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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.

Banking and Financial Services Sections

Happy Returns

Since taking over as president of Monson Savings Bank seven years ago, Steven Lowell has overseen an impressive growth pattern, including striking success in commercial lending and ever-rising assets. He credits that success to a number of factors, from a willingness to embrace technology to a customer-focused culture to an emphasis on financial literacy aimed at making sure the customers of tomorrow are well-positioned to share in the bank’s success.

Five years ago, Monson Savings Bank opened its fourth branch in Ware, to go along with offices in Monson, Wilbraham, and Hampden.

And that’s where the branch total stands today: Four. Which would be a meager haul in one of the big-bank acquisitions that have become so commonplace.

So why is MSB growing at such a healthy rate? President Steven Lowell has a few ideas.

“A lot of people are saying that small banks can’t survive, that they need to be bigger, they need to merge. And we’ve seen some of that. But Monson Savings Bank isn’t just surviving; it’s thriving,” Lowell said, noting that the institution has grown by 7% to 8% every year since he took the reins seven years ago.

“That’s a strong number,” he added, noting that the bank’s assets have risen from $230 million seven years ago to $365 million today.

“People think a bank needs a certain asset size to afford the expenses that every bank has at this point in time,” Lowell said, specifically citing increased regulatory and compliance demands in an industry that’s increasingly heavily regulated. “But we haven’t merged with anyone or had anyone merge into us; we’ve been successful in attracting new customers and developing new relationships.”

We’re performing better than many billion-dollar banks are. We’re living proof that small banks can do it, and do it well.”

He noted that MSB’s return on assets, or ROA — which measures a bank’s profits in relation to its overall resources — was 0.6 last year, while Massachusetts-based banks in MSB’s asset class — $250 million to $500 million — recorded an average ROA of 0.27. Meanwhile, banks in the $500 to $1 billion range averaged an ROA of 0.53 last year, and banks with more than $1 billion in assets averaged 0.72.

“We’re performing better than many billion-dollar banks are,” at least by the ROA metric, Lowell noted. “We’re living proof that small banks can do it, and do it well.”

A few different factors account for that success, he told BusinessWest. First was the determination made several years ago that the strongest market for the bank is commercial lending, and since then, commercial loans have risen from 40% of the total portfolio to around 65%.

“That’s been a significant driver for us,” he said. “We focus on what we do well; we don’t try to be everything for everyone. At our size, we can’t do that. But we know we’re good at commercial lending — and residential lending — and good at providing high-touch customer service. Everything we do goes back to, ‘is this good for the customer?’ We want to make sure we don’t lose that closeness with the customer.”

With all the mergers that have taken place in recent years, he suggested, business owners are looking for a banking partner they know is going to be around, and don’t like it when their loan officer keeps switching.

“We’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of these mergers,” he went on. “And we’ve developed a reputation as a bank that’s easy to do business with. We’re up front with customers and try to be as fast and efficient as we can, and that reputation starts to get around. Now we’re getting phone calls: ‘I was talking to so-and-so, and he raved about you guys, that you’re easy to do business with.’ That reputation is very important to us and has helped us spread our reach much farther.”

He also praised his team, which hasn’t necessarily grown larger — technology has created efficiencies for all banks, and, as noted earlier, MSB’s branch count is only four — but the team is peppered with long-timers who understand the customer-focused culture, a culture Lowell expects to continue to build more organic growth.

Early Adopters

Speaking of technology, MSB has consistently been an early adopter of innovations that make customers’ lives easier, from mobile banking to remote check capture. “We’re not large enough to be an innovator — we can’t be creating new software — but we’ve been right there, so as soon as a product is proven, we’ve adopted it successfully,” Lowell explained.

Some recent products speak to that success. Mobile check deposit allows far-flung cutomers to make deposits from home or anywhere else, on weekdays or weekends.

“Not only our retail customers, but our commercial customers are very comfortable not having a branch within five miles,” he noted, adding that these capabilities have allowed customers — such as a landscaping company on Cape Cod — to access services without needing a physical branch.

“We’re not marketing ourselves on Cape Cod or in the Boston area,” he noted, “but if someone has ties to Western Mass. and wants to do business in one of these areas, we can accommodate them, and they love that.”

Steve Lowell, Monson Savings

Steve Lowell says customers appreciate MSB’s stability at a time when many other small banks have merged or been acquired.

Another recent product, the CardValet mobile app, gives users complete control of their debit card, so they can essentially shut it off between uses, or if it goes missing. “There’s so much fraud in the world, and cybersecurity is a big concern,” Lowell said. “This is a great product, and we don’t charge for it; I think it’s going to be big.”

A new loan product marries the bank’s well-known financial-responsibility messaging by marrying a deposit account and a secured loan, the latter of which is deposited into an account accessible only when the loan is paid off. “From the bank’s standpoint, there’s no credit risk, and the customer is building credit, whether it’s for a down payment on a car or a first month’s security deposit. It’s a good product for people who are just starting out or running into issues trying to re-establish good credit.”

It slots well into MSB’s continued focus on financial literacy, which ranges from its Dollars & Sense program in elementary schools to workshops for college students and community members. A survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling shows that 40% of the public would grade themselves a C or worse when it comes to their financial literacy, and that lack of knowledge can lead to poor financial planning and hurdles when it comes time to seek a loan.

“Financial literacy is really important to us,” Lowell said. “Day in and day out, our staff see people they have to turn down for mortgage loans, and they don’t like doing that; it’s not a fun part of the job.”

With that in mind, he went on “we’ve come up with ways to talk to people and help them improve their financial lives, whether it’s how important it is to build credit or how not to get in trouble with credit-card debt, or the importance of saving for retirement and contributing the most you possibly can to your 401(k), and paying yourself before paying others.”

Lowell feels like today’s parents, for whatever reason, don’t like talking about these matters with their kids, and when the kids grow up, they haven’t developed a comfort level, and may be at the mercy of predatory credit companies that aren’t looking out for their best interest. “It’s important for us to be talking about that so they know how to manage money and get into a good place.”

That Monson Savings Bank puts resources into these educational programs says a lot about its desire to be a complete community resource in the towns it serves, and to continue adding products and services that customers want.

“I believe one of our strengths, because of our size, is that we can be really nimble,” he said. “We’re able to come up with new initiatives and new products a lot quicker than some of the bigger banks. We don’t have quite the amount of red tape most banks have to deal with.”

One example, he noted, is MSB’s newest initiative, a foray into municipal banking. Since appointing an officer to lead that effort six months ago, the bank has posted $10 million in municipal deposits. “That decision was made because somebody very good became available, and we saw it as a growth opportunity that presented itself, and we didn’t want to lose that opportunity.”

Giving Back

Monson Savings Bank has invested in the community in other ways as well, most notably through annual donations to various nonprofits, which totaled more than $130,000 last year.

The year Lowell arrived, MSB launched an initiative to ask the public for help in selecting some of the nonprofits that would receive funding. The bank solicits nominations on Facebook and through other outlets, and the top 10 vote getters receive donations. More than 300 organizations received votes last year, and the top 10 were given grants between $750 and $2,000.

“People get really excited about it,” he said. “And I think community philanthropy is really good for business, and that has helped us be successful. We sponsor sports teams, we’re involved in most of the school systems, giving them money for various programs, we give some scholarships … people appreciate that.”

They also appreciate efforts by bank leadership to be accessible, he went on.

“We send a newsletter to all our customers, and my e-mail is on that newsletter. I give out my direct phone number to customers all the time. I’ve even given out my mobile number on the weekend. I think the accessible reputation of the bank is very important to our commercial customers in particular.”

Lowell said an emphasis on accessibility extends to the employees as well.

“Sometimes the people with the best ideas are the people on the front lines, so I’m talking to them, but I’m also asking what the customers are saying,” he told BusinessWest. “When a customer takes the time to send me an e-mail or give me a call because he’s not happy with us, that’s important for me to hear. Some of the best ideas come from a customer saying, ‘you guys did this, and I didn’t like it,’ and we’ve ended up changing it.

“I’ve had really good input from customers who were unhappy or felt we fell a little short,” he went on. “I’m convinced that’s how you get better. We’re in a competitive environment, so if you’re not getting better all the time, you’re losing ground — and we can’t afford to lose ground.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

DBA Certificates Departments

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

AMHERST

10 Say Technology
1325 South East St.
Greg Stutsman

Coy Mami Produce
165 Summer St.
Roger Coy Mami

BELCHERTOWN

M.V.M. Cleaning Services
271 Aldrich St.
Maria Maravilha

Oak and Ash Farm
241 Allen St.
Lindsey Baird, Matthew Baird

Oak and Ash Farm Distillery
241 Allen St.
Lindsey Baird

River Ledge Farm
298 Cold Spring Road
Lydia Lajoie, Corey Lajoie

Summer Wind Daycare
97 Stebbins St.
Ketesah Trudeau

CHICOPEE

J. Polep Distribution Services
705 Meadow St.
Jeffrey Polep

Mike’s Variety
355 Dale St.
Michael Montemagni

Polished Nail Bar & Spa
233 Grattan St.
Tiara Washington

Ronald E. Bevan, Electrician
26 Campbell Place
Ronald Bevan Jr.

Sal Oliveras Custom Painting
7 Otis St.
Salvador Oliveras

Wink Lash Boutique
51 Cabot St.
Luis Marrero, Sharon Lopez

DEERFIELD

Bergeron Drain Pro
18 Stillwater Road
Derek Bergeron

Cloa’s Ark Animal Sanctuary Inc.
3 McClelland Farm Road
Patrick Veistroffer

Valley Re-Fab Inc.
8 North St.
Caleb Dillensneider

EASTHAMPTON

Atalasoft Inc.
116 Pleasant St.
Kofax Inc.

Organized Valley
132 Park St.
Angelie Peterson

Pioneer Tax & Business Services
126C Northampton St.
Heidi Chereski

Rite Aid #10053
32 Union St.
Walgreen Eastern Co. Inc.

Super Washing Well Laundry
92 Union St.
David Cortis

EAST LONGMEADOW

Angelo’s Barber Shop
513 College Highway
Daniel Bean

Embracing the Creative Child
232 North Main St.
Sarah Gale

M & D Trucking
134 South Loomis Road
Michael Girroir

Trendy Right Now
44 Bugbee Road
Robert Boyd

HADLEY

AG Konani
34 Greenleaves Dr., #18
Alfred Gyamfi

The Davis Method
245 Russell St.
Julia Davis, Ryan Davis

Devine Brothers Farms
26 Knightly Road
Devine Brothers Partnership

Devine Farms Inc.
26 Knightly Road
Devine Farms Inc.

Excel Builders
60 Chmura Road
Andrew Klepacki

Hadley Nails Spa
207 Russell St.
Orchid Nguyen

Howard Johnson
401 Russell St.
Howard Johnson Lodge, LLC

KSK Properties
5 Birch Meadow Dr.
Ron Keith

Readings by Margurite
249 Russell St.
Margurite Miller

Sweet Frog
344 Russell St.
Hadley Frog, LLC

HOLYOKE

Aligned & Well
187 Sargeant St.
Margaret Hudson

Denison’s Mini-Market
263 Hampden St.
Evylyn Cuello

Kool Smiles, P.C.
217 South St.
Dr. Tu Tran

Loomis House
298 Jarvis Ave.
Holyoke Retirement Community Inc.

LONGMEADOW

Coat & Tails
109 Yarmouth St.
Kristin Casey

LUDLOW

Kieu Nail Artist
115 Sewall St.
Kieu Nguyen

Kitchen Works
35 State St.
Ronald Kretschmar

Ludlow Pizza
257 Fuller St.
Umit Baytemur

So Cool Gifts & Accessories
345 Holyoke St.
Ana Capela

NORTHAMPTON

Acadia Herbals
2 Conz St., Suite 46
Jennifer Goodheart

Affordable Auto Repair
376 Easthampton Road
James Germana

Backyard Bread
45 Vernon St.
Samuel Coates-Finke

Integral Guesthouse
73 Willow St.
Christopher Spicer

Jackson & Connor
150 Main St., Suite 2250
W & L Retail, LLC

Mattress Firm #181010
172 North King St.
Ken Murphy

Recastings
46 Columbus Ave.
Cheryl Cross

The School for Contemporary Dance and Thought
25 Main St.
Jennifer Polins

Vomax
48 Damon Road
Rajiv Singh

PALMER

CVS Pharmacy Inc.
1001 Thorndike St.
CVS Pharmacy Inc.

Dave Lane Building and Remodeling
1371 Main St.
David Lane

DHG Direct Hire Global
1386 Main St.
Nicholas Paydos

Menard’s Mowing
26 King St.
Joshua Menard

Tony’s Happy Valley Pizza
3102 South Main St.
Anthony Valley

Wendy’s #311
1213 Thorndike St.
Inspired by Opportunity, LLC

SPRINGFIELD

AK Leasing Trucking
94 Gillette Ave.
Lahoussine Akanour

Avanti Salon & Day Spa
1498 Allen St.
Jennifer DeNardo

Awan Brothers
954 State St.
Mohammad Awan, Wajid Mahmood

Brylo Auto
51 Dale St.
Bryan Lora

Casa de Decoraciones
15 Burnside Terrace
Arguidania Ortiz

Chica’s Party Dream
20 Cabot Court
Santa Feliciano

Construction Keys
520 Main St.
Hector Quiles

Crunchy Fried Chicken
30 Fort Pleasant St.
Muhammad Ramzan

Daddy B’s Sandwich Shop
375 Canon Circle
Timothy Brown

Family Dollar #32030
2594 Main St.
Family Dollar Stores

Family Dollar #31747
247 Hancock St.
Family Dollar Stores

Family Home Improvements
27 Margerie St.
Pablo Martinez

Her Imperial Highness
44 Mattoon St.
Jolyn Paris

IQ Financing
93 College St.
Stewart Wilkerson

La Placita Market
2460 Main St.
Munir Ahmad Khawaja

La Belle Salon
933 Boston Road
Yanitza Nogue

Lee’s Club
138 Ardmore St.
Lee Kania

MP Roofing
26 Puritan Circle
Marcus Pierce

Northeastern Career Network
78 Wayne St.
Son Vo

OCD Cleaning
122 Chestnut St.
Davaughn Coppedge

Partners for a Healthier Community
127 State St.
Jessica Collins

People Supermarket
24 Fort Pleasant Ave.
Domingo Rosario

Spruced
122 Chestnut St., Apt. 7
Saucha Consulting Inc.

Times Square Marketing
1350 Main St., Suite 1114
Marcus Smith

WESTFIELD

Big Big Box, LLC
66 Westfield Industrial Park
Big Big Box, LLC

Coggin Machine & Design
52 Deer Path Lane
Jayme Coggin

Country View Primitives
57 Franklin St.
Country View Primitives

The Crack Man
14 Clifton St.
The Crack Man

Cusson Remodeling
64 Yeoman Ave.
Christopher Cusson

Fields of Flowers Farm
435 North Road
Patricia Feld

Mercy Adult Day Health of Westfield
24 Clifton St.
Trinity Health PACE

Simon Sez Pets
35 Schumann Dr.
Richard Simons

Smoke & Vape Shop
41 Franklin St.
MZY Corp.

Westfield Animal Clinic
422 North Elm St.
D & J Animal Clinic, LLC

Westfield Nails & Spa
459 East Main St.
Hanh Chanh

West Side Pet Sitting, LLC
10 Greenwood St.
West Side Pet Sitting, LLC

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Bueno Y Sano
935 Riverdale St.
Robert Lowry

Centerplate
1305 Memorial Ave.
Boston Culinary Group

DJ Xino
70 Elmdale St.
Alvaro Arqveta

Good Dog University
167 River St.
Kimberly Balboni

Green Stone Landscaping
34 Lewis Ave.
Sami Hajrizi

Karma Pet
24 Myron St.
Guy Leclerc

Nicolai Floor Covering
131 Ashley Ave.
Nicolai Contir

Star Realty
347 Gooseberry Road
Donald Ugolini

Ultimate Home Inspections
379 Rogers Ave.
Theodore Pinkerman

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — O & P Labs recently opened the doors to the Prosthetic Center at 3500 Main St. in Springfield. The local prosthetic company has been serving Western and Central Mass., Northern Conn., and Southern Vermont for more than 30 years.

Co-owners Jim Haas and Blaine Drysdale hosted Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and state Rep. Carlos González, along with team members, patients, medical care providers, friends, and family for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Feb. 15. González presented a citation to recognize O & P Labs’ “30 years of healthcare service to the people of Springfield, Mass. and your innovative assistance for patients to enjoy productive lives.”

The grand-opening event honored the 700 patients with limb loss who have been served over the last ten years since Haas and Drysdale have owned the company. The decision to create this full-service practice space was in direct response to the needs of these patients.

“I used to ride a bike [before my amputation], and I still do,” said Drysdale, a certified prosthetist. “We are dedicated to helping every patient through their individual process. That includes before, during, and after an amputation.”

The state-of-the-art Prosthetic Center features real-life experiences including a bike trainer, ramp, solo step track system, parallel bars, private rooms, and more.

“Our facility does not feel like a white-coat clinic,” Haas added. “We’re here to help people get on with their lives. We strive to empower our patients to reach their similar activity level as prior to limb loss and feel part of a community while doing it.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Academy Charter Public School received a grant to offer high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs from Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a nonprofit organization that provides a transformative learning experience for K-12 students and teachers through pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. More than 10,500 schools across the country offer PLTW programs to millions of students.

According to Tim Sneed, executive director of Baystate Academy, “these funds will allow us to expand our biomedical sciences programs as we prepare students to enter the field of healthcare.”

Baystate Academy is just one of 73 schools across the Commonwealth to receive the grant, which is supported by the Baker-Polito administration, the One8 Foundation, and Mass STEM Hub.

“It is essential that we engage our students throughout their K-12 school years with hands-on lessons in science, engineering, computer science, technology, and math,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

Baystate Academy will use grant funds to strengthen its PLTW program with biomedical science. Funds from the grant will also support teacher professional development and the purchase of materials and equipment that will be used in the hands-on, activity-, project-, and problem-based courses.

“We are proud to partner with Baystate Academy to empower students to develop the in-demand knowledge and transportable skills to thrive in our evolving world,” said Vince Bertram, PLTW president and CEO.

Daily News

AMHERST — The UMass Dining mobile app has been recognized in the Web Marketing Association’s sixth annual international MobileWebAwards Competition as both the Best University Mobile Application and the Best of Show Mobile Application of 2017.

UMass Dining’s mobile app’s key features include up-to-date menus, operating hours, and contact information for all dining common locations, the ability to view real-time traffic updates for each DC, having access to UMass Dining’s on-campus events information, and the ability to personalize one’s menu for dietary preferences and allergens. 

Each website and mobile application in this year’s MobileWebAwards Competition were assessed based on several criteria: creativity, impact, design, content, interactivity, ease of use and the use of the medium. Each entry was evaluated in comparison to the websites and mobile apps within the same format in its industry and then judged for an overall standard of excellence.

“We are thrilled to receive such positive recognition about our app,” says Ken Toong, executive director of auxiliary enterprises at UMass Amherst. “Our goal is to make the dining experience on the UMass campus truly exceptional. Our app contributes greatly to this mission, and we would like to continue to leverage technology to enhance our customer experience. All the credit goes to our terrific team who made this app a reality.”

Opinion

Opinion

By Steven Kravetz and Patricia Crosby

The news will tell you the unemployment rate is down just about everywhere, and Massachusetts is no exception. Currently, the official rate in the state-designated Franklin Hampshire workforce-development area, which includes the two counties plus the North Quabbin region, is 2.7%, a level economists call ‘full employment,’ since there is always a certain amount of churn in the labor market, with some people leaving jobs and other people entering them.

A cause for celebration, right? And why not save some state and federal dollars by reducing funds now for public employment services and using them to address some more urgent critical need?

There are many good reasons we should be more guardedly optimistic and cautious in our response to those labor-market numbers.

First, if you’re one of the 3,659 local citizens in that 2.7% — someone abruptly laid off through no fault of your own, unable to find a job even roughly equivalent in pay — then you’re not celebrating. Or if you’re someone who’s been unemployed for a long time due to inadequate skills, education, transportation, or childcare, then you’re not celebrating. In fact, a significant portion of both those groups of people eventually give up and don’t even identify themselves as looking for work anymore, getting by somehow, but barely. When they do that, they’re not represented in our official ‘low’ unemployment rate at all. They fall instead into an uncomfortably large and too-often-invisible portion of our population called ‘discouraged workers.’

Then there are the ‘under-employed’ and ‘mal-employed,’ people working two or even three low-wage jobs to hold a family together, or multiple part-time jobs when they’d rather be working full-time, or working in positions far below their appropriate skill and wage levels, representing a tremendous waste of talent in our economy. Bureau of Labor Statistics research suggests that the Massachusetts unemployment rate is as high as 7.4% if you factor those people in.

All these people need help — good, solid, professional employment assistance from experienced people with employment expertise, using a continuously-evolving array of strategies that keep up with the times and show people how to prepare for, search for, secure, and hold onto jobs that will support them and their families. With that kind of help, these dislocated, unemployed, under-employed, or discouraged workers get beyond those labels and become taxpaying contributors to the systems that once helped them.

It happens every day at places like the Franklin Hampshire Career Center in Greenfield and at 30-plus other career centers across the state. Even in ‘good’ times, there are people — as the above indicates, probably many, many more than one might think — who use these services successfully and gratefully.

But those services must be funded, in good times as well as bad. The Commonwealth has not increased its funding substantively for public one-stop career centers since the ‘stimulus’ year of 2008, The system receives less funding now — to support a much higher level of service, expertise, technology, and facilities — than it did in 2010. It cannot continue to provide the quality service that citizens across our region and others have a right to, without the state recognizing and appropriately supporting these career centers as the critical regional economic assets that they are.

Steven Kravetz is co-owner of the Arbors at Amherst. Patricia Crosby is executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board.

Health Care Sections

Secure Connections

The Baby Boom generation isn’t just marching into retirement — they’re positively surging into their senior years, with some 10,000 Americans reaching age 65 each day.

Yet, despite the fact that senior-living communities have become increasingly modernized, specialized, and resident-focused, nearly 90% of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age, according to the American Assoc. of Retired Persons.

And technology is helping them do just that — everything from home-monitoring devices to GPS trackers (for loved ones with dementia); from medication reminders to automatic stove turn-offs, and more . All of it is intended to lend both security to seniors living alone and peace of mind to their loved ones.

Older Americans welcome the trend — according to the AARP survey, even if they begin to need day-to-day assistance or ongoing healthcare during retirement, 82% would still prefer to stay in their own homes. Yet, the stereotype often lingers of seniors being technophobes averse to change.

“Many Boomers disagree with that statement, finding it insulting or pessimistic or both,” writes Laurie Orlov, principal analyst for Aging in Place Technology Watch, a market-research organization that provides analysis and guidance about technologies and services that enable seniors to remain longer in their home of choice. “They will repeat plaintively that Baby Boomers are very different than their parents’ generation. They are comfortable with technology. See how many have smartphones — they text, use Facebook and YouTube. Many book travel online, read Trip-Advisor reviews, and even call for car pickups with an app.”

So why not embrace technology meant to improve quality of life and — just as important — independence? Especially, Orlov noted, when there are so many options, from a simple door sensor or a sophisticated whole-home automation and security system.

In the case of the former, simple technology can have profound results. “If an older adult is alone at home, enters a room, and does not return past the sensor, an alert is sent to a family member or other predefined organization, thus enabling an attempt to contact the older adult, and, if no answer, to dispatch help.”

Rachel Walker, an assistant professor in the UMass Amherst College of Nursing, has focused much of her research on addressing health disparities and the care of older adults with cancer and other serious illnesses. She’s also on the faculty for the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring (CPHM), one of three centers that make up the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst, one that aims to accelerate the development and commercialization of low-cost, wearable, wireless sensor systems for personalized healthcare and biometric monitoring — but always with a focus on the human side of care.

“Oftentimes in the national news, there’s a lot of focus on the technologies — things like wearable sensors and home health monitors,” she explained. “A lot of clinicians and practitioners like myself work with individuals out in the community who experience these health challenges as they age, and there aren’t too many places that merge those two ends of the spectrum.”

Through the Wires

One reason technology isn’t an end-all, Walker said, is because, while 90% of older adults prefer to stay in place, it’s a bigger challenge in the more rural areas of Western Mass., where people may not have access to broadband and high-speed wireless service.

“That’s a sticky wicket. We’re embracing technology more and more, in this digital arena where people also expect to access their health record [electronically]; all these things are on the horizon, but we have whole communities in this region that have yet to get high-speed access.

“The team I work with, we would like to develop solutions that put control back in the hands of actual individuals and their caregivers,” she went on, adding that they’re using grant funds to develop a home-assessment tool that’s compatible with people’s smartphones. “Most users, even in places without high-speed wireless, have access to smartphones.”

Susan Keel, an aging-in-place specialist, recently told HGTV that a robust whole-home security system can be installed for the same cost as one month in an assisted-living facility. “With a system like this, you can remotely log in on a smartphone or the Internet, and, via the devices connected to the system, monitor your loved one’s activities.”

On a smaller scale, Orlov said personal emergency-response systems — wearable devices that can be used to alert outsiders of a health emergency or fall — is currently a $3 billion market that has evolved only slightly from its origins. But one important advance has been their use outside the home.

“The ‘I’ve fallen’ message is still inspiring families and seniors to acquire one. But 30% of the market’s sales are for mobile devices. This makes sense in this time of substantial life expectancy at age 65, when 46% of women aged 75+ live alone,” she notes. “Mobility demands mobile devices, which in turn boost confidence to be out and about. Consider walking the dog — since one-third of the 65+ population has one.”

The Center for Personalized Health Monitoring consolidates expertise from polymer science and engineering, computer science, kinesiology, and neuroscience as well as from other departments and collaborators, such as the UMass Medical School and industry, to develop solutions that consider the whole person, not just technology, Walker told BusinessWest.

For example, “we’re trying to better understand what specific exercises older adults can do to improve their lower-extremity balance and strength, so they don’t have as much risk for falls,” she explained.

At the same time, however, “we’re working on home sensor networks to determine how people are using the space, so we can optimize their environment. We’ve also focused on some of the data-security problems, to make sure information is kept secure from hackers.”

In short, Walker said, there’s plenty of room for technology to help people understand their environment and manage chronic conditions and symptoms, such as fatigue and sleep impairments that, if not addressed over time, can wear the body down and lead to other types of disability. “We try to avoid that so people can stay in their homes as long as possible as they continue to age.”

Human Touch

As amazing as it is, technology doesn’t have all the answers, writes elder-care specialist Michelle Seitzer at Care.com.

“It should never be used to supplement actual caregiving — only enhance it. Certain situations may require a caregiver’s assistance or physical presence (be it a family member, neighbor, or a senior-care aide) for a few hours a week, overnight, or most of the day.

“There may also come a time when it’s just not safe for your loved one to stay home — no matter how many webcams you install,” she continues. “If a senior doesn’t answer the phone, seems withdrawn, falls frequently, misses medications, or wanders off regularly, you may need to look beyond technology. Think about options like hiring a home-care aide or finding senior housing. Figure out what works best for your loved one and the situation, and be open to changes along the way.”

Walker said her team at UMass focuses on concepts of dignity, capability, and healthcare equity in the senior years, and not on technology for its own sake.

“Any time we start a new project, we ask if there is really a need for this technology or new device. Are we building something people really need? Secondly, how will it fit into the life of the person it’s designed for? Also, who’s been left out? A lot of technology is built for the upper middle class, and that’s certainly a need, but we need to make sure what we’re building doesn’t systematically exclude certain individuals like rural residents, with no high-speed wireless access.”

Then there are unintended consequences. “Are we making someone reliant on a device, so if something breaks on the device, they’re left without a safety net to get their needs met?”

It’s an important question to keep in mind as the worlds of elder care and technology continue to cross-fertilize in new, intriguing ways.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Health Care Sections

Left to Their Own Devices

While residential care services have broadened in recent years for seniors unable to live independently, technology has emerged as well to help older people stay in their homes longer, if they so choose — while giving some peace of mind to their families. Here are a few currently available devices, and what the health-tech media is saying about them.

GPS Trackers

Individuals with dementia face specific challenges at home — particularly the possibility they might wander from that home. To counter that challenge, a number of trackers, many that operate with global positioning system (GPS) technology, have emerged on the market.

A solution to wandering from the Alzheimer’s Assoc., the Comfort Zone Check-In application ($10 per month) allows caregivers to use a small tracking device to monitor their loved one with dementia.

“Comfort Zone Check-In combines the latest technology with flexibility, allowing families to change devices and plans as a person’s disease progresses and monitoring needs change,” according to the Alzheimer’s Assoc. “Using GPS and cellular technologies with online mapping, the entire family can proactively determine the location of the person with Alzheimer’s. Families log into a secure, password-protected website similar to logging into most e-mail systems and proactively establish safety zones.”

“Comfort Zone Check In has the potential to give peace of mind, both to those who care for Alzheimer’s patients, as well as patients themselves, who can get frustrated or distressed when people will not let them do anything independently,” noted Health and Life in a review. “It is not an over-exaggeration to say that Comfort Zone Check In could have a dramatic impact on Alzheimer’s care, especially as research continues to unlock the complexities of the condition and we understand more and more about it.

A new cellular tracking device, iTraq3 ($149) uses cellular towers to determine location, allowing it to be used anywhere there is service. The device itself is as small as a credit card, and its location is reported through a mobile application which allows the user to view a map of locations and timestamps. Itraq also features a ‘guard mode’ where users can specify a radius on a map, then receive alerts if and when the itraq goes beyond the pre-set radius.

“iTraq is a remarkable cellular tracking device for iPhone or iPad,” iGeeksBlog notes. “Being developed as the most effective gadget to track your things, it is the world’s first global location device. As iTraq uses cellular towers to determine location, it can be located anywhere else in the world where cellular service exists.”

Meanwhile, Pocketfinder ($159), a small, waterproof GPS devices, allow users to not only view a GPS location, but also an address, distance from the address, and the speed the device is moving. The app provides updates at the touch of a button through e-mail and text notifications. It also provides an unlimited number of ‘geofences’ that send an alert when the GPS leaves a specified area.

“While there are several similar GPS technologies in the market,” Digifloor notes, “PocketFinder removes the complexities of modern wireless technologies and offers a simple and easy solution that helps people coordinate and communicate with people and things.”

In-home Sensors

Rather than track people outside the home, another class of devices helps people know what their loved ones are up to in their homes. Activity-based sensors can reassure that the resident is up and about, carrying out daily tasks — or not.

For example, Alarm.com’s Wellness independent living solution ($99) integrates a suite of sensors and devices, and applies machine-learning algorithms to the data they generate to detect changes that may suggest risks. Wellness can report about changes in activity levels, sleeping and eating patterns, bathroom-visit frequency, and medication adherence, as well as emergency situations like wandering out of the home or falls.

“Far from being a contemporary Big Brother, the system provides real-time info on your loved one’s whereabouts and well-being, all without the use of intrusive cameras,” Reviewed reports. “The system uses a combination of bed-presence monitors, motion sensors, and panic buttons to track movement and alert users and caregivers of any unexpected changes in routine.”

One of the newest devices is the Inirv React ($239), which connects the stove to a sensor in the home and a smartphone app. The sensor will automatically turn the stove off if it no longer detects motion around the appliance after a long period of time. The stove can also be turned off remotely using a smartphone.

“You can control individual burners through your phone, of course, but the real star of the show is a sensor that sits on your ceiling,” according to Engadget. “If it detects gas, smoke, or prolonged inactivity, it automatically shuts off active burners. You shouldn’t have to worry about sparking a house fire just because you forgot to switch the stove off before you left for the movies.”

Meanwhile, the iGuardStove Intelligent ($495) is a pricier way to shut off the stove if a loved one is away from the cooktop for too long. It automatically shuts off the stove if cooking is left unattended, thanks to a two-part system of a power box and motion detector.

“The built-in wi-fi can help keep you posted online about how often the system has to shut down off your stove and send you alerts if it’s happening a little too often,” CNET notes. “The iGuardStove Intelligent is a good product if you are concerned about yourself or a loved one leaving a stove unattended.”

LifeAssist Technologies has developed the Reminder Rosie ($99), a clock that allows the recording of personalized messages and reminders that will be broadcast at scheduled times for whomever is in the home — perhaps a reminder to take medication or that the grandchildren will be coming over for dinner.

“Using revolutionary speech recognition technologies, Reminder Rosie announces multiple, loud, personalized reminder alarms at specific times daily, weekly, on a specific date, annually, in any language,” Caregiver Products reports. “Rosie can also tell the time, date, or today’s reminders to help organize each day. This talking alarm clock provides a simple solution to help users remember medications, appointments, household tasks, social activities, and other helpful information without touching any buttons. Reminder Rosie is a low-tech, stress-free memory aid that seniors or those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or memory loss can actually use.”

Emergency pendants with fall detection serve a specific purpose, and have been around for longer than most other technologies in this article. Worn around the wrist or neck, they can be pressed in case of an emergency, such as after a fall, and a call is immediately made to 911 and/or pre-programmed numbers of family members.

Along with its lightweight and waterproof design, Philips Lifeline products are some of the more popular solutions on the market: HomeSafe, with autoalert fall detection (from $44.95 per month), works at home, while its GoSafe pendant, with autoalert and two-way voice (from $54.95 per month), uses up to six locating technologies, including GPS, to find someone in an emergency.

Medication Reminders

Then there are medication reminders, a field that has attracted plenty of innovation in recent years, with devices designed to remind, dispense, and manage medication.

Top5Reviews chooses as its favorite model the medSmart e-Pill automatic dispenser ($490), which comes with two keys, six daily alarms, a patient-compliance dashboard, and alarms that alert with sound and blinking lights.

“One buyer that we spoke to applauds its particularly deep medication compartments, compared to other models on the market,” the site notes. “One word of caution: it is a good buy only if the person taking the medicine is able to remember what the alarm signifies, is able to actually get the medicine out of the dispenser, and who are likely to take the pills right after removing them from the e-Pill.

For a budget option, Wirecutter, in its reviews of e-pill products, noted that the clock of the 31-day MedCenter System monthly pill organizer ($96) “was the easiest and most intuitive to program of any device we tested. If you can set a bedside alarm clock, you can set up this reminder device.

“However,” it went on, “you need to load the MedCenter’s pill trays, which each have their own plastic cover — individually, a task that can be a little arduous if you’re planning out a whole month. And you can’t individually lock the plastic pill caddies, which makes this model fine for a self-care situation or one where the patient is fully aware and not easily confused.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Company Notebook Departments

Bay Path MS Program in Nonprofit Management Named to Top-10 List

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University’s master of science (MS) program in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy has been named to the top 10 in the nation, as ranked by thebestschools.org. The university’s program has been recognized among the top online graduate nonprofit-management programs annually since 2014. This year, Bay Path ranked 10th on the list as one of just two New England colleges to make the cut. According to thebestschools.org, graduate-degree programs in nonprofit management were selected for the ranking based on academic excellence, types of courses offered, faculty strength, rankings, awards, and reputation, including the college’s reputation for effectively providing online degree programs. The MS in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy at Bay Path University, open to men and women, is offered completely online or on campus, either full-time or part-time.

VVM Appoints Six Executives in Residence

SPRINGFIELD — Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) announced the addition of six new executives in residence (EIRs) who will serve as guest educators and leaders to the 36 startup companies in the 2018 VVM Startup Accelerator program. The program provides intensive training, a network of skilled mentors, and funding that enables startup founders to establish and grow their businesses at a fast pace. EIRs represent experienced industry leaders, creatives, and strategists, as well as social-impact entrepreneurs from around the country. This first-ever group of EIRs will join the VVM staff team in providing day-to-day instruction over the course of four intensive, boot-camp-style weekends from February through May. The program culminates in the 2018 VVM Accelerator Awards at the MassMutual Center on Thursday, May 24. The EIRs include Bethany Martin, principal of B Martin Studio, mentor at Pilotworks, and faculty member at the Pratt Institute; Gustavo Bottan, co-founder and CEO of Opt4America senior mentor at MIT – Sandbox and the MIT CCLP Leadership Program; Joe Bush, executive director for the Worcester CleanTech Incubator; Steven Bellofatto, co-founder of ION Design and former adjunct faculty member at New York University in Manhattan, Department of Design & Digital Arts; Tanya Menendez, co-founder of Maker’s Row, and named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, People en Espanol’s “Most Powerful Latinas,” Business Insider’s “Coolest People in Tech,” and PopMechanic’s “25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream”; and Zaza Kabayadondo, director at Smith College for the Design Thinking Initiative and former program advisor at Stanford University’s Learning, Design, and Technology masters’ program.

STCC Biotech Program Wins Gold Level Endorsement

SPRINGFIELD — Graduates of the biotechnology programs at Springfield Technical Community College are well-prepared for careers in the life sciences, according to a leading science-education organization. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation (MassBioEd) endorsed STCC’s biotechnology associate degree and certificate programs at the Gold Level. MassBioEd concluded that graduates of the degree and certificate programs “are ready for the life-sciences workforce.” The STCC program met the core competencies defined by biotechnology industry and academic leaders who worked with MassBioEd, a nonprofit organization with a mission to build a life-sciences workforce in the region through educational programs that inspire students and engage teachers. Core competencies required for endorsement include following good laboratory practices, lab techniques, and exhibiting appropriate workplace behaviors, among other requirements.

Berkshire Hills Reports Q4 Operating Results

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. reported that fourth-quarter pre-tax income grew by 82% to $19.5 million in 2017 compared to $10.7 million in the prior year. This improvement was due to business development and the benefit of mergers, including Worcester-based Commerce Bancshares Corp. which was acquired on Oct. 13, 2017. Net income after tax was impacted by an $18 million non-core charge to income-tax expense resulting from federal tax reform enacted near year end. This reform is expected to benefit future earnings due to a lower statutory federal tax rate beginning in 2018. Net income after tax totaled $55 million in 2017 compared to $59 million in 2016. The tax charge noted above reduced fourth-quarter earnings per share by $0.40 and resulted in a fourth-quarter net loss of $0.06 per share in 2017, compared to a profit of $0.32 per share in 2016. Fourth-quarter core earnings per share improved by 4% to $0.58 in 2017, from $0.56 in 2016. The measure of core earnings excludes the above tax charge and also excludes other net non-core charges primarily related to merger costs. These costs in the fourth quarter of 2017 were mostly related to the Commerce acquisition, which increased assets by $1.8 billion, or 19%, to $11.6 billion at year end.

O & P Labs Opens New Prosthetic Center

SPRINGFIELD — O & P Labs announced the grand opening of its Prosthetic Center at 3500 Main St. in Springfield. The local prosthetic company has been serving Western and Central Mass., Northern Conn., and Southern Vermont for more than 30 years. O & P Labs is best known for its local, state-or-the-art fabrication lab, which allows patients to receive fittings, repairs, and adjustments quickly. The 3D printer decreases production time, and digital scanning technology creates highly customized prosthetic sockets.

Main Street Hospitality Sells Elm Street Market

STOCKBRIDGE — Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, announced the sale of Elm Street Market to Verson Inc., headed by brothers Rajesh and Rajeev Verma from New Jersey. New management took over operation of the market immediately when the sale was completed last month. The Elm Street Market, previously owned and operated by Main Street Hospitality, has been a local favorite and community staple for more than 20 years. “We stopped at Elm Street Market on our way to visit my son at college and immediately fell in love with the restaurant and Stockbridge,” said Rajesh Verma. “The market is a strong community anchor, and we intend to keep it that way, building on its existing strength and evolving its local food offerings over time.” Verson Inc. is a family-owned business that owns and operates a group of deli and catering shops in New York City. Verma plans to keep the current staff while adding more prepared foods to the menu.

Community Foundation Joins Partnership to Boost Arts, Creativity

SPRINGFIELD — The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) and the Barr Foundation, a private foundation based in Boston, announced the launch of Creative Commonwealth, a partnership between Barr, CFWM, and four other Massachusetts community foundations. This new initiative is rooted in the belief that investments in arts and creativity build thriving communities, and it aims to promote the vital leadership role community foundations can play to advance the arts. Creative Commonwealth will pave the way for community foundations to deepen and grow support for artists and cultural organizations. Along with CFWM, the community foundations partnering with Barr on this effort are the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts, the Essex County Community Foundation, and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts has been awarded $500,000 over 24 months to pilot ideas that emerged from a planning process the foundation undertook in 2017, with funding from Barr to identify opportunities, needs, and priorities. CFWM efforts will focus on testing innovative ideas to connect arts to other sectors, providing training to build the capacity of small organizations and assessing the need for a regional arts hub to advance collaborative opportunities.

River Valley Counseling Opens Easthampton Office

EASTHAMPTON — River Valley Counseling Center opened a new office location in Liberty Commons at 2 Mechanic St, Easthampton. The new office offers behavioral-health services for individuals and families. This new location follows five months after River Valley Counseling Center began offering school-based services within all of the Easthampton Schools. School-based therapy is outpatient therapy; however, these services are coordinated with the school to provide easy access to appointments for students and families and to assist with school-related problems as needed. Services available at the Easthampton location include individual, couples, family, and group psychotherapy for adults, adolescents, and children. Clinicians help the client, couple, or family identify the concerns or issues that will become the focus of treatment. Both the client and clinician work together to determine the most effective treatment needed. The frequency and duration of counseling sessions is determined based on individualized treatment plans. For additional information or to schedule an appointment with River Valley Counseling Center, call (413) 540-1234.

Monson Savings Announces Public’s Choices for Giving

MONSON — For the eighth year in a row, Monson Savings Bank asked the community to help plan the bank’s community giving activities by inviting people to vote for the organizations they would like the bank to support during 2018. The top vote getter was Boy Scouts of Western Massachusetts, followed, in order of votes, by Wilbraham United Players, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Scantic Valley YMCA, River East School-to-Career, Link to Libraries, Rick’s Place, Academy Hill School, Behavioral Health Network at Valley Human Resources, and Monson Free Library.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — O & P Labs announced the grand opening of its Prosthetic Center at 3500 Main St. in Springfield today, Feb. 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. The local prosthetic company has been serving Western and Central Mass., Northern Conn., and Southern Vermont for more than 30 years.

“We employ the most advanced technology and precise systems available,” said owner Jim Haas. “However, it is our team’s dedication to helping every patient through their individual process — before, during, and after an amputation — that is the backbone of our company.”

O & P Labs is best known for its local, state-or-the-art fabrication lab, which allows patients to receive fittings, repairs, and adjustments quickly. The 3D printer decreases production time, and digital scanning technology creates highly customized prosthetic sockets. “Having had my last prosthesis for over 10 years, it was difficult to imagine just how much better the function would be,” said O & P Labs patient Kara Stokowski.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — After a recent snow cancellation, Holyoke Soup, a community-based, crowd-funding, idea-generating offshoot of SPARK Holyoke, will debut at its new location at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m.

Holyoke Soup is a dinner celebrating and supporting creative and entrepreneurial projects in Holyoke. For $5, attendees receive soup, salad, and bread while listening to presentations about business, art, urban agriculture, social justice, social programs, education, technology, and much more. Contestants have four minutes each to pitch their ideas, and audience members vote for the pitch they like best. Whoever receives the most votes collects the money from that evening.

The new location of Holyoke Soup represents an increased collaboration between the SPARK entrepreneurship program and Holyoke Community College. The HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, at 164 Race St., opened Jan. 22.

“We’re really excited to be able to work with HCC and utilize its new culinary facility, bringing a new level of excitement to this great community event that always brings a diverse group of people together,” said SPARK Program Manager Tessa Murphy-Romboletti.

Dinner will be prepared and served by students from the culinary-arts programs at HCC and Dean Technical High School. HCC students and faculty will be conducting tours of the new facility, and local entrepreneurs will also be showcasing their businesses and selling their products at pop-up shops featured throughout the evening.

“There is great synergy in SPARK’s endeavor and HCC’s mission, so we are delighted to be able to offer our new Culinary Arts Institute as a resource,” said Jeffrey Hayden, HCC vice president of Business and Community Services. “We can’t wait to see the new opportunities that will certainly emerge from this partnership.”

The event is open to the public for a $5 donation. Anyone interested in attending is asked to register online at bit.ly/2BQ2nwa.

SPARK Holyoke is a program of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Centennial Foundation.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Elms College has joined forces with Baystate Health and TechSpring to offer a hands-on workshop on problem solving and innovation in the field of healthcare.

“Passionate Problem Solving Workshop” will be held on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at TechSpring, located at on the fifth floor of 1350 Main St. in Springfield.

Specific challenges arise when leaders work to solve problems, improve systems, and innovate technologies within the complex world of healthcare. This workshop will empower attendees to make meaningful changes within their environments by identifying key stakeholders, communicating effectively, and implementing processes to move ideas from concept to reality.

The following professionals will present at this workshop:

• Alyssa Dassa is an entrepreneurial professional with considerable accomplishments in a variety of industries, including medical devices, veterinary diagnostics, professional development, and real-estate investment. She is the founder and president of Sage Ventures Inc., a professional business consulting, coaching, and education company for new and existing businesses. She has professional expertise in product management, product development, strategic planning, business development, and project management.

• Amanda Garcia is the director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Elms College, and an associate professor of accounting at Elms, teaching accounting, finance, personal finance, financial planning, economics, entrepreneurship, and tax strategy. Garcia has developed curricula for the Center of Entrepreneurial Leadership, MBA, and undergraduate accounting programs. She owns an accounting firm where she prepares taxes and consults on tax strategy for small-business clients, real-estate owners, and investors. She has additional experience in the sales of businesses, mergers, and real-estate transactions.

• Jill McCormick is the innovation director at TechSpring, Baystate Health’s Technology Innovation Center. For the past three years, she has worked with Baystate Health and industry partners to develop a process for collaboration in the development of innovative solutions. Having spent the past 15 years developing new solutions and processes for industry leaders and technology startups, she is a new-product development specialist in the health-tech sector. She is an advisory board member of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Elms College and is co-developing the curriculum for a healthcare-innovation track for both the DNP and MBA programs.

Space is limited. To register, or for more information, visit bit.ly/2D9HnSC. Contact Madelyn Dybdahl at [email protected] or (413) 241-5757 with questions.

In addition, 12 attendees will be eligible for free enrollment in two MBA courses offered by the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Elms College: Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Lean Launchpad for Healthcare and LifeSciences.

For those who want to go further, the Elms College MBA track in healthcare innovation gives students the complex skill set needed to create innovative healing environments while transforming healthcare systems locally, nationally, and internationally. Students have the opportunity to collaborate with nurses, medical professionals, and business innovators focused on improving and creating new products, practices, and services in this rapidly changing field.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) announced the addition of six new executives in residence (EIRs) who will serve as guest educators and leaders to the 36 startup companies in the 2018 VVM Startup Accelerator program. The program provides intensive training, a network of skilled mentors, and funding that enables startup founders to establish and grow their businesses at a fast pace. EIRs represent experienced industry leaders, creatives, and strategists, as well as social-impact entrepreneurs from around the country.

This first-ever group of EIRs will join the VVM staff team in providing day-to-day instruction over the course of four intensive, boot-camp-style weekends from February through May. The program culminates in the 2018 VVM Accelerator Awards at the MassMutual Center on Thursday, May 24.

“The experience of launching a high-growth business is unique, and no one is better suited to mentor a growing startup than seasoned, successful executives with startup experience. This group of EIRs will have transformative value,” said Bethany Martin, one of the six new EIRs. She is principal of B Martin Studio, mentor at Pilotworks, and faculty member at the Pratt Institute.

The others include Gustavo Bottan, co-founder and CEO of Opt4America senior mentor at MIT – Sandbox and the MIT CCLP Leadership Program; Joe Bush, executive director for the Worcester CleanTech Incubator; Steven Bellofatto, co-founder of ION Design and former adjunct faculty member at New York University in Manhattan, Department of Design & Digital Arts; Tanya Menendez, co-founder of Maker’s Row, and named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, People en Espanol’s “Most Powerful Latinas,” Business Insider’s “Coolest People in Tech,” and PopMechanic’s “25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream”; and Zaza Kabayadondo, director at Smith College for the Design Thinking Initiative and former program advisor at Stanford University’s Learning, Design, and Technology masters’ program.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) today announced a multi-year plan to expand its footprint in its home state of Massachusetts by significantly increasing its presence in Springfield and growing operations in Boston. In total, MassMutual will invest nearly $300 million into the Commonwealth and increase its workforce in the state by approximately 70 percent by the end of 2021.



As part of this plan, MassMutual is renewing its commitment to Springfield, the city of its founding in 1851, and expects to grow its workforce at its corporate headquarters by approximately 50 percent. To accomplish this, the company will be adding 1,500 positions to the facility over the next four years, bringing the total number of employees in Springfield to approximately 4,500 by 2021. MassMutual expects to make an investment of $50 million in facilities improvements at its State Street campus over the next several years to accommodate this growth.



MassMutual also plans to expand upon its Boston presence, constructing a new campus in the Seaport district on Fan Pier by 2021. This campus will ultimately house approximately 1,000 employees. The multi-story office structure — which will be in excess of 300,000 square feet – will be situated on an undeveloped parcel owned by MassMutual, with MassMutual as its primary tenant. The company expects to invest approximately $240 million into its new Boston campus over the next several years.



MassMutual is expanding in the Commonwealth because the state provides the company with everything it needs to continue to best serve its policyowners in the future: a highly skilled workforce, including a rich pipeline of talent from the state’s best-in-class network of higher education institutions; robust local economies; convenient access to transportation, and a diversity of communities, including the best of both metropolitan and suburban locations.



“Following a thorough strategic assessment of our operations and footprint, we concluded that our home state of Massachusetts is the best place for us to grow and thrive over the long term,” said Roger Crandall, MassMutual Chairman, President and CEO. “We have deep roots and a supportive community in our hometown of Springfield, and we will continue to invest and grow our workforce in the city. At the same time, as we evolve, a stronger Boston presence immerses us in a booming financial and digital economy and provides us with an enhanced opportunity to recruit innovators from the area’s deep and diverse talent pool.”



MassMutual’s Boston campus will primarily house functions that will benefit most from being located in a vibrant ecosystem with access to financial markets and digital talent.



“Our highly educated and skilled workforce helps the Commonwealth and great companies like MassMutual continue to lead the nation in a number of competitive categories,” commented Governor Charlie Baker. “We are proud MassMutual has called the Commonwealth home for over 165 years and we look forward to what their investments in Western and Eastern Massachusetts will mean for Massachusetts, our economy and their employees.”



Baker added that as part of this agreement with the state, MassMutual will receive a package of incentives valued at approximately $46 million from the Commonwealth, the largest commitment ever made to a Springfield-based company. Those incentives are contingent upon MassMutual meeting its job-creation obligation of adding 2,000 jobs to Massachusetts. The job growth will result from new hires as well as relocation from other MassMutual sites to both Springfield and Boston.



“We are thrilled to have MassMutual expand its presence and build a new campus on Fan Pier,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh remarked. “MassMutual’s decision to grow in Boston will give the company greater access to the growing technology and financial services industries in our city and enhance its ability to attract the best available talent. I am delighted another major employer has decided the City of Boston can contribute to its successful future.”



MassMutual has been a supportive citizen of the Springfield community since the company’s founding in 1851. In recent years, MassMutual has invested largely in education, economic development and cultural vitality through the MassMutual Foundation, a dedicated corporate foundation established by the company.



“MassMutual remains one of our leading corporate citizens, and I am pleased that we have once again been able to work together to support the company’s continued growth and expansion here in its hometown of Springfield,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno. “My administration has been working hard to create an environment that encourages job growth and today’s announcement illustrates that through collaboration, we can find constructive solutions to support our communities for the long-term.”



Over time, MassMutual plans to consolidate certain facilities in other parts of the country, moving positions to its Springfield and Boston campuses. The company currently expects to retain offices in Amherst, Mass., New York City and Phoenix, AZ, which provide access to specific talent pools and business solutions.

Class of 2018 Difference Makers

Girls Inc. Inspires Members to Be Strong, Smart, and Bold

022_girlsincmain-diff2017Cynthia Carson admits it got quite crowded in her place last November.

Indeed, by her count, there were as many as 19 people camping out in her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., including her two children.

But this gathering was her idea, so she certainly wasn’t complaining. She had planned carefully, and her only real oversight, if one can call it that, was maybe underestimating what it might take to keep everyone plugged in — thus, there was a trip out to get some power cords.

Those powering up were current members of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, most of them high-school students, who were invited to the Big Apple by Carson, the head recruiter for the Nielsen Group’s sports and entertainment division, to do a little sightseeing and a whole lot of learning —  about jobs and careers and what it takes to be in those positions, but also about goals and dreams, how to set them, and how to make them reality.

Carson, who is quite the role model when it comes to all of the above, having attended both Georgetown and Harvard and spending two years in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua before starting her career, turned her home into a temporary B&B because she had been where her guests were a few decades ago. And she thought the excursion she planned would help them take some big steps forward.

Carson found Girls Inc., then the Holyoke Girls Club, more than 30 years ago, when she was in grammar school, and because she did, she also found friends, a different kind of home, mentors, direction, ambition, resilience, and, yes, a desire to give back.

Which is why her living room was fully occupied for those few days and she was taking her guests to destinations ranging from the 9/11 Memorial to a co-working facility bristling with tech startups, to Times Square.

“Girls Inc. fills a critical role,” said Carson as she talked about the nonprofit, how it changed her life, and why she remains involved. “It’s about turning average girls into leaders. You don’t need superpowers — you just need someone who believes in you. You need someone to give you guidance and provide the structure that some people may not have.”

We’ll be going back to New York, figuratively, a few more times in the course of explaining why Girls Inc. of Holyoke was chosen as a Difference Maker for 2018, because that visit represents a microcosm of not only its mission — to inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold — but also how it goes about it carrying it out.

But we’ll spend most of our time at Open Square in Holyoke, where many Girls Inc. programs are based and where BusinessWest talked with several members. And we’ll also travel (again figuratively) to UMass Amherst, where an ambitious program called Eureka is not only introducing girls to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, but giving them a taste of what they’re like and what they will need to know to thrive in such settings.

It does so through introductions to more role models, but also specific programs with titles like “Making Protein Glow in the Dark,” “Melting Ice and Rising Seas: What Does the Future Have in Store for Us?” and “Is there a Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment?” More on all that later.

Overall, Girls Inc., a national agency with 92 affiliates across the country, exists because there is a need for organizations that focus on that specific constituency, said Suzanne Parker, executive director of the Holyoke chapter, adding that one needs only to look at the headlines locally, regionally, and nationally to understand why.

Cynthia Carson, far right, leads her guests on a tour of Times Square

Cynthia Carson, far right, leads her guests on a tour of Times Square, one of many spots visited during a trip designed to inspire and educate the young ambassadors from Girls Inc. of Holyoke.

“We know that girls face an inordinate number of challenges and obstacles, everything from bullying and harassment to low expectations in their community,” she explained. “We know that, across the country, one in five girls is living in poverty, so girls living in neighborhoods without a lot of resources are facing a number of challenges.

“We know a lot of girls are facing academic issues and challenges — one in six girls across the country doesn’t finish high school,” she went on. “And locally, in communities like Holyoke and Springfield, the graduation rate is just above 50%.”

The nonprofit addresses those statistics in a number of ways, but especially through programming that helps girls of all ages make connections, gain confidence, find direction, create ambitious goals, and discover the resolve to meet them.

Its ability to succeed with these goals is evidenced by the sentiments expressed by some of the girls we met. Individuals like Emahnie Maldonado, 18, a senior at Chicopee High School, who has her sights set on the difficult physician’s assistant program at Springfield College. She summed up the Girls Inc. experience (we’ll hear that phrase again later) concisely and efficiently.

“It pushed me to talk to people and do things that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing otherwise,” she noted. “When I came here five years ago, I was quiet — I wouldn’t talk to anyone. And this program has really opened me up and allowed me to express myself and how I feel.”

The Nonprofit That Never Sleeps

When asked where she lived in Holyoke growing up, Carson paused for a minute, because while for most that would have been a short answer, for her it wasn’t.

“I had lots of addresses before I was age 7,” she told BusinessWest. “When the rent went up, we would move; there was a fire at one place I lived … and that’s why Girls Inc. was important to me growing up. It was a home base.”

Between the ages 5 and 11 or so, she went to the Girls Club, took part in several sports programs, and went on a number of trips, to farms and other locations. And she looks back on those activities as a way to close some of the “economic separation” that she could already recognize taking place in that community.

“Being a part of sports teams, having parents drive you to different places, being part of a group, and having leadership skills … requires structural help,” she explained. “And a lot of that is not available to some kids in economically stressed communities. So having Girls Inc. kind of filled in those voids.”

You won’t see that wording on the Girls Inc. mission statement or anywhere on the Web site, but that is essentially what it was created to do — become that structural help that Carson noted is so often missing among children like her.

Parker said Girls Inc. of Holyoke has been providing this structure, and believing in its members, since it was formed in 1981 as a Girls Club. (After Boys Clubs of America became a co-educational institution years later, Girls Clubs of America changed its name to Girls Inc.)

The Holyoke chapter, one of eight in Massachusetts, focuses its energies on girls living in low-income neighborhoods where resources are scarce. It currently serves more than 350 members, many of them from Holyoke, but there are a growing number from both Springfield and Chicopee, and Parker expects the numbers to continue to rise as awareness and positive referrals both increase.

But the nonprofit impacts the lives of all girls through advocacy, she went on, adding, again, that it exists to meet the specific wants and needs of girls, and there is certainly room (and demand) for such an organization regionally and nationally.

To explain why, she refers to that ‘Girls Inc. Experience,’ which is created through a mix of staff, a girls-only environment, and programming.

“We have highly trained professional youth-development staff  who understand the needs of girls and are trained to work to provide mentoring relationships with the girls so the girls know they have trusting adults in their lives they can go to, whether it’s issues or challenges they’re dealing with,” she explained, adding that this element separates Girls Inc. from other youth-focused organizations.

As for the girls-only environment, it amounts to a “safe space,” as she called it, not available in most other settings.

“Now more than ever, we see the need for that safe space where girls can take risks and take on challenges,” she went on. “They can do everything from coding to robotics to exploring health issues they may have. That girls-only environment is critical for girls to be thriving in that space.”

As for the programs, they are what Parker called ‘hands-on and minds-on,’ meaning they are highly engaging. And they are focused on four key areas of development:

• Literacy and Academic Success;

• STEM;

• Leadership and Critical Thinking; and

• Health, Wellness, and Sexuality.

All this is reflected in more of the titles attached to Eureka programs, such as “Don’t Lose Your Privacy on the Internet,” “Your Brain on Yoga: Silencing Anxiety from the Inside Out,” “Seeing the Forest for the Trees,” and “Are You What You Eat?: Building a Dietary Recommendation.”

It STEMS from Perseverance

Carson told BusinessWest there were several motivations for the road trip to New York. First, there was the desire to give back to the organization that had been so important to her growing up — something she had already done in several ways, including her role as keynote speaker at its annual fund-raising breakfast last October.

But there was more to it. She said she had nagging questions about whether, overall, girls were being compelled to reach high enough and push themselves hard enough to succeed in a rapidly changing, increasingly competitive world, especially within the STEM universe.

Members of Girls Inc. in Holyoke

Members of Girls Inc. in Holyoke pose for a group shot with tech-industry representatives at one of the WeWork buildings in Manhattan during their recent visit to New York.

So she put together a jam-packed Tech Day, which was actually two days. Students met a number of women, including two who grew up Holyoke, in various STEM careers, with the goal of making sure the visitors returned to Western Mass. with a full appreciation of the depth of careers available to them — and what it would take to enter those fields and succeed there.

One stop was to one of the WeWork buildings in Manhattan, a co-working space. There, a panel of women working in the tech field for both companies they started themselves and giants like BuzzFeed, talked about not only their work, but the adversity many of them overcame to get where they were.

“They spoke about what it was like to be a woman and a woman of color in the tech world,” said Parker, adding that the visitors also met individuals who made it from the same streets in Holyoke they grew up on to the highly competitive environment in New York.

To say that the trip as a whole, and especially Tech Day, made an impression would be an understatement.

“You got to met people who made it out of Holyoke,” said Maldonado. “It really showed that it’s possible to make it out and make it big somewhere else.”

In essence, the Eureka program was created with the same basic intent — to inspire girls and compel them to reach higher, while understanding the hard work it will take to get there.

This national initiative is a five-year program that girls enter when they’re in the eighth grade. It’s a year-round endeavor (with ‘Eureka Saturdays’ in the winter, spring, and fall), but really picks up steam in the summer. And it’s carried out in conjunction with the College of Natural Sciences at UMass, which, as Parker put it, “rolled out the maroon carpet” for the Girls Inc. members.

Elaborating, she said roughly half the hours devoted to Eureka are spent in STEM workshops in labs and other facilities across the UMass Amherst campus, including the Polymer Science Center and the Integrated Science Building.

“They’re working with professors in all different STEM fields, from the computer scientists to the structural engineers,” said Parker, adding that students are bused to the campus daily over four weeks during the summer for an intense regimen of learning that includes such things as the “science of tree climbing.”

The program progresses over its five-year duration to include not only the workshops on the UMass campus (designed specifically for first- and second-year participants, known as ‘rookies’ and ‘veterans,’ respectively), but also externships with area companies for third-year students, dual-enrollment classes at Holyoke Community College during the fourth year, for which the participants receive both high-school and college credits, and paid internships for fifth-year students, known as ‘graduates.’

The Eureka program was conceptualized to generate interest in STEM careers still dominated by men — and keep girls interested, said Parker, noting that, while it’s still relatively early when it comes to quantifying its impact, there are already many positive signs.

“Some of the early indicators are strong and positive,” she told BusinessWest. “Girls are saying, ‘I’ll take a harder class,’ because they know if they don’t take algebra and do well in it, they’re not going to go on to college.

“Eureka is convincing them that’s OK to be smart and it’s OK to be smart in science particularly,” she went on. “And that’s important because there’s still that stigma of the scientist, that this is something not accessible to them.”

Inspirational Thoughts

There are qualitative measures as well, including the comments of some of the Girls Inc. members who spoke with BusinessWest.

Kayah Brown, 16, for example, now has ambitions to become a reconstructive plastic surgeon, a career path inspired in part by her grandmother’s battle with breast cancer, but especially by an externship at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute she garnered through the Eureka program.

Kayah Brown

Inspired by her grandmother’s battle with breast cancer, Kayah Brown has set her sights on becoming a reconstructive surgeon.

“I was able to meet some of the breast surgeons at Baystate Medical Center and talked with them about what led them to become surgeons,” said Brown, a student at the MacDuffie School in Granby, adding that, through Girls Inc. and Eureka, she has gained not only insight into the wide spectrum of STEM careers, but the confidence to consider that path.

Her sister, Sabria, 18, a senior at MacDuffie, echoed those thoughts.

“Girls Inc. has provided the foundation for me to be the best person I can be,” she explained. “It inspired me to want to study computer science; it’s the first time I was exposed to coding and programming and just working with computers. And that’s what I’m taking right now — AP computer science, and I’m building an app.”

Elaborating, she said her app is for businesses and schools, and it amounts to a digital lost-and-found service. While she has high hopes for it, she’s more focused on getting more women of color into STEM careers and computer science in particular.

Interest in STEM was one of the many common threads that ran through comments offered by nearly a dozen girls, ages 9 to 18.

The words heard most often were ‘friends’ — they’ve all made some through their participation; ‘home’ — that’s what the facility itself has become to many; ‘confidence’ — a quality nearly every one of those who spoke said they have more of because of Girls Inc., and ‘support’ — something the nonprofit, its leaders, and fellow members have provided in myriad ways.

Meanwhile, they collectively talked about visits to farms, art galleries, museums, and a host of other destinations chosen to both educate and inspire.

Carla Lopez, 12, a student at Sullivan School in Holyoke, told a story that many sitting around the conference-room table could relate to. She came to Girls Inc. at age 7. Her parents were divorced, and her mother, who worked full-time, brought her to Girls Inc. in hopes that she would find friends, make connections, and fill the hours until she came home from work with meaningful, educational experiences.

“At first, I thought it was an ordinary program where you colored, built with blocks, and lot of other simple stuff,” she recalled, turning the clock back almost half her lifetime. “But it took my life to a new level; we learned coding, we went swimming, we’ve been on a whole bunch of field trips.

“There are a lot of girls here who are just like you, and they’re experiencing the same things as you,” she went on, adding that facing these issues and challenges together makes them less daunting, especially with the support of staff members.

As for Stella Cabrera, 18, a senior at Holyoke High School, she’s probably the longest-tenured member of the Holyoke chapter, having started there seven years ago. She’s looking at the ROTC program at UMass Amherst and, longer-term, at a career in the military as a biochemist.

Thanks to experiences made possible by the Eureka program, Stella Cabrera has her sights set on being a biochemist.

Thanks to experiences made possible by the Eureka program, Stella Cabrera has her sights set on being a biochemist.

She said she came to Girls Inc. after heavy lobbying by her mother, because she was bullied at the YMCA. She found a group of girls and a corps of staffers focused on building her up, not tearing her down.

“As you allow them in, they’ll build you up,” she told BusinessWest. “They’ll be your friends — they’ll be your best friends — and they’ll be your second family. And they’ll give you confidence, the integrity, and the friendship you need to handle all that life throws at you.”

On the Right Track

Returning to Gotham one more time, Carson said that, as one might expect, New York was itself a sometimes intimidating learning experience for the young women who went on the trip, right down to the subway system — and the challenging feat of getting 17 people on at the same time.

But after only a little while, the visitors were starting to become familiar in their new environment and master its intricacies, including the subway itself.

“At the end of the second day, by about our seventh subway ride, one of the girls said, ‘I’m going to lead; I know how to do this,’” she recalled. “She wanted to take the lead and get everyone on the subway, and that was really neat.”

Life certainly won’t be as easy as leading a group of friends down to a subway station, but the analogy works on many levels, including the most simple of them — finding one’s way and getting to where one wants to go.

It happened on a subway in New York, and thanks to Girls Inc. — a true Difference Maker in every sense of that phrase — it can, and does, happen in life itself.

Just ask Cynthia Carson.

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

Class of 2018 Difference Makers

A Unique Nonprofit Meets Some Very Special Needs

Craig, Will, and Maria Burke.

Craig, Will, and Maria Burke.

Kim Schildbach says she and her husband bought the trampoline on Craigslist back in 2013.

The price tag was only $60, and that number spoke volumes about its condition. “It was in decent shape, but … we knew it had a little life left in it, but not a lot,” she told BusinessWest, adding that, not long after they brought Anelia, the young girl they adopted, to their home in Leverett from her native Bulgaria a year later, that trampoline’s life had pretty much run its course.

And giving it some new life became important, because Anelia is blind and has other developmental challenges, and bouncing on a trampoline is one of many forms of therapy for her.

Replacing the unit was simply not in the Schildbachs’ considerably tight budget, so they turned to a unique but somewhat obscure nonprofit they had heard about called the WillPower Foundation for some help.

They were told that families of special-needs children, or ‘children with different abilities,’ as this nonprofit prefers to call them, could apply for small grants — $500 is the limit — for items like, well, trampolines, that are needed but not covered by insurance, and certainly not in the category of ‘necessity.’ So they often fall through the cracks.

To make a long story a little shorter, the Schildbachs were somewhat dubious about applying for another grant — they had filled out the forms for several as part of the exhausting process of adoption — but did anyway, found it took just a few minutes online, and wound up getting a grant to resuscitate their trampoline, among other things.

“They paid to replace the bouncy floor part and the thing that goes around the outside,” said Schildbach, who didn’t know the technical terms for what WillPower paid for, but certainly does know how important that grant was and is to the quality of life for her daughter.

Just listen to this.

“I put a milk crate by the side of the trampoline,” she explained. “Anelia has learned to get up on the milk crate, put one leg up over the side of the trampoline, and push herself up. Anie is very globally delayed, but she has some superpowers, as we call them, and one of them is navigation; she uses her cane, and amazingly she has an awareness of the space around her in a way that … I can’t do when I’m walking around the house at night and the lights are off.

“She gets on that trampoline and bounces away,” Schildbach went on. “It’s so good for them to move their bodies, the endorphin release is good, and then there are these things called vestibular stimulation, which is any kind of movement that is soothing to kids who come from traumatic places.”

The Schildbachs have two blind children from traumatic, or ‘hard’ places, as Kim calls them — they adopted Mabel from China in 2016. And they have now received two grants from the WillPower Foundation to pay for everything from that trampoline to what are known as sensory toys.

And this is just one of dozens of families across the region to benefit from that nonprofit, which was inspired by and named for another young person with at least one super power, Will Burke. His is the ability to inspire others to live life to the fullest, to move above and beyond the many obstacles life can throw at someone, and to give back.

Born with a rare brain malformation and adopted by Maria and Craig Burke, Will underwent a number of surgeries and procedures early in life at the Shriners Hospital for Children.

His parents, desiring to find a way give back to the Shriners, started with a three-on-three basketball tournament, with the proceeds going to that institution. While the tournament thrived, the Burkes and a growing corps of supporters wanted to do more and also do something quite different.

Four of the Schildbach children: from left, Anelia, Mabel, Jericho, and Olive.

Four of the Schildbach children: from left, Anelia, Mabel, Jericho, and Olive.

After considerable thought, they created a foundation that would put money directly in the hands of families that needed it.

The foundation is approaching two important milestones — its 10th year of operation and the $200,000 mark when it comes to grants awarded to families across the region. Actually, it will mark three milestones in 2018, with the last one coming in March when Will Burke will make his way to the stage at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House to accept the Difference Maker plaque from BusinessWest.

That plaque is in the shape of a butterfly, which, as most of you know by now, was chosen as a nod to the so-called ‘butterfly effect,’ whereby small and seemingly innocuous events like a butterfly flapping its wings can have a huge impact.

Perhaps no award winner in the program’s 10-year history better exemplifies the butterfly effect than the WillPower Foundation. The grants it issues are for only a few hundred dollars, but no one who receives one would ever use that word ‘only,’ because they are literally life-changing in nature.

Just ask Kim Schildbach.

Allowing Spirits to Soar

As she talked about WillPower and its importance within the community, Kim said the families of special-needs children, or, again, ‘those with different abilities,’ have lists of things they have to pay for.

Long lists, usually.

A $60 pair of cordless headphones for music-loving Anie (that’s another form of therapy for her)? Well, that would usually have to wait for “another week,” said Kim, adding that it might be many of those before the family, living on one income, could fit them in, if it ever did.

But through those two grants received from the Willpower Foundation, the family was able to get those headphones, as well as a rocking horse for Mabel, something called a “sensory backpack,” and some fidget toys, as they’re called — all things that insurance would not pay for and that would have had to wait for ‘another week.’

Missy Roy tells a similar story. Her daughter, now 7, has Down syndrome and needs a host of services and special equipment. But she also needs (and her family also needs) someone to advocate for her when it comes to school and other matters.

And insurance won’t cover the services of such a professional, which is unfortunate, said Roy, because some of these matters are technical in nature.

“When you’re just a parent, you don’t know all the ins and outs of school and what the law says,” she told BusinessWest. “You need an advocate, but insurance won’t pay for it.”

Such advocates charge $50 an hour for their services, and the $500 grant from the Willpower Foundation covered roughly two-thirds of her total bill. Likewise, another grant helped pay for a device to help’s Roy’s daughter communicate. Insurance covered 80% of the cost of a device known as an Accent 1000 (sticker price: $7,000), but Roy had to cover the rest. Her load was lightened appreciably by a second $500 grant.

Life-easing episodes like these are the kind the Burkes and the board they would assemble had in mind when they took the Willpower Foundation off what amounts to the drawing board and made it the truly unique nonprofit that it is.

And as they did so, they drew on their own experiences early and often. Will was born prematurely and was adopted by the Burkes when he was just seven weeks old. The couple had what they described as a huge support system of family and friends, and they relied on it.

Jeff Palm says the WillPower Foundation strives to be as “unbureaucratic” as possible as it helps parents pay for equipment and services that fall between the cracks.

Jeff Palm says the WillPower Foundation strives to be as “unbureaucratic” as possible as it helps parents pay for equipment and services that fall between the cracks.

“We had a lot of support from our families, but as we went along, we knew we had to get some help,” said Craig Burke. “And while Marie is so awesome at making things work, a lot of things were not accessible to us financially or just available at all.

“So we vowed that, someday, once we got through all this, we would try to do something to do give back,” he went. “We received a lot of support early on, but there were a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, and we knew others were facing the same challenge.”

So, in essence, the Burkes created a different kind of support system in the form of a nonprofit that would help with those expenses. In the beginning, Craig recalled, one of the early concepts discussed was to create something approaching a ‘make a wish’ format involving parents, whereby, through $1,000 grants, they could take some time off for themselves, something that is often very difficult to do, and their children would be cared for by a professional.

What they found, said Maria Burke — and they already knew this from experience — is that the parents of special-needs children don’t ever want to leave them. So the model for the nonprofit evolved into providing grants for items families need but that insurance won’t cover.

And when it came time for affix a name to this nonprofit, well, that was probably the easiest part.

Indeed, Will has been inspirational in many ways as he confronts, and overcomes, the many challenges he faces, said Maria, adding that his spirit and tenacity actually empowers others to reach their full capabilities.

A huge fan of video games and Rob Gronkowski, and an even bigger fan of blue cheese — the first thing the Burkes do when they arrive at a restaurant is ask if it’s on the menu — Will is involved with the nonprofit on many levels and enjoys being part of efforts to give back.

“I like to help people,” he said in a somewhat slow voice that is difficult to understand at first. But he gets his points across. “I like to help them by getting them what they need.”

Getting a Lift

Jeff Palm, chairman of the foundation’s board and a long-time supporter of the Burkes’ efforts, said the goal at the beginning — and it has persisted to this day — is to make the awarding of grants as “unbureaucratic” as possible. That’s not a word, and he acknowledged as much, but you certainly get the point.

If ‘unbureaucratic’ was a word, it would be synonymous with simple, which is what the foundation works very hard to make the application process. Just ask Kim Schildbach. She’s filled out hundreds of forms in the process of adopting their first two and now a third child.

“We make sure that we’re crossing our ‘T’s and dotting our ‘I’s and that we’re not just throwing people’s trusted money out the door,” Palm explained. “But we try to make it simple; we put money in the hands of families, and we fund really interesting and unusual things that make a child’s life easier and, as a result, make a family’s life easier.”

Elaborating, he said WillPower enables families to acquire equipment and services that essentially fall through the cracks.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, this is a big list. It includes everything from therapeutic horseback riding to the services of a speech-language pathologist; from electrical outlets with the proper voltage needed for a ventilator to the percentage of an Accent 1000 not covered by insurance.

To explain the importance of such grants, Palm used the example of that electrical outlet.

“The child had a ventilator that would plug only into a 220 plug, like a dryer plug,” he explained. “Every time that respirator needed to be on for the child, they had to wheel him over to that corner of the house and plug it in.

“They applied to us for a grant, and we found an electrician to put that plug in a place that was much more convenient for the family, and the child could be part of the family unit when the ventilator was needed,” he went on. “You just wouldn’t find an insurance company that would pay for something like that, and there are a lot of stories like that.”

Sarah Aasheim, interim executive director of the foundation, agreed, and noted that the nonprofit fills gaps that most people not in the situations these families find themselves in couldn’t appreciate.

Sarah Aasheim says the WillPower Foundation helps to close gaps that those on the outside looking in might have a hard time understanding.

Sarah Aasheim says the WillPower Foundation helps to close gaps that those on the outside looking in might have a hard time understanding.

“These are things that you often don’t think about,” she told BusinessWest. “The ventilator was covered by insurance, of course, so from the outside looking in, it looks like that family would be all set. But when you understand the nuances of these situations, you realize that there are a lot of unmet needs.”

As another example, she noted the kind of assistive technology that Will uses to help him communicate, called a ‘talker.’ One child who relied on such technology faced another of those funding gaps that might be hard for others to grasp.

“This child used a wheelchair, and while the insurance company paid for the device, it didn’t pay for the mount that goes on the child’s wheelchair, which costs an additional $300, which is a financial hardship for this family,” she explained. “The child had a talker, but he couldn’t access the talker because he didn’t have the motor skills to hold it and it didn’t work with his wheelchair, so we supplied the funding for that. Sometimes it’s just a bridge or a connection to meet a larger need.”

By filling these gaps, the foundation is empowering not only individuals, but their families as well, said Emily Albelice, former executive director and now a board member.

“That child’s ability to communicate better serves the entire family unit,” she said referring to the device mounted to a wheelchair. “And that’s something that’s important to us; it’s not just about the individual, but their family, their friends, their community.”

Fortuitous Bounce

Stories such as these make it easy to understand why the WillPower Foundation is far less obscure than it was years ago. Indeed, word of mouth has served as a very powerful marketing vehicle for the organization, because the word being spread — and it has spread quickly and effectively — is just how unique and game-changing the foundation’s work is.

“When families that are experiencing financial hardship find out there’s a resource that gives them cash — albeit a small amount — for something they determine they need, the word spreads very quickly,” said Aasheim, adding that, as word spreads and the volume of grant applications grows, the challenge then becomes raising more money to fund more of those requests.

Fortunately, just as this nonprofit resonates with those it helps through grants, it also resonates with those who recognize the uniqueness of the mission, the level of need, and the fact that many of these families don’t have many other options, if any at all.

Thus, support is growing, and the foundation’s board is looking to increase annual grant awards to $30,000, an ambitious goal made possible by the help of individuals and businesses that, as noted, and in very simple terms, can relate.

“The more we spread the word, the more information about what we’re doing gets out, the more the local community as a whole wants to support families like ours,” said Maria Burke. “Honestly, almost everyone you meet knows someone with a disability, and every business has an employee with a family member with a disability. Everybody can say they know someone who is facing these challenges every day, and that’s why they embrace our mission.”

The foundation stages fund-raisers, solicits donations, and benefits from the support of several primary sponsors — the law firm Alekman DiTusa, Orthotics and Prosthetics Labs, and LePage Financial Group.

Ryan Alekman and Robert DiTusa, partners at the law firm, said it is active in the community in a number of ways, and that the work of the WillPower Foundation dovetails nicely with its overall philosophy when it comes to giving back.

“We can see our money doing a lot of good with a smaller organization, as opposed to putting the same amount into a giant nonprofit,” said Alekman, adding that the firm prefers to support nonprofits and initiatives where the results are visible and tangible, and the WillPower Foundation certainly fits that description.

DiTusa agreed, and said the foundation produces these kinds of visible results with families that are truly in need and often have no other recourse.

“There are so many gaps in insurance, and most people really don’t understand that,” he explained. “They figure ‘that family has health insurance, those kids must be fine, they’re taken care of.’

“But if you have a disabled child, there’s a ton of things that they’re going to need that are not covered by insurance,” he went on. “The gaps are enormous, and if have a nonprofit like the WillPower Foundation that steps in and fills those gaps, that can make an enormous difference in a child’s life.”

Just ask Kim Schildbach. Or Missy Kim. Or Will Burke.

Reaching New Heights

Maria Burke remembers talking with the young mother of a child with special needs at a recent gathering of such parents. The conversation came around to how insurance often doesn’t cover the cost of many seemingly small but nonetheless significant services, leaving families scrambling.

And the woman mentioned that she heard about this unique nonprofit called the WillPower Foundation that actually awards small grants to the families of such individuals so that these gaps could be closed, and that it was certainly worth checking it out.

Burke quietly took those comments under advisement — without letting on that this was her baby, as they say.

That’s because her real baby is the inquisitive guy in the wheelchair with those superpowers mentioned earlier, especially the ability to inspire and empower others to do what they might have thought was beyond their reach.

Will’s been setting the bar higher and then clearing it his whole life, and the foundation created in his name is enabling individuals of different abilities and their families to do the same.

And thus, it’s truly worthy of that plaque shaped like a butterfly and the designation ‘Difference Maker.’

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

Opinion

Editorial

We’ve written extensively about Amazon’s ongoing search for a second headquarters facility, and we’re addressing it again, even though the region’s only real submission — one involving property in Enfield — didn’t make the cutdown list.

That’s because this is a remarkable story on many levels, one that brings to the forefront a host of issues dominating the realms of economic development and urban planning today.

In fact, this contest shows just how blurry the line is when it comes to what a ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ is when it comes to this competition.

Indeed, when the list of the 20 finalists came out — Boston is on it, as is New York, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and many other major urban centers — more than a few mayors representing cities not on the list were breathing a sigh of relief.

That’s because the tax-incentive packages being offered are of the nine- and even 10-figure variety. New Jersey offered a package totaling more than $7 billion, and other cities reportedly topped that figure. That’s the price of luring Amazon, its 50,000 jobs, and $5 billion in development spending, apparently, and many cities have no problem with paying it.

But should they pay it? We’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, though, why are the numbers so big, and why are so many communities willing to pay that much to the man, Jeff Bezos, recently identified as the richest man in the history of the world?

That one’s easy. Jobs, as we’ve said many times and in many different ways, have become a truly precious commodity, and they’ve become even more scarce as technology improves and more jobs are rendered obsolete by robots and software.

These jobs that Amazon will bring are those proverbial good jobs with good pay, and remember, it will bring 50,000 of them, supposedly. To get that same number of good jobs with good wages, a community would need 50 strong companies employing 1,000 people each (that’s three or four times the number of such companies currently in Western Mass.), or 1,000 companies employing 50 each.

We just did the math, but you can understand what’s behind that math — years, if not decades, of hard work and some incredible luck.

Landing Amazon is a development that could change the fortunes of a city like Newark, which explains why New Jersey officials are ready, willing, and apparently able to offer that $7 billion in tax incentives, although there may well be some buyer’s remorse if it triumphs.

Why? Because becoming home to Amazon’s second headquarters may require hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending in new schools, better roads, new housing, and more.

Which brings us back to the question of whether cities and states should be offering those kinds of tax incentives. The popular, idealistic answer is a bold-print ‘no,’ with additional commentary that these billions of dollars should be spent on social services, transportation, healthcare, and more — or should be awarded to existing companies that are already part of a community.

The more logical answer is that many of these communities and regions don’t have any real — or easy — options for revitalizing cities or securing a steady stream of jobs for years or decades to come.

That’s why the Amazon contest is so compelling, and things are just starting to get interesting.

Construction Sections

Building Concern

David Fontaine Jr.

David Fontaine Jr. outside one of his company’s current high-profile projects, the new Pope Francis High School.

The good news for area contractors is that construction is humming along in Western Mass. The bad news? A limited talent pool has been stretched even thinner, and companies often struggle to find skilled workers. It’s actually a national problem, as a decades-long emphasis on college degrees has steered young people away from the trades as a viable career option. That needs to change, industry experts say, if they want to keep growing.

Long before the MGM Springfield casino project put hundreds of workers — carpenters, ironworkers, plumbers, electricians, you name it — to work, the region’s construction companies found themselves struggling with a critical element of the business: finding workers.

n some ways, it’s a good problem to have — it means construction activity is up regionally — but it may not be sustainable.

“In Western Mass., it’s a combination of things,” said David Fontaine Jr., president of Fontaine Brothers in Springfield. “Everyone is very busy, with a lot of large projects going on and demanding a lot of labor. And then, you’re seeing a shortage of people entering the trades. Its hard to distinguish which is more the culprit right now, but it’s definitely those two things going on.”

Fran Beaulieu, president of Phil Beaulieu & Sons Home Improvement in Chicopee, agrees.

“There is a shortage, and it’s hard to find new help; they just don’t come knocking on your door,” he told BusinessWest. “So we have to create from within. We do have a nice crop of younger guys working for us, under 30, and we’re doing everything we can to retain them — making a better work environment, making it profitable for them, and showing them there is a future in this. That’s how you retain them.”

Attracting new blood to the field? That’s a little more challenging.

“It’s hard work,” he said, perhaps referring to both the actual jobs and convincing people to do them. “When you decide you want to be a carpenter, plumber, or electrician, you know it will be hard work. And there will be days when it’s 28 degrees out — those are the bad days. But then there are a lot of good days — nice, sunny days when it’s 75 degrees out, and people sitting at their desks wish they were outside.”

It doesn’t help, he noted, that some elements of society have looked down at the construction trades over the past quarter-century, pushing hard the idea that young people need to earn a college degree.

Yet, “if you take the job professionally, you can do really, really well,” he said, noting that someone who starts at age 18 may be earning $80,000 to $90,000 by the time they’re 23 or 24, while someone who went to college is just starting out in an entry-level job, often saddled with six-figure debt.

“And that’s working for someone else; never mind venturing out and doing your own projects,” he went on. “I always tell young guys, ‘the carpenter becomes the builder, the builder becomes the developer, and the developer becomes the real-estate owner.’ After five or six years, they’re often no longer wearing a toolbelt, because they’re managing the people working for them. This business can be very lucrative; there’s a lot of opportunity. We all need a plumber from time to time.”

If You Build It…

America needs a lot more than that. Last year, the National Assoc. of Home Builders’ Economics and Housing Policy Group conducted a national online survey of 2,001 young adults (ages 18-25) in response to growing concerns over labor supply in the trades. The current scarcity is all the more concerning, the report noted, given projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the construction sector will add around 790,000 new jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Among respondents who say they want to work in construction, 80% cited good pay as a reason why — the top motivator, in fact. Other reasons include the ability to obtain useful skills (74%), the ability to work outside (53%), the ability to start one’s own business (50%), and the fact that it doesn’t require a college degree (37%).

On the other hand, when respondents who said they were not interested in a construction career were asked why, the top reason was the desire for a less physically demanding job, cited by 48%, followed by the difficulty of the work (32%), the desire for an office job (26%), the desire to open their own business (20%) and, interestingly, the desire to make more money than people in the trades make (19%).

Interesting, because there seems to be a perception gap when it comes to salary. Of the respondents uninterested in a construction career, almost half (44%) think annual salary averages less than $51,000, and only 2% think someone can earn more than $100,000.

Still, the report notes, “most young adults who have yet to make up their minds on a career see very little chance they would join the trades even if the pay was high. This decision is based more on their view that construction work is physically demanding and difficult, and less so on often-repeated presumptions that it is because they prefer ‘new economy’ type jobs, or because the work is seasonal or requires being outside in the elements.

Fran Beaulieu

Fran Beaulieu says recruiting talent is a constant challenge in the industry, which is why he focuses on creating a strong culture of retention and advancement.

“The helpful news for the construction industry is that many 18- to 25-year olds who in theory would not like to work in the trades would reconsider it for an annual salary of $75,000 or more,” it continues. “Although the average annual salary is below this for the trades relevant to the home building industry, $75,000-plus salaries are available for the top 10% to 25% of workers, and it may be worthwhile to make this more widely known.”

Fontaine is doing his part.

“I think this is a great career,” he said. “We have a lot of people here who have had long, successful careers. And certainly, a lot of other contractors in the area have employed a lot of the same people for years and years. A lot of that is the unions, which have great healthcare programs and pension programs that people can take advantage of.”

It’s the other side of the coin, the too-slow trickle of younger workers, that has contractors concerned. Take, for example, these comments published in BusinessWest during 2017 alone:

• From Joe Marois, president of Marois Construction in South Hadley: “Now we’re being faced with a labor shortage, which is always a challenge. That’s the nature of construction — it’s never perfect. I don’t know to what extent the casino is affecting that, but basically, the labor pool for tradespeople is very small.”

• From Laurie Raymaakers, co-owner of J.L. Raymaakers & Sons in Westfield: “What we’re not seeing is qualified or experienced people to hire to grow with us. The need for skilled tradespeople is not going away, and it’s not just us — everyone we talk to within the industry says the same thing. And it’s a field where you can make a very good wage.”

• And from Brian Ruud, owner of Vista Home Improvement in Chicopee, who noted that companies have to be willing to pay competitive wages for good talent: “It’s hard to find good people … We’re happy with where we are now. We could grow more if we had the right people, but we’ll find them.”

Jason Garand

Jason Garand says the local carpenters union has developed programs to introduce young people to well-paying careers in the trade.

Jason Garand, business manager of Carpenters Local Union 336 in Springfield, agreed that the promise of good pay is a must to attract young people, noting that, if an 18-year-old with no plans to go to college can earn $11 an hour at McDonald’s or $13 an hour on a job site, doing hard work in the elements, he might choose fast food, even though there’s a much lower career ceiling in that field — perhaps store management, but no higher.

“He might say, ‘I’ll take the easier path in the short term,’ but in the long term, it’s a dead end,” he noted.

As one of its efforts to raise the profile of its trade, the union recently partnered with Putnam Vocational Technical Academy to bring two students in as apprentices to work on the MGM Springfield project.

“We’re giving them a taste of what construction is all about, and our rate is $16 to start — that’s an apprentice, walking in with no skills,” Garand said, adding that, in the long term, “the union has a wage and benefit package that puts you in the middle class.”

Daily Grind

Fontaine was quick to note that the office side of the business isn’t seeing the same shortage, as the flow of young people graduating from schools like Wentworth Institute of Technology or Worcester Polytechnic Institute with degrees in construction management or engineering has been steady.

“We’re seeing more of a shortage of people going into the trades, the laborers — carpenters, plumbers, pipefitters.”

He added that young people who come from families with construction trades in their background are much more likely to enter the field themselves. Meanwhile, Beaulieu said, immigrants, many from South and Central America or Eastern Europe, are entering the field locally at a higher rate than American-born young people.

“There are some drawbacks,” Fontaine said. “There’s a lot of travel involved, a lot of driving to and from job sites. You’re up and on the road early; some people are averse to that. And there are fluctuations in the construction industry; the market is going to go up and down. It’s not a career where you expect to be employed 52 weeks a year. Especially in the early stage of a career, that can drive some people away, too.”

Beaulieu agreed that it’s not the easiest career. “It’s tough on the body; you have to take care of yourself and stay thin — but the job itself will keep you thin.”

For whatever reason, he went on, “I don’t think a lot of seniors and juniors, when they’re thinking about career opportunities, are necessarily thinking about a trade. But, on the other hand, you don’t have to leave college with huge debt, you’re going to get paid right out of the gate, and five or six years later, you can be a master at the trade.”

With that in mind, Beaulieu says he focuses on training from within, so that his own people can grow in their careers, stay with the firm, and advance to project management and beyond.

The Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry recently conducted its own study on why the construction business struggles to attract new talent, and emerged with five takeaways:

• Young people thrive on regular communication. They enjoy collaborating on teams. Mentoring programs will encourage them to stay on board with a company.

• What matters to a young person about work differs from older generations. Young people enjoy technology, and the construction industry is using more of it. Experts recommend appealing to young people’s interest in technology.

• Company culture is important. Young people want jobs that come with perks and ‘come and go as you like’ atmospheres, which are common among high-tech firms. To be appealing, construction firms need to create ‘good fit’ cultures.

• Companies need to develop new recruitment strategies to meet the long-term employment forecasts, which are positive.

• The construction industry needs to target the right group of young people for field positions — those out of high school but not in college. An older group, attending two-year community-college programs, is an up-and-coming recruitment target as well; they may have tried a career path or two and are ready to settle down.

Like others BusinessWest has spoken with recently about this challenge, Fontaine said there’s no one fix, but added that the tide may be turning when it comes to getting the word out that careers in the construction trades are more stable and lucrative than young people might think.

“I think it’s been a challenge for a while, but the unions have done a good job recruiting people into the trades the last couple of years; they’ve done a good job, especially with some projects like the casino, of reaching into the local market,” he noted. “People are becoming more aware of the opportunities than they were five years ago. But it’s still a constant challenge to get and keep good people.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Sections

On the Horizon

In the construction industry, many firms, general contractors, and individual construction workers have done their job a certain way for decades. They learned a certain technique, process, or order of operations that they trust and has worked for them time and time again in the past. For this reason, many construction companies and workers are hesitant and skeptical of adopting new and emerging trends in the industry.

However, the technology developing for the construction industry has grown at an exponential rate, and companies that fail to adopt these new practices could seriously fall behind their competition.

Currently, the construction industry faces a variety of issues that have stifled many projects and raised concerns from the general public. One of the biggest issues facing the industry in 2018 is an overall shortage of laborers that are considered ‘qualified’ construction workers. Another major issue is the glaring number of fatal work injuries that the industry faces, highest among any sector in the U.S. Construction projects have grown increasingly intricate, causing contractors to underestimate the time it will take to complete the project on time and under budget. So, what will 2018 bring to help resolve these issues?

Cutting-edge Robotics

One of the ways the construction industry will try to address its issues with skilled labor is with cutting-edge robotics to streamline and standardize many of their work processes. There have already been great advances in this avenue of construction. Robotic bricklayers have been manufactured to correctly lay up to 3,000 bricks per day, equal to six times faster than a typical bricklayer. By using a combination of a conveyor belt, robotic arm, and concrete pump, this cutting-edge machine will not be able to fully take over a construction site but could offer a construction company huge efficiencies, when used in the right scenarios. These types of robots have only just started to be used in major construction projects.

So, why has this trend not already taken off? So far, the technology and reliance on these machines is still relatively new to the sector. As mentioned earlier, many general contractors are hesitant to adopt new technologies or new ways to complete projects, not to mention having to make a giant investment to do so. Plus, relying solely on a relatively new piece of equipment to lay thousands of bricks is a bold move. However, as these types of construction robots prove themselves more and more, work out their kinks, and skilled laborers become scarcer, a larger number of companies will be willing to make this plunge into the new age of construction robotics.

Internet of Things

As everyone has heard, the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to revolutionize everything: the manufacturing sector, retail, construction, even each individual household. Currently, there are companies offering machine-to-machine construction equipment that offers communication between the two, plus offering diagnostics on the machinery’s fluids, temperature, and even motion sensors. This instant communication between equipment and updates for operators means far less downtime for the construction company and easier maintenance.

So, why would the construction industry not have already adopted these IoT-connected machines, or be more hesitant to adopt these machines than a sector like manufacturing? Well, for the more sophisticated IoT-enabled machines, they can have a fairly high initial cost.

Now, this is the same for the manufacturing industry, too but with one major difference. A manufacturing environment is much more controlled and consistent than a construction environment. On a construction project, it can be very difficult to judge how much a company will use any particular set of machinery and, to go even further, how much they will use it from project to project. In a manufacturing environment, it is much easier to know exactly how often a piece of equipment is used for each process, and, therefore, it is easier to know where to invest in the IoT.

However, as these products become more common, prices will begin to decrease, and construction companies will find the smartest areas to invest in the IoT and begin to see just how beneficial it can be to the bottom line.

3D Model Videos

From architects to general contractors to the customers themselves, 3D models of a construction project helps the overall visualization of the project. For architects, a 3D tour of the structure allows them to see their building come to life rather than being a picture on a piece of paper or a CAD file. A 3D model allows them to see how the building will act and feel for the people using it, to see how each room compliments the next, and to see if everything makes logical sense.

General contractors have a similar reaction to the video, except in a practical sense, inspecting it for potential problems or issues in the construction process. It will not give as much information as a CAD file, but the 3D-model video could provide some insight that they may not have put together otherwise.

Finally, for the customer, they will get to see their final product. The customer will be able to familiarize themselves with the new structure and be able to point out the things they like and, potentially, the things they do not like.

Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons have drawn huge hype for the last few years, not just for the construction industry but for applications as far as military combat. These exoskeletons are mechanical suits that are worn outside of clothing that will help with lifting heavy equipment, machinery, or supplies. Basically, they give an outer shell that is sturdier and stronger.

However, these suits have had a hard time coming to fruition for a couple of major reasons. First off, the power supply of the exoskeleton has been very tough to develop (small engine doing lots of work over long periods of time). Second, they do not always provide the proper joint flexibility (can cause accidents on tough terrain).

However, strides have still been made in their development. Many of today’s exoskeletons use a combination of springs and counterweights in order to store potential energy and turn it into kinetic energy when you need it. There is still a long way to go for this technology, but these basic suits could prevent job-site injuries due to fatigue and general tiredness.

Autonomous Handling of Materials

Autonomous material handling is another technology that is easier served to a manufacturing or warehousing environment than a job site, and for the same reasons. A manufacturing environment has a set layout that can be programmed into the robot. The layout never changes, so the machine can easily predict where to go without things going awry. However, for a job site, things are constantly changing, not just from one job site to another, but even while the structure is being built. Plus, a construction site will not have the same uniform surface to travel over like a manufacturing facility.

So, how will the construction industry make it over these hurdles? One of the prevailing ideas is heavy-duty drones that provide a 3D map of the job site with designated loading and unloading zones. These drones would have a variety of cameras and sensors in order to account for variables not calculated in their original flight path. Also, it would use the Internet of Things to coordinate with other pieces of heavy machinery.

This article first appeared in Digital Journal.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Soup, a community-based, crowd-funding, idea-generating offshoot of SPARK Holyoke, will debut at its new location at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 5:30 p.m.

Holyoke Soup is a dinner celebrating and supporting creative and entrepreneurial projects in Holyoke. For $5, attendees receive soup, salad, and bread while listening to presentations about business, art, urban agriculture, social justice, social programs, education, technology, and more. Contestants have four minutes each to pitch their ideas, and audience members vote for the pitch they like best. Whoever receives the most votes collects the money from that evening.

The new location of Holyoke Soup represents an increased collaboration between the SPARK entrepreneurship program and Holyoke Community College. The HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute opened Jan. 22 at 164 Race St.

“We’re really excited to be able to work with HCC and utilize its new culinary facility, bringing a new level of excitement to this great community event that always brings a diverse group of people together,” said SPARK program manager Tessa Murphy-Romboletti.

Dinner will be prepared and served by students from the Culinary Arts programs at HCC and Dean Technical High School. HCC students and faculty will conduct tours of the new facility, and local entrepreneurs will showcase their businesses and sell their products at pop-up shops featured throughout the evening.

“There is great synergy in SPARK’s endeavor and HCC’s mission, so we are delighted to be able to offer our new Culinary Arts Institute as a resource,” said Jeffrey Hayden, HCC vice president of Business and Community Services. “We can’t wait to see the new opportunities that will certainly emerge from this partnership.”

The event is open to the public for the $5 donation. Anyone interested in attending is asked to register online at bit.ly/2BQ2nwa.

SPARK Holyoke is a program of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Centennial Foundation.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Dr. Neil Kudler, former chief medical information officer for Baystate Health, has joined Holyoke-based healthcare consultancy VertitechIT as chief medical officer.

“IT consultants focused primarily on bits and bytes are doing their clients a disservice,” said Kudler, who has held other senior executive and strategist positions at Baystate Health, one of New England’s largest healthcare systems. “As CMO of VertitechIT, I’m in a position to bridge that all-important technology gap between clinicians and the IT departments that must support them.”

VertitechIT is among the fastest-growing healthcare IT consultancies in the country, focused on helping senior IT leaders to strategically and tactically transform the role of IT in the hospital setting.

“Any consultant worth their fee can design and implement a new cloud strategy or infrastructure platform,” said VertitechIT CEO Michael Feld. “Dr. Kudler gives us immense credibility on the clinical side of the house, providing guidance on things like diversified health-system operations, population health, and data analytics.”

Before joining VertitechIT, Kudler served as senior healthcare innovation strategist for TechSpring Technology Innovation Center, and as chief operating officer for Baycare Health Partners. He is a graduate of Colgate University and received his master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School. He received his doctor of medicine degree from New York University and trained in internal medicine at UC San Francisco.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — O & P Labs announced the grand opening of its Prosthetic Center at 3500 Main St. in Springfield. The local prosthetic company has been serving Western and Central Mass., Northern Conn., and Southern Vermont for more than 30 years.

“We employ the most advanced technology and precise systems available,” said owner Jim Haas. “However, it is our team’s dedication to helping every patient through their individual process — before, during, and after an amputation — that is the backbone of our company.”

The Prosthetic Center at 3500 Main St. will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. to celebrate the grand opening. The public is invited to tour the new facility, meet the team, and learn about the history of amputation and technology advances in the field.

O & P Labs is best known for its local, state-or-the-art fabrication lab, which allows patients to receive fittings, repairs, and adjustments quickly. The 3D printer decreases production time, and digital scanning technology creates highly customized prosthetic sockets.

“Having had my last prosthesis for over 10 years, it was difficult to imagine just how much better the function would be,” said O & P Labs patient Kara Stokowski.

Opinion

Editorial

Over the past 22 years, BusinessWest has had a number of intriguing recipients of its Top Entrepreneur award.

Many would fall in the category of ‘traditional’ when it comes to entrepreneurs, including last year’s honoree, Paul Kozub, creator and president of V-One Vodka, and the 2015 recipients, the second and third generations of the D’Amour family, owners of Big Y supermarkets.

But some honorees would definitely be considered non-traditional, or outside the box (there’s an entrepreneurial term). These would include former Springfield Technical Community College President Andrew Scibelli, who, among other things, created the Technology Park across from the main campus at the start of this century. That term ‘non-traditional’ would also describe former Cooley Dickinson Hospital President Craig Melin, who not only led that institution back from the financial brink, but spearheaded the creation of a number of cutting-edge programs.

At first blush, it might seem fair to label this year’s honoree — the owners and managers of the Springfield Thunderbirds — to be a non-traditional selection, or at least a combination of both. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox being named Top Entrepreneurs, or the Alabama Crimson Tide, for that matter.

But this team’s owners and managers exemplify all the basic tenets of entrepreneurship — from risk taking to meeting a recognized need within the market; from introducing a new product to thinking outside the box (there’s that phrase again).

Wait, introducing a new product? Hockey isn’t a new product. Yes, and that’s a point we’ll come back to in a minute.

First, the risk-taking part. It was a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless. After all, when the owners of the Springfield Falcons decided to move the team to Arizona, there were many in this region saying that Greater Springfield was not a hockey town and could not support a professional sports team.

They put their faith in Springfield native Nate Costa, a veteran administrator with the American Hockey League who had previously gained significant experience in group sales and other aspects of team management and promotion with the league’s franchise in San Antonio.”

But a group of owners, led by Paul Picknelly, owner of Monarch Place, decided that Springfield not only needed a hockey team at this critical time in its history — with MGM already building its casino and several other forms of progress in evidence — but that it would support one as well.

They put their faith in Springfield native Nate Costa, a veteran administrator with the American Hockey League who had previously gained significant experience in group sales and other aspects of team management and promotion with the league’s franchise in San Antonio.

He came to Springfield with a game plan, and it called for bringing a lot more than hockey to the residents of this region.

Indeed, he and his front-office team have delivered experiences, rather than three periods of hockey. These experiences have included live music, special promotions (a Star Wars-themed night, wrestling greats in attendance, and bring your dog to the game, for example), and tributes to some of the sport’s greats (like Willie Oree) and the legacy of hockey in Springfield.

This is thinking outside the box, and it culminated with bringing Red Sox legend David Ortiz to the MassMutual Center in November for a night they’ll be talking about for years.

As for those owners, they didn’t just buy the team and hand the keys to Costa. They’ve invested time, energy, and imagination to the task of bringing people to the MassMutual Center — and bringing them back repeatedly — and building the brand they’ve created.

Call it teamwork, another one of those fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

All of them are on display with the Thunderbirds, a team that has captured the region’s attention and held onto it by doing what all good entrepreneurs do — finding ways to continuously improve and deliver what the customer wants and needs.

An outside-the-box choice for Top Entrepreneur? Maybe, but not really. This is just a good business success story. v

Sections Technology

Call Forward

Brett Normandeau

Brett Normandeau says hot communication technologies like business texting are providing new opportunities for his nearly 30-year-old company.

Brett Normandeau recalls the early days of the company his father started 28 years ago, when installing telephone systems was simpler, and even voice mail seemed revolutionary. Those days are long gone, and companies, like NTI, that succeed in the world of business communication are navigating some fast-moving waters. But they’re also making work easier and less expensive for their clients, and those are goals that never go out of style.

After eight years in its headquarters on Riverdale Street in West Springfield, Brett Normandeau said he’s looking to move into a smaller space.

Simply put, while his company, Normandeau Technologies Inc. (NTI), is growing — to seven employees at present, after three recent hires — his space needs are shrinking, since technicians are performing more work remotely than ever before.

It’s one example of how NTI reflects the very business trends that impact the services it provides to customers.

The company has been been selling, installing, and servicing telephone systems for 28 years, with voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology — which uses the Internet to exchange various forms of communication that have traditionally been carried over land lines — serving as its main service focus over the past decade-plus.

It’s a technology that allows businesses to stay connected even when employees are far-flung — whether they’re working from home or in an office across the country.

Smartphones, however, are changing the game when it comes to phone systems, and newer developments like business texting and mass notification services — two niches Normandeau is particularly excited about — again evolving the way employers and employees communicate.

Kevin Hart is excited too — enough to return last year to the company he worked for many years ago, this time as director of business development.

“We’re looking to grow as a company. There’s a big market right now, and we’re ready for it,” he told BusinessWest, before noting that, as technology has evolved, so have client expectations. “We’re excited that we can do this more efficiently now than ever before. Customers appreciate that. They want their stuff fixed. The industry standard used to be two to three days response time, and now sometimes it’s within the hour.”

When my father started 28 years ago, all we did was run cable and service some telephone systems. That was even before voice mail. I remember that change, and thinking, ‘are we going to take this voice mail on?’ We started doing that, and it just progressed from there.”

So, while the company continues to make a name for itself in the fields of IP telephony, IP surveillance, data cabling, and cloud services, newer technologies continually shake up the game and provide plenty of opportunity for growth.

“What attracted Kevin to come back were the products and technologies we’re offering, and the opportunities he’s got to develop our business,” Normandeau said. “Business texting is huge, and so are emergency notification systems, as well as our traditional cloud and telephone systems, which have been the bread and butter of our business.”

While traditional phone systems are slowly changing over to cloud-based systems, plenty of companies are still behind the curve, he added, noting that such systems offer more integration, functionality, and control — and lower costs — than ever before. In short, it’s a good time to be in this business.

Beyond the Simple Phone

At its heart, Normandeau communications has been trading in phone systems since Ray Normandeau launched the enterprise in Florence in 1990, using money from an early-retirement package offered by a streamlining AT&T.

As Ray built his business on word of mouth and a few loyal customers, his son Brett started working alongside his father, having been licensed as an electrical journeyman shortly before Ray launched the company. He took over as president when his father retired about 16 years ago.

At the start, clients were mainly residential, but gradually, the emphasis turned to business customers, which today comprise the vast majority of the client base.

“When my father started 28 years ago, all we did was run cable and service some telephone systems. That was even before voice mail,” Normandeau said. “I remember that change, and thinking, ‘are we going to take this voice mail on?’ We started doing that, and it just progressed from there.”

NTI’s featured partners include LG-Ericsson, whose iPECS-LIK product further streamlines communication within any size business, from small offices to large corporations with thousands of users, managing all kinds of communication — phone calls, e-mails, texts, etc. — across multiple sites, under a single user interface. It’s a useful product for multi-site organizations, such as banks and their multiple branches.

Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart, standing in front of a phone from a different era, says customer expectations have evolved along with the technology.

Hart said businesses are starting to turn away from internal server networks that need occasional upgrading or replacing.

“Cloud-based systems today are effective, and they work, where 10 years ago they were heavily contingent on bandwidth,” he told BusinessWest. “The second-generation cloud-based systems at this point are not only reliable, but they’re usually cheaper than your current telephone bill.”

Added Normandeau, “it’s an operating expense as opposed to a capital expense, and that’s very attractive to businesses.”

On the business-texting front, Normandeau uses a platform called Captivated. On one side, a company’s contacts text it on a landline or published text number the business promotes. On the other side, a text comes into Captivated and the company handles it or easily transfers it to the right department or individual.

The benefit, Normandeau said, is that people don’t answer phone calls as often as they used to, particularly from numbers they don’t recognize, scared off by the proliferation of robocalls — but they will look at texts, especially if the sender’s number is familiar.

In addition, service providers in all kinds of industries can use the system to reach customers if they’re running late for an appointment, while an auto mechanic working on a vehicle who sees additional problems can quickly get in touch with the customer and start working on the second problem — all of this, again, predicated on people being more likely to respond to texts than calls. “It’s a huge scheduling convenience,” Normandeau said.

In addition, all texts are centralized and saved in the cloud, providing a permanent record that isn’t available when technicians use their personal cell phones to contact customers.

In the realm of mass notification — a related but different technology than regular business texting — Normandeau uses the StaffAlerter platform, which was originally developed originally for the K-12 market, for campus security and other reasons. It uses templates by which messages can be sent out quickly to an entire subscriber list with the touch of a button.

“In an emergency, a schook teacher can automatically send an alert, a mass notification to all staff, that can also tie into their paging system throughout the school, so teachers can lock down the classrooms,” he explained.

But the applications are endless, Hart added, from sending alerts to snowplow drivers during the early-morning hours as a storm looms, to contacting large groups of off-duty nurses or police officers if a shift suddenly opens up. “Before, you’d have to call 30 people to get someone to come over and cover.”

Growth Pattern

Staff growth at NTI includes its new operations manager, Lindsey McGrath, who has 20 years of experience on the carrier side of the business, and Russell Diederich, a technician who spent 30 years at Verizon.

Those are the moves a company that knows it has opportunities to grow, Hart said.

“The lion’s share of companies still use legacy systems,” he noted. “Especially after the economic downturn in ’08 and ’09, they held on to what they had and were reluctant to make changes, but it’s no longer cost-effective to do it that way.”

He said he recently sold a new system to a client he had services 21 years ago, noting that “he got his money’s worth.”

“Truth be told,” Normandeau was quick to note, “a lot of those old phone systems still work. There’s a New England mentality of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

That said, he added, there are plenty of opportunities for companies to streamline their communications and save money if they’re willing to look into them.

Especially companies like NTI itself, which is scaling up its staff while downsizing its space because working remotely is the wave of the future.

“It makes far more sense when technicians and sales staff don’t have to come to a central point,” Hart said. “It saves a lot of ‘windshield time’ for sales and service techs when we have this platform. It’s better for customers and better for employees’ quality of life.”

That said, NTI isn’t resting on its laurels, Normandeau said, noting that he takes part in IT networks and conferences with an eye on the next big thing in communications. “I’m going to the IT Expo in Florida next month to check out the latest and greatest,” he said — and bring that knowledge back to a company that has evolved significantly since the days when voice mail was all the rage.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

HOLYOKE — A seasoned chief information officer for some of the world’s largest healthcare payor organizations, Terry Ramey has joined Holyoke-based healthcare consultancy VertitechIT as an executive project officer (EPO). He will lead engagements with large healthcare systems as the company continues to expand operations throughout the East Coast and across the country.

Ramey previously held senior technology titles at PerformRX (a subsidiary of AmeriHealth Caritas), Penn Mutual Life Insurance, CIGNA Health Services, and Dendrite International.
 
As a nationally recognized healthcare technology executive, he says he was looking to make an impact on the provider side of the industry.

“At CIGNA, Penn Mutual, and other major payor organizations, my responsibilities were to leverage technology to positively affect the bottom line,” he noted. “At VertitechIT, I have the opportunity to help transform hospital IT departments with a direct impact on patient care. It’s not often that an IT executive gets to do that.”

VertitechIT CEO Michael Feld agrees. “Our work at work at major health systems goes far beyond designing and implementing cloud strategies, overhauling infrastructure, and streamlining operations. As an EPO, Terry will counsel clients on the IT initiatives that can literally change the way doctors do their jobs.”

Working at the executive level within a healthcare organization, EPOs oversee a collaborative office of the CTO (oCTO), implementing VertitechIT’s proprietary LeverageIT process. Working side by side with senior internal managers, the oCTO refines strategic directives and implements tactical solutions that make organizations more profitable and efficient.

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

At last week’s inauguration of Chicopee officials

At last week’s inauguration of Chicopee officials, Mayor Richard Kos (center) is flanked by, from left, state Rep. Joseph Wagner, City Council President John Vieu, Elms College President Harry Dumay, and D. Scott Durham, Airlift Wing commander at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Mayor Richard Kos is fond of pointing out that Chicopee is alone among Western Mass. communities in having two exits off the Mass Pike — and now it has a third ‘beacon’ of sorts, as he calls it, with the new Mercedes-Benz dealership lighting the night as it overlooks the Pike at exit 6.

“One of the benefits of Chicopee is its convenience, as well as being a great place to do business,” Kos told BusinessWest. “That’s why Mercedes chose to build in that location. Having two exits on the turnpike is unique in Western Mass., let alone being close to four interstates — 90, 91, 291, and 391. As time goes by, society changes, especially in terms of technology, but being able to get places quickly is always a priority.”

In that vein, the mayor is gratified by a number of businesses choosing to locate or expand in Chicopee, as well as a raft of municipal projects and public-private partnerships that continue to raise the quality of life in this multi-faceted community of more than 55,000 people.

“Last year’s announcements have become this year’s ribbon cuttings, and Mercedes is one of them,” he said. “They’re a beacon advertising quality and prestige for everyone who enters the city off the turnpike or 291. That’s a major investment in the city — $12 million for acquisition, demolition, and construction. And Tru is another $15 million investment in our community.”

That would be Tru by Hilton, another major project, this one bordering the Mass Pike at exit 5. The owners of a Days Inn demolished the outdated hotel on Memorial Drive to make way for the new structure, and the property will include a fast-foot restaurant, a gas station, a coffee shop, and a sit-down restaurant.

“For people coming to Western Mass. from the eastern part of the state, these projects send a nice message,” Kos said — that message being that things are happening in Chicopee. “We’re a community that has always been responsive to businesses, with the conveniences we afford, while still being a very competitive community in terms of electric rates, taxes, and fees.”

Chicopee
at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,298
Area: 23.9 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $18.31
Commercial Tax Rate: $34.65
Median Household Income: $35,672
Median Family Income: $44,136
Type of Government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Westover Air Reserve Base; J. Polep Distribution Services; City of Chicopee; Callaway Golf Ball Operations; MicroTek
* Latest information available

Other success stories involve long-time businesses like Callaway Golf, which sits on the Meadow Street property synonymous with Spalding for many decades.

“Callaway not only chose to remain here and expand here, but with their Chrome Soft ball and all their other high-end balls, they’re running a 24-hour, seven-day operation to keep up with demand,” the mayor said. “That’s one of the fastest-growing balls in use on the tour, and we’re proud that it’s made in Chicopee.”

One key, he went on, whether dealing with new businesses or existing ones that want to expand and invest, is streamlining the permitting process.

“We’re trying to be responsive to business needs and timing,” Kos said. “A lot of times, government has a pace that leaves a little bit to be desired, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in our city. Chicopee has a history of being extremely business-friendly and responsive. You come in and meet all the boards at once — fire, electric, building, water, all the various departments you need — to have your ideas vetted and see what issues might arise, and to make sure your project goes smoothly. Time is money.”

Downtown Rise Up

At the same time, money is an investment — at least, that’s the way municipal leaders see it as they continue to raise the profile of Chicopee’s downtown. Those investments range from a $2.6 million MassWorks grant to improve water and sewer infrastructure to Mount Holyoke Development’s housing project at Lyman Mills, set to open this spring with 110 market-rate units — specifically, loft-style work/live spaces designed to appeal to young entrepreneurs.

Kos hopes that development and others like it — such as Valley Opportunity Council’s renovation of the former Kendall House into 41 affordable studio apartments — spur further restaurant, bar, and retail development and create a more walkable, active downtown. Community events, such as the city’s holiday tree lighting, Halloween spectacular, and the late-summer Downtown Get Down, just add to that effort.

“We want foot traffic and to get more people down there, which is why we’re investing time and effort to get people to live down there, and make it safer, too,” he added, noting that the City Council recently approved $300,000 to add more cameras downtown and throughout the city to fight and, more importantly, deter crime.

“Our cooperation with the City Council has been remarkable. And the city leaders and the state delegation have worked together to solve problems, come to a consensus, and move forward.”

Meanwhile, at the former Facemate site, David Spada from Lawrence is building a $21 million, 92-room assisted-living facility on a West Main Street parcel across from the Chicopee Falls Post Office, situated off a new road which leads to the RiverMills Senior Center. Ground will be broken this spring.

“So we’re providing opportunities for Millennials to live and work in lofts on one end of the city,” Kos said, “and assisted living on the other.”

Other innovative reuse of property includes a three-megawatt solar farm on a 26-acre site off of Outer Drive and Goodwin Street, near Westover Air Reserve Base. In 2016, the city razed 100 units of military housing units on the site, which had sat unused for two decades and become problematic.

Once a solar farm was approved by neighbors and city leaders, Chicopee was awarded a $1 million MassDevelopment grant to remediate the property, and with money came from the state’s grant program to support the Clean Energy Assessment & Strategic Plan for Massachusetts Military Installations, the housing was finally torn down. Finally, a lease agreement was signed with Chicopee Solar LLC, a subsidiary of ConEdison Development, to build a solar farm.

The city’s investment will be recouped in 10 years through tax revenue and income from the lease agreement, and the government will also benefit because Westover will receive a 5% discount each year on electricity, amounting to $100,000 in annual savings.

“Those properties were deteriorating and vagrant,” Kos told BusinessWest. “This was a win-win for the neighborhood as well as the city.”

Hometown Appeal

Other recent quality-of-life developments in the city include a $225,000 investment in Sarah Jane Park, a grant to the Valley Opportunity Council to support a culinary-arts program and expand nutrition programs in Willimansett, and grants to Porchlight, the Boys & Girls Club, and Head Start to improve infrastructure and programming. For the latter, the city helped leverage more than $600,000 in building improvements to the former Chicopee Falls branch library so Head Start can expand programs for hundreds of children in that neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the city’s public-safety complex recently saw $9 million in improvements, including a new training facility, central dispatch, and locker rooms. “Both chiefs agree that facility will last multiple generations in terms of the improvements made there,” Kos said, adding that other additions include a new ladder truck and an expansion of the police K9 program.

Not all these developments have the splash of a well-lit Mercedes-Benz dealership making a dramatic impression on Mass Pike motorists, but they are all beacons in their own way, testifying to a city on the move, and also a community with plenty of hometown pride.

“We’re the third-largest city west of 495,” the mayor concluded, “but it’s the old Cheers bar mentality — everyone seems to know your name.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Education Sections

Life’s Work

Lisa Rapp

Lisa Rapp says many biotech students find inspiration in the fact that their work may someday make a difference — for example, in developing a key new drug.

For college students — or career changers — seeking a career path with plenty of opportunity close to home, biotechnology in Massachusetts is certainly enjoying an enviable wave.

For example, drug research and development — one key field in the broad world of biotech — has been surging in Massachusetts for well over a decade, and isn’t slowing down, according to the annual report released in November by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, or MassBio.

According to that report, Massachusetts has more jobs classified as biotechnology R&D than any other state (see table below), with 34,366 currently employed — a 40% increase since 2007 — barely edging out California, a state with six times the Bay State’s population, and a well-defined high-tech landscape.

Meanwhile, the total number of biopharma workers in Massachusetts rose by nearly 5% in 2016, to 66,053, a 28% growth rate since 2007, which was the year former Gov. Deval Patrick launched a 10-year, $1 billion life-sciences investment program. More recently, Gov. Charlie Baker renewed the state’s commitment to the industry when he announced a five-year, $500 million ‘life sciences 2.0’ initiative.

stateemploytrendsbiotech0118a

“Massachusetts is historically one of the first states that got into biotechnology, then Deval Patrick made a real financial commitment, and provided funding, to try to keep it here,” said Lisa Rapp, who chairs the associate-degree Biotechnology program at Springfield Technical Community College, adding that Cambridge has long been the key hub, but biotech companies can be found throughout the Commonwealth.

Still, while the industry is growing rapidly, Rapp noted that biotechnology often is not on the radar of people considering their career options. Biotechnology encompasses a broad range of applications that use living organisms such as cells and bacteria to make useful products. Current applications of biotechnology include industrial production of pharmaceuticals such as vaccines and insulin, genetic testing, DNA fingerprinting, and genetic engineering of plants.

“I don’t think many students are aware how many jobs there are in the state. There are more jobs the farther east you go, but there are absolutely jobs here too,” she said, noting that research and development companies tend to cluster closer to Boston, while Western Mass. tends to be stronger with biomanufacturing.

The research and development job gains come as the state’s collective pipeline of drugs is rapidly expanding. According to the MassBio report, companies headquartered in the state have 1,876 drugs in various stages of development, nearly half of which — 912 — are being tested in human trials. That’s a significant increase from last year, when 1,149 drugs were in development, including 455 in human trials. Treatments for cancer, neurological disorders, and infections are among the most popular.

“There are more opportunities now than ever to get good jobs in Massachusetts,” Rapp said. “The state has the highest concentration of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the world.”

“We’re in the middle of a genomic revolution right now, on the cusp of this brave new world,” said Thomas Mennella, associate professor of Biology at Bay Path University, who directs the master’s program in Applied Laboratory Science & Operations, which has become a key graduate degree in the biotech world (more on that later).

“My read on the field is that no one is sure where this is going to go, but everyone believes it’s going somewhere special,” he went on. “This generation now coming out will advance that revolution, and we’re preparing them the best we can to make them as adaptable as possible and follow the flow wherever the field leads.”

Meeting the Need

Since 2012, Rapp said, STCC has received $375,000 in grants to enhance its Biotechnology program, and especially the cutting-edge equipment and supplies on which students learn current techniques in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“Our curriculum is designed to meet the ever-expanding need for trained biotechnology personnel, she added, noting that students who complete the two-year program can apply for jobs in the biopharma industry, or may advance to four-year institutions to pursue higher degrees in biotechnology.

“The career-track associate degree is meant to lead to direct employment in the field, and then we have a transfer track for students looking to transfer to a four-year college and get a bachelor’s degree or additional education,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s about half and half, but the last few years, there has been a little more interest in the transfer pathway.”

Bay Path’s bachelor’s-degree program has evolved over time, Mennella said, first in response to industry talk that students nationally weren’t emerging with high-tech instrumentation skills, and then — when programs morphed to emphasize those skills — that job applicants were highly technically trained, but not thinking scientifically.

“Our degree here is meant to bridge that gap, meet in the middle,” he explaned. “They’re graduating with the best of both worlds.”

But he called the master’s program in Applied Laboratory Science & Operations the “cherry on top of the program,” because it sets up biotech undergrads with the tools they need to manage a lab — from project management to understanding the ethical and legal implications of their work — which, in turn, leads to some of the more lucrative and rewarding areas of their field.

“We’ve packaged four courses together as an online graduate certificate program, so even students who just want to learn how to manage a lab and manage people can take those four online courses as a graduate certificate,” he explained.

The idea, Mennella said, is to make sure graduates are as competitive as they can be, in a field that — like others in Massachusetts, from precision manufacturing to information technology — often has more job opportunities available than qualified candidates. He wants his graduates to demonstrate, within six months to a year, that they can slide into lab-management positions that, in the Bay State, pay a median salary of almost $120,000.

“The state is hungry for highly skilled technicians that can do the day-to-day work to keep the lab running,” he noted. “We want them geared toward the really good technical jobs in this area, but have that second [managerial] purpose in mind. We’re striking both sides of the coin.”

Cool, Fun — and Meaningful

Rapp noted that many students are looking for a challenging role in medical research that doesn’t involve patient contact, and a biotechnology degree is a clear path to such a career.

“Generally, they have some underlying interest in science — they think science is cool and fun, which, of course, it is. And with laboratory jobs, they might have an interest in science and not necessarily in patient care,” she explained. “And they like the hands-on work in a laboratory setting.”

Whether working for pharmaceutical companies, developing and testing new drugs, or for biomanufacturing companies working on medical devices, or even in a forensics lab, opportunities abound, she said.

“I feel like many students want to feel like they’re doing something meaningful here,” Rapp added. “If they’re involved in designing or testing drugs, helping some future patient, I feel that’s a message that reonates with the students — that maybe they’ll be doing a job that helps someone in some way.”

At a recent Biotechnology Career Exploration Luncheon at STCC, professors from area colleges discussed opportunities in the field, and agreed that job reports like the one from MassBio may only scratch the surface when it comes to opportunities in a field that grows more intriguing by the year.

“Biochemistry and molecular-biology principles are critical in a number of growing fields in health and technology,” said Amy Springer, lecturer and chief undergraduate advisor at UMass Amherst. “Having a fundamental knowledge in these topics provides a student with translatable skills suitable for a range of areas, including discovery research, medical diagnostics, treatments and engineering, and environmental science.”

As Mennella said, it’s a brave new world — and a story that’s only beginning to unfold.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sales and Marketing Sections

It’s All About Storytelling

By Darby O’Brien

Darby O’Brien

In this age of countless media platforms, Darby O’Brien says, bold and creative messaging is more important than ever.

In today’s multimedia environment, there are countless platforms — and a hell of a lot of clutter. That means the bedrock of strong advertising and marketing — bold, creative messaging — is even more important, whether it’s a billboard or a banner ad.

As marketing agencies, we’re expected to sell our clients on viral content, social-media approaches driven by hashtags and Snapchat filters. Lots of buzzwords. It’s important to keep current and explore all available options to get the word out. But it’s also important to have a strategy and not disregard the enduring power of traditional media such as television and print.

We need to dig down and get to know our clients, what makes them unique, and what specific strategy works for them. It’s not our job to sell clients on the latest trends just because it’s something they’ve been told they should have. It’s our job to give them the tools they need to succeed.

We believe in powerful brands with a strong look and message and making sure that stays consistent through all representations: website, business cards, letterhead, social media, advertising, even the design of the office. This business is all about storytelling. A company advertises to differentiate themselves, to set themselves apart from the pack. We need to focus less on the delivery system and more on the message. Branding campaigns that work are the ones that connect. They are memorable and successful because they truly represent the client. Sometimes it’s done through humor; sometimes it’s emotion. Sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes it’s a kick in the pants.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.”

Once there’s a strong identity and story, one must consider the current media options and figure out a combination that works. If we want to capture an audience attending an event, we geofence the event and hit ’em with ads on their phones. If you sell a product that needs multiple touches, it’s best to re-market to visitors to your site and keep top-of-mind awareness until they pull the trigger.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.

People aren’t going on Facebook or Instagram to be sold. That said, it is an incredible platform for doing just that. Restaurants, fashion, beauty, and other lifestyle brands have the easy leg up on being consumer-based and can benefit from the bragging rights associated with people liking their page. Those are the easy promotions on social media. Take a food-porn shot of your top-selling entrée, appetizer, or cocktail, boost it, and watch the likes and shares come in.

It gets tougher if you are a growing company that is not in a sexy category. Try recruiting talent from a pool where the audience doesn’t have cable or read the newspaper. That is where strategy, message, and delivery come together. We have seen great success with recruiting campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, even for companies that you may not associate with social media. In this case, the strategy is to sell the lifestyle that working for said company could afford them instead of just throwing up a ‘now hiring’ post.

Unfortunately, we’re living in what I call an ‘eggshells environment.’ We need bold, creative messaging more than ever, but people seem more cautious than ever. There’s too much of a focus-group mentality. When you try to please everybody, you don’t appeal to anybody.

Our most successful campaigns have been when we dealt directly with the decision maker, the person whose reputation is on the line and knows that you have to roll the dice to win. Those campaigns and concepts have rarely made it through the groupthink filter of committees, play-it-safe marketing directors, and company boards without being dumbed down and rendered ineffective.

As marketing agencies, we need to make it clear what exactly we’re good at. Today, everybody thinks they can do it themselves. It’s great that media has been democratized by new technology, but just because a client can shoot a web video or a TV spot on their iPhone and cut it together on their laptop, doesn’t mean they should. Now more than ever, concepts, quality production values, and consistency are key if you want to make an impact.

One thing I’ve always stood by is that you don’t win when you underestimate the audience or treat them like a bunch of rubes. Today’s audience is media-savvy, sophisticated, and appreciative of quality and style. Look at what’s on TV. Look at the food world. Things are being executed on a higher level than ever before.

Businesses need to think big and not be afraid to take a risk.

Darby O’Brien is a principal with Darby O’Brien, an independent, family-run branding, design, advertising, and public-relations firm headquartered in South Hadley; (413) 533-7045.

Sections Women in Businesss

Missed Connections

Robin Saunders

Robin Saunders says the job opportunities and flexible working options in the IT field make it an ideal landing spot for talented women.

Despite the fact that women comprise roughly half the workforce and the majority of college enrollment, the world of computers and information technology remains a largely man’s world, with women accounting for just over one-quarter of all professionals. Many reasons have been posited for this disparity, but most industry leaders agree that opportunity abounds for talented women willing to, as one local professor put it, “just jump in.”

The numbers aren’t surprising anymore, but they’re still striking.

According to the National Science Foundation, though women make up roughly half of the college-educated workforce — and well over half of current college students — they comprise just 25% of the nation’s workforce in ‘computer and mathematical sciences,’ the name the Bureau of Labor Statistics gives to the broad industry most people call IT, or information technology.

“When I graduated in the mid-’80s, it wasn’t quite 50-50, but there were more women for sure,” said Brian Candido, associate professor and program chair of Computer Information Technologies at Springfield Technical Community College, noting that the field is slowly diversifying racially, but not along gender lines. “What’s interesting is that colleges are 60-40 female, and the projections are 70-30 in the next five years — but not in IT. It still tends to be white males. We’re seeing more Latinos, which is good, but not as many women as I’d like to see.”

Robin Saunders, director of Graduate Programs in Communications and Information Management at Bay Path University, agrees — even from her perspective at a women’s university.

“It is absolutely a problem,” she said. “If you look at the studies done by Google, women represent less than a third of the people in information-technology fields. They partly attribute that to women not being encouraged in high school to get into computer science. They’re told it’s difficult, it’s boring, it’s technology. When I was in my graduate cybersecurity degree program, I was the only woman. It can be pretty intimidating.”

And that’s unfortunate, she said, considering the opportunity that exists in IT, citing projections that, by 2020, some 1.4 million computer-science jobs will need to be filled, making IT one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. (see table below). It’s that growth, she said — and increased efforts to engage women at a younger age about those opportunities — that will start to shift the trend, she added.

computingtheopportunity0118a

“Many of those jobs will be filled by women,” she said. “It’s a perfect place for women to be; these are jobs that can be done full-time, part-time, or in an entrepreneurial way. If women are looking for something that’s flexible, it’s a perfect field to be in, and the jobs are expanding exponentially.”

In short, now is the time for young women — and older career changers, for that matter — to consider a field that, despite lingering stereotypes, is as promising and diverse as any. And that message is being delivered in myriad ways.

“The Girl Scouts just developed a coding badge, which is wonderful and something that teaches girls computer science is not just for your quintessential computer geeks, guys sitting in the basement with headsets,” Saunders said. “Women say that’s not what they want to be. But they don’t understand what the definition of information technology is. It’s such a broad field.”

She cited examples of applied computer science, which uses computers to examine and solve problems in a variety of industries, from healthcare to finance to precision machining. Meanwhile, professionals in her own specialty, cybersecurity, are increasingly in demand in virtually all types of businesses.

“Women are so sought after when they graduate,” she added. “Employers are looking for women to fill those positions. There’s a big push to equalize the genders in business, so if you’re a women with a degree in computer science, it pretty much guarantees a job.”

Breaking the Code

If that’s the case, why that nagging 25% statistic?

ISACA, a nonprofit that specializes in developing knowledge and practices for the IT industry, recently tried to get at the answer from within, surveying women who currently work in IT about the greatest barriers they face.

The top five were lack of mentors (48%), lack of female role models in the field (42%), gender bias in the workplace (39%), unequal growth opportunities compared to men (36%), and unequal pay for the same skills (35%).

“Women are vastly underrepresented in the global technology workforce. This is not only a societal concern, but also a workforce problem, given the critical shortage of skilled technology professionals faced by many enterprises,” said Jo Stewart-Rattray, board director of ISACA. “The survey findings reinforce that there is much work left to be done. By providing more opportunities, including career-advancement programs, we can make long-overdue progress in ensuring that women are more equitably represented in the technology workforce.”

When asked about opportunities for professional growth, 75% of respondents said their employer lacks a gender leadership development program. Additionally, 80% report that their supervisors are male, and just 8% report never experiencing gender bias in the workplace.

One big takeaway, Stewart-Rattray said, is that women hunger to learn and benefit from the presence of other women in technology.

Brian Candido

Brian Candido says STCC’s female enrollment in computer programs has mirrored national statistics, but the college is taking steps to increase it.

Saunders said it needs to start early, with clubs as young as middle school that get girls together to talk about technology and coding, and organizations like Girls That Code. And those networks need to extend into adulthood; a good example is Saunders’ own participation with the Women in Cybersecurity network, whose national conference she addressed two years ago.

“Women love mentoring and love networking, and they’re good at it. That’s the way to get them interested.”

Candido agreed that outreach and engagement should begin long before college if the industry wants to turn around its drastic general imbalance.

“We see four or five female graduates a year, and the ones that do finish do quite well,” he told BusinessWest. “The companies we partner with, MassMutual, Baystate Health, they want diversity. They want employees that reflect the community at large.”

Everyone uses technology and social media, and some of that is spurring interest in what’s making it tick, what’s behind the software, what makes it happen.”

STCC has made efforts to create that diversity on its own campus, such as the STEM Starter Academy, which financially supports first-year students entering the STEM fields, with a particular emphasis on women and students of color; this year’s cohort is 50% female. Then there’s Candido’s mobile-programming course he teaches at Commerce High School, a project-based course that has teenagers developing apps in an effort to pique their interest in an IT career. Of the 18 current students, six are female.

“Everyone uses technology and social media, and some of that is spurring interest in what’s making it tick, what’s behind the software, what makes it happen,” he said, adding that there’s a meritocracy in the tech world that rewards what someone can do, not necessarily what demographic they are. “Some of these opportunities now, they don’t even meet with people; they work remotely over the Internet, develop apps and deploy them, or work on networks. We’re seeing that people can work everywhere and work virtually.”

Because they’re working in virtually every industry, Saunders noted, Bay Path’s applied computer science degree is especially attractive to students who see technology as a way to create tools and apps that solve real-world problems, rather than as an end in itself. Meanwhile, the school’s master’s degree in applied data science prepares them for an economy that is expected to need an influx of 190,000 big-data experts by 2018.

Meanwhile, Bay Path’s Center of Excellence for Women in STEM provides a number of supportive resources for students pursuing IT and other STEM-related degrees, including professional-development, mentorship, and networking opportunities; guest speakers, workshops, and forums; and honors programs.

It’s enough to make women want to take the plunge into IT, she said, and that’s the point.

“Just jump in, I say,” she told BusinessWest. “You know this industry is going to explode. So get in and see how it feels.”

Shift Key

While colleges are doing their part, the industry itself bears some responsibility for creating a more female-friendly culture, Stewart-Rattray argued.

“There also is much that enterprises can do, such as ensuring they are offering equitable pay for men and women and providing flexible working arrangements,” she noted. “Having ‘keep in touch’ days when women are on maternity leave, in addition to encouraging professional-development opportunities such as webinars and online courses, are other worthwhile ways to ensure that women remain connected to the organization while on leave.”

After all, she added, cultivating a more diverse work culture just makes economic sense.

“In addition to promoting a more just society, enterprises have bottom-line motivation to hire and promote women,” she said, citing research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics suggesting that organizations with at least 30% female leaders add up to 6% to their profit margin, on average. “This does not surprise me. The women I have worked with are highly motivated, focused, and encouraging of their colleagues. They are as knowledgeable — if not moreso — than their male counterparts.”

Saunders knows that to be true, and she tells prospective students as much.

“My recommendation is just to be fearless. We all had to start somewhere. The only problem is, the future doesn’t wait for anybody. If you don’t jump off the diving board, you’re going to be left behind.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Planning and scheduling are crucial for any project, from a small-scale remodel to a complex addition build. No matter the scope, it is important to know what needs to be done, when it needs to happen, and how to accomplish the process. Barron & Jacobs, a Northampton-based design/build/remodeling firm, offers the following considerations to ensure a successful construction project.

• Failing to plan is planning to fail. Chris Jacobs, president of Barron & Jacobs, recommends that a certified licensed contractor be consulted at the onset of the project. In addition to understanding and possessing the skills to execute the build, a professional’s keen design eye can lend itself to the overall concept.

“Homeowners may underestimate the number of steps involved in a build and the amount of time needed to complete the project,” he added. “Many variables exist; for example, permitting can take a day, months, or more, and should be factored in to planning.”

• Great remodeling happens by design. While it is the home or business owner’s responsibility to communicate the objectives of a particular project, it is the responsibility of the designer to prioritize requirements to bring the design to life. This is the stage of the project where the scope will be determined. The use of 3-D CAD and rendering technology can allow the finished project to be viewed even before construction has started.

“One of the benefits of working with Barron & Jacobs are the real-looking renderings we offer as part of our services,” Jacobs said. “Having the benefit of considering the design, particularly over the fall and winter months when many welcome in visitors, will give the homeowners a chance to consider if the design, as laid out, meets their needs. That way, when the project begins in the spring, it does so with everyone’s full confidence.”

• Check references. In addition to calling references, it might behoove a homeowner to visit projects completed by the prospective contractor. If enough time is built in to a project, the fall and winter months lend themselves to car rides to investigate a team’s design aesthetic on completed projects.

As they say, perfection takes time. It is unrealistic to expect an addition to be completed in time for a summer family reunion if the project begins a few weeks prior, in the spring. While there are variables to consider when factoring in the length of a project, there are some estimations that can be offered: attic conversions can take four to eight weeks, kitchen remodels 12 to 16 weeks, and decks one to three weeks.

“If you are considering a home remodel, it is best to approach a professional at least four months prior to your desired completion date,” Jacobs said. “Aside from initiating the process, our team at Barron & Jacobs can ensure a smooth process from concept to completion.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College will be open until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday from Jan. 8 through Jan. 18 to serve prospective students planning to register for spring semester classes.

Classes begin Monday, Jan. 22. During this late registration period, prospective students may apply to a program, meet with an advisor, select and register for courses, pay their bill, and receive their schedule in one visit.

Dean of Admissions Louisa Davis-Freeman said there is still plenty of time to enroll at STCC for the spring semester, and many programs are still accepting applicants.

“To be accepted into a program, please bring your official high school transcript(s) or GED or HiSET certification with you,” she added. “In order to be considered eligible for financial aid, you must be enrolled in a degree-granting or eligible certificate program.”

New for the spring semester is STCC’s mechanical engineering technology transfer program partnership with Northeastern University, Davis-Freeman noted. “Our partnership with Northeastern allows students to earn bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering technology and advanced manufacturing systems on site at STCC. The agreement with STCC marks the first time Northeastern has partnered with a community college to offer bachelor’s degrees on site.”

In addition, STCC’s new online degrees in business and business transfer continue to be a popular option for prospective students looking to complete their associate degree completely online, she said.

The College will be closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 15.

For more information about beginning spring semester classes on Jan. 22, call the Admissions Office at (413) 755-3333, e-mail [email protected], or apply online at stcc.edu/apply.

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Healthcare today requires multi-dimensional leaders whose knowledge spans professional leadership, healthcare, science, and information technology. Coupled with the dynamic complexities of the healthcare system, increasing compliance regulations, technical advances, and higher costs, the demand for professionals who have expertise in both healthcare management and organizational leadership is rapidly rising. Medical and health service managers have strong career prospects, with projected employment growth of 17% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

To respond to this growing need, Bay Path University has launched a master of science (MS) degree program in Healthcare Management, now enrolling for February 2018.

“As with all of our programs, the curriculum for the MS in Healthcare Management supports the candidate in developing his or her skills in decision making, communication and presentations skills, interpersonal relations, and being an agent of change — all of which are needed for key level management positions,” said Liz Fleming, associate provost and dean, School of Education, Human and Health Sciences. “We are proud to add it to our increasing catalog of undergraduate and graduate certificates and degree programs in health-related fields that have been shown to result in immediate job placements upon completion.”

Healthcare administrators come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some may have direct patient-care experience, while others may have specialized in business, administration, public health, or a specific area of healthcare, including human resources. This program is designed for individuals with or without a related undergraduate degree who hope to shape the future of healthcare.

Bay Path University’s MS in Healthcare Management, led by Terry DeVito, aims to prepare graduates for leadership roles in both traditional and non-traditional settings and industries including healthcare organizations and facilities, consulting, law, insurance and government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare informatics and analytics. The program is designed to address the multi-dimensional complexities facing the 21st-century healthcare industry as it transforms into a business model while maintaining the humanistic needs of patients’ individual needs.

The curriculum is structured in a manner that embeds foundational information that prepares candidates for additional credentialing opportunities for professional career advancement. DeVito’s practice as a registered nurse, hospital administrator, and educator bring firsthand knowledge regarding quality in healthcare service delivery and the qualities required in leadership roles.

To learn more about this program, visit www.baypath.edu/healthcaremanagement.

Features

Future Tense

futuretenseFrom the beginning, perhaps the hardest thing about being in business is trying to figure out what’s coming next, how to prepare for it, how, perhaps, to capitalize on it, and, well, how to stay in business.

And at the rate technology is advancing and society is changing, this assignment has probably never been more challenging. Just ask the former owner of a Blockbuster Video franchise — although that example is dated and almost cliché.

But this much higher degree of difficulty shouldn’t stop business owners and managers from trying.

And that is the message — actually, one of many — that Delcie Bean, founder of Paragus Strategic IT and one of the region’s most heralded entrepreneurs, intends to leave with attendees of a highly anticipated series of breakfast lectures being produced by BusinessWest and sponsored by Paragus and the Jamrog Group, with additional sponsorships available. The program is unique in that the audience will be capped at 40, and attendees must be the owners of ventures with at least $1 million in annual sales.

The first installment of the Future Tense series, set for Feb. 22 at Tech Foundry in downtown Springfield, is loosely titled “An Unprecedented Technology Disruption.” That name speaks volumes about what’s on the horizon and should get the attention of every area business owner.

Delcie Bean

Delcie Bean

What we think of as fast now would be twice as fast next year and twice as fast the year after that.”

If it doesn’t, some of these comments from Bean certainly will. He told BusinessWest there are four main drivers, if you will, of this technology disruption — a confluence of extremely powerful forces, as he called it. These include virtual/augmented reality, autonomous driving, 3-D printing, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. Each one is significant in its own right, he said, but all four of them coming at once? This will be historic in its influence on business and society in general.

“We have these 40-year cycles, and when you look at the Internet and the impact it had on the latest cycle … the experts, the people who make a living predicting these things are saying that the confluence of these four things coming together is going to have four times the impact on the world economy that the Internet did, and it’s going to have that impact over the course of a relatively short period of time,” Bean explained.

“We’re 10 years into the current 40-year cycle,” he went on. “So they’re saying that, over the next 30 years, the confluence of this is all going to happen. And what’s really interesting about this is not the technology, but the rate of change; we are going to see markets, technologies, companies, and work evolve at a rate of change we’ve never seen in the history of mankind. The rate of change is going to be exponential.”

To drive these points home, no pun intended, Bean focused, as he will during the breakfast program, on one of those aforementioned forces — autonomous driving.

As the technology advances and becomes mainstream, he noted, there will be a powerful ripple effect that will impact most all businesses related to the automobile and transportation, and economic tremors felt in communities of all sizes.

The lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to anticipating change is the trucking industry and the obvious impact on jobs, said Bean, adding that, a few years later, the next ripple would be car ownership and a sharp decline in the same.

“Most people would subscribe to a car service, like a Netflix, but they wouldn’t own a car,” he explained. “And you look at what that does; if people don’t own cars, the concept of car dealerships goes away. Then gas stations go away, because you won’t be concerned about finding a convenient gas station to fill up your car — fleets will have refueling stations.

Fast Facts

What: ‘Future Tense’ a BusinessWest breakfast lecture series;

When: Over the next year; the first program, is slated for Feb. 22

Where: Tech Foundry,
1391 Main St., Springfield

Sponsors: Paragus Strategic IT, The Jamrog Group, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.. Additional sponsorships available

For More Information or to purchase tickets:
Call (413) 781-8600.

“And if there’s no gas stations, there’s no convenience stores, because the convenience store loses a lot of its impact if it’s not attached to a gas station,” he went on. “And the further out you go … you look at the impact on parking and the impact parking has on real estate, and the impact that real estate has on where people live … the ripples get wider and wider, and the further out you go, the bigger the impact on the U.S. economy and the global economy as a whole.”

And that’s just autonomous driving. The same ripple effects will result from visual/augmented reality, 3-D printing, and artificial intelligence/machine learning, he noted, adding that the changes will come in everything from the how work is done to the relevance of professions up to and including doctors and lawyers.

Summing things up, Bean cited what’s come to be known as Moore’s law. Named after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, it is the observation that processor power will double approximately every two years, and it holds true a half-century later.

Bean said that same formula, more or less, will apply to the rate of change taking place in society — and, indirectly, to the definition of the word ‘fast.’

“The rate of change will double every year,” he explained. “What we think of as fast now would be twice as fast next year and twice as fast the year after that.”

How do business owners and managers prepare for such abrupt, profound, and ongoing change? That is the $64,000 question, and Bean intends to provide some answers at the Feb. 22 presentation.

As for subsequent programs, they, too, will live up to that title Future Tense and provide attendees with deep insight into how to be ready for what’s coming next.

And for many (actually, everyone, eventually), what’s next is retirement. Amy Jamrog, financial advisor with the Jamrog Group, who will lead the second program in the spring, said many people are not preparing properly for that day, or those 30 or 40 years, to be exact.

Common mistakes she sees come in many categories, ranging from failure to anticipate how much one will need in retirement, to how to decide what to do with accumulated wealth, to survival of a family business.

“Having done this for 20 years, what I’m seeing more than ever before is business owners making decisions in silos,” she explained. “They think their business, their family situation, their succession plan is unique. In some respects it is, but I don’t feel that the information is getting disseminated to the business owner and the family structure in general when it’s a family-owned business, in a way that coordinates all the pieces.

“There are tax implications to consider, there are legal considerations, and there are family dynamics,” she went on. “And the big piece we’re working on with a lot of local companies getting ready to sell is the philanthropic side. Some of these companies are going to be selling for a lot of money, and these people aren’t even thinking about giving some of the proceeds back to the community.”

For more on that, well, stay tuned for more details on future installments of the lecture series.

Registration and tickets to the Feb. 22 program, and the for the entire series, can be ordered HERE or by calling (413) 781-8600. Tickets to each program are $25 each, with all proceeds going to Tech Foundry.

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

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Danielle Fillio says recent projects will boost Stockbridge’s cultural and tourism draws.

Danielle Fillio says recent projects will boost Stockbridge’s cultural and tourism draws.

The Elm Court Estate in Stockbridge was constructed in 1886 as a summer cottage for William Douglas Stone and Emily Vanderbilt, completed a series of renovations in 1919, and evolved into an inn in the ’40s and ’50s, hosting dinners, events, and overnight accommodations. It was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nowadays, it’s getting a big boost from Travaasa Berkshire County, which plans to renovate, preserve, and add to the complex in order to create a new resort — and bring in the jobs and tourism that comes with it.

“Elm Court was approved three years ago and held up in land court in Lenox, but now it’s done and moving forward with development,” said Danielle Fillio, Stockbridge’s recently appointed town administrator. “It’s a big resort with a restaurant on site.”

The property sits on the border of Stockbridge and Lenox on Old Stockbridge Road and fits well into the destination marketing of both communities, smallish towns that rely heavily on visits from outsiders to grow their tax base.

“We’re excited about bringing some jobs here, and we’ll have the meals tax, room tax, and more tourists,” Fillio said.

Meanwhile, the Boston Symphony Orchestra broke ground over the summer on a $30 million construction project at Tanglewood, a four-building complex that will house rehearsal and performance space for the Tanglewood Music Center as well as a new education venture known as the Tanglewood Learning Institute — the first weatherized, all-season structure at Tanglewood, which the BSO plans to make available for events beyond the summer months.

“Those buildings will be used year-round, which will help extend tourism through the offseason,” Fillio said, noting that Tanglewood is one of Stockbridge’s main summer draws, but the colder months could use a tourism boost.

Indeed, those two projects are indicative of how much Stockbridge relies on tourism and visitorship for economic development. With a population of just under 2,000, the community doesn’t have a deep well of residents or businesses from which to draw tax revenue, but it does boast a widely noted series of destination attractions, from Tanglewood to the Norman Rockwell Museum; from the Berkshire Theatre Festival to Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The goal, Fillio said, is to complement those regional draws with the kinds of services and municipal improvements that will best serve an older population that values the town’s rural character. And town leaders are striving to do just that.

Full Speed Ahead

Although the issue has been a contentious one, the Select Board, earlier this year, approved the hiring of Fillio, who had been assistant to the previous town administrator for a decade, to her current role. She had been serving in an interim capacity while town leaders mulled a number of options, including partnering with neighboring Lee and Lenox on a shared administrator.

We want to preserve our natural resources while bringing more people here and helping businesses.”

In her now-permanent role, she’s involved with many critical areas of town administration, from budgeting to planning, and she’s pleased with some of the recent progress to improve municipal infrastructure and attract new business.

On the former front, Stockbridge has been successful winning grants to repair a number of bridges in town, including $500,000 from the state’s Small Bridge Program and $1 million from its Small Town Rural Assistance Program to replace the deteriorated, heavily traveled Larrywaug Bridge on Route 183, just north of the state highway’s intersection with Route 102. The project will commence in 2018.

The town’s voters had previously approved a $2.6 million, 20-year bond to finance repairs to eight bridges and roadways in need of restoration. Among them are the Averic Road twin bridges off Route 183, which were closed by MassDOT in the spring of 2016.

Meanwhile, the town is looking to replace its highway garage, which is “currently falling apart,” Fillio said, and is also considering options for the quirky intersection of Routes 7 and 102 at the Red Lion Inn. “We’re going to see if we can raise funds to be able to get an updated study to see what may help us with the traffic there. The last traffic study in that area was in 2004.”

Stockbridge at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1739
Population: 1,947 (2010)
Area: 23.7 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $9.59
Commercial Tax Rate: $9.59
Median Household Income: $48,571
Median Family Income: $59,556
Type of government: Town Administrator; Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Austen Riggs Center; Tanglewood; Red Lion Inn
* Latest information available

On the planning front, a visionary project committee was formed several years ago to develop recommendations that could be implemented over the next 20 years. The committee issued a report in 2016 titled “Planning a Way Forward.”

That report noted that residents value the town’s cultural institutions and historic buildings; its open space, recreation sites, and walking trails; and its downtown (although many would like to see additional shops and services, as well as more parking). Meanwhile, they want to see smart housing growth that takes into account the community’s aging population, as well as additional transportation options and better accommodation of walkers and bicyclists.

As a result, the document envisioned a Stockbridge in 2036 that mixes the traditional strengths of tourism, culture, and creative economy with green- and technology-based businesses, food production from local farmers, and agri-tourism. The ideal community would also be less auto-reliant, expanding pedestrian networks, bicycle infrastructure, and regional bus and ride-sharing services.

The report also predicts a socially and economically diverse population that provides equally diverse housing options, from apartments and condominiums to smaller single-family homes, co-housing projects, and historic ‘Berkshire cottages.’ These include a mix of sustainable new construction and repurposed buildings, including the preservation of older homes, along with an increase of people living close to the town center, including mixed-use buildings with apartments over shops to support downtown businesses.

While the overall vision may be ambitious, it encompasses the sorts of goals a town of Stockbridge’s size can reasonably set when looking to move into its next era. To help bring new businesses into this plan, the Planning Board has formed a bylaw-review committee tasked with examining all the zoning bylaws to determine what needs to change to make the town a more attractive place to set up shop.

“We want to preserve our natural resources while bringing more people here and helping businesses,” Fillio said.

Positive Signals

Businesses are certainly cheering the cell-phone tower that Verizon erected on the southern end of the town landfill earlier this year. Previously, half the town had no cell service, and downtown tourists were surprised by the lack of a signal.

“The tower is up and running, and it makes a great difference — if you have Verizon. If you have AT&T, it’s still not a huge help, but there have been talks about possibly having AT&T go up in the tower,” Fillio said. “But you can actually get service at the Red Lion now, which for years was never the case.”

It’s just one way a small town is taking small steps to preserve its cultural character while adding the kinds of amenities demanded by a 21st-century population.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

The future.

It might just be the most difficult thing about being in business — although dealing with the present can also be daunting, as anyone who has ever attached their name to a venture knows.

Looking to the horizon and projecting what possibly lies beyond it is difficult, if not impossible. And the history of business and entrepreneurship is replete with examples of people not accurately reading the tea leaves.

Indeed, who can forget Digital Equipment Corp. co-founder Ken Olsen famously, or infamously, saying in 1977, “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” Digital, as we all know, didn’t survive to see the end of the century.

And today, as the pace of technological advancement accelerates at previously unheard-of speeds, and with huge implications for business and society in general, anticipating the future and preparing for it is becoming that much more difficult.

It was with all this in mind that BusinessWest initiated a new series of breakfast lectures under the working title Future Tense, a name that certainly sets the tone (see story, page 10).

The first lecture, to be led by Paragus Strategic IT founder Delcie Bean, will be titled “An Unprecedented Technological Disruption,” and it will address a confluence of powerful forces and the ripple effects it will produce.

This program is certainly timely, and it coincides with a lively stream of commentary about technology and where it is taking the business world in the years to come.

Much of the speculation is about jobs and professions and what will happen to them as forces such as artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, and virtual reality rumble over the business scene like the glaciers rumbled over what is now North America millions of years ago. Only, glaciers moved very slowly; these forces will move at speeds we’ll have a hard time comprehending.

And this focus on jobs is understandable, especially as parents look not only at their own careers and how long they will be viable, but also at what their children should be thinking about as they mull possible career paths.

There is already widespread talk about how time-honored professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and, yes, even journalists, could soon be replaced by machines capable of doing their work. In fact, robots are already making their presence known in the operating room at many hospitals.

But beyond the obvious concerns about jobs and careers, there is the equally daunting issue of how businesses can anticipate change, operate in an environment of continuous and profound change, and even capitalize on some of this seismic activity.

Or, put another way, how do businesses avoid becoming the next supermarket parking-lot photo kiosks, Blockbuster Video franchises, and Digital Equipment Corporations?

Obviously, they must become flexible, cognizant of change, and fully aware that competition can come from virtually anywhere, and in the future, it probably will.

Beyond that, well, nothing is obvious.

That’s why the first lecture in the series, set for Feb. 22 at Tech Foundry, should be so intriguing — and also a little scary. The remaining quarterly lectures will be equally insightful, and equally important, for business owners looking toward tomorrow and what it might bring.

That’s why we called this Future Tense. As they say in the broadcast world, stay tuned.

Opinion

Editorial

As we bid farewell to 2017, we can say it’s been a very interesting year on many levels. Locally, it was a time to see a number of projects, some of which had been in the works for years or even decades, as was the case with Union Station, come to fruition.

It was a also a year to put down some foundations, as they say in the building trades, and also for creating the proverbial framework for future progress, as was the case with MGM Springfield, I-91 reconstruction, and efforts to add new layers to the region’s entrepreneurial infrastructure.

Nationally, of course, it was a year of unprecedented divisiveness and discord on virtually every front, with the lone bright spot being the manner in which women finally — and forcefully — came forward on the matter of sexual harassment and literally changed the landscape on that topic.

As for 2018 … well, aside from the very obvious, including an end to headlines detailing mass shootings, more saber rattling, or worse, with North Korea, and endless discord on Capitol Hill, here are some of things we’d like to see in 2018:

• More progress on the opioid epidemic. We say ‘more’ because we believe some has been achieved when it comes to this brutal epidemic with regard to prescription-control measures, the addition of more treatment beds, and, most importantly, the number of overdose deaths.

It’s fair to say that no family, no street, and no business has been left untouched by this scourge. The cost has been enormous, in every way calculable, especially the most precious — human lives. Much of the talk now concerns whether we have turned a corner on this epidemic and whether the picture is brightening. In 2108, we would hope to, at the very least, end any doubt that this is the case.

• A smooth, strong start for MGM Springfield. In about nine months, the waiting and the anticipation will be over, and the casino era will officially begin in Springfield and this region. What will it be like? No one really knows, because this is something completely new for this region.

Some have doubts about whether the casino can deliver everything that backers promise it can. And the best advice we can give — and we’ve given it before — is to consider the casino a piece to a bigger economic-development puzzle. Just a piece.

However, no one wants — or no one should want — this $950 million venture to fail. It needs to succeed for Springfield and for the region as a whole. It needs to bring people here; it needs to spur new business opportunities; it needs to create additional momentum for the City of Homes.

• Even more entrepreneurial energy. We say ‘even more’ because there is already quite a bit. More is needed, though, because good jobs are the lifeblood of every city, region, state, and country. They are a precious commodity, and, in case you hadn’t heard, they are being imperiled by rapidly advancing technology and a host of societal changes.

In short, we’re going to need places for people to work beyond the casino and Amazon distribution centers. And the best hope we have for more jobs is the creation of new ventures right here in Western Mass.

• Still more innovation. We say ‘still more’ because a region noted as being a hub of innovation continues to live up to that name. Most recent examples aren’t as visible as the ice skate, the parking meter, and the monkey wrench, but it’s happening, with everything from wearable medical devices to coatings that will clear fog from eyeglasses, to bringing your dog to work.

Wait, what was the last one? Yes, bringing your dog to work (see story, page 6). It’s not just a matter of convenience and companionship, although it’s both of those. It’s also an innovative way to create a better, less stressful, probably more efficient workplace. And we need more of all of that.

With that, all of us at BusinessWest wish you a happy, prosperous new year.

Employment Sections

Labor Pains

Angst.

You won’t see that colorful noun written anywhere in the National Business Trends Survey conducted by the Employers Associations of America (EAA), said Mark Adams, but there is quite a bit of that commodity lurking behind the words and especially the numbers that are contained in that document.

There is angst — or concern, or anguish, or anxiety (all quality synonyms) — when it comes to the labor market and what is becoming increasingly a labor shortage. There is more of it when it comes to wages — employers want to raise them, but there are hindrances to doing so, especially rising healthcare costs.

And there is more angst when it comes to the juxtaposition of wages and the labor market, said Adams, director of HR Services for the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE). Indeed, he said that, as wages remain fairly stagnant (3% increases are the norm, as they have been for several years) and the increases amount to less amid the rising cost of living, many employees are exercising their right to pursue greener pastures. And they’re finding them, leaving employers to replace them in a job market where good help is increasingly hard to find.

“It’s definitely a buyer’s market,” said Adams, noting that employees are the buyers. “With unemployment being so low, and people looking to add bodies to their organization, either through new jobs being created or replacing existing workers that are going to leave, employees realize that now is the time to explore all their options if they haven’t been fully satisfied with what they’re been earning in their organization.

“The 2.8% to 3% increases they’ve been getting are being cannibalized by rising health costs and the cost of living in general,” he went on. “So they’re not advancing financially within the organization they’re in, and a lot of them are sitting there saying, ‘I’m going to start exploring other options.’ For companies, there are a lot of openings, and they’re not finding adequate replacement workers, which puts a whole premium on ‘are we paying people enough? Are we providing a workplace that’s engaging enough?’”

Like we said, angst. There’s enough of it to temper the considerable optimism reflected in the report, said Adams, adding that nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%, to be exact) expect their 2017 revenues to exceed those of 2016, and 73% project that 2018 will be better than 2017.

Meanwhile, more employers expect to be hiring in the year ahead than in 2017. In the Northeast region, 51% of the executives surveyed plan to increase staff in 2018, a sizable increase from a year ago, when 41% responded in such fashion.

But these positive numbers are couched in the reality that, for many employers across virtually every business sector, hiring is becoming a real challenge. Indeed, 42.3% of regional respondents (those in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states) identified the skilled labor shortage as a ‘serious’ challenge in the short term (up from 37.8%), while 52% identified it as a serious challenge long-term, up from 47% last year.

Adams noted that these numbers clearly reflect what he’s heard anecdotally and seen directly through EANE’s efforts to assist members with finding and hiring talent.

“We’re experiencing all that with the members we’re serving,” he explained, adding that many of the recruitment-and-hiring projects EANE has undertaken with members have taken much longer than anticipated, and some have been relaunched, simply because employers have not been satisfied with the response they’ve seen in terms of the quality of the job aspirants.

Elaborating, Adams said EANE will assist members with searches for managers or professional staff, providing services including ad placement, sourcing of candidates, prescreening, help with interview questions, actual interviewing, and more.

And, as he noted, many of these searches are taking much longer than they did even a year or two ago, and a growing number of them are not ending successfully, and for a host of reasons, ranging from lack of satisfaction with (or consensus on) finalists to disparity between what the candidate is seeking compensation-wise and what the company is willing to pay.

As the challenges to hiring and retaining good help grow, employers are responding, said Adams, adding that many are making investments in technology, equipment, benefits, training, recruitment, and other areas in an effort to navigate a job market increasingly defined by full employment or something close to it.

Indeed, the survey showed that 60% of respondents plan to invest in technology in 2018, up from 45% in 2017; 54% plan to invest in equipment, up from 45% a year ago; 41% intend to increase the training budget, up from 26% in 2017; 38% plan to heighten their emphasis on recruiting, up from 30% a year ago, and 35% intend to shift more healthcare costs to the employer, a huge increase from the 15% who responded in that fashion a year ago.

“Companies are realizing that, if they can’t go dollar for dollar to keep people in the organization or attract people, they’d better bring other things to the table to make them a company that’s going to be worthwhile to someone,” said Adams, adding that these numbers speak loudly about the extent of the problem and growing awareness of the need to do something about it.

And while it is still too early to gauge the full impact of MGM Springfield’s ongoing efforts to create its workforce of roughly 3,000 people on all of this, it’s to assume that it will only exacerbate the problem, Adams said, adding that employers are certainly expressing concerns about this development at EANE HR Roundtables.

As for wages, many companies are in a bind because, as much as they feel compelled to raise them and want to, strong forces, especially double-digit increases in healthcare insurance, act as considerable roadblocks.

“The rising benefit cost is a countermeasure that’s creating a barrier toward putting more on the table financially to induce people,” Adams explained. “And it’s becoming a paradox for companies; they want to pay people more to attract and retain them, but they have these rising benefits costs, and there’s only so much in the budget to cover both of those things.”

Meanwhile, the pay-equity act set to take effect July 1 becomes what Adams called a “wild card” when it comes to wages in 2018.

“The question becomes whether there will be additional needs to invest money into compensation budgets because of concerns employers may have about questionable difference in pay structures,” he noted.

— George O’Brien