Briefcase

Employer Confidence Hits Another High for 2017

BOSTON — Employer confidence in Massachusetts hit another high for 2017 during October as economic growth accelerated and companies remained optimistic about the national outlook. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index edged up 0.3 points to 62.7, leaving it 6.5 points better than in October 2016. The uptick was driven by a brightening view of employment growth and firming confidence among manufacturers. The reading came as MassBenchmarks reported that the Massachusetts economy grew at 5.9% during the third quarter, almost double the rate of the national economy. Payroll employment grew at a 2.1% annual rate in Massachusetts in the third quarter as compared to 1.2% nationally. “The acceleration of the Massachusetts economy in the third quarter provided additional fuel to an already solid sense of confidence among employers as we head for 2018,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, optimism about the national economy suggests that employers believe growth rates throughout the U.S. will increase even more if Congress follows through on its proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.” 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 largely higher during October. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, slipped 0.3 points to 65.1, still 4.1 points more than a year earlier. October marked the 91st consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.7 points to 62.5, continuing a 13.3-point surge for the 12-month period. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.7 points to 63.6, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, remained even at 61.9 points. The Current Index has risen 7.6 points and the Future Index 5.6 points during the past year. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.3 points to 62.0. There was better news in the Employment Index, a key predictor of economic health, which rose 2.0 points to 57.8.

Arrha President Testifies on Bill to Modernize Credit-union Laws

SPRINGFIELD — Michael Ostrowski, president and CEO of Arrha Credit Union, testified on an act to modernize credit-union laws before the state Joint Committee on Financial Services. Ostrowski testified on allowing technological advances, increasing transactional authority for chartering and merging credit unions, and increasing state authority for low-income designation. “A top priority of Arrha Credit Union is to be able to fully utilize today’s advances in technology. We are not allowed to offer electronic loan applications, along with other credit unions. Our members want technological convenience in today’s advanced electronic world,” Ostrowski said. “Also, mail was meaningful during the time this law was enacted; however, today’s electronic voting has largely taken the place of mail ballot voting, and is more easily accessible for members to actively participate in our governance. Such technological advances will provide convenience, time-saving opportunities, and cost-saving opportunities. It is important for Arrha Credit Union to stay as technically advanced as possible to best serve our membership and communities.” Arrha Credit Union supports the provisions of this bill, which allows the Massachusetts commissioner of Banks to recognize the credit-union low-income designation for state-chartered credit unions. A credit union that receives the low-income designation is a credit union in which has more than half of its members have a family income 80% or less than the median family income for the metropolitan area where they live or national metropolitan area, whichever is greater. This authority will open an opportunity for credit unions to gain access to grant money to provide additional training opportunities for its staff, better and more tailored products for its low-income base, and other such improvements. It will also allow for expedited and easier recognition of credit for Community Reinvestment Act purposes. “Arrha Credit Union is considered a low-income-designated credit union and has used its low-income designation in the area of auto lending with 100% loan-to-value ratios, which allows us to better and more timely serve our members,” Ostrowski said. “It is clear that values and general banking business dynamics change very quickly in this day and age; as a result, it is necessary that our laws are also kept up-to-date, modernized, with today’s needs.

Unemployment Rates Decrease Across State in September

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 19 labor-market areas, increased in two areas, and remained the same in three areas in the state during the month of September, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to September 2016, the rates were up in 18 labor-market areas and remained the same in six labor-market areas. Six of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in September. The gains occurred in the Springfield, Worcester, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, New Bedford, Peabody-Salem-Beverly, and Leominster-Gardner areas. From September 2016 to September 2017, 14 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the New Bedford, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Barnstable, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead, and Springfield areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for September was 3.5%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% in the month of September. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 9,300-job gain in September and an over-the-year gain of 62,300 jobs. The unadjusted unemployment rates and job estimates for the labor market areas reflect seasonal fluctuations and therefore may show different levels and trends than the statewide seasonally adjusted estimates. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Board of Higher Education Votes to Join Agreement on Online Learning

BOSTON — The state Board of Higher Education recently authorized the state’s commissioner of Higher Education to submit an application to join the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), a multi-state approach to regulating the growing number of online learning programs offered by colleges and universities across the U.S. The board’s unanimous vote follows an extensive review of what joining SARA would mean for the Commonwealth. Last year, Massachusetts Education Secretary James Peyser chaired a legislative Special Commission on Interstate Reciprocity Agreements, which issued a report that was reviewed by the Board of Higher Education as part of its decision-making process to join SARA. In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Education incorporated recommendations from the state Board and Department of Higher Education, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Executive Office of Education in final authorization regulations for postsecondary online education. “As we strive to make higher education more affordable and accessible for residents of the Commonwealth, adding online learning options is a critical step in the right direction,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “We are pleased to join SARA with the assurance that we would be able to continue vital consumer protections for our students, and look forward to preparing our application.” Added Peyser, “if Massachusetts’ application for SARA membership is approved, students in the Commonwealth will see a multitude of options in online education open up for them, and our state’s colleges and universities will find it less cumbersome and costly to offer online courses to students in other states.” Massachusetts will be the 49th state to join SARA, if its application is accepted by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. Currently, the Board of Higher Education regulates the degree-granting authority of most post-secondary institutions with a physical presence in the Commonwealth, granting them the ability to offer specific credit-bearing programs of study and to use the terms ‘college’ or ‘university’ in their names. At present, it does not exercise oversight over out-of-state institutions that offer only online programs to Massachusetts students. With the proliferation of distance-learning providers and modalities, the need for a new, more nimble regulatory approach that will allow for greater access and options for students — while maintaining robust student protections and safeguards — has emerged. “Massachusetts has a strong history when it comes to regulations and standards that benefit consumers — in this case, students — and we were willing to take our time in deliberating whether to join SARA rather than rush into an agreement that might shortchange them,” said Carlos Santiago, state commissioner of Higher Education. If Massachusetts’ application to join SARA is accepted, institutions in the Commonwealth may be able to submit applications to begin operating under SARA by the summer of 2018.

Connecticut Airport Authority Seeks Development Proposals

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority is seeking developers to enter into a long-term land lease to develop, operate, and maintain commercial property owned by Bradley International Airport located on a vacant, 4.8-acre parcel on Ella Grasso Turnpike. A pre-proposal meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 10 a.m. in the Human Resources Conference Room located at 334 Ella Grasso Turnpike, Suite 100, Windsor Locks. Full copies of the request for proposal may be downloaded at www.ctairports.org/economic-development/procurement, or by e-mailing procurement@ctairports.org.

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