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Closing the Digital Divide

By Mark Morris

When schools closed across Massachusetts due to coronavirus, it revealed a digital-learning divide between low-income students and their higher-income peers. The gap is driven in large part by a lack of internet access and proper devices.

“There was an expectation that, with the schools closed, kids would resume their classwork online, but that can only happen if they have the proper technology and internet service,” said Eileen Cavanaugh, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke (HBGC).

Cavanaugh applied for and received a grant for $35,000 from the Waldron Charitable Fund to provide Chrome tablets and internet access to nearly 100 families in Holyoke.

Working with Holyoke Public Schools to identify the families with the greatest need for technology access, club staff began reaching out to those households.

Eileen Cavanaugh

Eileen Cavanaugh

“There was an expectation that, with the schools closed, kids would resume their classwork online, but that can only happen if they have the proper technology and internet service.”

What they found was that many depended on their phones as their only technology and did not own a laptop or tablet computer. Cavanaugh pointed out that phones are not very effective when used for online learning platforms. Even families that owned a tablet or laptop usually had to share it among as many as four school-age children.

“Four kids from one family can’t access the online platforms at the same time using one device, so we were able to supplement those families with additional equipment,” she noted.

Access to reliable internet service is just as important as having the proper device. The HBGC is working with Mobile Citizen to provide secure, high-speed access to internet hotspots in Holyoke for one year.

“Even if students return to the classroom in the coming months, these kids are trying to catch up, so by extending the internet access for a full year, they can take advantage of online educational opportunities,” Cavanaugh said.

A recent study reinforces this point. Curriculum Associates of North Billerica makes distance-learning software for school systems in all 50 states. When schools closed in Massachusetts, they researched the usage patterns of iReady, the company’s digital-learning tool, which was originally designed for the classroom but is now used a great deal in distance learning.

They found that, when learning first moved from the classroom to the home, use of the program dropped significantly in the first week as fewer than half the students who used the software in the classroom used it at home. After five weeks, once students and teachers were able to settle into new routines, the usage rates increased to 81%.

A closer look at the data revealed a digital divide in which students who live in low-income zip codes had a larger initial decrease in using the digital-learning tool followed by a lower recovery percentage five weeks later than students in higher-income zip codes.

On the other hand, once low-income students could access it, they spent more time with the online-learning program than their higher-income peers.

Supplemental Efforts

Cavanaugh pointed out that the HBGC effort supplements the nearly 1,000 tablets and access to Comcast internet hotspots that the Holyoke Public Schools provided to families. She credits Superintendent Stephen Zrike for anticipating that access to digital learning would be a struggle for many families in the city.

In addition to providing devices and hotspots, Cavanaugh said HBGC is also offering technical assistance. “In our conversations with parents, we learned some are not tech-savvy and may need some support, so we’ve made our technology director available for any kind of technical assistance they might need.”

The grant HBGC received was part of a $1 million series of ‘rapid-response grants’ from the Waldron Charitable Fund to assist children affected by school closings due to the COVID-19 crisis. The fund is co-managed by Rob Waldron, CEO of Curriculum Associates, and his wife, Jennifer Waldron, and administered by the Boston Foundation, an organization that does not usually fund efforts in Western Mass.

“This is the first time we’ve been eligible for this type of funding,” Cavanaugh said. “We are grateful for the fast turnaround of our request and the recognition that the need is across the state.”

To date, HBGC staff have distributed nearly 75 tablets. Despite the challenges of social distancing, Cavanaugh said they are able to provide families with tablets and instructions for the device, as well as how to access the internet and tech support. The response has been very positive.

“Our families have been incredibly appreciative,” she said. “They’ve told us about their past frustrations of trying to access the public-school platform by phone and how grateful they are now for our support.”

Home Improvement

Age of Automation

The design trend known broadly as home automation comes in many forms, from a command to Amazon’s Alexa to turn off the lights to a smartphone app that controls door locks and room temperature — and a dozen other functions — from across the country. This technology is attractive, says one local expert, because it solves problems in a very individualized way — and people like technology that makes their lives easier.

When people think of home automation, what comes to mind? Heat controls and security cameras, for sure. Maybe the TV and music, or door locks, or window blinds.

Bill Laplante also thinks of his shower.

“I have a digital control panel in my shower,” said the president of Laplante Construction in East Longmeadow, noting that he inputs a ‘user profile’ that gives him the exact temperature and flow he wants. “My wife has a different profile, so hers is four or five degrees cooler, and a different shower head. A lot of this stuff is pretty cool.”

It’s stuff that’s becoming more common in the modern home, as the rise of what’s known as the ‘Internet of things’ has people connecting any number of household functions to the Internet and controlling them from smartphone apps.

“Take lighting systems. We changed our bulbs, and now the lights are controlled by cell phone,” Laplante told BusinessWest. “I’ve gotten pretty lazy with the technology — instead of getting up to turn on the lights, I just grab my phone.”

But he’s not just enjoying smart-home technology at his own house; he’s building homes for customers who increasingly demand such features themselves. He works with EPOS Systems in West Springfield — a company whose motto is “Your future home. Today.” — on whole-home automation systems that run off one app, known as Control4. But people can take an a la carte approach as well.

Bill Laplante says homeowners have many options when it comes to automation, but many today are opting for full-home systems that run off a single app.

“I see a combination of both. Some people, usually in the higher-end homes, will want a whole-house smarthome system that’s controlled by one app and can do multiple things with lighting, television, heat, cameras, all of that stored on one app,” he explained. “And then there are other people who want less expensive options, who have multiple apps that do different things, but it’s not necessarily controlled by one central program.”

The uses for such a system are myriad.

“When you’re away for vacation and you forgot to turn your heat down, you can do it remotely. Even the door locks — you can send a code from your phone to unlock the door for someone cleaning the house or someone coming over to watch your kids,” Laplante said. “Control4 is really a home-management system, a technology-management system. You can create lighting scenes, you can control television, music, security, garage-door cameras — virtually everything that could link together, you can link through this central system.”

The popularity of so-called ‘smart homes’ is only expected to increase as more people experience it and costs continue to drop. According to Forbes, the value of the smart-home device market will grow from $55 billion in 2016 to $174 billion by 2025.

Dan Crouss says home automation is about solving problems — and quality of life.

Dan Crouss, owner of EPOS, said homeowners have many points of entry to choose from.

“Sometimes you start out small, but then we tie in the music and the TVs and all that stuff into one app. You kind of piecemeal it as you go — start small and work your way up over the years. Some people do it all at once when they build their house, but usually it’s small increments.”

And it’s not as foreign a concept as some people may think, he added.

“Everyone’s got some type of automation from their phone, even if it’s just Siri or Alexa controlling the lights. What we do is take it a step further, put it into one app instead of having 15 apps. Everybody’s got a little bit, but we’re able to tie it all into one interface.”

Problem Solvers

EPOS was launched in 2007, the merger between two companies, Perfect Sound and Olympic Electric. Its services have evolved considerably since then, both because technology is always advancing and because people are attracted to products that make their lives easier, Crouss said.

“Home automation can start out as a simple Alexa that turns on lights. Then door locks and heat are two things people usually do. Being able to unlock your door for somebody when you’re not home is a big deal. And with heat, I can save a lot of money. I get home at random times because of my job, so, if I’m getting home at 5:30, I can log on at 4 and pump up the heat a little bit, so when I get home, it’s nice and warm, but I saved a lot of money during the day.”

Then homeowners may add options from there, he added, from window shades — which can be adjusted or programmed to bring some extra sunlight into the house during the winter or keep it darker and cooler in the summer — to strategically placed cameras, both for outdoor security and to monitor the interior of a home when residents are away for the winter.

“Sometimes you start out small, but then we tie in the music and the TVs and all that stuff into one app. You kind of piecemeal it as you go — start small and work your way up over the years. Some people do it all at once when they build their house, but usually it’s small increments.”

“You can get a notification on your phone if you have movement at the front door,” Laplante said. “And you can pull up the camera view and pull up the audio and say, ‘can I help you?’ and do it all remotely. You can be on vacation and you’re answering your door, essentially. There are all types of things like that that are pretty cool, and most manufacturers now are incorporating things like this into their own apps and making everything as seamless as possible.”

As he noted earlier, many people opt for buying individual devices, such as one that manages the garage door.

“When your car pulls into the driveway, it will automatically open the garage door rather than actually pushing a button. You can also let somebody in your garage door remotely with your app. So you have individual products like this, with their own apps, which create the, quote-unquote, ‘smart home,’ or you can have a central control system that controls all of the various components of the house.”

The whole-house system can be preset for any number of situations, from delivering the exact heating and lighting arrangement upon waking up in the morning to creating a variety of ‘lighting scenes’ in the kitchen, such as for cooking, dining, or hosting a party — or telling the Christmas tree when to turn on and off every day.

“Basically, what home automation does is solve people’s problems, and everybody’s got different ones to solve,” Crouss said. “When my kids were growing up, they’d get off the bus and would put in their [front door] code, and I would get a text to let me know my daughter was off the bus. Or let’s say cleaners come to your house, who bill by the hour. There’s a time stamp when they put in the code and a time stamp when they lock the door.”

As another example, “people with oil tanks have smart sensors that automatically e-mail you when the tank is getting low, or e-mail people who deliver the oil. A lot of people with vacation homes show up, and the oil is way down. This is a way to avoid that problem.”

Price and Promise

In Forbes, Bernard Marr, a futurist, author, and business and technology advisor, recently noted a few developments on the horizon when it comes to smart homes. One is increasing standardization, as manufacturers of smart-home devices are increasingly ensuring their products and services will work on platforms provided by Amazon, Google, Samsung, and Apple to capture the broadest customer base.

He also sees smart homes actually becoming smarter over time as they make use of machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, and other technologies that are capable of making decisions and learning. Smart thermostat systems from Nest and Honeywell already use machine learning to adapt their behavior to the inhabitants of a house, based on observing and then replicating their habits, and that trend should accelerate to other devices as well.

Finally, the global rollout of 5G, as well as improved wi-fi technology, mean smart-home devices will be linked by faster, more powerful networks, meaning better access to data and processing resources in the cloud.

“The smart-home technology has come way, way down in price,” Laplante said, especially when it comes to buying multiple devices. “The Control4 system is nice because everything runs through one app. But people have multiple apps on their phones for multiple things anyway.

“There are many different components,” he added. “The cost depends on how much you bring into the system. The big advantage to having a one-hub system is that everything runs through that system, so you’re going to one app.”

EPOS continues to introduce new services, Crouss said, like ‘smart outlets’ that can reboot cable or Internet if it goes down, rather than having to deal with physical plugs and wires. In fact, those devices can now send a signal on their own and be rebooted automatically when a problem is detected.

“Most of my customers want this technology, want to be able to do those things,” Laplante said. “Especially when you’re going away, you want to be able to control things, you want to keep an eye on the house. If you go away for the winter, you want to be in contact with your home, to monitor the temperature and see if there are any issues.”

Not to mention that much of this technology — whether it’s changing the music coming out of the ceiling speakers or stepping into a perfect shower — is just, well, fun.

“It’s something the average person today is expecting — especially the younger generations,” he said. “They grew up with technology, and they expect it. And it is kind of neat.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Technology

High-tech Harvest

Vice President Paul Whalley

From its humble beginnings in a Southwick basement 40 years ago, Whalley Computer Associates has become a technology company with remarkable reach, providing a host of services to more than 3,000 business clients, ranking WCA in the top one-tenth of 1% of all computer resellers by sales volume. That growth has come through constant evolution in response to industry needs and trends, but also simply by making life easier for clients, who increasingly demand no-fuss solutions to their network needs.

Paul Whalley knows his company might have a larger brand presence in a larger city.

“Our biggest challenge, marketing-wise, is being in Western Mass. — because you know what they think of us in Eastern Mass.,” he said. “And then we’re in a town called Southwick, and if you look up Southwick, you see a farming community, and the name of the company is a family name. So I think people have an image of my brother and me with pitchforks, milking the cows in the morning and feeding the chickens when we get home, and maybe selling one or two computers.

“But that perception isn’t what people get when they walk through here,” he quickly added, and for good reason.

Out of its 62,500-square-foot headquarters in Southwick — it also maintains facilities in Westfield, Milford, and Providence, R.I. — Whalley Computer Associates (WCA) has grown to be the 175th-largest computer solution provider in North America. That’s among more than 200,000 such companies, placing Whalley squarely in the top one-tenth of 1%.

What started as a software-consulting firm is now an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), building computers and other devices for 25 brands, a few of them major national names. In so doing, WCA is the largest reseller of Lenovo products in the U.S. and has been the top reseller for Dell in the Northeast many years.

“I think people have an image of my brother and me with pitchforks, milking the cows in the morning and feeding the chickens when we get home, and maybe selling one or two computers. But that perception isn’t what people get when they walk through here.”

Initially, the firm served customers mostly based in Massachusetts and Connecticut. However, in the past decade, it has expanded its range, providing technology products and services across all of New England and Upstate New York.

It’s not easy to pin down what WCA does in a few words. Early in its history, it focused on imaging and configuration, delivery and deployment, and maintenance and repair. But today, services include pre-sales consultation, system design and implementation, infrastructure, data storage and management, client and server virtualization, disaster recovery and business continuance, VoIP, wireless cloud computing and cloud infrastructure services, server, storage, and network health checks — and more.

The company provides services to more than 250 school systems, 50 colleges, and 3,000 businesses, while continually expanding its range of offerings as the technology world continually evolves.

“It’s the full life cycle,” said Whalley, WCA’s vice president. “We’re consulting on what they should buy, selling them what they should buy, preparing what they bought, delivering what they bought, taking care of what they bought, managing what they bought — perhaps even remotely — and then, at the end of its life, gathering it back and disposing of it or returning it to the leasing company or giving it to a school, whatever the customer wants.”

Up from the Basement

Like many high-tech success stories, WCA grew from humble beginnings. As a part-time programming consultant in the Agawam school system in the 1970’s, math teacher John Whalley — Paul’s brother — purchased a small software-consulting firm. Working after school and during the summer from his Southwick basement, he built a small customer base.

Then, in 1979, incorporating his experience teaching his students programming on the school’s new computer, he started Whalley Computer Associates. He moved to new quarters in Southwick twice, all the while trying to convince his brother to come on board.

Paul started helping out part-time, and in 1985, they both dove in full-time, with John (still the company’s president) leaving his teaching job and Paul resigning from his position as a programmer at MassMutual, in the process becoming WCA’s fourth employee. The acquisition of customers such as Northeast Utilities, United Technologies, General Electric, and Cigna helped drive the company’s rapid growth.

Dean LeClerc says WCA’s engineering training lab helps keep the team on top of current technology.

That growth necessitated several moves in Southwick, from John Whalley’s cellar to a former hair salon, to a 1,500-square-foot office, to an 18,000-square-foot building on Route 202, to the current headquarters on Whalley Way, in the industrial-park section of town, built in 1999.

Through all that growth, Whalley said, the idea has always been to make life easier for customers. For example, the Southwick facility has hundreds of linear feet of ‘bench space’ where computers and other devices are not only built, but tested by connecting directly with the client’s network.

“The benefit for the customer is they can just walk to the desk, unplug the old one, plug in the new one, and walk away. Otherwise, they’d have to go the desk and spend 15 minutes with the product and get it fully configured on their network. It’s much more efficient and cost-effective, and allows them to work on more strategic things. Their IT staff doesn’t really want to be doing this. They’re certified at a pretty high level and want to be doing more challenging things.”

Dean LeClerc, director of Engineering, pointed out one bench that was being used to test Chromebooks headed to a Holyoke school.

“They leave here as if it had already been brought to Holyoke and connected with their network and tested,” he explained. “So they’re opening a box they already know works on their network.”

LeClerc added that Whalley can even set up each device for the individual student who will be using it, and a WCA representative will often visit sites to hand them out to specific users.

Early in BusinessWest’s recent visit, LeClerc showed off one of the facility’s newer features, an engineering training lab outfitted with WCA’s most commonly sold storage devices, switches, and servers — a half-million-dollar investment in making sure the engineering team stays on top of technology.

“Our engineers are doing it for the second, third, or fourth time before they’re getting to a customer’s environment,” he explained. “They’re not doing it for the first time at a customer’s live environment.”

In addition, if a customer is in a bind with equipment going down that could affect the flow of business, the lab might loan a piece of equipment for a day or a week to get the customer up and running again immediately instead of having to wait for shipment of a new product.

“If you listen to anybody in technology, they’ll tell you the majority of problems come when people aren’t being vigilant and open e-mails they shouldn’t be opening.”

“So we try to balance it,” he said. “This is our lab for our engineers, but if we have a couple extra pieces of equipment that we know we can bring out to get a customer back up and running, we can do that.”

Safe and Secure

WCA has evolved in other ways as well, Whalley said, mostly in response to changing industry needs and trends. Take security, for example, in the form of building security, surveillance cameras, access-control cards, and other products and services.

“We weren’t even thinking about that stuff 10 years ago, but it’s becoming a bigger piece of our business now,” he said, adding that WCA has a contract with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an ITC71 vendor for security systems.

Cybersecurity is another growing niche, he noted. “We’ll do assessments, look at the network, and help them prevent someone from attacking them. Even the biggest companies get attacked. We’ll build up a robust system with a lot of redundancy so if something does happen, whether it’s ransomware or malware or a virus, they experience no — or very little — downtime.”

He recalled two incidents, one involving a customer of WCA’s managed services, who had invested in a needs analysis and network cybersecurity protection and monitoring. “Within seconds of a ransom attack, we shut everything down, isolating the problem to one desktop, and brought the whole network back up, so they were down for only minutes, and then worked on clearing out that one bad desktop where the ransomware came in.”

Meanwhile, another local company, not a customer of those managed services, got attacked, and it took three weeks and 100 hours of engineering time to get it back up and running, Whalley noted.

“One computer down for an hour, versus the entire network down for three weeks. One did the preparation and the engineering ahead of time to have a robust defense of their system, and because it was monitored at the point, we immediately knew there was a problem and could quarantine it and get the rest of the company working again. That’s the power of having the combination of the managed-service group and Dean’s engineers.”

WCA also sends a trainer to conduct security-awareness trainings for clients, because so many breaches result from human mistakes, he noted.

“If you listen to anybody in technology, they’ll tell you the majority of problems come when people aren’t being vigilant and open e-mails they shouldn’t be opening. So we offer a very affordable service, coming into a company and going through a two-hour presentation on how to stay out of trouble and how not to make those mistakes that put your company in jeopardy.”

Staying atop such trends and others is critical, which is why WCA presents the annual Foxwoods Technology Show, the biggest technology event in the region solely for IT professionals. Every year, it attracts more than 1,000 attendees, including 300 representatives from 60 different manufacturers.

“We’re in an industry where you either change or you die,” Whalley told BusinessWest. “Everything’s moving so fast now. You either change and embrace the change — and try to lead the change — or you go out of business.”

Growth Pattern

In a business market where 80% of computer companies fail in less than five years, WCA employs more than 150 computer professionals and continues to grow its client base. It’s not exactly a small company, but tries to maintain a small-firm spirit, through events like monthly breakfasts, lunches, and birthday parties, as well as kickoffs of baseball and football season, where employees wear their favorite teams’ jerseys. Just this month, employees gathered to celebrate WCA’s best September ever.

“We pride ourselves on being a family business,” Whalley said, with the concept of family extending beyond the company’s founders, reflecting a general spirit of camaraderie in Southwick as well as the other sites.

At the same time, its work is serious business — and a long way from milking cows and feeding chickens.

“Our challenge is to stay as ahead of the curve as we can, but provide the stability and assurance to our customers that we’re not just jumping onto the new shiny penny and abandoning our core business,” LeClerc said. “We’re large enough that we can afford to do that. We have enough resources to stay ahead of the curve but still deliver traditional services to our customers until they’re ready for a change.”

Whalley agreed. “We try not to jump around from one thing to the other; we just try to add additional capabilities and continue to be exceptional at the legacy of services and products that we provide.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Technology

Blasting Off

A team from Feeding Hills gets ready to put their robot to the test.

A team from Feeding Hills gets ready to put their robot to the test.

Seeing a group of middle-schoolers design, build, and program robots that perform specific, detailed tasks on cue is an impressive sight. But the impact of the FIRST LEGO League, which boasts teams in numerous schools throughout Western Mass., goes far beyond engineering training. It’s also teaching young people communication skills, teamwork, and confidence — all key traits to take into whatever career they choose, whether in the STEM fields or not.

As the robotic rover methodically navigated a landscape of obstacles, it relied on its programming to perform any number of tasks, from extracting core samples to angling a solar array to crossing a crater. If the programming — honed over months of diligent trial and error — failed, so did the robot.

That’s OK, though — this wasn’t a billion-dollar piece of outer-space equipment at stake, but a robot built from LEGO Mindstorm parts, and performing tasks on a colorful, space-themed table. And these weren’t astronauts or NASA engineers performing experiments, but area elementary and middle-school students showing off their prowess at the recent FIRST LEGO League Into Orbit Challenge at Western New England University.

Three dozen teams of students from Agawam, Brookfield, Chicopee, Greenfield, Holyoke, Longmeadow, Northampton, South Hadley, Springfield, West Springfield, Westhampton, and Wilbraham took part in the competition, reflecting a surge in growth for school-based robotics programs.

“It’s more than just the robots. Yes, the engineering is important — the math and the physics behind it — but more important than that is the teamwork, the critical-thinking skills, and the communication skills the kids develop.”

After competing head to head with each other, seven of those teams advanced to a statewide competition in Worcester a week later, and from there, the top teams moved on to championship events this spring.

“It’s all about taking your classroom lessons — the math, the science — and applying them in a real-world situation,” said Dana Henry, a senior mentor for the regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program, who first connected students with robotics in Agawam 18 years ago.

“It’s more than just the robots,” he told BusinessWest. “Yes, the engineering is important — the math and the physics behind it — but more important than that is the teamwork, the critical-thinking skills, and the communication skills the kids develop.”

The FIRST LEGO League challenges kids to think like scientists and engineers. During this year’s space-themed season, teams choose real-world problems to solve and then build, test, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO Mindstorms technology to solve a set of missions.

Last months’s event, the Agawam Qualifier, is in its 11th year, moving to WNEU this season after outgrowing its previous space at Agawam Junior High School, Henry noted.

Dana Henry says FIRST LEGO League competitors are applying classroom lessons to real-world problems, and gaining a raft of skills while doing so.

Dana Henry says FIRST LEGO League competitors are applying classroom lessons to real-world problems, and gaining a raft of skills while doing so.

“We have four programs in Agawam, and we help other teams, at other school systems in the area, get up and running,” Henry said of his role with FIRST. “Western New England came in with the facility and some resources, and they are working with a couple of local teams themselves. It’s been a pretty great ride so far.”

Suleyman Demirhan, a science teacher at Hampden Charter School of Science in Chicopee who oversees that school’s robotics club, explained that the faculty coach’s role is to teach students the basics of building and programming the robot — and researching issues as they arise — but it’s important for students to learn how to accomplish their goals with minimal hand-holding.

“They learn a specific topic for their project, and how to design a robot and program it. The coach is there just to guide them, to provide the right materials and supplies for learning the robotics, and then we get to see their progress. We’re teaching them how to solve problems. It’s a learning process,” Demirhan said.

“Actually, they teach each other and learn from one another,” he went on. “I see it like working at a company, like being an engineer, but at the same time being a middle-schooler. They’re learning to solve all these engineering problems, and then they learn how to solve the programming problems.”

Values Added

The FIRST LEGO League, launched 20 years ago by inventor Dean Kamen and LEGO Group owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, now boasts 320,000 participants and 40,000 teams in 98 countries.

At the cornerstone of the program are a set of core values, through which participants learn that friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals, and that helping one another is the foundation of teamwork.

According to the league website, those core values include discovery (exploring new skills and ideas), innovation (using creativity and persistence to solve problems), impact (applying what we learn to improve our world), inclusion (respecting each other and embracing our differences), teamwork (understanding that we are stronger when we work together), and fun (enjoying and celebrating what we do).

The student-designed robots are all different, taking myriad approaches to tackling similar challenges.

So the goal is more than learning robotics, engineering, and programming. But even the tasks themselves extend far beyond the robots. Each year, teams are mandated to research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc., and then develop a solution.

As part of this year’s Into Orbit theme, teams considered the challenges humans must overcome to travel around the solar system — such as extreme temperatures; lack of air, water, and food; waste disposal and recycling; loneliness and isolation; and the need for exercise — and research and present a project, not unlike at a science fair, that aims to solve one of those problems.

“With this year’s theme, they designed a project that helps astronauts in space travel improve their physical conditions and mental health, or it could be anything that supports astronauts,” Demirhan said, noting that his school’s two teams took on the problems of growing food in space and designing an effective trash compactor.

The competition itself centers around the LEGO robots designed and built by the students, he went on. “Each challenge needs to be solved by a robot which is running autonomously. So the students program the robots and make specific attachments that work with different challenges. They don’t only design these attachments, but design and write the programs.”

If the programming is off by the slightest margin, the robot will miss its target on the table — and miss out on critical points needed to post a high score and advance.

“With each one of these challenges, they encounter difficult areas with the programming,” Demirhan went on. “Some programs might work in a specific environment and might not work in a different environment, and they’re trying to write the best program that can work in many different conditions. For example, light could be a factor — robots have light sensors, and the amount of light in the practice room could be different than in competition. So the student needs to solve this challenge and write a really good, efficient program that can run in both these environments.”

For students inclined to this type of work, Henry said, it’s a fun way to learn to apply STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts while developing critical-thinking and team-building skills, and even soft skills like how to talk to the judges about their robots in an engaging way — yes, they’re judged on that, too.

“Not only do they have to build a robot to compete on the table, but they’re also being judged on a project, and they have to adhere to all the core values throughout the FIRST program,” he added. “It’s about communication skills and critical-thinking skills. It’s much more than just robots.”

Time to Shine

Through the FIRST LEGO League, Kamen and Kristiansen always intended for young people to discover the fun in science and technology but also develop in a positive way as people. Henry said he has seen exactly that.

“We had one kid that came through the program who was very shy, ate his lunch in the corner all by himself at his junior high school, but he came into high school and absolutely bloomed. He got into college, and now he’s an engineer with NASA. I’m telling you, if he doesn’t go to Mars, he’s going to be one of the engineers that gets us there.”

Other students in the program have gone on to non-science fields, like teaching, music, and the culinary arts, he continued, but the lessons they learned about solving problems and working with others are applicable to any field.

For those who do aspire to a career in engineering or robotics, however, the FIRST program does offer a leg up, Demirhan said, both in the college-application process — schools consider this valuable experience — and gaining career skills at an earlier age than most future engineers do.

“They’re all doing real-world engineering. Once they go to an engineering school, they’re seeing problems like these and learning how to solve them. So this is really a tiny engineering program that has massive applications. We’re teaching real-world problems and coming up with good solutions to them.”

In short, students are creating ideas, solving problems, and overcoming obstacles, all while gaining confidence in their abilities to positively use technology. To Henry, that’s an appealing mix.

“The STEM part is important, absolutely, but it’s more than just that,” he said. “I can’t stress that enough. We’ve seen kids blossom in so many ways.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Technology

Better Living Through Apps

Today’s smartphone apps are countless, with uses ranging from entertainment to enrichment. In the latter category, apps help users manage their personal finance, improve their fitness, and give their brains a workout. With that in mind, here are some of the more popular and well-reviewed apps available today.

It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when everyone couldn’t access virtually all the world’s information in their hand at a moment’s notice. Besides the accumulated knowledge available on a smartphone, myriad apps are available to help users with a wide range of tasks, from managing their finances to tracking their fitness goals to getting an education in various topics.

For this year’s roundup of what’s hot in technology, BusinessWest checks in on what the tech press is saying about some of the most popular smartphone apps.

Money Matters

Smartphones have put a world of personal finance in people’s hands. For example, Intuit’s Mint gives users a real-time look into all their finances, from bank accounts and credit cards to student loans and 401(k) accounts. The budgeting app has attracted more than 20 million users, and it’s easy to see why, says NerdWallet, which identifies the popular service as one of the best budgeting and saving tools available.

“The free app automatically syncs to bank, credit card and investment accounts, pulling data with little effort on the part of the user, and provides free credit-score information. It’s a tool for reluctant budgeters — many people fall into that category, and they’ll be happy keeping tabs on their spending with this service.”

As its name notes, You Need a Budget, or YNAB, “makes no bones about the fact you need to manage your money rather than the other way around,” according to PC World, noting that the popular program, which started life more than a decade ago as manual-input desktop software, is now a subscription-based web app that can sync with users’ financial accounts.

“YNAB includes customizable reports that break down your income and expenses by category, account, and time frame,” the publication explains. “Its greatest strength, however, is its huge community of devout users who freely share their tips on the app as well as the larger enterprise of personal budgeting. The home site is also rich with support resources ranging from help docs to weekly videos to podcasts, all with the aim of helping you get and keep your finances in order.”

For people who find it difficult to track their expenses while trying to reach their savings goals, Wally might be able to help, by giving users a total view of their finances.

“Wally’s interface is simple and easy to navigate, which makes setting your budget and entering expenses a breeze. The app delivers plenty of features without crowding the screen,” Bankrate notes, adding, however, that “what you put into Wally is what you get out of it. The app makes it simple to track your expenses in the hope that you’ll stick to your budget and reach your goals, but it largely depends on the user being diligent in uploading every expense. If you can do that, Wally will be a tremendous aid in helping you reach your savings goals.”

Finally, Acorns is modernizing the old-school practice of saving loose change, rounding up the user’s purchases on linked credit or debit cards, then sweeping the change into a computer-managed investment portfolio.

“Acorns goes after its target market — young, would-be investors who have little money to invest — by waiving management fees for up to four years. College students are ripe for this kind of service and could wind up with a nice little pot of money after four years of rounding up,” Nerdwallet says. “We’re behind any tool that encourages mindless, automatic saving. If you don’t have to think about saving, you’re more likely to do it.”

No Pain, No Gain

What if physical wellness tops one’s priority list? No fear — there are countless apps for that, too, providing users with information on what they’re eating, how to exercise, and how to stay committed to better habits.

One of the most popular nutrition apps is MyFitnessPal, which offers a wealth of tools for tracking what and how much the user eats, and how many calories they burn through activity, explains PC Magazine. “Of all the calorie counters I’ve used, MyFitnessPal is by far the easiest one to manage, and it comes with the largest database of foods and drinks. With the MyFitnessPal app, you can fastidiously watch what you eat 24/7, no matter where you are.”

Added BuiltLean, “MyFitnessPal is not a one-size-fits-all app. Personal diet profiles can be changed to fit a person’s specific needs, whether they are on a strict diet or have certain recommendations from their doctor or dietitian. The program calculates caloric need based on height, weight, gender, and lifestyle.”

Seven-minute workout challenges have become popular for their ease of use, and the 7 Minute Fitness Challenge app is among the more popular apps promoting this activity.

“I like that the video instructions are led by both male and female trainers, and they do a great job guiding you through each exercise via video, audio, image and text,” notes a review in USA Today. “When you upgrade to the paid version, you can also track your weight and visualize your progress, which might help you stay motivated. It also shows a calendar of all of your workouts and lets you see them at a glance. I’ve had this app for three years now, and they do a great job of updating it regularly to add new exercises and respond to user requests.”

Strong offers many features found in scores of other apps — creating custom routines, logging workouts, and tracking weight over time — but does some things that are particularly useful, according to the Verge.

“Each time I start a new workout for my arms or legs, Strong notes how much I lifted the previous workout. It does so automatically, and it’s amazing how such a simple thing has had such a powerful effect on me,” the reviewer notes. “Bumping that number up over time has become a game to me, and it’s pushed me to gently ramp up the difficulty level on my exercise more than anything I’ve tried short of a personal trainer. The first time I successfully did 40 push-ups, I could scarcely believe it. Previous apps I used required me to update my routines manually; automating that has made all the difference.”

What about emotional wellness? There are plenty of meditation apps available for that. For example, “the moment you open the Calm app, you might feel a sense of … calm. Relaxing sounds of falling rain play automatically in the background, but you could also opt to be greeted by a crackling fireplace, crickets, or something called ‘celestial white noise,’” according to Mindful.

The relaxation continues with Calm’s free meditations — 16 in total, lasting from three to 30 minutes. “Like many other apps, you can set a timer for silent meditation or meditate to intermittent bells,” the site notes. “For nighttime relaxation, Calm features four free ‘sleep stories’ — bedtime stories for adults on everything from science fiction to scenic landscapes to help you transition into slumber.”

App-lied Learning

Countless popular apps focus on education and learning for all ages. For kids, the Children’s MD blog recommends Khan Academy, which collaborates with the U.S. Department of Education and myriad public and private educational institutions to provide a free, world-class education for anyone.

“It’s incredibly easy to use, there are no ads, and it’s appropriate for any school-aged child that knows how to read,” the blog reports, noting that Khan Academy started as a math-learning site but has expanded to many other subjects, from art history to economics. “My kids will spend hours looking at computer-science projects that other kids have shared and incorporating ideas into their own programs. The Khan platform combines educational videos with practice problems and project assignments.”

Meanwhile, Brainscape promises to help students learn more effective ways to study with their classmates, while helping teachers track and create better study habits for students. “This app is a very effective way of using and creating flashcards in a digital manner,” Education World notes. “It’s not much different in terms of creating flashcards and learning from them; however, one cool feature is the ability to set up study reminders, which slightly deters you from procrastination.”

However, the publication notes, the paid content “is a bit of a turnoff from the app, but not to worry — it makes up for it with the ability to create your own digital flashcards. Once the cards are created, you can go through the questions and guess the answer before revealing it, just like normal flashcards.”

Meanwhile, Photomath focuses on, well, math, and does it well, Digital Trends reports. “For high-school students who just need a bit more guidance on how to isolate ‘x’ in their algebra homework, Photomath is essentially your math buddy that can instantly solve and explain every answer. Simply snap a photo of the question (you can also write or type), and the app will break down the solution into separate steps with helpful play-by-play, so that you can apply the same principles to the rest of your homework.”

For older students and adults, The Great Courses is one of the more venerable services out there, created by the Teaching Company during the 1990s with the goal of gathering educational lectures on a video format.

“What helped the Teaching Company to grow more and more famous is their strong ethic toward a lifelong learning, meaning that, for them, learning is not only a short-term journey with an end, but more of a lifelong adventure during which anyone should keep gathering knowledge,” Gria.org notes. “Users have access to an entire online digital video library, but they also get other supports, such as CDs and DVDs or hard-copy materials such as workbooks and guidebooks.”

In short, whatever you’re looking to improve in your life, as the famous ad slogan notes, there’s an app for that.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Members Only

Katherine Hutchinson says members expect a credit union to be attuned to their needs.

Katherine Hutchinson says members expect a credit union to be attuned to their needs.

Although myths persist about what credit unions are, their leaders are cheered by statistics showing that 43% of Massachusetts residents belong to one. But they know members aren’t satisfied with mere messaging; they want the high-tech tools available at larger banks, melded with a culture of personal service. It’s a challenge they say they work hard to meet.

Michael Ostrowski has made a career in credit-union leadership, and the numbers startled even him.

Specifically, it’s the statistic that 43% of the population of Massachusetts is a credit-union member, compared to about 33% nationally.

“That’s huge. I was surprised by that,” said Ostrowski, president and CEO of Arrha Credit Union. But after considering it, he wondered why that 43% figure should be a shock at all. “I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage of credit unions, from the fees and everything right down the line. We are typically a better deal, and you don’t see any of these credit unions in the newspaper like a Wells Fargo.”

By that, he meant the financial turmoil that many national banks brought upon themselves at the start of the Great Recession — a crisis that actually led to marketing opportunities for credit unions, said Katherine Hutchinson, president and CEO of UMassFive College Federal Credit Union.

“We did see growth throughout the recession,” she told BusinessWest. “We wanted to make sure we were not letting our members down by not lending through that period, but we were also very conscientious about how we were spending our money — all the things good financial institutions do to protect the interests of their shareholders and, in our case, our members. That’s really important to us, and I think it was a time where people were taking a second look and saw credit unions as alternatives.”

The lobby walls at UMassFive’s Hadley headquarters are adorned with messaging touting the member-centric (don’t call them customers) philosophy of credit unions, and, “believe me, we try very hard to follow the philosophy,” Hutchinson went on. “I’ve been at the credit union for 42 years — I’ve kind of grown up in the industry. When I started, we were very focused on the member, and I’ve tried to convey that and live that philosophy as we grew bigger.”

Credit unions are financial institutions that look and feel like a bank in the products and service they offer, she explained, but the difference is their structure as cooperatives.

“Because of a credit union’s non-for-profit status, consumers do expect better rates and lower fees, and I think that’s what they experience,” she said. “But they also want us to be focused on what they need, on how we can help them personally — to listen to their story, hear about why they’re in a certain situation, and what would really help them.”

Glenn Welch says local leadership means credit unions can respond to members’ concerns quickly.

Glenn Welch says local leadership means credit unions can respond to members’ concerns quickly.

Glenn Welch, president and CEO of Freedom Credit Union, said member ownership of the institution is important to those who do business there. “Whether you have $5 in your account of $500,000, it’s one member, one vote,” he said, adding that members of his board of directors must hail from the four western counties. “The board is local, so members know we can make decisions and resolve situations quickly.”

Resolving situations, and writing more success stories, is a point of pride for UMassFive, Hutchinson noted. “I think it’s important that we hear those stories and share those stories to encourage our employees to listen to the members and find ways to help. The stories are important.”

Numbers Don’t Lie

The story for credit unions has been positive in recent years, Ostrowski said, pointing to statistics like a capital-to-assets ratio of 10.4%, on average, for credit unions in Massachusetts. “Over 7 is well-capitalized — we’re over 10. That shows strength in the credit-union industry.”

Meanwhile, the 167 credit unions in Massachusetts employ 6,158 people full-time and another 908 part-time, and boast more than 2.9 million members — again, about 43% of all residents.

Still, myths persist about credit unions, Welch said, sharing four common ones identified by the Credit Union National Assoc.

The first myth: “I can’t join.” CUNA points out that many Americans believe they are ineligible to join a credit union, but membership eligibility today is typically based on geography, he noted. Membership at Freedom Credit Union, for example, is available to anyone who lives, works, or attends college in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, or Berkshire counties.

The second myth: “accessing my money may be hard.” Not true, Welch said, noting that, along with boasting a mobile application for online banking, many credit unions, including Freedom, have joined the Allpoint Network, allowing members surcharge-free ATM access at more than 55,000 retail locations worldwide.

The third myth: “they’re too small.” Rather, he noted, credit unions provide the same security and protection of a larger financial institution, but is accountable to members, rather than shareholders. “This means every customer is treated as an individual, not a number, enjoying personalized service and customized products.”

The final myth: “they’re primarily for those in need.” Based on generational notions, Welch explained, some may believe credit unions mainly serve low-income consumers. In truth, he added, they serve every population, as well as every size and type of business.

Essentially, he told BusinessWest, the CUNA survey demonstrated that many people don’t understand what membership means and how to go about applying to be a member.

“Several things came up; one was that they didn’t feel that credit unions can offer them the level of technology and products of banking institutions. But we had a good year in 2017 and approached the board with quite a few investment upgrades,” he noted, expanding the tasks that can be done online, like electronically signing for loans.

“People don’t want to set foot in a bank or credit union lobby unless they have to,” he continued. “We have the same products available at bigger banks, but at a local level.”

Ostrowski agreed that credit-union members appreciate the institution’s purpose and philosophy, but also demand current technology. In fact, Arrha is in the process of upgrading all its systems to improve electronic communication and its mobile banking platforms.

“I think the credit unions are still filling that void of the banks that had their roots in the small towns, and that really hasn’t changed,” he said. “But I think it’s important that people realize that we have the same systems all the big banks have, and we have the same cybersecurity functionality they do. Clearly, from a systems standpoint, we can compete very well with them.”

Michael Ostrowski says credit-union members expect the same high-tech products they can find at large banks.

Michael Ostrowski says credit-union members expect the same high-tech products they can find at large banks.

Likewise, Hutchinson noted that the area colleges the credit union was built upon still form its core membership group, but it wouldn’t have grown beyond that without a recognition in the region of the credit-union philosophy — and without a commitment on the institution’s side to stay atop trends in products and services and continually invest in technology. “That is important to growth and our sustainability, so we’re proud of that.”

Loan Stars

Ostrowski said messages like this — and a vibrant economy — have helped Arrha grow steadily in recent years, with deposits up, loan delinquency down, and investments in technology helping to attract new members.

Meanwhile, Welch noted that the competitive interest rates Freedom pays on savings accounts and charges for loans have both attracted new business. All that led to growth in 2017 in return on assets and total loans, as well as hiring a second commercial lender and a credit manager, focusing on individuals and small businesses.

“Typically, we don’t lend more than $3.5 million or $4.5 million, although we could, based on capital,” he noted.

But the credit-union presidents BusinessWest spoke with all noted that the model’s philosophy doesn’t stop at dollars and cents, but extends to a robust community outreach, often in the form of educational seminars.

“That goes to the concept of people helping people,” Welch said. “We find, when we’re not able to help someone, it’s usually a credit issue, and often, they haven’t been educated on the value of credit. So we participate with other banking institutions in Credit for Life fairs, reaching out to students when they’re still in high school to talk about good and bad credit, and what that means when they try to buy a car, rent an apartment, or get a credit card.”

Hutchinson said her board believes community education is important to UMassFive’s mission. “So many people need that kind of assistance. It ties back into what is best for our members — educating them on how to make decisions.

“Financial literacy is key,” she went on. “We try to have a variety of topics, from understanding your credit score to budgeting to preparing for retirement and first-time homebuying. We also work with UMass, doing some seminars for students on student debt.”

Ostrowski noted that even recent college graduates don’t understand their credit score and the impact it can have, while others take advantage of a credit-card offer in the mail and quickly wind up thousands of dollars in debt without thinking about the consequences. “All our programs in financial literacy are drivers that we make no money on — they are absolutely out of love of our members and to protect them.”

The credit-union culture runs deep in Massachusetts, the state where such institutions were first chartered way back in 1909, Ostrowski explained. State partnerships are still critical, he added, noting that Gov. Charlie Baker has backed an effort by the state’s credit unions, called CU Senior Safeguard, to fight elder financial abuse and fraud. All frontline credit-union staffers are participating in the program, while a statewide effort is targeting consumers with information about how elders are defrauded — a problem that costs some $10 billion every year nationally.

“I’ve heard wild stories about members getting ripped off by contractors,” he said, or individuals who were ready to send money to an unknown e-mailer on the promise of more in return. “I’ve literally had to argue with individuals not to send their money away.”

Better, he said, to deposit it with a credit union — and join that 43% number that, in an age of constant mergers and acquisitions among area banks, only continues to grow.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing Sections

Showing Their Metal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manufacturing Milestone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shining Examples

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

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

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

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

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

Daily News

FLORENCE — Florence Bank recently earned four industry honors at the first annual Banking Choice Awards in areas such as quality and service, with recognition based on an independent survey of customer feedback.

At the event on April 26 at Boston’s Omni Parker House, Florence Bank ranked first in the Western Mass. region in Overall Quality, Customer Service, and Technology, and second in Community Contribution.

“These rankings came from an independent survey performed by a recognized leader in tracking and measuring the customer experience,” President and CEO John Heaps said. “It’s nice to get recognition from those we aim to serve well. I couldn’t be prouder of our employees and this achievement.”

Added Beverly Beaulieu, senior vice president and director of Retail Banking, “it’s evident our customers truly appreciate our approach. That’s because our employees embody our mission that customer service drives everything we do.”

Florence Bank employees were among staff from 33 banks across the state at the Banking Choice Awards, developed jointly by the Warren Group and Customer Experience Solutions.

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Addition by Addition

While there are plenty of banks doing business in this region, Jeff Sullivan says, there is an opportunity for a new one that is based locally.

While there are plenty of banks doing business in this region, Jeff Sullivan says, there is an opportunity for a new one that is based locally.

 

Jeff Sullivan has spent more than 30 years working in and around the region’s banking community, most recently as chief operating officer for United Bank.

So he understands fully when people use that term ‘overbanked’ to describe this area. In fact, he’s used that word himself over the years as he’s watched branches proliferate in a host of area communities.

But over the past few years as he’s done consulting work for the industry after leaving United following its merger with Connecticut-based Rockville Bank, Sullivan says he’s come to understand that just because there are branches on almost every corner in some cities and towns, that doesn’t mean the region’s population — and especially certain segments of it — are adequately served.

“There’s plenty of good local banks around,” he told BusinessWest. “But there is opportunity, because the largest financial institution based in the city of Springfield now is a credit union. So there is opportunity for a Springfield-based institution with local decision making.

“I was getting asked by a lot of people — individuals I would just bump into on the street or in the supermarket — ‘can you send me to a good lender?’ or ‘can you give me a good bank to go to?’ or ‘are you going back to work? I need to make a switch,’ he went on. “After that happened 10 or 12 times in a relatively short period of time, I began to think there was room for a new bank.”

And these sentiments, grounded in what Sullivan considers more scientific analysis and sound due diligence, has led him to partner with attorney Frank Fitzgerald and Jim Garvey, owner of St. James Check Cashing, to begin the process of adding a new bank to the landscape.

It will be called New Valley Bank & Trust, the partners announced late last week, adding that the team is now seeking approval from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) to form the new institution before launching a capital raise aimed at amassing $25 million to $30 million.

This will be the first new bank launched in the area since NUVO Bank (since acquired by Community Bank) opened in 2008. New Valley Bank & Trust almost certainly will open in better economic conditions — NUVO had the misfortune of launching just as the country was heading into the Great Recession — and it will have a different model, said Sullivan.

Indeed, while NUVO was focused on a mostly digital banking model — it has just one branch, in downtown Springfield — New Valley will have slightly more of a brick-and-mortar foundation, he explained.

It will be headquartered in downtown Springfield and will start with a full-service branch somewhere in the city (the location has not been determined) and a second location on the west side of the Connecticut River (again, that community has not been chosen) within a year after opening.

New Valley, like most banks now doing business in this region, will offer a full range of business and retail banking services for residents and small to medium-sized businesses in Massachusetts and Northern Conn.

Like NUVO, though, this proposed new institution will focus considerable energy on commercial lending, said Sullivan, who has spent most of his career in that realm. Despite stern competition in the commercial market and a huge number of established players, he sees room for opportunity.

That opportunity — on both the commercial and residential sides of the ledger — results from the spate of mergers and acquisitions in recent years, he told BusinessWest, an ongoing development that has decreased the population of community banks and, as he noted, left Springfield without a bank headquartered within its boundaries.

“With fewer local banks servicing the region, we have heard from countless residents and small to medium-sized business owners that are looking for a level of customer service and credit that is simply not available in the market today,” Sullivan said in a press release announcing formation of New Valley. “Our focus will be on meeting this demand with personalized attention and cutting-edge technology that will shorten wait times for funding decisions and opening accounts.”

On the commercial side, the bank will focus on smaller loans and quick turn-around times, said Sullivan, adding that the mergers in recent years have created opportunities to meet a specific niche.

“We have a lot of good banks around here, but they’ve grown to a larger size,” he explained. “And they’re focusing on larger deals than they probably did 10 years ago. I think there’s a real opening for personal service being delivered to small businesses.”

But another point of emphasis for New Valley will be what Sullivan described as a still-large population of area households that are “unbanked and underbanked.”

Elaborating, he said research continues to show that the volume of business at check-cashing establishments has remained fairly stable — and comparatively high — in this region, despite considerable improvement in the economy over the past decade.

Sullivan and his partners estimate there are some 20,000 households in Hampden County alone that use a bank sparingly, if at all, and in these numbers, he sees more opportunity in the form of need for a new bank.

“These are working women and men whose barrier to entry into the banking system has been too high for too long,” her went on. “As a local bank, we want to find opportunities to serve this significant segment of our community and create lifelong customers in the process.”

Elaborating, Sullivan noted that, in many cases, individuals or households don’t use banks because of a lack of trust or because of a bad experience — or several.

“The biggest reason, the FDIC says, is lack of trust,” he explained. “They don’t trust the system. People have had bad experiences; they got kicked when they were down, and it’s led to a lack of trust.”

In response, New Valley will offer products and services designed to build trust, he went on, such as bounce-proof checking accounts, incentivized savings accounts, and financial-literacy programs.

Sullivan said the need for a new, locally based, bank can be verified by the makeup of the 60 founding sponsors — what he described as a “large and diverse group of business owners and entrepreneurs from throughout the region — and the enthusiasm shown for the concept, especially among young business owners.

That’s significant, he said, because they will have to be the backbone of the customer base moving forward.

“We decided that, if we were going to do this, it has to be about a younger generation of business cohort,” he explained. “So we needed to know if the Millennials and the Gen-Ys care enough about this kind of stuff.

“We had a series of focus groups — we put about 100 people in a room, 20 people at a time, and we pitched them on what we were trying to do,” he went on. “About 60 people wrote checks to give us the seed money to get started, and of those 60, close to half of them were people under the age of 45. We were pleasantly surprised by that, and based on that response, we decided to take things to the next level, which is where we are today.”

—George O’Brien

Daily News

CHICOPEE — Elms College announced that it will launch two new majors this fall, in computer science (CS) and computer information technology and security (CITS).

The CITS major prepares students for careers as information technology (IT) professionals, providing a breadth of knowledge and the skills necessary to become IT technicians, system administrators, network administrators, and cybersecurity specialists. Required course topics for this major include databases, networks and security, system administration, digital forensics, hardware maintenance, cyber ethics, web design, and more.

The CS major focuses on the design and development of software and the algorithms that make code work efficiently. Students will become proficient in C#, Javascript, HTML/CSS, SQL, and other programming languages. Required courses for this major will focus on programming, data structures and algorithms, databases, system administration, cyber ethics, web design, and more.

“Our students are very excited about these new majors,” said Beryl Hoffman, associate professor of Computer Information Technology at Elms. “Computer-science graduates are in high demand, and computer security is one of the fastest-growing job markets within IT.”

Both majors will include a professional internship that will give students real-life experience in computer science or computer information technology and security. Electives for both the CS and CITS majors will include artificial intelligence, game design, mobile-app design, graphic design, and video.

Daily News

AMHERST — The Light Microscopy Core Facility, housed in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) at UMass Amherst, was designated as a Nikon Center of Excellence at a recent grand-opening event. It is one of eight Nikon Centers of Excellence in the U.S.

The microscopes that make up the core facility have been purchased by UMass Amherst with funding from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Education Consortium and furnished by Nikon at a discount. They will allow the campus and the surrounding region access to cutting-edge technology and foster economic development, according to James Chambers, director of the IALS Light Microscopy Core Facility.

“This new equipment will allow for the exploration of uncharted research on diverse topics including cancer biology, reproductive science, neuroscience, microbiology, and polymer engineering,” said Chambers. “One of the great benefits of our facility is that the microscopes are all in one room, providing easy access to staff and other researchers.”

Chambers said part of the mission of the facility and IALS is to foster collaborations between academics and industrial partners as well as bolster the training of the Massachusetts high-tech workforce. During the short time that the facility has been in operation, more than 150 trainees have become users and have learned microscopy skills that they will carry on into future endeavors.

Chambers added that the impact of this new facility on the region and campus is already being felt through numerous new lines of research opening up for researchers who were once geographically isolated from some of the higher-end technology such as structured-illumination, super-resolution microscopy. This technique allows the study of bacteria and cells at a level of detail not possible just a few years ago.

The Center of Excellence Designation from Nikon allows UMass Amherst to continue receiving discounts on purchases from Nikon, as well as supply scientists and students with expert training and technical support. Additionally, UMass will be able to beta-test new equipment from Nikon before it becomes available on the market.

Researchers from both academic and industry, including those in the Boston region, can get access to the facility by emailing Chambers at [email protected]. Training in basic and advanced light microscopy, as well as quantitative image analysis, is quick and efficient, and users can generally start collecting their own data within two hours. Staff are always present to help users by answering questions, providing suggestions, or discussing new ideas. Additionally, facility staff can assist or work on their own, acquiring data for clients.

Daily News

GREENFIELD — Brian Kapitulik has accepted the position of dean of Business, Information Technology, Professional Studies, and Social Sciences at Greenfield Community College (GCC).

“After a thorough search, we were excited to offer the position of dean to Brian,” said Catherine Seaver, chief Academic Affairs officer. “Brian brings extensive experience as a faculty member, then department chair, to the role of dean. He hit the ground running and quickly established himself as the leader of the Business, Information Technology, Professional Studies, and Social Sciences division.”

Kapitulik has 18 years of professional experience in the Massachusetts public higher-education system and, in particular, during the last decade, in community college. Before his current role, he was chair of the Department of Social Sciences and professor of Sociology at GCC. He has also taught at UMass Amherst and Quinsigamond Community College. During this time, he evaluated and developed curriculum, assessed and reviewed programs, created new courses, and hired and mentored new faculty, all while teaching students, publishing papers, organizing professional-development workshops in his field, and serving the college in a number of leadership capacities ranging from search committees to faculty mentor for online pedagogy.

40 Under 40 Class of 2018

CEO/Founder, Jeneyus; Age 29; Education: BS, Syracuse University

Rehan Hussain

Rehan Hussain

Hussain is the CEO and founder of Jeneyus, a software-development firm. When not hard at work, he devotes his free time to volunteering locally with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. He also enjoys challenging himself with new activities like acting, videography, working on new ventures, and coding new languages.

How do you define success? Success is subjective. To some it could be a monetary goal, while to others success could be as simple as having a family. For me, success is getting out of my comfort zone and trying new things, while genuinely not caring what people think if I fail. Persistence in the face of failure leads to learning, improving, and, ultimately, success.

What three words best describe you? Tall, dark, and a little bit handsome. Actually, I strive for ambitious, generous, and motivated.

What actor would play you in a movie about your life? Denzel Washington.

Who has been your best mentor, and why? Without a doubt, my father. Talk about success — he came to America from a third-world country, with little to no money. He failed, was cheated in business, but never gave up. He worked non-stop to provide for his family, putting three kids through college, and buying a home in Longmeadow. To this day, my dad works 12-hour days, six days a week. I can only aspire to that level of work ethic and success.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? I try to meditate for 10 minutes, work out, and practice yoga. Mindfulness is very important to me. I see myself as a work in progress.

What are you passionate about? Sports, videography, acting, technology, and movies.

Whom do you look up to? Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates.

40 Under 40 Class of 2018

President, Haselkorn Inc.; Age 37; Education: Springfield Technical Community College

Scott Haselkorn

Scott Haselkorn

By the fourth grade, Haselkorn knew his future was in technology, and at 12, he got a sales-tax ID and started selling and repairing computers. A six-year carrier at JavaNet/RCN taught him the skills to start his own company after being laid off. Haselkorn Inc. was founded as YourDentalTech.com, and it has grown and evolved steadily since. Outside of technology, hockey and skiing were his passions as a child, and he’s still addicted to skiing, sharing that passion with his wife and kids — Bryan, 18, Annaliese, 10, and twins Evan and Keely 4 — as often as possible.

What did you want to be when you grew up? The owner of a computer store.

What actor would play you in a movie about your life? Will Ferrell.

What are you passionate about? Helping my clients’ businesses thrive though technology solutions that simplify growth.

What goals have you set for yourself? I want to grow Haselkorn Inc. so it can be self-sufficient to support my family, staff, and clients even without me.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? Bill Gates. When I was growing up, and especially once I was a young adult, I was amazed at what he was able to accomplish without a college degree. I know that was something I didn’t want, and saw that, though hard work, one could succeed and thrive without it.


Photography by Leah Martin Photography

40 Under 40 Class of 2018

Co-founder and CEO, Treaty Biotech; Age 24; Education: BDIC, UMass Amherst

Marc Gammell

Marc Gammell

Gammell believes the most brilliant systems and designs are locked in the DNA of life on Earth. At UMass, he studied sustainable enterprise and biotechnology, and had the opportunity to work in cutting-edge labs in the biotech sector, on projects from artificial intelligence to genetic engineering. His work in these labs gave him some wild ideas, and one of his particularly crazy ideas led him to Yinyong Li at the 2015 UMass Innovation Challenge. Li invented a plant-based anti-fog solution called FogKicker, and together Gammell and Li founded Treaty Biotech to develop a complete line of FogKicker products, and to continue making new products and technology with advanced biomaterials. Gammell’s dream is to become a leader in the field of biologically inspired design, and to create amazing new products and technology that change the world.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A paleontologist.

What three words best describe you? “How would I describe myself? Three words. Hard-working. Alpha male. Jackhammer. Merciless. Insatiable.” —Dwight Schrute

Who has been your best mentor, and why? God. He’s got a plan for me.

What goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day? Make my bed.

What actor would play you in a movie about your life? Leonardo DiCaprio — the version of him from The Revenant.

What are you passionate about? I love making things that inspire people.

What fictional character do you relate to most, and why? Tony Stark. He’s a philanthropist, playboy, billionaire. So, obviously, I relate to him a lot.

What goals have you set for yourself? Just to be better every day. Like Tom Brady said, the best ring is the next ring.

Whom do you look up to, and why? Jeff Corwin. I loved watching him on TV when I was a kid; he was a huge inspiration to me. He’s showed millions of people how brilliant wildlife is, and why it’s our job to protect it. I still have a big man crush on him.

What will work colleagues say at your funeral? The man took a stand against fog, and won.

What person, past or present, would you like to have lunch with, and why? I’ll have pizza with pretty much anybody, but especially Leonardo da Vinci, if I could understand Italian. Or Elon Musk. Or Rihanna.

Construction Sections

Framing the Issue

Local union carpenters gather for a forum on women in construction at Mount Holyoke College.

Construction has long been a male-dominated industry, but the playing field doesn’t have to be so uneven, several carpenters with Local 336 told BusinessWest. They all took different paths to the field, but all say women with an interest in working with their hands shouldn’t shy away from a career society has too often said they’re not suited for. Progress in diversifying the workforce has been incremental, but several regional developments offer reason for optimism.

Lily Thompson laughs when she hears that women can’t handle themselves on a construction site.

“That’s a societal thing as much as anything,” said Thompson, a journey-level carpenter with Local 336 of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. “If a mother can pick a sleeping child out of bed 2,500 times, there’s no reason she can’t pick up metal studs and shlep stuff around; 90% of this business is moving and fastening.”

Yet, the stereotypical messages persist. “You wouldn’t believe how many times kids are told, ‘that’s a boy thing,’ or ‘that’s a girlie thing,’” she went on, recalling the day her young daughter was helping her install a barn door, and a passerby took note of them and commented, ‘a lady with a saw — how unusual.’

“It doesn’t get any more basic than that,” she said of how gender roles get reinforced in traditionally male professions. “But society has changed a lot lately, and Western Mass. is prime territory for people doing non-traditional things.”

Julie Boucher, another journey-level carpenter, didn’t get those messages at an early age, or, if she did, she ignored them.

“I wanted to be a carpenter since I was a little girl, probably since I was 4 or 5, playing with Lincoln Logs and Legos,” she told BusinessWest. Her route to that career was a circuitous one.

“I went to vocational school and learned the trade, but when I got out, it was difficult to find a job,” she said. “Being a woman, a lot of companies took one look and said I wasn’t needed or wanted, so I got a little discouraged.”

After serving in the Navy for a time before getting a medical discharge and then studying business administration at Holyoke Community College, she again became interested in carpentry, and after a professor handed her a pamphlet for the carpenter’s union, she applied.

“The job can be difficult mentally and physically, and sometimes I think the mental struggle is harder than the physical struggle,” she said. “But if building and working with your hands is something you love to do, you should follow your dreams.”

Katurah Holiness

Katurah Holiness, here pictured at the MGM Springfield site, says she appreciates the different avenues of training available in her union.

Lisa Clauson, director of Strategic Partnerships for the union’s Carpenter’s Labor Management Program, loves testimonials like that one.

“We’ve been working aggressively over the past two years to expand our union’s diversity and ensure we reflect the communities we work in and our members live in,” she said, noting that this effort includes bringing in more men of color, but in particular has focused on recruiting women of all backgrounds.

Tradeswomen, Clauson noted, represent fewer than 3% of the construction industry nationally, and closer to 2% in Springfield. “We, and many other building trades, all have very successful tradeswomen, so it is not an issue of women not being physically capable, but it is an issue of women being recruited and encouraged to do this work — and an issue of contractors being willing to employ them. The construction trades are one of the last industries to diversify opportunities for women.”

Indeed, while female representation in the construction trades rose steadily between the 1980s and 2007, the number then leveled off and has decreased ever since. One factor was certainly the Great Recession, which hit construction hard and chased many professionals out of the field — women at a higher rate.

They should come back, Thompson said, with opportunities on the rise.

“I’ve been doing this almost 16 years,” she said. “The pay and benefits are great, and I work with a great group of people. It’s something I like to do, versus sitting at a desk. I tried making sandwiches and was a receptionist in a hair salon, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be.”

Test of Time

Thompson graduated from Franklin County Technical School in 2001, and decided to focus on carpentry after trying out some trades — auto-body and electrical work, to name two — that she found less appealing.

“I like building things, and seeing things that are long-lasting. You get to look at it and have pride in your work for years to come,” she said, noting that her skills translate well to her personal life, too; she and her husband, a mechanic, bought a run-down property 12 years ago and worked to turn it into a home.

A home is something Katurah Holiness didn’t have when she entered the world of carpentry. An Air Force veteran, she was driving for Uber and sleeping on a series of friends’ couches, and when she got tired of hopping around, she went to stay at Soldier On in Leeds, where she lived for much of 2016 and 2017.

She had never had much interest in carpentry, but one day she gave a union carpenter a ride, and chatting with him piqued her interest. She applied with the union and quickly became an apprentice and got hired on the MGM Springfield job.

“With the carpenter’s union, there are so many avenues you can go as far as interest,” she said. “You can take a welding course, learn about framing and sheetrock … the avenues don’t end. There are a number of things you can get into, specialties and certifications you can train for.”

Her car broke down shortly before she started as a carpenter, and Holiness initially was able to get to work through getting rides with other members and sometimes from other women who lived at Soldier On. Steady work at the union apprentice rate enabled her to save, pay off some of her debts, and eventually move to an apartment.

Besides those pluses, she enjoys the work, and feels at home working alongside almost all men.

“I came from a male-dominated background in the military, so it’s not new to me in the least,” she said. “I can vouch for the men I’ve worked with; they’re for the most part good guys, and they’re willing to train you and educate you if you’re willing to learn.”

That’s not to say some stereotypes of the field aren’t occasionally true, Thompson said, including ribald or condescending teasing.

“I just put in my imaginary earplugs. Its ‘hey, you’ve got your sexy jeans on today,’ or ‘where did you get your boots from, the kids’ section?’ You take it with a grain of salt — smile, wave, give some s–t back when it comes down to it. As for the physical part, well, if you’re active in life and don’t want to go to the gym every day, come give this a whirl.”

The union has been trying to motivate more of that whirl-giving among women in several ways, Clauson said. One is recruiting aggressively from members’ networks, community organizations, career centers and job-training programs, vocational schools, and other sources.

“We’re spreading the word about the opportunities for this work and letting women know that, when this work is done union, they can earn living wages, be fully trained in the craft for free, and get great benefits. Our recruitment work has involved intensive outreach in the vocational schools throughout Western Mass. as well.”

Meanwhile, to retain women in the trade, the union has created a ‘Sisters in the Brotherhood’ chapter for its women to come together regularly to network and support each other.

“We have mentorship programs and are working to educate our members on the value of diversity and the need for harassment-free worksites. We are also working with our contractors on these issues,” she explained.

Finally, the union has been persuading developers to require diversity in their contractors.

“This last step is key to ensuring women get hired and get work,” she said. “Contractors are slow to change their hiring practices, but if owners of construction work require them to bring in a diverse workforce, they will do so. This often gives women — and people of color — a foot in the door to demonstrate their work ethic and skills, and many are then kept for other jobs that don’t have requirements.”

Success stories in this realm have included MGM, with women accounting for at least 6.9% of all work hours, people of color 15.3%, and veterans 8% — minimums that are consistently being exceeded. “MGM is a remarkably different worksite than most,” Clauson said. “Our women constantly talk about how different it is to be seeing other tradeswomen all around them.”

Lily Thompson

Lily Thompson takes a break from work renovating Blanchard Hall at Mount Holyoke College.

Meanwhile, the UMass Amherst Building Authority has also set work-hour goals of 6.9% for women and 15.3% for people of color. Three years ago, she added, these goals existed but were ignored, but a compliance officer started enforcing them in 2015, and now the all jobs are exceeding these numbers.

Mount Holyoke College recently completed its first project (a renovation of Blanchard Hall) with work-hour requirements of 7% for women and 16% for people of color. And Smith College recently announced it will require the same percentages on its $100 million Neilson Library project.

Finally, the city of Springfield is reworking the Springfield Responsible Employer Ordinance, which requires city construction contractors to employ 35% Springfield residents, 20% people of color, 6.9% women, and 5% veterans.

“It has largely been unenforced, and they are now creating a new enforcement plan and have recently hired a compliance officer to oversee it,” Clauson said.

Small Steps

Boucher said every additional woman on a job site makes the environment healthier for all women. That’s partly why she coordinates the training center of the union’s apprenticeship mentoring program and helped launched its Sisters in the Brotherhood chapter.

“I naturally wanted to help other people; that’s in my blood,” she said. “I started a mentorship program at my local because I know how important it is to have that support. I wanted to be there for the apprentices coming in and help guide them in any way I can. Not all apprentices want mentoring, but the ones that do, I try to provide a support system for them. We have a great team of mentors to help out.”

The progress achieved in diversifying the construction workforce regionally is exciting, Clauson said, but much more needs to be done.

“Women historically have done many physically demanding and dirty jobs, but traditionally they are doing work of this type in low-wage and low-skilled industries,” she said, citing jobs in cleaning, food service, and personal care. “Construction careers, in contrast, are higher-paid, skilled, and, when unionized, have good wages, free training, and strong benefits. Women need to be able to access these opportunities.”

And be treated equally on the job site, Boucher said.

“There are companies that allow me to do my job, and then companies that don’t allow me to do my job, in the sense that I’ll get put on menial tasks, easy tasks, because my foreman or journeyman I’m working with don’t think I’m capable of doing it. I wish I was challenged a little more. Let me do the framing; let me handle drywall. But that’s not always the case.”

It helps that the union supports workforce training, she added. For example, Boucher earned a construction management degree at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, and the local paid for one-third of the tuition; most of the classes were held at Springfield Technical Community College through an exchange between the two institutions.

Thompson said women are ultimately responsible for taking such opportunities to better their careers. “Women today want to be 50-50, want to feel like they’re equal partners,” she noted. “Whether just out of college or age 50, as long as you’re physically able, there are lots of positions in construction. I didn’t see myself doing this full-time, but it works. I’m much happier than I’d be in an office.”

Holiness agreed. “A lot of people think it’s only for males because they’re stronger, but that’s not true,” she said. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s nothing you can’t do.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

AMHERST — Mark Fuller, current dean and Thomas O’Brien Endowed Chair at Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, has been appointed the new vice chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations by UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

Fuller will succeed Michael Leto, who announced his upcoming retirement last fall. As the university’s chief advancement officer, Fuller will serve on the chancellor’s leadership team and be responsible for short- and long-term plans to improve private support as well as cultivate strong relationships with UMass alumni and supporters. UMass Amherst, the Commonwealth’s flagship campus, has more than 200,000 living alumni.

“Mark is a transformative leader who has fostered a culture of excellence at the Isenberg School of Management, building relationships and growing engagement with alumni of all ages and from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds,” said Subbaswamy. “Educating the next generation of leaders and innovators in Massachusetts will require new levels of private support, as well as public investment, and Mark has the skills, passion, and vision to play a lead role in our success. I am excited to welcome Mark to this critically important position.”

Fuller has led UMass’s Isenberg School of Management since 2009. Under Fuller’s leadership, Isenberg has generated a four-fold increase in annual gift performance since 2010; received a $10 million endowment to create the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship; increased student giving ten-fold; secured private support for the new, $62 million Business Innovation Wing; and created 12 new endowed faculty positions.

“I’m honored and excited to find a new way that I can serve the entire campus,” said Fuller. “Thanks to the incredible vision and leadership of Chancellor Subbaswamy, and Vice Chancellor Mike Leto’s excellent work in guiding us through our last highly successful capital campaign, the campus is poised for great things. Garnering alumni support for the university, in all of its forms, is absolutely critical to our future as a top-20 public university, and I’m passionate about helping make that happen.”

Prior to coming to UMass Amherst, Fuller was a professor and chair of the Department of Information Systems and holder of the Philip L. Kays Distinguished Professorship in Management Information Systems at Washington State University. He received his master’s degree in management and his Ph.D. in management information systems from the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. His research focuses on virtual teamwork, technology-supported learning, and trust and efficacy in technology-mediated environments. Prior to Washington State, Fuller was an associate professor at the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University.

Daily News

BOSTON — Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. reported first-quarter 2018 net income of $25 million, a 63% increase over the 2017 first-quarter results of $15 million. This reflected the ongoing benefit of the company’s growth and expansion, together with the benefit of a lower federal tax rate resulting from federal tax reform.

“We had a solid start to the year, delivering ongoing growth while integrating our new commerce operations,” CEO Michael Daly said. “With the benefit of greater efficiency, GAAP return on assets improved to 0.88%, and core return on assets improved to 1.04%. We expect continued momentum in the second quarter, where GAAP return on assets will improve to over 1.00% and core return on assets will improve to over 1.10%. We formally opened our new Boston corporate headquarters, which also serves as a regional hub for Greater Boston relationship teams. We added additional bankers both in Boston and in the Princeton, N.J. area. We also opened a new branch in Simsbury, Conn., which uses a combination of virtual teller technology and MyBanker relationship professionals to provide enhanced customer support and product availability.”

The board of directors declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.22 per common share to shareholders of record at the close of business on May 10, payable on May 24. The dividend equates to a 2.3% annualized yield based on the $37.88 average closing price of Berkshire Hills Bancorp common stock during the first quarter. The board also declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.44 per share for the preferred stock issued in conjunction with the Commerce acquisition, with the same record and payment dates as above. The quarterly common and preferred dividends were increased in the prior quarter by 5%.

For a full report, click here.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, a local non-profit organization that provides financial literacy, entrepreneurship and career readiness education, announced today it was awarded a $7,500 grant from Wells Fargo. Funding from Wells Fargo will support Pathways to 21st Century Skills Project to provide students with the tools to develop the 21st century skills needed to become highly skilled, autonomous employees.

Pathways to 21st Century Skills leverages the skills, talent, educational, and career opportunities of this region to create a cadre of role models from the community to weave multiple intersecting pathways for middle grade and high school students to engage with JA’s relevant curriculum and instructional materials, supplemental technology-driven simulations, job-shadow experiences, and competitions.

The project’s goals are to improve students’ knowledge of financial literacy in order for them to make sound financial judgments in the future; increase students’ entrepreneurial skills; increase students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while increasing awareness of career and post-secondary education and career opportunities in Western Mass.

“JA of Western MA is very excited to have the opportunity to partner with Wells Fargo to bring our programs to middle grade students,” said Jennifer Connolly, president of JA of Western Massachusetts. “Wells Fargo, like Junior Achievement, is dedicated to strengthening economic opportunities in underserved communities by empowering individuals with knowledge, and tools needed to ensure financial self-sufficiency to inspire own their economic success,”

Said Ben Leonard, vice president, Wells Fargo Middle Market Banking in Springfield, “Wells Fargo has a rich history of community support in Massachusetts and we have personal connections to the people in our communities — many of whom we proudly call our customers. JA of Western Massachusetts provides critical financial literacy skills, entrepreneurship experiences and economic education to youth, helping them understand all the ways they can have successful futures.”

Health Care Sections

Sound Reasoning

Susan Bankoski Chunyk

Susan Bankoski Chunyk, here displaying a hearing aid, says new research provides some compelling reasons why individuals should not wait to do something about suspected hearing loss.

Susan Bankoski Chunyk has been quoting the same statistic for years now — because the numbers, to her consistent dismay, haven’t changed appreciably.

The average delay from when someone notices a hearing loss to when that same individual decides to actually do something about it is five to seven years, Bankoski Chunyk, a doctor of audiology practicing in East Longmeadow, told BusinessWest.

The basic reason why hasn’t changed, either. There is a serious stigma attached to hearing aids, she explained, adding that these ever-improving devices have always been associated with age and weakness.

“I’ve had people in their 80s and 90s tell me, ‘I don’t want to look old; those are for old people,’” she said when asked if this stigma was alive and well in the 21st century, noting that such sentiments should certainly answer that question.

What has changed in recent years, however, she went on, are some of the arguments for not waiting five to seven years and instead doing something as soon as hearing loss is noted.

Before, the basic arguments involved quality of life as it related to hearing, both for those suffering the hearing loss and the loved ones and friends coping with it. By way of explanation, Bankoski Chunyk, the region’s first doctor of audiology (more on that later), said she would often quote the line on a bumper sticker used by one of the hearing-aid manufacturers in some of its promotional material, especially as those devices became smaller and less obtrusive: “your hearing aid is less obvious than your hearing loss.”

But in recent years, research has provided Bankoski Chunyk and others like her with more powerful arguments, ones that she believes are already changing some attitudes when it comes to hearing health.

Indeed, numerous studies have linked hearing loss to dementia, depression (especially in women), isolation, loneliness, anxiety, insecurity, paranoia, poor self-esteem, and increased safety risk.

“There’s been a connection established between untreated hearing loss and earlier onset of dementia,” she explained. “The research is going on in multiple sites around the world, and I’m not saying there’s a cause and effect between hearing loss and dementia, but people who have hearing loss and don’t do anything about it are at increased risk of dementia.”

Bankoski Chunyk uses the information from such studies for what has always been a very important part of her practice and is now even more so — education, about everything from the health risks from hearing loss to what causes that condition, meaning everything from diabetes to smoking to noise exposure.

There are many misperceptions about hearing health and hearing loss, as well as that troubling stigma about hearing aids, she said. Overall, there is a general lack of urgency when it comes to hearing and its importance to one’s overall health and well-being, she told BusinessWest, adding that this is true not only for individuals with possible hearing loss, but also their primary-care physicians and the insurance companies that don’t cover hearing aids.

In many cases, hearing loss is often seen as part of the normal aging process, a nuisance rather than a health condition — something to be ignored rather than dealt with directly.

She draws a direct comparison to eye care. “Just because hearing declines with age for some people doesn’t mean it should be ignored,” she explained. “Vision changes are not ignored, even though they are common with age.”

Susan Bankoski Chunyk says that, unfortunately, many misperceptions about hearing health and hearing loss remain

Susan Bankoski Chunyk says that, unfortunately, many misperceptions about hearing health and hearing loss remain, as well as a troubling stigma about hearing aids.

Presenting such arguments and, more importantly, treating those who choose to do something about their hearing loss — hopefully not after five to seven years of waiting for it to get worse — has become a rewarding career choice for Bankoski Chunyk on a number of levels.

More than 30 years after first entering the field, she said she gains great satisfaction from changing someone’s life by enabling them to hear more clearly.

“When a person does come in, they usually kick themselves for waiting so long,” she said. “I love to make people’s lives easier, but I can only do it if they’ll let me.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Bankoski Chunyk about her practice and her career, but mostly about some of that recent research she quoted, information she hopes will help change the dynamic when it comes to how people think about their hearing and how it relates to their overall health.

In other words, and as they say in this business, people should take a good listen.

A Positive Tone

Bankoski Chunyk said she first became intrigued by the broad field of audiology when she developed an interest in sign language when she was in high school.

“I got one of those cards with the manual alphabet on it and taught myself how to do all the letters of the sign-language alphabet while on a field trip one day in school, and I was hooked into the whole alternative way of communicating,” she explained, adding that audiology became a career focus in a roundabout way.

Indeed, she enrolled at the University of Connecticut (she’s a native of the Nutmeg State), intending to major in communication disorders with the goal of becoming a speech- language pathologist.

“I’d never heard of audiology before,” she recalled. “But once I started taking the coursework in audiology, I decided that’s where my heart belonged. And I got to combine the sign language for communication with profoundly deaf people with audiology, which covers the whole range of hearing loss.”

Back then, one needed a master’s degree to practice, but, like many professions within healthcare, audiology now requires practitioners to have a doctorate, said Bankoski Chunyk, adding that she earned hers online in 2004 (those who entered the field before the change were not grandfathered in) and thus became the first doctor of audiology in the region.

Her original plan was to get some experience in private practice and then go back to her native Middletown, Conn. and start her own practice there. However, while getting that experience with one of the first audiologists to start her own practice in this region, Kay Gillispie, she became attached to the region and a growing patient base.

The two operated a two-office practice for many years, with Gillispie working in the West Springfield location, and Bankoski Chunyk staffing the East Longmeadow facility. After Gillispie retired, the West Springfield office closed, and Bankoski Chunyk continued practicing in East Longmeadow, where she works with an associate, Jennifer Lundgren Garcia, also a doctor of audiology.

The two perform diagnostic evaluations on adults, fit patients with hearing aids when needed (and do the important follow-up work), and refer patients to specialists when other medical issues present themselves.

Over the years, Bankoski Chunyk said she has seen a great deal of change come to the science — and the business — of audiology.

With the former, she said she’s witnessed profound improvements in hearing-aid technology and ways to fit patients with them and then test and adjust to maximize outcomes.

And with that, she gestured to the something she called real-ear measurement equipment.

“This allows us to measure the sound in an individual’s ear canal without hearing aids in and then with hearing aids in,” she explained, “so that we can make sure that, for soft, medium, and loud sounds coming in, the device is doing the appropriate amount — not overemphasizing, but providing as much benefit as possible.

“By using this, we have a more objective measure than what we used to have,” she went on, adding this advancement, which came to the industry in the mid-’90s, is one of many that enable audiologists to bring real improvement in hearing, and thus quality of life, to patients.

As for the business side of the equation, Bankoski Chunyk said she’s seen it evolve and hearing aids become a commodity of sorts, now available at Costco and Walmart and on Amazon, and perhaps soon to be available over the counter in the same way that prescription eyeglasses are.

And this is where she draws an important distinction between the hearing-instrument specialists working in the Costco Hearing Aid Center and those who have ‘doctor of audiology’ written on their business card.

“A hearing aid is not a retail product; it’s a healthcare product — the FDA classifies them that way,” she explained. “And with hearing aids, there is a lot of review and adjustment and more review to make sure that the results they get are optimized.”

Volume Business

What’s of more importance to Bankoski Chunyk, however, is what hasn’t changed in this field of healthcare, especially that aforementioned lack of urgency and that alarming statistic concerning how long people wait before they call to do something about suspected, or even verified, hearing loss.

“Even physicians will think of hearing loss as ‘oh, you’re getting older, you’re going to have hearing loss,’” she told BusinessWest. “They’ll say, ‘you’ve got normal hearing for your age.’ We cringe when we hear that because there’s no such thing as ‘normal hearing for your age’; you either have normal hearing, or you have a hearing loss, no matter how old you are, and it should be treated.”

She has many concerns in this regard, including the commoditization of hearing aids and the fact that someone will soon be able to buy such equipment over the counter — with potentially serious consequences.

“People might go [buy over the counter] thinking that’s equivalent to what we have, which it won’t be; it won’t be nearly as sophisticated as what we have to offer,” she explained. “And then they’ll have a bad experience, throw it in the drawer, and say, ‘hearing aids don’t work,’ and then reset the clock and wait another five to seven years.”

Of more concern, however, is the recent research showing that those who wait those five to seven years, or longer, are not just missing lines from their favorite TV shows or asking family and friends to repeat themselves because they can’t hear them; they’re inviting other, potential serious health problems.

Indeed, Bankoski Chunyk cited one study showing that people with untreated mild hearing loss had twice the risk of dementia, while those with moderate loss had three times the risk, and those with severe loss had five times the risk of dementia.

“But the people in that study who used hearing aids had no greater risk than people who didn’t have hearing loss,” she went on. “We’re not saying that hearing loss causes dementia; we’re saying that use of hearing aids might help to postpone it, hopefully.”

Bankoski Chunyk said there are many conditions now linked to dementia, and the many reports can lead to confusion and frustration. But when it comes to hearing loss, the link to dementia makes sense.

“It’s been proven that lack of socialization is a big factor in cognitive decline,” she explained. “So we know that what happens with people who have hearing loss — because they’re not wearing hearing aids or they’re not fitted properly — is that they start to retract into themselves and they stop being social, they stop going to parties, they stop going to religious services, they don’t go to the movies, they don’t go out anymore. And that turns into depression, loneliness, anxiety, even to the point of paranoia.

“Gratefully, all this is making some people take things a little more seriously now because everyone is worried about winding up with dementia,” she continued, adding that the hope is that ‘some’ will become ‘most.’

Hearing Is Believing

Returning to the subject of that stigma surrounding hearing aids, Bankoski Chunyk said there used to be a stigma concerning eyeglasses.

“Years ago, glasses were a big deal; they used to call people ‘four-eyes,’” she recalled. “Now, people wear glasses as a fashion statement, and they have multiple pairs in different colors. It’s now cool to wear glasses.”

Hearing aids … not so much. And that picture is not likely to change anytime soon, although the technology continues to get smaller and even less noticeable than one’s hearing loss.

While she isn’t holding out hope that hearing aids can become a fashion statement, Bankoski Chunyk does have hope that more people will hear that message about hearing care equating to healthcare.

And not only hear it, but listen, and then act accordingly.

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

Environment and Engineering Sections

Fueling Interest

Jim Cayon

Jim Cayon

Jim Cayon says he’s looking for an opportunity. A chance. A break. An open door.

He probably used all those words and phrases as he talked with BusinessWest about relatively new and occasionally misperceived products and his ongoing quest to prove that they work, can save users money and substantially reduce pollution. To do that, he needs an opportunity to demonstrate all his technology could do for them.

The company is called Environmental Engines, and it offers motor oils with a 30,000-mile lifespan, Cayon claims, as well as advanced protection technology (APT), a synthetic metal treatment that’s been proven to substantially decrease friction. The result is a reduction in damaging harmonics and wear on the engine as well as transmissions, which improves performance and fuel efficiency while significantly lowering carbon emissions.

It can do this, he said, for cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, boats, you name it.

Cayon, who handles the Northeast sales region for the Nevada-based company and was an exhibitor at last fall’s Western Mass. Business and Innovation Expo, told BusinessWest that he’s been approaching various businesses and municipalities to consider his oils and treatments as a solution in further reducing maintenance costs and emissions. (The lubricants alone reduce related expenses and dirty-oil waste by two-thirds or more, he claims).

And for the most part, he’s still looking for an entity to take that chance.

And he understands, generally, why that is.

Many businesses with fleets, not to mention and municipalities are loyal to the products they’re already using — and are contractually obligated in some cases — and these factors make it difficult to avail themselves of such opportunities, said Cayon, based in Easthampton.

“It’s human nature to resist change, yet on the other hand, there is some preconception about what the Environmental Engines products are or aren’t,” he explained.

“They’ve already made up their minds,” he went on, adding that the motor oil industry isn’t easy to break into because of brand loyalty and long-standing relationships. “In many cases, they think they know what is — they think it’s that thing they’ve heard or read about that doesn’t work — and so they don’t even want to consider trying it.”

Cayon doesn’t give up easily, and he’s working hard to make it as simple as possible for those he’s talking with to put the company’s products to work. And he brings with him what he considers some very compelling arguments, not just about the APT ceramic protection and motor oils, but also about how they would fit in nicely with many companies’ ongoing efforts — and missions — to become more ‘green’ and Earth-friendly, but also more bottom-line conscious.

At present, Cayon has been focusing much of his time and energy on getting the ear of area municipalities, many of which are actively engaged in efforts to become ‘green’ and energy efficient, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. There are frequently considerable cost benefits to doing so as well.

Cayon noted that the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has, among its many goals, a desire to reduce carbon emissions in this by 80% by 2050. And then he threw out another number that should get someone’s attention.

“If everyone in this half of the state were to use our on-time engine treatment, in terms of cars, light trucks, and motorcycles, we’re talking about the elimination of up to 1.5 billion pounds of regional vehicle emissions every year,” he told BusinessWest. “The impact is profound if I get to that level, but …”

He didn’t finish, but made it clear that he would like to start with at least one city, town, or large business fleet and expand from there.

He has extended invitations to every community in Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire counties, with Hampden and most of Worcester County to follow.

What he’s sending them is a fairly comprehensive explanation of how APT ceramic protection works, and how it could change the equation for the municipality in question.

Here is how it works. APT is a nanotechnology that permanently embeds into the metal parts within an engine to form what Cayon called a “microceramic seal” on all metal parts within an engine. Indeed, these treatments can be applied not only to engines and transmissions, but hydraulic systems, fuel pumps and injectors, drive trains, air conditioning systems, power steering systems, and more.

Elaborating, Cayon said APT molecules are able to penetrate sludge and residual buildup on surfaces without the use of solvents. It forms a ceramic shield that protects the engine from heat, allowing for exceptionally high temperatures without any damage and metal wear. Once bonded, the surface is smooth with fewer pores for particulates to latch onto, said Cayon, therefore repelling potential carbon buildup back into the lubricant stream, where it is cleaned by vehicles’ inline or bypass filtration system.

“The two major benefits are emissions reduction and better engine responsiveness — which is going to be correlated somewhat with fuel efficiency,” he explained. “And the responsiveness factor is important; if you have vehicles you’re relying on like ambulances, fire trucks and police cruisers, for example … those are vehicles that need to be performing at a very high level.”

That’s the message Cayon is trying to convey to potential clients of all kinds in both the private and public sectors. There are many challenges to getting that message across, but he’s going to keep trying, because if they do listen, they will likely be compelled to respond to what they hear.

Like he said, he’s looking for a chance, an opportunity to become the solution for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint as well as motor oil costs. But the real opportunity could come to those who open their doors to it.

 

DBA Certificates Departments

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

AMHERST

Amherst Auto Express
118 South East St.
Amher Mikhchi

Amherst Martial Arts
48 North Pleasant St.
Annie Schwarz

The Athena Initiative
226 Pine St.
Julia Khan

Custom Events
330 Pine St.
Koren Berrio

Ichiban Asian Bistro
104-106 North Pleasant St.
Zhao Liu Wang

Jake’s at the Mill
68 Cowls Road
Jake’s Eggs Inc.

Merchants Bancard Services, LLC
20 Arbor Way
Ronald Cooper

Ray Radigan Illustration
495 West St., Unit 2A
Ray Radigan

BELCHERTOWN

A.W.S. Designs
8 Diane Dr., #3
Andrew Serra

Chet and Son Painting
99B Hamilton St.
Robb Kapinos

Guest House Educational Services
7 Ledgewood Circle
Saki Santorelli

Heavenshopeunveiled.com
281 Chauncey Walker St., #540L
Kerry Lebrun

CHICOPEE

FitChics Unleashed
711 James St.
Jessalyn Franceschina

Hashbury Headshop East Street
151 East St.
Frank Cincotta

J.L. Bruso Electrical Services
135 Davenport St.
Jerome Bruso

Purpose Built Motorcycles, LLC
63 Britton St.
John Freeman Jr.

Ripple Innovation
39 Bell St.
Robert Fitzgerald III

Surf-n-Degs
345 Chicopee St.
Keith Czeswiec

Wink Lash Boutique
51 Cabot St.
Xiomara Marrero, Luis Marrero

DEERFIELD

Bittersweet Bakery & Café, LLC
470 Greenfield Road
Laura Newton

EASTHAMPTON

Al Sanchez Construction
286 Main St.
Albert Sanchez

Dinner by Kids
11 Fairfield Ave.
Shelly Greenstein

Ora Care
116 Pleasant St.
Violet Hall, Mark Hall

Shift Healing Arts
152 Northampton St.
Samantha Tanguay

EAST LONGMEADOW

Hit Harder Fitness, LLC
632 North Main St.
Kimberly Ewing

Kloee, LLC
270 Benton Dr.
David Thor

Making Waves
143 Shaker St.
Maureen Dempsey

Maureen’s Sweet Shoppe
6 Center Square
Maureen Dempsey

HADLEY

Bottom-Line Body Work
8 River Dr.
Saskia Cote

Hadley Design Works
15 Sunrise Dr.
Patrick Hayes

Hill Resource and Design
15 Cold Spring Lane
Christopher Hill

T. Kicza Plumbing & Heating
7 Mount Warner Road
Timothy Kicza

HOLYOKE

Bourque Landscape Construction
1280 Dwight St.
Christopher Bourque

City Shoes Plus
347 High St.
Roberto Rivera

Coamo Fashion
343 High St.
Alberto Berrios

Friends of the Holyoke Council on Aging
291 Pine St.
Mary Contois

Julio Auto Repair
775 High St.
Julio Quinones, Luis Ruiz

The Parlorfaded Co., LLC
230 Sargeant St.
Jose Dones, Antonia Santiago

Rachel Chaput Photography
496 Whitney Ave.
Rachel Chaput-Merriam

R.M. Painting
97 Martin St.
Laura Matta

Shake Shake Cup
50 Holyoke St.
Jennifermae Chui, Hoi Kwan Chui-Zhao

Sol Caribe Restaurant
351 High St.
Jacqueline Sanchez

Union Property Management Co.
64 West Glen St.
Cliff Laraway

LUDLOW

CTS Citywide Towing
125 Carmelinas Circle
Charles Thans III

Deb’s
300 West Ave.
Deborah Peterson

Iron Duke Brewing, LLC
100 State St., Suite 122
Michael Marcoux, Nicholas Morin

Moonlight Café
7-389 East St.
Ten-90 Inc.

O’Keefe’s Farm and Nursery
1084 Center St.
Ryan O’Keefe

Salon Accents
247 East St.
Leslie Morrow, Lisa Taylor

NORTHAMPTON

Angelo’s Barber Shop
2 Conz St.
AnnMarie LaBonte

Ann Xtra Hand
33 Roe Ave.
Patricia Rick

Belcher Woodworking
625 Spring St., Apt. 2
Adam Belcher

Bidwell Advisors
19 Forbes Ave.
Dennis Bidwell

Clea L. Paz-Rivera
261b Riverside Dr.
Clea L. Paz-Rivera

East Coast Closing
90 Conz St.
Gary Bowen

Leading the Way Doggie Daycare
18 Chestnut St.
Melissa Mehlman

Northampton Concrete
400 Westhampton Road
Stephen Calcagnino

Northampton Pottery
102 Main St.
Kristin O’Neill

Port
202 Main St.
Benjamin Glushien

S & S Infinite Mobile Inc.
90 King St., Unit 1
Zainab Mirzale

To the Moon and Back
50 Williams St.
Jordan Reed

PALMER

Marlene’s Beauty Salon
1461 North Main St.
Jean Ciukaj

Pioneer Valley Weddings
3205 Main St.
Abaigeal Duda

Wintergreen Inc.
3014 Pine St.
Anne Bernardin

SPRINGFIELD

Alex Drywall
100 Champlain Ave.
Barbara Lewko

Allgreen Pest Control
26 Lockwood Ave.
Daniel Morin

B.E. Corp.
358 Page Blvd.
Judit Duran

Batteries Plus Bulbs
1300B Boston Road
Batteries Plus, LLC

Beyond Glamorous
524 Main St.
Latisha Smith

City Jake’s Café
1573 Main St.
Ronald Crochetiere

D & E Painting
295 Main St.
Daniel Black

De Jeri
1655 Boston Road
Desiree Parker

Dragun League Inc.
194 Overlook Dr.
Michael Jones

Family Home Improvement
11 Brigham St.
Kevin Torres

Italiapino Property Management
12 Filmer St.
Hazzel Di’Dio

J.E. Construction
54 Montgomery St.
Jason Enos

Jenna Lynn Photography
45 Lyndale St.
Jenna Whalen

Lulu’s Transport
47 Brittery St.
Luz Morales

Merrill’s Superette
60-62 High St.
Shazia Nizam

Midas
1160 Boston Road
Paulina Anderson

McClain Trucking
244 Sumner Ave.
Tyrone McClain

New Day Spa
803 Belmont Ave.
Li Ma

Nine Iron Auto Transport
35 Bryant St.
James Smith

Santiago Towing
193 Taylor St.
Jose Santiago

Smoke n Vape Shop
117 State St.
Riswan Raufdeen

Starbucks Monarch Place
1 Monarch Place
Columbus Hotel Management

Tejada Diaz Market
693 State St.
Martin Tejada

True Clean Express
72 Melha Ave.
Edgardo Garcia

Unique Property Services
93 Hancock St.
Ivonnett Guzman

WESTFIELD

Broadbrook Landscap & Irrigation
546 Southampton Road
John Muller

Holly’s Hair
45 Meadow St.
Holly Curtiss

Instrument Technology Inc.
33 Airport Road
Transom Scopes Inc.

Players Edge
99 Springfield Road
Brian Alves

Roy’s Custom Carpentry
15 Victoria Circle
Roy Ripley

Whip City Tai Chi
102 Putnam Dr.
Leonard Burlingame Jr.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Baystate Hearing Aids
425 Union St.
Jeffrey Halls

Beauty Nail Care & Nail Supply
366 Memorial Ave.
Long Hai Ly

C.JO.ART
324 Lancaster Ave.
Carly Haaga

Fireside Designs
1769 Riverdale St.
P & P Marketing Inc.

First & Last Impressions
110 High Meadow Dr.
Irene Dejackome

Hydrodog
640 Elm St.
Joseph Maple Jr.

Marilyn’s Sweet Delights
46 Lotus St.
Marilyn’s Sweet Delights

Nailtique Spa
1817 Riverdale St.
Nghia Nguyen

On the Level Floor Covering & Home Improvements
142 Nelson St.
Mike Blanchard

Quality Aesthetics Dental
203 Circuit Ave.
Sardor Usmonov

Real Estate Careers Institute
776 Westfield St.
Patrick Nolan

Siciliano Salon
1362 Westfield St.
Michael Siciliano, Brenda Siciliano

T.W. Ross Property Services, LLC
368 Hillcrest Ave.
Terry Ross

WILBRAHAM

Cleanicity Housekeeping
4 Evengeline Dr.
Lisa Payson

Ruth’s Pie
31 Ruth Dr.
April Beston

Threaded Genes
463 Springfield St.
Amanda Stawas, Sandra Sweeney, Deborah Burke, Marissa Burke

Chamber Corners Departments

1BERKSHIRE
www.1berkshire.com
(413) 499-1600

• April 18: Good News Business Salute, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Berkshire Hills Country Club, 500 Benedict Road, Pittsfield. Join us for our morning breakfast, where we will honor members and announce the winner of this year’s Esther Quinn Award. Cost: $35-$45. Register online at www.1berkshire.com.

• April 26: Creative Resources Conference, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., hosted by Stationery Factory, 63 Flansburg Ave., Dalton. The format has three tracts, with a total of nine workshops for creatives, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. More information to come. Register online at www.1berkshire.com.

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.amherstarea.com
(413) 253-0700

• April 26: Margarita Madness, 5:30-7:30 p.m., hosted by Lord Jeffery Inn, 30 Boltwood Ave., Amherst. Come taste margaritas and vote for your favorite. There will also be delicious dishes from participating restaurants and dozens of great raffle prizes. Cost: $30 pre-registered, $40 at the door. Register online at www.amherstarea.com.

FRANKLIN COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.franklincc.org
(413) 773-5463

• April 20: Monthly Breakfast Series, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Greenfield High School, 21 Barr Ave., Greenfield. Full breakfast will be served during the program, which will feature an Entrepreneur of the Year panel. Sponsored by Franklin County Community Development Corp. and the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board. Cost: $13 for members; $16 for non-members. Register at franklincc.org or by e-mailing [email protected]

• April 26: Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center, 289 Main St., Greenfield. Networking event with special guest Sue Dahling Sullivan from Massachusetts ArtWeek. Come kick off the debut of ArtWeek in Western Mass. Refreshments and cash bar will be available. Cost: $10. Register at franklincc.org or by e-mailing [email protected]

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• April 19: Business After Hours: A Salute to the ’70s Disco Party, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Ohana School of Performing Arts. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 24: B2B Speed Networking, 8-9 a.m., hosted by Chicopee Boys and Girls Club. For more information, visit chicopeechamber.org/events.

• April 25: Salute Breakfast at the Moose Family Center: “Easy, Cost-neutral Sustainability for Businesses,” 7:15-9 a.m. Chief Greeter: Phil Norman, CISA. Keynote: Center for EcoTechnology. Sponsored by United Personnel, Westfield Bank, Holyoke Medical Center, Polish National Credit Union, Gaudreau Group, Sunshine Village, Spherion Staffing Services, and PeoplesBank. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members. Sign up online at chicopeechamber.org/events.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.holyokechamber.com
(413) 534-3376

• April 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., sponsored and hosted by Fairfield Inn & Suites, 229 Whiting Farms Road, Holyoke. Meet up with your friends and business associates for a little networking. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Feel free to bring a door prize. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com.

• April 20: Economic Development Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by Holyoke Community College, Kittredge Center, PeoplesBank Conference Room. Learn from EMPATH about how to break the cycle of poverty and utilize the bridge to self-sufficiency theory to approach economic mobility. EMPATH helps low-income people achieve long-term economic mobility, and has developed a holistic approach to mentoring. Event emcees are Mary Coleman, EMPATH; Dr. Christina Royal, Holyoke Community College; and Kathleen Anderson, Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members and walk-in guests.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.westfieldbiz.org
(413) 568-1618

• April 24: Home & Business Community Marketplace & Tabletop Event, 4:30-7 p.m., hosted by the Ranch Golf Club, 65 Sunnyside Road, Southwick. An opportunity to market and sell your products and services to area residents and businesses. Sip and shop your way through the marketplace with a beer and wine tasting, live music, and a chance to vote for your favorite nosh at the food court. Cost: $50 for vendor rental space (table not included; bring your own, six feet or less with tablecloth), $75 for vendor table (includes six-foot table; bring your own tablecloth). Attendance is free to the public. For more information, contact Southwick Economic Development at (413) 304-6100.

SOUTH HADLEY & GRANBY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.shgchamber.com
(413) 532-6451

• April 19: Business After 5, 4:30-6:30 p.m., hosted by Ohana School of Performing Arts, 470 Newton St., South Hadley. Sponsored by Berkshire Hills Music Academy. This Everything 70’s Disco Party is a networking event for members and friends of the chamber. We are joining with the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce on this event, so there will be many new business colleagues to meet and greet over the three floors of studio space. The event will feature music, food, beverages, and dancing. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

• April 22: Mohegan Sun bus trip, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Proceeds support the chamber’s scholarship fund and its two community Councils on Aging. There are bonuses on food and other pluses included in the cost. Bus departs from and returns to the former Big Y parking lot at 501 Newton St. Cost: $35. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

• April 24: An Educational Breakfast: “Cybersecurity: What We All Need to Know,” 7:30-9 a.m., hosted by PeoplesBank and Loomis Village, 20 Bayon St., South Hadley. We will learn how cybersecurity impacts our own lives, both personally and professionally. The presentation will be led by Joseph Zazzaro, senior vice president, Information Technology, and David Thibault, first vice president, Commercial Banking at PeoplesBank. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For further information and to register, visit www.shgchamber.com or call the chamber office at (413) 532-6451.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER
www.springfieldregionalchamber.com
(413) 787-1555

• April 25: Beacon Hill Summit, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., day-long trip to the State House to meet legislators. Cost: $180 for members, $225 general admission, which includes transportation, lunch, and reception. To make a reservation, visit www.springfieldregionalchamber.com, e-mail [email protected], or call (413) 755-1310.

WEST OF RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
www.ourwrc.com
(413) 426-3880

• April 26: Coffee with Agawam Mayor Sapelli, 8:30-10 a.m., hosted by Agawam Senior Center Coffee Shop, 954 Main St., Agawam. Join us for a cup of coffee and a town update from Mayor Bill Sapelli. Questions and answers will immediately follow. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or [email protected]

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY OF GREATER SPRINGFIELD
springfieldyps.com

• April 19: YPS Third Thursday: “Career Development & Networking,” 5-7 p.m., hosted by Lattitude Restaurant, 1338 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Cost: free for YPS members, $10 for non-members.

Departments Picture This

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

Be Curious

More than 1,400 men and women ventured to the MassMutual Center in Springfield on April 6 for Bay Path University’s annual Women’s Leadership Conference. The theme of the day-long conference was “Be Curious,” and the event featured two keynote speakers — social psychologist and author Amy Cuddy, and writer, producer, and actress Lena Waithe — as well as a number of focus sessions with topics ranging from “Curiosity at the Core: Cultivating Innovation” to “Reality-based Leadership: Ditching the Drama” and a women leaders panel.

Waithe, right, answers questions from Bay Path President Carol Leary

Waithe, right, answers questions from Bay Path President Carol Leary


From left, women leaders panel members

From left, women leaders panel members Kirk Arnold, a technology executive, Nancy Shendell-Falik, president of Baystate Medical Center, and Lisa Tanzer, president of Life Is Good, with moderator Yvette Frisby


attendees check in for the conference

Attendees check in for the conference


Guests listen at one of the focus sessions

Guests listen at one of the focus sessions




Transcultural Lessons

Puerto Rican author Esmeralda Santiago recently addressed a standing-room-only crowd at Holyoke Community College’s Leslie Phillips Theater, many clutching copies of her 1994 memoir, “When I Was Puerto Rican,” to be signed. Santiago grew up in Puerto Rico in a one-room shack with a dirt floor and tin roof, the eldest of 11 children. Her family moved to Brooklyn when she was 13. In her talk, titled “Writing a Life: A Transcultural Journey,” she described how she learned English from children’s books in the Brooklyn public library, and attended New York’s famous High School of Performing Arts and Manhattan Community College before transferring to Harvard University. She also talked about teachers and mentors and how meaningful they were to her as she adapted to life in the continental U.S.

Puerto Rican author Esmeralda Santiago

Puerto Rican author Esmeralda Santiago


copies of her 1994 memoir, “When I Was Puerto Rican,” to be signed

Copies of her 1994 memoir, “When I Was Puerto Rican,” to be signed

 

Sections Women in Businesss

Teachable Moments

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin says her company’s new name, ManeHire, is meant to evoke the lion-like qualities of strength, courage, and resilience.

A job seeker came to see Nicole Griffin recently after making a careless mistake — one he didn’t even recognize at the time.

The mistake was leaving a temporary position at a large, well-known firm two weeks before his contract was up because he didn’t like the environment and the job wasn’t quite what he thought it would be.

“I said, ‘you kind of ruined all the work you did there for several months by leaving before your assignment ended,’” said Griffin, president of the employment firm she launched in 2013 as Griffin Staffing Network. “That was a teachable moment. I said, ‘you have to make the most of your opportunities. Now you’ve closed your door for a reference. Plus, while you’re there, you’re supposed to network.’”

He quickly realized he’d burned a bridge he was two weeks away from crossing, and he regretted the decision. But he learned from it, and was planning on interviewing for a similar position the day after Griffin sat down with BusinessWest to talk about her company’s client-focused model, its growth over the past five years, and a recent rebranding with a new name, ManeHire.

“It’s nice to have a company in your name — it’s easy for people to recognize who you are when they walk through the door — but I want to let my employees who work internally shine,” she said. “I don’t want the whole focus of the company to be about me, so I’m taking me out of the name and highlighting all the talent we have.”

With physical offices in East Longmeadow, Springfield, and Windsor, Conn. — and a reach well beyond the region — Griffin wanted a new name that evoked lion imagery, for a reason. “I like the lion — it represents strength and courage and resilience, and those are some of the key components you need when you’re looking for employment.”

Griffin put all three attributes to work when building her career. While working at MassMutual as a financial underwriter — providing analysis, sales, and marketing for the company’s products — she became a certified interviewer and started a small nonprofit on the side, called the ABCs of Interviewing. There, she consulted with other nonprofits, companies, and individuals, helping them with interviewing skills.

While volunteering at a MassMutual Community Responsibility event at Western New England University, helping high-school students through a Junior Achievement employment-awareness program, she was struck by some teenagers’ total lack of understanding of how to act and even dress in a job-interview situation, and that soon became a passion for helping people position themselves for employment — a passion she exercised when she left MassMutual to open Griffin Staffing Network.

As the CEO of an agency for temporary, permanent, direct-hire, temp-to-hire, and executive-level positions — placing people in administrative, medical, financial, professional-services, hospitality, insurance, and information-technology jobs — she strives to understand the big picture in the regional employment landscape, while recognizing it’s made up of many small pieces.

“It’s still the same soft skills — showing up to work, the little stuff. Some people don’t realize the value in those things,” she said, again evoking the individual who walked away from his contract, and other, equally cavalier decisions people make.

“Some people don’t realize the weight that has — decisions made in the moment that have a lasting impact,” she said, such as taking time off with no warning on multiple occasions. “There’s a process. You don’t just call out an hour before you’re due to work. You have to be very mindful of the decisions you make.”

Through her work helping client employers find talent, she’s also helping job seekers not only access those jobs, but learn the skills necessary to keep them. In so doing, she knows she’s helping to change lives.

“We impact the family unit,” she said. “Of course, when you offer someone a position, it has an immediate impact on them, but it also impacts the whole family. It’s generational.”

Course Correction

An MP in the Army National Guard in her early 20s, Griffin originally thought her future was in correctional or police work, and she was offered a third-shift job at Hampden County Jail in Ludlow, where her father worked as a correctional officer.

But she wasn’t crazy about the work, as it turned out, or the hours. A friend at MassMutual offered to put in a good word for her there, but warned that’s all she could do — the rest was up to Griffin.

She admitted she wasn’t qualified, but made enough of an impression to get a job offer.

“I learned the value of having someone else speak for you, and how impactful that is,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s what I want to do for other people. I want to help them find opportunities that may not be reachable by themselves.”

And that’s what she does — but securing an interview is a far cry from nailing down a good job. “You have to do the work. And if you do get a position, you have to maintain it.”

To help people do that, Griffin originally conducted free weekly workshops for applicants to hone their skills on the interview process, proper dress for an interview, business etiquette, and other soft skills. Today, instead of classes and workshops, that training is built into the application process for each job seeker who walks in the door.

“In the interview, we talk about your skill set, but also how we can mentor you. I tell my staff, ‘stop for a moment and really dig into why they left their last place of employment. What is the teachable moment in there for them?’”

Some applicants have walked out of those meetings in tears, shocked at what they didn’t know. “Some are just thankful — ‘no one’s ever told me that; no one’s ever corrected my résumé to tell me about the mistakes are making and why I’m going to all these places and not being selected.’”

Sometimes those tears are necessary, she went on. “I think honesty is key. You have to be honest with people and speak their language.”

Still, while the soft-skills gaps Griffin encounters aren’t surprising, they can be troublesome. Moreso are applicants she encounters who lack even the basics of financial literacy — who don’t know how a checking account works, or wonder why that account shows just a tiny balance after a direct deposit on payday, only to be told by the bank that the account had been $500 in the red. She recalled one woman who brought in her mother so these concepts could be explained to both of them.

“Financial literacy is passed down from generation to generation. It’s real for people. Things we take for granted, they honestly do not know,” she said. “We can make an impact by finding gainful employment for you, but if you’re not understanding how that money works…”

She trailed off, knowing there’s no good conclusion for that sentence — except to keep doing the work she’s doing, helping people gain the skills, knowledge, and wisdom they need to secure and keep good jobs.

“At the end of the day, we want you to be gainfully employed, whether through Griffin Staffing or another employer. We mean that, because it impacts the community.”

Better Days

That community is living through a historically solid economy right now, Griffin said, with Springfield the beneficiary of a string of good news, from MGM Springfield’s opening later this year to CRRC ramping up production of rail cars; from MassMutual and Big Y bringing new jobs to the City of Homes to a wave of entrepreneurial energy in the form of scores of successful startups — hers included.

“It’s a really exciting time for both employers and employees,” she said. “It’s one of those times when the opportunities are there; you have to seize the moment. I’m excited to say I’m from the city of Springfield.”

For those still in the job market, however, it can still be a challenge to find well-paying, satisfying work. A relationship-focused business model, one that digs deep to make the best matches, is appreciated by employer clients who have stuck with Griffin from when she first opened.

“We’re very client- and applicant-focused. Relationships are huge for me,” she said. “Someone may have the hard skills and soft skills, but do they fit into the culture of the company? We look at an applicant as a whole instead of just as a skill set.”

That’s a lesson she learned from MassMutual, when she was hired not necessarily for her raw skills — what they saw on her résumé — but what she brought to the table as a whole person. And it worked out; she was promoted four times.

In seeking to understand the whole person in today’s applicants, she’s come to recognize that young people value flexibility in a work situation as much as — or more than — the salary, which is useful for employers (at nonprofits, for instance) who can’t pay as much as they’d like. In short, today’s young job seekers will often sacrifice in the pay department to gain work-life balance. They also want a clear picture of where they’ll be in a few years, and how they will fit into a company culture, add value, and grow.

When the unemployment rate is low, she added, employers obviously find it more difficult to secure workers with the skill sets they need. “So what we’re doing is going after passive candidates — someone who’s currently employed but may be open to new opportunities.”

Over the years, Griffin has leveraged the skills of her staff to provide recruiting opportunities and career guidance to current and graduating students at area colleges and universities, was recognized with the Community Builder Award from the Urban League for helping meet employment needs in Springfield, and was named to the BusinessWest 40 Under Forty class of 2014 — and then won the magazine’s Continuing Excellence Award last year.

She also serves on the boards of YWCA of Western Massachusetts and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, and partners each year with the New England Farm Workers Council to hire a summer job applicant. “It’s very important that we give back to the community because we live here too, and our children are growing up here.”

That’s why she sees her work as making the community a better place to live, one job at a time. She’s especially gratified at the success stories that advance far beyond entry level, like a marketing intern who advanced to an executive role in an insurance company, and someone who went from working in a local warehouse to managing it.

“That’s so cool. That’s what empowers me, to see people grow in their positions. That’s so exciting,” Griffin said. “I love what I do. I don’t feel like I work. I get to get up and do what I love every single day. And I want people to wake up feeling the same way I do.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON — Genevieve Brough, president of Finck & Perras Insurance Agency Inc., recently announced the firm has hired two new employees. Alexandra Fach and Meghan Morton will serve as personal-lines account managers. Fach will work in the firm’s Easthampton office, and Morton at the Florence location.

Fach holds a bachelor’s degree in communication technology and visual communication and a master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge. She has worked in the industry since 2013 and also holds state insurance licensure.

Morton is a certified insurance service representative and a certified insurance counselor. She holds state insurance licensure and has worked in the industry for six years.

Daily News

AMHERST — The Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship will present its 2018 Social Innovation Conference on Saturday, April 7 at the UMass Integrative Learning Center. Registration is free and includes two keynote speakers, three panel discussions, a design workshop, breakfast, lunch, and refreshments.

Attendees will learn about trends in innovation and how social entrepreneurship is transforming traditional business. The day will begin with Bill Baue, CEO of Reporting 3.0, a business that is changing systems of reporting, along with a panel of entrepreneurs discussing the role social impact takes in their business.

Panels will then be held discussing how the finance industry is addressing impact and the role of technology in social enterprise. Michael Alden, vice president of Ascentria, will lead a Design Thinking Workshop, demonstrating the tools to effectively develop sustainable solutions to social problems. Emily Kawano, co-director of Wellspring Cooperative, will deliver the closing keynote.

To register, click here.

Franklin County

Living the Dream

Bob Pura

Seen here with two of many works of art created by GCC students and faculty, Bob Pura says he knew early on that he wanted to make the community-college mission his career.

Bob Pura couldn’t help but laugh and shake his head as he talked about it. And that’s because the whole idea of it was so, well, foreign to him — in every way.

He and his wife will be flying into Edinburgh, Scotland in July to visit their daughter, who’s studying there. “And we bought one-way tickets,” he said, uttering those last three words slowly for emphasis and in a voice that conveyed as much as three exclamation points.

“We might stay a week, we might stay two … we don’t know,” said Pura, president of Greenfield Community College (GCC) since 2000, adding that this is one of the many perks of a retirement that will start in two months — and a radical departure from a 40-year career marked by crammed calendars, countless appointments, and rigid schedules.

And something else as well — extreme devotion to the community-college mission.

In fact, you might say Pura bought the equivalent of a one-way ticket to a career in the community-college realm back in 1980 when he came to the Bay State and took a job on the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges.

By the time he was working toward his doctorate in educational administration at the University of Texas in Austin a dozen years later (a setting chosen specifically because of its commitment to work in the community-college domain) he was, as they say at that school, hooked.

“I knew by then that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my career — the community-college mission,” he told BusinessWest. “That mission about opening your doors to everyone and holding our high standards is a noble mission, and people who are part of the community-college movement feel a special passion for social and economic mobility.

“It’s a bit of a cliché, but it still brings great meaning to many of us —that American dream where someone can start without much of a background and still have an opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families,” he went on. “It’s part of what motivates us every day.”

Pura said his passion for the community-college mission stems in large part from the fact that he is a product of that system. In fact, he calls himself the “classic community-college poster child of the Baby Boom age.”

“My father was an immigrant; he never graduated from high school — worked in a deli his whole life,” Pura told BusinessWest, adding that he was the first in his family to attend college — Miami Dade Community College in Miami, to be more specific.

It was, in large part, the only door open to him at the time, he went on, and once through it, he created a host of career options and paths to follow.

It started by going through that door, he said, adding that, for millions of people across the country, it’s the same today. But aside from opening doors for students, community colleges play a huge role in their respective communities, he said, listing everything from workforce-development initiatives to simply being one of the area’s largest employers. And in Franklin County, it goes well beyond that, to a realm that couldn’t be appreciated anywhere else in the state.

Indeed, as he talked with BusinessWest during spring break, Pura, asked about a parking lot half-full of cars, replied that students and other members of the community were on campus simply because they can’t get Internet access at home.

“So much of our West County still doesn’t have service,” he said matter-of-factly, referring to communities such as Heath, Rowe, and Conway. “You can’t get connectivity up there, so people come here more. It’s a serious challenge to the economic and social development of the area; it’s hard to get young families to move here if they can’t have high-speed Internet access.”

“Community colleges have a most significant impact on the communities they serve,” he explained while putting that aforementioned mission, and his career, into some proper perspective. “A long time ago, a college friend of mine said that if Amherst or Williams College were to close, those students would find somewhere else to go. If a community college were to close…”

He didn’t give a full answer to that question because he didn’t have to. And in retrospect, he’s spent his whole career reminding people of the answer.

For this edition and its focus on Franklin County, BusinessWest talked at length with Pura as he winds down that career. There were many talking points, including GCC and its ever-widening role, the community-college mission, and, yes, that one-way ticket he bought. Actually, both of them.

Class Act

The unknown student might have been born almost 30 years after they broke up, but he or she obviously knows the Beatles and their song lyrics.

“Help! I need somebody,” it said on one side of the card positioned on a stand sitting on a table in GCC’s Math Studio, with “Help! Not just anybody” on the other side.

That message was eventually seen by one of the math professors at GCC — not just anybody — and help was administered, said Pura, adding that this was just the scenario that was envisioned when this studio (actually the second such facility at the college) was created several years ago.

“This is a unique learning environment,” said Pura as he stopped at the studio during an extensive tour of GCC’s facilities, noting that the studio model, envisioned by the math faculty, creates a learning area surrounded by faculty offices.

the learning studios at GCC

Bob Pura says the learning studios at GCC are symbolic of broader efforts at the institution to build community and come together to solve problems.

“Those faculty members said, ‘we want to have our math students with us, with our offices right around that room, so we can check in on them,’” he explained. “They embraced their commitment to having students close to them; the students didn’t have to make appointments or wait two weeks — the faculty were right there. And then the Business Department said, ‘hey, we want one of those,’ and then the sciences, and on it went.”

The college now has studios all throughout the campus, said Pura, adding that these facilities have become symbols of the community-building work that has more or less defined his administration at GCC (more on that later).

First, Pura likes to tell the story about how a group of students were enjoying their time at the Math Studio so much, they didn’t want to leave — and didn’t — prompting security to call the president’s office and request instructions on what to do.

“I got the call at 5 o’clock on a Friday night — and no president wants to get a call from security at 5 o’clock on Friday night,” he recalled. “They said students in the studio don’t want to leave; they have a math test on Monday, and they just ordered a pizza. I said, ‘that’s exactly the kind of problem we want.’”

Pura has a large collection of stories amassed from more than four decades of work in higher education, all of it in Massachusetts.

But our story, as noted earlier, begins in Florida. After graduating from Miami Dade Community College, he transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1973. Four years later, he would add a master’s in human resources administration at St. Thomas University in Miami.

As he contemplated where to pursue a career in higher education, he applied some logic to the process.

“If you’re in theater, you go to Broadway; if you’re in movies, you go to Hollywood,” he explained. “If you want to be in higher ed, you go to Massachusetts.”

He did, starting in 1978 at the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges as program coordinator of something called Title XX. Based in Boston, he worked with all 15 community colleges. Later, he joined one of them, Massasoit Community College in Brockton, as chair of the Division of Career Studies, and over the next 14 years, he worked his way up to chair of the Health and Human Services Division and then assistant dean of Academic Affairs.

In the summer of 1995, he became dean of Academic Affairs at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield and served in that capacity for five years, until he was urged to apply for the position of interim president at GCC. He did, and he prevailed in that search and later earned the job on a permanent basis.

Over the past 18 years, he’s presided over a number of impressive changes to the campus infrastructure, while broadening its already considerable role within the community.

A major expansion of the core building roughly a decade ago, which includes a new dining commons, a new library, considerably more glass (and, therefore, natural light), and works of art created by students and faculty on every wall (the school is renowned for its art programs), is a very visible transformation, he said.

But he put things in perspective, while also bringing the discussion back to where he likes it — the community-college mission — by saying, “we finally have a building that matches the excellence of our faculty and staff.

“The values of the institution are found in the design of the building,” he went on. “We had great architects to work with, and they listened, but it was all about the values of the institution.”

School of Thought

And this brings Pura back to those studios he mentioned and the community mindset they symbolize.

“There’s a clarity of focus on relationships and community here,” he explained, referring to the studios but also the college as a whole. “And when relationships are powerful and community is powerful and people know they belong somewhere, then learning is powerful.

“The transformative nature of higher education is at its best in that environment,” he went on. “And we’ve been able to crystalize that here; it’s always been part of the core, but we were able to really make it an explicit part of our commitment.”

Continuing with that theme of the studio as a microcosm of what goes on at GCC, he said students in them work together in teams, helping each other work through problems.

“They realize they’re not alone in their learning,” he explained. “And so, when you think about that, it reinforces what will happen when they leave the higher-ed environment; they’re going to go into a work environment where they’re going to work with others in teams and solve problems.”

The progress GCC has made in this regard — in building community and forging relationships within the campus and across the region it serves — bodes well for the school and the president who will succeed him, said Pura. But there are some considerable challenges ahead — for that school, all the community colleges, and public higher education itself, he went on.

Most of these challenges involve resources, he continued, adding that all public schools suffer as the state’s commitment to public higher education wanes, but especially the smaller ones like GCC.

“The struggle is to maintain the kinds of services that are needed for each student,” he explained. “Right now, the strength of the college is that we still have the capacity — and the passion — to form-fit education around each individual; we don’t believe that one size fits all.

“Somewhere along the line I heard that getting an education at GCC is like getting a suit from a tailor and not one off the rack, and I think that’s a special privilege that comes from a small school,” he went on, adding that maintaining this type of custom-tailored education will become ever more challenging in the future, especially as the state continues to shift the cost of public education to students and their families.

As for community colleges as a whole and that mission he embraced 40 years ago, Pura said these institutions have certainly found their place in higher education today. The assignment moving forward is to build on the momentum that has built and make community colleges an attractive option not only to first-generation college students, but second- and third-generation students as well, especially as the cost of higher education continues to soar.

To get his point across, he went back 45 years to when he was a community-college student, a situation that gave him an opportunity to “explore,” as he put it, while trying to chart a path.

“When you’re paying $70,000 a year for a bachelor’s degree, it’s hard to explore,” he said. “At $5,000 or $6,000 a year, you have a lot more breathing space.”

Overall, he’s more than content with how community colleges have registered gains when it comes to overall acceptance and their role within society and the economy. And he’s proud to be a part of it.

“We’ve been accepted in the higher-ed landscape,” he told BusinessWest. “We have a seat at table; great gains have been made over the years, and the future of work is going to be honed and shaped by good conversations at community colleges in consult with the employers in their communities.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said in conclusion. “But there’s more work to be done, because, in many ways, the associate’s degree has become the new entry level into society and work; 12 years and a high school is not enough to develop the kinds of skills needed to succeed given the way society has changed and technology has changed.”

Plane Speaking

As he was wrapping up his tour, Pura noted that, while he has only a few months left at the helm at GCC, his talk with BusinessWest amounted to his first real exercise in reflection upon his career.

“I haven’t given myself the opportunity to look back much — there’s still too much to look forward to,” he said. “But it’s been a privilege to be part of that mission — a real privilege.”

With that, he noted that, despite their differences in education and career paths, he shares something very important with his father — love for their respective chosen fields.

“I have a picture of my dad — one picture of him on our wall,” he said. “It’s a picture of him at work with five salamis in his arms behind the counter, and the most natural, wonderful smile on his face. The man was happy. So I tell students at orientation that I’m going to look for that smile — that authentic, real, ‘I’m happy, I’ve found what I want to do’ smile.”

Pura’s been wearing one of those for about 40 years now, ever since he bought his first one-way ticket — the one to a career fulfilling the community-college mission.

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

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Underscoring the importance it places on comprehensive, robust information security and risk-management capabilities, MassMutual named long-time information-technology executive Jesus “Laz” Montano its new head of Enterprise Information Risk Management (EIRM) and chief information security officer. Montano reports to Mark Roellig, MassMutual’s chief technology and administration officer.

In his new role, Montano will work closely with the company’s executive leadership team, directing a holistic risk-management approach across the company, including managing operational and cybersecurity risks, ensuring all regulatory and compliance requirements are met, and overseeing the safeguarding of MassMutual’s information assets.

“Laz brings to MassMutual both demonstrated expertise and a deep business insight, built on nearly 30 years of technology and cybersecurity experience, and we look forward to his contributions as part of our unwavering commitment to best-in-class EIRM practices,” said Roellig. “Importantly, Laz is also a tremendous advocate of fostering diversity and inclusion, a basic tenet of our organization.”

Montano joins MassMutual from Voya Financial, where he served as chief information security officer for the past four years, responsible for providing leadership, management, and strategy for all aspects of the company’s technology risk and information security. He has also held technology security leadership roles at OpenSky, MetLife, the Travelers Companies, and Lucent Technologies.

A graduate of Charter Oak College, Montano earned his MBA in business and technology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is also a certified information security manager, certified in the governance of enterprise IT, and serves as a National Technology Security Council board member.

Daily News

SOUTH HADLEY — The South Hadley and Granby Chamber of Commerce will host an educational breakfast on “Cybersecurity for Businesses” on Tuesday, April 24 at 7:30 a.m. at Loomis Village, 20 Bayon Dr., South Hadley.

Every day sees millions of attempts against companies to compromise data. Attacks like phishing and ransomware can be prevented with simple steps and employee education. This presentation will discuss best practices in an online world to help protect one’s business. Presenters are Joe Zazzaro, senior vice president of Information Technology at PeoplesBank, and David Thibault, the bank’s first vice president of Commercial Banking.

The event is sponsored by The Loomis Communities. The cost is $10 for chamber members and $15 for non-members. To register, call (413) 532-6451 or e-mail [email protected].

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — The Doozers are creatures from the Jim Henson TV show Fraggle Rock, which aired in the 1980s. In those days, the Doozers were builders. In 2014, four of the Doozer kids, known as the Pod Squad, debuted as inventors, engineers, designers, and problem solvers for the Doozer Creek app.

Doozer Creek is a self-sustainable community located just outside of human view. These adventurous, three-inch, green characters, utilizing their ingenuity, take their audience on a journey to solve a wide range of engineering, community, and business challenges. Along the way, they sometimes get assistance from a professor, adults around town, or the team at Doozer Depot.

Presenter Stephen Brand was the educational consultant on the production team that developed the characters, scripts, problems to be solved, techniques, tools, and more. At a talk on Tuesday, March 27 at Bay Path University, he will share the production process and talk about how educators, parents, and others who interact with children can help kids be Doozer problem-solvers now and in the future.

Participants will learn tips and strategies on how to teach children problem-solving skills. This event is free and open to the public, and begins at 7 p.m. in Breck Suite in Wright Hall on Bay Path’s Longmeadow campus.

Brand has a master’s degree in interactive technology in education from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University in multimedia design and production. Over the years, he has developed educational experiences around the theme of science and creativity for kids and adults at the Boston Museum of Science and Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, and was the opening president of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, where he nationally launched Camp Invention.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Jessica Wheeler recently joined Bulkley Richardson as a litigation associate.

Wheeler’s prior experience as a senior associate at a New York firm equipped her with hands-on experience, including assistance with oral arguments, motions to dismiss and for summary judgement, class actions, SEC investigations, testimony preparation, discovery, and trial preparation. She was also part of a team that successfully represented a wrongfully convicted former inmate, leading to a $7.5 million settlement.

Wheeler received a bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Yale University in 2004 and a juris doctor from New York University School of Law in 2011, where she served as articles editor of the New York University Law Review. She was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellow and earned scholarships, including the Dean’s Scholarship, based on academic achievement.

While attending law school, Wheeler demonstrated her commitment to the legal community by taking on advocacy roles as an intern at several organizations, including the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech Privacy and Technology Project, and the Urban Justice Center’s Peter Cicchino Youth Project. Prior to law school, she was a paralegal for child-advocacy organization Children’s Rights.

Opinion

Opinion

By Sen. Eric Lesser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture Sections

Home Makers

KithcenInteriorThe ideas home buyers — and those looking to renovate — bring to the table can morph over time, and a few trends, including an emphasis on open floor plans and sustainable living, not to mention natural surfaces and unobtrusive, smart technology, have come to dominate today’s residential-design world. And when the end result matches the initial vision, well, that’s when a house truly becomes a home.

Something old, something new.

That’s not just the first four words of the ritual brides seek to incorporate on their wedding day — it’s at the heart of another long-time commitment people make: Building a home.

“People in this area are definitely more focused on recognizable regional architecture that draws on arts-and-crafts tradition, farmhouse tradition, or Victorian tradition; they like forms that are familiar to them,” said Charles Roberts, a principal with Kuhn Riddle Architects in Amherst.

“People bring to the process their preconceived notions about architecture, from their research and what they’re comfortable with,” he added. “Most people are drawn to a house that’s recognizable in terms of form, something they can relate to.”

The homes on these pages, designed by Kuhn Riddle Architects, are examples of how today’s houses blend traditional ideas with modern space plans.

The homes on these pages, designed by Kuhn Riddle Architects, are examples of how today’s houses blend traditional ideas with modern space plans.

However, he said, when they step inside, they’re definitely not looking for a traditional Victorian layout with many small rooms. “They want more modern, open plans — more light, open space, an integrated way of living with their house. A compartmentalized dining room is one of those components that’s falling more out of favor. They want a kitchen space that opens to living area and the dining area.”

Chris Jacobs, president of Barron & Jacobs Associates in Northampton, a design-build firm with a large residential-renovation portfolio, has witnessed the same trend over the past decade, with many projects focused on creating a more open feel.

“In most of our jobs, we’re opening up living space,” he said. “The traditional dining room is going away; we’re always knocking down walls to open up space.”

It’s a trend the national home-design media has pegged as well; flexible living space ranks among Architect magazine’s top three trends for 2018, driven in part by changing lifestyles and the way families want to interact today. In short, it’s all about flow and compatibility between spaces.

“Dedicated kitchen, living, and dining rooms have largely been replaced by large multi-purpose spaces that can be customized to meet families’ needs,” the magazine noted. “Architects can work with builders to ensure designs offer flexibility in living arrangements by including sliding doors, pocket doors, and other movable dividers in homes to ensure a seamless transition between rooms in the home, as well as between indoor and outdoor living spaces.”

That’s just one way modern home design has shifted in recent years. For this issue’s focus on architecture, BusinessWest takes a look at a few other ways architects and builders are creating spaces that reflect 21st-century tastes.

Lean and Green

Architect’s second big trend in home design is sustainability, and that’s no surprise; ‘green’ building, once a costly outlier in home design, still often comes with a steep cost, but is no longer uncommon.

“Consumers know the importance of reducing their carbon footprints, and want to make sustainable choices that fit with their lifestyles,” the publication noted. “Architects can meet these needs by ensuring the building envelope is well-sealed and insulated and by including sustainable options such as solar panels or energy-efficient appliances.”

That may be even more true in Western Mass., with its reputation as an environmentally-conscious region.

“People are definitely interested in the energy efficiency of building and design right now, moreso than they were as recently as 10 years ago,” Roberts said. “A number of projects I’ve been working on for builders include zero design, really paying attention to the envelope of the building, heat recovery, and ventilation. All the renewable-energy components are in demand.”

Jacobs pointed out that communities in Massachusetts, with its stricter-than-average stretch codes mandating sustainable building elements, already require certain elements, and beyond that, each option comes with a budget hit. “You can definitely surpass [the codes], but most people, when they see the price difference, don’t, for example, use spray-foam insulation through their whole house.”

Beyond energy efficiency, Roberts said, homeowners are trending toward natural materials in the home, like wood floors and stone countertops, and away from plastics and formica. Meanwhile, wall-to-wall carpeting is becoming much less popular as people want to showcase their natural flooring.

They’re also more focused on the kitchen than other areas of the home, he said, not just with natural surfaces, but with high-end appliances. “Kitchen is a place people still focus on, and they want nice refrigerators and ranges and cabinets. The kitchen is still the heart and core of almost every house. Every conversation seems to end up in the kitchen.”

Jacobs said kitchens are probably the number-one target of home renovation projects he’s involved with.

“Everyone wants to go to stone countertops, good appliances, quality cabinets,” he noted, adding that there’s wide range of outcomes depending on the budget. “You can build a kitchen that can last 100 years, or build one that lasts 10.”

Bathrooms are another area where higher-end options like custom shower tile, frameless glass, and heated floors are extremely popular — when the budget allows. Of course, there’s a good reason kitchens and bathrooms get so much attention: they’re important for quality of life.

“The majority of people in Massachusetts live in an older home, so we renovate a lot of bathrooms and kitchens,” he told BusinessWest. “Everyone would love a screen porch, but they don’t necessarily need it. But if your bathroom is leaking, it can’t wait.”

Chris Jacobs

Chris Jacobs says today’s building codes mandate plenty of sustainable and energy-efficient aspects, but some home buyers and remodelers choose to go beyond them.

As for exterior trends, Roberts said, many builders are moving toward fiber cement, a durable, paintable product that replicates many traditional sidings. “It’s nice, because it holds paint forever, and it’s a little less expensive than natural wood, so a lot of housing we’re seeing going up now has that material in the exterior.”

The final top trend on Architect’s list for 2018 is hidden technology, which is becoming more integrated and extensive than ever before. Homeowners enjoy being able to adjust heat and lights, preheat the oven, and perform other tasks from a mobile device.

“Architects,” it noted, “should work with builders to ensure customization is part of the plan from the beginning, and also that new homes are optimized for wi-fi connectivity based on the size and layout of the home.”

Arch2O, an organization that promotes innovative ideas in architecture, also foresees this technology becoming more prevalent. “Smart houses which are entirely automated by an Internet application will prevail,” it notes. “You will be able to heat up the food you left in the oven on your way home and even turn on your coffee machine. This will also apply to lighting, air conditioning, heating, fridges, dishwashers, and windows.”

Home for Life

Bells and whistles are fun, and definitely something 21st-century homeowners crave, but Roberts said the most resonant ideas still revolve around the way people connect. A home can facilitate that in different ways, from an open living plan complemented by a ‘get-away’ room — an office, TV, or game room — in another area of the house, to a move toward moving master suites downstairs.

“As people get up there in life, they’re saying, ‘I want to be here for the rest of my life; I want to age in place.’ With primary suites downstairs, they can live on first floor, with second-floor bedrooms for kids and grandkids, expanded family, and visitors,” he explained. “People are looking for houses that are flexible, that have the ability to absorb extended family.”

In downtown areas, where there aren’t as many buildable lots for single-family homes, other people prefer the community aspects and neighborhood walkability of condominiums and even co-housing projects, he added. “That’s about a lifestyle as much as a style of architecture.”

For those who aren’t in the market for a new home, the past few years, with the recession well in the distance, have proven a fertile time for renovations, Jacobs said.

“People had put a hold on home improvements, and now that the recession is over, we’re seeing more of them scheduling projects. We do a lot of kitchens, and some are adding a level and doubling the size of the house. It’s still cheaper to buy a house and fix it than build it from scratch.”

In all, architects and builders see a positive landscape for turning trendy ideas into something new — often working from something old.

“In this area,” Roberts said, “I’ve have the experience of working with all the various subcontractors putting these elements together, and I really enjoy working with all the great builders on these projects” — in other words, bringing ever-changing visions to life.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Modern Office Sections

Getting Ahead at Work

By Susan Bellows

You went to college and did well. You got an entry-level job and moved up in the company. Yet, for some reason, your advancement has plateaued.
You’re not getting the respect, recognition, and rewards your hard work deserves. What are you doing wrong, and what can you do to turn the situation around?

Let’s Start with the Don’ts

• Don’t complain, gossip, or blame others. All of these behaviors devalue you.

• Don’t make up an answer if you don’t know it. Instead, say something like, “let me get back to you with the most accurate information.” This will avoid jeopardizing your long-term credibility.

• Don’t bring your personal problems to the office.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for more details on a project you’ve been assigned. The president of a bank once said to me, “I worry if they don’t come back and ask questions.”

• Don’t try to hide mistakes. Own up to them and learn from them. You’ll earn more respect from others when you take ownership.

• Don’t be a know-it-all. A little humility goes a long way in building rapport with your colleagues.

Now for the Do’s:

• Behave positively and professionally both inside and outside the company. This includes the Christmas party, networking events, and posting on social media. You’re always being evaluated. Inappropriate pictures or statements made on social media can and will be used against you.

• Have a can-do attitude. Be proactive about saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities and challenges. Your willingness to step up will make you more valuable to the company and enhance your reputation as a team player.

• Build mutually beneficial relationships with vendors, colleagues, department heads, and your boss. Some of the best job referrals come from vendors. An adversarial relationship with a department head could easily sabotage your ability to get your job done.

• Be proactive about your career development. Invest in things like additional training and technology. These actions will increase your value as an employee. They will also make you a more marketable candidate for jobs inside and outside your company.

• Continue learning once you get a job. Go to other departments that involve the work you do, such as marketing if you’re in sales, and ask questions that’ll help you understand their challenges. Read about your industry. Join outside professional groups to learn more about your field and to build a network of peers.

• Learn communication skills to build rapport with others. Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends & Influence People is a good place to start. Anything you can do to understand yourself and others will be valuable at work and in your personal life.

• Listen attentively and take notes, if appropriate, when gathering information. Ask for clarification if needed. Nobody wants to spend time explaining something and then realize the listener was just nodding, but not retaining the details.

• Offer fact-based solutions, not just your opinion, when making suggestions for improvements in a process.

• Contribute constructively at meetings and listen to what others have to say. It’s important to understand the perspective of others. The only way this is possible is to be receptive and listen.

• Avoid challenging, questioning, and criticizing how things are done when you’re new. Later, learn to say these things in a way that doesn’t alienate others. Try using softening statements, such as “could I ask you something that might be sensitive?” or “you probably already know this, but…”

• Volunteer for high-visibility projects when you believe you’ll be able to contribute. Doing this exposes you to the attention of upper management, who may later offer you a position that leverages the talents they observe you demonstrate.

• Be aware of what you say and how you say it. Your tone of voice can enhance or destroy the message you want to deliver. Avoid asking a question starting with “why.” Folks get defensive when they hear this word. It’s preferable to say something like, “Tell me more about…” in a soft, non-confrontational tone of voice.

• Be prepared for inevitable change. This includes changes in ownership of the company, the economy, business competitors, co-workers, and your boss. Plan for change and be ready for it.

This is lot to think about. But being strategic about getting ahead is a little like starting a new job. It’s hard at the beginning, and then it becomes second nature. In the long run, it’s well worth the effort.

Susan Bellows is a business consultant specializing in empowering middle-management women to attain the recognition, respect, and rewards they deserve; (413) 566-3934; [email protected]

Departments Incorporations

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

East Longmeadow

Western Mass Real Estate Investors Inc., 119 Industrial Dr., Unit 773, East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Justin Simmons, 19 Sandford St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. Provides networking and industry sharing, updating and educating members on issues pertinent to buying, selling, exchanging, investing, and managing properties.

Indian Orchard

Taino & Taina Warriors Motorcycle Club Ltd., 165 Goodwin St., Indian Orchard, MA 01151. Molses Ruiz, same. Non-profit organized exclusively for support and charitable purposes, in conjunction with supporting our local community in participating in events and contributing and supporting local school, homeless shelters and other charitable organizations.

Ludlow

The Yogurt Mill Inc., 120 East St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Nick Linna, 25 Bristol St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Frozen yogurt shop.

Pittsfield

Synagex Inc., 75 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201. John R. Sinopoli, same. Information technology services.

The Boston Enterprise Management Consulting Company Ltd., 82 Wendell Avenue, Suite 100, Pittsfield, MA 01201. Weihong Cai, same. Trading.

Southwick

Weathersmart Exteriors Inc., 7 Rising Corner Road, Southwick, MA 01077. Demyan Volkov, same. Construction.

Springfield

Springfield Trampoline Sports Inc., 1250 St. James Ave., Springfield, MA 01104. Robert E. Doty, 42 Willow Road, Queensbury, N.Y. 12804. An indoor trampoline sports entertainment company.

The Beautiful Struggle Inc., 393 Wilbraham Road, Level 2, Springfield, MA 01109. Martin Davis, same. Restaurant.

Warren

Shivraj Corp., 958 Main St., Warren, MA 01083. Jiten Patel, same. Retail package store.

Wilbraham

Stony Hill Real Estate Inc., 1225 Stony Hill Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095. John Ferrera, Jr., same. Real estate services.

DBA Certificates Departments

The following business certificates and trade names were issued or renewed during the months of February and March 2018.

AMHERST

Queen’s Greens
245 Meadow St.
Danielle Teitelbaum, Matt Biskup

Roger Mami Cleaning
165 Summer St.
Roger Coy Mami

Smooth Affairs
68 Cowls Road
Jenelle Taylor

BELCHERTOWN

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
67 Turkey Hill Road
Patricia Bonneau

The Cruise Connection
8 Lawrence Road
Richard Thibodeau

Dynamic Do’s
111 Main St.
Annamarie Deich

Eclipz Salon
3 Stadler St., C4
Carolyn O’Donnell

Looks to Kill
40 Daniel Shays Highway
Jodi Anne Turek

Nelson I. Garrow & Sons Partnership
419 Bay Road
Nelson Garrow III, Joanne Garrow, Francis Garrow, Nelson Garrow IV

CHICOPEE

439 AW Protocol
975 Patriot Ave.
Tammy Vezina

A.K. Enterprises
76 Taylor St.
Alexander Korteskit

A-R Solutions Physicians Billing
29 Lawndale St.
Patricia Fijal

Bull’s Eye Cafe
621 Center St.
KAJ Associates, LLC

Cadrocke Associates
10 Center St.
John Hollywood

Chicopee High School Soccer Booster Club
820 Front St.
Anne-Marie Szmyt, Elizabeth Soja

Destiney’s Closet
706 Chicopee St.
Destiney Hairston

Gallagher’s Auto Sales, LLC
1095 Chicopee St.
Christopher Rivers

Integrity Heating and Cooling
62 Willwood St.
Michael Durgin

Reflections and Impressions
48 Center St.
Michael Kozicki

DEERFIELD

The Educator’s Notebook
P.O. Box 444
Peter Nilsson

Helstowski Tree and Landscaping
35 Sugarloaf St.
Justyn Helstowski, Kevin Helstowski

Taylor Technology Associates
122 Plain Road
William Taylor

EASTHAMPTON

Camp’s Construction
46 East St.
Stephen Camp

Happy Day’s Remodeling
9 Riley St.
Manfred Porth

Limb by Limb Bodywork
22 Princeton Ave.
Rebekah Hanlon

New England Yoga Institute
8 Prospect St., #1R
Audrey Blaisdell

Oak and Anvil Films
106 Cottage St.
Robert Savage

Teaganwells
116 Pleasant St., Apt. 412
Teagan Rosendahl

EAST LONGMEADOW

Attitudes Hairstyles by Tina
128 Shaker Road
Tina Sherwood

Griffin Staffing Network
200 North Main St., Suite 9E
Nicole Griffin

Pearlston Paperwerks
23 Nottingham Dr.
Sarah McAdoo

Peter S. Benton, CPA
65 Maple St.
Peter Benton

Robert G. Smith
64 Woodbridge Dr.
Robert Smith

GREENFIELD

A.B. Edmonds Construction
127 Shelburne Road
Alfred Edmonds

Abundant Home Care
260 Davis St.
Leonard Cocco

Avalon Integrative Wellness
117 Riddell St.
Joanne Rybczyk

Deste Catherine Design
574 Bernardston Road
Deste Roosa

Facey Plumbing and Heating Inc.
305 Wells St., Suite 2
David Facey

Farm Girl Origins
6 Cross St.
Sarah Hiller

Goodwin, Shine and Associates
48 Federal St.
Kathleen Liberatore

Great Clips
249 Mohawk Trail
C. Laraway

Looky Here
28 Chapman St.
Beverly Ketch

Premier Bath Systems, LLC
1175 Bernardston Road
Jason Cusimano

ProsperiTea Planning
3 Grinnell St.
Wendy Marsden

Rebath of Pioneer Valley
6 French King Highway
PV Bathrooms Inc.

The Root Cellar
10 Fiske Ave.
RC Bar, LLC

Synergy Transportation Service
25 Park Ave.
Jason Markwell

Valley Mart
4 Mill St.
Muhammad Yasin

Wemhoener Analytics
4 Spring Terrace
David Wemhoener

LUDLOW

Liz R. Ramos @ the Luxy
200 Center St., Unit 7
Liz Ramos

Ludlow Chiropractic Office
77 Winsor St., Suite 203
Paul Blomerth

NORTHAMPTON

Caminito Steakhouse
7 Old South St.
Brian Doyle

Editintuitive
41 Chestnut Ave.
Ray Sylvester

Grace Paint and Tile
303 Riverside Dr.
Jeffrey Vaughan

neohasid.org
19 Perkins Ave., #6
David Seidenberg

Sheri Roxo Hair Design
241 King St., Suite 114
Sheri Ann Roxo

Skincare by Julie
2 Conz St., #60
Julieanne Ferrara Cronin

Tandem Bagel
306 King St.
Christopher Zawacki

Valley Fabrics
881 North King St.
Francesca Denhartog

Your Sacred Pelvis
71 Bradford St.
Chaya Aronson

PALMER

Bondsville Engineering Co.
48-R Fuller Road
Peter Blake, Ann Marie Blake

SOUTHWICK

Angelo’s Barber Shop
513 College Highway
Daniel Bean

Joshua K. Haughton Catering
405 North Loomis St.
Joshua Haughton

SPRINGFIELD

Affordable Airport Car Service
16 Malcolm Road
Ervin Carelock

Affordable Massachusetts
58 Edwards St., #402
Michael Patrick

B.L. Cleaning Service
93 Duggan Circle
William Lowe

Bay Street Bottles & Cans
836 Bay St.
Khanh Hung Nguyen

Fix It 413
984 Grayson Dr.
Brett Tabor

Food Management Search
235 State St.
Joseph Valentine

G & L Towing
130 Davenport St.
Joel Pacheco

Golden Hero Games
31 Palo Alto Road
Ronald Montgomery

Headline Studio
1350 Main St.
Advance Local Media

J.D. Auto Repair
131 Laconia St.
Jimmy Deleon

A Journey in Jazz
226 Old Farm Road
Traci Gaynor

Luvenzak Computer General
2156 Mazarin St.
Zadok Nwafor

Mastercuts N1977
1655 Boston Road
The Beautiful Group

Media Garden
34 Front St.
Rich Morganstern

The Nail Place, LLC
563 Main St.
Loan Pham

Pinguinos Construction
221 Hancock St.
Sadi Gonzalez

Pioneer Masonry & Chimney
1105 Sumner Ave.
Eric Rankin

R & L Auto Sales & Repair
419 Taylor St.
Reinaldo Torres Jr.

Ramos Accounting and Tax Services
405 Armory St.
Oscar Ramos

Springfield Mass Prodigy
118 Thompson St.
Robert Kelly

SWPC Plastics
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Smith & Wesson Corp.

WARE

H & H Tree Service, LLC
109 Bondsville Road
David Hamlin

Realistic Evangelistic Active Christian Hearts
58 Main St., 222 Belchertown Road
Errol Estridge, Carol Estridge

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Adam Quality Painting
203 Circuit Ave.
Jacob Fellion

Alnassir International
205 Elm St.
Abdullah Nassir

China Bodywork Center & Spa
2009 Riverdale St.
Guang Ying Guo

Laptop Zone USA
83 River St.
Mohamed Muzammil

Reliable Auto Transport
108 Great Plains Road
Nikita Koshechko

R-Link
524 Cold Spring Ave.
Ruslan Akhmadullin

Sparkle N Shine
110 Ashley St.
Alisa Daniele

T-Shirt Station
1458 Riverdale St.
2P Designs, LLC

The Vape Bar Escape
209 Elm St.
Maria Filippone

WILBRAHAM

Excel Property Services
75 Soule Road
Richard McMahon

Flags Galore
27 McIntosh Dr.
Claire Van Eeghen

Kozy Kreations Boutique
680 Main St.
Kerri-Lynn Tichy

Wilbraham Web Design
8 Lodge Lane
Adam Anderson

World Tae Kwon Do Education Foundation
28 Stony Hill Road
Kyung Won Kim

Wellpoint Health Solutions, LLC
470 Main St.
Stacy Garvey

RN Advocate 4 You
17 Belli Dr.
Maura Lessard

Dale’s Family Hair Salon
2773 Boston Road
Dale Marsden

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Lena Waithe, the actor, producer, and writer who, in 2017, became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy Award for comedy writing, will be interviewed during Bay Path University’s 23rd annual Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC) on Friday, April 6. The one-day event has become the region’s prime women’s leadership event for professional networking and enrichment.

“Lena creates characters who inspire curiosity and is dedicated to empowering other women to develop the tools to follow her,” said Carol Leary, Bay Path University president, who is set to interview Waithe during this year’s conference. “Given that Lena Waithe embodies so much of what Bay Path stands for, we are truly excited to welcome her to our annual conference.”

Waithe first made headlines in front of the camera as Denise in the critically acclaimed Netflix series Master of None. She co-wrote the “Thanksgiving” episode, for which she won the Emmy for Best Writing in a Comedy Series. As a writer, she is the creator and executive producer of The Chi, a coming-of-age story that follows six interrelated characters in Chicago’s South Side. As a producer, her credits include the upcoming film Step Sisters. She was also a producer on the Sundance darling Dear White People and Tiffany Johnson’s short film Ladylike, which can be found on YouTube.

Delivering the WLC’s morning keynote address will be noted social psychologist Amy Cuddy, who teaches at Harvard Business School and is a New York Times bestselling author. Focusing on the power of nonverbal behavior, prejudice, and stereotyping and how people can affect their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, Cuddy teaches thousands of people how to become more present, influential, and satisfied in their professional and personal lives.

Keynote speakers will share their perspectives on this year’s conference theme, “Be Curious,” motivating and inspiring attendees to engage curiosity in their daily lives. Nancy Shendell-Falik, Lisa Tanzer, and Kirk Arnold, regional leaders in the fields of healthcare, retail, and technology, will discuss the obstacles they’ve overcome during a lunchtime panel with a moderator and an opportunity for audience questions.

Additionally, breakout sessions will be led by Stephen Brand, executive director of Global Learning & Development, Strategic Alliances at Bay Path; Cy Wakeman, president and founder of Reality-Based Leadership; Dr. Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist, blogger, and New York Times bestselling author; and Linda Galindo, renowned speaker, author, and educator on organizational and individual accountability.

Bay Path University’s Women’s Leadership Conference has garnered more than 22,000 attendees and featured more than 150 prominent speakers throughout its history. For further information on the conference and to register, visit www.baypathconference.com.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Easthampton resident Keith Hazel, a 39-year-old high-school dropout, will be the keynote speaker at “College for a Day,” a Holyoke Community College (HCC) event that brings hundreds of adult learners to campus each year to get a brief taste of college life. The Thursday, March 15 event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the main campus at 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke.

Students and teachers from dozens of adult basic education and ESOL programs in Hampshire and Hampden counties are expected to attend College for a Day to sample classes taught by HCC faculty and staff in the areas of sustainability, math, careers, computers, conflict resolution, stress management, health, money management, STEM (science, engineering, technology, and math), and life and literature.

Before that, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Leslie Phillips Theater, Hazel will talk about his life and educational journey, from high-school dropout to HCC liberal arts major. Hazel earned his high-school equivalency in 2016 through the Literacy Project in Northampton and completed HCC’s Transition to College and Careers program in 2017 before enrolling as a degree-seeking student last fall.

College for a Day is organized by HCC’s Adult Basic Education and Transition to College and Careers programs, the HCC Admissions office, and the Holyoke-based Community Education Project. Since 1999, nearly 2,000 adult learners have participated in College for a Day.

Daily News

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

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

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

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

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