Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

BusinessWest’s Difference Makers to Be Honored March 30

BusinessWest magazine, the bimonthly business journal covering Western Massachusetts, will honor its Difference Makers for 2017 on March 30 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

The Difference Makers program was established in 2009 to recognize individuals and groups that are, as the name suggests, making a difference in the Western Mass. region. This year’s honorees are:

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The Community Colleges of Western Mass. — Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College. For more than a half-century now, the community colleges serving the four western counties of the Bay State have been providing critical access to higher education and a pathway to both four-year degree programs and careers in dozens of fields, making them true Difference Makers. But the schools are also playing key roles in a host of regional economic-development initiatives, from workforce issues, such as the recognized skills gap facing many sectors, to efforts to bring new jobs and opportunities to the former GE site in Pittsfield. As GCC President Bob Pura put it, “I don’t think there’s a region in this state better-served by community colleges.”

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• Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round Inc. It’s a story that’s been told many times — how the city of Holyoke rallied to purchase the merry-go-round at Mountain Park after that attraction closed and moved it to Heritage State Park for future generations to enjoy and cherish. But the story didn’t end when the carousel opened for business in 1993. Indeed, the same amount of passion that was needed to save the merry-go-round from being sold to an out-of-town investor is now needed to keep it spinning for the children of today and tomorrow. Now, as then, that passion has been provided by the Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round Inc., making that nonprofit a true Difference Maker.

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Denis Gagnon Sr., President and CEO of Excel Dryer Inc. By now, most area residents know that Denis Gagnon Sr. gave the region, and the world, the XLERATOR, the hand dryer that truly revolutionized that industry because … well, because the product actually works as efficiently as consumers would hope. What most people might not know is that Gagnon is even better-known, at least locally, for his work within the community. Indeed, he has lent his time, energy, and imagination to causes and organizations as varied as the Boy Scouts of America and Link to Libraries. For his success in business and within the community he and his business call home, he is certainly a Difference Maker.

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Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts. JA, as it’s known, will turn 100 in 1919. And there will be much to celebrate. Indeed, this organization, formed the year after World War I ended in an effort to help country shift from an agrarian economy to an industrially based model, has helped generations of young people learn invaluable, hands-on lessons about how a business works. In recent decades, through, the nonprofit has greatly expanded its mission to put an ever-greater focus on the all-important topic of financial literacy. Starting with kindergarten students, JA provides lessons in everything from taxes to how a zoning board works; from the global economy and how it operates to the difference between a credit card and a debit card. For making young people smarter when it comes to money and business, the organization can definitely be described as a Difference Maker.

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Joan Kagan, President and CEO of Square One. To say that Joan Kagan has gained considerable experience in dealing with adversity would be a huge understatement. Indeed, since she took the helm at Square One in 2003, she has led that organization back from the June 2011 tornado, which destroyed its administrative offices as well as invaluable classroom space, and also through the natural-gas blast in November 2012 that extensively damaged another classroom and rendered it unusable. But she should be better-known for her more-than-40-year career in social services, much it spent serving children and families, and her tireless advocacy for these constituencies. Her work to make families stronger and healthier makes her more than worthy of the title of Difference Maker.

“This year’s honorees provide more direct evidence that there are many ways for an individual or group to make a difference in this region,” said BusinessWest Associate Publisher Kate Campiti, “and all of them are important to overall quality of life.” 

The Difference Makers Gala on March 30 will begin at 5 p.m. with networking and opportunities to meet this year’s honorees. There will be live entertainment, butlered hors d’oeuvres, a buffet, and more networking opportunities.

Tickets cost $65 each, with reserved tables of 10 available. For more information or to order tickets, call Bevin Peters at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or e-mail

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