We’ve written in the past that it’s wise to be wary about a good many of these ‘top 10’ or ’50 best’ lists that come out regularly, charting everything from the most attractive places to retire to the ‘most unsafe’ cities in the country.
It’s always best to take them with a grain of salt.
But sometimes, these lists can provide food for thought, and that is certainly the case when it comes to Springfield finding a home — let’s hope it’s a permanent home — on Inc. magazine’s list of the 50 Best U.S. Cities for Starting a Business in 2020, or its ‘Surge Cities Index.’
The City of Homes is right there at No. 46, one spot behind Houston, one ahead of Tulsa, Okla., and 45 behind Austin, Texas. Beyond that general ranking, there are other measures, and Springfield, according to Inc., ranks 14th in wage growth, 22nd in early-stage funding deals, and 28th in net business creation.
These lists are incredibly subjective and wholly unscientific, and no one can really say if Springfield is the 46th-best place to start a business or the 43rd, or the 52nd. But what’s more important than the number is what Inc. had to say about the city and what’s really behind that ranking.
Let’s start with the headline. “In the Pioneer Valley, founders are made, not imported.” That’s an accurate description of what’s going on in this region — businesses get started here and, hopefully, grow here — and a very telling one. Indeed, Western Mass. is trying to grow its base of businesses organically, primarily out of necessity.
Here’s what Inc. had to say:
“This Pioneer Valley city benefits from its proximity to the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at UMass Amherst, which serves as an incubator for startup talent. Founders in this Massachusetts town can develop further with Valley Venture Mentors, a grant-fund mentorship organization, and innovation center TechSpring. The latter organization focuses primarily on latter-stage startups in healthcare, while the former has helped more than 300 startups since its founding in 2011. ‘We don’t have a bias toward high tech. We have a bias toward the people who live here,’ says Valley Venture Mentors CEO Kristin Leutz. ‘[People here] see anyone as a potential high-growth entrepreneur.’”
Slicing through this commentary, it is now evident that Greater Springfield’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is not only gaining some momentum, it is gaining some attention. We’re quite sure the region was already on the proverbial map when it comes to startups and innovation, and this ranking provides still more evidence.
Such an ecosystem involves a lot of moving parts — incubators, mentorship groups, colleges and universities with entrepreneurship programs, angel investors, venture-capital groups, and more — and they have to work in unison to create startups, nurture them, get them to the next stage, and, hopefully, keep them in this region.
Springfield has a long way to go before it has a startup environment like Austin, Salt Lake City, Durham, N.C., Denver, and Boise, Idaho — the top five cities on Inc.’s list — but it’s making its presence known, both to the editors at Inc. and hopefully with people looking to launch a business.
Like we said at the top, one has to be careful not to read too much into these ‘best-of’ lists. But we can read something from this one — that all those efforts to encourage and mentor entrepreneurs in this region are starting to pay off. v
Evan Plotkin says congestion and sky-high rents in Boston demand creative solutions. One of them could be incentivizing companies to move west, into Springfield’s downtown.
Evan Plotkin was talking about how “something has to give.”
With that one phrase, he was talking about the commercial real-estate markets in the central business districts of Boston and Springfield.
In the Hub, said Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, rents are sky-high and continue to climb — to more than $100 per square foot in some locations and to roughly $63 per square foot on average, with more space being built to accommodate soaring demand. Meanwhile, traffic, congestion, and problems with mass transit are strangling businesses, he said, to the point where meetings can’t start until 10 a.m. and overall productivity is impacted.
Meanwhile, in Springfield, rents are low — less than one-third the average in Boston — and they are flat, as in consistently flat. “They really haven’t gone up at all in maybe 25 years,” said Plotkin, who noted that there are several reasons for this, but especially the fact that there is, by his estimate, roughly 600,000 square feet of vacant class A space in Springfield’s downtown.
Exacerbating this relative stagnancy in the City of Homes has been new and seemingly unneeded inventory coming on the market — especially the 60,000 square feet at Union Station and the redeveloped property known as 1550 Main — and movement among a growing number of businesses to reduce their physical footprint by enabling (or in some cases requiring) employees to work from home.
This is where the ‘something has to give’ part comes in, said Plotkin, in a very candid interview with BusinessWest, noting that things need to change in both cities. And both would seemingly benefit if just some of the state offices now based in the Hub, as well as many different types of private businesses, would change their mailing address from Boston to Springfield when their leases expire.
“There’s 70% rent inflation in Boston, so when these businesses’ leases expire, they’re looking at incredibly high turnover rent,” said Plotkin, who co-owns a portion of the office tower known as 1350 Main St. He noted that class A rents in Boston have climbed $12 to $15 per square foot over the past few years. Meanwhile, in Springfield, property owners are charging $15 to $20 per square foot of class A space.
“It’s outrageous what’s going on in Boston — and everyone can do the math,” he said. “If state agencies don’t have to be in Boston, they can be decentralized and relocated to office space in Springfield or perhaps Worcester. They’re looking for creative solutions for Boston, and this could be one of them.”
Besides these opinions, all Plotkin really has at this point are those numbers he mentioned earlier (as well as some other statistics) and what appears to be that sound theory — that businesses and state agencies that don’t really need to be in Boston could and should be incentivized to seek other locations, including the 413 and especially downtown Springfield.
He has meetings planned with other downtown property owners as well as Rick Sullivan, present of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., to discuss what can and perhaps should be done to at least raise awareness of what Springfield has to offer and perhaps create some migration west.
Plotkin said he understands there are reasons why state agencies and businesses want to be in Boston — especially because they know there’s a skilled workforce there — and he understands that moving about 90 miles west on the Turnpike is expensive and presents some risks, especially when it comes to workforce issues.
But he says the numbers speak for themselves, and if those paying sky-high rents in Boston could come to understand the numbers in this market, they could become inspired to relocate.
And if high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield becomes a reality, then people could, in theory, live in the Boston area and work in businesses and agencies relocated to the 413 — a decidedly differently spin on how that service might change the business landscape in the Bay State.
That’s a very large number of ‘ifs,’ and Plotkin acknowledges this as well. But as he said at the top, and repeatedly, something has to give in both cities.
As he talked with BusinessWest, Plotkin continually leafed through the pages on a white legal pad he brought with him.
They contain various notes he’s collected over the past weeks and months on the Boston real-estate market and the overall business climate in New England’s largest city.
There are some statistics he’s collected — such as those regarding average rents in the Hub, the amount of new space under construction (2.5 million square feet was the number he had), and the current vacancy rate in the city — an historically low 6%, according to the New York-based real-estate giant Cushman & Wakefield.
But there were also some general thoughts, observations, and notations from various publications and other sources.
Among them was a quote from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council citing a survey which revealed that 60% of the life-science employees working in Boston would “change their job tomorrow” if they could get a better commute. There was also something he read in another publication (he couldn’t remember which one), noting that many Boston-area residents had simply given up on mass transit because it was so unreliable and were instead driving to work and getting there mid-morning.
“In one report I read, business owners in Boston said they had to add staff to make up for transit delays,” he said, putting a verbal exclamation point behind that comment. “Think about how disruptive that is to your business. We don’t understand that here — there’s no such thing as traffic in Springfield.”
Summing up all he’s read and heard about Boston and possible solutions to its congestion problems — everything from incentivizing employers to let workers telecommute to taxing motorists for using certain roads at certain hours — he said the situation is fast becoming untenable for many living and trying to do business there.
“You have inefficiency, spiraling upward costs, shortages of affordable housing, transportation problems, congestion, and sky-high cost of living there,” he said. “Businesses locate in Boston because they can attract that workforce, which makes sense, but if that workforce can’t afford to live there and can’t deal with the congestion, then what’s the point of being in Boston?”
Which brings him back to Springfield and its downtown. And for this subject, Plotkin didn’t need a legal pad.
He’s been working in, and selling and leasing commercial real estate in, downtown Springfield for more than 40 years. He knows what’s changed and, perhaps more importantly, what hasn’t, especially when it comes to demand for space in the central business district, and what would be called net gains.
Indeed, Plotkin said that what the region has mostly experienced — there have been some notable exceptions, to be sure — is companies moving from one downtown office building to another.
In this zero-sum real-estate game, one building owner loses a tenant, and another gains one — but the city and its downtown don’t gain much at all, he said.
“There’s been negative absorption in the downtown for many years now, and I don’t see anything really changing,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m seeing people moving from one block to another, one office building to another, but not many new businesses moving in. Meanwhile, everyone’s vying for the same tenants, which drives the rental rates down even lower than they have been historically; it’s a tenant’s market here.”
It’s anything but that in Boston, which has seen a surge of new businesses moving in — everything from tech startups to giant corporations, like GE. The real-estate market is exploding, and traffic woes and mass-transit headaches have been consistent front-page news. All this calls for creative thinking — as in very creative — and perhaps looking west, said Plotkin, who did some simple math to get his point across.
“Using the example of a 20,000-square-foot tenant paying $63 per square foot in Boston … if the same tenant came to Springfield and paid $18 per square foot, we’re talking about millions of dollars,” he explained, adding that these numbers should strike a chord, especially when it comes to businesses and agencies that don’t have to be in Boston.
Many of those who think they do need to be in Boston are focused on workforce issues, he went on, adding that he believes the Greater Springfield area can, in fact, meet the workforce requirements of many companies.
And over the past several years, the city has become more vibrant with the addition of MGM Springfield, said Plotkin, adding that there are certainly other selling points, like a high quality of life and a cost of living that those residing in and around Boston might find difficult to comprehend.
As he talked with BusinessWest, Plotkin all but acknowledged that getting businesses and agencies to trade Boston for Springfield will be difficult, for all the reasons stated above.
But the situation in the Hub could be reaching a tipping point when it comes to affordability, traffic, congestion, and quality of life.
And these converging factors might, that’s might, finally convince some decision makers to seek a very creative alternative.
Jeff Weinman stands on the former York Street Jail site, where a new, state-of-the-art pump station is being built.
The wastewater pump station at Springfield’s riverfront has done its job for more than 80 years, but it’s nearing the end of its useful life and lacks the capacity to keep up with the region’s growth — which threatens the cleanliness of the Connecticut River itself. That’s why the Springfield Water & Commission has launched a $115 million project to build a new station and three new pipelines across the river — a project that comes with some intriguing challenges and equally innovative solutions, including something called microtunneling.
When the wastewater pump station on York Street in Springfield was built 81 years ago, the city’s infrastructure was much different — and so were its sewage-treatment needs.
“The existing pump station is pretty old, though it’s still functional,” said Jeff Weinman, senior project manager Daniel O’Connell’s Sons (DOC), the contractor overseeing the construction of a new, much larger pump station at the site. “The capacity is the issue. As the city has expanded over the years, it’s kind of at its capacity right now, so they need to create additional pumping capacity there. In order to that, they needed to build a bigger pump station with bigger pumps, bigger piping, bigger everything.”
The $115 million project will serve 70% of the region’s population by conveying wastewater from Springfield, Ludlow, Wilbraham, and East Longmeadow across the Connecticut River to the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility on Bondi’s Island. A new, higher-capacity wastewater pump station will be constructed, as well as three new wastewater-conveyance pipes across the Connecticut River.
The project is a cornerstone of the Springfield Water & Sewer Commission’s efforts to comprehensively plan projects that will meet multiple pressing needs such as combined sewer overflow reduction, climate resiliency, system redundancy, and infrastructure renewal. Construction is expected to last well into 2022.
“It’s part of a capital investment on the part of the commission to both increase their infrastructure and enhance water quality in the Connecticut River,” Weinman told BusinessWest. “It can reduce the potential for severe storms to impact water quality in the Connecticut River by having storm runoff or having the city’s sewer system overflow.”
A rendering shows the future pump station’s footprint both above and well below the ground.
The innovative project, expected to create about 150 construction jobs over the next three years, is designed to address four key issues, including:
• Infrastructure renewal (the new, modern station will replace an aging station nearing the end of its useful life and accommodating future growth in the region);
• Environmental protection (increased pumping capacity will prevent an additional 100 million gallons of combined sewer overflows from entering the Connecticut River in a typical year);
• System redundancy (three new pipes under the Connecticut River will add redundancy and improve service reliability for customers in Springfield, Ludlow, East Longmeadow, and Wilbraham); and
• Climate resiliency (flood-control protection will be increased by repurposing the old pump station).
The project is a culmination of years of planning — specifically through the commission’s Integrated Wastewater Plan (IWP). Adopted in 2014, the IWP was one of the first such plans in the country to integrate project planning for regulatory compliance — specifically, projects that fulfill an unfunded federal mandate to eliminate combined sewer overflows — and for renewal of aging infrastructure.
A Question of Capacity
The new station is being built on the former site of the York Street Jail and will connect to the Springfield Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility on Bondi’s Island through three new, 1,200-foot river crossing pipes. The additional pipes will supplement the two 80- and 50-year-old pipes under the river now, allowing for more regular maintenance and alternatives during emergencies.
“It can reduce the potential for severe storms to impact water quality in the Connecticut River by having storm runoff or having the city’s sewer system overflow.”
A $100 million low-interest loan from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust State Revolving Fund (SRF) is the source of funding for the majority of the project. The SRF is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection with funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and from repayment of past loans.
The project also utilizes an innovative form of construction called ‘construction manager at risk’ (CMAR). Rather than designing a project and then sending it to bid for construction, CMAR incorporates the construction manager earlier in the process to help identify risks that may arise in the construction phase due to design. This garners more price certainty and minimizes project delays due to unforeseen circumstances.
“The delivery method is a little different,” Weinman said. “We did a technical proposal for the job, and based on that we were awarded the contract, then we worked with the design team during the final stages of development of construction documents, providing budgeting support and working with design team as they finalized documents and tailored them to the approach to the work that we thought best.”
The current, 81-year-old pump station is much smaller — and can thus handle much less wastewater — than the one coming online in 2022.
One of the interesting challenges of the project is where it’s sited, shoehorned between West Columbus Avenue and the flood-control wall and the infrastructure on York Street, including the main interceptor pipe for the city of Springfield.
“The pump station needs to be deep enough to work with the existing elevations of the infrastructure and also be able to have the capacity to handle the flow that it needs to handle,” Weinman said. “The bottom elevation of the pump station is 50 feet below existing grade. The site is so small, you have to go pretty much straight down with excavation to build the pump station.”
So, in a move uncommon in Western Mass., DOC will use a slurry wall for supportive excavation. “It’s a type of system usually used in downtown Boston and urban settings where you don’t have a lot of real estate. A concrete wall is built in the ground without using formwork,” he explained. “It’s kind of a unique process — the first time I’ve been involved with a project that employs that system.”
Another challenge involves running the new pipelines under the Amtrak tracks, Weinman noted. “So they’re going to be microtunneling under the tracks. We did a smaller supportive excavation for the launch pit for the microtunneling. That’ll be going on hopefully next summer — boring a hole beneath the flood wall and the railroad tracks out to the other side of the tracks down toward the river.”
Next summer will also see the start of the underwater pipe installation. That phase of the project should take about 12 months, as will DOC’s infrastructure upgrades at Bondi’s Island to expand the capacity of the sewage intake there. The construction of the pump station itself is the most involved part of the project; a groundbreaking took place in the spring, and it should be complete in May 2022.
The river-spanning pipe installation — which DOC will subcontract to a firm that specializes in such work — is a relatively straightforward job, but the process of completing the work has become more difficult in terms of the regulatory aspects, Weinman told BusinessWest.
“There’s a lot more awareness now of the potential environmental impacts, so the planning of it becomes a lot more intensive. You work with regulators, MassDEP, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other regulatory agencies involved, making sure you’re tailoring your work in a way that complies with all the regulations and minimizes the impact,” he explained. “It’s an arduous process, and I understand why it’s there.”
Still, the entire project itself will have a major environmental benefit, and that’s keeping the Connecticut River cleaner while better meeting the region’s growing wastewater needs.
“The York Street Pump Station and Connecticut River Crossing Project is a sign of the commission’s smart and future-oriented approach to stewarding the region’s water and wastewater infrastructure,” Commission Executive Director Josh Schimmel said at the spring groundbreaking. “These types of projects may not always be the most glamourous, but they are critical to maintaining public health, service reliability, and environmental protection in the region for the 21st century. We are proud to initiate this project that will maximize ratepayer dollars by meeting multiple needs.”
To Weinman and his team at DOC, it’s another rewarding challenge, particularly in terms of innovative methods like the slurry wall and the trenchless tunneling under the railroad tracks, that promises to lead to a positive outcome.
“That’s the nature of construction,” he said. “There are so many different systems out there, and every job has different challenges and different solutions.”
Nikki Burnett, seen here in one of the Educare center’s outdoor play areas, says the facility is a showcase of what early education should be — and what all young children deserve.
Nikki Burnett says Springfield’s Old Hill neighborhood and those surrounding it certainly need the gleaming new $14 million Educare facility constructed next door to the Elias Brookings Elementary School on Walnut Street.
More to the point, though, she told BusinessWest, they deserve this facility, which can only be described with that phrase state-of-the-art when it comes to everything from its programs to its play areas to its bathrooms.
“Mason Square, Old Hill, McKnight, Bay, all those neighborhoods … they’re so rich in history, so they’re rich in great success stories that have come out of here and are still coming out of here,” said Burnett, the recently named executive director of the 27,000-square-foot facility, who should know; she grew up there herself. “People like Ruth Carter, who just won an Oscar for the costume design in the movie Black Panther — she’s from Springfield.
“We have to celebrate those things, and we have to model those things for our children so they can see that they have greatness in them,” she went on. “One of the very important things about Educare is that it aligns potential with opportunity. I believe all children are born with immense potential, but many do not have the same opportunity to realize that, so Educare will give them that push — it will help readjust their trajectory.”
That’s why this area of the city, traditionally among the poorest neighborhoods in the state, deserves this Educare facility, just the 24th of its kind in the country and the only one in Massachusetts, she continued, adding quickly that this building, and the Educare model itself, were designed to show decision makers and society in general what all young children deserve and what has to be done so that they can all enjoy a similar experience.
Mary Walachy, executive director of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, which spearheaded efforts to bring the Educare facility to fruition, agreed.
“The message being sent here is that it costs money to do this work well,” she said. “It costs money to fund quality at the level that children in this community and others deserve, and we can’t expect outcomes that we want from children if the investment is not there at the front end.”
Considering those comments, Educare is certainly much more than a building, and those who visit it — and many will in the weeks and months to come — will come to understand that.
Indeed, the facility set to open later this year, supported by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and to be operated in partnership with Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, is, for lack of a better term, a standard — or the new standard when it comes to early-childhood education.
And it is, as Burnett and Walachy noted, a model — hopefully to be emulated — that incorporates everything science says young children need to flourish. This includes data utilization, high-quality teaching practices (three teachers to a classroom instead of the traditional two), embedded professional development, and intensive family engagement.
All this and more will come together at the much-anticipated facility, which will provide 141 children up to age 5 (already enrolled at a Head Start facility in that neighborhood) and their families with a full-day, full-year program that Burnett projects will be a place to learn — and not just for the young children enrolled there.
The Educare facility in Springfield is just one of 24 in the country and the only one in Massachusetts.
“Educare is going to be a demonstration site; we’re going to be able to bring in students of education, social work, counseling and therapy, and other areas from across the state and have them observe and learn our model,” she explained. “We understand that 141 children is not every child; however, what we learn here, we’re going to be able to send out — others can do what we’re doing. And on a policy level, it’s my hope that legislators can see the success of this and realize that, when they’re making out the budget, it needs to be funded so everyone can enjoy Educare quality.
“Educare is not going to be on every corner,” she went on. “But that doesn’t mean that the quality of Educare cannot be beneficial to all children.”
For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest toured the Educare facility and talked with Burnett and others about what this unique early-education center means for Springfield and especially those young people who walk through its doors.
New School of Thought
Janis Santos, the longtime director of Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, recalled that, when she toured the Educare facility recently as construction was winding down, she became quite emotional.
“I have to be honest, I started crying,” said Santos, honored roughly a year ago by BusinessWest as one of its Women of Impact for 2018. “One of the construction-crew members said, ‘why are you crying?’ and I said, ‘because I’m so happy.’
“Educare is going to be a demonstration site; we’re going to be able to bring in students of education, social work, counseling and therapy, and other areas from across the state and have them observe and learn our model.”
“This is a dream come true,” she went on, adding that the facility provides dramatic evidence of how far early-childhood education has come during her career — it was considered babysitting when she got her start — and how important it is to the overall development of young people.
Tears of joy have been a common emotional response among those who have toured the site, especially those involved in this initiative from the beginning, but there have been others as well. Indeed, Burnett told BusinessWest, when the staff members assigned to the Educare center visited the well-appointed teachers’ room, many of them started clapping.
These reactions provide ample evidence that the six-year journey to get the facility built and the doors open was certainly time and energy incredibly well-spent.
By now, most are familiar with the story of how an Educare facility — again, one of only 24 in the country — came to be in Springfield. It’s a story laced with serendipity and good fortune at a number of turns.
It begins back in 2014 when an early-childhood center on Katherine Street in Springfield closed down abruptly, leaving more than 100 children without classroom seats, said Walachy, adding that the Davis Foundation began looking at other options for early education in that building.
One of them was Educare, she went on, adding that officials with the Buffett Foundation and other agencies involved, as well as architects, came and looked at the property. They quickly determined that it was not up to the high standards for Educare centers.
“Their model is ‘make it a state-of-the-art, unbelievable building to send a strong message that this is what all kids deserve,’” said Walachy, adding that, after those inspections and being informed that a new facility would have to be built at a cost of more than $12 million, the Educare concept was essentially put on the shelf.
And it stayed there for the better part of two years until an anonymous donor from outside the Bay State who wanted to fund an Educare facility came into the picture.
“This individual pledged to pay for at least half the cost of building an Educare somewhere in the country, and she was willing to do it here in Springfield,” she said, adding that the donor has written checks totaling more than $9 million for both the construction and operation of the facility.
With this commitment, those involved went about raising the balance of the needed funds — the Davis Foundation and another donor committed $2 million each, and state grants as well as New Market Tax Credits were secured, bringing the total raised to more than $20 million — and then clearing what became another significant hurdle, finding a site on which to build.
Indeed, the Educare model is for these facilities to be built adjacent to elementary schools, and in Springfield, that proved a challenging mandate. But the tornado that ravaged the city, and especially the Old Hill area, in 2011, forcing the construction of a new Brookings School, actually provided an answer.
Indeed, land adjacent to the new school owned by Springfield College was heavily damaged by the tornado, making redevelopment a difficult proposition. Thus, the college became an important partner in the project by donating the needed land.
But while it’s been a long, hard fight to get this far, the journey is far from over, said both Burnett and Walachy, noting that another $500,000 must be raised to fund an endowment that will help cover operating expenses at the school.
And raising that money is just one of many responsibilities within Burnett’s lengthy job description, a list that also includes everything from becoming an expert on the Educare model to attending regular meetings of Educare facility directors — there’s one in New Orleans later this year, for example.
At the moment, one of the duties assuming much of her time is acting as a tour guide. She even joked that she hasn’t mastered the art of walking backward while talking with tour participants, but she’s working on it. To date, tours have been given to city officials, funders and potential funders, hired staff members, like those aforementioned teachers, and, yes, members of the media.
BusinessWest took its own tour, one that featured a number of stops, because items pointed out are certainly not typical of those found in traditional early-education centers.
“I literally cannot wait to see the children in there — that will be a special moment.”
Starting with what Burnett and others called the “outside-in” of the building’s design, which, as that phrase indicates, works to bring the outside environment into the school to provide continuity and the sense that the school is part of the larger world. Thus, green, grass-like carpeting was put down in the entranceways, and green carpet prevails pretty much throughout the facility. Meanwhile, the brick façade on the exterior is continued inside the building.
Throughout the building, there are generous amounts of light and state-of-the-art facilities throughout, from the well-equipped play areas inside and out to the two sinks in each of the classrooms — one for food preparation, the other for hand washing — to the restrooms designed especially for small people.
In addition, each classroom is equipped with small viewing areas with one-way mirrors so that so-called ‘master teachers’ and others can see and evaluate what’s happening.
In all, there are 12 classrooms, seven for infants and toddlers and five for preschool. As noted earlier, they will be places of learning, and not just for the students.
Model of Excellence
Returning to that emotional tour of the Educare facility she took a few weeks ago, Santos said that, as joyous and uplifting as it was, she’s looking forward to the next one even more.
“I literally cannot wait to see the children in there — that will be a special moment,” she told BusinessWest, putting almost a half-century of work in early childhood behind those words.
She can’t wait because students will be learning and playing in a facility that really was only a dream a few years ago — a dream that came true.
It’s a facility that those students truly need, but as Burnett and all the others we spoke said, it’s one they deserve — one that all students deserve.
As the headlines keep coming about the state’s casinos not meeting their projections for gaming revenues, the announcement last week that the Boston Red Sox will bring their annual Winter Weekend fan event to MGM Springfield and the MassMutual Center was well-timed and quite poignant.
We’ve been saying for some time now — and we’ll keep on saying — that, while the revenue projections for the state’s casinos are somewhat disappointing, they are just part of what gaming brings to the state and the communities in which they are located. Do we wish their revenues were more in line with the projections made all those years ago? Sure, but the casinos, and especially the one in Springfield, have brought benefits well beyond additional revenues to the state.
In the City of Homes, it has created momentum and traffic on most Saturday nights. On nights when there are shows, downtown comes alive and looks like … well, it doesn’t look like Springfield, or at least the Springfield of much of the past several decades. And the casino continues to bring energy and benefits in ways that probably couldn’t have been anticipated when officials were signing the host-community agreement drafted several years ago.
Which brings us back to the Red Sox and the Winter Weekend. This is one of the many benefits resulting from the new, multi-year partnership the team inked with MGM as the “official and exclusive resort of the team” early last year.
That designation once belonged to Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut, meaning that, for two days in January, a large group of Red Sox players (past and present), officials, and, yes, fans traveled to the Nutmeg State and spent a considerable amount of money there.
Next Jan. 17 and 18, those players, officials, and fans — and that spending money — will instead be coming to Springfield. And they’ll be coming during a time when the tourism sector here could certainly use a boost.
Several thousand fans are expected to come to the festival, which will include a town-hall event, autograph sessions, and photo opportunities with the players from today and yesterday.
This will be a great opportunity for fans of the team to connect with the players and coaches in a way they probably never have before. Meanwhile, those who come to see the team’s stars will also see a rising star in the city of Springfield — which they probably haven’t seen up close either.
Overall, this will be a tremendous opportunity for the city to roll out the red carpet and showcase all the good things that have happened here in recent years.
Some logistically minded people are already wondering, ‘what happens if it snows?’ We’re pretty certain the organizers will figure out. And they’ll also figure out how to make these two days something memorable, not only for Red Sox fans but for those doing business in downtown Springfield.
It all came to be because MGM forged a strong business partnership with the Red Sox. That’s one of the benefits you don’t see when you’re just looking at statistics concerning gross gaming revenue. And it’s one of the many reasons why it’s far too early to discuss whether the gaming industry is off to a disappointing start in the Bay State.
The Red Sox are coming to town. And Springfield is the big winner in this game.
The CVS in Tower Square in downtown Springfield closed its doors the other day as the chain opened a new facility several blocks to the south, almost across Main Street from MGM Springfield.
While this event isn’t in itself newsworthy on most levels, it is part of what is becoming a trend that is rather … well, disconcerting is too strong a word, but it’s pretty close. It’s a trend we would like to see reversed.
And that’s a trend toward businesses and institutions moving a block or two and having officials and business leaders label such activity ‘economic development.’ It might be that on some level — or in some cases, to be precise. But mostly, it’s just musical chairs that isn’t really helping matters when it comes to the big picture.
Let’s start with that CVS. On some levels, we should consider this part of efforts to revitalize the tornado-ravaged South End of Springfield — and that’s what it’s being called. In fact, MGM’s leaders have mentioned this project early and often when talking about how the $960 million facility is stimulating additional development in and around its campus.
Maybe that’s true. That’s maybe. But moving CVS several hundred yards to the south can’t be interpreted as bringing ‘new business’ to Springfield. And moving that store out of Tower Square can’t be helping the ongoing efforts to revitalize that former business hub and shopping center. In fact, the decrease in foot traffic will certainly hurt efforts to bring new businesses into that once-thriving but long-struggling facility. And it will also hurt the employees in the downtown business towers who frequent that convenient location.
But enough about CVS. We’ve seen this musical-chairs activity with bank branches, small businesses, nonprofits, and more. They move into a new space to considerable fanfare while leaving a vacancy somewhere else.
Sometimes it’s necessary — as when a company needs to move to better or larger space, or when a lease is being terminated, as was the case a few years ago with a number of law firms displaced by the arrival of MGM. And it’s nothing unique to Springfield or this region. Indeed, every time a new office building is constructed in Boston, New York, or any other large city, tenants relocate to it from other facilities in the general area.
And, as we noted, sometimes it’s a good thing, as is the case with Peter Pan moving just a few hundred feet into Union Station. That seemingly unnecessary move cleared the way for Way Finders to build a new facility on the Peter Pan site that might help revitalize the North Blocks area, while also helping to speed development in the South End, in property currently home to Way Finders.
But in most cases, this musical-chairs activity is just that — people moving from one chair to another with no real benefits, other than to those doing the moving.
We don’t know all the reasons why CVS moved three blocks down Main Street, and we’re not sure what kind of impact it will have in the South End. Maybe it will be a catalyst for more development, and maybe it will be a solid start to efforts to balance the glitz on the west side of Main Street with some on the east side.
But overall, such moves don’t generate economic development as much as they just move it around. The real goal should be to have companies change their zip code (to one in the 413) when they move, not keep the same one.
Tim Sheehan, who succeeded Kevin Kennedy as Springfield’s chief Development officer in July, may be new to the job, but he’s certainly not new to the city. He grew up there, and later worked for two different mayoral administrations. In recent years, he’s seen the city go from the depths of receivership to what many are calling a renaissance. Looking to build off created momentum, he said there is still considerable work to do.
Tim Sheehan left Springfield, and a job with the state agency MassDevelopment, in 2002 to become director of the Redevelopment Agency in Norwalk, Conn.
But he didn’t exactly leave his birthplace behind.
Indeed, with a number of family and friends still living in and around the City of Homes, he returned frequently — at least once a month, by his estimate — and thus was keeping pace with all that happened in the city over that time.
That’s a lengthy list that includes everything from receivership to the opening of MGM Springfield to the revitalization, decades in the making, of Union Station, a project he’s quite familiar with because, starting in 2017, he took the train to Springfield for those visits.
So Sheehan didn’t have to reacquaint himself with the city, its challenges, and its opportunities when he accepted Mayor Domenic Sarno’s proposition to succeed Kevin Kennedy as Springfield’s chief Development officer.
In this important role, he has some big shoes to fill — Kennedy played a huge part in bringing more than $4 billion in development to the city since that tornado touched down in June 2011 — but also some momentum to build on and opportunities to add new chapters to an ongoing success story.
Indeed, while noting that considerable progress has been made with everything from vitality in the central business district to jobs to the city’s fiscal health, Sheehan concedes that much work remains to be done.
“There’s a very positive perception regarding where the city has positioned itself as a city within Western Mass.,” he said. “But there’s still room to grow on that, and I think Springfield can become a real leader in urban development.”
“The casino has met us a long way in the objective of encouraging people to go out from the casino and explore the city. What we need to do is take the next step so that there’s some sense of equivalence between what’s at the casino and what’s outside on Main Street.”
In no particular order, he listed the city’s many neighborhoods and needed work to revitalize the ‘Main Streets,’ if you will, of Indian Orchard, Forest Park, Six Corners, Boston Road, and even 16 Acres, where he grew up, as well as the need to create more market-rate housing in the city, a realm where he enjoyed success in Norwalk.
Sheehan also mentioned some specific projects that most might think of when they hear the term ‘economic development’ — 31 Elm St. was at the top of that list — and some initiatives they might not connect with that term, such as job training and assistance to small businesses, which are the backbone of the city’s economy.
“There are some studies that looked at employment and job-training initiatives in the city and discussed ways they could be improved,” he noted. “And there are studies that looked at how we could expand and assist the industrial and manufacturing sectors that exist here, and still others that look at the importance of the small-business sector within Springfield’s larger economy, the role it plays, and what government could provide to strengthen small business.
“As much as the large-scale development in the city has been fantastic and they’re a beacon to attract people,” he went on, citing MGM, CRRC, and other eight- and nine-figure projects, “we can’t lose sight of the fact that the smaller businesses — employers with fewer than six people — are the vast majority of the businesses, and they contribute significantly to the economic health of the city.”
And then, there’s MGM Springfield, or what’s happening across the street from it, to be more precise. Actually, it’s what’s not happening that needs to be addressed moving forward, said Sheehan, citing the need for balance or ‘equivalence,’ as he put it.
“The casino has met us a long way in the objective of encouraging people to go out from the casino and explore the city,” he explained. “What we need to do is take the next step so that there’s some sense of equivalence between what’s at the casino and what’s outside on Main Street.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Sheehan about his return to Springfield and how he intends to help build on the positive energy that’s been created and take the city to a still-higher plane.
Looking out the windows of the train during those trips from New Haven, Sheehan said he could certainly see progress coming to the city he grew up in — and not just in the gleaming casino taking shape in the South End.
He noted improvement in everything from the entertainment district to parks; from public safety to job creation.
But, as noted, there is still considerable work to do, he said, adding that the prospect of leading such efforts was enticing enough to make ‘chief Development officer, city of Springfield’ the next line on an already-intriguing résumé.
And, as mentioned, some of the earlier lines involve Springfield as well. Indeed, he worked for two mayors — Richard Neal (before he become Congressman Neal) and his successor, Mary Hurley, in the Community Development and Planning office.
From Springfield City Hall, Sheehan moved to work for the state at the Executive Office of Communities and Development, and later at MassDevelopment, both at that agency’s Boston office and its first regional office in Springfield, which he directed.
He enjoyed the work, but eventually he desired a return to working on the municipal level and in development work.
“At the time, MassDevelopment was doing a lot of community-development lending, and I was doing projects on the North Shore and Lawrence, and then projects in the Berkshires,” he recalled. “One of the problems, from my perspective, is that I was drifting toward being more of a banker and less of a hands-on community-development/economic-development person.”
While MGM is thriving, Tim Sheehan says, one of the challenges facing the city is the need to achieve what he calls ‘equivalence’ on the other side of Main Street, seen here.
He found an opportunity to get back to the latter in Norwalk, and its Redevelopment Agency, a broad, one-stop shop for planning, housing, and economic development.
In Norwalk, a city roughly half Springfield’s size (85,000 people), one of his biggest achievements involved increasing the number of market-rate housing units in and around downtown, thus growing the population in the central business district.
The city had a number of factors working in its favor as it went about this assignment, he noted, especially its proximity to New York and status as a bedroom community for Gotham.
“It’s an hour by train to Grand Central Station, and 45 minutes to be in Manhattan proper,” he said, adding that these numbers translate into a fairly attractive commute, thus making such projects doable from an economic perspective in terms of the prices developers could charge for such properties.
Springfield doesn’t have such geography working for it, he went on, adding quickly that it can take advantage of some demographic shifts, especially retiring Baby Boomers and Millennials both becoming more drawn to walkable cities and the amenities of urban living.
What’s more, the city has a large stock of older buildings, many of them architectural gems, that could be converted to market-rate housing, perhaps with retail or other uses on the ground floors.
“The architecture in Springfield is far beyond what new development would be able to accomplish today,” he noted. “What we would like to see is a dedicated effort to look at repurposing those buildings with residential uses.”
Still, the numbers have to work for developers to move forward with projects like the one now underway at the former Willys-Overland building, and in some cases, it might be challenging to make them work.
“Springfield has the capacity to absorb more market-rate housing, but I think there’s going to have to be some level of government support for that,” he said, citing statistics showing that, while Worcester added more than 600 new housing units between 2013 and 2017, Springfield added 230. “But these projects have to pencil out from an economic standpoint. That was a challenge in downtown Hartford, but both the state and the city stepped up to understand that.”
“The importance of having a downtown residential population is critical to the long-term economic viability of your municipality,” he went on, underscoring the importance of such initiatives. “This is one of the challenges that Springfield needs to address.”
Overall, the city needs to create much more of a balance downtown between market-rate housing and the large amounts of subsidized housing that still exist in the central business district, he said, adding that this has been a long-standing issue for Springfield and a key to continued revitalization.
“You can’t have all or mostly subsidized housing — that’s not good for your downtown,” he went on, adding that Springfield’s housing stock downtown has been out of balance for some time.
Down on Main Street
But housing is just one of the issues and challenges facing the city, said Sheehan, who returned to the subject of MGM Springfield and the work needed to match the glitter on the west side of Main Street with some on the east side.
At the moment, there is little if any glitter there, he said, noting that there are several vacant or underutilized properties in the shadow of the casino, and this is a situation that needs to be addressed if the property is to reach its full potential and become even more of a catalyst for development.
“You have to give a nod to MGM in terms of the architectural design of the casino — it was meant to be porous, and that’s atypical of casino design, but a net positive for Main Street in Springfield,” he noted. “But in order to have people traversing between Main Street and the casino, there needs to be a sense of equivalence on both sides of the street.
“If I didn’t necessarily want to stay on the casino floor and wanted to come out and see what downtown might have to offer, I’m inhibited from doing that by coming to the front door on Main Street, looking across the street, and seeing that there’s no ‘there’ there for me,” he went on. “I’m going to turn around and go back into the casino.”
Creating a ‘there’ will require private investment, he continued, adding that a consortium of investors have expressed some interest in taking on properties that are “not meeting their full potential.”
And while downtown and the blocks around MGM are certainly a priority for the city, Sheehan said, Springfield’s other neighborhoods need some attention as well, especially their main commercial districts.
“If you look at the neighborhood commercial corridors, there is a lot of work to be done,” and strengthening those corridors is a priority moving forward, he told BusinessWest, listing Main Street Street in Indian Orchard as one such corridor, the ‘X’ in Forest Park as another, and Boston Road, which he grew up near, as still another.
“If you look at Boston Road, there is significant vacancy there,” he said, referring not only to the Eastfield Mall and the exodus of stores there but the full length of that commercial thoroughfare. “It’s not the Boston Road I used to remember as a kid; there are some challenges there.”
Six Corners is another neighborhood corridor where improvement is needed and work is in progress, he said, noting the infrastructure work taking place there, especially a new roundabout designed to ease traffic flow in that area.
The hope is that such civic improvements there and elsewhere will generate private-sector investments, he went on, adding quickly that revitalization of neighborhoods such as Six Corners requires collaborative efforts among a number of parties — and healthy doses of imagination.
We’ve made a big investment in the public infrastructure there,” he said. “Now, we need to look at the sustainability of the businesses that exist there; we’re doing some early planning activity with regard to what commercial activity is appropriate for there.
“We’re also trying to get more engagement in these centers from the institutions that surround them,” he went on. “How can we engage better with AIC and Springfield College to ensure that the businesses that surround them are made more healthy by their populations?”
These projects are often much more difficult to undertake because they do involve private investment, he went on, adding that the public (government) side has to inspire such investments and make them easier through planning and a roadmap for the future.
“In order to entice the private developer to come to those areas, from the city’s perspective, you need to have a plan as to what you want to happen there, and you have to have everything aligned with that plan, so that, if I’m making the investment after reading your plan, I don’t have to deal with zoning in terms of having to change something to fit your plan; it’s already been done,” he explained. “I’ve read the plan, I understand what the city wants, and the city’s done all the heavy lifting to get my project approved.”
Along for the Ride
Talking about the train he took into Springfield, Sheehan raved about everything from the price of the ticket to how full the cars were — at least to the Hartford stop.
“The train is fantastic; the ability to go from Springfield to Hartford or Hartford to Springfield or New Haven to Springfield for $6 or $12 one way … that’s a bargain and a very convenient form of transportation,” he said, adding that the train has become a very attractive alternative to those not looking to battle the traffic on I-95 or I-91 on a Friday afternoon, or any afternoon, for that matter.
It’s not his official job description, but as chief Development officer, Sheehan’s goal is putting even more people on those trains coming into Springfield — professionals, tourists, and those, like him, coming to visit family and friends.
It’s also his job to give them not only more to see out the windows, but more to experience once the train pulls in.
It’s a challenge he certainly embraces, and one that brings his career full circle in many respects — back to the city he grew up in, and back to the city he wants to take the next level.
Recognition Program Marks 30 Years with Oct. 25 Event
Now in its 30th year, the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Super 60 program celebrates the success of the fastest-growing privately-owned businesses in the region. Businesses on the Total Revenue and Revenue Growth categories for 2019 represent all sectors of the economy, including nonprofits, transportation, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality. Some have been named to the Super 60 once or many times before, and some are brand-new to the list.
This year’s Super 60 Celebration event will take place on Friday, Oct. 25 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam. Sheila Coon, founder of Hot Oven Cookies, will be the keynote speaker at the event, which is presented by Health New England and sponsored by People’s United Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, the Republican, MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, and Zasco Productions.
Hot Oven Cookies began in 2015, when Coon started baking cookies for her children while she was in culinary school. She started her business as a cookie-delivery service. With business education from Valley Venture Mentors and SPARK EforAll in Holyoke, the delivery business expanded to a food truck, from which Coon began selling cookies from her repertoire of more than 100 recipes, inspired by her children, at farmers’ markets and other events. When her food truck constantly sold out of cookies, Coon knew there was potential for more.
Coon is also a graduate of the first cohort of RiseUp Springfield, a seven-month, intensive, hands-on program for established and small business owners, powered by Interise’s StreetWise ‘MBA’ curriculum in collaboration with the city of Springfield, the Assoc. of Black Business & Professionals, and the Springfield Regional Chamber.
In just four short years, Coon has found sweet success with Hot Oven Cookies. In 2018, she and her husband, David, opened the brand’s first retail location at 1597 Main St. in Springfield. She has plans to open a production facility in Agawam to accommodate her current business as well as plans for a wholesale business and an online store with national shipping of Hot Oven’s uncooked frozen cookie dough.
“Hot Oven Cookies is an example of a true entrepreneurial story about how an idea, a passion, or a hobby can become a thriving business with dedication and taking advantage of the small-business resources available in Western Massachusetts,” said Nancy Creed, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber. “We are thrilled to have a graduate of the first cohort of RiseUp Springfield take the stage at Super 60 to share her success story.”
The event costs $60 for chamber members and $75 for general admission. Reservations may be made for tables of eight or 10. The deadline for reservations is Wednesday, Oct. 16. No cancellations are accepted after that date, and no walk-ins will be allowed. Reservations must be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by e-mailing [email protected]
1. Whalley Computer Associates Inc.* 2. Marcotte Ford Sales Inc. 3. Tighe & Bond* Arrow Security Co. Inc. Baltazar Contractors Bob Pion Buick GMC Inc. Center Square Grill (Fun Dining Inc.) Charter Oak Financial Commercial Distributing Co. Inc. Con-Test Analytical Laboratory (Filli, LLC) Court Square Group Inc. David R. Northup Electrical Contractors Inc. The Dowd Agencies, LLC E.F. Corcoran Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc.* Freedom Credit Union Governors America Corp. / GAC Management Co.* Haluch Water Contracting Inc. Holyoke Pediatrics Associates, LLP JET Industries Inc. Kittredge Equipment Co. Inc. Lancer Transportation / Sulco Warehousing & Logistics Louis and Clark Drug Inc. Maybury Associates Inc.* Paragus Strategic IT Rediker Software Inc. Rock Valley Tool, LLC Skip’s Outdoor Accents Inc. Tiger Press (Shafii’s Inc.) Troy Industries Inc. United Personnel Services Inc.
1. The Nunes Companies Inc. 2. Brewmasters Brewing Services, LLC 3. Christopher Heights of Northampton A.G. Miller Co. Inc. Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc.* American Pest Solutions Inc. Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc. Burgess, Schultz & Robb, P.C. City Enterprise Inc.* Courier Express Inc. EOS Approach, LLC / Proshred Security International Gallagher Real Estate GMH Fence Company Inc. Goss & McLain Insurance Agency Inc. Greenough Packaging & Maintenance Supplies Inc. Kenney Masonry, LLC Knight Machine Tool Company Inc. L & L Property Service, LLC Ludlow Heating and Cooling Inc. Michael’s Party Rentals Inc. Oasis Shower Doors (EG Partners, LLC)* Pioneer Valley Financial Group, LLC R.R. Leduc Corp.* Sanderson MacLeod Inc. Springfield Thunderbirds (Springfield Hockey, LLC) Summit Careers Inc. United Industrial Textile Products Inc. Villa Rose Restaurant (Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc.) Webber & Grinnell Insurance Agency Inc.* Westside Finishing Co. Inc.*
*Qualified in both categories
1. Whalley Computer Associates Inc.* One Whalley Way, Southwick (413) 569-4200 www.wca.com John Whalley, President WCA is a locally owned family business that has evolved from a hardware resale and service group in the ’70s and ’80s into a company that now focuses on lowering the total cost of technology and productivity enhancement for its customers.
2. Marcotte Ford Sales Inc. 1025 Main St., Holyoke (413) 536-1900 www.marcotteford.com Bryan Marcotte, President The dealership sells new Ford vehicles as well as pre-owned cars, trucks, and SUVs, and features a full service department. Marcotte has achieved Ford’s President’s Award multiple occasions over the past decade. It also operates the Marcotte Commercial Truck Center.
3. Tighe & Bond* 53 Southampton Road, Westfield (413) 562-1600 www.tighebond.com Robert Belitz, President and CEO Tighe & Bond is a full-service engineering and environmental consulting firm offering myriad services, including building engineering, coastal and waterfront solutions, environmental consulting, GIS and asset management, site planning and design, transportation engineering, and water and wastewater engineering.
Arrow Security Co. Inc 124 Progress Ave., Springfield (413) 732-6787 www.arrowsecurity.com John Debarge Jr., President This company provides security for all types of clients and issues, including industrial plant security, patrol services with security checks for homeowners, free security surveys, and more provided by a management team that consists of a diverse group of professionals with law enforcement, private-sector security, and military backgrounds.
Baltazar Contractors 83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow (413) 583-6160 www.baltazarcontractors.com Frank Baltazar, President Baltazar Contractors is a family-owned construction firm specializing in roadway construction and reconstruction; all aspects of site-development work; sewer, water, storm, and utilities; and streetscape improvements in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Bob Pion Buick GMC Inc. 333 Memorial Dr., Chicopee (413) 206-9251 www.bobpionbuickgmc.com Rob Pion, General Manager Bob Pion Buick GMC carries a wide selection of new and pre-owned cars, crossovers, and SUVs, and also offers competitive lease specials and a full service department.
Center Square Grill (Fun Dining Inc.) 84 Center Square, East Longmeadow (413) 525-0055 www.centersquaregrill.com Michael Sakey, Bill Collins, Proprietors Center Square Grill serves traditional American food, with hints of classically prepared French sauces, Latin-inspired fish dishes, and standard Italian repertoire. The facility also has a catering service and hosts events of all kinds.
Charter Oak Financial 330 Whitney Ave., Holyoke (413) 539-2000 www.charteroakfinancial.com brendan naughton, general agent Charter Oak’s services include risk management (including life insurance, disability income insurance, and long-term-care insurance), business planning and protection, retirement planning and investments, and fee-based financial planning.
Commercial Distributing Co. Inc. 46 South Broad St., Westfield (413) 562-9691 www.commercialdist.com Richard Placek, Chairman Commercial Distributing Co. is a family-owned business servicing more than 1,000 bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as more than 400 package and liquor stores. Now in its third generation, the company continues to grow by building brands and offering new products as the market changes.
Con-Test Analytical Laboratory (Filli, LLC) 39 Spruce St., East Longmeadow (413) 525-2332 www.contestlabs.com Tom Veratti, Founder and Consultant Con-Test Inc. provides industrial-hygiene and analytical services to a broad range of clients. Originally focused on industrial-hygiene analysis, the laboratory-testing division has expanded its capabilities to include numerous techniques in air analysis, classical (wet) chemistry, metals, and organics.
Court Square Group Inc. 1350 Main St., Springfield (413) 746-0054 www.courtsquaregroup.com Keith Parent, President Court Square is a leading managed-services company that provides an audit-ready, compliant cloud (ARCC) infrastructure for its clients and partners in the life-sciences industry.
David R. Northup Electrical Contractors Inc. 73 Bowles Road, Agawam (413) 786-8930 www.northupelectric.com David Northup, President This is a family-owned, full-service electrical, HVAC, and plumbing contractor that specializes in everything from installation and replacement to preventive maintenance, indoor air-quality work, and sheet-metal fabrication.
The Dowd Agencies, LLC 14 Bobola Road, Holyoke (413) 538-7444 www.dowd.com John Dowd, President and CEO The Dowd Agencies is the oldest insurance agency under continuous family ownership, and one of the most long-standing, experienced insurance agencies in Massachusetts.
E.F. Corcoran Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc.* 5 Rose Place, Springfield (413) 732-1462 www.efcorcoran.com Charles Edwards and Brian Toomey, Co-owners E.F. Corcoran is a full-service plumbing and HVAC contractor. Services include 24-hour plumbing service, HVAC system installs, design-build services, energy retrofits, system replacements and modifications, gas piping, boilers, and more. Freedom Credit Union 1976 Main St., Springfield (800) 831-0160 www.freedom.coop Glenn Welch, President and CEO Freedom is a full-service credit union serving a wide range of business and consumer clients. Freedom has its main office on Main Street in Springfield, with other offices in Sixteen Acres, Feeding Hills, Ludlow, Chicopee, Easthampton, Northampton, Turners Falls, Greenfield, and Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy.
Governors America Corp. / GAC Management Co.* 720 Silver St., Agawam (413) 786-5600 www.governors-america.com Sean Collins, President GAC is a leading provider of engine-governing and system controls to a worldwide list of equipment manufacturers and power providers. The engine-control products are used in a wide range of industries, including generator set, material handling, marine propulsion, mining, locomotive, and off-highway applications.
Haluch Water Contracting Inc. 399 Fuller St., Ludlow (413) 589-1254 Thomas Haluch, President Haluch Water Contracting’s main lines of business include sewer contracting, underground utilities, and water-main construction.
Holyoke Pediatrics Associates, LLP 150 Lower Westfield Road, Holyoke (413) 536-2393 www.holyokepediatrics.com Kathy Tremble, Adair Medina, Care Coordinators HPA is the largest pediatric practice in Western Mass., providing primary-care services as well as lactation counseling, behavioral-health services, and patient education. HPA has a medical laboratory drawing site and also provides in-hospital support for new mothers.
JET Industries Inc. 307 Silver St., Agawam (413) 786-2010 Michael Turrini, President Jet Industries manufactures aircraft engines, parts, and equipment, as well as turbines and turbine generator sets and parts, aircraft power systems, flight instrumentation, and aircraft landing and braking systems.
Kittredge Equipment Co. Inc. 100 Bowles Road, Agawam (413) 304-4100 www.kittredgeequipment.com Wendy Webber, President Kittridge Equipment is a $57 million equipment and supply giant. It boasts 70,000 square feet of inventory and warehouse, handles design services, and has designed everything from small restaurants to country clubs to in-plant cafeterias.
Lancer Transportation & Logistics / Sulco Warehousing & Logistics 311 Industry Ave., Springfield (413) 739-4880 www.sulco-lancer.com Todd Goodrich, President Sulco Warehousing & Logistics operates a network of distribution centers. Lancer Transportation & Logistics is a DOT-registered contract motor carrier providing regional, national, and international truckload and LTL delivery services.
Louis and Clark Drug Inc. 309 East St. Springfield (413) 737-2996 www.lcdrug.com Skip Matthews, President Louis & Clark provides prescriptions for individuals and institutions and helps those who need home medical equipment and supplies. The company also provides professional pharmacy and compounding services, medical equipment, independent-living services, and healthcare programs. Maybury Associates Inc.* 90 Denslow Road, East Longmeadow (888) 629-2879 www.maybury.com John Maybury, President Maybury Associates has more than 80 employees and is a distributor for about 1,300 manufacturers. The company designs, supplies, and services a wide variety of handling equipment throughout New England, and provides customers in a wide range of industries with solutions to move, lift, and store their parts and products. Paragus Strategic IT* 112 Russell St., Hadley (413) 587-2666 www.paragusit.com Delcie Bean IV, President Paragus has grown dramatically as an outsourced IT solution, providing business computer service, computer consulting, information-technology support, and other services to businesses of all sizes.
Rediker Software Inc. 2 Wilbraham Road, Hampden (800) 213-9860 www.rediker.com Andrew Anderlonis, President Rediker Software has been providing school administrative software solutions for more than 35 years. Rediker Software is used by school administrators across the U.S. and in more than 100 countries, and is designed to meet the student-information-management needs of all types of schools and districts.
Rock Valley Tool, LLC 54 O’Neil St., Easthampton (413) 527-2350 www.rockvalleytool.com Elizabeth Paquette, President Rock Valley Tool is a precision-machining facility housing both CNC and conventional machining equipment, along with a state-of-the-art inspection lab. With more than 40 years of experience, the company provides manufactured parts to customers in the aerospace, commercial/industrial, and plastic blow-molding industries.
Skip’s Outdoor Accents Inc. 1265 Suffield St., Agawam (413) 786-0990 www.skipsonline.com John and Scott Ansart, Owners Skip’s Outdoor Accents specializes in a wide range of outdoor products, including storage sheds, gazebos, swingsets, and outdoor furniture, offering installation and delivery to sites with limited or no access. Skip’s shed and gazebo delivery is free to most of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Tiger Press (Shafii’s Inc.) 50 Industrial Ave., East Longmeadow (413) 224-2100 www.tigerpress.com Reza Shafii, Jennifer Shafii, Owners TigerPress is a sustainable, eco-friendly printer, using green technology and operating in a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant. The company offers digital printing, commercial printing, and custom package printing all under one roof.
Troy Industries Inc. 151 Capital Dr., West Springfield (866) 788-6412 www.troyind.com Steve Troy, CEO Troy Industries is an industry leader that designs and manufactures innovative, top-quality small arms components and accessories and complete weapon upgrades. All products are American-made and designed to perform flawlessly under intense battle conditions.
United Personnel Services Inc. 289 Bridge St., Springfield (413) 736-0800 www.unitedpersonnel.com Tricia Canavan, President United provides a full range of staffing services, including temporary staffing and full-time placement, on-site project management, and strategic recruitment in the Springfield, Hartford, and Northampton areas, specializing in administrative, professional, medical, and light-industrial staff.
1. The Nunes Companies Inc. 658 Center St., Ludlow (413) 308-4940 www.nunescompanies.com Armando Nunes, President The Nunes Companies offers services such as sitework, road construction, and roll-off dumpster rentals, relying on leadership, quality, and cutting-edge technology to get the job done.
2. Brewmasters Brewing Services, LLC 4 Main St., Williamsburg (413) 268-2199 Dennis Bates, Michael Charpentier, Owners Brewmasters Brewing Services is a small craft brewery offering a wide variety of services, including contract brewing and distilling.
3. Christopher Heights of Northampton 50 Village Hill Road, Northampton (413) 584-0701 www.christopherheights.com michael taylor, executive director Christopher Heights is a mixed-use community located in a natural setting that features scenic mountain views and walking paths. Residents and staff each bring their own experiences and talents, which are recognized and often incorporated into social activities and programs.
A.G. Miller Co. Inc. 53 Batavia St., Springfield (413) 732-9297 www.agmiller.com Rick Miller, President A leader in the metal-fabricating industry, the company’s services include precision metal fabrication; design and engineering; assembly; forming, rolling, and bending; laser cutting; punching; precision saw cutting; welding; powder coating; and liquid painting.
Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc.* 160 Old Lyman Road, South Hadley (413) 536-5955 www.1800newroof.net Adam Quenneville, CEO Adam Quenneville offers a wide range of residential and commercial services, including new roofs, retrofitting, roof repair, roof cleaning, vinyl siding, replacement windows, and the no-clog Gutter Shutter system. The company has earned the BBB Torch Award for trust, performance, and integrity.
American Pest Solutions Inc. 169 William St., Springfield (413) 781-0044 www.413pestfree.com Bob Russell, President American Pest Solutions is a full-service pest-solutions company founded in 1913. With two locations, the company serves residential and commercial customers, offering inspection, treatment, and ongoing protection.
Baystate Crushing and Recycling Inc. 36 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow (413) 583-4440 www.baystateblasting.com Paul Baltazar, President Baystate Blasting Inc. is a family-owned drilling and blasting firm that provides a full range of rock-blasting and rock-crushing services, including sitework, heavy highway construction, residential work, quarry, and portable crushing and recycling. An ATF-licensed dealer of explosives, it offers rental of individual magazines.
Burgess, Schultz & Robb, P.C. 200 North Main St., South Building, Suite 1, East Longmeadow (413) 525-0025 www.bsrcpa.com Andrew Robb, Managing Partner Burgess, Schultz & Robb, P.C. is a professional certified public accounting firm providing audit, tax, business-advisory, and business-management services to private businesses, trusts, tax-exempt organizations, and individuals. City Enterprise Inc.* 52-60 Berkshire Ave., Springfield (413) 726-9549 www.cityenterpriseinc.com Wonderlyn Murphy, President City Enterprises Inc. is a general contractor with a diverse portfolio of clients, including the Groton Naval submarine base, Westover Air Reserve Base, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and many others.
Courier Express Inc. 111 Carando Dr., Springfield (413) 730-6620 www.courierexp.com Eric Devine, President Courier Express is committed to providing custom, same-day delivery solutions for any shipment and a courteous, prompt, and professional delivery agent. The company ships everything from a single envelope to multiple pallets.
EOS Approach, LLC / Proshred Security International 75 Post Office Park, Wilbraham (413) 596-5479 www.proshred.com Joe Kelly, Owner Proshred specializes in the secure, on-site information destruction of confidential and sensitive documents, computer hard drives, and electronic media. It is an ISO 9001:2008 certified and NAID AAA certified mobile shredding company. Gallagher Real Estate 1763 Northampton St., Holyoke (413) 536-7232 www.gogallagher.com Paul Gallagher, Owner Gallagher Real Estate is an independent brokerage that operates in Hampshire and Hampden counties in Massachusetts and Hartford County in Connecticut. The company specializes in both residential and commercial properties and has offices in Holyoke, South Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Springfield.
GMH Fence Co. Inc. 15 Benton Dr., East Longmeadow (413) 525-3361 www.gmhfence.com Glenn Hastie, Owner GMH Fence Co. is one of the largest fence companies in the region, offering fence installations from a selection of wood, aluminum, steel, and vinyl fencing for residential and commercial customers.
Goss & McLain Insurance Agency Inc. 1767 Northampton St., Holyoke (413) 534-7355 www.gossmclain.com Deborah Buckley, President Goss & McLain is an independent insurance agency offering a diverse portfolio of personal and business property and liability insurance, as well as life and health insurance. It also insures homes, cars, and businesses and protects against personal and business liabilities. Greenough Packaging & Maintenance Supplies Inc. 54 Heywood Ave., West Springfield (800) 273-2308 www.greenosupply.com Craig Cassanelli, President Greenough is a distributor of shipping, packaging, safety, breakroom, janitorial, cleaning, and facility-maintenance supplies. It also offers custom solutions to customers, such as printed bags, cups, and napkins, as well as custom packaging, including printed tape, boxes, stretch wrap, and strapping.
Kenney Masonry, LLC P.O. Box 2506, Amherst (413) 256-0400 www.kenneymasonry.com Sarahbeth Kenney, Owner Kenney Masonry is a family-owned company with more than 150 years of combined construction experience working with brick, block, stone, and concrete on commercial, institutional, public, and residential projects.
Knight Machine Tool Company Inc. 11 Industrial Dr., South Hadley (413) 532-2507 Gary O’Brien, Owner Knight Machine & Tool Co. is a metalworking and welding company that offers blacksmithing, metal roofing, and other services from its 11,000-square-foot facility.
L & L Property Service, LLC 582 Amostown Road, West Springfield (413) 732-2739 Richard Lapinski, Owner L & L Property Services is a locally owned company providing an array of property services, including lawn care, snow removal, sanding, excavations, patios and stone walls, hydroseeding, and more.
Ludlow Heating and Cooling Inc. 1056 Center St., Ludlow (413) 583-6923 www.ludlowheatingandcooling.com Karen Sheehan, President Ludlow Heating & Cooling is a full-service energy company dedicated to providing quality heating and cooling product services including new system installation, oil heat delivery, and maintenance to an existing system.
Michael’s Party Rentals Inc. 1221 South Main St., Palmer (413) 589-7368 www.michaelspartyrentals.com Michael Linton, Owner Michael’s Party Rentals operates year-round, seven days a week. Its 9,000-square-foot warehouse holds more than 100 tents of all sizes, tables, chairs, dance flooring, staging, lighting, and an extensive array of rental equipment for any type of party.
Oasis Shower Doors (EG Partners, LLC)* 646 Springfield St., Feeding Hills (800) 876-8420 www.oasisshowerdoors.com Thomas Daly, Owner Oasis is New England’s largest designer, fabricator, and installer of custom frameless glass shower enclosures and specialty glass, offering a wide array of interior glass entry systems and storefronts, sliding and fixed glass partition walls, back-painted glass, and switchable privacy glass for bedrooms, offices, and conference rooms.
Pioneer Valley Financial Group, LLC 1252 Elm St., Suite 28, West Springfield (413) 363-9265 www.pvfinancial.com Joseph Leonczyk, Charles Myers, Senior Partners PV Financial helps clients pursue their goals through careful financial planning and sound investment strategy. Services include retirement planning, asset growth, business planning, college funding, estate planning, and risk management.
R.R. Leduc Corp.* 100 Bobala Road, Holyoke (413) 536-4329 www.rrleduc.com Robert LeDuc, President Since its inception in 1967, the R.R. Leduc Corp. has been a family-owned business that specializes in precision sheet metal and custom powder coatings. The company produces a variety of products for the communication, military, medical, electronics, and commercial industries.
Sanderson MacLeod Inc. 1199 South Main St., Palmer (413) 283-3481 www.sandersonmacleod.com Mark Borsari, President From breakthrough brush innovation projects to supply-chain integration, Sanderson MacLeod leverages its experience and know-how in ways that produce high-quality twisted-wire brushes for its customers.
Springfield Thunderbirds (Springfield Hockey, LLC) 45 Bruce Landon Way, Springfield (413) 739-4625 www.springfieldthunderbirds.com Nathan Costa, President The Springfield Thunderbirds are a professional ice hockey team and the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Since the team began to play in the area in 2016, it has formed the T-Birds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity that benefits causes in Springfield and surrounding Pioneer Valley communities. Summit Careers Inc. 85 Mill St., Suite B, Springfield (413) 733-9506 www.summitcareers.inc Bryan Picard, Owner Summit Careers is a full-service staffing and recruiting firm that provides temporary, temp-to-hire, and direct-hire services for clients in a variety of sectors, including light industrial, warehouse, professional trades, administrative, accounting, and executive.
United Industrial Textile Products Inc. 321 Main St., West Springfield (413) 737-0095 www.uitprod.com Wayne Perry, President UIT is a family-owned manufacturer that has been making high-quality covers for commercial, military, and industrial applications for more than 60 years. Craftsmen at the company specialize in the creation of custom covers that are manufactured to each client’s unique specifications.
Villa Rose Restaurant (Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc.) 1428 Center St., Ludlow (413) 547-6667 www.villaroserestaurant.com Tony Tavares, Owner Nestled across from the Ludlow reservoir, the Villa Rose offers fine dining in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. The restaurant offers a private room with availability for weddings, receptions, showers, anniversaries, and any other banquet function from 30 to 175 people.
Webber & Grinnell Insurance Agency Inc.* 8 North King St., Northampton (413) 586-0111 www.webberandgrinnell.com Bill Grinnell, President Webber and Grinnell has provided insurance protection for thousands of individuals and businesses throughout the Pioneer Valley for more than 150 years. The agency is balanced between business insurance, personal insurance, and employee benefits.
Westside Finishing Co. Inc.* 15 Samosett St., Holyoke (413) 533-4909 www.wsfinish.com Brian Bell, President Westside Finishing is a family-owned business specializing in a wide array of services, including pre-treatment/cleaning, conveyorized powder coating, batch powder coating, silk screening, pad printing, masking, packaging, and trucking.
Most would agree that Springfield has come a long way over the past decade or so and especially since the 2011 tornado touched down on Main Street.
But most would also agree there is still considerable work to be done in the City of Homes to bring it back to the prominence it enjoyed decades ago. And while no one would dare suggest that what has accomplished to date has been easy — although MGM Springfield might have been the easiest $1 billion project anyone has ever seen — the work to be done falls into the ‘much harder’ category.
Indeed, over the past decade, city officials, working in collaboration with a host of public and private partners, have succeeded in giving people more reasons to come to Springfield — to work, play, and, yes, live — and they’ve also made it somewhat easier to get here through new rail service and extensive work on I-91.
Collectively, the city has made progress and created momentum, but hard work remains to build on what could be called a foundation, while also making sure that MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other developments are put in a position to succeed.
Tim Sheehan, Springfield’s recently appointed chief Development officer, touched on some of these points in an extensive interview with BusinessWest (see story, page 6). Slicing through his comments, he notes that, while Springfield is now a more attractive place to visit, in many respects, it must focus even harder on creating more opportunities for people to live here, launch businesses, and see them succeed.
Most recently employed by the city of Norwalk, Conn. and its Redevelopment Agency, he said he saw first-hand what can happen when a city succeeds in attracting a larger population of professionals through new market-rate housing initiatives.
Norwalk, roughly an hour’s commute to New York city via train, benefited from its location and developed more housing that in turn brought energy, disposable income, and, yes, business opportunities to the city.
Springfield, doesn’t have the same advantage of geography — although hopes remain for east-west rail that would certainly change that equation — but there is still vast potential to create more market-rate housing in its downtown and the neighborhoods beyond. And tapping this potential is perhaps the number-one priority for the city moving forward.
That’s because, while the city can certainly benefit from people coming to gamble or see an Aerosmith concert or visit the Basketball Hall of Fame or take in the Dr. Seuss museum, true vibrancy comes when people live in your community. Brooklyn, N.Y. is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others.
The assignment, then, becomes giving people a reason (or a good number of reasons) to live in your community.
Springfield is making progress there, but it has to do more to entice private investors to build here. And this brings us to another priority on Sheehan’s to-do list — the city’s many fine neighborhoods. We can still use that adjective, although all of them have seen better days, especially when it comes to their commercial districts.
Sheehan mentioned Boston Road, which is still a vibrant commercial artery but not what it was decades ago, especially at the Eastfield Mall end of the street. The ongoing demise of traditional retail certainly plays a part in what’s happening along these stretches, but Sheehan is right when he says the city needs to develop new plans for these areas, create buy-in from neighborhood institutions, and, overall, inspire investors to what to be part of something.
All this falls into the category of taking Springfield to the next stage. As we said, this is in many ways harder work than what has been undertaken to date, but it’s work that has to be done if Springfield is to enjoy a real renaissance.
‘There’s a Magic Here,’ Built on Dedication, Innovation, and Culture
H. Lee Kirk Jr. was speaking at a public event recently, when a woman stood up to tell him about her 3-year-old grandson’s experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield.
“She said, ‘when we take him to the doctor’s office or another healthcare provider, he cries going in, and he’s sprinting out the door to get back home. When he comes to Shriners, he’s sprinting on the way in and happy to be coming, and he’s kicking and screaming when he has to leave,’” he related. “There’s a magic here that’s really hard to get your arms around.”
But Kirk, administrator of the 94-year-old facility on Carew Street in Springfield, tried to explain it the best he could over the course of a conversation with BusinessWest after the hospital was chosen as a Healthcare Hero for 2019 in the Patient/Resident/Client Care Provider category.
“This is a special healthcare organization because of the mission,” he said. “The culture is unlike any other I’ve been involved in. We want to be the best at transforming the lives of kids. And we get the privilege of seeing that every day here.”
It’s a culture that employees find attractive, said George Gorton, the hospital’s director of Research, Planning, and Business Development, adding that consulting physicians from other hospitals say, after visiting, that it’s the happiest place they’ve ever worked.
“It’s a palpable difference,” he went on. “As employees, we love that caring, family feeling of being employed by an organization that aligns with our own personal mission. That’s just not seen anywhere else.”
Last year, the hospital produced some short videos with employees to celebrate the opening of its inpatient pediatric rehab unit. In one of them, a nurse hired specifically for that unit talked about how she’s wanted to be a nurse at Shriners since being treated there for a rheumatology issue when she was a child.
“She was in tears, expressing the joy and positivity she had, to be able to take that experience of receiving care and become the person who provides that care to other people,” Gorton said. “It was a really touching moment to hear her express that.”
Then there’s the boy Gorton — who’s been with Shriners for more than a quarter-century — examined decades ago in the motion-analysis center; he’s now a physician assistant at the hospital.
Gorton said it’s impossible to single out any individual person responsible for creating the generational success stories and culture that makes Shriners what it is. The judges for this year’s Healthcare Heroes program agreed, making a perhaps outside-the-box choice in a category that has previously honored individuals, not entire organizations.
Yet, the choice makes sense, said Jennifer Tross, who came on board two years ago as Marketing and Communications manager, because of that unique culture that draws people back to provide care decades after receiving it, and that has kids shedding tears when they have to leave, not when they show up.
“The day I arrived,” Tross said, “I went home and said, ‘I knew this place would change my life, and it has.’”
Countless families agree, which is why Shriners is deserving of the title Healthcare Hero.
Step by Step
When a boy named Bertram, from Augusta, Maine, made the trek with his family to Springfield in February 1925, he probably wasn’t thinking about making history. But he did just that, as the hospital’s very first patient. The Shriners organization opened its first hospitals primarily to take care of kids with polio, but Bertram had club feet — a condition that became one of the facility’s core services.
After the first Shriners Hospitals for Children site opened in 1922 in Shreveport, La., 10 other facilities followed in 1925 (there are now 22 facilities, all in the U.S. except for Mexico City and Montreal). Four of those hospitals, including one in Boston, focus on acute burn care, while the rest focus primarily on a mix of orthopedics and other types of pediatric care.
As an orthopedic specialty hospital, the Springfield facility has long focused on conditions ranging from scoliosis, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida to club foot, chest-wall deformities, cleft lip and palate, and a host of other conditions afflicting the limbs, joints, bones, and extremities — and much more.
While many of the hospitals overlap in services, each has tended to adapt to the needs of its own community. In Springfield’s case that includes pediatric specialties like rheumatology, urology, and fracture care, as well as a sports health and medicine program that includes three athletic trainers and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with training in sports medicine.
H. Lee Kirk (left, with Jennifer Tross and George Gorton) says Shriners is a special healthcare organization because of its mission.
The latter, Kirk said, includes services to kids without medical problems, as the hospital works with schools, clubs, and leagues help provide more preventive and conditioning services and follow up when injuries occur.
Meanwhile, the BFit exercise program targets kids with neuromuscular problems who normally don’t participate in physical activity, sports, or even gym class. The program aims to improve the physical activity of this group, and does it by involving students from area colleges who are studying fields like physical and occupational therapy, exercise science, sports medicine, and kinesiology.
“They volunteer as personal coaches,” Gorton said. “The child learns to adapt their environment and become physically active, and those students learn what it’s like to care for children. Many have gone into pediatric healthcare to do that kind of training because of their experience here. They see it here, and it spreads like a good virus through the population.”
Then there was the 2013 community assessment determining that an inpatient pediatric rehabilitation clinic would fill a persistent need. That 20-bed clinic opened last year following a $1.25 million capital campaign that wound up raising slightly more — reflective of the community support the hospital has always received, allowing it to provide free care to families without the ability to pay (more on that later).
Still, more than 90% of the care provided in Springfield is outpatient — in fact, the facility saw 12,173 visits last year, a more than 40% expansion over the past several years.
The care itself, the clinical component, is only one of three prongs in the Shriners mission, Kirk said. The second part is education; over the past 30 years, thousands of physicians have undertaken residency education or postgraduate fellowships at the various children’s hospitals. In Springfield, residents in a variety of healthcare disciplines — from orthopedics to nursing, PT, and OT — have arrived for 10- to 12-week rotations.
The third component of the mission is research, specifically clinical research in terms of how to improve the processes of delivering care to children. That often takes the shape of new technology, from computerized 3D modeling for cleft-palate surgery to the hospital’s motion-analysis laboratory, where an array of infrared cameras examine how a child walks and converts that data to a 3D model that gives doctors all they need to know about a child’s progress.
More recently, a capital campaign raised just under $1 million to install the EOS Imaging System, Nobel Prize-winning X-ray technology that exists nowhere else in Western Mass. or the Hartford area, which enhances imaging while reducing the patient’s exposure to radiation. That’s important, Kirk said, particularly for children who have had scoliosis or other orthopedic conditions, and start having X-rays early on their lives and continue them throughout adolescence.
It’s an impressive array of services and technology, and collectively, it meets a clear need — and not just locally. While about 60% of patients hail from a 20-mile radius, the hospital sees young people from across New England, New York, more than 20 other states, and more than 20 countries as well.
Yet, only a decade ago, the hospital was in danger of closing. At the height of the Great Recession, the national Shriners organization announced it was considering shuttering six of its 22 children’s hospitals across the country — including the one on Carew Street.
In the end, after a deluge of very vocal outrage and support by families of patients and community leaders, the Shriners board decided against closing any of its specialty children’s hospitals, even though the organization had been struggling, during those tough economic times, to provide its traditionally free care given rising costs and a shrinking endowment.
To make it possible to keep the facilities open, in 2011, Shriners — for the first time in its nearly century-long history — started accepting third-party payments from private insurance and government payers such as Medicaid when possible, although free care is still provided to all patients without the means to pay, and the hospital continues to accommodate families who can’t afford the co-pays and deductibles that are now required by many insurance plans.
“It was a wise decision to accept insurance — but it was a controversial decision,” Kirk said. Yet, it makes sense, too. A very small percentage of patients in Massachusetts don’t have some kind of coverage, yet 63% of care at Shriners is paid for by donors — a disconnect explained by the fact that Medicaid doesn’t pay for care there, and gaps exist in other insurance as well.
So, if a family can’t pay, the hospital does not chase the money, relying on an assistance resource funded by Shriners and their families nationwide.
“Donor support allows us to provide free care,” Kirk said. “We don’t send families to collections and contribute to the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy in America, which is medical care. It’s a very unique model, and a unique healthcare-delivery system.”
And one that, as Kirk noted, treats a patient population that can be underserved otherwise. For instance, the cleft lip and palate program — a multi-disciplinary program integrated with providers from other hospitals in the region and serving about 30 partients at any given time — begins assessing some patients prenatally, and most need care throughout adolescence and even into young adulthood.
Those consulting relationships are critical to the success of Shriners, which doesn’t seek to compete with other providers in the region, but supplement them while striving to be, in many cases, the best place for young people to receive specialized treatment, whether for orthopedic conditions or a host of other issues.
When Kirk arrived in 2015, the hospital underwent a comprehensive self-assessment process that made two things clear, he said: that there’s a real need for what it does, and that it needs to reinvest in its core.
“And that’s what we did. And that’s about people, not bricks and mortar,” he went on, noting that the facility has added about 70 positions since that time.
“We’re a completely different place today than we were in 2009,” Gorton added, noting that the hospital is stronger in leadership, internal communication, and external connections. Among the 22 Shriners specialty hospitals, Springfield ranks second in the proportion of the budget offset by donations. “Why? Because we have a great relationship with the community. We’ve become more outward-facing, and we’re integrated everywhere in the community.”
The Next Century
Getting back to that 3-year-old who doesn’t want to leave when he visits Shriners, surely the hospital’s child-friendly playscapes and colorful, kid-oriented sculptures and artwork help create a welcoming environment, but those wouldn’t make much difference if the people providing care didn’t put him at ease.
That environment begins with employees who love what they do, Kirk said, and this Healthcare Hero award in the Provider category is definitely shared by all of them. Other families feel the same way, as the facility regularly ranks in the 99th percentile on surveys that gauge the patient and family experience.
“We have happy employees who love being here, who love working with kids, who love delivering the mission — and the patients and families sense that and respond to that,” Gorton said.
That’s why the hospital’s leaders continue to examine the evolving needs of the pediatric community and how they can continue to deepen its clinical relationships and expanding services most in demand — always with the philosophy of “mission over model,” Kirk said.
“We are always thinking about the future,” he added, “so we can sustain this healthcare system for the next 100 years.”