By Mitchell Young
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA] top administrator Gina McCarthy, knows Connecticut well, she was commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection from 2004–2009.
In her position as Connecticut’s environmental leader McCarthy worked closely with Connecticut’s energy companies as many of the state’s energy initiatives were first being created.
The EPA has recognized some of those efforts it awarded Energize Connecticut’s partners Eversource, The United Illuminating Company (UI), Connecticut Natural Gas and Southern Connecticut Gas as a 2016 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year for Energy Efficiency Program Delivery.
Rider confidence in Metro-North plummets
If truth in advertising were the watchword of the day, Metro-North Railroad’s recently released study of riders’ opinion’s of the commuter line’s recent performance would be called a customer-dissatisfaction survey.
Conducted in June but released only this month, the survey reveals that commuters’ satisfaction with Metro-North has plunged 20 points in just 12 months, to 73 percent.
As if to prepare readers for bad news, the study’s very first sentence (under the heading “Overall Context”) reads: “Metro-North’s 2014 Customer Satisfaction Survey was conducted in June 2014, following a period which saw several incidents occur on the railroad which adversely impacted perceptions of the safety pf railroad operations, and the railroad’s on-time performance record.”
In addition to the decline in overall satisfaction with Metro-North, the study acknowledged that on-time performance declined by 28 points to just 58 percent.
Moreover, New Haven Line riders were significantly less satisfied with Metro-North than their counterparts on the Hudson and Harlem lines. Their satisfaction with Metro-North plunged to 58 percent, 29 points below last year. Customer satisfaction west of the Hudson was stable over the same period.
“Metro-North customers were right to express deep dissatisfaction with levels of service after the particularly difficult year the railroad has had,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in a statement. “Our commuters have a right to expect a culture of safety and on-time performance levels of 95 percent or better. It is clear that Metro-North has a long way to go. Recent positive indicators for reliability have not been sustained, and service is clearly unacceptable for New Haven Line customers.
Not exactly a vote of confidence for MTA Metro-North Commission Joe Giulietti, who arrived at the beginning of the year from Florida to considerable fanfare. He previously served as executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
“A 20-point drop in customer satisfaction with Metro-North performance is a lot more than a wakeup call for a railroad that has struggled for many months with very big issues and challenges,” said state transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker. “We have been working closely with President Joe Giulietti and his top leadership team to instill a safety culture in Metro-North, and we will redouble our efforts to identify a remedial action plan for service reliability that our customers deserve.”
In a letter to Metro-North, Redeker directed the railroad to deliver a complete assessment of every cause for failed train performance and an action plan to bring on-time performance to a minimum of 95 percent. Redeker has asked that the assessment and plan be on his desk by December 1.
City Council opposed sale of publicly owned utility
NEW HAVEN — UIL Holdings Corp. announced November 10 that it would not terminate its planned $1.86 billion purchase of Philadelphia Gas Works at this time. In its announcement the parent of the United Illuminating Co. and Southern Connecticut Gas Co. expressed “disappointment” that the City Council of the Pennsylvania city opposed the sale of the publicly owned gas utility in an October meeting.
UIL “will continue to monitor developments in Philadelphia to assess the advisability of further delaying termination of the agreement.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter had hailed the planned sale to UIL as a win for the roughly 500,000 ratepayers, the municipal pension fund, and efforts to boost the region’s energy sector.
The council said an outside consultant it hired found that the city would net $200 million to $400 million, far less than the $400 million to $600 million cited by Nutter’s administration. Council officials noted other concerns, including the lack of a guarantee that rates would stay “reasonably affordable” after a promised three-year rate freeze.
“On October 28 we expressed our disappointment in the City Council’s announcement that it would not endorse the sale, and stated that we would determine whether to exercise our contractual right to terminate the agreement and make a determination on future action within two weeks,” said James P. Torgerson, UIL’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement.
“The transaction made strategic sense for UIL when we announced the agreement in March of this year, and continues to make strategic sense today,” he added. “Accordingly, with time remaining for the City Council to consider the transaction at its upcoming meetings, we believe that it would be premature to exercise our right to terminate at this time.”
UIL said it has had the contractual right to end the deal since July 16. The company said that if the Philadelphia City Council doesn’t adopt an ordinance approving the deal by December 31, the asset-purchase agreement will automatically terminate.
Stored gas purchased at low prices may protect customers against price spikes
NEW HAVEN — UIL Holdings Corp. and its natural gas-distribution subsidiaries — the Southern Connecticut Gas Co., Connecticut Natural Gas and the Berkshire Gas Co. of Massachusetts — expect gas bills to remain relatively stable this winter.
The companies have portfolios of firm capacity that access ample and low-cost gas supplies, including supplies from the Appalachian basin, where the discovery of vast stores of gas in the Marcellus Shale formation has improved the domestic supply picture. The companies have supply commitments arranged and have been storing natural gas purchased at low, off-season prices, according to John P. Rudiak, senior director of energy supply for UIL’s Connecticut gas operations.
That means customers should continue to be largely insulated against significant price increases, even if the spot market cost of natural gas delivered in New England rises sharply during the heating season, Rudiak added.
“We’re filling our gas storage with the lowest-price gas that we’ve put into storage in years,” Rudiak said. “That gas will be available for withdrawal this winter for our customers.”
Stored natural gas can account for almost half the consumption of CNG and SCG firm customers during the winter heating season, Rudiak said. The commodity cost of natural gas is reflected on customers’ bills under the PGA (Purchased Gas Adjustment) line item.
Pittsfield, Mass.-based Berkshire Gas issued a similar forecast. “We’re optimistic that winter pricing will remain stable, comparable to last year,” said Chris Farrell, Berkshire’s director of corporate communications and government relations.
Meanwhile, UIL officials said they expect to be able to comfortably meet their customers’ gas needs this winter, despite recent reports about constraints in the transmission system.
“Even as we continue to grow our system in Connecticut and bring natural gas to towns and neighborhoods that did not have it before, we have firm capacity contracts in place to guarantee that both our new and existing customers have access to this inexpensive and environmentally friendly fuel,” said Robert Allessio, president of SCG and CNG.
UIL’s natural gas distribution companies are supplied by major transmission pipelines that bring in natural gas from regions where it is produced, including the Appalachian basin and Canada. The companies supplement these pipeline supplies with reserves of liquid natural gas stored at local facilities, as well as large reserves from underground storage facilities in several states.
In addition, the companies offer larger industrial and commercial customers the opportunity for lower rates if they are willing to switch temporarily from natural gas to other fuel sources at times when demand is unusually high. This helps level out short-term spikes in demand for natural gas during certain peak periods, ensuring sufficient supply.
WINDSOR LOCKS — A Massachusetts company will demolish Bradley International Airport's Terminal B, which closed in 2010, the Connecticut Airport Authority has announced.
S&R Corp. of Lowell, Mass. will also demolish a viaduct roadway that runs in front of the terminal, which is slated to be replaced in 2018.
The work will mean that all lanes of traffic on Bradley's upper roadway will be diverted to the lower roadway just after the Sheraton, hotel CAA said. The right line of the lower-level arrivals roadway will also be closed.
A new terminal will mean more opportunities for overseas flights, which Bradley has not had since 2009.
The CAA is trying to attract Aer Lingus to offer service from Bradley to Ireland. The agency held an invitation-only event earlier this month in Hartford with an Aer Lingus official for local businesspeople to show their support for the service.
For corporate functions attendees will long remember, Connecticut companies seek venues certain to surprise
A company with its name emblazoned along the big screen of a flashing marquee would be in for more than an average business function — at Palace Theater in Waterbury, that is — if the company booked this spot for its annual meeting — a likely upgrade from mundane get-togethers of former years. For whatever company decides to rent this space, its employees are sure to be dazzled.
The Palace is among a number special venues in New Haven County that house corporate functions of every stripe; one of many places which manages to break employees away from the typical hotel ballroom, restaurant or catering hall.
“There has been growth in people searching out new and unique spaces,” says Sheree Marcucci, marketing and public relations officer for the theater, “giving guests something to marvel at instead of just hosting in a blank banquet space.”
Numerous business leaders agree, holding a corporate get-together at a space that is considered more “outside the box” tends to maximize the employee experience, in turn, engaging the business for the better. When employees are interacting with, or truly interested in, their corporate surroundings, they are in the stage to bond with the company and come away with a more positive experience.
So where else can businesses look to book their upcoming events, whether they are conferences, holiday celebrations, orientations, team-building parties, or annual meetings? The unusual spots below are just some of greater New Haven (and New Haven County’s) unconventional spaces where companies might find their own “new havens.”
Walking into the Palace Theater, which is on the National Register of Historic places, employees may choose to be greeted by their name in flashing lights, but the climax of their event will be their presentation — not exactly the one they may hold on the theater stage, but a scheduled Palace performance itself — pre- or post-business function. The theater boasts a diverse variety of shows, not excluding plays and musicals, comedians, concerts, operas and other theatrical productions. With a number of spaces to choose from within the building, a full-service technical director, or the option for a behind-the-scenes tour of the theater’s nearly century-old grandeur and architecture, employees will not be yawning or squirming in their seats.
Marcucci says the theater has been a corporate hit of late, particularly with nationally known organizations such as Major League Baseball and ESPN.
Apart from the idea of performances, some businesses may have a different kind of “art” in mind for their functions. When it comes to corporate fun and success, Art Plus Studio in New Haven literally “paints the picture” for companies and their employees. The venue welcomes coworkers to not only paint canvases together under the step-by-step instruction of a professional artist, but it has an array of team-building programs to boost employee relationships. Visitors can bring their own beverages and catering of their choosing. Employees have the option to work together to create a company mural, paint their own portraits or compete in groups and produce paintings that reflect their company’s mission or function theme.
“Our events stimulate creativity, demonstrate the value of a group effort, and give participants a sense of achievement,” says Erin Curley, private events manager for the studio.
She adds, “Companies are striving more than ever before to cultivate a climate that encourages creativity, productivity and loyalty.”
By setting the stage for employee interaction and inspiration, Art Plus Studio seems to project and provide the ultimate in attitude and atmosphere. Additionally, the studio’s guides can also travel to businesses’ offices or venues of choosing to host events.
Another out-of-the-ordinary event partner in greater New Haven is the Wine Institute of New England (WINE). The institute specializes in educational classes and presentations that cover all aspects of wine — including appreciation — and the entertainment is a free plus. When businesses opt to plan a customized event with WINE, they can decide on a venue and whether to partake in several team-building activities, such as blind tastings (where coworkers break off into teams to identify a “mystery” wine together), and role-playing (where, for example, coworkers can pretend they are trying to sell wine at a restaurant, and their recently-acquired knowledge will be tested).
Renée Allen, founder and director of WINE, says most wineries in Connecticut have been receptive to hosting WINE functions as well. She observes the business culture seems to be aware of the benefits of being versed in wine, to which she attributes her increasing requests for corporate functions.
“It definitely became a trendy thing to do,” says Allen.
If “trendy” is not quite what a company is going for, it can seek out an older space that feels, literally, like home.
At the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center in Meriden, businesses have three levels of rental space to choose from in the 100-year-old Greek Revival building, which housed the Silver City’s first library.
“We are a more engaging atmosphere,” says Staci Roy, executive director of the center, “as we have the feel of your own living room with working gas fireplaces and one of the only glass-floor rooms in Connecticut.”
The Curtis Center has hosted an endless array of corporate events, not limited to sales and lunch meetings, conferences and seasonal parties. The cultural center serves not only as a pleasant space rich with beauty, but a quaint atmosphere appropriate for professionals with an appreciation for history.
Venues like Augusta Curtis seem to “light” the way for “bright” ideas regarding spaces that skew from the norm, but the next space truly claims that notion — literally.
At Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, a company may come for a conference, but leave convinced to come back for the park’s beloved carousel.
While the 42-acre park is perfect for department picnics and different corporate celebrations, as it boasts a small building surrounded by grass and small hills along the beach, Sabrina Bruno, events coordinator at the park, mentions it is more challenging to host daytime meetings with the sunlight gleaming into the space where the still-functioning, century-old carousel resides. However, wi-fi is available “for the work (and play) world,” as Bruno notes.
Not far down the Sound, businesses can find another beach retreat — this one equipped with two pools and restaurants, bocce, basketball and tennis courts, and, appropriately, a tiki bar. At East Haven’s Silver Sands Beach & Tennis Club, all the club amenities are available for rental. The club’s beachside dining space is suitable for any function.
Whether attending for work or play, they of course still mean “business.”
Other local out-of-the-box corporate function ideas include Watson Adventures scavenger hunts (statewide), the New Haven-based THEY improv traveling entertainment group (which offers murder mystery dinners, comedy, game shows and employee motivation events), and local, team-building adventure activities hosted by national organizations such as American Outback Adventures & Events, and InnerWork.
Considering that Connecticut is rich with colonial history, it is no surprise to some venue owners that companies are seeking out many of these special facilities — the state is recognized for its countless historical houses and sites. Even museums and picturesque historic sites, such as the New Haven Museum, Waterbury’s Mattatuck Museum and Dudley Farm in Guilford provide education-rich surroundings featuring original exhibits, which offer that something extra to local employees scheduled to make required daytrips with their companies.
Of all the options Elm City professionals have for beyond-the-norm function sites and events, Mila D’Antonio, editor-in-chief of 1to1 Media, mentions the significance and demand for a social component at these sites as well — social media. D’Antonio’s company specializes in providing multimedia content and resources on customer, business and marketing strategy.
"Every component matters," says D’Antonio. "It is not just about the physical space."
She notes the necessary usage of event hashtags for social media network Twitter, as well as mobile apps and agendas available to companies attending conferences.
Such “networking” can leave room for even further and longer lasting connections.
D’Antonio agrees it is important to think “outside of the box” in order to keep employees engaged. She mentions she had also kept this in mind while planning a recent event at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, noting it was a place more people would be motivated to attend.
Creating an extraordinary and memorable experience, according to an online report by Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, is a driving force behind the growth in businesses’ initiatives to seek unusual venues for their functions, in addition to an enthusiasm for team-building activities.
“Those properties partnering with local assets, such as wineries, historic and natural wonders, intriguing adventure resources, and unique off-site reception & dinner venues have a strategic advantage in the pursuit and the capturing of meeting demand,” says the report.
Creative Producers Group, a company specializing in company engagement and event production, also suggests to “break the event design mold” and tradition, as it mentions in an online post.
Furthermore, employees should be anticipating an experience that is meaningful, memorable, and/or magical, as an excerpt from the e-book, The Executive's Guide to Corporate Events and Business Entertaining: How To Choose and Use Corporate Functions to Increase Brand Awareness, Develop New Business, Nurture Customer Loyalty and Drive Growth, by Judy Allen (2007), explains.
Allen stresses the advantage of generating a “wow” factor at events, with the purpose of sending attendees home with “an emotional and energetic high.”
D’Antonio reiterates it is important to choose something “new, unique or different,” whether it be a space, or even a speaker.
Businesses’ consciousness of the importance of innovative company outings, along with social media and client referrals, seem to be the reason for the popularity of more unusual venues being utilized, as Art Plus Studio’s Curley notes.
“The business world is evolving,” notes Curley. “Executives are learning the more they give, the more they’ll get back.”
Curley and WINE’s Allen have both reported a steady growth in requests for corporate-geared functions using their services; Allen also notes that companies must be picking up on the trend, leaving the venues with plenty to entertain.
They don’t plan on slowing down.
For the benefit of any business, greater New Haven continues to provide corporate gathering opportunities that “spark” almost any interest: Whether on a scale small or grand, Palace Theater’s Marcucci says, “People want to see their name in lights!”
1. Yellow Ribbon Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay:
• All resident tuition and fees for a public school
• The lower of the actual tuition and fees or the national maximum per academic year for a private institution.
Cost of actual tuition and fees may exceed these amounts if one is attending a private school or is attending a public school as a nonresident student.
Institutions of higher learning (degree-granting institutions) may elect to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program to make additional funds available for a veteran’s education program without an additional charge to one’s GI Bill entitlement.
Degree-granting institutions of higher learning participating in the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program agree to make additional funds available for a veteran’s education program without an additional charge to their GI Bill entitlement. These institutions voluntarily enter into a Yellow Ribbon Agreement with the Veterans Administration and choose the amount of tuition and fees that will be contributed. VA matches that amount and issues payments directly to the institution.
Available Benefits & Eligibility
Only veterans entitled to the maximum benefit rate, as determined by service requirements, or their designated transferees may receive this funding. Active-duty service members and their spouses are not eligible for this program. Child transferees of active-duty service members may be eligible if the service member is qualified at the 100-percent rate.
To receive benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program:
• You must be eligible for the maximum benefit rate under the Post-9/11 GI Bill
• You must not be on active duty or a spouse using transferred entitlement
• Your school must agree to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program
• Your school must have not offered Yellow Ribbon to more than the maximum number of individuals, as stated in their participation agreement
• Your school must certify your enrollment to VA and provide Yellow Ribbon Program information
• Benefits expire 15 years after you leave the service, instead of the previous ten years.
You may be eligible if you fit the following circumstances:
• You served an aggregate period of 36 months in active duty after September 10, 2001
• You were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability and you served 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001.
• You are a dependent eligible for Transfer of Entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill based on the service eligibility criteria listed above.
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
2. State of Connecticut Tuition Waivers for Veterans
Veterans may attend Connecticut public colleges and universities tuition-free. Connecticut statutes provide that tuition may be waived for qualified veterans attending the University of Connecticut, Connecticut state universities and the 12 community-technical colleges.
Waivers cover only the cost of tuition for credit-bearing undergraduate and graduate programs. Other charges, such as for books, student activity and course fees, parking and room and board are not waived.
To qualify for a waiver at the University of Connecticut and Connecticut state universities, veterans generally must be admitted to a degree program. The community-technical colleges are more flexible.
Tuition waivers for veterans cover 100 percent of tuition for General Fund courses at all public colleges and universities and 50 percent for Extension Fund and summer courses at Connecticut state universities.
Source: Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs
3. Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling for Veterans
Educational funding may be available to veterans who demonstrate a need for training or retraining to better prepare them for today’s competitive job market.
If a veteran wishes to attend a local community college or university, he/she will be informed of the veteran tuition waiver benefit to determine eligibility. The veteran will be instructed to file for financial aid. If in need of financial assistance beyond this, she or he can request funding from the Residential and Rehabilitation Services Director, if eligible.
Instruction in basic computer skills, use of Windows programs and use of the Internet are arranged through the Vocational Department at a local training facility.
Personal enhancement classes such as Tai Chi and CPR are also offered at the facility.
Source: Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs
STORRS — A student team from Connecticut is among five teams in New England chosen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to receive up to $15,000 to pursue projects that deliver sustainable, alternative methods of addressing environmental challenges.
The University of Connecticut/Storrs won the funding for a project that will develop a cost effective and environmentally friendly flame retardant.
The “Environmentally Friendly Flame Retardants Based on Inorganic Nanosheets” project will make a flame retardant that will have similar or higher flame retardancy performance; minimum release of toxic gases during combustion; no leak of toxic chemicals during production, transportation, and usage; and, similar or lower cost when compared to conventional flame retardants.
“Projects and designs created by student teams each year surpass our expectations,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator for EPA’s New England office. “It’s exciting and hopeful that students are coming up with sustainable ways to address our country’s challenging environmental issues, while also helping to create a vibrant, growing economy.”
Also from New England, college teams at Bridgewater State University, University of Massachusetts/Lowell and Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute as well as Norwich College in Vermont were among 42 college teams nationwide selected for EPA’s annual Prosperity and the Planet (P3) student design competition.
Past P3 teams have used their winning ideas to form small businesses and non-profit organizations. An intercollegiate team made up of students from Harvard, MIT and two Chinese universities launched the nonprofit organization One Earth Design, based on their winning project: a solar-powered device that cooks, provides heat and generates electricity.
Since 2004, the P3 Program has provided funding to student teams in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, committing over $10 million to cutting-edge, sustainable projects designed by university students. Projects from this year’s teams include sustainable alternatives to address the reduction of traffic congestion in Cincinnati, extending the growing season for farmers by heating greenhouses with biomass and environmentally friendly flame retardants.
Funding for the P3 projects is divided into two phases. In the first phase, student teams submit a proposal for a project, and if they are selected, they compete with other Phase I winners at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. At the Expo, teams compete for Phase II funding of up to $75,000. This year marks the 11th year for the EPA P3 Program.