Business

Friendly's Files For Bankruptcy

By Jaclyn Cashman   |   Monday, October 10, 2011
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Oct. 10, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 5 on WGBH's Greater Boston.


CHARLESTOWN, Mass. — A Massachusetts-based family friendly restaurant chain is heading into bankruptcy. Friendly's is shutting down 63 locations across the country after more than 75 years in business. Half of those closings are right here in the Bay State.

WBGH visited one of the closed restaurants in Charlestown where we met Jim Andrea, "I went to Friendly's when I was young. It is sad. It is an icon going down. I guess it is a sign of the times."

30 locations are closing shop in Massachusetts in order to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Nicole Lessard grew up in Wilbraham, the hometown of Friendly's. She has plenty of fond memories going there as a kid and is saddened she can't provide her daughter with the same.

Nicole Lessard of Charlestown said, "I was excited to bring my daughter to Friendly's one day and do sort of the free kid dinner night and share an ice cream cone. It is also a loss to the community because there are not a lot of places you can bring your kids to."

Frank Keane actually attended the grand opening of Friendly's in Charlestown several decades ago and used to come here each morning for his scrambled eggs before this sign appeared. Keane said, "It is a loss to Charlestown. It really is. It is a nice place to go. I really do miss it."

The neighborhood ice cream shop opened during the Great Depression, but unfortunately it couldn't stay afloat during these current economic conditions. Casual family restaurants have been hit hard by the bad economy. This old-school hang out has had a difficult time competing against places like Panera Bread. The other problem with the Western Mass- based company is its best selling item: ice cream.

As Americans become more health conscious, they are ditching their banana splits for a healthier option. On Newbury Street, there have been several stores opening up offering new low cal frozen treats. With the calories displayed on the board, customers can enjoy a guilt free frozen snack. Ibba Armancas, an Emerson College student, said, "The fact that it is lower calories, it helps people out. You feel less guilty to get your sweet thing."

But for more longtime Friendly's customers, they put calories aside and instead focus on the memories made over decades eating the delicious ice cream and cheeseburgers with their families.

It is not all bad news for Friendly's. More than 400 locations will remain open. Here's a link to the nutrition page for Friendly's. You won't believe how many grams of fat are in the kids meals.

Here's a list of the closings.

Here are some comments we found on Twitter from Friendly's fans:

Entrepreneur Walk Of Fame Unveiled In Cambridge

By Cristina Quinn   |   Monday, September 19, 2011
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Sept. 19, 2011

Placards showing some of the first inductees to the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame. (Cristina Quinn/WGBH)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The entrepreneurial spirit took over Kendall Square this past weekend. After years of planning, Cambridge officials unveiled the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame next to the Kendall Square/MIT MBTA station. The walk honors seven legends of innovation,  including Thomas Edison, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Apple's Steve Jobs.

Leland Cheung is a Cambridge City Councilor and President of the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame. He said that the walk is meant to celebrate future innovators as well as pioneers of the past.

"I really hope that we show kids who are thinking what their careers should be,a path to stardom that's not based on Internet celebrity or YouTube videos, but that's based on innovation and hard work and trying to build something great," Cheung said.

An engraved stone commemorates the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame. (Cristina Quinn/WGBH)

Kendall Square is the densest hub of innovation and entrepreneurial investment in the country, and Tim Rowe, CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center, says he wants to keep it that way -- but knows aspiring entrepreneurs need encouragement.

"The path of entrepreneurship is a risky one, and it's not an easy one. Someone doesn't write you a check every month, and here's your salary and do these things we ask you to do. You have to figure it all out, so it's hard, and yet it's what grows our economy. So we want more of those bright young people from around the world to say, you know what, 'we're going to build businesses, we're going to do it here.' That's where the jobs come from," Rowe said.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Johnson Athletic Center, new and veteran entrepreneurs spent the weekend at the t=0 festival, to meet, brainstorm and build business models.

Emma Liu, an MIT graduate student attending the festival, said it's time for more women to become entrepreneurs, and that one day, she'd like to see herself immortalized on the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame.

"I should have that goal — to be on the Walk of Fame someday — maybe sooner than we think, maybe five-to-ten years, or maybe two years," Liu said.

If Liu and her team can build a feasible business model in a weekend, anything seems possible.

Boston Has Nation's Highest Ratio Of 20-34 Year-Olds

By Jess Bidgood   |   Thursday, July 7, 2011
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Jul. 7, 2011

Young people gather on Boston Common for public re-enactment of a 1971 speech by Howard Zinn in 2007. (Mark Tribe/Flickr)

BOSTON — Boston is home to a bigger proportion of adults ages 20-34 than any other city in America.

2010 census data analyzed by Boston's Redevelopment Authority and confirmed by the U.S. Census Bureau shows 35 percent of Boston's population to be between the ages of 20 and 34. That represents an 11-percent increase from the 2000 census, which helped Boston knock previous first-place city Austin into spot number two.

Professor Alan Clayton Matthews, an economist at Northeastern University, says Boston's particularly dense, urban university presence is the biggest driving factor behind its young population. "Since these educational institutions are located right in the middle of a huge labor market, many students stay to work in Boston," Matthews said.

In a statement, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city is working hard to retain college graduates.“Boston continues to be an attractive city for this highly sought after age group,” Menino said. “With the recent successes in our Innovation District, we’re continuing to build reasons for them to stay, and to attract more.”

Matthews said the 11 percent increase in the age group's ratio is partially due to university expansion, but was significantly rooted in the city's efforts to more thoroughly count its college students during the 2010 census.

The city has long been defined by its big presence of young professionals. Matthews said Baby Boomers who flocked to Boston helped the city transform from a declining manufacturing center into a technological hub.

"Going forward, it is still the reason why reason why Massachusetts and the Boston area will probably remain one of the key technology areas in the country. It’s the ability to attrct young students and to retain many of them in the workforce after they graduate,” Matthews said.

But he says the city risks losing some younger adults to increases in the cost of living.

Sen. Brown, Rep. Tierney Chastise Federal Fishing Authority

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, June 21, 2011
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June 21, 2011



BOSTON — A group of Massachusetts’ lawmakers is coming down hard on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency at the center of a contentious debate over regional fishing rights and the subject of a damning Commerce Department investigation last year.
 
During a Congressional hearing on the agency held in Boston on Tuesday, Rep. John Tierney called for the resignation of NOAA’s chief, Jane Lubchenco. He said the agency failed to respond adequately to reports of abuses by its staff.
 
"I don’t see the empathy that ought to be there, I don’t see the understanding. And the real commitment to make sure that their positions are understood and factored into any decisions that are made," Tierney said. 
 
Tierney joins a growing chorus of lawmakers, including Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who say that Lubchenco failed to respond to reports of abuses at NOAA quickly enough.   
 
The investigation, by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Inspector General, found NOAA was charging fishermen outlandish fines for small offenses. The money then went into a NOAA fund with no oversight. It was used by regulators to pay for fishing conferences in exotic locations such as Australia, Malaysia and Norway. It also purchased a $300,000 fishing boat used by government employees for fishing trips.  
 
The Inspector General also found the agency’s Law Enforcement Director, Dale Jones, shredded garbage bags full of documents in the middle of the investigation.
 
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown asked NOAA’s assistant fisheries director, Eric Schwaab, about Jones’ current whereabouts, but Schwaab refused to comment. He has said Jones was removed from his job, but according to CBS news, Schwaab remains an analyst still making a six-figure salary.
 
Schwaab also says the agency is addressing past abuses by making a number of financial reforms. Sen. Brown applauded these actions, but many fishermen say they ring hollow when the perpetrators remain unpunished.
 
Brown said the problem at NOAA goes deeper than what was uncovered in that investigation alone.
 
"NOAA's history of overzealous enforcement in the New England Fishery has come at the cost of the fishermen’s' trust and their livelihood. And many of them tell me that the folks in Washington regard them as criminals instead of a legitimate and valued regulated industry," Brown said.
 
In May, the Commerce Secretary ordered the agency to return tens of thousands of dollars in fines to fishermen. The government is still investigating if funds collected through fines are being used properly.

Fisherman: Catch-Share Sectors 'Eliminate' Some Business

By Bob Seay   |   Friday, May 6, 2011
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May 6, 2011

More than half of New England's groundfish fleet has stayed at dock this season, citing the new catch shares management system as the reason and sparking a heated political battle. (Heather Goldstone/WGBH)




BOSTON — The New England fishing industry continues to experience growing pains. For some fishing families, however, it is more like convulsions. This time last year, in an effort to sustain and replenish ground fish stocks, the national marine Fisheries Service implemented a new regulatory system called sectors.

Sectors are essentially cooperatives that pool together fishing rights based on histories of members. Marine scientists and some fishermen viewed sectors as a step above the previous system, which set limits on the days that professional anglers could be at sea.

Last Friday, we spoke with a longtime Harwich fisherman Eric Hesse, who had an overall favorable view of the new rules. "I have been able to fish in a way that is more effective for my business than under days at sea. I've been able to market my fish more effectively, choose my fishing locations and actually which species I target."

But another fisherman, Tim Barrett, views it differently. Barrett has also been fishing since the mid-1980's out of Plymouth. He spoke to WGBH's Bob Seay about the problems he says sectors are causing for his work. "The sectors from my aspect have essentially elimiated all my commercial groundfishing for the winter. I've lost about 60 percent of my gross income, due to the fact that I've been given a low allocation."

Click the player above to listen to Barrett's full interview.

In Lexington, Solar Is Coming

By Andrea Smardon   |   Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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Feb. 10, 2011

A tour of 1366 Technologies | Jess Bidgood/WGBH


BOSTON — One of the state’s largest alternative energy companies, Evergreen Solar, is in the process of closing its manufacturing plant in Devens. But the landscape for solar manufacturing in Massachusetts isn’t all bleak. A solar startup in Lexington, 1366 Technologies, is looking to open a new plant in Massachusetts  — and they’re hiring.
 
Frank van Mierlo, the CEO of 1366 Technologies, is a tall, energetic man from the Netherlands.  On a brisk walk to the machine shop, he passes a poster with a drawing of a horse and rider, that reads “Solar is coming,” a nod to Paul Revere’s historic ride through Lexington.  Like Revere, Van Mierlo is on a mission , and he’s in a hurry. 

Silicon is seen in the various stages of refinement it goes through before it becomes a solar wafer, a crucial building block of solar cells. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

 “We make manufacturing equipment, so it’s very important to be hands-on, and that means that you should quickly do stuff, quickly try something, quickly draft something, and quickly make it, and so this fast prototyping ability is an important part of our company,” Van Mierlo says.
 
According to Van Mierlo, solar has made tremendous progress in the last 30 years.  And by bringing down the cost of photovoltaic cells, the part of a solar panel that converts sunlight into electricity, 1366 is taking the industry a step closer to competing with fossil fuels.
 
“We’re in the neighborhood. If we keep on going, in the next decade or so, we can actually be competitive with coal.  It’s doable, and we have some of the technologies to do that in house,” Van Mierlo said.
 
In the lab, engineers are focused on turning silicon  — an abundant material found in rocks — into thin wafers.  These wafers are the building blocks for solar cells, and the most expensive part of the supply chain.  1366 has invented a machine that could turn a multi-step process into a single step, producing silicon wafers at a fraction of today’s price.  Van Mierlo says this kind of innovation is made possible by a special blend of talent and venture capital that comes together in Massachusetts.

Engineer Tom Dusseault analyzes solar wafers that have undergone a texture treatment process. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

“That combination of talent, good living conditions, excellent universities — that makes it possible to assemble a group like this,” Van Mierlo said. “And then of course the availability of capital to actually try this — and this is where the US venture community comes in. That does not really exist elsewhere. There is a reason we are more innovative than anybody else.”

Emanuel Sachs is the brains behind the company.  Once a consultant for Evergreen Solar, he’s now a mechanical engineering professor at MIT and the Chief Technology Officer of 1366.  He says the start-up is almost ready to begin manufacturing; they plan to build a pilot factory, and they want to keep it near their Research and Development headquarters. 

 “It’s incredibly beneficial to have your core R&D team very close, ideally co-located with a factory. So they can put their ideas into practice, and see the results themselves.  There’s no doubt that that’s our preferred way to go,” Sachs said.
 
Richard Sullivan, the new State Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs, says being a leader in green energy is a priority for the state, and they will do everything possible to make companies like 1366 want to stay. 

Emmanuel Sachs, the CTO of 1366, stands in the lab. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

“What the Commonwealth can do as a whole is create that supportive environment that makes not only the research & development which I think we’re extremely successful at, but also showing that there’s lot of places in Mass. where the manufacturing can stay here and can be competitive,” Sullivan said.

To help 1366 secure a federal grant, the state has provided $300,000 in matching funds. In total, 1366 has received $7 million in public money, with the bulk of the start-up’s funding – about $45 million -- coming from private venture capital. 

 Frank van Mierlo is optimistic that new energy technologies can be successful here — they just need a level playing field.
 
“There is 10,000 times more solar energy than we need to power our entire civilization. You can do this with solar, but there has to be ground swell support for that,” Mierlo said.
 
1366 already has early customers waiting for their wafers in South Korea and Germany.  The company is focused now on finding a location for its pilot plant and hiring people to help lead that effort. Van Mierlo says 1366 hopes to break ground before the end of the year. 

About the Authors
Jess Bidgood Jess Bidgood
Jess Bidgood is WGBH.org's news editor and producer.
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.
Bob Seay Bob Seay
Bob Seay is the host of NPR's Morning Edition on 89.7FM WGBH Radio. He got his start in radio during college at WMUH, got involved with WGBH TV while in graduate school at Boston University and formerly hosted ME at WRNI in Rhode Island.

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