,000 employer-benefit plans may be audited over the first two years for compliance. Employers should do everything possible to avoid compliance traps that could trigger an audit.

Among the compliance challenges is the requirement that employers must track full-time-equivalent employees. Basically an employer must track all of their part-time employees, even if those employees may likely not get the 1095-C forms. If a part-time employee becomes full-time at any point in the year, even for only a short period, then the employer has to provide the 1095-C form for that individual.

One of the major challenges confronting employers who will have to comply is the fact that so many are still relying on a paper-based benefits-administration system. It will be virtually impossible to do the tracking and the reporting without an automated benefits-administration system. This really spells the end of paper-based benefits administration for employers subject to these new tracking and reporting requirements.  Employers will have to adopt an online benefits-administration technology platform in order to perform both the tracking and reporting requirements under Section 6056.

The good news is that there are a number of outstanding benefits-technology solutions available for employers today. Forward-thinking benefits professionals are rapidly incorporating and delivering technology platforms across their client base.

The benefits business today is also a technology business. From ACA reporting to employee communications; benefits enrollment and administration to HRIS functionality like paid-time-off tracking or onboarding, an extensive array of software and employee services can be provided on one fully integrated platform. This means, as an employer’s benefits needs evolve, benefits professionals can provide added functionality, configurability, sophistication, and services.

Are you ready to navigate the new world of healthcare compliance and reporting? Ask your benefits consultant if they are ready to advise and assist you.

Bob Cummings is CEO and managing principal of Northampton-based American Benefits Group; (413) 727-7211.

Employment Sections

Beware Section 150

By PETER VICKERY, Esq.

Peter Vickery

Peter Vickery

How much could an employer end up paying for violating the anti-retaliation provisions of the Wage Act? Much more than you might expect.

A recent case in Worcester Superior Court involved an employer that fired an employee over her request for unpaid wages in the amount $3,750. To come close to the damages the court awarded the employee, multiply that figure by 50.

The name of the case is Wessell v. Mink Brook Associates. The plaintiff, Mary Ellen Wessell, served as the business manager for a home-restoration company called Mink Brook, whose president is Robert Stone. Wessell’s annual salary was $50,000. In late 2011, Wessell told Stone she believed one of his employees was stealing from the company.

In January 2012, Stone (who seems not to have shared her suspicions) demoted Wessell and installed as business manager the very employee Wessell suspected of stealing. Two months later, Stone refused to issue Wessell her paycheck. When they met — in the presence of Wessell’s new superior, whom she had accused of stealing — Stone accused Wessell herself of stealing, and fired her. At that point, in March 2012, the amount due Wessell in wages and unused vacation time was $3,750.

A little over two years later, in January 2014, the trial judge told the jury, “if you find that Ms. Wessell was terminated unlawfully from making a complaint regarding the Wage Act, then she is entitled to damages of the amount she would have earned if she had not been wrongfully discharged from the date of her termination, forward to this date.” The final damage award, after factoring in the termination-to-trial period (and deducting the $54,000 Wessell had earned elsewhere after her firing from Mink Brook) and then trebling the figure: an eye-watering $187,111.38.

Affirming the decision, the Appeals Court held that “an employee terminated by an employer for asserting a wage right may recover damages stemming from the termination … [which] may include earnings from the date of termination up to trial.” So the employer is liable not only for what it should have paid prior to termination but also for everything the employee would have earned during the years between termination and trial, minus whatever the employee actually earned elsewhere in the meantime.

That could be a sizable sum. It certainly was in Wessell v. Mink Brook Associates.

In arriving at this decision to affirm the judgment, the Appeals Court interpreted three sections of the Wage Act: Sections 148A, 27C, and 150. Section 148A begins, “no employee shall be penalized by an employer in any way as a result of any action on the part of an employee to seek his or her rights under the wages and hours provisions of this chapter.” It goes on to provide that any employer that fires or otherwise discriminates against an employee who has sought his or her rights “shall be punished or shall be subject to a civil citation or order as provided in section 27C.”

According to the defense, this language should limit the range of penalties available against Mink Brook to the civil and criminal sanctions described in Section 27C, and rule out the possibility of an award for back pay. The court rejected this argument, pointing to Section 150, which reads, “an employee claiming to be aggrieved by a violation of sections … 148A … may … institute and prosecute … a civil action for injunctive relief, for any damages incurred, and for any lost wages and other benefits … An employee so aggrieved who prevails in such an action shall be awarded treble damages, as liquidated damages, for any lost wages and other benefits and shall also be awarded the costs of the litigation and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”

So, although Section 27C imposes certain penalties, those penalties are not — contrary to the defense’s contention — exclusive. They could only be exclusive if the Legislature had not enacted Section 150 as well. But the Legislature did enact Section 150, whose clear and unambiguous language enables an employee to obtain “treble damages … for any lost wages.” Does that term ‘lost wages’ include back pay? Yes, said the court.

In a nutshell, if an employee rightfully complains about owed wages, and the employer responds by firing her, the employer had better hope that the fired employee finds another (highly paid) job, and fast. Even better, at the risk of stating the obvious, employers should refrain from retaliating against employees to whom they owe wages.

Finally, it is worth noting that Section 150 also applies to the earned-sick-time law, which went into effect at the beginning of July (see related story, page 28). This means employers violating any aspect of the new law face the prospect of treble damages and attorneys’ fees. For example, the sick-time law does not allow employers to ask for a doctor’s note if an employee has been out ‘sick’ for less than 24 hours. Demanding a doctor’s note in those circumstances could amount to interfering with, retraining, or denying the exercise of that employee’s rights, as could using the absence as a ‘negative factor’ when conducting a performance evaluation or when considering promotion, discipline, or termination.

Certainly, the attorney general’s sick-time regulations permit employers to seek verification if they suspect abuse of the law in some situations. But those situations are quite narrow in scope. For example, if an employer has “reasonable suspicion” that an employee aged 17 or younger is misusing sick time, the employer can seek verification from a parent or guardian. And an employer may discipline an employee of any age who is “exhibiting a clear pattern of taking leave just before or after a weekend, vacation, or holiday.”

But if the party night of choice happens to become, say, Monday instead of Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (behavioral norms having been known to adapt to changes in a legal regime), may the employer take disciplinary action upon observing a clear pattern of calling in sick on Tuesday mornings? Not under the current regulations, and not without casting a wary glance over the shoulder at Section 150.

Peter Vickery, Esq. is an employment-law specialist based in Amherst; (413) 549-9933.

Briefcase Departments

MGM Springfield Could Seek Delay in Opening
SPRINGFIELD — City officials confirmed Tuesday that MGM Springfield may coordinate its $800 million casino project in the South End with the reconstruction of the Interstate 91 viaduct through the city’s downtown, which could delay the casino opening until 2018. The original target date was late 2017. “While the actual opening date is subject to the approval by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the city recognizes that changes may be required to the schedule set forth in the host-community agreement to coordinate with the viaduct construction schedule,” said City Solicitor Ed Pikula. “The city intends to work cooperatively with MGM, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to hold MGM to the promises it made in the host-community agreement, while allowing for the flexibility required to assure a successful opening.” An MGM Springfield spokesman said the company plans to bring the discussion before the Gaming Commission. Its host-community agreement with Springfield sets financial penalties for opening more than 33 months after licensing, which occurred on Nov. 7, 2014. The I-91 viaduct project is expected to last until the summer of 2018, but financial incentives for an early finish could see it completed by February 2018.

DCR Seeks Applications for Park-improvement Effort
BOSTON — The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is now seeking applications for the first phase of the fiscal year 2016 Partnerships Matching Funds Program from park-advocacy groups, civic and community organizations, institutions, businesses, municipal governments, and dedicated individuals with an interest in improving the Commonwealth’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources. Through the program, DCR will allocate $1.25 million in matching funds to finance capital projects at the agency’s parks, beaches, and other facilities. Past projects include the design and construction of a new playground, repairs to historic buildings, trail and path enhancements, and landscape improvements. “The Partnerships Matching Funds Program is a great example of how DCR works together with residents and stakeholder organizations to improve our public resources,” said DCR Commissioner Carol Sanchez. “We are proud to continue to build upon the success of the Partnership Matching Funds Program, which has been responsible for a combined investment by the Commonwealth and public and private partners in trails, green spaces, historic structures, and water resources of more than $10 million since 2004.” Applications for DCR’s matching-funds program must provide a match of non-state funds for capital projects at the agency’s parks, beaches, and facilities to be considered. Projects that require more than one year to plan and complete will be under consideration. Once approved, DCR will manage the implementation of the projects in close consultation with the partners making contributions. The agency will match projects dollar for dollar and will also consider providing a two-to-one match in certain instances. For more information on the program, and to receive an application, call (617) 626-4989 or e-mail [email protected] Information and applications are also available at www.mass.gov/dcr; click the ‘Get Involved’ tab, then click on ‘Partnerships.’

Business Confidence Falls Again in May
BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index fell 1.8 points in May to 57.3, its second consecutive monthly decline after reaching a 10-year high in March. “We’re up 2.5 points from last May, but coming off an upward surge from August through March, business confidence seems to have lost momentum,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The index performed well during the first quarter of this year, when the national economy barely grew, but now it is weakening even as growth appears to be picking up.” Torto noted that economists’ forecasts for expansion in 2015 have moderated. “Our survey does reflect lower expectations for the six months ahead. We also see lagging confidence among manufacturers, whose exports are hurt by the strong dollar, and among mid-size companies.” AIM’s Business Confidence Index has been issued monthly since July 1991 under the oversight of the Board of Economic Advisors. Presented on a 100-point scale on which 50 is neutral, the index attained a historical high of 68.5 in 1997 and 1998; its all-time low was 33.3 in February 2009. The sub-indices based on selected questions or respondent characteristics almost all declined from April to May, though all were up from a year before. The U.S. Index assessing national business conditions lost 3.7 points to 50.1, and Massachusetts Index of conditions within the Commonwealth was off 2.7 at 55.9. “It is now six full years that the state indicator has led its national counterpart,” said BEA member Katherine Kiel, professor of Economics at the College of the Holy Cross. “Our state’s favorable industry mix and skilled workforce have enabled it to perform relatively well economically during a period of recovery and slow growth.” The Current Index, tracking employers’ assessment of existing business conditions, was down 0.9 to 57.4 points, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for the next six months, lost 2.8 points to 57.1. “These results indicate that Massachusetts employers do not foresee better business conditions over the period ahead,” Kiel said. “The readings are solidly positive, but expectations for marked improvement have faded.” Two of the three sub-indices related to survey respondents’ own companies lost ground in May: the Company Index, which assesses the situations of their own operations, was off 0.8 to 60.2 points, and the Sales Index dropped 1.7 points to 60.0. The Employment Index, meanwhile, added 0.7 to 58.0 points, “its highest reading since September 2005,” noted Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth. “Employment expectations for the next six months are particularly strong, as 37% of responding employers plan to add staff, while 14% expect reductions. This compares favorably to a 23%-12% split for the past six months.”

State Announces $10M Energy-storage Initiative
BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced the launch of a new, $10 million initiative aimed at making Massachusetts a national leader in energy storage. The Energy Storage Initiative (ESI) includes a $10 million commitment from the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and a two-part study from DOER and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) to analyze opportunities to support Commonwealth storage companies, as well as develop policy options to encourage energy-storage deployment. “The Commonwealth’s plans for energy storage will allow the state to move toward establishing a mature, local market for these technologies that will, in turn, benefit ratepayers and the local economy,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Massachusetts has an exciting opportunity to provide a comprehensive approach to support a growing energy-storage industry with this initiative’s analysis, policy, and program development.” Added EEA Secretary Matthew Beaton, “Massachusetts is nationally recognized for energy efficiency and clean-energy job growth. This Energy Storage Initiative will ensure the Commonwealth continues to be on the forefront of advancing innovative clean technology. Through this initial $10 million announcement and the subsequent studies, Massachusetts is primed to leverage the expertise of the storage industry to reduce barriers to project implementation, ultimately advancing a crucial component of modernizing our electric grid.” Massachusetts’ $10 billion clean-energy industry already supports a promising energy-storage cluster, said MassCEC CEO Alicia Barton. “By launching the Energy Storage Initiative and fostering this sector at home, Massachusetts will position itself to grab a disproportionate share of the economic opportunities arising out of the fast-growing global markets for storage technology.” The worldwide market for grid-scale energy storage alone is estimated to reach $114 billion by 2017, according to an analysis by Lux Research. Common methods of energy storage include batteries, flywheels, compressed-air energy storage, pumped storage, hydrogen storage, and thermal-energy storage. The two-part study will start by analyzing the industry landscape, economic development, and market opportunities for energy storage, while also examining potential policies and programs that could be implemented to better support energy-storage deployment in Massachusetts. The second part of the study will provide policy and regulatory recommendations along with cost-benefit analysis for state policymakers. In parallel, DOER will leverage $10 million in Alternative Compliance Payments (ACPs) to establish and support the Commonwealth’s energy-storage market. DOER will work to identify and evaluate the appropriate value of the services energy storage can provide to ratepayers and the grid through a market signals assessment, while funding demonstration projects from the utility to residential scales. DOER will work with MassCEC and key market players, in state and across the country, to assist in the development of innovative projects in the Commonwealth. Through this initiative, Energy and Environmental Affairs will hold several forums to engage experts and industry in storage-policy opportunities in the coming months. “Massachusetts continues to play a leading role in creating solutions for a more flexible and resilient grid,” said Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Assoc. “These investments … will undoubtedly spur continued advancement in the industry.”

DevelopSpringfield, ReGreen Springfield to Plant on Pine Street
SPRINGFIELD — DevelopSpringfield announced a collaborative project with ReGreen Springfield to provide plantings to help spruce up a vacant DevelopSpringfield-owned lot on Pine Street in the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood. ReGreen Springfield collaborates with a variety of community organizations, businesses, and government agencies to promote reforestation in Springfield. Founded following the 2011 tornado, the organization has since planted nearly 2,000 trees across the city and provided educational programming throughout its neighborhoods. “DevelopSpringfield is pleased to support and partner with ReGreen Springfield on this project. Like ReGreen, we are committed to encouraging sustainable redevelopment, especially in tornado-impacted areas, and we always strive to collaborate with other aligned nonprofit organizations. Working with ReGreen Springfield is a natural fit,” said Jay Minkarah, president and CEO of DevelopSpringfield. In 2013, DevelopSpringfield purchased several residential lots in the Central Street corridor with a goal of preparing them for redevelopment into owner-occupied housing. Some of the properties are currently under redevelopment. The Pine Street location will be among the lots available for a future development. In the meantime, the plantings will create an attractive, environmentally sustainable backdrop that will help jumpstart tree growth in the neighborhood in advance of site redevelopment. For more information on DevelopSpringfield, visit www.developspringfield.com.

MMS Launches Website on Opioid, Prescription Abuse
WALTHAM — The Mass. Medical Society (MMS) announced the launch of the Smart Scripts MA website (www.massmed.org/smartscriptsma) as part of a comprehensive effort to reduce prescription-drug abuse in the Commonwealth. The website is the cornerstone of the campaign announced last month by the physicians’ group to educate doctors and patients about safe prescribing and the storage and disposal of prescription pain medications. “There are two groups that perhaps more than any others can help to reduce prescription drug abuse. They are the physicians who write the prescriptions and the patients who take the medicines,” said Dr. Dennis Dimitri, president of the Mass. Medical Society. “This new website reaches out to both groups. By helping physicians ensure that opioids are available only to patients who truly need them, and by educating patients about the proper storage and disposal of prescription drugs, we believe we can make a big impact on the Commonwealth’s opioid crisis.” The medical society’s campaign consists of three components: guidelines for prescribers, free educational courses for prescribers, and information on storage and disposal of prescription drugs. The new website establishes all three components in one, easily accessible location. The prescriber-education section includes the MMS’ recently released Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication Guidelines for physicians. The section also contains links to its continuing medical-education courses, offered free to all prescribers until further notice, Dr. Dimitri said, “to remove as many barriers as possible to prescriber education.” Courses include those on managing pain, identifying drug dependence, opioid prescribing, and principles of palliative care. Five courses are currently available, with more to be added later this month. Recognizing the critical importance of proper storage and disposal of prescription medicines by patients, Smart Scripts MA includes separate sections on medication storage and medication disposal. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 80% of people who misuse prescription pain medications are using drugs prescribed to someone else, and the MMS believes patient education must be a key component of any effort to reduce prescription abuse. The website also includes content from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 and dedicated to reducing teen substance abuse and helping families impacted by addiction, and a link to the Medicine Abuse Project, a five-year campaign by the Partnership that aims to prevent a half-million teens from abusing medicine by the year 2017. “Opioid abuse has become a public-health crisis affecting every community,” Dimitri said. “Physicians and patients can make a real difference in reducing the abuse of prescription drugs. We believe our effort can help both groups do just that — make a difference — because people’s lives depend on it.”

Features
Natural-gas Issues Could Hinder Economic Development

Kenn Delude

Kenn Delude says businesses looking to locate in Western Mass. could be scared off by limited access to natural gas.

Rick Sullivan acknowledged the obvious: No one likes paying more for heating their home.

“It’s a very real pocketbook issue. The average resident saw what happened to their electric bill this winter; it went up drastically because of the availability and price of natural gas,” said Sullivan, president of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC). “Right now, natural gas is setting the price for power in this region.”

But, on a larger scale, it’s also setting back the region’s economic-development potential at a time when Western Mass. is starting to see signs of growth and recovery.

The issue is natural-gas capacity in Massachusetts. Simply put, demand for natural gas — among the cleaner and more plentiful fossil fuels available today — has begun to outstrip the capacity of the Commonwealth’s pipeline distribution system.

As a result, Columbia Gas stopped accepting new customers in Easthampton and Northampton at the end of 2014. Berkshire Gas did the same for new customers in Franklin County around the same time, and has since imposed a similar moratorium on Amherst, Hadley, and Hatfield. Similarly, National Grid has a moratorium in place on Cape Cod.

Kenn Delude, president and CEO of Westmass Development Corp., which works to attract new businesses to the region, said the natural-gas shutoff to those communities might hinder future development.

As an example, he cited American River Nutrition, a company that develops and produces natural products to stem age-related or degenerative disease states. The firm has been in the region for 17 years and recently signed a deal for 25,000 square feet of additional space in the Hadley University Industrial Park.

“They’re a local company, and they got trapped by the moratorium — shut off, if you will,” Delude said. “They were counting on — and all their permits and plans were approved for — natural gas. And now, because of the moratorium, they’re forced to find an alternative fuel source.”

That source is propane, which is much more expensive than natural gas, and requires outdoor tanks and truck delivery.

“Propane is not necessarily a good alternative,” Delude said. “It can certainly be very difficult and expensive and challenging to run an industrial plant on propane, especially one of any size. Propane is not the ideal substitute for natural gas.”

The impact, however, extends far beyond companies already established in Western Mass.

“We’re already in a region of the country where utility rates are very high compared to other sections of the country,” Delude said. “This is all about competition for businesses, competing with the Southeast or the Southwest or somewhere else that doesn’t have the same challenges.”

And in communities hit by the recent moratoriums — which are expected to last years — developers are going to be very restricted, he went on. “And it occurs at a very, very difficult time. We spent nearly eight years working through an economic downturn as a region, and we might be at the beginning of a recovery, where we’re starting to see growing businesses need to expand. With this situation where we don’t have any gas, we’re not going to be able to attract certain businesses — and it’s not a short-term problem.”

Outside the Lines

Sullivan, who was secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs under Gov. Deval Patrick, said that administration was fretting over a growing natural-gas capacity issue three years ago.

“The Patrick administration was concerned about the growing demands for natural gas,” he said. “In the big picture, you’ve got a lot of newer generators going online with natural gas as the primary source of fuel, or converting over to natural gas. In combination with coal going offline and some of the nuclear generators going offline, there is obviously a need [for distribution].”

Rick Sullivan

Rick Sullivan says the state needs to find a way to balance pipeline expansion with continued development of renewable-energy sources.

That means pipelines. At issue has been the desire of energy giant Kinder Morgan to expand its pipelines from Pennsylvania into the Northeast, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Berkshire Gas supports that plan and insists that, without it, natural gas will remain unavailable — indefinitely — to new customers in communities affected by the current moratorium. If the Kinder Morgan pipeline is built over the next few years, the moratorium could be lifted by late 2018, the company claims.

“Our first and foremost responsibilities to our customers are safety and reliability,” Berkshire Gas President Karen Zink said in a statement earlier this year. “The only way that we can assure continued safety and reliability, given current circumstances, is to invoke an across-the-board moratorium. We are in the business of selling and delivering natural gas, and as such, be assured that a moratorium is the last option that we would consider. But reasonable system planning and operation requires that we do so at this time to assure continued reliability for our existing customers.”

She and others noted that inexpensive natural gas has never been more plentiful in the U.S., and that the ability to deliver it to customers is the only challenge.

“There’s no doubt there’s a need currently and going forward,” Sullivan told BusinessWest. “We need future additional generation and additional capacity. Some of that can be filled with true energy efficiency, some filled by renewable energy, but even with all of that, there’s still a need for some additional natural-gas capacity.

“Here in New England — Massachusetts specifically — the infrastructure is old, and it’s also built to a standard of years ago, that no longer meets the needs of today,” he added. “So we had the beginnings of discussions — six New England governors talking about the need to bring in some additional capacities, meaning pipelines. Also, at the same time, we talked about how we can build transmission lines for electricity to hook up to wind and renewable sources, mostly to the north, and also Canadian hydroelectric.”

Patrick supported a bill three years ago that would have paved the way for pipeline expansion, but it ultimately did not pass. For its part, Kinder Morgan has run into often highly coordinated opposition from land owners, conservationists, and other citizens concerned about running a pipeline 180 miles across Northern Mass. — even after the company shifted a long portion of the proposed route into Southern New Hampshire.

When the Franklin Regional Council of Governments asked Kinder Morgan why the pipeline couldn’t run along the Mass Pike, the company said routing lines along existing highway or road corridors presents several challenges.

“First and foremost is safety,” it noted. “Highway corridors generally already have existing utility infrastructure located in or around their corridors. By locating a pipeline in a separate corridor, there is much less likelihood that damage will occur to the existing infrastructure during construction, or that the new pipeline will be damaged by third-party construction or maintenance activities by other utilities or road crews. Separate corridors are also generally less populated as compared to road corridors.”

That doesn’t placate Northern Mass. land owners whose property would be disturbed for a pipeline, and Sullivan understands their concerns. “With energy, there’s never an easy solution, never anything everyone can agree on. For every good thing it can do, there is another side of the coin. To get increased pipeline capacity into the region means you have to build new or expand existing pipelines, and that means construction; that means disturbing rights of way. Everybody needs to understand what those impacts are.”

Then there’s the philosophical question of whether the state should build more capacity for fossil fuel or force additional conservation efforts and renewable-energy generation, such as solar and wind. It’s a question, he said, that must be answered eventually.

“We have concerns about being able to do economic development, particularly as we’re coming into a time of increased interest in Western Mass., either by expansion of existing companies or new companies moving into the region,” Sullivan explained. “Obviously, part of what they look at is, what is the reliability and cost of power? We cannot, from an economic-development point of view, be in a position to say, ‘sorry, we’d love to have you come, but we can’t hook you up to natural gas or supply you with power.’”

Waiting Game

Meanwhile, the ability of energy companies to supply natural gas to new customers — existing customers are not expected to be affected by the moratoriums — is dwindling.

“We have not yet issued a moratorium for gas customers; we have capacity at the moment,” said James Lavelle, manager of Holyoke Gas & Electric. “But we are close to the limit of what we can reliably serve; we don’t have a lot of room for large industrial growth. We can bring in the equivalent of a couple of large industrial customers; that’s what we can accommodate at the moment. But we would like to have much more room than that.”

Even without a moratorium, he said, customers have to deal with cost increases during peak periods as a result of capacity constraints.

“It is to some degree a waiting game,” he said. “The pipeline companies would bring additional capacity, but they have to get various approvals. There also has to be a funding mechanism in place. We’ve had discussions about whether pipeline companies are going to get secured contracts from gas-distribution companies like Holyoke Gas & Electric or Columbia. The other discussion is a tariff, through ISO New England, where the electric rate payers would potentially finance the pipeline.”

Lavelle agreed with Sullivan and Delude, however, that the natural-gas capacity problem is very much an economic-development issue.

“Without doubt there will be impacts,” Delude added. “You may not see most of them or hear of most of them. When word gets out that there’s no natural gas available, you won’t know when a site selector Googles an article or two about gas not being available, and decide they’re not able to give your site consideration.”

But the impact of those invisible decisions could be felt over time, he told BusinessWest, adding that the EDC benefits from the leadership of Sullivan, who is well-versed in economic development, energy policy, and the workings of municipal government, as former mayor of Westfield.

“Ultimately,” Sullivan said, “the responsible position, one the EDC has taken, is that we need more capacity, we support additional capacity, but we don’t necessarily pick which pipeline or how that line would be built or where it should go, specifically. The whole process needs to be honest and transparent, and needs to play out. Whatever the answer is, it has to bring some relief to the capacity issues in Western Mass.”

He added that any pipeline expansion doesn’t have to be overbuilt, and there’s no reason why the state can’t continue to move forward on developing new renewable-energy solutions at the same time. He understands, as well, the environmental concerns some people have about accessing the massive shale reserves from which companies like Kinder Morgan draw.

“Again, that’s another issue,” Sullivan said. “Many passionate people argue on the environmental side of things as well. There’s just nothing easy, or something absolutely everyone can agree on, when it comes to energy. It’s not an easy issue.”

But it could be a precarious one for the entire Western Mass. economy if it isn’t resolved soon, Delude said.

“Clearly, this is a broad-based challenge at a time when the region is beginning to show signs of recovery,” he noted. “Businesses have done a great job becoming more efficient, but at some point, you can only do so much with the space you have, and without gas, it’s going to be a challenge to expand and grow.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Berkshire East Positions Itself as Outdoor Adventure Center

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster opened last October and has earned the distinction of being the longest alpine mountain coaster in North America.

In the fall of 1976, Roy Schaefer drove his family from Michigan to Charlemont to look at Thunder Mountain Ski Resort, which was about to go bankrupt.

Although it was failing, Schaefer was optimistic that he could bring it back to life, and he and a partner purchased it from Greenfield Savings Bank for $1, plus a debt of several hundred thousand dollars.

Schaefer renamed the resort Berkshire East, and although his hard work and dedication paid off, he dedicated only the fall and winter months to the operation.

“My father and his partner operated a ferryboat company in the summer on Mackinaw Island in Michigan, and when the ski area ended, all of their energy shifted there,” said Roy’s son, Jonathan Schafer, who co-owns Berkshire East Mountain Resort with his family.

However, Roy and his partner kept the area alive, and it became a place where generations of families learned to ski. But, because it was a seasonal operation dependent on weather, he battled Mother Nature for decades. However, his commitment and belief that outdoor recreation is a sustainable model for economic growth not only helped area businesses and provided seasonal employment, but was passed on to his four children.

Today, the resort is undergoing a $5 million transformation and is ushering in a bevy of recreational activities designed to transform it into a year-round destination that offers not only alpine skiing, but snow tubing, ziplining, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and the opportunity to ride North America’s longest mountain coaster.

The family also added overnight accommodations to the resort last September by purchasing the nearby, 530-acre Warfield House Inn and Farm, a bed and breakfast located just over a mile from Berkshire East that operates as a working farm complete with llamas, cattle, chickens, and gardens.

Jonathan has worked alongside his father for years, and says he and his brothers developed their own vision for expanding the family ski resort into a year-round retreat years ago.

“We were all ski racers who traveled the world, and due to our racing, we got to see a lot of things: bungee jumping in New Zealand, mountain biking, and other amazing activities,” he said. “We knew that we wanted to bring them to Charlemont and also realized that the Berkshires compare to any mountain range anywhere.

“We never had a written master plan, but we knew where we wanted to go with the resort due to our shared experience,” he went on, “and our goal now is to become the number-one family, four-season resort in Southern New England.”

The vision morphed into reality in 2008, when Jonathan’s brother, James, who lives in New York City, bought out his father’s business partner in Michigan.

Change began almost immediately, and in 2009, Berkshire East installed its first new recreational venue, Zipline Canopy Tours, that would change its status from a winter resort into one that offered year-round activities.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at the many changes and additions at Berkshire East, and how the resort is now at the top of its game — in more ways than one.

Reaching New Heights

The expanded venue has been a success, and people can choose three different zipline options that begin with a ride up the mountain on a chair lift that offers panoramic views of the Deerfield Valley. The descent is exciting, moving from platform to platform through mountainous terrain, and Zipline Canopy Tours was named by USA Today as one of the top 10 ziplines in the nation.

“The tours are guided and were built to fit in with the landscape. It’s a great adventure that lasts two to two and a half hours,” Jonathan said.

The Schaefer family has always strived to be in tune with nature, and in 2011 they installed a wind turbine, followed by a 10-acre solar field in 2012.

“We were the first ski area to produce all of our own electricity, and we remain the only ski area in the world to produce renewable energy on site,” Jonathan told BusinessWest.

Berkshire Whitewater

Berkshire Whitewater will begin offering rafting trips in May, with a variety of excursions designed for people of different ages and abilities.

The wind turbine powers the pumps that transform water into snow, and from 2009 to 2013, Berkshire East made dramatic upgrades to its snowmaking operation. “We also added a mountaintop pond, which allowed us to double our snow guns and open earlier each season,” Jonathan said, adding that the resort contains 160 skiable acres. “We opened the last weekend in November, and this year is our longest season ever.”

Another new attraction has increased business and added to the operation’s year-round status. It’s a 5,400-foot, all-season mountain coaster that opened last October on Columbus Day weekend.

“It was built as a diversification against the weather; ski weekends can be wiped out due to cold and snow, so we needed a way to drive business and give people a great experience,” said Jonathan. “The things we have done allow us to be open 365 days a year, and we built a 12,000-square-foot addition onto our lodge last year. It’s beautiful, as it’s made from hand cut timber.”

He noted that the lodge has two floors, two restaurants, and a bar, and has been a tremendous boost to the property. “Many couples book their weddings here, and now their guests will be able to enjoy the activities we offer year-round.”

The mountain coaster is one of them, and it’s a noteworthy attraction. “It is the longest mountain coaster in the nation and the third-longest in the world. It’s powered by our wind turbine and solar panels, and is an inviting way for people to enjoy the outdoors, as there are no fitness or skill requirements,” Jonathan said.

The coaster’s construction proved to be an extraordinary engineering feat, because each section had to be designed to adapt to the contour of the mountain with minimal impact to the landscape. The sections were installed in 10-foot lengths, and each car is towed up the mountain by a stainless-steel cable and strategically released when it reaches the top.

“Each car is independent of the others and has its own braking system, which allows people to slow down or speed up by pulling on the handles,” Jonathan said. “However, if one car gets within 80 feet of another going down the mountain, the brakes automatically stop it.

“The track twists and turns down a mountainside of cliffs and trees, so it’s a wild ride on a dynamic hillside,” he added. “Anticipation builds in riders who are going up, as they can see others coming down because the course crosses uphill four times.”

The new attraction has attracted coaster enthusiasts from across the nation, and groups have already booked trips there this summer.

Growing Venues

Berkshire East enjoyed a cooperative partnership with Moxie Outdoor Adventures for years, and recently acquired its Deerfield River rafting operation. It has been renamed Berkshire Whitewater, and although it kept most of Moxie’s river guides, Berkshire East purchased 10 new rafts designed exclusively for the river, along with other state-of-the art equipment.

“We have 60 spots on the river, plan to open in May, and will continue the rafting trips until it gets too cold to run them in the fall,” said Jonathan. “We can’t add 1,000 vertical feet to the ski area, so we are adding world-class activities to show off what a beautiful spot we have here.”

Trips will be available five days a week and will begin when the hydroelectric Bear Swamp Generating Station releases water, which is done on a regular, scheduled basis. Since it stores approximately 1.7 billion gallons of water almost 800 feet above the river, when it is released, it turns the river into an ideal spot for rafters, kayakers, and downriver canoeists.

A variety of adventures along different sections of the river are planned for different age groups and abilities, but all rafters will receive a 20-minute safety lecture before they leave. A picnic lunch is provided for people who opt for one of the easier excursions, while another, more advanced course ends with a barbecue.

Each trip lasts four or five hours, and there are options to satisfy everyone, including a leisurely, half-day float trip that families with children ages 5 and up can enjoy.

“They float along in a whitewater raft, and there are places for them to get out, splash around, and swim,” Jonathan noted.

In addition, guided kayaking trips will be offered daily, and children ages 5 and up can accompany an adult in a boat on the four-hour adventures.

Since some people have already rafted on the Deerfield River, Jonathan said, Berkshire Whitewater is offering trips on the Millers River, east of Greenfield, and the West River in Jamaica, Vermont. “But they all start here, and people are taken to those sites in vans,” he told BusinessWest.

skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East

Despite the resort’s all-season changes, skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East’s roster of offerings.

The Schaefer family is also building a new mountain-biking park and commissioned a group from Whistler Mountain, whose track record includes building the largest and most dynamic bike trail in the world, to construct 10 miles of trails down the mountain. “We plan to open the park in early July and will have a major focus on beginners, with a learn-to-ride program,” Jonathan said.

Meanwhile, because the Schaefers know that many people want to enjoy their resort for more than a day, the purchase of the mountaintop complex that contains the Warfield House Inn will allow them to offer overnight lodging.

“It was a logical move because there was no housing at the ski area and this was a beautiful facility that needed new life. We thought it would be a great complement to our business,” he said.

The bed and breakfast, which was recently renovated, contains a meeting facility, restaurant, and pavilion with mountaintop views. “It’s a gorgeous place to get married,” Jonathan said, adding that the farm is also known for its maple-sugaring operation, producing about 1,000 gallons of the sweet treat each year.

Endless Possibilities

Over the past few years, Berkshire East also installed a new Sky Trac Quad chair lift, with the help of a helicopter and an army of loyal employees, that can deliver 2,400 people an hour to the top of the mountain to ski, mountain bike, hike, and enjoy other outdoor activities.

“For many years, we were just a ski area, and we have continued to expand the skiing and offer a lot of learn-to-ski programs for children,” Jonathan said. “But it’s a sport that takes skill. There is a learning curve, and it requires equipment, so we wanted to add other year-round activities that would give families the experience of a lifetime.”

He added that his brother Bill, who lives in Iowa, is part-owner of the whitewater-rafting business and has purchased rental properties in the area; his brother Tom, who lives in California, has also purchased rental properties; and he, his brother James, and their father run the day-to-day operation of the resort and remain committed to providing healthy, recreational outdoor activities.

Today, the family is excited about the expansion, and their goal is for Berkshire East to become known as “New England’s Outdoor Adventure Center,” Jonathan said.

“We think it is possible,” he noted, “because we have added attractions that will drive business and give people a great experience here 365 days a year.”

Community Spotlight Features
Chicopee Officials Take Balanced Path to Growth

From left, Mayor Richard Kos, Carl Dietz, and Lee Pouliet

From left, Mayor Richard Kos, Carl Dietz, and Lee Pouliet stand near the former Lyman Mill, which a developer plans to turn into 50 market-rate loft apartments.

Mayor Richard Kos is taking a multi-pronged approach to economic development in Chicopee.

Rather than focusing strictly on new initiatives, he and other city officials are taking steps to preserve and repair existing infrastructure, while preparing for the future.

“Balance is important. People like to see things that are different, but we also have to take care of what we have,” said Kos, citing a wide variety of projects that will help revitalize the downtown area, promote pride in home ownership, and pave the way for ambitious undertakings on sites once used for military housing, as well as the former Facemate and Uniroyal properties.

Since Kos took office for the second time 14 months ago, one-third of the senior management staff has changed, and new ideas are being generated. “Some positions were vacant, and some became open through attrition and retirement,” he said. “We brought in some new talent, and the people on board are continuing the work that has been done with fresh eyes, new ideas, and skill sets in a seamless manner.”

The effort includes making full use of City Hall and the auditorium on the third floor, which has been closed for years and is now being renovated. The graceful room contains beautiful stained-glass windows, two balconies, and architectural details difficult to replicate today, and Kos hopes that, when repairs to the crumbling plaster are complete, it can be used to televise all meetings of city officials as well as school events and other city functions. “We want to make sure everything we do is accessible to the public; that type of transparency is really good for the city,” he said, explaining that the telecasts will be also be put on the city’s website so people who do not have cable TV subscriptions can view them.

Through a partnership with Mass IT, Chicopee has also become one of the first cities in the state to offer free wi-fi service downtown. “We’re calling it Chi-Fi; it’s an initiative designed to bring people downtown,” Kos said.

Others include more public parking, and last month the Munich Haus restaurant purchased the former, long-abandoned Ferris parking lot on Center Street with help from the city, which included $150,000 in block-grant funding.

“They will make 15 of the 50 parking spaces public and will also create five new full-time positions,” said Carl Dietz, the city’s building commissioner and director of community development.

The city also purchased and demolished an abandoned, multi-family home on Front Street, and the lot will be used to create dozens of additional parking spaces.

Although Kos said a plan to convert the former Cabotville Mill into new housing units is not likely to happen, a developer is pursuing the purchase of the former Lyman Mill property on lower Front Street. “It’s very exciting, as he plans to turn it into 50 market rate, loft-style apartments.”

Lee Pouliot agreed. “The apartments will be built in a way that will allow people to work and live in them,” said the city’s acting planning director.

In addition, an innovative owner-occupied, multi-family grant program will kick off this month in Chicopee Center, Chicopee Falls, and Willimansett to help make properties in those neighborhoods more marketable.

“The city worked with Polish National Credit Union and Chicopee Savings on the program, and we will provide entitlements of up to $16,000 to help people purchase homes,” Kos said, noting that buyers must live in them and will receive $1,000 each year for up to 16 years if they remain in the homes. “We believe this will improve the quality of life; landlords who live in a property they own are more likely to keep it clean and hold tenants responsible for their behavior than absentee landlords,” Kos said, adding that he believes well-maintained homes and pride in ownership are far more effective in improving neighborhoods than additional police patrols and efforts to enforce compliance codes.

Another new project is about to begin in Aldenville. “Wells Fargo foreclosed on a very small, single-family home on 42 Grace St. and offered the city $10,000 to use toward its redevelopment,” Pouliot said. “We expect to demolish it and have students from Chicopee Comprehensive High School build a new home on the site.”

Restoring Vitality

Memorial Drive has been a busy commercial strip for decades, and it continues to add vibrancy. Ground will be broken this spring for a new PetSmart store at Chicopee Crossing that will create 50 new jobs. But even though the 3.7-mile corridor is flourishing, Kos said it is not being ignored.

“Memorial Drive is our major commercial area, and although it continues to grow, we want to see if there are ways to make it better,” the mayor told BusinessWest.

So, last fall, the city contracted with UMass and a group of students in the Architecture and Regional Planning master’s program who called themselves Hill House Planners, to undertake a study of the roadway. They divided it into three sections and examined traffic flow, the vacancy rate, potential redevelopment strategies, and how much space is available for green infrastructure, along with zoning conflict resolution in areas where commercial property abuts residential property.

The study was completed in December, and suggestions include reducing the speed limit, adding new signage and multiple roundabouts, creating a bicycle path (which would be of particular benefit to residents on the South Hadley end of the corridor), and installing new sidewalks on both sides of the street that would improve access to shopping and commercial properties.

Kos said the results of the study are helpful and under consideration. “It’s one more area where we are looking for new ideas,” he told BusinessWest, explaining that the undertaking is in line with his plan to maintain and improve things that work, while addressing problem properties and issues.

The old library building, which has become an eyesore in the city’s center since it was vacated in 2003 when a new library was built, is one of those problem areas. The City Council allocated funding to remove a significant amount of asbestos and lead paint in the interior, and EDM Achitecture has been chosen to examine possibilities for reuse. “It’s just part of what we are doing to remove impediments to progress through preparation,” Kos said.

Progress is also being made on a plan to convert the former Chapin School, located between Meadow and Chicopee streets, into 40 apartments for homeless veterans through the Soldier On program.

“The school has been vacant and unused for 12 years, and this will be great for the neighborhood, as the veterans in the program have a history of taking great pride in their homes,” Dietz said.

In addition, interest in the former Facemate site and the Chicopee River Business Park, located just off Route 291, has escalated over the past year, officials said.

“In the last six or eight months, new companies have leased space both inside and outside of the park, and we are anticipating an active spring,” said Dietz, adding that, in the next few months, the city will put out a request for proposals to redevelop about five acres of land next to the new, $8.2 million RiverMills Center on West Main Street, which was constructed after former Facemate factory buildings were demolished and hazardous waste was removed from the property.

Westover Air Reserve Base has always played a prominent role in the city, and Kos said a plan created to expand its use through partnerships will help it thrive, which is especially important in light of the budgetary cuts the government has been making at military installations across the country.

“The state has allocated $5 million to UMass to lease and transform a vacant building on the base into a National Aeronautics, Research, Development and Training Center, and private investments around or on Westover will also provide jobs,” Kos said, speculating that, at some point, an aviation training program could be established at Chicopee Comprehensive High School that would contribute to jobs within that industry.

Dietz added that Westover Metropolitan Airport Development Corp. is playing an important role in the joint effort to ensure that Westover remains open. The corporation oversees the airport as well as four industrial parks built on land vacated by the military.

“They are partnering with the base to make things more efficient so they can play a larger role in the aircraft-maintenance business,” he said. “As the private side grows, the military is able to reduce its costs.”

The corporation also hopes to develop an unused, 100-acre site near the airport which could attract new businesses related to the aeronautics industry.

Kos said the state has also given the city $1 million to help demolish antiquated Navy housing off of James Street on a 26-acre plot, which Chicopee acquired at no cost in 2011. The plan is to build a 4-megawatt solar farm on the property, leveraging the state grant with an additional $1 million from city coffers.

“The electricity that will be generated should save Westover $100,000 each year and will also save our residents money,” Kos said. “Plus, Westover will receive $900,000 from the state’s military bond bill to do energy-infrastructure work that will make it more efficient.”

Changes are also being made to other properties throughout the city. “We are completing $250,000 in improvements to Wisnowski Park, and the wading pool is being turned into a splash pool, and the City Council appropriated $185,000 to fix structural problems in the administration building on the former Uniroyal-Facemate property,” Pouliet said.

Future Possibilities

The city will continue to seek ways to redevelop unutilized properties, and Kos said officials from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield told him they will consider building a new regional Catholic high school on the former Uniroyal factory site.

“Our city is strong; we have maintained our savings, our growth, and the services we offer, and a lot of our initiatives have received wholehearted support from the City Council and our legislative delegation,” said the mayor. “Chicopee is fortunate to have four representatives and three senators, led by Rep. Joe Wagner, as they have played a monumental role in our success.”

The mayor and other officials have high hopes for downtown and view it as an ideal location for new restaurants and businesses related to the healthcare industry.

“People come from all over Western Mass. to go to the Herbarium for holistic care, and the Munich Haus and Collegian Court have been real successes,” said Kos. “So, we believe the work that will be done on Interstate 91 for the casino will provide an opportunity for new restaurants in a spot with plenty of free parking that lends itself to future growth.”

During his recent State of the City address, he said the last year has been fruitful, but credited it to a team effort. “When I took office, I promised to work to make the city better. And I’m pleased to report that, together, we are doing that.”

Chicopee at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,717 (2013)

Area: 23.9 square miles

County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $17.54
Commercial Tax Rate: $31.67
Median Household Income: $46,708 (2010)
Family Household Income: $57,760 (2010)
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Westover Air Reserve Base; City of Chicopee: ; J. Polep Distribution Services; Turbo Care Inc.
Latest information available

Opinion
A Role Model on Many Levels

Two decades ago, BusinessWest launched a new recognition initiative. We called it our ‘Top Entrepreneur’ award. (We would have called it ‘Entrepreneur of the Year,’ but that phrase was, and still is, copyrighted.)

And besides, most of the people we’ve honored over the years weren’t recognized for accomplishments in a given year, but instead for what they’ve done over a lifetime — or at least to that point in their career.

We started this award to honor those who are continuing what would have to be a called a tradition of entrepreneurship, not only in Springfield, but across the region. It’s a tradition started by people like Milton Bradley, gunmakers Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson, Everett Barney, inventor of the clip-on ice skate, and many others, and continued by people like Peter Rosskothen, co-creator of the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House (honored by BusinessWest in 1997) and the extended Sandri family in Greenfield (honored just last year for the expansion and diversification of their energy business).

In the process of telling these stories, what has become clear is that the winners, while entrepreneurial at heart, are committed to much more than making money. Each one has been passionate about giving back, and in a number of ways.

This year’s honoree, Delcie Bean, is no exception. He’s being honored, in large part, for his exploits with Paragus Strategic IT, a company that can essentially trace it roots to when Bean was 14 years old (that was just 14 years ago, by the way), and is now a fixture on Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing technology companies in the country.

But his story goes much deeper, and it should serve as an inspiration to all business leaders in this region — and well beyond.

Indeed, Bean made it clear in his wide-ranging interview with BusinessWest (see page 14) that, while he’s passionate about growing his companies and taking them to the next level, that energy also applies to his desire to play a large role in the revitalization of Springfield and the region as a whole.

He’s off to a very solid start, not only through the creation of Tech Foundry, a unique educational facility designed to address the Valley’s nagging skills-gap problem, but also through his involvement with Valley Venture Mentors and other groups and initiatives focused on creating what’s been called an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.

As part of these efforts, Bean mentors young entrepreneurs, both formally and informally, and helps individuals (especially young people) determine if they have the many skills and attributes needed to be a successful entrepreneur.

As he mentioned to BusinessWest, Bean has a number of mentors himself, or business leaders who inspire him. Chief among them is Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, who is committed not only to continually growing his company, but also to playing a direct part in efforts to revitalize sections of Las Vegas, which was devastated by the Great Recession and its aftermath.

“It’s rare that somebody with that much money, where there’s so little that he’s going to gain from this personally, is so passionate about a city and its revitalization,” Bean said of Hsieh.

Rare indeed, but this is the philosophy that also drives this year’s Top Entrepreneur.

Who knows where and to what levels his business exploits will take him in the years and decades to come? As he mentioned, to continue growing at its current and profound rate, Paragus will certainly need to expand its footprint well beyond Western Mass.

What seems apparent, though, is that, when it comes to returning this region to its status as a center of entrepreneurship, innovation, good jobs, and vibrancy, Bean is in it for the long haul.

And the Valley will certainly benefit as a result.

Sections Security
Serv-U Locksmiths Knows the Nuts and Deadbolts of This Business

Steve Horowitz

Steve Horowitz says he deals with both clients making long-term security plans and those facing an immediate crisis.

The phone rings at all hours of the day and night, 365 days a year.

Many callers have an immediate crisis, which might range from a business owner who just terminated an employee and needs to have the locks on their building changed, to a supervisor who misplaced the master key to an apartment block that opens hundreds of units, and fears it could get into the wrong hands.

There are also new store managers who want to change the combination to a company safe, and others who discover their door won’t close properly due to damage or wear and tear, and thus cannot be locked.

“About 80% of our business is commercial, and our customers call us whenever they have a security issue and need help resolving it — we’re on the road every day,” said Steve Horowitz, owner of Serv-U Locksmiths in Springfield, adding that the company’s fleet of six mobile vehicles allows it to respond quickly.

But selling and servicing security products is not all Serv-U does. Educating clients is critical to its success because the security industry has changed significantly over the years and continues to evolve. So, in addition to selling locks, keys, and devices, and replacing, rekeying, or repairing them, the company’s employees spend time talking to clients to determine what products will best meet their needs.

Solutions can range from something as simple as a deadbolt doorknob with a key lock to a highly sophisticated security system, to a fire-resistant or burglar-proof safe.

Horowitz told BusinessWest that specific types of security devices, locks, or systems are used in certain industries.

“For example, retail storeowners often have shoplifters leave through their back doors with merchandise,” he explained. “They need a lock with an alarm built in that will go off if someone opens the door, but still allow them to maintain the door as a fire exit. We have products to solve every security issue and fit every situation.”

Hospitals also require special security in areas such as rooms or closets where medications are stored. “If a hospital gave an employee a generic key, it could be copied at any hardware store,” Horowitz said. “So, we have several high-security lock systems that are exclusive to our store.”

He added that, whenever a key to these systems is issued, the person who gets it must sign a registration form. The forms are kept in the store, and a key can be duplicated only by a Serv-U employee after the person requesting it shows their driver’s license and re-signs the registration form, to ensure the signatures match.

“It makes it impossible for them to go to any other locksmith to get another key. It’s a very high level of security used to prevent stealing or ensure safety,” Horowitz went on, noting that special keys are also used in areas that contain hazardous materials within a factory or hospital.

Seven of Serv-U’s 12 employees have worked for the company for more than 20 years and continually take classes to stay current with changes within the industry.

“There is a lot more to security than buying a lock or having a key made, and a lot of customers come to us after they purchase a product and find that it doesn’t resolve their problem,” he added.

Business Evolves

The first Serv-U store was opened in 1954. “My father, Sam Horowitz, and two of my uncles, Ben Horowitz and Jordan Rosenkrantz, opened Serv-U Hardware in Springfield. The original store was part of the True Value Home Center chain, and in addition to other products, they duplicated house and car keys and sold locks to homeowners,” Horowitz said, as he recounted the history of the business.

In the ’70s, the trio recognized the growing demand for security and hired a locksmith, which allowed them to expand their line of products.

During the next decade, Horowitz, his brother Lenny, and four of their cousins took over from their fathers and expanded the operation. “We opened hardware home centers in Northampton, Westfield, and Enfield, which all included full-service lock shops,” Horowitz said. They also added a number of specialty sections, including a home-decorating department that carried everything from paint and wallpaper to unfinished furniture; an automotive supply department; and a Baby Castle that sold infant furniture and accessories.

However, by 2001, big-box stores made it difficult to compete, and the family closed everything except the Springfield store. “My brother Lenny and I owned it, and we kept the lock shop and the decorating center open,” Horowitz said.

Things changed again three months ago, when Lenny moved to Florida and Horowitz became the sole owner. He closed the home-decorating department in October and made the decision to dedicate the business entirely to locksmithing.

Today, Serv-U Locksmiths has a fleet of six fully equipped service vehicles and a long list of commercial customers who have been with the business for decades. “They include banks, hospitals, colleges, manufacturing facilities, property-management companies, federal and state agencies, and housing authorities,” Horowitz said, adding that the company also provides products and services to homeowners.

Its mobile team serves clients within a 30-mile radius of the store, which extends into the Berkshires, Northern Conn., and even south of Hartford. “People call us with a variety of problems, and if someone needs us, we are there, which is how we have built our business and our reputation.”

One thing that sets Serv-U apart from other area locksmiths is its large showroom. “It makes us unique and gives customers the opportunity to talk to a locksmith, see how different products work, and get advice,” said Horowitz. “It also allows them to bring their locks here to be repaired, which can save them money.”

The number of security systems Serv-U carries is extensive, he added. “Originally, locks were only used with keys. Today, keys are still very prevalent, but there are also locks that use combinations or key fobs.”

He explained that the key-fob system is used frequently by businesses due to its sophistication.

“A fob can be programmed to only allow a person to enter a building or area at a certain time or certain day of the week,” Horowitz said. “The idea is to give a company more control over which employees have access to certain parts of their building. For example, someone with a fob who works third shift may not be able to enter the building at other times of the day. Plus, the person managing the fobs can delete them at any time and can also print out an audit trail, which shows not only who entered the building, but what door they used and the time they entered.”

He added that, when a company purchases this type of system, a Serv-U employee goes to their office and trains designated staff members in how to use the software.

“The fobs can be reprogrammed from a computer, which gives a manager control over security even when he or she is not there,” Horowitz went on, adding that many hospitals, banks, and colleges use this type of system.

Educated Choices

Safes are another important security product, and Serv-U sells, services, delivers, and installs models that range from $100 to $3,500. Some are made to secure guns, while others are fire-resistant, burglar-resistant, or both.

But they are not all created equal, and Horowitz said people frequently purchase models that are inadequate for their needs.

“People think ‘safe’ means secure. But it depends on the type of security they are seeking,” he told BusinessWest, noting that, although most safes have undergone testing by Underwriters Laboratory, the length of time they can withstand fire, water, or other elements can differ greatly.

In fact, the materials used to make the safe, as well as the way it is constructed, play an enormous role in whether or not it is likely to protect against theft.

“Although they have locks, fire safes are not constructed to keep burglars out, and safes that protect against burglary have a hole drilled into the floor of the unit that allows the safe to be bolted to the floor of the building, so once the door is closed, it can’t be removed; the materials need to be strong enough to resist drills and other power tools,” Horowitz said. “We see a lot of commercial customers using safes that are not appropriate for their needs. It all goes back to education. There are answers to things people don’t know to ask about and solutions to every security problem.”

In addition, Serv-U also installs and repairs commercial doors. “We carry far more than locks. We also sell door closers, hinges, doors, door viewers, and weather stripping,” Horowitz said, adding that these products are also necessary to ensure security.

The business also serves the public, and the demand for car keys with embedded computer chips is on the rise. “In most cases, we can cut them for less than the car dealers,” Horowitz said. “But since these keys contain anti-theft devices, they typically cost between $25 and $200. And although some people say they don’t want to spend that much, we inform them that, if they lose all of their car keys, we can make new ones, but it will be much more expensive if we have to generate a key from nothing.”

Keys to the Future

Times have changed since Serv-U Hardware first opened its doors. “But our locksmith business has survived for 60 years and will continue to do so; it’s satisfying because we solve problems every day,” Horowitz said, adding that his employees take a proactive stance in continuing their own education as well as educating the public about changes in the industry.

“Our business keeps growing,” he added, “and although I am not sure where the locksmith trade will be in the next 15 years, I can assure you that Serv-U Locksmiths will be there too.”

Employment Sections
It Appears That These Contracts May Be Here to Stay

By PETER VICKERY, Esq.

Peter Vickery

Peter Vickery

There have been no TV specials, live re-enactments, or commemorative stamps, but the fact is, this year marks the 600th anniversary of Dyer’s Case, the first recorded legal decision about a non-compete agreement.

It did not go well for the employer, John Dyer. He was asking the court to enforce the agreement against his former apprentice, a young man who (in exchange for Dyer forgiving a loan) had promised to refrain from setting up his own shop for six months after the end of the apprenticeship. Not only did the judge rule for the young apprentice, he added that Dyer himself ought to go to prison for trying to stifle competition.

While Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has no plans to jail employers who draft them, he would nevertheless like to make non-competes a thing of the past.

Six centuries after Dyer’s Case, the goal of non-competes remains the same: to help employers protect their businesses by temporarily preventing ex-employees from aiding, or becoming, the local competition. As in 47 other states, these contracts are legal in Massachusetts (with a few exceptions for particular professions, discussed below) so long as they are reasonable in terms of time and territory. Patrick wants to change that, but so far the Legislature has refused to go along. At the end of the last session — after legislators passed his economic-growth bill, minus the section that would have banned non-competes and rewritten the trade-secrets law — the governor said he would try again. What is at stake, and how would victory for the governor affect businesses in Massachusetts? Read on.

What Are Non-compete Agreements?

Non-competes have survived because creating intellectual property is like training an apprentice: it takes time and money. In business, our motive for investing such resources is profit, and most of us would not invest if other people could simply walk off with our profits.

Patent, copyright, and trademark law harness the profit motive by protecting most — but not all — forms of intellectual property. Trade-secrets law helps plug the gaps. Even after revealing a trade secret to an employee, an employer can retain some of the secret’s value via contracts, such as agreements not to disclose and not to compete.

If an employee with access to your trade secrets (e.g. customer data, expansion plans, and marketing strategy) quits and walks straight into a job with your nearest rival, you have reason to worry. Mindful of this possibility, some employers use non-disclosure agreements to prevent their trade secrets from falling into the hands of the competition. By signing non-disclosure agreements, your employees promise not to divulge confidential information to their new employer.

But how can you, the former employer, looking across the street at your ex-employees happily chatting away with your nemesis, be absolutely sure that they are abiding by this commitment and not using your information against you? As a practical matter, you cannot, at least not without resorting to electronic surveillance, which would likely generate many more difficulties — big ones, involving lawyers and judges — than it would solve. This is why non-competes are helpful.

Compliance with a non-compete agreement is easier to verify than compliance with a non-disclosure agreement. Although you may not be able to find out what your ex-employees are saying, you will find it comparatively easy to find out where they are working. So, to borrow a theological term, the purpose of the non-compete is to ensure that your employees avoid the occasion of sin, i.e. circumstances that entice or incite wrongdoing on their part.

Waiting for the harm to occur and then suing for damages would make little sense. After all, the most effective way to protect commercially valuable confidential information is to stop the harm from happening in the first place. Therefore, the typical non-compete allows the employer to ask a judge for an injunction prohibiting ex-employees from going to work for the local competitors or setting up a rival enterprise of their own.

But non-competes cannot go as far as some employers might wish. To imagine an extreme example, if the law allowed permanent, worldwide non-competes, ex-employees would be unable to pursue their livelihoods or start new businesses, commerce would stagnate, and the consumer would suffer. So to balance the employer’s interests against those of both the employee and society as a whole, the Massachusetts courts have gradually narrowed the purpose, geographic reach, and duration of non-competes.

This is how the Supreme Judicial Court has summed up the law: “a covenant not to compete is enforceable only if it is necessary to protect a legitimate business interest, reasonably limited in time and space, and consonant with the public interest.” In addition, the court will not enforce an agreement if, after signing it, the employee’s job undergoes substantial changes.

Each case is different, and the reasonableness of time and territory will depend on the particular facts, as will what sort of job changes are substantial, but one universal principle applies: if the agreement’s purpose is merely to prevent ordinary competition, the court will not enforce it.

There are at least five hurdles an employer has to jump over before a court will enforce a non-compete:

• The agreement must protect a legitimate business interest, e.g. trade secrets and good will;
• It must be reasonable in duration, e.g. up to two years;
• It must be reasonable in geographic scope, which depends on the extent of the employer’s business. The court might uphold a worldwide ban for a genuinely worldwide enterprise, but not for a business whose market extends only 50 miles from its store;
• The competition must be direct, i.e. for the same customers; and
• If the employee’s compensation or responsibilities change, the employee must sign a new agreement.

There is one more hurdle regarding current employees. If an employee is already working for the employer at the time she signs the agreement, the employer will have to provide her with separate consideration, meaning a benefit that is something more than the job itself, such as extra money. Otherwise, the non-compete is unenforceable.

As well as these significant hurdles, Massachusetts law prohibits non-competes for certain professions, namely physicians, nurses, broadcasters, licensed social workers, and attorneys. And the courts are inclined to relax the terms of non-competes that try to restrict the employment of financial advisors and brokers.

Even with all those caveats and provisos, non-competes make obvious sense for established companies. And therein lies the tradeoff dilemma for policymakers. A rule that protects existing businesses is also a barrier to entry, standing in the way of newcomers. If policymakers want to protect current jobs-makers, the environment will be less welcoming to insurgents. Conversely, if they want to create an ideal climate for startups, they will almost certainly hurt existing businesses and the people they employ.

The Case for Banning Non-competes

Patrick would like Massachusetts to follow California, where non-competes are illegal. Much of the lobbying has come from groups that believe the switch would encourage more innovation, making Massachusetts more like Silicon Valley.

Non-competes came into the crosshairs in the 1990s when academics started to blame them for discouraging startups. In 1994, AnnaLee Saxenian, a graduate of Williams College, Harvard, and MIT, credited Silicon Valley’s “culture of mobility” with enabling the rapid transfer of knowledge, and compared it unfavorably with the “buttoned-down” culture of Route 128 in the Boston area. Five years later, Ronald Gilson, a law professor at Stanford Law School, published an article that pointed to non-competes as the explanation for the success of Silicon Valley compared with Route 128. Gilson said that it was the presence of non-competes in Massachusetts and their absence in California that lay at the root of the different cultures.

Several scholars have buttressed this idea, claiming that non-competes impede entrepreneurship and job growth. For example, Matt Marx and Lee Fleming, the authors of Non-compete Agreements: Barriers to Entry… and Exit? (2012), found evidence of a “brain drain,” with talent moving from states that enforce non-competes to states that do not.

Patrick’s proposal is based on this notion. Specifically, he wants the Legislature to repeal Sections 42 and 42A of General Laws Chapter 93 (which allow damages and injunctions for the unlawful taking of trade secrets) and create a new Chapter 93K, a Massachusetts version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA). In a nutshell, the thinking behind the governor’s proposal is that ditching non-competes and adopting UTSA will help make Massachusetts more like California, increasing our allure for new, innovative, hi-tech enterprises.

Who Wants to Keep Non-competes?

Established, larger businesses tend to oppose the governor’s plan. Some report that confidential-information theft is common, not rare, and that abolishing non-competes would make it harder to deter the practice. More fundamentally, these employers sense that the bill threatens existing jobs without guaranteeing new ones. The promised gains are merely possible and general, whereas the losses are highly likely and specific.

Even some people who believe that non-competes impede startups recommend caution. For example, Marx and Fleming agree that non-competes “are responsible for a general exodus of talent [and] are driving away some of the best and brightest.” But they also point out the absence of some important data, and warn that there is still no “definitive answer regarding whether non-compete enforcement is a net positive or negative.” Clearly, when weighing the merits of a far-reaching policy proposal such as banning non-competes and signing up to UTSA, legislators need to bear in mind what we do not know.

But they should also look at what we do know, starting with two simple facts. First, 46 states have adopted UTSA in some form. The exceptions are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. Second, 47 states enforce non-competes, and those that do not are California, Montana, and North Dakota.

So we know that (1) most states have a version of UTSA on their statute books and (2) most states enforce non-competes. This makes it difficult to determine how big a factor non-competes and UTSA are in encouraging innovative startups. Complicating matters further, in recent years several states have modified their non-compete rules. Idaho and Louisiana made it easier to enforce them, Oregon and New York made it harder, and Georgia moved closer to the Massachusetts approach. But, keeping these analytical challenges in mind, we can learn something valuable by looking at recent economic indicators and league tables of innovation and competitiveness.

One useful indicator is the unemployment rate. Looking at the states where non-competes are illegal, North Dakota’s rate is 2.8%, Montana’s is 4.7%, and California’s is 7.4%. Our unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 5.6%, higher than North Dakota’s and Montana’s but lower than California’s. The most likely explanation for the lower unemployment rates in Montana and North Dakota is not the absence of non-competes but the presence of a booming energy sector. And the fact that the unemployment rate is higher in California than in Massachusetts suggests that banning non-competes would not, in and of itself, boost our overall job growth.

Most of the states with UTSA — which are most of the states in the U.S. — have higher unemployment than Massachusetts. Of course, so do New Jersey and New York (non-UTSA states), which indicates that UTSA is not a determinative factor either way.

League tables of competitiveness and innovation tell a similar story. The Beacon Hill Institute’s 2013 State Competitiveness Index ranked Massachusetts top of the league, with Texas in ninth place and New York 26th.  California came in 29th and New Jersey 41st. As for the two states (other than California) where non-competes are illegal, the index gave second place to North Dakota and 36th place to Montana. Non-competes do not seem to be outcom-determinative, at least according to the way the Beacon Hill Institute measures competitiveness.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s 2013 State Entrepreneurship Index ranks North Dakota first and California second, which would seem to support the contention that states without non-competes are more entrepreneurial than those with them, until you notice that, only two years before, California placed 11th, which was the ranking Massachusetts received in 2012, while New York held third place throughout. Between 2011 and 2013, the legal status of non-competes remained stable in California, Massachusetts, and New York, so any claim that this index proves non-competes stifle entrepreneurship falls flat.

Another index reinforces the lack of a connection, namely the 2014 State New Economy Index from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which factors innovation capacity into its calculation of economic dynamism. On the one hand, California (where non-competes are illegal) ranks third, ahead of New York and New Jersey (where they are allowed). But, as for the two states other than California where non-competes are illegal, the index ranks North Dakota 36th and Montana 39th. The state winning first place? Massachusetts. Again, the presence or absence of non-competes fails to predict a state’s standing in the innovation rankings.

In summary, the UTSA states include many with high unemployment and low innovation, which suggests that UTSA is not a key ingredient to prosperity. Similarly, the states that enforce non-competes include some that lead the nation in terms of innovation, and some that bring up the rear. What we do know is that, so far, no one has been able to offer clear and convincing proof that banning non-competes and enacting a version of UTSA would lead to greater innovation and more jobs.

The Future of Non-competes

If Patrick or his successor should decide to rejoin the battle, legislators would have to consider the costs to present employers as well as the putative benefits to employers yet to come.

They might also consider some innovations of their own, such as expanding the motley list of vocations where non-competes are forbidden — currently physicians, nurses, broadcasters, social workers, and lawyers. Even though those professions cannot be subject to non-competes, they seem to thrive regardless. For example, nobody is complaining about a lack of lawyers in Massachusetts (or anywhere else).

On the other hand, the amorphous nature of the tech sector makes it difficult to draw lines around. The Legislature learned this lesson last year when it imposed, and then repealed, a tax on “computer-system design services.” Trying to define the kinds of high-tech jobs that would qualify for new exemptions from non-competes could become a legislative drafter’s nightmare.

Unless and until proponents can offer persuasive evidence that banning non-competes would create more jobs than it would destroy, this particular species of contract looks set to celebrate its 601st birthday — and maybe many more.

Peter Vickery practices law in Amherst; (413) 549-9933; www.petervickery.com

Community Spotlight Features
West Springfield Takes Active Approach to Growth

Mayor Edward Sullivan

Mayor Edward Sullivan says the quality of life in West Springfield helps attract new businesses to the town.

Mayor Edward Sullivan says the city of West Springfield has changed its tactics toward economic development, and is moving forward “like a battleship,” which is a significant development.

“In the past, we moved like an aircraft carrier,” he said, meaning more deliberately. “But we are no longer sitting back on our heels. Instead, we have taken a proactive approach and are moving from a passive role to an active role. We’re doing a better job of marketing through our website and collaborations with regional agencies and commercial brokers. Nothing happens overnight, but we’ve laid the groundwork and put a strategic plan in place.”

To that end, Tara Gehring has been hired as the town’s first economic-development coordinator and assistant planner. She grew up in West Springfield, completed an internship in town, has a master’s degree in regional planning, and is part of a new team Sullivan created that meets with him weekly to brainstorm ideas to promote economic development. Members include Mark Noonan, the town’s conservation officer and assistant planner, and Douglas Mattoon, director of planning and development.

“We call ourselves the ‘crossroads of New England,’” said Sullivan. “And we have a lot to offer, including access to Interstate 91, Route 90, and Route 5, which meet in West Springfield, along with the CSX rail yard, which is the largest rail yard in Southern New England. And we believe that new investments by business owners will add to the quality of life.”

However, the mayor told BusinessWest the town is also investing in itself. He pointed to its new, $107 million high school, which opened in February; a $16.1 million library reconstruction and renovation project that is underway; and recent infrastructure improvements. He said they are all important because when communities are rated, these things, along with public safety, recreation, and access to highways, are taken into account.

Sullivan’s team meetings have resulted in marketing initiatives that include a redesign of the town’s website, which now contains links to commercial banks and business opportunities. “If someone is looking for commercial property, they can visit the website instead of having to look on their own. In the past, the town did not have a listing of available commercial sites,” Gehring said.

New guidebooks have also been created that are available online or at Town Hall. The first is titled “Business and Residents’ Guide to Permits and Licensing,” and lists the town’s departments and the permits they handle. There is also a more comprehensive version called the “West Springfield Permitting Guidebook.” It is more detailed and includes the names and contact information of the employees in each town department, as well as office hours and other pertinent information.

In addition, monthly open houses will begin Sept. 9. They will be held on the second Tuesday of each month from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. for people hoping to open a new business or expand an existing one. The sessions will be attended by the heads of every department involved in the permitting process and will give people the opportunity to discuss their projects in a group setting.

“We wanted to remove any hoops or hurdles that businesses face, so we’re trying to streamline the process,” said the mayor. “It’s all part of our new, proactive approach.”

Mattoon noted that people who attend the meetings will have instant access to critical information, such as zoning laws and parking regulations. “In the past, there was no way to get representatives from every department to discuss a project. People had to go to each individual department, and in some cases, they were not aware of what was going on in other departments.”

Noonan added that these sessions will allow town officials to work more cohesively. “We want to change the way we operate as a municipality, and these meetings will provide us with business owners’ concerns so we can address them in a faster and more efficient manner.”

Sullivan concurred. “Time is money, and people would rather get a quick ‘no’ than a six-month ‘yes,’” he said.

Dedicated Measures

This summer, a team of experts began the preliminary work needed to create a new use for the former Southwick Paper Co. mill site at 150 Front St.

“We hope to revitalize the property and have it serve as an economic-development catalyst; it’s situated on the Westfield River and has an old canal on it,” Sullivan said, noting that Fibermark’s world headquarters are located in a separate building on the property.

From left, Mark Noonan, Tara Gehring, and Douglas Mattoon

From left, Mark Noonan, Tara Gehring, and Douglas Mattoon meet with Mayor Edward Sullivan every week to brainstorm ideas to promote economic development.

The project began about three months ago when Gehring requested help from John Mullin in assessing the site. An economic-development expert at UMass Amherst, he complied by assigning three graduate students to conduct a complete inventory of the property, including zoning and whether easements will be needed to move forward.

A public forum was held on Aug. 14 by the UMass researchers to gain input from neighbors and interested parties on what they would like to see built on the multi-level site, which includes several buildings.

“The district has vast potential because access to the river has not been taken advantage of, and there was discussion about using the site for small light manufacturing, condominiums, retail shops, and even a micro-brewery,” said Mattoon, adding that rezoning may be required to bring the plan to fruition. “All of the ideas had merit, and once we get the final report, the next step will be to implement the goals and objectives.”

In addition, improvements to other areas of the town are changing the landscape. They include an initial plan unveiled in June for a $650,000 Mittineague Park Gateway Project. The work is expected to be finished next year and will include a new pedestrian bridge along the nature trail and improvements to the park’s entranceway, the community garden, a horseshoes tournament pit, and parking facilities. In addition, accessibility to areas around the park, such as the Ezekiel Day House, commonly known as Santa’s House, will be improved.

Traffic flow to the UNICO building located within the park will also be modified, and a $1.4 million renovation of that structure, which began a year ago, has just been completed.

“Now it can be used year-round as a recreational facility,” said Mattoon, noting that the building, which was as constructed by volunteers from the nonprofit service club in the 1970s, was outdated and had never been insulated, so heating costs prohibited using it during the winter.

Improvements include a new kitchen, outdoor playscape, pool, picnic area, and parking lot as well as handicap accessibility.

“It can hold 100 to 150 people, and our plan is to have it become a meeting space for groups such as the Garden Club; the Senior Center will also use it as an ancillary building,” Mattoon said.

Sullivan added that “these things are important because people who do site reviews look at a town’s amenities. We’re investing in West Springfield in hopes that businesses will, too.”

The lack of parking in the Merrick Memorial District and downtown area is another obstacle officials are working to remove, as it has been a roadblock for business owners who have expressed interest in these sections of town but felt the problem was significant enough to settle elsewhere.

“Our zoning is not consistent with the needs of small businesses, especially in the Merrick section,” Noonan said, adding that the district now includes several empty storefronts.

He noted that the regulations were adequate when they were created in the ’50s because, at that time, people who lived there were able to walk to work at nearby companies such as Gibarco, and do the majority of their shopping in the neighborhood. “So many families didn’t own a car,” he told BusinessWest.

Sullivan said efforts are being made to expand the restrictive regulations, and measures may include shared parking space. For example, a business that is open during the day might share space with a restaurant that opens in the evening.

“Things that functioned for the 20th century are being re-examined or built anew for the 21st century,” Noonan added.

To that end, Gehring is exploring areas of town that haven’t been examined for a while to determine if business owners in these locations need help. For example, she recently visited the large industrial section behind Century Plaza on Memorial Avenue, but was happy to report that the business owners didn’t need any assistance from the town.

In addition, Gehring is working closely with the West of the River Chamber’s economic-development team to open lines of communication. “And in June, West Springfield had a table at the Western Mass. Developers Conference in Springfield — it was the first time the town was represented,” Gehring said, adding that she narrated a bus tour through the town in which she highlighted several neighborhoods.

“I want to help move our community forward for the next generation by assisting businesses and improving investment in West Springfield,” she added.

Infrastructure improvement is also ongoing, and West Springfield has undertaken more road repairs this year than it has in the last three or four years. In addition, the town put in a new water main from the Southwick Well Fields to the tanks and feeder system, and purchased additional land to protect the water supply.

The town also enacted a zone change in July in the Memorial Corridor Overlay District. “It was adapted to achieve economic stimulus as well as a means of protection from adverse uses that may or may not be associated with a casino built 800 yards from the West Springfield border,” Mattoon said. “It prohibits businesses such as pawn shops, but opens up opportunities for small businesses operating in 900 square feet or less that were previously not allowed, as it had industrial zoning.”

Multiple Offerings

Sullivan says the improvements West Springfield has made and continues to make, coupled with its focus on helping business owners succeed, should result in growth.

“Why wouldn’t a business want to come here?” he asked rhetorically. “We have everything they could want, and we plan to continue to invest money to enhance the quality of life in town. There is a lot going on here, and it all adds up to what government can do to help promote economic development.”

West Springfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1774
Population: 28,391 (2010)

Area: 17.5 square miles

County: Hampden

Residential Tax Rate: $16.41

Commercial Tax Rate: $31.99
Median Household Income: $40,266 (2010)

Family Household Income: $50,282 (2010)

Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Northeast Utilities; Brightside for Families and Children; Home Depot; Itt Exelis; UPS
* Latest information available

Sections Sports & Leisure
Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting Is a Venture on the Right Track

By KEVIN FLANDERS

PVIK owner Ryan Bouvier, left, pictured with manager Wilder Gulmi-Landy

PVIK owner Ryan Bouvier, left, pictured with manager Wilder Gulmi-Landy, is advancing plans to expand his venture.

As a youngster, Ryan Bouvier and his family would often vacation at Salisbury Beach on the Bay State’s North Shore. One of the annual stops would be at Go-Kart Land.

It was there, he recalls, that he not only developed an affection for the sport, but started dreaming about one day opening his own operation in Western Mass. In fact, he told his parents that this was his career ambition — or at least one of many.

It would take more than a decade for that dream to become reality, but today, Bouvier is the proud owner of Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting in Hatfield, a business that only two years after opening is already on the fast track, serving a growing number of customers in all age groups.

PVIK, as it’s called, has been a wild ride for this entrepreneur, who left a job as a commercial-lending officer to pursue this venture full-time, and it’s really just getting started. The operation boasts go-karts capable of reaching 35 mph and a winding, 1,000-foot track that keeps drivers on their toes.

PVIK attracts serious racers and families alike, hosting everything from leagues to birthday parties to corporate outings that offer something much faster — and exponentially more fun — than a conference-room table. Visitors come from across town, throughout the region, and even beyond, because there just aren’t many facilities like this.

“This is definitely a destination for people, many who don’t live around here; some people will travel one or two hours every week to get time on the track,” said Bouvier, who works closely with manager Wilder Gulmi-Landy to handle daily operations and promote the venture. “Just like any business, you want to always get the word out there about what you offer and keep people coming back.”

Bouvier spent more than nine years researching the karting industry, saving money, and honing his vision. Often, he thought it would be beyond his reach, because while the business is unique and has vast promise, there are also some considerable risks and expenses that come with the territory.

“When I was researching, I never thought it would be possible for me to open a business due to the expense involved,” he said, adding that, after much due diligence and introspection, he decided to take the plunge, and he hasn’t bothered to look in the rear-view mirror — not that there is one on these karts — since he opened the doors.

Instead, the focus is on what’s down the road, meaning likely expansion — on several possible levels.

Bouvier is already moving ahead with a plan to invest in new vehicles, double karts that will enable young children to ride with parents and also allow disabled individuals to also experience the track’s speed and tight turns. He’s also exploring the possibility of opening another karting operation, potentially farther south in the Pioneer Valley, and is already thinking about one day having multiple karting locations.

“We’ve done really well for a young business with young people operating it,” said Bouvier, who is 29. “I’d love to own multiple locations by the time I’m 40.”

For this issue and its focus on sports and leisure, BusinessWest goes behind the scenes at this operation, where the phrase ‘getting up to speed’ has many different connotations.

Start Your Engines

Take a walk through the PVIK facility, and you’ll be quick to spot its many auto-racing inspirations.

The track, flanked by carefully laid tire barriers, can be completed in less than 20 seconds by the expert drivers who take part in PVIK’s many leagues, perfecting the sharp curves over thousands of laps. The high-performance adult and junior karts meet the industry standard, and the track officials even use flags like those seen on the NASCAR circuit — blue and yellow to indicate a passing situation and checkered to signify the completion of a race, among others — to keep traffic moving smoothly.

It’s an environment designed to keep guests feeling like they’re in the fast lane, making each second of PVIK’s eight-minute, $20 sessions riveting.

Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting

Racers get ready to roll at Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting in Hatfield.

“The cool thing about karting is that you really feel like you did something when it’s over,” Bouvier said. “You get what you pay for every time, and we’ve never had anyone come out disappointed. We’re in the business of making people happy; that’s the most important thing for us.”

The PVIK staff is also in the business of keeping people safe, an emphasis reflected in its many course policies. Before they even step through the doors to the track, guests are required to watch a brief video explaining safety regulations and equipment. They are then guided by track officials in selecting a helmet and neck brace of the appropriate size prior to entering the karts. As yet another layer of safety, each kart is equipped with seatbelts to minimize the risk of injury in the event of a collision into the wall or another kart.

“Safety is our biggest priority,” Bouvier said. “We want to keep people safe at all times when they’re on our track.”

For Wyatt Pease and other track officials, ensuring guest safety and good track conditions are part of a multi-faceted job description. When officials aren’t helping guests with chinstraps and seatbelts, they’re monitoring the vehicles on the course and waving the correct flags for specific situations. In the instance of a spinout or another incident on the course, it’s up to the track officials to wave the red flags and indicate to drivers that they must stop.

“It’s awesome working here — we have a lot of fun every day,” said Pease, one of 20 PVIK employees who collectively serve as the engine that makes the business run.

The Road Ahead

From a revenue perspective, the race has just begun for the PVIK staff, and they believe they’re off to a fast start.

Bouvier estimates that about 80% of his customers are new to the facility, and his primary mission is to turn them into repeat customers, many of whom will participate regularly in events and leagues. He said PVIK has already developed a solid core of regulars, some of whom travel from other states to get behind the wheel of its karts.

“New customers walk through our doors all the time,” Bouvier said. “We’re constantly getting new people from all over the area, and we want to get as many of those people as we can to come back for more.”

Through leagues, shows, and ironman events, as well as promotions and occasional free races, Bouvier has seen a rise in repeat customers in the past year. But it’s PVIK’s future plans that are expected to significantly increase its exposure and customer base.

For example, there’s the plan to order several double karts to accommodate a broader spectrum of guests. The PVIK staff is excited about the opportunities these new karts will create for people who previously wouldn’t have been able to enjoy karting.

“We’re hoping to have them in by the holiday season,” Bouvier predicted. “If people know someone who’s disabled who has always wanted to do this, now they’ll be able to ride.”

Bouvier said the new karts will be equipped with specialized steering wheels located in the passenger compartments, which will enable individuals without the use of their lower extremities to steer the karts while the operator focuses on the brake and accelerator.

Meanwhile, Bouvier is hoping to make major improvements to the track as well, a project that could include the addition of 10,000 square feet of drivable space. One of Bouvier’s main goals for the planned upgrade is to elevate the track by adding a raised deck that spans other sections of the course, then loops around and connects back to the starting point. Currently the course doesn’t feature any elevation changes, but that could soon be a thing of the past.

“At this point, it’s just a matter of getting the financing together,” said Bouvier. “It’s hard to put a date on the project, but we’re definitely looking into the possibility of expanding.”

Indeed, Bouvier has researched several locations with good potential, and he may decide to partner with an investor if the right opportunity presents itself.

It’s an ambitious goal, but the word ‘complacency’ isn’t in Bouvier’s vocabulary, and while he’s still somewhat new to the industry, he’s knows that, like his kart drivers, he has to focus on what’s ahead and be ready for it.

Getting Revved Up

It isn’t always high speeds and smooth driving in the indoor karting business. When the doors close for the night and the customers head home, that’s when the hard work starts for Bouvier and Gulmi-Landy, long hours of readying the equipment for the next day and devising new marketing strategies, with the constant goal of making customers’ experiences as enjoyable as possible.

“It’s been a ton of work, a lot of 100-hour weeks,” recalled Bouvier, who has had a hand in every aspect of PVIK’s growth, even the initial construction of the building and the track design. “It was a huge help to have him [Gulmi-Landy] helping me when we first opened up. Sometimes we’d be here at 4 a.m. trying to figure out certain things and working on different projects.”

One of the biggest challenges is getting the word out and bringing people to the facility on West Street, just off I-91, he said. But once they get there, he added, they are drawn to the sport’s speed and exhilaration.

That’s because, like Bouvier, they enjoy life in the fast lane.

Chamber Corners Departments

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.amherstarea.com
(413) 253-0700

• July 21: Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce 11th Annual Golf Tournament, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., at Hickory Ridge Golf Course, Pomeroy Lane, Amherst. Registration and lunch are from 10:30 a.m. to noon, with a shotgun start at noon, and reception and dinner starting at 5 p.m. Cost: $125 per player. Presented by Hampshire Hospitality Group. Co-scholarship sponsor: Cooley Dickinson Health Care. Silver sponsors: Encharter Insurance, J.F. Conlon & Associates, MBA. Lunch sponsor: Davis Financial Group, LLC. Dinner sponsor: Fallon Community Health Plan. Bronze sponsors: Daily Hampshire Gazette, NEPM, Steve Lewis Subaru. Carts sponsor: Taylor Rental. Water sponsor: Atkins Farms Country Market. Towels: Hampshire College.

CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101
 
• July 16: Summer Sizzle, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by the Chicopee Moose Family Center, 244 Fuller Road in Chicopee. This year’s theme is Old Vegas. Enjoy a great menu by Log Rolling, featuring Golden Nugget chicken, Caesar’s Palace salad, roulette burgers, Sinatra franks, Sahara sweet potato fries, Flamingo french fries, Stardust sides (cheese, peppers, and onions), Desert Inn desserts, iced tea, and lemonade. After you enjoy dinner, stop by one of the many casino games and see if you can win big, or play a few of the popular summer games such as the water balloon toss. Tickets cost $25.
 
• Aug. 21: Member Workshop, 9-11 a.m., hosted by La Quinta Inn & Suites, 100 Congress St. in Springfield. Sponsored by First American Insurance Agency. “You’re Social. Now What? Is It Working?” You’ve thought about what social networks to use for your business or nonprofit, and you’re ready to take the next step. Where do you go from there? This workshop will give you a closer look at the popular social-media channels — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. We’ll show you the benefits of using each, how other organizations are marketing with them, and some dos and don’ts of each channel. You’ll also get tips on how to tell if your social media activity is working. Free to members.
 
GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.easthamptonchamber.org
(413) 527-9414

• July 25: 30th Annual Golf Tournament, at Southampton Country Club, 329 College Highway, Southampton. Scramble format with 9 a.m. shotgun start. Games, contests, and raffles. Team fees include lunch and steak dinner. Major sponsors: Easthampton Savings Bank and Five Star Building Corp. Event sponsors: Innovative Business Systems Inc. and TurningLeaf Design. Opportunities for business exposure include tee sponsors, donations to the golfer’s gift bag, and raffle-prize donations. Team fees: $440; tee sponsorships: $75/$125. This year’s 30th anniversary tournament will honor William Cater Jr., the first golf chairman. Contact the chamber to sign up a team, arrange a sponsorship, or make a raffle or gift prize donation.

• Aug. 14: Networking by Night Business Card Exchange, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Freedom Credit Union and Wireless Zone of Easthampton, 422 Main St., Easthampton. Sponsorship opportunities available for this event. Door prizes, hors d’ouevres, host beer and wine. Tickets: $5 for members, $15 for future members. RSVP requested at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.holycham.com
(413) 534-3376
 
• Aug. 13: Networking Across the River, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Brunelle’s Marina, 1 Alvord St., South Hadley. Join an evening of networking with the Greater Holyoke and South Hadley/Granby Chambers of Commerce as we cruise along the Connecticut River on the Lady Bea. Tickets are $20 for members. Seats are limited. To sign up, call the chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or register online at www.holyokechamber.com.
 
• Aug. 20: Chamber Summer Business Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Yankee Pedlar, 1866 Northampton St., Holyoke. Sponsored by Lyon & Fitzpatrick, LLC Tickets: $20 for members and advance reservations, and $30 for non-members and at the door. Price includes a hot buffet.

NORTHAMPTON AREA YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY
www.thenayp.com
(413) 584-1900
 
• July 24: Metacomet Monadnock Hike, 5:30 p.m. Join us for a 4.6-mile loop hike on Mt. Holyoke in Hadley. We will take a rarely traveled route that includes some of the best views in Massachusetts, along with a plane crash site, old carriage roads, and the famous Summit House. This hike has 1,200 feet of elevation gain and is mostly moderate with some strenuous sections. Be sure to bring sturdy shoes, water, a flashlight, and bug spray. We will meet at 5:30 at the Metacomet Monadnock trailhead on Old Mountain Road in Hadley. Please note that the trailhead is not at the gate for the auto road up Mt. Holyoke; it is located at the other end of Old Mountain Road. You can park on the side of the road next to the trailhead. Look for the NAYP sign.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.ourwrc.com
(413) 426-3880

• Aug. 18: Annual Golf Tournament, at the Ranch Golf Course, Southwick. Registration is at 11:30 a.m., with lunch at noon and a shotgun start at 1 p.m. Cost: $125 for golf and dinner. For more information or for tickets, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected].

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618
 
• Sept. 8: Open House, 4-7 p.m. The Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce its new office at 16 North Elm St. in Westfield. Please join us for an open house.

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD
www.springfieldyps.com
 
• July 24: Great Golf Escape 2014, hosted by Wyckoff Country Club, Holyoke. Wyckoff is an 18-hole, par-69, 6,100-yard championship golf course built on the rolling property at the base of Mt. Tom. Gold Sponsors: Country Bank and Insurance Center of New England.

Architecture Sections
Kuhn Riddle Continues to Build on a Solid Foundation

By KEVIN FLANDERS

John Kuhn, president of Kuhn Riddle Architects

John Kuhn, president of Kuhn Riddle Architects

When local architects John Kuhn and Chris Riddle began their first project together in 1978, they never imagined it would lead to a thriving partnership.

In fact, they had no idea where it would take them. But success, they’ve learned, is a lot like architecture — you start off with a foundation and steadily build your way upward.

Kuhn and Riddle made a risky decision back in 1978, quitting their jobs after receiving a $500 commission to complete a sketch for the Northampton Armory. Kuhn admits it wasn’t one of their most calculated moves, but looking back on it almost 40 years later, he realizes their decision built the foundation for what would eventually become Kuhn Riddle Architects (KRA), one of the most successful firms in the area.

“We were working for a firm in Springfield at the time and carpooling together,” recalls Kuhn, president of the Amherst-based firm. “We’d been talking about what it might be like to get work on our own, and then we saw an article about the building being renovated in Northampton. If we’d known better, who knew what would have happened?”

Fast-forward 36 years — past the initial years of uncertainty, past the fire that engulfed one of KRA’s early buildings, past the painstaking process of building not only structures but relationships — and the firm is prospering in a challenging climate. With 16 employees, it isn’t the largest or smallest firm around, which Kuhn believes is conducive for success in projects of varying scales.

“It’s been a spotty market, and we’ve been fortunate to stay fairly busy,” he told BusinessWest. “Being profitable in a competitive industry is a challenge, and you have to work hard to keep work coming through the door. We’re big enough that we can handle larger projects, but small enough where everyone still wears a lot of hats.”

Kuhn estimates that the firm completes between 50 and 100 projects a year, many of them involving major renovation and reuse efforts. This year, KRA designed renovations for the building that formerly housed the First Baptist Church of Amherst — which now serves as non-academic offices for Amherst College — in addition to renovating an Easthampton mill into affordable housing units and redesigning a Springfield building for National Public Radio.

With dozens of old, once-bustling buildings now sitting dark and abandoned, New England towns are perfect for renovation projects that save structures and money. Like many area architectural firms, KRA has mastered the ability to modernize and repurpose old buildings that would otherwise remain blights on their communities and eventually be torn down.

“Redevelopment and adaptive reuse of buildings brings a lot of work for us,” said Kuhn, who remembers being excited about architecture ever since he took a mechanical drawing class back in high school. “Oftentimes, a building will be renovated for a completely different use. The Amherst College project is a good example; it was once a church and is now used for office space.”

For this issue and its focus on architecture, BusinessWest goes behind the scenes at KRA to see how it takes concepts off the drawing board, or the computer screen, as the case may be, and makes them reality.

Growth — by Design

The building in which Kuhn and his staff work each day is also a testament to the power of redevelopment. The Amherst Cinema Building at 28 Amity St., which houses the KRA offices, Amherst Cinema, Arise Pub and Pizzeria, GoBerry Frozen Yogurt, and HB Financial, among other businesses, has become a major recreational and commercial hub in downtown Amherst. But it wasn’t always that way — many residents recall the building’s former distress before KRA completely overhauled it in 2006.

“The building was an empty black hole, a dead zone in the middle of town,” said Kuhn, who described the 28 Amity St. renovation as the most personally rewarding project in his career. “We were able to renovate it into a mixed-use building that everyone can enjoy. It was rewarding for us to transform a building that served no purpose into a vital part of the town center.”

The renovated Amherst Cinema Building


The renovated Amherst Cinema Building is now one of the highlights of downtown Amherst and home to KRA’s offices.

For local business and civic leaders, the project was not only a restoration, but a reclamation. Don Courtemanche, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, described the work Kuhn and his staff put into the building as a major revitalization effort for the town and region.

“The building had fallen on hard times and was in desperate need of reinvention,” said Courtemanche. “Now it’s one of the most active parcels of real estate in downtown Amherst thanks to John’s design and vision for what it could look like. He took the project on full speed ahead, and the building has become a mixed-use, vibrant powerhouse of downtown activity.”

The project also emphasized Kuhn’s belief in the importance of strengthening cities and towns at their cores by renovating and redeveloping in downtown sections, as opposed to taking on multiple projects calling for new construction at the fringes of towns that offer few geographical benefits.

‘If it’s old and broken, fix it up’ would be a fitting summary of KRA’s stance on redevelopment — and at 28 Amity St., arguably the new heart of downtown Amherst, the benefits and opportunities are endless, even after normal business hours.

“The building doesn’t go dark at five o’clock like a lot of downtown buildings. With the cinema and the shops, it’s alive even on weeknights and weekends,” Courtemanche added.

Yet another advantage for Kuhn to renovating the building that would house his firm’s offices was the ability to include details to enable his employees to maximize their production each day. With spacious rooms and high ceilings comprised of the original beams and trusses, the building has a historical yet modern air, far removed from the standard office environment.

“It was a great opportunity for us to design our office and create new workspace,” Kuhn said.

Building Solid Relationships

A successful career can often distance business leaders from their early adversities, but Kuhn still remembers the struggles he and Riddle endured, the ones they had to persist through in order to build their firm into its current incarnation. Their first few projects were completed out of a cramped, rented space in 1978.

“That’s how we got started,” said Kuhn, “in someone else’s office” — until they partnered with Bill Gillen and began to establish an identity in the community. In November 1989, a fire totaled their office and forced the staff to move to another building. On several occasions thereafter, business threatened to dry up, but through it all Kuhn and Riddle stuck together and used their struggles as learning tools.

“We always had a solid relationship, both professional and personal,” Kuhn said of Riddle, who is now retired. “We were different, we worked well together, and I don’t think we ever said an angry word to each other in all of those years.”

renovated Fuller Block

This rendering shows an interior view of the renovated Fuller Block in downtown Springfield, which will house National Public Radio.

One of the most important lessons Kuhn and Riddle learned during their challenging years was the value of building lasting relationships. Recently, KRA has completed several projects for Yankee Candle, a relationship that has strengthened with each new endeavor. Local high schools and universities are also a wellspring for annual construction opportunities, as they are constantly expanding and evolving to better serve their student populations.

“For us, it’s more about looking for clients rather than projects,” said Kuhn, whose portfolio also includes the $22 million expansion and renovation of Amherst Regional High School and extensive work at River’s Landing Complex in Springfield. “We like to establish long-term relationships with companies and institutions. A primary source of work for us has been repeat customers.”

It’s always difficult to predict the future when it comes to the construction industry, but Kuhn anticipates housing will dominate KRA’s focus over the next five years. In a bustling college town like Amherst where apartment units don’t go vacant for very long, student housing is always a hot topic, but it’s become even more of a focal point in an economy that has seen student costs soar. There will also be an increased need, Kuhn believes, for affordable-housing opportunities for families living in and around Amherst.

“Housing of various types will continue to be a challenge, especially student housing and affordable housing,” said Kuhn, whose firm is also working on a project at Springfield’s American International College, as well as a renovation to the Common School in Amherst. “Housing for retirees is also a huge, untapped market.”

Following the recent completion of a successful affordable-housing project in what has been a busy 2014 for KRA, the firm is eagerly anticipating the opening of 43 units at Olympia Oaks in town. The conversion of abandoned mills, warehouses, churches, and other defunct buildings into affordable-housing units and senior-living facilities has become a popular construction approach over the past 10 years, one that KRA and other firms have taken advantage of with their expertise in adaptive reuse.

“It’s nice to be as flexible as we are in the marketplace,” Kuhn said. “We can handle a range of different projects.”

Drawing on Experience

No matter how big or small the project, Kuhn and his staff are ready to tackle it, not simply with the goal of renovating or constructing buildings, but continuing to transform promising real estate into vital assets for area communities.

In a nutshell, this is what the company has built on that foundation that Kuhn and Riddle laid all those years ago — and continue to build today.

Green Business Sections
Amherst Farmer Refines Method of Growing Plants Without Soil

Joseph Swartz

Joseph Swartz shows off the roots of lettuce plants growing hydroponically in his greenhouse at Swartz Family Farm in Amherst.

Imagine growing 120,000 pounds of food each year without any soil on top of public housing in the Bronx.

Although the idea may sound farfetched, it’s not a fantasy. Instead, it’s one of many projects that Joe Swartz of Swartz Family Farm in North Amherst has accomplished in recent years.

Swartz is a master hydroponic gardener who has taken the industry to new heights. In fact, the New York City farm he designed for Skytop Vegetables was the first in the nation to be grown on top of a public-housing structure. “I did the early sketches on my kitchen table in Amherst,” he said, as he talked about the 8,000-square-foot rooftop farm that opened in February 2013, and provides fresh, nutritious vegetables to residents of the building and neighborhood as well as patrons of nearby restaurants and markets.

Swartz has gained international recognition as an expert in hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants without soil. They are planted from seeds in holes set in plastic containers and thrive on a nutrient solution dissolved in water that runs beneath them and is recycled after the plants take what they need from it.

Swartz has 28 years of experience in operating a year-round, pesticide-free, hydroponic vegetable-and-herb facility in Amherst. It’s a field he entered long before most people thought about where their produce came from and environmental concerns created a demand for locally grown vegetables and fruits.

As a result, Swartz has become a leading expert in hydroponic system design, high-end crop production, biological pest control, system troubleshooting, and much more, and has spoken all over the U.S. and in many foreign countries about his groundbreaking work.

“It’s very gratifying, and when I think of the evolution of all that has happened in the industry since I began my farm, it’s mind-boggling,” he said, adding that he gave a recent lecture at a national conference in Las Vegas and was just invited to speak at a major agricultural conference in England.

The concept of transforming unused rooftop space into a hydroponic garden has many environmental benefits, which include water conservation. “All rainwater that strikes a flat roof has to be channeled into the city’s stormwater systems, and most systems in U.S. cities are completely overwhelmed; one inch of rain that falls on an acre equates to 27,000 gallons of water,” Swartz explained, adding there are more than 15,000 acres of rooftop space in New York City alone.

“But a rooftop greenhouse has gutters on all sides, and rainwater is sent into an underground tank, where it is filtered, cleaned, and used for farming,” he went on. “So it allows us to take a waste product and convert it into food in a very sustainable manner.”

Benefits also accrue from the fact that a rooftop greenhouse shares synergy with the building. Sun that hits the roof and requires the building to be cooled is absorbed by the crops, which also absorb heat from the building in winter, preserving it rather than having it simply go into the atmosphere, Swartz said.

In addition, the system takes heat from the building’s smokestack and uses it to heat the greenhouse. “It capitalizes on heat that is normally wasted. Plus, the greenhouse has thermal curtains that hold the heat in at night. So it’s a win-win situation for the building owner and the owner of the garden,” he told BusinessWest. “It also produces jobs for local residents without many job skills and allows people in the neighborhood to get fresh, nutritious food that doesn’t have to trucked in from thousands of miles away.”

And rooftop gardens, which are rapidly expanding across the country, also provide inner-city children with agricultural knowledge. “We worked with a local school in the Bronx, and a frightening number of children thought milk was made in a manufacturing plant. They had no concept that it came from an animal,” Swartz said. “And most of the people in the neighborhood got their food from a small convenience store and did not have access to nutritious, locally grown vegetables and herbs until the garden was created.”


Growing Venture

Swartz Family Farm has been in business for 100 years, but Swartz likes to keep a low profile, and there are no signs to mark the entrance to his home, greenhouses, and acreage on 11 Meadow St.

“My grandfather Joseph and his wife Anastasia purchased 40 acres and started this farm after they came here from Poland in 1919,” he said. The couple grew mixed vegetables and tobacco and raised their family on the site.

Swartz’s father and uncle took the farm over in the ’50s and turned it into a large-scale potato-growing operation. In addition to growing potatoes on their farmland, they rented land in Hadley, Amherst, Sunderland, Hatfield, and South Deerfield; at the peak of their business, they were raising 300 acres of potatoes.

But his uncle died in 1970, and in the ’80s, the price of land became exorbitantly expensive due to extensive residential development in the area. “As my father got older, he scaled back to the 40 acres here.”

Swartz was in high school when he realized farming his family’s land on a seasonal basis was not a viable option because the economy was booming and seasonal help and additional farmland for crops were unavailable. “So I decided I had to look at a small-scale, very intensive type of agriculture,” he said.

His interest in controlled environmental agriculture, or hydroponics, began in 1985 when he was a student at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst. He learned the system had been pioneered in Holland and had expanded to the United Kingdom and Spain, where hydroponic greenhouses were operational year-round.

“The same nutrients you would normally apply to a field are dissolved in water,” he noted. “The plants take what they need, and the rest is recaptured and reused. It only requires 10% of the water needed for conventional agriculture, so it is a very environmentally friendly form of agriculture.”

However, the university did not have a program where Swartz could learn how to implement this growing method on a large scale. But he was fortunate enough to meet a retiree living in Ashby, Mass. who was running a small greenhouse growing hydroponic flowers. He had been the lead associate at Cornell University’s research center on Long Island, was originally from Holland, and had pioneered a large portion of the hydroponic technology that was being implemented in the U.S.

Swartz received valuable guidance from him on how to produce a premium product year-round inside a greenhouse on his property.

But when he began building a greenhouse on his family’s land and shared his plan with local farmers, they thought the idea was ridiculous.

“I was considered a crackpot. We have a very tight-knit agricultural community in the Valley, and no one understand why I would grow produce in water when there was beautiful soil here,” he recalled. “But for me, it was a necessity.”

The day after Swartz graduated from UMass, he began working in his new, 5,000-square-foot greenhouse. “At that time, there were 13 hydroponic farms in the state, and today we are the only one of them that is still in operation — we have the longest-running hydroponics farm in the Commonwealth,” Swartz told BusinessWest, adding that he also grew seasonal vegetables on the farm’s 40 acres and sold them to traditional markets.

But his greenhouse thrived. “In my first year, I produced more than 80,000 heads of Boston lettuce in it. In a field, you only get 5,000 heads per acre, and you can only plant one crop. But I was able to plant year-round,” he said, explaining that he devised a system where he was continuously harvesting and reseeding in different sections of the greenhouse.

Paradigm Shift

Swartz has continued to produce hydroponic crops at Swartz Family Garden for 30 years. Lettuce has always been a staple, but after his initial success, he built two other greenhouses and soon was shipping 300 cases of sweet basil a week to 42 Whole Foods stores across the Northeast.

About 15 years ago, when hydroponics became more well-known, Swartz delved into consulting work, which was a natural transition, although he continued farming his own greenhouses. “There were very few experts in the U.S. back then, and there wasn’t much information about how to grow hydroponically on a sustainable, commercial scale,” he said.

Over the past five years, as awareness and concern about the environment escalated, the demand for local products began to rise.

“Public awareness changed buying habits, and the demand for urban agriculture began to grow,” Swartz said. “It was a paradigm shift because, before that, food was produced on large commercial farms which were often not even in this country.” In fact, when he first began to sell Boston lettuce, there was nothing but iceberg lettuce in the stores, and there was no demand for any other variety.

About four years ago, Swartz was approached by two men who were starting a company called Sky Vegetables. “They wanted to take the concept of urban agriculture one step further and build commercial farms on flat city rooftops, because there is so much of that space that is unused,” he said.

He became their director of farming, and in 2009 began designing a hydroponics rooftop garden for a new LEED Platinum-certified building in the Bronx that would be used for public housing. Arbor House was completed in 2012, and the rooftop farm opened in February 2013.

“The space was leased for $1 for 99 years, and lettuce and cooking greens such as chard, kale, sweet basil, upland cress, and baby bok choy are grown there. Sky Vegetables operates the farm independently, and the building’s residents have the opportunity to get food from it via a community-supported agriculture program,” Swartz said.

Today, his wife, Sarah, operates their hydroponic farm in Amherst, which sells produce to local vendors such as Atkins Market. Swartz left Sky Vegetables six months ago to consult full-time with growers across the globe. He just finished an ongoing project in Kuwait and is going to Dubai to assist a large-scale farm in replicating a hydroponics system in Singapore. “I need to fine-tune the system before they can expand and replicate it,” he explained.

Limitless Potential

Swartz has more than 49,000 hours of greenhouse production time and has also done consulting work in a variety of settings. This year he has already been to Nassau, Bahamas; Santa Cruz, Calif.; Atlanta; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Las Vegas.

“Hydroponic gardens range from simple, home-built systems that are outside, to conventional greenhouse systems, to very high-level, computer-controlled greenhouses, to a garden in Nova Scotia that grows without sunlight inside a warehouse, using LED lighting,” he explained. “It’s a 100% controlled atmosphere — and the final frontier is space.”

Indeed, he noted that a colleague, Gene Giachumelli, professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona, is designing a hydroponics food-production system for outer space, where one of the challenges is zero gravity.

“It’s a very interesting industry, and hydroponics is the safest food-production method possible,” Swartz said, as he stood on his family farm, gazed at his greenhouse, and recalled his own history.

“My father and many other people thought I was crazy when I started this. But I have taken the farming techniques I developed in the Valley and am working with growers across the globe today,” he said, adding that pesticides are not needed, and “you cannot get safer food products.”

That endeavor has no limits, and Swartz will continue to grow his own business as well as help other people across the world create farms without soil, sunlight, and other factors — in the process transcending what any farmer could have imagined several generations ago.

Community Spotlight Features
Ware Looks to Spark Economic Growth

By KEVIN FLANDERS

Roc Goudreau

Roc Goudreau, one of the developers of Workshop13, believes the renovated church will become a cultural hub for Ware.

For eight years, the building at 13 Church St. stood vacant and dilapidated, an eyesore that most residents and town leaders assumed would be torn down.

But two town residents, Roc Goudreau and his friend, Chris DiMarzio, looked past the blight and the daunting challenge of rehabbing the 117-year-old former Methodist Church and saw something others didn’t: opportunity.

What they’ve created at that address is called Workshop13, a bustling cultural-arts and community center that has become not only a major resource, but also a source of inspiration for a town looking for a spark — or several sparks — in its downtown, and is starting to find them.

Indeed, the renovation of the Workshop13 building is just one example of a minor wave of development that has swept through town in recent years, said Town Manager Stuart Beckley.

“Ware can be a hub of activity and services for regional residents,” he told BusinessWest. “The more activity and the better the quality of activity and service, the more growth that will follow. Ware is working to be ready for that increase.”

Hoping to open up a new art school, Goudreau and DiMarzio purchased the 11,000-square-foot former church building in December 2012. After several months of renovations, including the installation of a new roof and chimney, as well as the additions of new doors, flooring, shelves, and lighting, Workshop13 opened in October 2013.

“I’m really glad we were able to save the building,” said Goudreau, who plans to renovate the exterior of the building next year. “It was a real mess when we first bought it, but we always said the place has good bones and structure.”

That phrase could be applied to the community’s downtown as a whole, and officials are looking to create momentum for more development there.

The Ware Business and Civic Assoc. (WBCA) has partnered with town officials to conduct a series of workshops to help gain insight into best practices for a planned revitalization of Ware’s downtown section. Funded by town grant monies, the workshops will be led by four people from throughout Massachusetts with experience in various revitalization strategies. Bill Braman, chairman of the WBCA, is excited about the ideas these individuals will bring to the table.

“They all have different backgrounds and approaches and experiences when it comes to revitalization, and we want to look into employing some of their strategies in Ware,” he said. “There have been a lot of great recent developments downtown, with a new restaurant being constructed a few years ago and Workshop13 opening. Now we’re looking to come together as a community in a coordinated effort to continue revitalizing that area.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest puts the focus on Ware and the many signs of progress — and hope — in this Quaboag-region community.

Major Steps Forward

The progress at Workshop13 just scratches the surface of recent developments in Ware. A new Cumberland Farms convenience store will soon be constructed on Route 32, a project that has received site-plan approval from the Planning Board. The proposal will now be reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and representatives from Cumberland Farms hope to be open for business as early as the fall, said Karen Cullen, Ware’s director of Planning and Community Development.

Meanwhile, Seaboard Solar, of Danbury, Conn., received approval last year from the Planning Board to install a solar array on Gilbertville Road, which will be adjacent to a larger array the company is building in West Brookfield. Cullen said Seaboard Solar has submitted a building permit and is planning to get construction underway soon.

From a recreational perspective, Ware is taking major steps with the planned construction of a new section of its Rail Trail within the next 18 months. Selectman John Carroll said recently awarded grant monies from the Recreational Trails Program, as well as volunteer contributions, will allow for the construction of two new bridges and other work.

“Once this new section is finished, people will be able to go from Wal-Mart all the way down to Robbins Road,” covering a significant stretch of Route 32 in town, he said.

The new trail section and others expected to follow it will ultimately connect Ware to several other towns through larger regional trails — both existing and proposed — which would attract more people to the town and thereby generate increased revenue for businesses. “It is important to be connected to the larger region,” Beckley said.

But the transformation of 13 Church St. has been the visible and potentially impactful development in recent months.

“The total rehabilitation they did of the building was wonderful, a very exciting project in our town,” Carroll said. “They took a building that would have been demolished and completely renovated it. Whenever something like that happens, it’s big for the town.”

Cullen agreed. “They put a lot of money and work into it, preserving most of the original features of the building, and now it is a thriving arts center,” she said.

Workshop13 hosts several youth art programs and camps each week, including a spring vacation camp that introduced several youngsters to painting during their break from school. With an accomplished staff of artists, Goudreau is hoping to expand membership in the coming months.

“We have really great instructors here; all of them are professional artists, and right now we’re just looking to get the word out about this place so residents know about what we have to offer,” he said. “Some people who come in didn’t even know we were here.”

Another goal for Goudreau and his staff is to maximize the use of the property, which was built in 1897 and also served for a short time as a senior center. The building boasts stained-glass windows and expansive rooms, and Goudreau is contemplating adding a performance or dance component to his business. The upper rooms, he said, are also perfect for an exercise studio, and renting sections of the building is another viable option. Currently, one of the second-floor rooms serves as a makeshift art museum displaying creations of Workshop13 instructors.

“I really hope that one day this building will be a cultural hub for the town,” he said.

Winds of Change

Karen Cullen

Karen Cullen says there are a number of development projects underway or on the drawing board in Ware.

Several other businesses and organizations in town have been active over the last year with expansion or development plans. Officials at Baystate Health, which operates Baystate Mary Lane Hospital on South Street, has announced its intention to explore the acquisition of Wing Memorial Hospital in nearby Palmer from UMass Memorial Healthcare, and is nearing a decision on whether to proceed.

“Right now we’re in a process of due diligence to move toward a definitive decision,” said Ben Craft, Baystate Health’s director of Public Affairs. “We’re anticipating a decision by the summer, but Baystate Mary Lane Hospital will continue to operate normally and remain a key part of our strategy moving forward. It’s important that we maintain a strong presence in Ware.”

If the agreement is approved, Beckley said it could lead to opportunities for growth in town. Baystate Health operates several medical facilities in the region, including Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield.

The Quaboag Valley Business Assistance Corp., based in Ware, has also reported major developments of late. Officials with the QVBAC recently learned the corporation has been certified as a ‘community development finance institution’ by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.

“This certification will increase our access to financial and technical assistance from the CDFI fund and enhance our ability to raise funds from other donors,” said Sheila Cuddy, executive director of the QVBAC. “These funds support our work to increase economic opportunity for the 15 communities in our region.”

The QVBAC, a nonprofit organization, provides loans to small businesses that are not eligible for traditional bank financing.

Meanwhile, officials expressed hope that the planned workshops downtown will spark more development opportunities there.

In addition to exposing residents, town officials, and business owners to specific strategies, the workshops will also serve as a promotional mechanism for the revitalization plans, which will tie into the town’s ongoing formation of a master plan.

“This will create a vehicle to bring various businesses, large and small, together to focus on our priorities,” Braman added. “We’re hoping to get participation from throughout the community as we move forward to determine the best approaches for revitalization.”

At the conclusion of the workshops, Beckley said the town will assist Ware Business and Civic Assoc. members with deciding how they wish to move forward.

Ware It’s At

Overall, town officials are encouraged by the growth that has taken place in recent years, in addition to developments that still may occur.

Even in a tepid economy that has caused many communities to stagnate in terms of development, Ware residents and business owners have found a way to effect positive change and gain momentum.

“All of these activities show the commitment of town and business leaders to growth,” Beckley said, “both residential and commercial.”

Ware at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 9,872 (2010); 9,707 (2000)
Area: 40.0 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: 18.31
Commercial Tax Rate: 18.31
Median Household Income: $36,875
Family Household Income: $45,505
Type of Government: Open town meeting
Largest Employers: Baystate Mary Lane Hospital, Wal-Mart, Big Y, Country Bank, Kanzaki Specialty Papers, Town of Ware

* Latest information available

Education Sections
College Summer Programs Continue to Grow in Popularity

Pam Robinson

Pam Robinson says the average student taking summer courses at American International College earns 12 credits, or nearly the equivalent of a full semester.

The job market and economic climate have changed dramatically in recent years, and so have the needs of college and university students, who are signing up for summer courses in record numbers.

Many want to reduce the time it takes to earn a degree, take the prerequisites needed to enter a program, improve a grade, and/or lighten their course loads for the fall semester by taking challenging classes during the summer.

So, in response to a continually growing demand, college and university officials have continued to expand their summer offerings; create new, accelerated, year-round programs; and add experimental summer courses in hopes of attracting new students.

“Years ago, students attended classes during the fall and spring and took the summer off. But it’s very different now,” said Walter Breau, vice president of Academic Affairs at Elms College in Chicopee. “We have really become a 12-month institution. Students are looking to finish their schooling quickly, so colleges have had to respond.”

Bill McClure agrees. “The concept of taking courses in the summer is not new, but what has changed is the programs that are offered. Summer is our largest term,” said the executive director of Continuing and Professional Education at UMass Amherst and former president of the North American Assoc. of Summer Sessions, which includes 250 colleges and universities.

“We have a very strong summer program,” he went on. “Last year our Division of Continuing and Professional Education offered 1,323 courses, and 525 of those were held during the summer.”

Community colleges have also seen a brisk increase in summer enrollment. “We have a very robust summer program. Almost everything that is offered in the fall and spring is also offered in the summer, but with fewer sections, or classes,” said Debbie Bellucci, dean of Continuing Education and Online Learning at Springfield Technical Community College. “We try to add a few new courses every summer, whether they are online or totally new topics, and this summer we have instituted a format change. In the past, we ran two five-week sessions, but this summer we have some 10-week, on-site courses for students who don’t want the intensity of a five-week term.”

Similar measures are being introduced at other institutions and include an increase in online courses, which allow working students to stay on track.

“Our offerings have grown significantly over the last five years,” said Pam Robinson, associate dean of Adult and Continuing Education at American International College. “More and more students have to stretch out their studies because they have so many other responsibilities, and our experience with adult learners has helped us to design offerings for all of our students. Even traditional students today are working and often need to rely on summer classes to stay on track.”

Officials say summer courses offer other benefits as well, which include smaller classes and an increased opportunity to interact with faculty members.

“But summer school isn’t for everyone. It’s very intense,” Bellucci said. “Plus, some students need to work full-time or want to take the semester off.”

Creative Programming

STCC will offer a number of new free classes this summer. Its so-called Jump Start program includes three pre-college-level classes — Algebra I, Algebra II, and Review for College Writing. The courses are open to students slated to start college in the fall, but who need remedial coursework, which is determined by placement testing. “We’re hoping the free courses will give them a jump start,” Bellucci said.

STCC also created a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy with three classes for Massachusetts high-school graduates who earned their diplomas between 2012 and 2014 and had a point average of 2.0 or higher. “We have room for 60 students who will each receive a $1,000 stipend as an incentive to participate and complete the courses,” said Bellucci. “We hope the students will develop an interest in pursuing a degree in our STEM programs in the fall.”

She added that STCC offers close to 300 summer classes, including unique offerings, such as Organic Chemistry, which can be difficult to find in a summer syllabus. “We also offer Calculus I through 5, and find students take these classes so they can concentrate on that subject.”

Jackie Synder

Jackie Synder says Bay Path College continues to create accelerated degree programs that run year-round.

Accelerated programs that run year-round are also on the rise. At Elms College, they include the Second Bachelor’s Degree Program in the School of Nursing for students with an associate, baccalaureate, or higher degree in a non-nursing major.

The program begins in September of one year and finishes in May the following year. “Our second class will graduate May 17, the third cohort is working toward graduation, and a fourth group has been accepted for next year,” said Program Coordinator Brother Michael Duffy, adding that it was designed for people “whose career didn’t play out the way they had hoped or who are looking to make a significant career change, and want to parlay their experience and credits into a professional degree that makes them more marketable.”

The waiting list is longer than the acceptance list, and the next class will include a Harvard graduate. “The program has become very competitive; it’s intense, but the people in it are adult learners who don’t want to wait four years to get back into the work pool,” Duffy continued. “It fills a need and is a commitment on our part to prepare more nurses with a bachelor’s degree for bedside care.”

Elms also offers an accelerated bachelor’s degree-completion program in social work at several sites. The largest is held in the STCC Technology Park, a second program is based in the Berkshires, and a third will start this fall at Greenfield Community College.

“Classes are held on Saturdays for 20 months, and people find the program very accessible,” said Maureen O’Connor Holland, assistant professor and program director of the Social Work department. She told BusinessWest that Elms has formed partnerships with community colleges, and students start the Elms program as a junior after earning an associate’s degree in liberal arts or human service.

“It is booming, and is a way for the college to reach more deeply into the community,” she said. “We also have several other social-work degree programs, including a year-round weekend program on the main campus and a traditional program with an optional summer course for students who want to accelerate their education.”

Breau said the number of high-school graduates has declined since 2006, and the numbers are expected to decrease through 2020, due to the size of the population. “We’re a small, regional liberal-arts college, and since the traditional market of students is getting smaller, we had to look at other opportunities to serve students, including the adult market. And we’re not alone,” Breau told BusinessWest. “There are people looking to move up in their job who have an associate’s degree and need a bachelor’s degree or have a bachelor’s degree and need a master’s degree. And adult learners are passionate and motivated. They want to complete their schooling as quickly as possible.”

To that end, Elms also offers a year-round RN to BS to MSN Nursing Completion program, which allows students to complete graduate-level nursing courses while enrolled in the RN to BS program, and a year-round master’s in Business Administration degree program, as well as summer courses for students in more traditional programs.

Changing Demographic

AIC will also launch two new undergraduate degree-completion programs this fall, targeted at working adults.

“People can earn a bachelor of arts in social science or in general business through a combination of online and Saturday classes in 20 months,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of adult students who are reinventing themselves, starting new career fields, and returning to school as a result. But traditional students also take these courses.”

Bay Path College in Longmeadow also offers several accelerated programs, including more than a dozen degrees through its American Women’s College, in which all courses are taken online with a few Saturday classes.

“The sessions are unique,” said Jackie Synder, executive director of Academic Operations, Assessment and Planning.

Bay Path had stopped offering summer courses to traditional students for many years, but revived the programming last year due to demand. In addition to college students, Snyder said, the classes are popular with high-school students who want to enhance their college applications.

Debbie Bellucci

Debbie Bellucci says Springfield Technical Community College is offering a number of new, free courses this summer.

“It also provides students who have already been admitted an opportunity to get a jump start on coursework so they have a reduced load their first semester or are able to take a double major without becoming overwhelmed,” she explained.

Seventeen of Bay Path’s summer courses are held on campus, and 32 are online. “Science and math are the most sought-after classes,” said Snyder. “They’re called gatekeeper courses because of their difficulty. But if they are taken in the summer, students can focus entirely on them.”

Robinson agreed, and said science courses fill up quickly at AIC.

“They’re especially popular, not only for our own students, but for high-school students and others going into health fields who need to take prerequisites,” she said, adding that other offerings include courses in general education, such as history, sociology, and foreign languages. “The average summer student takes two courses per semester, so they can earn 12 credits, which is essentially a college semester.”

She reiterated that a growing number of traditional students work while they are in college. “So they often rely on summer classes to stay on track,” she explained. “But others take summer courses for a variety of reasons. Some want to fulfill general requirements, some want to repeat a class they didn’t do well in, and others need prerequisites for graduate schools. There are also students who want to take a double major or add one, and are trying to earn credits during the summer that will give them more opportunities. Every year I try to add two or three new offerings to see if the interest is there.”

This year, new online summer classes at AIC include Crime and Delinquency and Philosophy Through Literature, while History of American Musical Film will be offered on campus.

UMass Amherst offers two six-week terms during the summer. “We experimented with a three-week term, but it didn’t work well,” McClure said, adding that a growing number of students are opting to take classes online. “It’s been a trend which continues across the board for undergraduate and graduate students.”

The university also has a full course catalog that includes eight-week music camps, sports camps, science programs, and a French program. “Some are aimed at high-school students, and some are college-level courses,” McClure said.

UMass also offers a year-round undergraduate degree-completion program called University Without Walls. “And our online MBA program continues to be very popular,” he continued.

Meanwhile, Bay Path added two online cybersecurity classes this summer in advance of its new undergraduate program in cybersecurity, which will begin this fall.

Future Outlook

As the cost of education continues to rise, Robinson said, more students will have to work while attending school, which means they will take fewer courses during the academic year and make up the difference during winter and summer intercession periods.

“These classes provide a great alternative for many people,” she concluded.

McClure agreed, and said UMass has become a four-season school, offering classes during winter breaks and in the summer through its division of continuing education.

And as student demographics change and the need for adult education expands, the demand for summer courses is almost guaranteed to heat up even more.

Features
J. Polep Distribution Services Evolves with the Times

Jeff Polep, president of J. Polep Distribution Services

Jeff Polep, president of J. Polep Distribution Services

Stop by the Chicopee headquarters of J. Polep Distribution Services, and the first thing you’re greeted with is an old-fashioned cigar-store Indian standing beside the front door.

The adjoining office of Jeff Polep, fourth-generation president of this 116-year-old family business, is also strewn with kitschy memorabilia from the past century, but it’s that wooden Indian who tells the most significant story — one that starts with Polep’s great-grandfather launching a small-time enterprise, Polep Tobacco Co., in Salem, Mass.

“He started with candy and tobacco, but we diversified into groceries to survive,” Polep said. “Since then, we’ve kept diversifying.”

Today, J. Polep ranks among the top 12 convenience-store distributors in the country, servicing about 4,500 chain and independent retailers in New England, New York, and — most recently — Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Much of that expansion has come in just the past several years, with the addition of alcohol products and an ice-cream and frozen-food division in 2007, and the purchase of Springfield Smoked Fish in 2011 and two Connecticut meat-processing plants, Mucke’s and Grote and Weigel, in 2012. Meanwhile, “we recently went into produce, both fruits and vegetables, and we’re carrying about 200 items,” Polep said.

All of this reflects the fourth generation’s constant focus on diversification.

“That’s where most of the growth has come,” Polep said, adding that some product additions have worked out better than others. “We’ve had exceptional growth in the ice-cream business; we sell a lot of ice cream.” Meanwhile, he added, alcohol products haven’t been as lucrative, although they do turn a profit.

In the past decade, J. Polep also launched Rachael’s Food Corp., named after Polep’s daughter. The Rachael’s line includes candy and other snack foods, but also a number of refrigerated products — from sandwiches and salads to meat products — that comprise the only foods that the Polep company produces on its own.

J. Polep also tries to find synergies among the Rachael’s products, such as putting smoked salmon from Rachael’s Springfield Smoked Fish on the sandwiches it makes in its commissary — which, like its meat-processing plants, is a USDA-inspected facility. “Anything we can cross-merchandise is pretty good for us.”

Meanwhile, the company’s salespeople, armed with iPads and other modern devices, are constantly restocking stores and tracking how each product is selling. “Our main function was always convenience stores,” Polep said, “but over the past few years, we’ve gone into fresh foods, healthy foods, natural foods. That’s been really good for us.”

Back from the Dead

Polep likes to show visitors a photograph hanging in the lobby, probably from around 1910. It shows his grandfather, Charles, standing on the running board of a truck driven by his great-grandfather, Sam. He says that photograph — and the hard work and legacy it represents — has inspired him to keep growing the company, even during dark days like the mid-1980s.

“In 1984, my father and uncle sold the business,” he said, adding that they believed the sale, to Trade Development Corp. (TDC), would bring security as well as access to the larger corporation’s expertise and buying power. They were wrong. “Within two years, the company that bought us went bankrupt.”

Polep, who managed the Chicopee operation for TDC, was determined to keep the business alive, but he had a non-compete agreement in his contract that barred him from restarting the company after TDC filed Chapter 11. After a week hashing out the issue in a Texas bankruptcy court, however, a judge released him from the contract. But that was only the beginning.

“We had to start all over again,” he said, adding that this included a name change from Polep Candy & Tobacco Co. to J. Polep Distribution Services. Many of the first employees he brought back worked for free for the first couple months, enabling him to hire about 50 more. And keep growing, steadily, for almost 30 years.

“We went from zero business to almost $1 billion; we’re over $900 million now,” he said, adding that J. Polep currently employs about 630 people, with distribution centers in Chicopee and Woburn, as well as Providence, R.I. and West Haven, Conn. “I’m glad it worked out the way it worked out. It was a lesson learned. We have a good, successful business, and we know that’s because of our employees. They’re loyal. We can’t do it without them.”

Speaking of hardships, much of the company’s recent growth coincided with the Great Recession. Asked whether those years, which impacted so many industries in the Northeast, affected his company, Polep offered a simple “yes … and no” — and for a perhaps surprising reason.

“We didn’t really get hurt too badly by the recession because tobacco items sell better when there are economic issues out there,” he explained.

While it has been a core product for J. Polep since the beginning, tobacco sales have been shaped by a number of different trends.

“There have been a lot of changes in the tobacco business alone. It’s gone way beyond cigarettes, pipe tobacco, and other tobacco products,” Polep said. “The biggest diversification lately has been e-cigarettes. Right now, we sell a lot of e-cigs. A lot.”

At a time when government taxes tobacco heavily and society increasingly frowns on its use — bans in restaurants, workplaces, and a host of other public spaces are simply making it more inconvenient to smoke — e-cigarettes, a smokeless product that uses nicotine vapor, have been widely embraced, particularly by the younger generation.

“Some people are trying to quit smoking, no doubt, and this is a vehicle that helps them achieve that result,” Polep said. “But many people are smoking e-cigs who never smoked cigarettes because it’s an enjoyment for them.”

Healthy Sales

While cigarettes — which are still J. Polep’s top product — may not be in vogue, healthy and organic food is, and the company is starting to take advantage of that trend.

“We’ve now gotten into about 450 colleges with good, healthy alternatives, all the different food groups,” Polep said. “That’s a very, very successful business — although our slow season for colleges is coming up within the month.”

That’s OK, he added, because convenience-store sales rocket up during the summer, more than making up for summer break on campuses. When the weather turns warmer, he explained, people are out driving more, and more apt to make a quick stop for a soda or a snack. “In the winter, they go to the supermarket, load up, and stick it in the fridge or freezer.”

The college crowd may be a solid market for healthier foods, but stores are following suit, he said. “A lot of convenience stores have taken on the organic and natural products we have for the colleges, and they’ve set up healthy sections. And they’re selling.”

While J. Polep has thrived by staying atop trends and making savvy acquisitions of other companies — about two dozen in the last 30 years — it’s ramping up geographic expansion as well. The most recent moves, into Pennsylvania and New Jersey, represent a significant step for the company, but a necessary one if it expects to grow in ways other than diversification.

“If you think about it, in New England, we’re on a peninsula, so we can’t really go much further — we’ll eventually run into the ocean,” he said with a laugh. “The only way we can grow geographically now is by going south to pick up new business.”

He sees the potential of J. Polep to expand beyond its current territory to become an even bigger presence in the eastern half of the U.S., but any growth will have to be gradual and sustainable. “I think it will take us a little while to be satisfied with Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But we’ve grown tremendously through acquisition over the years, so territory growth makes sense.”

The company will continue to take a multi-pronged approach to growth, especially as the recession fades into the past and competition heats up. “We did have an advantage selling certain types of products during the recession,” Polep said. “But things have gotten better, and our industry is looking for more business, so the competition is fierce.”

J. Polep doesn’t seem primed to make the mistakes of the mid-’80s anytime soon, though — not with the fifth generation so firmly entrenched. Polep’s son, Eric, who was a district manager in Boston, returned to Chicopee to learn more of the business. Meanwhile, daughter Rachael works in human resources, and his son-in-law, Adam Kramer, works in food service. They’re all interested in preserving the 116-year legacy and moving it forward, he told BusinessWest.

“And they can have it, at this point. I’m just doing it for them,” he said, expressing pride that his family has continuously grown what has become one of the nation’s most prominent distribution companies — “except for that hiccup of two years, of course.”

Distributing the Wealth

For now, he says, being president gives him something interesting to do every day until the next generation takes over, and he’s fine with that.

“It’s really simple,” he said when asked what he enjoys most about his role. “It’s something new and different every day. We have 600-plus employees, 80 drivers, 100 sales-type people — they all make business interesting and fun. I never walk into the same situation two days in a row.”

That’s easy to see, with hundreds of different products rolling off the conveyer belts every day and being shipped to thousands of destinations. J. Polep has come a long way indeed from that old, black-and-white photo in the lobby, and that 116-year-old dream of making a living selling candy and cigarettes. n

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Features
Chicopee Is Well-positioned for Economic Growth

Mayor Richard Kos

Mayor Richard Kos says Chicopee’s transportation infrastructure, diverse mix of businesses, and abundance of available building sites all contribute to its economic stability.

The city of Chicopee is known as “the crossroads of New England,” and Mayor Richard Kos says its transportation infrastructure, diverse mix of businesses, and abundance of available building sites play a role in its economic stability and capacity for growth.

“The city’s insignia is ‘Industraie Variae,’ and Chicopee has a variety of industries that show the breadth of its diversity and help it to weather economic storms,” the mayor told BusinessWest.

Four major highways —  Interstates 90, 91, 291, and 391 — exit into Chicopee, and state roads, including Routes 33, 116, and 141, connect to the city’s six neighborhoods, or communities — Chicopee Center (Cabotville), Chicopee Falls, Willimansett, Fairview, Aldenville, and Burnett Road.

Kos, who was mayor from 1997 to 2004 and took office again in January, said his goal is to help Chicopee realize its full potential, especially in its business parks and sections of the city that have not seen much growth in recent years.

Kenn Delude, president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp., cites the Chicopee River Business Park as an example of an area poised for development. The park, built on the grounds of the former Oxford Country Club and Springfield Rifle Range, is located at the intersection of I-90 and I-291, and contains plots that vary in size and could be used for office space and/or manufacturing.

“The park contains 147 acres and has fully permitted sites for sale that are complete with utilities,” Delude said, adding that 826,000 square feet of space has been pre-permitted, and incentives are available for qualified businesses. “The sites range from 15,000 to 45,000 square feet, although we could accommodate up to 100,000 square feet. The infrastructure is there, the prices are appropriate, and Westmass will handle the permitting.”

Kos said the industrial park was developed in cooperation with Springfield and contains land in both cities. Infrastructure grants have totaled $4.2 million, but growth has been slow over the past 12 years, and a streamlined permitting process has been created to promote development.

Delude told BusinessWest that many other areas of Chicopee are also rife with opportunity. “Chicopee has existing buildings that are available and ready for occupancy. There is also potential for new construction, and at the same time, the city continues to accumulate land and develop Air Park South,” he said.

The park contains about 80 acres of vacant land acquired from the city by Westover Metropolitan Development Corp. It is located between Burnett Road, Chicopee Municipal Airport, and the Chicopee River Business Park.

In addition, Economic Development Manager Tom Haberlin says there are a number of buildings for sale that were erected in the ’80s and ’90s and are good buys. “They’re available for 25 cents on the dollar in terms of market rate, and can be retrofitted for manufacturing for less than it would cost to build something new.”

For this issue’s Community Spotlight, Kos, Delude, Haberlin, and other city officials talked with BusinessWest at length about opportunities for new business, as well as about firms that recently moved to Chicopee or have chosen to expand and relocate their enterprises within the city’s boundaries.

“My transition team has helped to identify opportunities for economic development,” Kos said.

Future Growth

An exciting development is slated to take place at Westover Air Reserve Base. In addition to the fact that the Great New England Air Show will be staged there again this year, fears that the base could be closed due to military cutbacks have been relieved, thanks to recently passed legislation.

Kenn Delude, left, and Lee Pouliot

Kenn Delude, left, and Lee Pouliot say new hangars for corporate use at Westover Air Reserve Base will mitigate the cost of running the base and add to the city’s economic vitality.

Delude said the state Legislature has allocated $177 million that will be shared by six military bases. Westover will use its funds to tear down antiquated hangars built to house B52s during the ’50s, replacing them with new, modern hangars with space that can be leased by corporate aircraft.

“The public/private investment will enhance Westover and mitigate its costs,” said Kos. “This is the first time that a state has made an investment in a federal military facility, and it reflects the commitment of the community to withstand base closures.”

The city, MassDevelopment, and Western Mass. Development Corp. will be involved in the project, and city officials hope it will lead to an aviation-repair program in Chicopee Comprehensive High School’s Career Education Development division.

Another newsworthy development is the renovation of 150,000 square feet in a building on Champion Drive that was home to the packaging manufacturer RockTenn and sat empty after the corporation closed its Chicopee operation five years ago. The space will be occupied by the German firm Menck Windows.

“They chose to locate here because of the workforce and the city’s ability to train students at Chicopee Comprehensive High School for high-level precision-manufacturing jobs,” Kos said.

The mayor added that the manufacturer was impressed by the school’s vocational-training program and the fact that the city is willing to work closely with them.

“Chicopee has a long history of being supportive of businesses and job creation, and tax incentives helped this as well,” he continued. “Menck looked at more than 20 sites in Western Mass. before they chose our city. This will be their first manufacturing operation in the U.S.”

The business is expected to open in June and will create 50 new jobs.

Haberlin spoke about another success story that involves the manufacturer Lymtech Scientific. “They had offers to move south, but chose stay in Chicopee when they decided to expand their Cabotville operation. They purchased a building at the entrance to Westover and made a substantial investment, which was underwritten by the city and Mass Development,” he said. “The building was ready, so it was cost-effective. They built a clean room and, as a result, have grown quickly.”

Delude added that MicroTek, which is located in Westover Air Park West, is yet another firm that opted to remain in Chicopee when it decided to expand its 24,000-square-foot operation housed in a building on Justin Road.

“They looked at sites everywhere, but wanted to stay in the city,” he said. “They purchased a 55,000-square-foot building in the park.”

To add to the mix, T.J.Maxx has become a tenant in Air Park West. “They expanded from 55,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet,” Kos said. “So staying put is moving forward for a lot of our businesses.”

The mayor said one of Chicopee’s assets is the fact that it’s a data crossroads. “When the Mass Turnpike was redone, new data lines were installed, which is important for businesses that need a lot of capacity.”

In another section of the city, a development known as Chicopee Crossing is taking shape. The Residence Inn by Marriott opened in the complex on Memorial Drive, and Buffalo Wild Wings recently won preliminary approval from the city council to build a restaurant with a liquor license there.

Economic growth continues to occur along that busy thoroughfare. In February, Chick-fil-A opened beside Aldi’s supermarket, and the former IHOP Restaurant, which sat empty for a decade, has become the second McDonald’s restaurant along Memorial Drive.

In other areas of the city, the Collegian Court restaurant, a landmark establishment, reopened last year after being closed for seven years, and the Munich Haus also expanded and added a beer garden with 60 seats, Haberlin said.

Meanwhile, the city also continues to make water and sewer infrastructure improvements, and a $9 million bond has been approved by the City Council to install a second water line to the Quabbin Reservoir, which is the source of Chicopee’s water supply. In addition, the city’s sewer-separation project is scheduled to be complete by June 2015. “It will have addressed 80% of the combined-sewer-overflow issue,” Kos said.

Renewal is also taking place in Chicopee Center at Ames Privilege Apartments. The units are located in a former Civil War foundry that made swords and cannons on 1 Springfield St. But half of them were never opened because the city condemned a portion of the building in 1988 due to weakened support beams, and those apartments sat vacant for 20 years, Haberlin said.

But MassHousing closed on an $8 million loan last summer to allow the developer to renovate 94 occupied apartments and completely restore the 40 units that have never been rented. An additional $1 million was provided by the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and funding also came from the the city itself and private investments. “We’ll finally see a project that was started in the ’80s brought to completion,” Haberlin said.

Future Outlook

Moving forward, Kos said the city has much more going for it than its location. There is momentum, land, a business-friendly City Hall, and a large legislative delegation — four state representatives and three state senators —  that makes sure the city gets attention from the Commonwealth.

“As we move forward, it is important to recognize Chicopee’s strengths, which include its location, its competitive tax rate, the quality of its utilities, and the benefit of having its own municipal electric supplier,” said the mayor. “I plan to make sure that public and private economic developers, as well as the city team, interconnect on a regular basis so their skill sets enhance their ability and knowledge.”

Which is, indeed, a surefire recipe for success.

 

Chicopee at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,298 (2010); 54,653 (2000)
Area: 23.9 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: 16.51
Commercial Tax Rate: 29.60
Median Household Income: $35,672
Family Household Income: $44,136
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Westover Air Reserve Base, J. Polep Distribution Services, Avery Dennison Corp., Callaway Golf Ball Operations Inc., Microtek Inc.

* Latest information available

Community Spotlight Features
Developments Strengthen Northampton’s Economy

Mayor David Narkewicz

Mayor David Narkewicz says new projects in Northampton range from redevelopment of blighted buildings to new construction.

On March 7, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was staged at two new auto dealerships on 347 King St. — Country Hyundai, which relocated from Greenfield, and Northampton Volkswagen, which moved from Damon Road.

Mayor David Narkewicz said the dealerships are among a bevy of exciting new projects that will increase vitality in Paradise City. “There is a lot of investment going on right now, which we are very pleased about,” he told BusinessWest.
Terry Masterson agreed. “There are 13 projects with a total value of $88.6 million that will add 203,000 square feet of office/professional floor space, 110 new hotel rooms, 73 housing units, and 83 assisted-living units,” said the city’s economic development director.

He and the mayor then offered a tour, figuratively speaking, of the community and its many commercial and residential developments. And there were stops in virtually every corner of the city.

They started on King Street. The auto dealerships were a $6 million investment, and were built by TommyCar Auto Group on the site of the former Kollmorgen Corp. Electro-Optical Division (now L-3 KEO), which moved to Village Hill. They will add about 50 jobs and generate about $85,000 in tax revenue, Narkewicz said, adding that there is a significant amount of activity happening in the King Street area.

This includes the redevelopment of the blighted former Price Chopper supermarket property by Colvest Inc. It is now called Northampton Crossing, and a new building has become home to Greenfield Savings Bank, while the existing Firestone building has been expanded.

The most significant change, however, is the conversion of 70,000 square feet of retail space into medical offices. Baystate Health moved a medical practice into the renovated building and added a laboratory, MRI and imaging services, and obstetrics and gynecology. “They leased about 60,000 square feet of the facility,” Narkewicz said. “This is a great reuse of the property and gives area residents additional medical options in one of our key commercial areas.”

The former Mobil station at 300 King St. was also redeveloped last year by PeoplesBank in Holyoke, which purchased the site and built a LEED-certified, green banking center. “This is a commercial corridor, and we are excited about all of the investment here,” Narkewicz said.

Meanwhile, another project slated to change the landscape is the construction of a 108-room Fairfield Inn on Conz Street. Narkewicz said developer Mansour Ghalibaf, who owns Hotel Northampton, has been challenged to meet the demand for hotel rooms at commencement and other times of the year.

“This will increase the city’s hotel-room inventory from 358 rooms to 470 rooms,” said Masterson. “And multiplying it by the current occupancy rate will equate to 100,000 people staying overnight each year when it is complete.”

Activity is also occurring south of the site on Route 5 in Atwater Business Park, where space in two, new 40,000-square-foot office buildings has been leased. “The first building is occupied, while the second is expected to be finished by the end of the year,” Narkewicz said, adding that Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s medical offices and Community Support Options are consolidated into one building, and the hospital plans to move additional medical practices into the second.

There are also plans to tear down the former Clarion Hotel and Conference Center and build a new hotel with 100 rooms. “The property has a big footprint, and there is a separate retail pad that could become a restaurant as well as room for an 80,000-square-foot office building in the back,” he said.

Moving north, to the site of the former Northampton State Hospital, residential and commercial development is escalating (more on that later), and downtown continues to thrive.

Terry Masterson

Terry Masterson says the majority of space in two new office buildings in Atwater Business Park has been leased by Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

“Downtown has no real vacancies; there are over 70 stores and 35 different types of restaurants and specialty shops,” Masterson said. “Talbots is celebrating 20 years in their Northampton store, and the Academy of Music programs draw more than 40,000 people to the city.”

And long-term planning continues to redevelop the Three County Fairground into a year-round exhibition facility for agricultural and cultural shows. “A new, 80,000-square-foot exhibition facility will be built, and renovations will be made to the existing buildings,” he noted. “In the coming years, the expanded facility will become a regional attraction for shows and exhibits with the potential to generate $50 million in commerce.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest continues that tour of Northampton, which reveals that an already-thriving city is building additional momentum in every sense of that phrase.

Grounds for Optimism
At Village Hill, the canvas that developers started filling in 15 years ago is fast becoming a masterpiece of mixed-use development, with more initiatives in progress or on the drawing board.

The Gatehouse, a 16,000-square-foot structure that integrated the former gates to the state hospital into its design, opened its doors last year. It hosts office and retail space, and is the first commercial building on the north side of the campus.

Fazzi Associates, a Northampton-based healthcare services firm, relocated to the Gatehouse from King Street and expanded into 20,000 square feet of office space, Masterson noted, adding that the building also contains a Liberty Mutual claims office, and a small coffee shop is being planned.

Although the Gatehouse is the first commercial structure on the north side of the development, it already was home to a number of residential developments that cross all price brackets.

“It’s impressive to drive through Village Hill and see the different types of housing and how balanced it is,” Masterson said, noting that Wright Builders Inc. built a six-unit subdivison of single-family homes last year and started the first phase of Upper Ridge, a four-unit townhome building. The company is expected to begin the second phase of its Upper Ridge at Village Hill project this spring.

That development will include a duplex as well as one three-story, six-unit, elevator-equipped apartment building. Each unit will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Pecoy Builders is also developing homes in Village Hills, said Narkewicz. The company has completed roughly half of a 24-unit subdivision of single-family homes that offers homebuyers nine plans to choose from in varying price ranges.

MassDevelopment, for Hospital Hill Development LLC, has invested more than $18 million in planning and infrastructure construction, and created the master plan for Village Hill, which is being marketed and developed in sections. In addition to the land currently out to bid on the back property, additional acreage remains to be developed, the mayor noted.

Overall, said Masterson, commercial, retail, and residential development occurring in the city is well-balanced. “We have hotel and retail space, along with senior housing,” he noted as he spoke about the new Christopher Heights project, a $13.4 million, 50,000-square-foot, 83-unit assisted-living facility being built at Village Hill by the Grantham Group.

“Half of the units will be affordable,” Narkewicz said, explaining that the master plan includes mixed-income development.
Meanwhile, many other developments are underway or in the planning stages in and around downtown.

Northampton Community Arts Trust has found a new home at 33 Hawley St. “They purchased a former health club [Universal Health and Fitness] and plan to create 12,000 square feet of exhibition space and a 250-seat black-box theater in it,” said Narkewicz. “Northampton Center for the Arts will be the key tenant.”

Also, the former Clarke School campus on Round Hill Road is slated to undergo a transformation. The Springfield-based OPAL Real Estate Group purchased 12 acres, which contain eight buildings, and plan a historic conversion of the structures that will include residential apartments and retail and office space.

“It’s a significant development because the campus was never on the tax rolls,” said Narkewicz, adding that efforts to bring more housing stock onto the market are critical, because officials believe more healthcare professionals will want to live in Northampton due to the expansion of Baystate Health and the fact that Cooley Dickinson Hospital has become an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The Northampton-based hospital and Mass General’s Cancer Center have also entered into an agreement to expand oncology services to Pioneer Valley residents, with plans to build a new cancer center in the city.

On the Right Track
Coinciding with the many commercial and residential developments are infrastructure initiatives designed to improve traffic flow and, overall, make it easier for people to commute to and live in Northampton.

For example, improvements are in the works for the fork in the road that drivers encounter when they take Exit 18 off I-91 and head into Northampton.

“The intersection is owned by the state, and it plans to redevelop it and turn it into a roundabout,” said Narkewicz, noting that design work is 75% complete. “It’s a much safer and more efficient way to move high volumes of traffic through a complicated traffic pattern.”

The city is also in discussions with the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce about the many new businesses that have opened at the juncture where Pleasant Street becomes Route 5.

“Several commercial buildings have been redeveloped, and this is an area we are trying to grow as a way of extending our downtown,” the mayor explained. “It’s evidence of an emergence of positive small business and retail growth, and the city is working with the chamber to improve parking to support the growth, traffic, and other pedestrian issues to extend the walkable district of Main Street. All these changes are bearing fruit.”

State officials also want Northampton to take over the section of Route 5 that turns into Pleasant Street. There are some environmental challenges, said Narkewicz, adding, “we’re looking at how we can create a better transition from the state highway to downtown. We have put in some traffic islands to demarcate the point when you leave the highway and enter the city zone to encourage new commercial development.”

City officials are also looking forward to the return of Amtrak service, which will transport passengers along the west side of the Connecticut River. It is part of a larger, $73 million federal project and calls for a shift in Amtrak’s Vermonter route, which will include new stations in Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke. “The state is working with us on plans to build a new railroad platform next to the track,” Narkewicz said.

Local businessman Jeremiah Micka has purchased the old rail station building with plans for its conversion, which will include a new sports bar on the north side of the structure, as well as a 200-seat banquet hall. The Tunnel Bar underneath the building will remain open, and the mayor said he is happy that the rest of the building will be redeveloped, as it was empty and on the market for several years.

Moving Forward
Masterson calls Northampton a leading city in Western Mass. “It has many diverse economic and demographic assets that generate economic strength locally and within the Pioneer Valley Knowledge Corridor region.”

Narkewicz agreed, and said Village Hill is a model development because it is close to downtown and residents can walk there, ride their bikes, or use PVTA buses. “Plus, it contains open space and community gardens. It’s an example of the sustainable growth Northampton is focusing on,” he said.

Growth that is taking place in every corner of the city.

Northampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1884
Population: 28,592 (2012)
Area: 35.8 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $15.39
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.39
Median Household Income: $48,864
Family Household Income: $56,844
Type of government:
Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Smith College, City of Northampton

Banking and Financial Services Sections
Understand What Such a Commitment Would Require

Carolyn Bourgoin

Carolyn Bourgoin

As a business professional in Western Mass., there is a high likelihood that you have been approached (or will be approached) to serve on a board.

This region has a significant concentration of nonprofit and charitable organizations, and, therefore, there is often a need for capable and willing board members. When receiving such a request, the first step to take before accepting is determining what roles and responsibilities such a commitment would require.

All too often, however, the review of the organization’s tax filings, including the Form 990, is missing among those responsibilities. This is a significant task and should not be taken lightly.

As a board member of a charitable organization, you have a responsibility to periodically confirm with management that these items are accurate and current. But your responsibility with respect to the Form 990 does not end there, as the IRS expects management to provide the full board with a copy of the Form 990 prior to it being filed. The board may designate a committee to review the Form 990, but must disclose this on the 990.

This filing is open to public inspection on Guidestar and the Massachusetts attorney general’s website. The board should make sure the Form 990 properly represents the organization to potential donors and other interested parties.

Unfortunately, reviewing the Form 990 can seem like a time-consuming task, especially if you are unfamiliar with such tax documents. This article will provide suggestions on what to look for and highlight some of the more critical sections of the form.

• Start by scanning the first two pages of the return to make sure the summary comparison of financial information between the current and prior years makes sense, and that the mission statement is properly disclosed. The organization’s top three programs should be listed along with the related expenses and program revenues. Board members are responsible for ensuring that the organization’s charitable role is being effectively carried out in furtherance of its mission, so it is important to ensure that its programs are in line with its mission.

• Proper governance policies should be your next focus. The IRS encourages charities to adopt a written conflict-of-interest policy that requires directors and staff to act solely in the interest of the charity. The Form 990 questions whether such a policy was adopted and, if so, how the policy was monitored during the year. Also questioned are the policies used for setting executive and top-management compensation.

Both the IRS and the state attorney general’s office expect the board to be involved in approving the compensation and benefits of the CEO, including comparing the salary to other executives in similar fields. A board that is actively involved in setting executive compensation should be at lower risk for complaints being filed regarding excess compensation or private benefits inuring to top officials.

As more and more exempt organizations become involved in joint ventures or similar arrangements, the Form 990 questions whether a charity has adopted a written policy concerning its involvement in these investments. The IRS expects a tax-exempt organization to safeguard its assets and exempt status from a risky investment arrangement.

• A list of board members at year end must be disclosed. This helps determine whether the board is the appropriate size to carry out its duties for the organization. Very large boards may have a difficult time making decisions. In this situation, an executive committee with delegated responsibilities might be effective. Yet, small boards may lack the broad knowledge and skills to properly govern the organization. Regardless of the size of the board, the IRS expects that it not be dominated by employees and others who may not be independent because of family or business relationships. There are several questions on the Form 990 pertaining to this issue.

• Revenue sources disclosed on the Form 990 should be evaluated to determine whether the organization has unrelated trade or business income that may require a Form 990T (required to calculate any potential income tax). Certain partnership investments and activities that do not further the organization’s purpose may generate such income.

• Public charities that solicit funds, which are typically evidenced by the presence of contribution revenue on the Form 990, should make sure that they track and disclose fund-raising costs on the Form 990. Those that hire professional fund-raisers or grant writers must make additional disclosures on Schedule G. Fund-raising events should also be disclosed on this schedule.

• Board members of public charities should look over Schedule A, as the testing on this form determines whether the organization remains a public charity or is converted to a private foundation. While there are different tests to calculate public support, each excludes gifts from certain donors. If the public support percentage is nearing 33.3%, the organization is in danger of becoming a private foundation, and steps must be taken to broaden the overall public support of the organization.

• Transactions between the organization and disqualified or interested persons may require disclosure on Schedule L. This includes business transactions, depending on the amount, as well as grants or loans. One of the main goals of the new Form 990 is to enhance transparency, so it is essential that the organization properly disclose related party transactions.

These are some of the more significant areas of the Form 990. The form, easily obtainable on the Internet, is a reflection on the organization and the board. In order to fulfill your fiduciary duties as a board member, it is important that you have an understanding of this filing and take part in its review.

If you have questions regarding your organization’s tax filings, including the Form 990, be sure to contact your organization’s accounting professional.

Carolyn Bourgoin is a senior tax manager for the Holyoke-based public accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.;  (413) 322-3483; [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
With the I-91 Viaduct, Future Prospects Are Up in the Air

91ViaductDPartNick Fyntrilakis, vice president of Community Responsibility for MassMutual and frequent spokesperson for the financial-services giant, urged the state to hit the ‘pause’ button when it comes to a planned $260 million project to replace the stretch of Interstate 91 that runs through the center of Springfield and is known as the ‘viaduct.’

He used that term at a well-attended public hearing on the massive public-works project late last month, and in reference to another, much broader possible plan for the stretch of I-91 that slices through the very heart of the city’s central business district — taking it down to street level or perhaps even below street level, thus facilitating the process of reconnecting the city with the Connecticut River for the first time since construction of the highway began a half-century ago.

“We see this as a possible game changer, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix a 60-year-old problem in the city of Springfield — being disconnected from the riverfront and the access to economic-development opportunities that exist there,” he told those assembled, and especially Michael O’Dowd, project manager for the Mass. Department of Transportation (DOT). “If this [repair] project proceeds as proposed, it’s going to be very difficult to see $260 million of work just go away based on another design that comes up through the planning effort.

“If we go down this road,” he went on, again referring to the repair project, “we’re going to miss an opportunity, and we’re going to have this viaduct for the next 40 or 50 years, which I don’t think the majority of the community is looking for.”

And therein lies the problem, or controversy, arising at a time when most would expect public officials and business leaders to be thrilled, or at least happy, with the prospect of the federal and state governments spending a quarter of a billion dollars to fix a very tired stretch of road.

repairs of the viaduct section of I-91 cannot wait

Officials with MassDOT say the proposed repairs of the viaduct section of I-91 cannot wait due to the deteriorating condition of the roadway and cost of continually patching it.

But there are other concerns as well. They include logistics — the proposed repair project, even on a planned accelerated construction schedule, would take probably three years to complete, and prolonged closings of several off-ramps and partial closures of the parking garages under the highway would be unavoidable — as well as timing. Indeed, the project could coincide with the now-likely construction of an $800 million casino between State and Union streets, just a block or so from one of those aforementioned off-ramps.

But the pause that Fyntrilakis and others are seeking — to study a potentially bolder endeavor involving the viaduct — is not likely, or even advisable, said O’Dowd.

That’s because this section of I-91 is deteriorating rapidly, and the state is spending about $2 million a year annually on what amount to patch jobs that do little but buy the city some time. And, in his opinion, it can’t buy any more.

“This is something that needs to be done now,” he said at the public hearing, putting the accent on that last word as he talked about the financial and safety considerations that he believes should deter any delays in getting started.

But beyond those aspects of hitting ‘pause’ on the viaduct work, there are also economic-development concerns, said Jeffrey Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

He told BusinessWest that discussions about an extensive ‘repair-in-place’ project involving the viaduct have been ongoing for some time. But they took a far more serious tone — and the initiative moved into a faster lane, if you will — after the second level of the I-91 South parking garage had to be closed for an extended period due to falling concrete from the deck above.

“That convinced people that this was serious — it really showed the economic impact upon Springfield,” he said, adding that there are several buildings downtown that don’t have attached parking and rely on the I-91 lots. “When they closed that floor of the parking garage and told everyone to park in I-91 North, that overloaded that system, and we started realizing how dependent downtown Springfield is on two or three parking facilities.”

Frank DePaola

Frank DePaola says accelerated bridge construction, or ABC, should allow crews to complete the repairs of the viaduct section of I-91 in three construction seasons.

So it appears that the repair project will proceed as planned, with a contract slated to be awarded later this year and work to commence possibly next spring. This will be a long and likely painful period for those who live, work, and do business in the downtown area, said Ciuffreda, adding that it will be his agency’s goal to help minimize the disruptions through planning and communication.

For this issue and its focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest focuses on those steps and many other aspects of what is turning into a controversial project long before any work actually begins.

Concrete Examples

It’s called ‘accelerated bridge construction,’ another term simplified to the acronym ABC.

And, as the name implies, it involves processes and materials — such as pre-fabricated sections of highway decking — that enables projects such as the proposed I-91 initiative to be completed in less time than under more traditional methods, said Frank DePaola, MassDOT highway administrator.

Before elaborating on just what’s involved, he told BusinessWest that the state has already had some experience with ABC, and it’s due to get quite a bit more in the years to come, because there are many elevated sections of highway like Springfield’s I-91 viaduct, most of which were built about the same time — the mid- to late ’60s, as the Interstate Highway Project was reaching its zenith — and they’re in generally the same condition: poor.

A partial list would include the I-90 (Mass. Turnpike) viaduct in Boston, the Route 79 viaduct in Fall River, the McCarthy Overpass in Sommerville, and a section of I-93 North that also passes through Sommerville, he said, adding that some have been repaired and others are awaiting work.

Reiterating O’Dowd’s comments, he said the work in Springfield cannot, and should not, be put off much longer.

“Over the years, the water, the salt, and just the weather elements have weathered the deck, so that without predictability, sections of the deck fall out, and we have to go out there and patch holes in the deck,” he explained. “We’ve spent, on average, $2 million a year patching the holes in the deck.”

Beyond this cost, and the safety element driven home by the closing of the upper level of the parking garage, there is a “nuisance factor” as well, he said, noting these patch jobs he described entail shutting down lanes of the highway for sometimes long stretches at a time.

Rather than continue with this frustrating, Sisyphean approach, the state has proposed an ambitious, and expensive, plan to replace the decking on the 67 spans of northbound highway within the viaduct and the 62 spans on the southbound section.

If all goes as planned, the contract for the repair project will be awarded later this year, and work is expected to commence late this fall. The plan is to keep two of the three lanes in both the north- and southbound sections open at all times, said DePaola, noting that, while 14 sections of I-93 were replaced in 10 weeks by shutting that section of the highway down completely, a similar strategy is neither necessary nor recommended for Springfield’s viaduct.

Keeping two lanes of traffic open on both the north- and southbound sections of the highway will reduce the overall inconvenience from the project, but there will undoubtedly be an impact on commuters as off-ramps are closed and traffic is detoured onto East Columbus and West Columbus avenues and other arteries, said O’Dowd at the public hearing.

Exits 6 and 7 on I-91 South will be closed, and traffic detoured to a temporary ramp to be constructed north of exit 8 to provide access to downtown Springfield via West and East Columbus avenues. The on-ramps to I-91 North from both State and Union streets will also have to be closed, he went on. I-91 northbound access will be provided via East Columbus Avenue, with I-291 access provided via a detour off East Columbus Avenue to Liberty and Dwight streets.

Ramping Up

Ciuffreda, who has many not-so-fond recollections of the I-91 ramp-reversal project that accompanied the opening of the new Basketball Hall of Fame, said residents, business owners, and those who work downtown couldn’t be blamed for being skeptical about vows to minimize the disruption from the planned I-91 project.

Indeed, the ramp project took far longer than originally estimated, and the impact was considerable. And those same things can be said about the Memorial Bridge reconstruction that took place 20 years ago, and the more recent repairs to the South End Bridge.

But Ciuffreda believes there is also room for optimism with regard to the I-91 initiative.

“The state has come a long way with how they go about construction projects like this one,” he said, citing the I-93 repairs as one example. “It’s going to be a major, major construction project, but they feel pretty comfortable — and I feel pretty comfortable — that they can minimize the downside of it.

“Clearly there will be disruptions — you can’t do a major construction project without them — but I think they’ve learned enough to expedite it and to minimize the adverse effects.”

But the 17-day run of the Big E each fall will severely test the patience, and the abilities, of those trying to keep the traffic flowing, he added quickly, noting that construction might have to be shut down during the fair’s run, and other steps, such as shuttling visitors from remote locations, might have to be undertaken.

And if a license is granted for MGM’s proposed South End resort casino, as expected, and construction begins later this year — that’s the current timetable — two of the biggest construction projects in the region’s history would be going on at the same time, and within a few hundred feet of each other.

Overall, effective communication with the public about the project, specific phases, lane and off-ramp closings, and other considerations are vital to efforts to minimize disruptions and the impact on commerce, said Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer.

“My issue is to make sure there’s enough communication so that we know where they’re working so we can tell people who work and come to downtown Springfield and use our parking facilities what’s going on and what the best route to get here is going to be,” he said. “It’s going to uncomfortable for a while, and no one likes that, but the idea that we can get a good fix, rather than a patch job, is good for Springfield in the long run.”

As for that broader vision for the viaduct and improved access to the river that Fyntrilakis mentioned, there is a study, being conducted independent of the repair project, that is exploring options.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has repeatedly called for something “bold and visionary” in his public comments on the matter, and State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said it might be possible to take some sections of the elevated highway down to grade level or just below.

But there are myriad questions that will be need to be answered, about everything from what the soils can handle to how other barriers to the riverfront, such as East and West Columbus avenues  and the rail line just east of the river would be negotiated; from how such a project would be funded to whether the state and federal governments would invest heavily again in a road they just paid $260 million to fix.

“Once the repair project starts, it will take some of the options off the table for getting to the riverfront, but I’m not sure it takes all of them off the table,” said Ciuffreda. “We may have to settle for a lesser connection than we ideally would like. That’s just the hand we’ve been dealt. It’s a crumbling road, and if it ever went down to one lane, that would just cripple the economy.”

Bottom Line

How that hand will be played remains to be seen, but it appears that the pause sought by Fyntrilakis and others is not in the cards.

And for that reason, projecting down the road, for the short and long term, will be difficult. That’s why, when it comes to Springfield and its controversial, half-century-old viaduct, so many things are still up in the air.

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