DAVID A. DUVAL TO CHAIR NORTH CENTRAL MASSACHUSETTS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

David A. Duval, president and founder of Protective Services, Inc. has been elected Chair of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for 2020-2021. The announcement was made at the chamber’s Annual Meeting: An Online Event on June 11, 2020.

Based in Lunenburg, Protective Services was established in 1979 by David Duval, who still remains the company’s president. Since its founding, Protective Services has been servicing businesses, institutions and residents in North Central Massachusetts with fire, security, surveillance, access control and sprinkler system contracting. Their long-standing reputation of excellence along with their fully dynamic range of services, make Protective Service Inc a leader in supporting small and large businesses, financial institutions and educational institutions with the superior services they need. 

In addition to his involvement with the Chamber, Mr. Duval also currently chairs the Massachusetts Systems Contractors Association and sat on the State Board of Fire Prevention Fire Protection, for 14 years. He is also active in several other state industry associations and organizations. Nationally, Mr. Duval is a member of the the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and the Automatic Fire Alarm Association. Mr. Duval earned his bachelors degree in engineering from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

He is married to wife Leslie and resides in Leominster. Mr. Duval also has a son, Alex, who is currently a student at George Washington University in Washington D.C.

Duval was first elected to the Chamber’s Board of Directors in 2013 and has held several leadership positions including Vice Chair, Treasurer and has served on the Chamber’s Leadership Council. Mr. Duval is also a board member of the  North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC), an affiliate of the Chamber, where he serves as Vice Chair.  As the Chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, Mr. Duval will work with the Board, Chamber staff, and membership to champion the Chamber in its mission to serve the region’s business community. 

“We are honored to have David serve as the Chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors,” said Roy Nascimento, Chamber president & CEO. “We are fortunate to have someone with his experience and strong history of leadership help guide our organization’s efforts. We look forward to working with him to help our members and the communities of North Central Massachusetts persevere through what is expecting to be a very challenging and difficult time over the next year”

He succeeds Steve Rocheleau, president of Rocheleau Tool & Die Co. Inc., who now moves to the position of Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors.

“It is an honor and privilege to serve as Chair of this dynamic and respected organization that plays such an important role in shaping the region’s future ,” expressed Mr. Duval, “I am excited to continue Steve Rocheleau’s efforts and work to support our members and advance North Central Massachusetts..”

In the same election, Rachel Lopez, president of Resource Management, Inc. in Fitchburg, was elected Vice-Chair and director Christopher McCarthy, president & COO of Fidelity Bank of Leominster, was elected to the position of Treasurer.  Board members elected for a new three-year term were Tony Fields, president and owner of Cleartech Group in Leominster; Elaine Fluet, president & CEO of Care Central VNA and Hospice in Gardner; and Bruce Platzman, president of AIS, Inc. in Leominster; Re-elected for three year terms were Henry Tessman, general manager of Great Wolf Lodge New England in Fitchburg; and Dr. James Vander Hooven, president of Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner. 

Continuing current terms on the Board of Directors are Neil Abramson, CFO of ECI Stores in Leominster; Will Aubuchon, president & CEO of W.E. Aubuchon Company in Westminster; Steve Duvarney, owner of Duvarney Jewelers in Fitchburg and Clinton; Matthew Fournier, president of Elite Construction & Design in Fitchburg; Mark Freeman, president of SteelFab, Inc. in Fitchburg; Dr. Richard Lapidus, president of Fitchburg State University in Fitchburg; Anne Leader, president of Vision Payroll in Leominster; Cheryl Molebash, general manager of Dixie Consumer Products in Leominster; John O’Brien, president & CEO of Leominster Credit Union in Leominster. 

 

About the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce (northcentralmass.com) is a business advocacy, economic development organization working to create and sustain relationships among businesses and between businesses and the community. With nearly 700 member firms, employing over 25,000 people in the region, the Chamber is working to foster economic opportunity in Fitchburg, Leominster, and surrounding communities. Find the Chamber online at northcentralmass.com or on Twitter at @NCMChamber.  

Guest Columnist | “On Community Colleges” by The Honorable Stephen Brewer

On Community Colleges
by The Honorable Stephen Brewer

Stephen Brewer, State Senator Ret., Mount Wachusett Community College

This is a time in our history of enormous economic and cultural transformation that will summon the most creative and compassionate qualities of our society. 

Throughout her history, our nation has answered the call to face great challenges. I am confident that we can utilize our great creative and collective spirit to address the challenges before us now. While we do, I am also hopeful that as Lincoln said, we can “summon the better angels of our nature” in the process. 

The best social program is having a job, and we all must obtain the skills necessary for a new economy that enables us to adapt as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

I have always been impressed with the mission of community colleges. The high cost of education has forced many people, especially those students who are economically disenfranchised, to either incur debt that will compromise their future, or to forgo a college education and training altogether. 

Community colleges are an accessible, valuable, and logical pathway to the job market, or continuing to a four-year degree. Compelling evidence shows us that Massachusetts community colleges offer high-quality educational opportunities that are affordable and won’t leave you combing gray hair while you make your final student loan payment!

When I retired from a long career in public service, I was thoughtful about what I wanted my ‘second act’ to include. After having helped procure funding for a $40 million science wing for Mount Wachusett Community College, I was inspired by the working happening for and by the residents of North Central Massachusetts. 

Working arm in arm with three Chambers of Commerce, Heywood Healthcare, dozens of private sector employees, as well as the municipal leaders of the communities in the region, the college operates in real-time to tailor its curriculum and training opportunities to each community’s specific needs. 

The three campuses of Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Leominster, and Devens provide a diverse balance to the needs of each geography. I have witnessed faculty, staff, and administrative teams ground their work in student-centered philosophy. We are all here for the students. 

Most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has unwittingly brought to light this team’s tireless work to push forth the college’s mission in a safe, creative, and technologically accessible manner. It has been an enormous undertaking with an incredibly tight turnaround time.

Everything from the 2020 Commencement Ceremony, the Food Insecurity Programs, the Civic Engagement Programs, Veterans Programs, and the over 120,000 hours of volunteerism in the region, make me proud to advocate on behalf of such an important beacon for the Commonwealth. 

It can not be understated how important it is that the institutions serving community college students respect the dignity and worth of those often neglected by our society. We must take action in our individual lives to reflect on how we can each be better, demand that the systems and structures of our society change to best serve the under-represented, and elevate the voices of the historically unheard. 

Of course, Mount Wachusett Community College may not have the budget for expensive and glamorous marketing and communications campaigns. Despite this, I hope you’ll take to heart my endorsement of this college. Mount Wachusett provides students with an opportunity- regardless of age, wealth, status, or background. I am so grateful to have found a purposeful encore to my time in public service and will continue to champion these opportunities to all who will listen. 

 

What is a Guest Columnist?

Being a member of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber provides members with many opportunities to gain valuable information and connections. We are always on the lookout for valuable content that would be on interest to our members and communities. In an effort to provide an avenue to more easily access the vast array of the knowledge and expertise that our members possess, we are now offering exclusive Guest Columnist articles for the benefit of our members. As a membership based organization, submissions will only be considered from members at the Business Choice level and above.

This is a great opportunity to position your business as a thought leader and expert. Columns should not be self-promotional or sales oriented ,and should consist of content that would be useful to businesses, including tips, answers to important questions and any insights that would be helpful to fellow members. By participating, members have the chance to better inform, educate and aid in the development of other members and the North Central Massachusetts region.

Please contact David Ginisi, Marketing and Communications Manager, if you are interested in participating: DGinisi@northcentralmass.com | 978.353.7600 x240

An Update from the Chamber President | June 24, 2020

Dear Member,

Our world has dramatically changed since mid-March. We have all been working to address the impact of the Coronavirus crisis and are now striving to adjust to the “new normal.”

In staying true to our mission, we responded to ensure our members and communities have the guidance, resources, and support to effectively react and persevere through these very challenging and difficult times. As more and more of our economy continues to reopen, I wanted to provide you with another update on how the Chamber is assisting our local businesses:

Gift Local Fees Waived:
To assist members who participate in the Gift Local program, the Chamber will be waiving all processing fees associated with this popular gift card program through at least December 31,2020. As we want to encourage consumers to shop and eat at local businesses as much as possible, we will also be eliminating the purchase fee charged to consumers when they buy a Gift Local Gift Card. Additionally, we are also implementing a new public relations and marketing campaign to encourage consumers to redeem gift cards and shop local, whenever possible. For more information on the program, visit our Gift Local website or contact David Ginisi, our Marketing Manager at the Chamber directly at 978.353.7600 ext. 240.

Billboard Campaign:
In a related effort, our destination marketing arm—Visit North Central Massachusetts—is partnering with a group of regional tourism councils in the state to launch a new billboard campaign this month using the former “Spirit of Massachusetts” slogan. The goal of this campaign is to encourage more residents in the state to spend their dollars locally at our restaurants, shops, hotels, and attractions as they begin to reopen. The campaign will include the purchase of multiple billboard ads strategically located in high-traffic areas throughout the state and will also feature an online component with a dedicated website and social media posts. As our Chamber is dedicated to supporting the recovery of our members, we are looking forward to launching this campaign soon.

Inclusion, Diversity and Economic Opportunity:
Given recent events regarding racial inequality occurring throughout the country, I wanted to share the Chamber’s position and how we are supporting the diverse community in North Central Massachusetts. First, the Chamber condemns racism and violence, and we believe in the right to free speech and supporting the right of those who raise their voices peacefully through protests. At the core of the Chamber’s values are inclusion and economic opportunity for all, which we have built into our entire organization through our programs, governance, marketing, operations, and economic development efforts. As we believe a diverse organization is a strong organization, our staff include a talented team of diverse professionals reflective of the communities we serve, and we have also made strong gains in the diversity of our Board, committees, and taskforces. When scheduling programs and events, as well as strategizing our marketing efforts, we are thoughtful to represent the diverse community of our members. Additionally, our efforts to improve education and career opportunities are closely tied to economic equity. By working in concert with various community groups, we have built strong partnerships on initiatives and participate in programs representing minority groups within North Central Massachusetts, such as our Elect North Central Coalition. We recognize we are not perfect, but everyone will always be welcomed and included at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, industry they represent, or the size of their business.

Visitor Center: After being closed since mid-March, our Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center on Route 2 in Lancaster officially reopened on June 9, with new health and sanitization protocols in place to assure the safety of all guests, volunteers, and staff.  The reopening of the center is an important milestone toward reopening our economy in North Central Massachusetts. Without places like the Visitor Center, the traveling public has limited places to stop and utilize the restrooms, take advantage of amenities, and learn more about the twenty-seven communities in North Central Massachusetts and what they have to offer for visitors and families.

Chamber Office: 
We have also begun the phased in process to fully reopen the Chamber office in Fitchburg. New health and cleaning protocols are in place to protect our staff and visitors. Members are welcome to come into the office for general services, such as manufacturing certifications, insurance-related matters, gift card sales, business counseling, loan closings and other matters; however, we encourage members to call ahead first to schedule an appointment. In accordance with the state’s guidelines, half of the staff will be in the office, while others are continuing to work remotely.

Lending and Technical Assistance: As throughout the pandemic, our team is only a phone call away and ready to help you and your business with any questions related to reopening or accessing some of the grant and loan programs available through the federal, state and local governments. There is still $120 billion available through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, but the deadline of June 30 is quickly approaching. If you have not done so yet, we encourage you to contact your bank or credit union to inquire about applying. New rules have been passed by Congress that also impact the forgiveness aspect of the loan program. The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is also now available and accepting new applications. Please contact Sandie Cataldo, Economic Development Manager at the Chamber at 978.353.7600 ext. 232 with any questions or for any guidance.

Regional Economic and Recovery Plan:
The Chamber has formed a special taskforce of members to oversee the development of a regional economic development and recovery plan. The taskforce is working with our consultant, RKG Associates, to develop the plan and we have been making steady progress. This plan will serve as an actionable blueprint to support the growth of our dynamic, regional economy. The last time we went through this process, the resulting plan had a significant impact in helping drive economic growth across the region. If you haven’t done so yet, please take a moment to complete this survey to provide your input, or feel free to email me your feedback. Thank you to those members who have already completed the survey, participated in a focus group session, or emailed their input/feedback to us. Also, thank you to the members of the taskforce for volunteering their time to help with this important initiative.

Jobs Board: As the economy continues to reopen and your needs change, members are encouraged to use our WorkNorthCentral.com online jobs board for recruitment efforts. More than 400 available jobs are currently posted, and the job board is regularly updated to help our members fill positions as quickly as possible. As a reminder, jobs posts are free for our members.

Online Programs:
Since mid-March, we have held more than thirty online programs, ranging from webinars on the CARES Act, PPP and EIDL stimulus programs; to Congressional Updates with our delegation; to our 36th Annual Meeting and much more. We have also revamped our library of online programs on our website. We plan to continue providing the most up-to-date information for our business community through our popular online platforms.

Throughout this crisis, my confidence in our Chamber has never wavered because I know we can overcome any challenge when we work together. Over the past few months, the true spirit of the North Central Massachusetts business community was on full display, and we demonstrated that by working collectively, we can make a difference in the lives of our members, their families and employees, and the many residents who call North Central Massachusetts home.

Looking ahead, many challenges remain with the road to economic recovery now in front of us. As we transition from crisis response to recovery, the Chamber will be here for our members, and we will continue our commitment in having a leading role in rebuilding our local economy. We know these are likely the most difficult and challenging times our members have experienced, but as we have for more than 35 years, we are here to help you navigate these troubled waters.

 

 

 

 

Roy Nascimento, IOM, CCE
President & CEO

Guest Columnist | “Returning to Work Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis” by Bruce Platzman

Returning to Work Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis: Steps Employers Are Taking To Prepare and Protect Their People

by Bruce Platzman

Bruce Platzman, President of AIS, Inc.

As states across the country are re-opening, AIS is hearing from hundreds of companies that are preparing their workplaces for the return of employees. With many concerns and challenges in front of them, customers are looking for AIS to help them modify their office furniture in an effort to keep teams and visitors safe. Whether it’s a small business or a large employer, there are many common concerns and needs to consider as all prepare to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here’s a summary the top activities AIS and many of our customers are doing:

Protocols for employee well-being and safety. Many leaders realize it’s essential to have their teams feel positive and secure within their work environments as all return to the factory or office. There are many activities leaders can do to support this.

  • Good communications during this time is critical. Being very open and direct with employees about what your organization is doing to keep people safe is important. Whether you create a safety video (see AIS video here), regularly share your COVID-19 Response Plan, or send updates directly to employees via email or a company newsletter, it all matters. 
  • Celebrating the return of employees to the office is a small gesture that can start the process off on a positive note. Many are making banners to hang in the office and creating care packages for all. Giving each person a few supplies to keep at their desk is thoughtful and appropriate. We’re providing each of our employees with a supply of disinfecting wipes to self-clean personal office areas, hand sanitizer, two washable/ reusable facemasks, and tissues. 
  • Instill and enforce social distancing practices across your organization. It is important to create and share guidelines for how people enter the building; how many people should be in the cafeteria at one time; how many in the restroom at one time; etc.
  • Be clear and consistent with temperature checks. Let employees know how and when temperature checks will occur each day and follow through.
  • Scheduling teams of employees in/out of office on different days or staggered start times. Each manager may have the freedom to create the schedule and plan that works best for their department. It’s important that leaders be patient with everyone. This is new territory for the team and everyone has different levels of comfort, stress, and acceptance.
  • Keep guests and suppliers safe. While employees must feel safe and secure returning to work, it’s critical to think about all your visitors, too. Constructing, implementing, and communicating good protocols is essential. 
  • More frequent and deeper cleaning practices. While most see this as an obvious need, it’s one of the most important activities an employer can do. Be sure your cleaning crew is following through daily. Everyone will notice if they aren’t and the expectation here is high.  

Modifications to the workplace. Many employers are realizing the office layout we had in February won’t work for our needs today. What this translates to is modifications in big or small ways as we work to ensure the office can support the new needs during this pandemic.

  • Retrofitting offices is a common practice.  Whether adding screens to desks, panels systems or tables, we’re seeing this is a popular solution. New or higher screens can often be retrofitted into a space, making them less costly than replacing workstations.  Some are using mobile screens to divide spaces and separate workers, while others are adding higher panels to their existing stations. 
  • Return of the cubicle.  We can’t really determine if the high panel cubicles are coming back for good, but we can share that a resurgence of interest has occurred. New office projects often have panel systems at higher heights than we’ve seen in the recent past – and often with some glass panels, ensuring daylight can come through and users have views beyond their workstation.  
  • Reorienting users in space. New projects are more sensitive to the layout of users. As employers work to prevent workers being face-to-face all day, furniture is being planned to keep users strategically separated.
  • More concern for cleanable materials. It’s no surprise many clients are seeking materials on their furniture that can withstand high frequency cleaning. We’re seeing glass, laminate and more vinyl and polyurethanes being explored for this reason. Some want to ensure their seating upholstery can be bleach-cleanable and this need is growing. 
  • More exploration of antimicrobial materials. Very often the screens, panels, and seating in workplaces can be specified with an antimicrobial material. There are different types of materials out there to support this need and we’re seeing great interest in specifications for this as employers further work to protect employees.

Work from home office furniture packages. Some employers are allowing workers to continue to work remotely for a period of time. Often, these employers understand the importance of ergonomic furniture for the health and productivity of their people. AIS has constructed many Work From Home packages for customers during this time as the need continues to grow.    

Setting guidelines for mask wearing. Many employers are requiring masks be worn with different guidelines for when and where to wear them. Employers are working to ID the balance where employees are protected while still being comfortable and productive. Mask wearing guidelines vary from wearing it all the time to wearing it when away from one’s desk – and everywhere in between. This is an area where individual companies will have to identify what works best for them – and then communicate and enforce it regularly. 

About the author:

Bruce Platzman is the President and CEO of AIS, a $220 million office furniture manufacturer located in Leominster, Massachusetts and a designated Essential Employer during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

 

What is a Guest Columnist?

Being a member of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber provides members with many opportunities to gain valuable information and connections. We are always on the lookout for valuable content that would be on interest to our members and communities. In an effort to provide an avenue to more easily access the vast array of the knowledge and expertise that our members possess, we are now offering exclusive Guest Columnist articles for the benefit of our members. As a membership based organization, submissions will only be considered from members at the Business Choice level and above.

This is a great opportunity to position your business as a thought leader and expert. Columns should not be self-promotional or sales oriented ,and should consist of content that would be useful to businesses, including tips, answers to important questions and any insights that would be helpful to fellow members. By participating, members have the chance to better inform, educate and aid in the development of other members and the North Central Massachusetts region.

Please contact David Ginisi, Marketing and Communications Manager, if you are interested in participating: DGinisi@northcentralmass.com | 978.353.7600 x240

Gift Local Gift Card Fees Waived

When it Matters Most

To assist members who participate in the Gift Local program, the Chamber will be waiving all processing fees associated with this popular gift card program through at least December 31, 2020. As we want to encourage consumers to shop and eat at local businesses as much as possible, we will also be eliminating the purchase fee charged to consumers when they buy a Gift Local Gift Card. Additionally, we are also implementing a new public relations and marketing campaign to encourage consumers to redeem gift cards and shop local, whenever possible. For more information on the program, visit our Gift Local website or contact David Ginisi, our Marketing and Communications Manager at DGinisi@northcentralmass.com or at the Chamber directly at 978.353.7600 x240

CHAMBER APPOINTS ECONOMIC TASKFORCE

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate organizations, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation and Visit North Central Massachusetts, have announced the formation of a special taskforce comprised of a cross section of business and community leaders from throughout the region.  This group of prominent leaders is charged with working collaboratively to provide direction, definition and clarity to the development of the Chamber’s new regional economic development and recovery plan. 

The taskforce members include:

  • Trevor Beauregard, Director of the City of Gardner’s Community Development & Planning Office;
  • Winn Brown, President & CEO of Heywood Hospital 
  • Martin F Connors Jr., President & CEO of Rollstone Bank & Trust;
  • Jeff Crowley, President of Wachusett Mountain Ski Area;
  • Paul DiGeronimo, President of Geronimo Properties;
  • John DiNapoli, Municipal & Community Services Manager of Unitil;
  • Matthew Fournier, President of Elite Construction & Design, Inc.
  • Sheila Harrity, Superintendent of Montachusett Regional Voc-Tech High School;
  • Dr. Richard Lapidus, President of Fitchburg State University;
  • Rachel Lopez, President of Resource Management, Inc.;
  • Barbara Mahoney, Executive Vice President & COO of Leominster Credit Union;
  • Donata J Martin, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg & Leominster;
  • Raymond J Martino, President & CEO of Simonds International;
  • Christopher W McCarthy, President & COO of Fidelity Bank
  • Cheryl Molebash, General Manager of Dixie Consumer Products, LLC;
  • Stephen J Mullaney P.E., President of S. J. Mullaney Engineering, Inc.;
  • Roy Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber; 
  • Nikki Peters, Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Leominster;
  • Douglas Petersen, President & CEO of Workers Credit Union;
  • Bruce Platzman, President & CEO of AIS, Inc.;
  • Angela Rackley, Director of the Shriver Job Corps Center;
  • Laura Reynolds, President of FHC Industrial Supply;
  • Steve Roach, Interim President of UMass Memorial HealthAlliance – Clinton Hospital, Inc.;
  • Steven Rocheleau, President of Rocheleau Tool & Die Co., Inc.;
  • Al Rose, Owner of Red Apple Farm;
  • Eric Shapiro, President of The Lexvest Group;
  • Thomas Skwierawski, Executive Director of the City of Fitchburg’s Community Development Office;
  • Henry Tessman, General Manager of Great Wolf Lodge;
  • Dr. James Vander Hooven, President of Mount Wachusett Community College

The taskforce will work with consulting firm RKG Associates to develop a multi-faceted and implementable plan to guide the Chamber’s regional economic development and recovery efforts.  RKG Associates is a national economic development firm that has been retained by the Chamber to assist with this project.  In the 1990s, the Chamber led a similar community and business-based planning effort, following the recession and the downsizing of several large employers in the region, that proved effective in driving economic development efforts over a twenty-year period and led to the creation of many of the region’s assets. 

The development of this comprehensive regional plan is part of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber’s continuing efforts to help promote the region and advance the economy of North Central Massachusetts.  For more information on the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate organizations, please visit NorthCentralMass.com or contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600.

Guest Columnist | “How We Respond to COVID-19 Today Will Define How We Shape Tomorrow” by Lauren Howe

How We Respond to COVID-19 Today Will Define How We Shape Tomorrow
by Lauren Howe

Lauren Howe, Principal and Owner of empHowered PR

In February, I left my job in corporate America and executed a business plan years in the making to open my own public relations firm. I launched the business, empHowered PR, LLC, in Fitchburg the week of March 24—the same week we all quickly realized how life was going to change. Schools were shut down, businesses were on the brink of closure, and the safety and health of our community was—and still is—top-of-mind. 

The past few months have prompted business owners to re-think about how they will do business in the time of COVID-19. And as we enter into a new phase of the pandemic, businesses are beginning to reopen in line with government guidelines to ensure the safety of employees and those they serve. 

Throughout this crisis, I counseled my clients through their most difficult challenges. The truth is that some found ways to endure, others took a pause and, sadly, others chose to close their business for good. As a crisis communications professional, it is my job to find the right words to respond to a question or concern from a client’s employee, customer, or reporter. But, it’s also an opportunity to serve as a confidant and be the person your client can trust and lean on during those challenging times. 

Here are some of the takeaways I learned while working through the pandemic, not only as a communications professional, but also as a small business owner:

Be kind. We are all struggling during this time, some of us more than others. We need to understand that each person handles stress differently. Learn how your employees, clients and colleagues manage their mental health and adjust your approach in how you work with and respond to them. Acknowledging and validating your employees’ fears and anxiety will forge a stronger connection to your people. Remember, they may need you more than ever right now. 

Information fatigue is real. Allow yourself to unplug from social media and watching the news while also being aware that your employees and other stakeholders are also being inundated with information. Listen to your stakeholders on when they want to hear from you and what they want to know. Honest, candid, and empathetic messaging will go a long way when sharing information about how your business is responding to the pandemic.

Make the powerless powerful. Many businesses are thinking—and working—outside the box to rethink how to utilize their people, products, and services. Businesses have adjusted their trade and are now making face masks, while others are now learning how to make hand sanitizer. Additionally, others are offering knowledge and expertise in their field to non-profits and small businesses at little or no cost. We may feel powerless against the pandemic, but we can be powerful in how our business responds to it by helping others.

Learn from the process. We all adapted as best as we could with every challenge that has come our way, both at home and at work. As we slowly move toward the “new normal,” it is important to document our experiences and apply the lessons learned to future business continuity plans. 

Massachusetts is beginning to re-open under a slow, phased approach, which means we will once again need to be flexible in our business plans and strategy to effectively respond to the regulations. As the pandemic continues to impact our lives and our livelihood, it is by rising above the challenges that we will be a stronger business community now and in the future.

Lauren Howe is Principal and Owner of empHowered PR, a boutique public relations firm located in Fitchburg focusing on brand strategy, crisis management and response, and corporate social responsibility. 

 

What is a Guest Columnist?

Being a member of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber provides members with many opportunities to gain valuable information and connections. We are always on the lookout for valuable content that would be on interest to our members and communities. In an effort to provide an avenue to more easily access the vast array of the knowledge and expertise that our members possess, we are now offering exclusive Guest Columnist articles for the benefit of our members. As a membership based organization, submissions will only be considered from members at the Business Choice level and above.

This is a great opportunity to position your business as a thought leader and expert. Columns should not be self-promotional or sales oriented ,and should consist of content that would be useful to businesses, including tips, answers to important questions and any insights that would be helpful to fellow members. By participating, members have the chance to better inform, educate and aid in the development of other members and the North Central Massachusetts region.

Please contact David Ginisi, Marketing and Communications Manager, if you are interested in participating: DGinisi@northcentralmass.com | 978.353.7600 x240

Guest Columnist | “The Resiliency Test” by Tony Fields

The Resiliency “Test”: Will Your Business Survive the Pandemic?
by Tony Fields

Tony Fields, President & Owner of Cleartech Group

Innovative IT solutions hold the answer to capitalizing on the new virtual business landscape.

Companies that, months ago, had booming brick and mortar locations, serving thousands, if not millions, of customers every week, have now become almost invisible. Fortune 500 companies that once were the staples and backbones of our economy are on the brink of closing forever. To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we live and work is an understatement. And, as many small, medium, and large businesses alike scramble for online space and for online customers in this new virtual environment, a key factor that will determinewhich businesses thrive during this economic downturn will simply be… technology.

From cloud services, to IT support, to innovative ways of using video conferencing to connect with employees and customers, technology will be essential to growing any (and every) business within this new reality.

That’s why what you do now – investing in technology – will be very important to effectively insulate your business from the extreme uncertainty of the times. Here are three critical ways you should be leveraging technology now to ensure that your business remains resilient and strategically positioned to thrive.

  1. Connect Your Apps to a Team Collaboration Platform. It’s common for companies to be using different types of cloud software in different areas of their operations. The accounting department may use an online accounting program, while the customer support team uses a cloud-based CRM program.When everyone is separated, not only does this slow down your responsiveness internally, but it also can impact your external customer support. A recent survey of companies has shown that now 40% of businesses are struggling to engage what they called “stranded employees.” By using an integrated communication platform such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, you can better support and connect with all of your now virtual employees. In addition, this infrastructure enables you to meet the new level of responsiveness that your customers have now come to expect.
  2. Get Dedicated IT Maintenance in Place. With every business rushing to implement virtual options for both employees and customers, expect there to be a dramatic rise in security breaches and network failures. That’s why having a dedicated and reputable IT support team or vendor is critical to how well you can safely expand your business’ technological capabilities. Studies have shown that each unmanaged computer costs businesses, on average, approximately $5,000 a year. And, security breaches become more common when devices aren’t being kept up to date with security patches and continuous threat monitoring.When employees are no longer working in a single office, they may be lacking some of the IT support you had in place. That lack of help when they need it can be a drain on productivity. If your team of 30 employees struggles with IT issues for just 25 minutes a day each while working from home and your average salary is $20 per hour, that would be a productivity loss of $1,250 every week.
  3. Integrate New Technology to Lower Costs. As working capital becomes strained for most companies, switching to more efficient technologies that enable remote employees to get more done for less is highly recommended. Take VoIP for example. By transitioning to a cloud phone system, companies can lower their phone costs alone by 50-75%. Other exciting new technologies to consider implementing include the Windows Virtual Desktop which gives employees complete remote access to the same systems and databases they would normally use in the office. This can assist in decreasing operating costs by not having to buy additional software licenses for your new virtual workforce.

If your company would benefit from having a complimentary consultation to make the virtual transition as seamless as possible, feel free to contact Cleartech Group’s award-winning IT infrastructure experts at 978-466-1938 or reach out online.

 

What is a Guest Columnist?

Being a member of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber provides members with many opportunities to gain valuable information and connections. We are always on the lookout for valuable content that would be on interest to our members and communities. In an effort to provide an avenue to more easily access the vast array of the knowledge and expertise that our members possess, we are now offering exclusive Guest Columnist articles for the benefit of our members. As a membership based organization, submissions will only be considered from members at the Business Choice level and above.

This is a great opportunity to position your business as a thought leader and expert. Columns should not be self-promotional or sales oriented ,and should consist of content that would be useful to businesses, including tips, answers to important questions and any insights that would be helpful to fellow members. By participating, members have the chance to better inform, educate and aid in the development of other members and the North Central Massachusetts region.

Please contact David Ginisi, Marketing and Communications Manager, if you are interested in participating: DGinisi@northcentralmass.com | 978.353.7600 x240

Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center Set to Reopen

After being closed for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center officially reopened to the public on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.

New health and sanitization protocols have been implemented to assure the safety of all guests, volunteers and staff. Highlights of the new protocols include:

  • Masks will be required at all times for everyone entering the facility – including staff and the public;
  • One Way Entry/Exit – guests will enter only through the front doors facing Route 2, and exit through the back entrance;
  • Hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the building;
  • New touchless paper towels dispensers, faucets and soap dispensers have been installed;
  • Restrooms will be professionally cleaned to sanitation protocols twice daily;
  • Countertop shield guards have been installed;
  • The front counter and the “touchless” credit card machine will be wiped after each customer service interaction;
  • All “touch” surfaces will be cleaned frequently throughout the day by staff;
  • Signs and floor markers have been added throughout the building to mark social distancing of at least six feet.

Visit North Central Massachusetts hopes the increased safety measures will inspire confidence in visitors, speeding the recovery process for the local travel and hospitality industry.

“Reopening the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center is an important step forward for our region,” said Diane Burnette, manager of the center. “We are being very careful and taking the necessary precautions to protect the traveling public, so they feel more comfortable in getting out to support our local restaurants, hotels, shops and attractions.

Since 1997, the Johnny Appleseed Center has showcased the twenty-seven communities of North Central Massachusetts and is home to the Big Apple of New England (which is nearing it’s one-year anniversary of its unveiling). The visitors’ center also proudly displays historical artifacts including a bronze sculpture of the young Johnny Appleseed that greets visitors outside the doors of the Visitors Center and 91 apple trees located on the premises, including three Rambo trees that are direct descendants of the last remaining tree known to be planted by Johnny Appleseed. Each year the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center sees upwards of 165,000 visitors from all over and plays a significant role in the tourism efforts of North Central Massachusetts.

You can visit the Johnny Appleseed Center Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. It is located 1000 RT. 2 W, Lancaster, MA 01523.

Economic Recovery in North Central Massachusetts

Fidelity Bank hasn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them from serving customers with care and safety.

Sheila King-Goodwin

While operations may look and feel different now and for the foreseeable future, Sheila King-Goodwin, Senior Vice President and Chief Retail Banking Officer with Fidelity, said the financial institution has learned to adapt quickly.

And she said many of those changes will likely continue as the Massachusetts economy starts to reopen.

“We’re finding new ways to be flexible and innovative so clients can receive a caring service that provides clarity and confidence regarding their banking,’’ she said. “We’re taking a thoughtful but forward-thinking approach to the short term and long term.’’

She said that this may mean continuing to offer drive-up services for client needs like obtaining a new debit card or closing quickly on a loan. It also may mean scheduling more appointments as opposed to walk-ins to enable clients to have a designated time to meet with a Life Design Banker. We’re also finding that many of our clients are using our convenient digital banking services such as mobile and online banking which provides bank access at any time or anywhere. 

Gov. Charlie Baker announced a four-phase reopening plan on May 18 that outlined how and when Massachusetts businesses can reopen.

While there is still much uncertainty about the future, local leaders are hopeful.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,’’ said Roy Nascimento, president and chief executive officer of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “I think the region is well positioned because it has a very diverse regional economy.’’

Nascimento said the chamber has been working to help businesses manage the crisis with guidance, loans, and resources. He said the chamber had already hired a consultant to develop an economic development plan for the region, which will now serve as a blueprint for recovery.

“We’re being proactive and working tirelessly to support our businesses,’’ he said. “Recovery will be front and center to help those hit the hardest.’’

The chamber has formed a committee of 30 business and municipal leaders to help guide the development of the recovery plan.

Nascimento said he’s hopeful the region’s manufacturing and health care base will survive and even thrive as there becomes a greater need for some of the products and services they provide.

The sectors he’s most concerned about are those that have been most devastated by the pandemic – retail, hospitality and tourism.

“Those are the ones I worry about,’’ he said. “Those are the hardest hit and will be the last to recover.’’

The chamber hired RKG Associates, Inc. earlier this year to complete an economic development plan for North Central Massachusetts. And while it will still look at areas of growth for the region, a large component will now focus on recovery.

Eric Halvorsen

RKG had already started work and spent the last few months documenting the existing conditions in the region. This included identifying trends in the different industry sectors, such as which were growing, shrinking and had the potential for expansion; surveying commercial space and lease prices; and analyzing housing stock and prices, said  RKG’s Eric Halvorsen.

Upcoming phases of the plan will compare North Central Massachusetts to other regions in the state in areas like housing, schools, safety, transportation, development potential and existing jobs.

The report will also identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and try to identify what sectors the region should be trying to attract.

“They want to spend their time and money in a strategic way,’’ Halvorsen said. “We want the rifle shot, not the buck shot.’’

Other aspects of the plan will look at the workforce and determine what skills it must have to meet future job demand.

The plan will also look at some key sites in the region, such parcels of land or areas that could support future development and potential obstacles like zoning or infrastructure. And then outline specific strategies and recommendations.

“The overall goal is to provide the chamber with a roadmap for the next five to 10 years for what they should focus on from an economic development standpoint and how to best use the resources they have to advance economic development goals in the region,’’ Halvorsen said. “To some degree, some of this will pivot more to recovery – how do you ensure you don’t take five steps backwards?’’

The plan is expected to be done this fall.

Halvorsen is hopeful that a good portion of the jobs in North Central Massachusetts may be insulated from the pandemic to some degree. These include manufacturing, health care, social services, and possibly local and state government and education.

One other potential benefit for North Central Massachusetts is its location outside of Boston.

“If more people switch to working from home and don’t need to live so close to Boston, places like Fitchburg that have lower housing costs but access to commuter rail may start to see some activity,’’ he said.

On the flip side, there are also many jobs in restaurants, retail and hospitality, which may be the hardest to get back. Outdoor seating, for example, is a great option but the New England weather makes that challenging in the long term. Those employees also tend to make less, he said.

“The impact is compounded for those employees,’’ he said.

Henry Tessman

The Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg is a business that falls into several categories of hard hit industries – entertainment, lodging, retail and food service – making it a challenge to plan for reopening.

The Fitchburg-Boston lodge, one of 18 nationwide, features water parks, an arcade, rock wall, bowling, miniature golf, shops and restaurants, all sectors that have specific reopening guidelines.

But reopening plans are now in full swing, said Henry Tessman, general manager of Great Wolf Lodge New England.

Tessman said lodges throughout the country are working together to develop a reopening playbook. The company has also hired an industrial engineering firm that is assisting to develop policies for physical separation, personal protective equipment and flow patterns.

“We’re working with all directors at all properties and building best practices,’’ he said. “We have multiple states opening so we can see the good, bad and ugly of what states are doing and pull the best practices where we can.’’

Tessman said the Fitchburg location will be among the last in the country to reopen with a tentative target date of late June. Tessman said the lodge falls under Phase 3 of Baker’s reopening plan, similar to that of a casino.

“With the amount of time, money and work everyone’s put into these plans, I feel comfortable we will be in a good spot when we reopen,’’ Tessman said.

Among the changes –all employees will have temperatures checked each day and they will wear masks and gloves. The company is developing training videos for employees that will explain all new protocols.

“When we do open up, we will be very prepared to run what the new normal will be,’’ Tessman said.

Initially, Great Wolf will operate at 25 percent capacity, Tessman said, later ramping up to 50 percent and hopefully 100 percent by the end of September.

He said new technology is being installed in the Waterparks to track the number of people so he will know at all times how many people are in each park.

What the experience will be guests is still under consideration and will be dictated by state and company guidelines, Tessman said. However, the number of people allowed on towers and in pools will be limited. Some areas may be off limits, such as the hot tub.

“The biggest thing we have to focus on is social distancing in the pools, seating areas and towers,’’ he said.

Tessman said they won’t be issuing day passes this summer and the buffet will not be open. New policies will also be in place for payment in the restaurants.

So far, Tessman said bookings show customers are eager to get back.

“We’re seeing very good demand up front,’’ he said. “I think local travel will be quicker to return that cruises or airline travel so we may see better demand than other traditional vacation spots.’’

One area of uncertainty is education. North Central Massachusetts is home to both Fitchburg State University and Mount Wachusett Community College.

Dr. Jim Vander Hooven

MWCC President James Vander Hooven said there is no way to predict if colleges will allow students back on campus and how students will respond to those decisions.

But he said MWCC has and will continue to do everything it can to provide a safe environment for students and staff.

He said the Mount quickly moved all its classes online for the spring semester and continues to hold remote classes for the summer. Plans for summer camps and the fall are still uncertain.

Vander Hooven said many of the Mount’s students have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Many of their students have children at home and work in places like the restaurant industry but were laid off.

“Our students are already challenged in many ways and everywhere we turned, it was another hit for them,’’ he said.

Even in the best case scenario, he said the Mount is not rolling back into normal operation.

“It’s going to be a while before we’re back to our typical normal and we’ll have to redefine our normal,’’ he said.

One of the biggest difficulties facing the school is trying to plan for uncertainty. He said many colleges won’t know for a while whether classes will be held in person.

“We could find out as late as Aug. 1 whether we end up with a bunch of students who decided to come to the Mount or we could be down 15 percent,’’ he said. “I’m not even looking at current enrollment projections because it’s not worth the stress. It’s a great unknown.’’

But he too is confident.

“We’ll get through this,’’ Vander Hooven said. “The community here really has a strong backbone. I’m seeing interconnected communities supporting one another. When you can approach a crisis of this magnitude from that perspective, you have a good shot of getting through it together.’’

Dr. Mark Melnik

In the past, Massachusetts has been able to weather downturns because the state was insulated by some anchor institutions – hospitals and universities, said Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at the UMass Donahue Institute.

But this time, those sectors may be hit, making the state more vulnerable this time around.

In the short term, Melnik said his biggest concerns are retail, tourism, entertainment and restaurants. Those sectors have a high percentage of small businesses that aren’t able to easily weather a downturn.

Unemployment numbers for North Central Massachusetts showed the largest spike in claims from those in the construction, food services and administrative support sectors.

But the manufacturing base in North Central Massachusetts may give the region an advantage, Melnik said.

“They have a really strong manufacturing sector,’’ Melnik said. “It’s one of the most significant manufacturing industries in the state.’’

Melnik said communities can’t sit back but need to be proactive in planning, seeking out state and federal planning dollars and working together.

That’s where the chamber can play a role, Nascimento said.

“We have several advantages that will help us weather this better than other regions,’’ Roy said. “We have a diverse economy, strong partnerships in the business community and with our municipal leaders, and the development of a recovery plan already in the works.’’

Nascimento also said he has confident in the region’s businesses.

“There will be some negative consequences for a while but our business community is resilient and will continue to be creative and adapt,’’ Nascimento said. “We’ve been through recessions before and this will pass over time.’’

In her role at the bank, King-Goodwin deals with many sectors of the economy. And while she acknowledges that there will be significant hardships in the short term, she is hopeful about the future.

“Businesses are redefining their operating model in new and creative ways she said, “It’s certainly causing angst and concern but I do have confidence that looking back, we will find there were innovative ideas that came out of this crisis that makes our businesses and communities better.’’ We were fortunate to support over 400 businesses most recently with needed Paycheck Protection Program funds and this has helped businesses bring employees back to work and provide them the confidence and capital needed to run their businesses.