Briefcase

Unemployment Rate Drops to 3.5% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 300 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector lost 200 jobs; gains occurred in construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities. The November estimate was revised to a gain of 7,800 jobs. From December 2016 to December 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 63,000 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force decreased by 500 from 3,647,500 in November, as 1,900 more residents were employed and 2,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in December 2016. There were 17,900 more unemployed residents over the year compared to December 2016. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.3% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to December 2016. The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Union Station Wins Prize for Brownfields Redevelopment

WESTFIELD — Springfield Union Station has won the prestigious Phoenix Award grand prize for the best brownfields-redevelopment project in the nation. Announced during the December National Brownfields Training Conference in Pittsburgh, the Union Station project also won the Region 1 Phoenix Award. Both awards recognize exemplary brownfield redevelopment and revitalization. These awards highlight the critical environmental cleanup phase at Springfield Union Station, as well as the demolition and removal of a massive baggage warehouse and the remediation of the former site of the Hotel Charles. It also celebrates the redevelopment of a long-vacant historic train station into a state-of-the-art intermodal transit center. Built in 1926, the original Union Station was boarded up for 44 years before taken over by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority in 1989. After many fits and starts, the $94.1 million redevelopment project was funded by numerous federal, state, and local sources. This included grants from the EPA Brownfield Assessment and Cleanup program, MassDevelopment, the Federal Transit Administration, state transportation bond funds, a state parking grant, and more. Tighe & Bond provided extensive hazardous-building-material evaluations, abatement monitoring, building demolition design, and the assessment and remediation of widespread areas of subsurface contamination. After almost 10 years, Union Station has been transformed and repurposed into a LEED-certified building that opened last June, and is the new headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines. It has also spurred a new, adjacent, $15 million, 265-unit housing redevelopment. Besides the Phoenix Award, the project has already won other statewide awards for historic preservation, including the Preservation Massachusetts Paul & Nikki Tsongas Best Then & Now Award for 2017.

Expedia Names Lenox ‘Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts’

LENOX — The Lenox Chamber of Commerce announced that travel-booking website giant Expedia has named Lenox as the “Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts.” Expedia released its “Best Place to Escape in Every State” feature on Jan. 3. These places made the list for being ideal for a relaxing getaway where visitors can recharge, take a breather, and revel in serene solitude. “From quaint small towns to quiet nature preserves, this country is full of places to escape to, and we’ve chosen our favorite in each state, highlighting the perfectly restful things to do there. So, sit back, relax, and start dreaming of better times ahead — these calm places are calling your name,” Expedia author Lily Rogers wrote. Lenox and Berkshire notables highlighted in the article included Blantyre, Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home, and Berkshire Grown.

Study Examines Veterans’ Addiction Risk Related to Childhood Adversity

AMHERST — Results of a national study led by public health scientist Elizabeth Evans at UMass Amherst, along with others at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and UCLA, suggest that risk for alcohol- and drug-use disorders among U.S. military veterans is increased by childhood adversity, and in ways that are different between women and men and different compared to the civilian population. According to Evans, assistant professor of Health Promotion and Policy at UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, in the general population, fewer women than men have an alcohol- or drug-use disorder. “Veterans are different in that there is no gender difference in the prevalence of these problems,” she explained. “Among veterans, a similar proportion of women and men — about 37% — have ever had an alcohol or drug-use disorder. This finding that women veterans are similar to men veterans, and are so different from civilian women, is unexpected. Also surprising are the high rates of childhood adversity among veterans, especially among women; 68% of women veterans report some childhood adversity, and they have the highest rates of childhood sexual abuse.” The study results appeared in a recent early online edition of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology and will be in print this year. “One of the implications of this study is the need to assess for childhood adversity, to help people recognize its relationship with substance use and cope with its health impacts,” Evans noted. “When people join the military or when veterans access healthcare at the VA or in the community would be good times to assess and treat childhood adversity, and we’re often missing those opportunities now.” The researchers found that, with increasing exposure to adversity in childhood, risks of alcohol-use disorder among civilian men and women grew more similar, but for drug-use disorder, the gender differences in risk widened. By contrast, among veterans, more childhood adversity elevated men’s alcohol risk and increased women’s drug risk. “In general right now, we don’t assess for childhood adversity until there’s a problem, in particular with alcohol or drugs, or attempts to harm oneself or others,” Evans said. “However, we know that childhood adversity is an early life experience that is associated with anxiety, depression, and other risk factors for later health and social problems. We in public health, along with others in the community, can do more to prevent childhood adversity altogether. Also, more can be done to assess and address childhood adversity when it does occur so that we mitigate or undo its harmful effects. The need for such efforts is especially critical now given the devastating impacts of the current opioid epidemic on families and communities.”

Nominations Open for Ubora and Ahadi Awards

SPRINGFIELD — The African Hall subcommittee of the Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the 27th annual Ubora Award and the ninth annual Ahadi Youth Award. The African Hall subcommittee is a volunteer group comprised of educators, business people, and community leaders from the African-American community. The nomination deadline for both awards is March 31. The Ubora Award is presented to an African-American adult who has demonstrated a commitment to the Greater Springfield area and exhibited excellence in the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, or the arts. The Swahili word ‘ubora’ means ‘excellence.’ Named for the Swahili word for ‘promise,’ the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who has excelled in academics and performed admirable service to the Greater Springfield community. Eligible candidates must be age 19 or younger, live in or have strong ties to the Greater Springfield area, and be currently enrolled in grade 10, 11, or 12. The Ubora and Ahadi Awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in September. Nominations forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. For additional information, call (413) 263-6800, ext. 325, or e-mail to vcavagni@springfieldmuseums.org. Nominations may be e-mailed to vcavagni@springfieldmuseums.org or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

Berkshire Bank Launches $52,500 Scholarship Program

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced it will honor 35 high-school seniors across Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for their volunteer service with Berkshire Bank scholarships. The scholarships recognize students who excel academically, have a financial need, and share the bank’s commitment to community service. Additionally, students must attend a high school that is located in a county with a Berkshire Bank or Commerce Bank office. The recipients will share in $52,500 in scholarship funds. Through the program, 35 $1,500 scholarships will be awarded to high-school seniors who will be attending a two-year or four-year college in the fall. Applications are evaluated based on the student’s record of volunteerism in the community, academic standing, and financial need. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of a 3.0 and a family household income under $100,000 to be eligible to apply. A team of 200 bank employee volunteers will review the applications and select this year’s recipients. Recipients will include 15 students in Massachusetts, nine in New York, three in Connecticut, three in Vermont, three in New Jersey, and two in Pennsylvania. Students can apply online at www.berkshirebank.com/scholarships. To be considered, all applications must be submitted online by Wednesday, March 21 at 4 p.m. Additional information about this year’s program can be obtained through the bank’s website or by e-mailing the Berkshire Bank Foundation at scholarshipinfo@berkshirebank.com.

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