Six Companies Earn 2021 Next Century Awards

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Six Companies Earn 2021 Next Century Awards

Economy News | November 29, 2021
By: Chris Geehern

Six Massachusetts companies that found ways to succeed and serve their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic have been honored with AIM Next Century Awards for 2021.

The honorees include a retail dry cleaning company that worked with employees to avoid layoffs; a financial institution that worked long hours to process Paycheck Protection Program loans; and a semiconductor maker that donated $50 million to accelerate access to technology needed to combat the pandemic globally.

AIM announced today that 2021 Next Century awards will go to Greylock Federal Credit Union of Pittsfield, White Lion Brewing Company of Springfield, Intel of Hudson, Gemline of Lawrence, Hollingsworth & Vose of East Walpole, and Dependable Cleaners of Quincy.

Next Century awards honor employers, community organizations and individuals who have made unique contributions to the Massachusetts economy and the well-being of the people who live here.

“AIM created the Next Century Award to honor the accomplishments of companies and individuals creating a new era of economic opportunity for the people of Massachusetts. These remarkable people and institutions inspire the rest of us by exemplifying the intelligence, hard work and dedication to success that has built our commonwealth,” said John R. Regan, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

“The 2021 honorees enjoy the added distinction of having used resilience and creativity to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and help Massachusetts through a uniquely difficult period.”

Award winners will be honored during the week of December 6-13 with tributes on AIM electronic and social media platforms. Honorees will also receive a pie from AIM-member Table Talk Pie of Worcester.

Here are summaries of each recipient:

Greylock Federal Credit Union of Pittsfield

Greylock Federal Credit Union was founded during the Great Depression in 1935, so, they’re no stranger to helping residents of Berkshire County through difficult circumstances.

Motivated by a vision “to enable our community to thrive,” the 92,000-member financial institution rolled up its sleeves during the COVID crisis to help the westernmost county in Massachusetts deal with the financial fallout of the pandemic.

The list of its contributions is long and includes:

  • waiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and fees.
  • pausing payments for more than $200 million in loans.
  • providing $2.5 million in emergency loans for first responders.
  • providing more than $40 million dollars in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program Loans, saving more than 5,000 local jobs, from Hudson to Pittsfield, Williamstown to Great Barrington between 2020 and early 2021.
  • fielding more than 145,646 calls, even as staff worked mostly from home.
  • making $762,000 in donations during 2020 to community organizations; Greylock is recognized as a Pinnacle Company by the Berkshire United Way.

“As a community cooperative, we know that to achieve community success, you must allow each individual to thrive. Whether it be by helping a single mom to improve her credit score through financial coaching and eventually buy her family a home; or helping a business pay its employees through the Paycheck Protection Program, Greylock understands the value of community,” said Stanley B. Walczyk, Chair of the institution’s board of directors.

The Pittsfield G.E. Employees Credit Union originally served employees of General Electric. The company became a federally charted credit union and changed its name to Greylock in November 1995.

Greylock membership today is open to anyone who lives, works, attends school, worships or regularly conducts business in Berkshire County; the towns of Westfield, Southwick, Granville, Montgomery, and Russell, Massachusetts; Bennington County, Vermont; or Columbia County, New York. The company maintains 14 branches in Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Lee, Adams, North Adams, Williamstown, Lanesborough and Lenox, Massachusetts and Greenport/Hudson, New York.

Greylock was granted a Low-Income Designation (LID) from the National Credit Union Association and certification by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund in March 2015, allowing the Credit Union to offer expanded services to low- and moderate-income families.

In June 2019, Greylock was designated a Juntos Avanzamos credit union. Greylock is committed to serving and empowering Hispanic and immigrant consumers by helping them navigate the U.S. financial system and providing safe, affordable and relevant financial services.

Dependable Cleaners, Quincy

Dependable Cleaners faced an existential crisis in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 and resulting emergency shutdowns caused sales to plummet 90 percent at the company’s 13 Greater Boston locations.

The challenge was almost unfathomable. Dependable Cleaners is a fourth generation, certified women-owned family dry cleaning company in business more than 75 years. What began in 1944, with just a shirt laundry facility, had flourished into one of the leading dry-cleaning companies in the region.

But the  pandemic also represented an emotional crisis for the company’s workers, who were suddenly confronted not only with the fear of contracting COVID-19, but also the uncertainty of whether they would have jobs, whether they would every again be able to visit elderly relatives and who would teach their homebound children.

Christa Hagearty, the Dependable Cleaners CEO, realized immediately that the business crisis and the emotional crisis were inseparable and that both would have to be addressed simultaneously.

Hagearty, a member of the AIM Board of Directors, developed an approach she called “One Company and Take Care of the Many.”

She decided that the company would not lay off any employees but would instead reduce hours as fairly as it could. Dependable also ensured that employees were aware of any government program – from unemployment insurance to leave provisions included in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act – that could help them ride out the crisis.

The company used money from the Paycheck Protection Program to keep workers connected to full benefits, return everyone to full hours and invest in cross-training that provided welcome flexibility to staff the company during the first months of the pandemic. Dependable supported its employees with a Facebook team page, reading circles for staff children, mini-libraries and lunches.

Most importantly, Ms. Hagearty said, the company and its employees developed “a culture of responsibility, care and keeping each other safe.”

“No one gave COVID to somebody at work and that took a lot of effort by every single individual and a lot of care.”

Sales have now returned to 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels, and the company and its workers continue to find ways to thrive. Dependable recently cut back its hours on Wednesdays to free up time for training, organization, team development and time off.

White Lion Brewing Company, Springfield

The opening of White Lion Brewing’s tap room at Tower Square in downtown Springfield in June marked the culmination of a long and winding road for founder Ray Berry and his close-knit team of 10 people.

What began as a concept that Berry launched while working for the United Way of Pioneer Valley in 2011 had become a full-time passion and a source of hope for a city center.  Along the way, White Lion encountered all manner of turns, dips and pivots, most recently a 14-month construction delay in its new facility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID set us back a full year,” Berry recently told BusinessWest magazine.

“We’ve been creative, and we’ve made a number of pivots along the way and diversified our portfolio, but the bottom line is we lost a full year and more.”

Berry started his White Lion beer line in 2014, making it at a contract brewery in Ipswich and working to get his beer into bars, restaurant and stores. He had originally planned to have a brewery and taproom in Springfield by late 2017 or early 2018, but first had to find a location that met the criteria for a brewery. He considered the space at Tower Square, which had been the site of a restaurant, an “ideal location.”

Besides serving the full line of White Lion Beer, the taproom’s kitchen is run by Chef Andrew Brown, of High Brow Wood Fired Kitchen of Northampton. Future plans include entertainment in the taproom, which holds 120 guests.

White Lion’s success is also significant because Berry is one of only five African Americans to own a brewery in Massachusetts. He supports an initiative launched recently by the Massachusetts Brewers Guild to serve as a central clearinghouse for the industry in terms of diversity and inclusion initiatives, book suggestions, job postings, and best practices.

The initiative is spearheaded by former AIM Chair and Mass Bay Brewing Company CEO Dan Kenary.

“I’m very proud and encouraged by Mass. Bay Brewing and the local Massachusetts guild for understanding that there is truly a deficit in our trade and looking to be creative in conversation and in action steps to bring awareness and move the needle,” said Berry, who is a member of the brewers guild’s diversity committee. “They are taking a very proactive step in the right direction.”

Ultimately, Berry and his partners see a larger significance in their success.

“White Lion Brewing Company symbolizes grace with limitless possibilities,” the company says.

“A company positioned between lessons taught and the possibilities inspired by energy and spirit. A homegrown artifact that has the necessary ingredients for a successful future: a compelling brand and commitment to being a vital part of the city and region’s regeneration and renaissance, all while affording the consumer an opportunity to identify with a local product.”

Gemline, Lawrence

Gemline may be the nation’s 12th largest supplier of branded promotional products, but the COVID-19 crisis showed that the company can also be pretty nimble when responding to a crisis.

Founded in 1958, Gemline and its 450 employees were among a handful of AIM members to adapt their operations to meet pressing community needs during the early months of the pandemic.

Gemline pivoted its operations to sourcing and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to senior living centers across the United States.  The company also supported health-care institutions such as Beth Israel Hospital, the Greater Lawrence Health Center and Lawrence General Hospital with donations of goods and financial support.

That wasn’t all. Gemline provided educational sessions featuring epidemiologists, immunologists and other experts to help educate people in the community and their industry with the latest expert advice around COVID.  CEO Jonathan Isaacson ran the COVID-19 task force on behalf of the Lawrence Partnership, a private public partnership devoted to economic development in Lawrence.

For these efforts and others around the crisis, Mr. Isaacson was named Person of the Year by the Advertising Specialty Institute.

The COVID response came as Gemline broadened its commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. It became a Zero Landfill Facility by ensuring that no waste from the company’s headquarters and manufacturing operations in Lawrence go into a landfill. The company  also joined the UPS Carbon Neutral Program, designed to offset the CO2 associated with UPS shipments, and earned certification by the Sustainable Business Leader Program (SBLP) through the Sustainable Business Leadership Network of Massachusetts.

The company’s product line consists of bags, coolers, drinkware, electronics, stationery, writing instruments, gourmet food and lifestyle gifts. In addition to its strong portfolio of house brands and Gemline-branded products, the company offers retail brands such as American Tourister®, Anker, CORKCICLE®, Cuisinart® Outdoor Grilling, Igloo®, Moleskine®, MiiR®, Modern Sprout®, Osprey®, Paper Mate®, Samsonite®, Sharpie®, Slowtide, W&P and Zebra®.

Intel, Hudson

Semiconductor maker Intel, which manufactures the processors enabling technology including personal computers all around the world, has a unique view of the power of technology to address a global pandemic.

Intel’s Pandemic Response Technology Initiative invested $50 million to accelerate access to technology needed to combat the pandemic around the world.

The company, which has maintained operations in Massachusetts for more than 20 years, worked with more than 170 customers, partners, governments, academia, and non-government organizations (NGOs) on 230 projects around the globe to accelerate access to technology at the point of patient care; speed scientific research; ensure access to online learning for students; and aid in economic recovery to support our local communities.

Intel also joined the XPRIZE Pandemic Alliance, a global coalition working to accelerate solutions for COVID-19 and future pandemics. The company granted free access to Intel’s intellectual property portfolio for COVID-19 researchers and scientists and co-founded the Open COVID Pledge.

Intel donated more than 1 million pieces of personal protective equipment around the world, including 15,000 pieces designated for Massachusetts health-care workers. Although the pandemic limited in-person volunteering activities, employees contributed close to 1 million volunteer hours in 2020, including virtual activities and technology access projects that directly supported members of local communities.

To support local schools and nonprofits, Intel’s Hudson employees volunteered close to 8,000 hours in 2020 and the company encouraged them to donate to the Hudson Community Food Pantry, United Way of Tri-County, and Hudson Public School District. Intel matched employee donations with an additional contribution from the Intel Foundation.

As a site, Hudson employees raised $28,016 and with the Intel Foundation Match totaling $56,032 were able to provide $18,000 per organization. Hudson Public Schools shared funding was used to assist and provide internet access to families and support to students to connect remotely, during virtual learning. Hudson Community Food Pantry has used Intel funds to stock the pantry and serve community members of Hudson, Berlin and Bolton who struggle with food insecurity during COVID-19.

“We are inspired to be surrounded by so many dedicated people and nonprofits that are rapidly mobilizing to donate much needed items like food, inspiring students in STEM virtually, and even Hudson volunteers organizing a group to 3D print personal protective equipment while staying at home in 2020,” said Rachael Hamer, Public Affairs Manager for Intel in Hudson and a member of the AIM Board of Directors.

“The pandemic changed the lives of our employees, our customers, and our communities. In response, Intel and its employees stepped up to support its communities worldwide.  It is our hope that by supporting the efforts of our local partners, we can help our community in the most meaningful way as they address COVID-19 relief.”

Hollingsworth & Vose, East Walpole

Few companies were as well qualified as Hollingsworth & Vose to make critically needed healthcare-related products when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020.

As a global manufacturer of advanced filtration and battery separator materials at the front of the supply chain, H&V had been working for years with advanced solutions for cleanrooms, hospitals, commercial and industrial buildings, heavy-duty equipment and more.

H&V and its 366 Massachusetts-based employees shifted the focus of this global company to provide materials for N95 respirators, ventilators, medical gowns and hoods, and components for COVID-19 tests, as well as products for medical, industrial, residential and transportation filtration systems. Meanwhile, the company’s battery separators went to support medical equipment and contribute to back-up power sources for emergency vehicles, hospitals and other facilities.

“As 2020 tested the limits of companies and individuals alike, we focused on leading the way  globally for the production of ventilator filter media, and we remained one of the top worldwide producers of N95 mask filter media. Moving forward, we will work to stay ahead of the demand for these PPE and medical filtration materials while also providing increased supplies of filtration materials for homes, commercial buildings and schools that are capable of filtering COVID aerosols.” said Val Hollingsworth, Chief Executive Officer.

In the midst of unprecedented demand for health-care products and personal protective equipment, H&V’s employees and facilities faced mounting pressure to produce as orders backed up. The company mounted a plan to increase productivity to meet the need for PPE products, especially the filter media used in face masks.

Family-owned for seven generations, the company’s origins go back to 1728 when an “Act for the Encouragement of Making Paper” was passed by the General Court of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Evolving continuously since that time, H&V now operates manufacturing and research & development facilities in the Americas, Europe, China and India.

“We know this will require us to be innovative and adaptable, and we’re ready to pivot as needed to best serve the many health care workers and citizens who rely on masks, protective apparel and filtration solutions for their safety. With centuries of experience behind us, we know what it means to adapt with changing times and demands, and we’re ready to meet new challenges that arise this year and beyond,” Hollingsworth said.