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Daily News

HADLEY — Massachusetts real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3% in the first quarter of 2016, according to the Current Economic Index released this week by MassBenchmarks, the journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

In contrast, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, national real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 0.5% during the same period.

Recently revised data now reveal that, in 2015, the state’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 1.4% in the fourth quarter (1.4% for the U.S.), 2.0% in the third quarter (2.0%), 4.9% in the second quarter (3.9%), and 2.0% in the first quarter (0.6%).

The pace of economic growth in Massachusetts picked up in the first three months of 2016 after slowing in the second half of 2015. Although underlying indicators were mixed, both employment and earnings recorded strong growth, and the unemployment rate fell. Payroll employment grew at a 2.0% annual rate in the first quarter, up from 0.7% in the prior quarter. Wage and salary income, as estimated from state withholding tax revenue, expanded 5.6% in the first quarter, after falling 7.0% in the final three months of last year.

The state’s headline unemployment rate — the so-called U-3 measure — stood at 4.4% in March, down from 4.9% in December, and down from 5.1% in March 2015. The U.S. unemployment rate in March was 5.0%, the same as in December, and down from 5.5% in March of last year. The unemployment rate in Massachusetts is now lower than its pre-recession low of 4.6% in 2007.

But this overall strong performance continues to mask troubling imbalances in the labor market. The broader U-6 measure of unemployment, which includes those who are working part-time but want full-time work, as well as those who are marginally attached to the labor force, is still significantly above pre-recession levels. It inched down to 9.3% in March from 9.5% in December and 9.8% in March 2015. The U.S. rate in March was 9.8%, down from 9.9% in December and 10.9% in March 2015. Prior to the recession in 2007, the U-6 reached lows of 7.1% in Massachusetts and 8.0% in the U.S.

“Spending on items subject to the state regular sales tax declined by 6.3% in the first quarter, in stark contrast to the very strong growth of 9.5% experienced in the fourth quarter of 2015. Year over year, spending is up 3.5%,” noted Alan Clayton-Matthews, MassBenchmarks senior contributing editor and associate professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University. “Most of the drop this quarter was due to spending on automobiles, which slowed after expanding strongly at the end of 2015, and also to weak spending on other taxable sales items in February.”

The Mass. Department of Revenue recorded weaker bonus payouts in February, tied to stock-market performance and corporate profits. Market fear tends to dampen business confidence and investment, and a prolonged market downturn may restrain consumer spending as well.

The MassBenchmarks Leading Economic Index suggests the state economy will continue to grow at a moderate pace over the next six months, at a 3.1% rate in the second quarter, and a 2.5% rate in the third quarter of this year. The factors weighing on the state and national economic outlook have changed little from last quarter.

One factor is the tightening labor market. As there are fewer unemployed workers and as more Baby Boomers retire, it is becoming more difficult for employers to find the workers they need. This is reflected in historically low levels of initial unemployment claims, a sign that employers are reacting to the tightening labor market by holding on to the workers they have.

Another factor is slower worldwide economic growth as China’s rapid pace of economic growth has decelerated, Japan’s economy is stalled, and Europe remains sluggish. A third is turmoil in financial markets. Although volatility in stock markets in reaction to falling commodity prices has calmed, there are remaining downside risk factors related to the fallout of weak global demand on corporate profits.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Time is running out to nominate someone for the Continued Excellence Award, as BusinessWest magazine will accept nominations through Monday, May 2. The winner of the award will be unveiled at the magazine’s 40 Under Forty gala on June 16.

Last year, BusinessWest inaugurated the award to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who had significantly built on their achievements since they were honored. The five finalists for that award last year were Kamari Collins, Jeff Fialky, Cinda Jones, Kristin Leutz, and the eventual winner, Delcie Bean IV.

“So many 40 Under Forty honorees have refused to rest on their laurels,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest. “We wanted to honor those who continue to build upon their strong records of service in business, within the community, and as regional leaders. Last year’s five finalists have certainly done that, and we expect this year’s nominees to be equally inspiring.”

Candidates must hail from 40 Under Forty classes prior to the year of the award — in this case, classes 2007-15. The nomination form is available at businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty-continued-excellence-award. For your convenience, a list of the past nine 40 Under Forty classes may be found at businesswest.com/40-under-forty/40-under-forty-past-honorees.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Northeast IT Systems Inc. welcomes Tony Shepard to the team as a systems administrator.

Shepard found his initial passion with IT and electronics by building his own speaker cabinets. When the car audio craze came along, he designed and built high-end car systems. After that, he focused on computers. His favorite part of the job is the challenge. “There is always something different to do,” he said, “and you learn something new every day.”

His certifications include A+ certification, MCP certification, a license to teach in the state of Massachusetts, and certificates in electronic technology. He also has experience as Dell field engineer, IT manager, networking instructor, and systems field engineer.

When Shepard is not working, he enjoys playing drums and percussion and riding his Harley. He is also working on building old ’70s larger-scale models.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield College School of Social Work Professor and Director of Field Education William Fisher is the lead author of a recently released report titled “Findings from the 2015 State of Field Education Survey: A Survey of Directors of Field Education on Administrative Models, Staffing, and Resources.”

Guided by Fisher’s leadership, this national survey of social-work field directors sought information on a number of important issues related to how field education programs are organized. The research also analyzed who is leading the programs and how the programs respond to unique student needs. Additional in-depth reports based on the findings are planned for the future.

The research was conducted with the support of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the accrediting body for social-work programs in the U.S., and the Council on Field Education, which is part of CSWE’s governance and policy-recommending structure.

CWSE has designated field education as the ‘signature pedagogy’ of social-work education, meaning that it is through field experiences and practice in the real world, in conjunction with classroom and project-based learning, that students learn to be social-work professionals.

Fisher has more than 25 years of experience in the social-work field, with emphasis in mental-health and substance-abuse counseling, community organizing, and community mental-health program development.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber will hold a “Kickoff to Summer” After 5 on Wednesday, May 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield.

Sponsored by Wolf & Company, P.C., the after-hours networking event provides an opportunity for the business community to gather and network in an informal setting. Attendees will enjoy networking, a cash bar, and hors d’oeuvres on the club’s patio under the late-setting sun.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for as low as $100. Reservations for the event are $5 for members and $10 for the general public. Sponsorships and reservations may be purchased online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by contacting Sarah Mazzaferro at [email protected].

Daily News

WESTFIELD — The Connecticut chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS CT) honored Tighe & Bond as Employer of the Year during its annual awards dinner on April 14 at St. Clement’s Castle in Portland, Conn. The recognition applauded the firm’s support of WTS, and for providing ongoing opportunities to advance women in their engineering and transportation careers.

“It is an honor for our firm to receive this award, and we are thrilled that WTS CT selected us,” said David Pinsky, president and CEO of Tighe & Bond, who accepted the award on the firm’s behalf. “Our firm takes recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in engineering seriously. More than 30% of Tighe & Bond’s 270-plus employees are female, and approximately 14% of these women hold key management and/or leadership positions at our firm. Last year, more than 30% of Tighe & Bond’s new hires were female, and this year the number is even higher.”

In business for more than a century, Tighe & Bond has a long history or providing high-quality traffic engineering and transportation planning services to commercial developers and municipal, state, and institutional clients throughout New England.

For more than 18 years, WTS CT has been dedicated to advancing women in transportation. It provides a forum for transportation professionals to meet and interact, sharing experiences and expertise. Member benefits include professional development, career support, mentorship, and student outreach.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Jonathan LaFrance, an MBA student from Bay Path University, took first place at last night’s awards ceremony and banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, pitching Sergeant Shower, a biodegradable, two-sided, single-use, all-in-one shampoo and body-wash cloth mitt.

LaFrance convinced a panel of judges from six area banks that his pitch was the best at the event held at the Log Cabin. Jonathan Mendez, a Holyoke Community College student, took second place based on his business concept pitch for Mean Green Detergent Machine, a kiosk in stores allowing people to refill their laundry-detergent bottle. Steven Goldberg, a student at Amherst College, took third place with DineToday, a platform allowing restaurants to post discounts for off-peak reservation times.

The live event featured a student representative from each of the 14 participating local colleges: American International College, Amherst College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Hampshire College, Holyoke Community College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, and Westfield State University. First-, second-, and third-place winners received $1000, $750, and $500 respectively. Each student participating received $100.

The judges represented Berkshire Bank, Country Bank, First Niagara Bank, PeoplesBank, United Bank, and Westfield Bank.

The judges also identified nine winning teams as Best Exhibitors. These were selected from a pool of 56 unique companies during a ‘trade show’ portion of the evening which featured the 2016 Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winners. The three first-place winners (each receiving an additional award of $600) were: Connor Brown and Xavier Reed from Amherst College with Meetum, a platform for students to openly share events and activities with the college community; Misael Ramos from Springfield College with Royaume Expressions, garment decoration; and Joey Baurys and Nicolette LaPierre from Western New England University with Hemoflux, a prenatal genetic testing company.

The Entrepreneurship Initiative is one of several local initiatives supported by the philanthropy of Harold Grinspoon. For more information, visit www.hgf.org.

Daily News

WARE — Recently, Country Bank sponsored its first Financial Literacy Fair for college students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester. This program was a partnership with WPI’s Student Aid and Financial Literacy Department.

The event featured the Next Step, a financial-literacy exercise where college students are asked to step into their very near future by visiting 10 financially informative booths to make real-world decisions.

“Students learn about many of the next steps that they will encounter after they graduate from college,” said Jodie Gerulaitis, the bank’s financial education officer. “They learn that the decisions they make today will affect their finances in the future, such as the unexpected expenses of owning a vehicle, saving for retirement, renting an apartment, or owning a home, and how location can be a deciding factor in their finances.”

The booths the students visit include credit, housing, student loans, insurance, budgeting, fraud prevention, transportation, savings and investing, career development, and employment benefits. The goal is for students to have a better understanding of their future fiscal responsibilities. They learn about balancing a budget and making educated choices about their finances. They also learn how one financial choice can greatly impact another.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Philip Chandler, vice president of Investment Services for Gage-Wiley & Co. Inc., has earned a financial designation to better help affluent clients maintain wealth and well-being.

Chandler attended the College for Financial Planning and now holds the accredited wealth-management advisor (AWMA) designation, recognized by high-net-worth individuals as a mark of expertise.

Chandler, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bryant University, joined the Plymouth office of Gage-Wiley & Co. in 2012. In his practice, he focuses on providing holistic wealth-management services to individual and business clients, including risk management, financial planning, portfolio management, and insurance planning. He leads Gage-Wiley’s insurance affiliate, GWG Insurance.

Gage-Wiley & Co., led by President Christopher Milne, is an independent, boutique firm serving the wealth-management needs of individuals, fiduciaries, nonprofits, institutions, and small businesses throughout New England.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce invites all golfers to the 48th annual Chamber Cup Golf Tournament on Monday, May 16 at Wyckoff Country Club in Holyoke.

Registration and lunch begin at 10:30 a.m., with tee-off at noon. The registration fee of $125 per player includes greens fee for 18 holes of golf, cart fees, lunch, a gift bag for each player, and an awards dinner.

A cash prize of $400 will be awarded to each division’s winning team. Prizes will also be awarded for hole in one, closest to the pin, and men and women’s longest drive. Raffle prizes include Red Sox tickets donated by Marcotte Ford, a signed official NFL football signed by Rob Gronkowski donated by Conklin Office Furniture, and a 50/50, among others.

The Chamber has openings for foursomes as well as sponsors at levels that include: Eagle ($650), Lunch ($350) and Par Plus ($150). For more details, prize donations, or to register, call Wanda Zabawa at (413) 534-3376 or visit holyokechamber.com.