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Daily News

CHICOPEE — MassDevelopment and the City of Chicopee have announced a new campaign through the civic crowdfunding platform Patronicity and the Commonwealth Places initiative. The Chicopee Center Gateway Project campaign will fund downtown beautification efforts in Chicopee, including signature banners, flower planters and other landscaping, and a signature public art bus shelter.

This project will build off the momentum of other redevelopment efforts in the city to make Chicopee a more attractive place for residents, businesses, and visitors.

“The Gateway project will help downtown Chicopee catalyze local business development and enhance the city’s sense of community by beautifying its streetscape,” said MassDevelopment Vice President of Real Estate Services Amanda Maher. “The Commonwealth Places initiative allows communities to provide gathering places for residents and inspires individuals to invest in their surroundings, and we look forward to the same success in Chicopee as we have seen with our past projects.”

If the campaign reaches its crowdfunding goal of $17,000 by August 11 at midnight, it will win a matching grant with funds from MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program. To learn more and donate visit (http://www.Patronicity.com/Chicopee).

“We’re looking forward to having a location downtown that is going to be warm and inviting not only for existing residents, but also hopefully to encourage new ones to come,” said Chicopee Mayor Richard J. Kos.

“Beautifying these areas will send a message to our community that revitalization is happening and that there are exciting things taking place in downtown Chicopee,” said Jessica Roncarati-Howe, President of the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce.

Commonwealth Places is a collaborative effort from MassDevelopment and Patronicity that leverages public support for placemaking projects through crowdfunding and a matching grant from MassDevelopment. The program engages residents in the development of strategic projects in their towns and cities. The program has supported successful campaigns across the Commonwealth, from Northampton to Hyannis. For more information, visit (http://www.massdevelopment.com/commonwealthplaces).

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The DiGrigoli Salon artistic team had the opportunity early this month to soak up the sun and the educational training at the Premiere Orlando Hair Show.

With more than 57,000 attendees yearly, 800 exhibitors, and a wide variety of guest educators, Premiere is one of the largest hair shows in the country.

The team of stylists learned the latest hair color and hair cutting techniques for summer/fall 2017 from some of the top names in the cosmetology industry. Notable educators included Nick Arrojo (of TLC’s What Not to Wear,) Eden Sassoon (of Vidal Sassoon,) and Sam Villa (of Redken.) The show ran from June 3-5.

Daily News

Opinion

If it seems like this region is back where it started when it comes to the Economic Development Council’s latest attempt at branding (or rebranding) the region …. well, it is.

Indeed, months after this dubious exercise began, the EDC and the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau announced this week, sort of, that the new (new?) marketing slogan for Western Mass. will be ‘Western Mass’ — without the period and in colors approaching orange and green.

The cynics are right to ask why this region’s business community spent $80,000 (not an insignificant sum by any stretch) to hire a nationally recognized public relations firm that specializes in this kind of work to come up with a new brand (‘West Mass,’ which no one liked), and then essentially let the public decide that the brand would be something that everyone was already calling this part of the Commonwealth.

Now, it seems, the region will try to take that name that we’ve all used for decades and make it known nationally, thus giving this area some sort of identity.

Maybe things will work out, but from our view, this exercise has been an expensive comedy of errors and mis-steps — a well-intentioned comedy of errors to be sure.

From the beginning, and again now, we’ll say that economic development leaders in this region should be far less focused on coming up with a brand (and retiring ‘Pioneer Valley’) and more focused on simply telling the region’s story.

And it’s a good story that’s getting even better, with MGM Springfield opening in 15 months, the city’s downtown in the midst of a renaissance, and people recognizing that this is a great place to live, work, and start a business.

This region could have done a lot of good story telling with $80,000, but instead we spent the better part of a year learning that we already had a good brand and didn’t need another one.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Thunderbirds were honored on Wednesday night with the Champion of Youth Award by the Springfield Boys & Girls Club.

The award was presented to the Thunderbirds in recognition of their outstanding commitment to the youth, community and Boys & Girls Clubs.

“We were thrilled with the way the (Springfield Thunderbirds) players and coaches embraced the youth at the club,” said Vincent Borello, the executive director of the Springfield Boys & Girls Club. “But it was the follow up that truly impressed me. From coming to the club to teach kids about hockey, to the players handing out teddy bears to more than 400 kids at Christmas and ‘Boomer’ attending several events giving kids hugs and happiness, the Thunderbirds are more than a hometown team. They are an extended family and true Champions of Youth.”

The Thunderbirds additionally were involved with the Boys and Girls Club in the winter months as defenseman Ian McCoshen joined the children for floor hockey, crafts, and other activities. For his involvement, McCoshen was awarded the 2016-17 Thunderbirds’ Man of the Year honor.

“We’re honored to be selected as the recipients of the Champion of Youth award; our team made it a priority to be a pillar of the Springfield community in our first season, and we could not be more pleased with the opportunities granted to us by the Springfield Boys and Girls Club,” said Thunderbirds Executive Vice President Nathan Costa. “We would like to thank Vinny Borello, the staff and children at the club for opening their doors to us, and we hope that this is just the beginning of a longstanding relationship in the years to come.”

Combining their efforts with the Boys and Girls Club and a wide variety of other community outreach ventures, the Springfield Thunderbirds raised more than $50,000 in charitable donations in their first year.

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LUDLOW — The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), representing 20 municipal utilities, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and other consumer advocates are opposing an electric transmission owners’ plan they say seeks to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers in a case in which federal regulators actually ordered a reduction in transmission rates.

The filing opposing the plan was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on June 26.

The transmission owners are seeking to have the FERC reinstate an 11.14% base rate of return on equity (ROE) for their nearly $12 billion investment in transmission facilities. This move is in response to a federal appeals court decision to vacate a 2014 FERC order that reduced the base rate to 10.57%. The court sent the case back to the FERC for further review. The transmission owners’ position is that because the decision establishing the 10.57% rate has been vacated, the rate should revert to the higher rate of 11.14%.

The joint filing by MMWEC and others explains that the court’s decision was not intended to result in restoration of the higher rate, which was found by the FERC to be unjust and unreasonable. Instead, the court decision directs the FERC on remand to justify why they deviated from their typical rate-setting practice, which would have resulted in a rate lower than 10.57%. In fact, the MMWEC filing argues that a new base rate should be set well below 10.57%.

“If the New England transmission owners are successful in reinstating the higher rate, it will be a gross miscarriage of justice and an insult to consumers,” said MMWEC CEO Ronald C. DeCurzio.  “They are seeking returns of more than 13% on their investments in transmission facilities, which is totally unjustified in today’s interest rate environment,” he said.

MMWEC’s filing with FERC protests the transmission owners’ plan and sets out the legal argument detailing why the base rate should not revert to 11.14%. It states that the order accepting the existing 10.57% ROE cannot be reversed without an action by the FERC, and the FERC should not take any action on interim rates and refunds to consumers until it decides which ROE should be in place.

The MMWEC filing asserts that the transmission owners’ submission to revert to the higher rates constitutes an unauthorized filing. The FERC should reject the transmission owners’ submission “in order to prevent the unlawful collection” of unjust rates,” MMWEC states in the filing.

Based on 2014 estimates provided by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, reduction of the transmission ROE from 11.14% to 10.57% is saving $62 million per year in transmission costs for all New England consumers, including customers of investor-owned and municipal utilities. The Massachusetts municipal utilities’ share is approximately $4 million per year.  The transmission owners are attempting to recoup these savings from consumers and collect the higher rate going forward.

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SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission recently completed the 2017 Annual Update of the Plan for Progress, the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS).

The document presents regional performance indicators of progress in the region and provides a detailed listing of major committed projects of regional significance – from infrastructure and transportation to redevelopment and new construction. The 2017 CEDS is available online (http://www.pvpc.org/plans/comprehensive-economic-development-strategy-ceds), or hard copies can be provided upon request.

The report also identifies eligible projects seeking federal grant assistance from the EDA during the upcoming 12-18 months.

The document is required by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to report the status of ongoing economic development initiatives.

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Sheriff Nick Cocchi announced recently that the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department received $188,837 from the state for diversion of individuals suffering from substance use to keep them out of jail and into treatment.

This grant is part of the Baker administration awarding $2.3 million in a second round of competitive federal grants designed to help sheriffs, and other criminal justice agencies strengthen and enhance efforts to combat heroin and opioid abuse in Massachusetts, including prevention, intervention, diversion, enforcement and treatment.

“I am pleased to receive this much-needed funding which we will use to increase recovery bed space in the community as well as provide case management for these afflicted individuals,” said Cocchi.

“We all know the toll on citizens in our cities and towns,” he went on. “We are now losing five people every day due to this opioid crisis. This funding will prevent many individuals suffering from substance use from coming to jail, by diverting them into intensive treatment thus avoiding costly jail time. This will save lives and allow these individuals to get on track to being successful, productive members of our communities.”

The number of confirmed cases of all opioid-related overdose deaths for 2016 was 1,933. This figure represents a 17% increase over confirmed cases in 2015 of1651 and a 42% increase over 2014.

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BOSTON — The Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT) advises holiday travelers to plan ahead, utilize MassDOT’s many “real time” travel tools and use public transportation if possible to reach their destinations between now and the end of the July 4 holiday weekend.

“This holiday is a great opportunity for the public to use technology tools including www.mass511.com or the GoTime mobile app in order to make informed decisions on routes to take to destinations and the timing of travel,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “If people check real-time travel time information before leaving home then they can make smart decisions about whether to drive or take transit and whether to leave earlier or later.”

Acting Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said heavy traffic volumes are expected on the state’s highways during this upcoming holiday period. “With many people driving to destinations we encourage people to leave extra time to reach their destinations, exercise safe driving behaviors, be patient on the roadways, and consider taking public transit if possible.”

MassDOT is taking steps to facilitate the flow of traffic during the holiday and will be postponing scheduled roadway construction effective at noon June 30, with scheduled construction activities resuming with the start of normal business hours on July 5.

Free coffee will be served at the 18 MassDOT service plazas from 10 p.m. July 4, through 5 a.m. July 5. The plazas serving free coffee include 11 service plazas along I-90 plus plazas along Route 3 in Plymouth, Route 128 in Beverly, Route 128/I-95 in Newton and Lexington, Route 6 in Barnstable, and the Route 24 northbound and southbound plazas.

For traffic and road conditions, drivers may use the following options to make decisions:

 

  • Download MassDOT’s GoTime mobile app and view real-time traffic conditions;
  • Dial 511 and select a route to hear real-time conditions on I-90 and other roads;
  • Visit www.mass511.com, which provides real-time traffic and incident advisory information, and allows users to subscribe to text and email alerts for traffic conditions;
  • Download Waze, the real-time traffic navigation app; and
  • Follow MassDOT on Twitter @MassDOT because motor vehicle incidents which impact traffic flow are generally mentioned in tweets if they occur on the state’s major highways.

 

Daily News

AGAWAM — The Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) released its summary findings from its 2017 Southern New England Compensation survey. Highlights of the 2017 findings include increased average pay in many sectors and, at the same time, increased pressure of losing top talent to competitors.

Representing more than 300 benchmark positions spanning a number of job-family categories, the survey include breakouts by industry, geographic region, company size, and more. More than 200 companies throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island participated in this year’s survey, with the largest participation from employers with 100 or less employees. The full, comprehensive report is available to participating members at no charge.

“We see that employers have needed to be strategic in allocating their budgetary dollars, especially when it comes to directing those dollars towards more vulnerable jobs. These jobs may have been subjected to past wage freezes or impacted by wage compression due to rising minimum wage rates throughout the region,” said Mark Adams, director of HR Solutions at EANE.

Average pay in non-exempt level positions has risen from 2016 levels, particularly in such job families as education, engineering, facilities, finance/banking, production, and hospitality. While the rise in pay outpaced the general growth in the consumer price index (CPI) from its 2016 levels, the pay growth is still being outpaced by skyrocketing benefit costs that have taxed employer operating budgets and have thus limited what they can provide. (The CPI increased by 2.3% on average when compared to the 2016 levels during the reporting period.)

Despite these rising operational costs, employers also face the countervailing pressure and risk of losing skilled workers to competitors who are challenged by talent shortages amidst a backdrop of very low unemployment. (Unemployment rates declined from 2016 throughout the Southern New England region in the range of 1.2 to 2.0%, depending upon the specific metropolitan area.)

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LUDLOW — LUSO Federal Credit Union announced that Paulo Marques, senior loan originator, ranked fourth among top loan originators by volume for credit unions in Western Mass., with loan volume of $23.4 million. He also ranked fourth for top loan originators by number of loans for credit unions in Western Mass., with 156 loans. These results were reported by the Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.