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A new role for Deb Devaux, as neutral arbiter in Mass. health care debate

“All inclusive” ad campaign turns eyes downtown; With new CEO, Freight Farms reels in big funding; A hunch pays off for new Regan Communications president.

Deb Devaux, chair of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission.Chris Morris

Deb Devaux thought she was finally retiring for good. She was wrapping up a health care career, one capped with nearly two decades at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and three years at Beth Israel Lahey Health.

Then Governor Charlie Baker called.

In July, Baker named Devaux the new chair of the Health Policy Commission, a state watchdog on health care costs established about 10 years ago. It was a new stage in her career that she didn’t see coming.

“I had intended to retire,” said Devaux, who took over for original chair Stuart Altman. “I was making my shopping list for Costco and Trader Joe’s . . . [But] I was really drawn to this work. I’m very glad the governor gave me this opportunity to serve.”

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The former health care executive’s role as chair of the HPC’s board of commissioners is a part-time, volunteer post; the 63-person staff is led by the agency’s executive director, David Seltz.

Devaux stepped into the spotlight this month by chairing the HPC’s annual hearing on health care cost trends, which lasted five hours at Suffolk Law School and featured a who’s who of Massachusetts health care. Devaux is now a neutral arbiter after previously representing the insurance side (with Blue Cross) or the hospital side (with Beth Israel) of the debate. She said she has been told she has appeared before the commission more frequently than any other witness, primarily due to her work at Blue Cross.

The commission will try to strike the right balance when it revisits the state’s health care inflation benchmark in the spring. The commission has already raised it to 3.6 percent for 2023, up from 3.1 percent. Also on the to-do list: advocating for legislation to give the commission authority over pharmacy costs and more power to crack down on organizations that significantly exceed the threshold, as well as working with Mass General Brigham on its performance improvement plan after that hospital group blew past the benchmark. Plus, the commission will work with a new governor, Maura Healey, who will be taking over for Baker in January.

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“The path forward is going to have to be a collaborative one with providers and payers,” Devaux said. “We cannot let up on the affordability goal. The pressures on patients and employers are just as concerning as the pressures on providers. That is the challenge: How do we balance the actions to recognize both?”

Windows reflect a pedestrian beneath the lights of the Paramount Theater in Downtown Crossing on Oct. 5, 2022.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Another push to boost downtown

The city’s “All Inclusive” marketing campaign is coming back, in time for the holiday shopping season.

The latest iteration, dubbed “Meet Me in the City,” gets underway this week, with ads running in community newspapers to encourage people to shop and go out to eat in Boston.

Marketing maven Colette Phillips, who is overseeing this extension of the “All Inclusive” campaign that the city launched in 2021, said this is just the latest example of how Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration is trying to boost foot traffic in downtown Boston. The ads were designed by Proverb, a local agency led by Daren Bascome.

Phillips rounded up about 50 prominent business and community leaders for a virtual meeting last week, to urge them to spread the word. Among those on the call: Jay Ash of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, Hilina Ajaikaiye of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, Jen Benson of the Alliance for Business Leadership, Lauren Jones of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, Debbie Ho of Chinatown Main Street, and Keith Motley and Joe Feaster representing the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.

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Rick Dimino, president of A Better City, said many of his group’s landlord members would be open to donating space for small businesses to open pop-up stores. And Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, talked about how the campaign will complement a $200,000 statewide marketing effort, primarily with radio ads, that his group is launching this week to encourage shoppers to buy local.

“I was very happy the business community was embracing this,” Phillips said. “They understand the reality of this. If we don’t have a vibrant, active downtown . . . what are we going to do?”

Chris Mutty holds a hydroponic radish at Brookline Grown in Coolidge Corner on March 9, 2017. The vegetable was grown inside a former taxi garage in Freight Farms, converted shipping containers that provide all the light, water, and nutrients the plants require.Lane Turner
A visitor checks out the Freight Farm exhibit at HUBweek on Oct. 14, 2017.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Big moves at Freight Farms

For years, Rick Vanzura’s job as chief executive of the Wahlburgers restaurant chain involved hobnobbing with the celebrities and power brokers that moved in Mark Wahlberg’s and Donnie Wahlberg’s circles.

But now, as chief executive of Boston-based Freight Farms, Vanzura has a different mission — one that might not be as glamorous, but ultimately more satisfying in terms of the long-term environmental impact.

That mission, making and selling vertical hydroponic farms in shipping containers, got a big boost last week when water infrastructure company Aliaxis and investment firm Ospraie Ag Science led a new $17.5 million funding round. It’s the biggest equity investment round yet for the company, which had already raised nearly $27 million by that point. This round was considered an “up round,” in that it increased the privately held firm’s valuation, though Vanzura declined to be more specific.

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Much of the money will go toward building an outbound sales team at the 51-person company and broadening its international business. Vanzura said Freight Farms is also getting inquiries about the company’s software for uses beyond managing its hydroponic container farms.

Vanzura started as chief executive in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Massachusetts. He had been at Wahlburgers for seven years as its first chief executive and helped brothers Mark, Donnie, and Paul Wahlberg grow the business from one location on the South Shore to a group with $100 million in annual revenue. (He was also a top executive at GameStop for about a year before joining Freight Farms.)

“This is fun . . . in a totally different way,” Vanzura said. “Freight Farms is really about trying to tackle enormous existential problems around food access and sustainability.”

Regan’s right hand steps up

Looks like Ashley Boiardi’s hunch worked out for her.

When Boiardi interviewed for an executive assistant job at publicist George Regan’s eponymous PR firm eight years ago, she was so sure it was where she wanted to work that she canceled another job interview that was scheduled for later that day.

Unlike most people hired at Regan Communications Group, Boiardi was looking to get into administrative work, not public relations.

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That bet paid off in a big way on Monday when her promotion to president was announced to the firm’s nearly 100 employees. She takes over for Tom Cole, who was actually with Regan when he started the firm in 1984; Cole will be paring back his work schedule to a few days a week, and become a senior adviser to the firm. Boiardi has been Regan’s chief of staff for the past five years, and her new position takes effect on Dec. 30.

Among her most memorable tasks as chief of staff: planning Regan’s wedding in July to Elizabeth Akeley. Boiardi had worked on a number of events before for Regan, but nothing like that one. It drew some 400 people including many movers and shakers in Boston’s political and business worlds, such as Governor Charlie Baker and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to the Nauticus Marina in Osterville.

“I’ve never met anyone like him,” Boiardi said of Regan. “His friends are his clients and his clients are his friends. Around the clock, he works so hard.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.