Briefcase

EDC Head Blair to Step Down
SPRINGFIELD — Allan Blair will retire as president and CEO of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council at the end of 2014 after 18 years at the helm of the regional economic-development agency. A search committee, headed by Peter Straley, chairman and CEO of Health New England, will seek his replacement. The EDC provides support for companies looking to locate or grow in the region, through services including real-estate searches, workforce, manufacturing supply chain, data and demographics, incentives and financing, new market opportunities, service procurement, and academic research and development opportunities. The EDC also acts as an umbrella group for other business-oriented organizations, including the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Amherst Business Improvement District, the Westfield Business Improvement District, the Northampton Business Improvement District, the Springfield Business Improvement District, the Westmass Area Development Corp. and the Westover Metropolitan Airport and Westover Metropolitan Development Corp.

DevelopSpringfield Announces Grant for Façade Improvement
SPRINGFIELD — DevelopSpringfield, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) development corporation, announced that it has awarded a $10,000 grant for façade improvements to the New England Farm Workers Council for renovations to the International Bier Garten located at 1600 Main St. The grant is made possible under the organization’s Corridor Storefront Improvement Program, which provides grants of up to $10,000 for exterior improvements to first-floor storefronts located on State and Main streets in Springfield. The recently awarded funds were used to revitalize and repair the existing façade to meet building-code and safety standards, and to comply with Springfield Historic Commission requirements. The grant is supporting more than $70,000 in improvements on the façade alone. The full project is a partnership between the New England Farm Workers Council and the Fort Restaurant and is a key component efforts toward revitalization in downtown Springfield. The project partners estimate that the project will bring more than $2 million annually in economic benefit to the community. They also hope the project will be an example of how economic revitalization can spur downtown Springfield’s renaissance and support the city’s transformation into a thriving cultural and entertainment hub for Western Mass. For more information on the Corridor Storefront Improvement Program, visit www.developspringfield.com and click on ‘programs,’ or contact Jay Minkarah, DevelopSpringfield president and CEO, at (413) 209-8808 or jminkarah@developspringfield.com.

Construction Employment Declines in December
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Construction employment declined by 16,000 in December, but the industry unemployment rate fell to 11.4%, according to an analysis of new government data by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials noted that the new employment data was likely impacted by cold weather, but also reflects underlying weakness in the construction sector. “Given the variability of weather, especially in winter, the downturn in December is not cause for alarm,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “The data does show how uneven the recovery remains with residential construction doing very well, but the public sector remains weak, and private nonresidential construction is mixed.” Construction employment totaled 5,833,000 in December, an increase of 122,000 from a year earlier, Simonson noted. But while employment grew by 2.1% during the past year, construction employment remains nearly 1.9 million below the sector’s April 2006 peak. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 13.5% in December 2012 to 11.4% last month. Non-residential construction firms lost 22,900 new jobs in December, while residential firms added 6,200 jobs. Non-residential specialty trade contractors lost 12,900 jobs for the month, the most of any segment, while heavy and civil engineering firms — which are most likely to perform federal construction work — lost 8,800 jobs. Meanwhile, residential building contractors added the most new jobs during the past month, with 4,800. The number of unemployed construction workers dropped from 1,105,000 in December 2012 to 958,000 in December 2013, a decline of 147,000. Yet the industry added only 122,000 new jobs during the same time frame. The shrinking pool of available construction workers may be one reason so many firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers, Simonson noted. Association officials said the outlook for construction could be helped by new investments in infrastructure and other construction programs. They urged Congress to finalize Water Resources Development Act legislation to invest in ports and other waterways. They also said Congress and the Obama administration should work together to find a way to pay for needed repairs to aging roads and bridges before the current transportation legislation expires at the end of September. “If the economy continues to expand and Washington can work together to make needed infrastructure investments, firms should be able to add significantly more jobs in 2014,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s CEO. “But Congress and the administration need to set aside partisan differences and find a way to work together in the interest of our economy.”

Holiday Retail Sales Down in Massachusetts
BOSTON — Holiday retail sales in Massachusetts fell short of analysts’ expectations in 2013. Sales in November and December climbed just 2% from the same period in 2012, well below the 3.5% jump expected by the Retailers Assoc. of Massachusetts. There was one less weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a snowstorm on the second weekend of December further limited the amount of time shoppers spent in stores and hurt impulse buying, which account for one-third of all department-store purchases. On the national level, the National Retail Federation said total U.S. holiday sales jumped 3.8% to $601.8 billion in November and December, up from a 3.5% increase recorded in the same two months of 2012. Meanwhile, the U.S. Commerce Department said retail sales, excluding auto purchases, climbed 3.7% in December over the same month in 2012. But department-store sales fell 3.3%, compared with December 2012.

New England Economy Showing Signs of Life
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The outlook for New England is “generally positive” as the economy continues to expand modestly and most industries report better sales and improving business conditions, according to a Federal Reserve survey. The report, known as the Beige Book, found manufacturers reporting increased sales, healthcare consulting booming as the industry grapples with the Affordable Care Act, and median prices for homes rising in most of the region. However, hiring remains subdued in most industries, and wage increases remain modest at best. Nationally, the survey found moderate or modest economic growth and increased hiring in most of the country. It noted that harsh winter weather in recent weeks had a minor impact on consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of the nation’s economic activity. Although home sales in New England were lower than a year ago, real-estate markets in the region experienced increased prices for single-family homes, according to the survey. The Fed said the small sales decline could be the result of low inventories, a pause after strong sales earlier in the year, or uncertainty among consumers following the partial government shutdown in October. But “New England realtors agree that 2013 has been a good year overall,” the report says, “and they remain optimistic about sales increases.” Commercial real-estate leasing remained steady, while construction activity increased, boosting building in health, education, life sciences, and commercial sectors. Manufacturers reported increased or steady sales, and retailers also reported solid performances.”

Berkshire Bank Awards Scholarships for Service
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank has announced it will honor 30 high-school seniors in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Southern Vermont through its annual Scholarship Awards Program. The program will award $45,000 in total scholarship dollars to students who have exemplified community service through their volunteer efforts, have been successful academically, and have a demonstrated financial need. Additionally, students must attend a school that is located in a community with a Berkshire Bank office. “Berkshire Bank believes that one of life’s most exciting moments is going to college, and we want to do our part to help make it more affordable for students in need, said Lori Gazzillo, director of the Berkshire Bank Foundation. “This program exemplifies our support of education and demonstrates our commitment to the communities we serve. Our employees rally around this program by serving as reviewers of all of the applications that we receive from so many well-deserving students.” Through the program, 30 $1,500 scholarships will be awarded to high-school seniors who will be attending a two- or four-year college in the fall. Applications will be evaluated based on demonstrated volunteerism in the community and through participation in extracurricular school activities. In addition, applicants must have a GPA of at least 3.0 and a financial need (total family income under $75,000). An independent panel of bank employee volunteers will review all applications and select this year’s winners. Students can apply online at www.berkshirebank.com/scholarships. To be considered, all applications must be submitted online by March 26 at 4 p.m. For additional information, contact the Berkshire Bank Foundation at scholarshipinfo@berkshirebank.com.

Website Developed by DIF Design