Worcester Chamber Names Skyscope Creative Entrepreneur of the Year

In an announcement heralding the “overnight success” of a rapidly growing central Massachusetts-based company, The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce recently named Skyscope Creative as its choice for Entrepreneur of the Year.

Alex Dunn, Skyscope’s Chief Operating Officer and one of its three founding partners, expressed his appreciation for the recognition. “From the very outset, Skyscope’s mission has been to help the world’s most interesting and important technology companies solve key business challenges with creative and effective video. We work very hard to deliver the best for our clients, and it’s nice to know that the business community is recognizing us for our efforts on their behalf.”

Founded in 2012 by classmates Dunn, Sam Shepler (CEO), and Gabe Gerzon (Creative Director), all were enrolled in Clark University’s MBA program and had an obsession with video production as well as a shared vision for its largely untapped potential in specific business applications. The field was far from empty, but the three grads saw they had an advantage that set them apart, so they launched Skyscope and got to work. Today, the company they founded in a shared off-campus apartment now occupies an entire floor of newly renovated warehouse space and is among the nation’s very best producers of video for business. Their roster of clients includes Cuisinart, The Game Show Network, Emirates Airlines, and Pinterest – among dozens of others.

It may have made sense to some to launch their hot new media agency in either New York, Los Angeles, or even Boston, but the three chose instead to headquarter their new venture in Worcester. While none of the three were native to Worcester, all had grown familiar (and enamored) with the area while attending Clark. They recognized the city offered the rare combination of a skilled workforce, low-cost space availability, easy access to transportation infrastructure, and a resurgent attitude; all ingredients for success.

One factor contributing to the company’s culture of entrepreneurial spirit is their willingness to make room for talent – even if that talent is not immediately applicable to a specific job description. Says Dunn, “We host these ‘Entrepreneurs-in-Residence’ for the express purpose of keeping creativity at its peak. We encourage them to work on projects that they want to pursue, recognizing that enthusiasm is a strong contributor to success. Each of those we have nurtured in this way have gone on to great success, but don’t think for a minute that we don’t recognize the benefit we receive from the relationship. It is a true win-win.”

Skyscope Creative is a true entrepreneurial success story – and the book’s not yet done being written.

Worcester Chamber Lists Annual Business Award Winners

The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce announced their list of local business award winners, all of whom will be honored at a special ceremony commencing at 4:00 p.m. on May 14, 2015, at The Haven Country Club in Boylston.

  • The Richard B. Kennedy Business of the Year award goes to Imperial Distributors, located in Worcester and Auburn, a company that has handled supermarket non-foods distribution and merchandising services since 1939.
  • West Side Steak & BBQ won as Small Business of the Year.
  • Skyscope Creative is honored as the Entrepreneur of the Year.
  • Percy’s TV and Appliance received the Family-Owned Business of the Year.
  • Jim Donoghue, the Tweed’s Pub owner, is the Chamber Advocate of the Year.
  • The Joe Cohen Retailer of the Year is Crompton Collective for its innovative addition of a farmer’s market and, later, an event venue.
  • Maureen Raillo, CEO and president of WLimo, West Boylston, is the Ambassador of the Year.

The Silver Hammer Awards for local distinguished construction or rehabilitation projects has three winners:  SpencerBANK for turning the former Fire and Telegraph Building on Park Avenue into a branch with a community room for the public to use; Winn Companies, for restoration of the former Worcester Technical High School into housing known as Voke Lofts, and Commerce Bank for its restoration of the Slater Building on Main Street.

Congratulations to all!

Boston to Investigate Gender Wage Gap

On Tuesday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh jumped head first into the bickering swirling around the issue of the gender wage gap. He did so by announcing that the city is getting set  to study the wages of male and female employees at dozens of  local companies. This is the first attempt by any major U.S. city to quantify the gender wage gap by scrutinizing actual salary data.

Addressing an audience at the inaugural Boston Women’s Venture Capital Summit in the Seaport on Tuesday morning, Walsh said, “We know that the wage gap continues to be an issue all across this nation, and it’s time to stop talking about it and start taking action.”

Many of the state’s largest employers, including Putnam Investments and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, have agreed to anonymously provide wage information, broken down by gender, race, job category, and length of employment.

Evelyn Murphy, former lieutenant governor and member of Boston’s Women’s Workforce Council, said, “This is the game changer. Prior to now, this has been all so secretive. Some companies just don’t want people to know [salaries]. And you can understand why. But on the other hand it means there’s been no collaboration to get at the inequities that are really there.”

“We’re not trying to punish companies, we’re trying to have people understand where they’re at,” said Megan Costello, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement.

So, how do you convince a major corporation to peel back the lid on sensitive salary information when competitors would so clearly benefit from having access to that data?

By keeping it anonymous, that’s how. Even when the aggregate salary information is made public, the companies attached to specific data will not be revealed.

Tuesday morning, Walsh also made it clear that he is determined to lead by example.

The mayor says he observed a wage gap among top City Hall staffers as noted in a draft report from his new Office of Diversity. According to an analysis of payroll data, men in Walsh’s cabinet are paid, on average, nearly $156,000, while women in the cabinet earn $123,000.

To help close the gap, Walsh gave a 12 percent raise to his chief of policy, Joyce Linehan, increasing her annual salary from $125,000 to $140,000 and Laura Oggeri, the mayor’s spokeswoman, received a 15 percent pay hike, increasing her annual salary to $116,000 from $101,000. Despite these pay increases, women in Walsh’s cabinet are still being paid, on average, almost $27,000 less than men.

Previous attempts to address the wage gap have largely been limited to legislative proposals, including the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which would increase pay transparency and require businesses to justify pay grade differences. Bills filed in Massachusetts earlier this year would prohibit employers from seeking job candidates’ salary histories and require that minimum pay be disclosed for advertised positions.

Analyzing the gender wage gap is a complex undertaking, said Kathy Horgan, chief operating officer for global human resources at State Street Corp., one of the companies taking part in the survey. She noted that one of the sources of salary disparities at the Boston financial services company appears to be a lack of women in senior positions.

“That’s where we don’t have the kind of representation of women that we want to see, and we do believe that’s a driver of our wage gap,” she said.

The city pledges to make the salary information public early this summer.


Massachusetts adds 10,900 jobs in December

According to a January 22, 2015 statement from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD), there were 10,900 jobs added in Massachusetts in December. The EOLWD based these figures on early estimates provided by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The largest number of jobs added in December was in the leisure and hospitality sector with 4,700 jobs added. Other significant sectors with jobs added in December were scientific and business services as well as education and health services, adding 2,700 and 2,200 jobs respectively. In addition, there were 2,300 jobs added by the government in December. There were also significant numbers of jobs added in construction, transportation, and utilities, which added 600, 300 and 200 jobs, respectively.

However, the news was not all positive as the financial activities sector lost 800 jobs, and the manufacturing and information sectors each lost 700 jobs.

The EOLWD also reported in their recent statement that the state’s unemployment rate decreased to 5.5 percent in December, which was 0.3 of a percentage point less than the November unemployment rate. The December 2014 estimates provided by the BLS indicated that 194,900 Massachusetts residents were unemployed while 3,371,500 residents were employed, representing a cumulative labor force of 3,566,400 residents. This total labor force was estimated to be approximately 83,300 more than the December 2013 BLS estimation of 3,483,100, with 51,400 less residents unemployed and 134,700 more residents employed. In addition, BLS amended their November job estimate to show a gain of 11,700 jobs rather than the 13,500 formerly reported for November.

UMass Amherst Replacing Campus Bookstore with Amazon

Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus will no longer be buying their textbooks at the campus bookstore. That familiar on-campus amenity is being replaced by online retail giant Amazon.com. The current textbook annex operated by Follett Corp. is being replaced by an Amazon distribution center that is designed to save the students money.


According to UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, University officials recognized that as the cost of textbooks and course materials are increasing every year for students and represent one of the major expenses of attending classes on campus, the new deal using book services provided by Amazon will not only offer students what they need at lower prices but also provide a more convenient shopping experience.Compared with the prices being charged currently at the UMass Amherst campus bookstore, the new Amazon pricing structure will enable students to save as much as 31% annually, translating to an average cost savings of $380 per student. The new system gives students the option of purchasing either digital copies of the textbooks and course materials they need, or the option of taking delivery of traditional physical ink and paper books to either on-campus or nearby addresses using free one-day delivery. Students also have the option of ordering their textbooks online and then picking them up in person at a location in the campus center staffed by Amazon personnel.

UMass Amherst’s five-year deal with the retailing giant will provide the school with a 2.5% commission on almost all student sales conducted through the Amazon storefront linked to the University’s course-selection software. The University is guaranteed payments of at least $375,000 the first year, increasing to $465,000 and $610,000 for the next two years. Amazon already has similar textbook service agreements with the University of California Davis as well as Purdue University.

An Amazon spokesman says that this effort to reinvent the traditional campus bookstore is a win-win for everyone, with students lowering their cost of obtaining textbooks and other course materials, while the school realizes a guaranteed revenue from student sales.

Boston’s Sapient Corp to be Sold in $3.7B deal

French advertising conglomerate Publicis Groupe has acquired independent Boston-based ad agency Sapient Corp. for $3.7 billion in a deal that was announced on Monday morning.

Sapient’s current co-chairman and CEO Alan Herrick will be CEO of the new Publicis.Sapient group, which will add Razorfish Global and Rosetta, two other subsidiaries of Publicis within the new company. The creation of that organization is expected to increase the total revenue that Publicis receives from digital and interactive services to 50 percent.

Most of the principals involved noted that Sapient’s production operations in India will help cut costs for the new firm, while also stating that the offices of certain unnamed subsidiaries will be consolidated.

Almost eight years ago, Publicis purchased another Boston digital-related company, Digitas, for $1.3 million, which fared better than Publicis’ last attempt at a merger, when a proposed deal with Omnicom collapsed. That subsidiary will now be known as DigitasLBi, and will join Sapient’s former subsidiaries: SapientNitro, Sapient Global Markets and Sapient Government Services in what Publicis is calling a new platform.

The acquisition is expected to be completed sometime early next year, with Publicis set to pay $25 in cash for each share of Sapient. Based on last Friday’s share price, that would give Sapient shareholders a 44 percent premium.

Sapient began as a consultant for IT firms in 1990, but derives the majority of its nearly $1.4 billion current revenue as a result of its evolution into a marketing and ad agency. The company has offices in 37 cities that has nearly 12,000 employees across the world, including 640 in Boston.

Since 2009, Sapient has acquired a number of firms, most notably New York-based Nitro, which was renamed the aforementioned SapientNitro following the merger of the two companies’ staffs. Other acquisitions included design studio Second Story, consumer research firm Iota, marketing analytics company (m)Phasize, and La Comunidad an ad agency geared toward Latino demographics.

Are Massachusetts’ Medical Records Good Enough to Help Fight Ebola?

Electronic medical records are meant to be helpful for all medical professionals. However, if we look at the case of the first person to die from Ebola in America, some of these records are clearly not up to snuff . When Thomas Eric Duncan went into the hospital complaining of not feeling well, he noted that he had been to West Africa. Hospital staff did not blink an eye, and his medical records did not flag him as a health risk. This incident illustrates the point that a gap in the system exists, and that this must be addressed in all medical facilities across the state and the nation.

When medical professionals are accessing electronic medical records, they need to be presented with system alerts that will tell them what the best protocol dictates. If you put a dangerous travel location into the system, it should warn you of imminent danger. People who have traveled to Africa during the Ebola epidemic should be flagged immediately, and the medical system should be prepared to warn doctors and nurses of travel advisories.

These advisories should be no different than the travel advisories issued by the State Department. These records can help doctors and nurses treat people more quickly, but they are useless if they are not noted properly. Perhaps, if Thomas Eric Duncan had gone to another hospital, it is possible that properly notated medical records could have saved his life. Also, it is possible that the system could have saved people who might have been exposed inside the hospital.

Electronic medical records in Massachusetts are very clever, but they are not quite strong enough to protect all doctors, nurses and patients. These medical record systems need to be fitted with travel advisories and other alerts that will warn medical professionals of a potential threat. This could save further lives and prevent an epidemic here in America.

Starting Salaries Projected to Rise 3.8 Percent in 2015

According to human resources firm Robert Half, it is expected that annual salaries for professionals in the USA will increase by 3.8 percent in 2015.  Those working in information technology (IT) and other technology fields are expected to benefit the most. New entrants in the information technology industry will receive compensation that outpaces the general trend, as they are expected to earn 5.7 percent more in their initial salaries, survey reports find.

Those professionals in the financial, accounting, creativity, and marketing-related industries are expected to receive salary hikes slightly below the general trend at 3.5 percent. 

The supply of talent in many sectors is much lower than is the demand, thereby helping to boost wages to attract more people to the respective fields. This trend is particularly visible in the IT and finance industries. It has become important for these industries to improve their starting salaries to compete in the market for talent. The need becomes more acute when these skilled workers are aware of their growing market demand.

In 2015, mobile technology, security and data management services are expected to see an increase in demand for talent. In fact mobile application developers are expected to receive the highest yearly compensation packages.

The legal sector is also experiencing an increase in wages as well, though it is somewhat muted compared to the aforementioned industries. Demand is higher for middle and senior level professionals in high-growth areas such as litigation, commercial law and intellectual property protection. Skilled paralegals are also expected to be high in demand with higher payouts.

Starting salaries of employees in the administrative sector will increase by 3.4 percent. Initial payment of experienced executives and administrative assistants, especially in healthcare, human resources and customer service areas are expected to rise more than other industries.

Ebola and the Economy

Unless you’ve been under quarantine for the past few weeks, you know that Ebola has once again reared its ugly head, causing widespread concern – bordering on panic in some quarters – about the possibility of a global pandemic. How realistic a possibility is this?  Could it actually happen? Frankly, it’s still too early to say one way or the other. However, it’s not too soon to make some basic predictions about how some businesses will be affected should matters get much worse.

Dr. Bruce Aylward is the Assistant Director General for the World Health Organization (WHO). He recently announced that organization’s prediction that the number of cases is expected to top 9000 by the end of this week, and the fatality rate of the current outbreak has risen from just under 50% to over 70%. When asked how the situation might evolve over the next 60 days, he warned: “We anticipate the number of cases occurring per week by that time to be somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 per week.”

As in previous instances of global health scares, airlines, theaters, sports arenas, and other locations where large “fraternities of strangers” gather are sure to be the first to suffer the economic consequences of a population frightened into isolation. Participating in purely recreational activities will be weighed against the fear of contagion, and attendance is sure to plummet.  Schools, churches, and other venues where attendance is “less voluntary” will follow suit in very short order if the outbreak is not quickly reigned in.

The WHO announced yesterday that the Ebola epidemic had officially been halted in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.  Sadly, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other nations in the region remain mired in the misery of a highly-contagious, incurable, deadly viral outbreak, and new cases are popping up around the globe on a daily basis.  Should this situation continue, the global economy is sure to take a big hit.

From a business perspective, this could cause a loss of billions of dollars in revenue. On a more personal level, this could very likely fundamentally change the way we socialize. How big a change depends entirely on how long this outbreak takes to be subdued and how much damage it does in the meantime.

Massachusetts Receives $327,000 in AT&T Settlement

Class Action Case No. CV-09-1529 SI never went to court. The two sides – the Federal Trade Commission and AT&T – settled in October, 2014. AT&T, the largest mobile phone service provider in the nation, agreed to pay $105 million for unauthorized cell phone charges in a practice known as “mobile cramming.”

Cramming is when a phone company charges fees for services neither ordered nor requested by the customer. In AT&T’s case, mobile phone customers were charged up to $9.99 per month for third-party wallpapers, ringtones, horoscope text messages, celebrity gossip, and other crumbs of seemingly free information. In the industry, these are called “Premium SMS content.”

Monthly AT&T bills allegedly hid the charges as part of the total balance. They were listed under the nebulous category, “AT&T Monthly Subscriptions,” giving no hint of their third-party status. The Federal Trade Commission alleged that AT&T pocketed 35 percent of the third-party monthly charges.

“Mobile cramming is a major problem that continues to harm consumers in Massachusetts,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. In 2011 alone, AT&T received approximately $1.3 million customer complaints about the extra fees. The company ended the practice in 2013.

Massachusetts received $327,000 as part of the case settlement. Under terms of the agreement, AT&T must open an $80 million fund, administered by the Federal Trade Commission, to refund customers who were targets of cramming. Customers can request free billing summaries from January 2005 to January 2013 to check for third-party charges, and they are eligible for 100 percent repayment.

“This case underscores the important fact that basic consumer protections – including that consumers should not be billed for charges they did not authorize — are fully applicable in the mobile environment,” said Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

AT&T is the first major phone service carrier to enter a national settlement involving mobile cramming practices. Negotiations with T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint for alleged similar practices are ongoing.