Briefcase

Confidence Rises in June Among Massachusetts Employers

BOSTON — Massachusetts employer confidence rose for the ninth time in 10 months during June amid optimism about an economy that is finally attracting more people into the workforce. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose one point to 61.8 last month, leaving it 5.7 points higher than a year ago. The Index has gained ground in each of the past two months after slipping in April. The results come a month after state officials reported a long-awaited expansion of the Massachusetts labor market; the labor-force participation rate rose to 66.7% in May, its highest mark since before the Great Recession. “Employer confidence in both the state and national economies remains well above the level we saw a year ago, especially among manufacturers,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “Key Massachusetts indicators such as total jobs, wages, and gross state product far exceed pre-recession levels, and that is outweighing concerns about long-term growth.” The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly positive during June. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, gained 2.1 points to 64.2, leaving it 5.7 points higher than in June 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.8 points to 57.4 despite lingering uncertainty about federal economic policy. June marked the 87th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 1.5 points to 61.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, increased 0.4 points to 61.7. The Future Index was 5.1 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, was unchanged for the month at 62.4 and up 4.7 points during the 12-month period. The Employment Index fell 0.4 points to 58.1, while the Sales index rose 0.6 points to 62.6. The AIM survey found that 39% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 18% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months are stable, with 38% expecting to hire and only 10% downsizing. Alan Clayton-Matthews, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, said the supply of workers remains one of the most important factors in the ability of Massachusetts to maintain long-term economic growth. “There is little slack left in the labor market,” he said. “Unemployment rates are back to pre-recession levels, and employment rates are very close to pre-recession levels. The slack that does remain is largely among young workers, those with less than a high-school education, and part-time workers who have been unable to find full-time work, suggesting that many workers lack the skills that employers are seeking.” Overall participation in the labor force nationally has hovered below 63% during the recovery, compared with more than 66% before the recession. Eastern Mass. companies were more confident in June than those in the western portion of the Commonwealth, posting a 61.8 confidence reading in June versus 60.8 for Western Mass. employers. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers are increasingly concerned about a passel of potentially expensive and disruptive Beacon Hill proposals, including a surtax on incomes more than $1 million, paid family leave, and an employer assessment to close a budget gap in the MassHealth program. “Massachusetts employers have led what is now one of the longest and most consistent economic recoveries of the past 100 years. Much of that growth reflects the fact that policymakers have refrained from unnecessarily raising business costs and imposing inefficient regulation,” Lord said. “We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Baker administration to ensure that those policies continue.”

Gaming Commission Approves Workforce-development Grants

SPRINGFIELD — Members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) approved close to $600,000 in grants — including two for the city of Springfield — for a workforce-development pilot program designed to fund gaming career pathways for local residents. The Workforce Program is a component of the 2017 Community Mitigation Fund, which was established by the state’s gaming law to help entities offset costs related to the construction and operations of gaming establishments. The Workforce Program was developed to provide interested residents in gaming regions the ability to attain academic and occupational credentials needed to work in the most in-demand occupations related to the gaming industry. Additionally, it was established to assist the unemployed or underemployed to either get their GED or Adult Basic Education, which would position them to get future jobs in the casino industry or training in advance by the backfilling of jobs. The two initiatives in Springfield include:

• $171,833 for a program the Springfield Public Schools is working to establish called Ahead of the Game, which will target low-skill, low-income adults interested in pursuing long-term careers with MGM Springfield; and

• $200,000 for Hampden Prep, an initiative involving Springfield Technical Community College in collaboration with Holyoke Community College to develop and implement an innovative high-school-equivalency and workforce-readiness program.

“Workforce-development programs are a critical component of job creation, economic opportunity, and the Commonwealth’s ability to meet gaming’s burgeoning hiring demand,” said MGC Chairman Steve Crosby. “MGC looks forward to further collaborations as we continue to work together to ensure that we are able to deliver on our legislative mandate to establish a highly skilled and diverse Massachusetts workforce for the state’s new casino industry.”

Single-family Home Sales in Pioneer Valley Down in May

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were down 6.9% in the Pioneer Valley in May compared to the same time last year, while the median price rose 1.2% to $204,500, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were down 1.7%, while the median price rose 8.2% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were down 7.4%, while the median price was up 1.9%. And in Hampshire County, sales fell 4.2% from May 2016, while the median price was up 2.5%.

Painted Piano Performances Begin in Downtown Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — Residents, employees, and visitors to Springfield have recently been treated to a series of unusual art installations downtown: painted pianos. Three beautified, moralized, upright units were decorated and placed throughout the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) in early June, with the mission to bring music to the people, and people to the streets. The locations are at 1350 Main St., the Shops at Marketplace, and 1550 Main St. Now, professionals will be playing every Wednesday during lunch. “We’ve seen such a diverse crowd interacting with this public art,” said Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the SCCD. “I saw a construction worker on his break playing a beautiful classical piece at 1350, and videos of children delighted by tinkling the keys at 1550, the School Department building. We want to continue this excitement by programming the pianos.” Local professional pianists will be playing on the painted pianos during the 12-1 p.m. lunch hour. Pedestrians are invited to leave their offices to stop by, or simply enjoy the music on their walk. Programming will continue every Wednesday through August, but between performances, the public is still invited to stop by at their leisure. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is scheduled to receive his first piano lesson ever on the unit at 1350 Main Street. “Following the mayor’s excitement for the project, we’re even having a special performance on August 9,” said Drewniany. This programming is made possible by individual and organizational sponsors, including the Doleva family, Lessard Property Management, NAI Plotkin, Rus Peotter, Sarno, Springfield Techinical Community College, and state Sen. James Welch. Funding for the pianos was provided by the Springfield Cultural Council, the Community Music School of Springfield, and ChooseSpringfieldNow.com.

CAA Begins Roadway Reconstruction at Bradley International Airport

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority is beginning the reconstruction and realignment of the main Bradley International Airport entrance roadway at Route 20 and Schoephoester Road. The work will involve the realignment of Schoephoester Road along with a portion of the airport’s lower roadway system, as well as the construction of a modern roundabout. The project will provide a new entrance to the airport from Route 20 and open up a 19-acre site for the future development of Bradley’s ground transportation center. The construction will not interrupt access to the airport from the Route 20 connector. However, there may be slight delays due to the shifting and reduction of lanes. Construction signs and variable message boards are present along the roadway to alert motorists of any changes in traffic patterns. The project will consist of six phases of work and is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2018. Regular updates will be provided to the public during this time period. “This project begins our preparations for the development of our new, state-of-the-art ground transportation center,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority. “We anticipate minimal impact to our passengers; however, it is important for them to be aware of the construction.” For more information about this project, visit www.flybdl.org/about/construction.

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