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Advertising Club Seeks Pynchon Nominations

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts is seeking nominations from the four Western Mass. counties for the 101st annual William Pynchon Award, the area’s oldest and most prestigious community-service award. Established in 1915, the award honors individuals from all walks of life who go beyond the call of duty to enhance the quality of life in Western Mass. Past recipients have included social activists, teachers, philanthropists, historians, clergy, housewives, physicians, journalists, and business leaders — a diverse group with one thing in common: a drive to make the region a better place for all who live here. To nominate an individual, submit a one-page letter explaining why the nominee should be considered. Include brief biographical information, outstanding accomplishments, examples of service to the community, organizations he or she is or has been active in, and the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of at least three people who can further attest to the nominee’s eligibility for induction into the Order of William Pynchon. All nominees will be considered and researched by the Pynchon trustees, comprising past and present presidents of the Advertising Club. Nominations must be submitted by April 30 to William Pynchon Trustees, Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, P.O. Box 1022, West Springfield, MA 01090, or by e-mail to [email protected] Pynchon medalists for 2016 will be announced in August.

Cultural District Welcomes 15 New Members

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Central Cultural District recently welcomed 15 new organizations to its membership. They include the Armory Quadrangle Civic Assoc., Bay Path University, the Bing Arts Center, Blues to Green, the Drama Studio, Classical Condominiums, Enchanted Circle Theatre, Martin Luther King Family Services, New England Farmworkers Council, Panache Productions, Partners for a Healthier Community, the Performance Project, Springfield Public Forum, Springfield Technical Community College, and SilverBrick Lofts. They will join the ranks of 25 current members, mostly comprised of downtown arts and culture organizations. The Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) is an independent nonprofit that attained the designation of cultural district from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2014. Its mission is to foster civic engagement and arts education in the city of Springfield by creating and sustaining a vibrant cultural environment that positions the city as the cultural capital of the region. “We are honored to have such amazing members join the fold,” said Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the SCCD. “Increasing the size of our membership only increases the possibility of work we can do in making Springfield more friendly to arts and culture. Having a connected network of not only arts organizations, but businesses and higher ed, helps the district grow stronger together.” For more information about current and new members, how to become a member, or the work the SCCD is doing, visit springfieldculture.org or contact Drewniany at [email protected] or (413) 781-1592.

State Unemployment Drops to 4.5% in February

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 4.5% in February from the January rate of 4.7%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts continues to gain jobs, with 13,300 added in February. Year to date, Massachusetts has added 14,500 jobs. In February, over-the-month job gains occurred in education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; financial activities; leisure and hospitality; other services; construction; trade, transportation, and utilities; and government. “Massachusetts continues to add jobs, and the labor force showed positive gains with 14,100 more residents employed and 7,400 fewer residents unemployed over the month,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker II said. The February state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.9% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped 0.6%  from 5.1% in February 2015. There were 24,600 fewer unemployed people over the year compared to February 2015. Over the year, the largest private-sector percentage job gains were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; and financial activities.

Insurance Survey Finds Coverage Gains, but Access, Affordability Gaps

BOSTON — Results from a survey of Massachusetts residents regarding health insurance released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation reveal a continued high rate of insured among the state’s population, but also challenges with access and affordability, particularly among those with lower incomes and those with higher healthcare needs. The Massachusetts Health Reform Survey (MHRS), conducted in the fall of 2015 by the Urban Institute, highlights “sustained gains” in health-insurance coverage since the 2006 passage of the state’s healthcare reform law, with 95.7% of non-elderly adults reporting coverage when surveyed last fall. The near-annual survey tracks trends in the state’s healthcare system since the 2006 passage of health reform. This is the first MHRS following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that began in January 2014. The survey revealed that people who are healthier generally have more confidence in their ability to keep their insurance in the future, and have an easier time affording healthcare. Sicker respondents with chronic diseases indicated a higher degree of difficulty obtaining healthcare services and were more likely to be worried about their ability to pay for their medical bills in the future. “The survey’s top-line trend is affirming for Massachusetts residents and policy makers alike, as the rate of adults covered at the time of the survey is very high — in fact, it is the highest ever since we began measuring in 2006,” said Audrey Shelto, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. “However, the fact that 43% of insured adults report problems with affordability is a significant issue. Furthermore, these continued financial problems are disproportionately affecting our most vulnerable residents, suggesting that simply having health insurance does not guarantee access to affordable care.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretaries Support Hydropower Bill

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker received bipartisan support from three former secretaries of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Maeve Vallely-Bartlett, Rick Sullivan, and Ian Bowles, for the administration’s efforts to diversify the state’s energy portfolio through the procurement of cost-effective hydropower generation. The announcement followed a State House meeting between Baker, current Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton, and his predecessors to discuss the need to stabilize New England’s electricity rates, meet the Commonwealth’s Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) goals, and provide ratepayers with a clean, cost-competitive alternative to coal and oil generation. “I appreciate the support from our state’s former top energy officials as our administration aims to pursue a balanced, diversified energy portfolio through the pursuit of hydroelectric power,” Baker said. “This endorsement is illustrative of the pressing need to address Massachusetts’ rising energy costs, increase electricity-grid reliability, and reduce carbon emissions to meet the Commonwealth’s energy and environmental goals.” Added Beaton, “I thank former Secretaries Bowles, Sullivan, and Vallely-Bartlett for their endorsement of the Baker-Polito administration’s legislation for the procurement of hydroelectric power, which will provide needed generation capacity, while positioning the Commonwealth to achieve our Global Warming Solutions Act goals. As part of the administration’s balanced approach to making the necessary investments in our regional energy infrastructure, this legislation strikes an important balance between climate and environmental awareness and the Commonwealth’s need for clean, reliable, cost-effective generation resources.” In July, the Baker-Polito administration filed Senate Bill 1965, “An Act Relative to Energy Sector Compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act,” to require Massachusetts utilities to jointly, and competitively, solicit long-term contracts for clean energy-generation resources and associated transmission together with the Department of Energy Resources. In addition to the benefits this legislation aims to bring to the regional electricity market, clean energy generation will position Massachusetts to reach its ambitious greenhouse-gas-reduction targets, Baker said. A recent update to Massachusetts’ “Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020” concluded that the Commonwealth is well-positioned to meet, or exceed, a greenhouse-gas-reduction goal of 25% by 2020 through the full implementation of the Baker-Polito administration’s energy policies, which include hydropower and solar legislation. “The Commonwealth is a national leader in clean energy and has built a world-class clean-energy industry that is increasing homegrown energy and reducing carbon emissions,” said Rick Sullivan, who served as secretary from 2011 to 2014, and currently serves as CEO of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council. “We must build on this success while continuing to work to reduce the high cost of energy for residents and businesses across Massachusetts. Bringing in cost-effective, large-scale hydro and other renewable-energy resources is critical to these efforts.”

Parsons Paper Site to Be Remediated, Redeveloped

HOLYOKE — On March 14, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse was joined by city and state officials to mark the official start of the demolition and cleanup of the former Parsons Paper in preparation for the expansion of Holyoke manufacturer Aegis Energy Services. The announcement capped a multi-year effort to remediate the site and make it ready for development. The expansion of Aegis Energy Services will entail a private investment of approximately $7 million, the retention of 65 jobs and the creation of at least 30 new jobs, as well as the creation of up to 4 megawatts of renewable energy, making it the city’s largest manufacturing expansion in years. “This is a significant milestone in our city’s revitalization that should be celebrated and praised. Redevelopment of the Parsons site has been an extremely difficult challenge, bringing with it significant legal, environmental, and financial constraints that have impeded progress for years,” Morse said. “The staff in the Office of Planning and Economic Development and the Law Department should be applauded for their efforts as they’ve worked diligently with the Redevelopment Authority and a cross-collaboration of public and private partners to make this project a reality. I’d be remiss if I did not offer my sincere appreciation to Lee Vardakas of Aegis Energy for his commitment to Holyoke; we are fortunate to have this innovative company stay and grow in our city, and I thank him for his investments and contributions.” Located at 84 Sargeant St. between the first and second level canals, the 4.7-acre Parsons Paper site has been unused and vacant since 2004. In 2008, a fire significantly destroyed a majority of the structures, and the city officially foreclosed on the property and took ownership in 2012 for failure to pay taxes. In 2014, the Redevelopment Authority engaged Tighe & Bond to undertake environmental assessments, specifications for demolition and cleanup, and project permitting to prepare the site for reuse. Many sources of funds are being used to make the demolition and cleanup phase of the project possible and have been amassed through the HRA, including $250,000 in funds from an agreement with Eversource Energy (formerly Northeast Utilities) as part of a mitigation payment associated with cleanup of contaminants in the Connecticut River; $2 million from the state Brownfield Fund through MassDevelopment; $1 million in capital investment by Holyoke Gas & Electric, which secures an easement on the site for potentially 2.5 MW of hydroelectric generation; and a $400,000 capital loan from the Holyoke Economic Development and Industrial Corp., to be paid from the sale proceeds of the land to Aegis Energy Services. The city also provided its most aggressive tax-incentive schedule in its history: a 100% property-tax exemption for 10 years. “This is an incredibly challenging site and a costly endeavor, one that would have been very difficult for the city to do by itself,” said Marcos Marrero, director of Planning & Economic Development for the city, as well as executive director for the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority. “Consequently, the financing framework for this project is probably the most complex that Holyoke has seen in decades. The implications a year from now will be significant: blight reduction, building reuse, job creation, expansion of manufacturing, more renewable energy, and improved property values in the neighborhood.” The contractor for the work is McConnell Enterprises Inc. Demolition and cleanup is projected to be completed by August, after which the site will be taken over for redevelopment by Aegis Energy Services, rehabilitating one 40,000-square-foot building — a 200% expansion of the company’s square footage — and adding at least 30 new jobs, an approximate 50% growth in the company’s employment.

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