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New AHL Franchise Named Springfield Thunderbirds

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield’s new American Hockey League (AHL) franchise will take the ice for the upcoming 2016-17 season as the Springfield Thunderbirds. With hockey fans and local dignitaries looking on from center-ice seats at the MassMutual Center Arena, team officials announced the new name through a pulsating two-minute video on the arena’s state-of-the-art LED scoreboard. “The Springfield Thunderbirds’ name represents the strength and pride of Western Massachusetts. It is a nod to our hockey past, a tribute to the men and woman of the Air Force who are so vital to this region, and a symbol of the new energy and spirit that is palpable in Springfield,” said Nathan Costa, Thunderbirds executive vice president. Thunderbirds is an allusion to two previous Springfield AHL hockey team names, the Indians and the Falcons. The name refers to the animal of Native American legend that creates thunder and lightning by flapping its massive wings. Like the Falcon, it is also a fierce bird of prey. The name also refers to the famous demonstration planes of the U.S. Air Force and serves as an homage to Barnes Air National Guard Base and Westover Air Reserve Base, in Westfield and Chicopee, respectively. The announcement follows a name-the-team campaign that solicited suggestions from the public in a survey coordinated in partnership with MassLive and the Republican. The survey received more than 2,600 responses. “We would like to thank the thousands of fans who participated in this survey,” Costa said. “We were overwhelmed by the creativity and enthusiasm of those who submitted suggestions. Our fans wanted a name that honored the proud history of AHL hockey in Springfield while at the same time reflecting the new energy and excitement of this franchise. We believe the Thunderbirds captures this spirit.” The logo features a bird’s head in bright blue with a curved beak against a background of red and yellow. The team’s name is picked out in yellow and white. “The City of Springfield has a long and storied relationship with the American Hockey League going back to the days of Eddie Shore,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. “For 80 years, professional hockey has been played in our community, and many fans could not imagine a season without a local franchise playing home games at the MassMutual Center. Next season, the Springfield Thunderbirds will take the ice in pursuit of their first Calder Cup. And we have the ownership group to thank for the efforts to keep a charter member of the AHL in downtown Springfield. I am certain that local fans will welcome this exciting new team to ‘the Nest,’ and that the 2016-17 season will be a successful partnership between the Thunderbirds and the Florida Panthers of the NHL.” In coordination with the announcement, the franchise also launched its new website, www.springfieldthunderbirds.com, where fans can now place deposits for season-ticket memberships. The team’s social-media handles are Springfield Thunderbirds on Facebook, @thunderbirdsahl on Twitter, and thunderbirdsahl on Instagram. “Again, so thankful, but not surprised that these outstanding corporate citizens continue to step up for our city of Springfield,” Mayor Domenic Sarno said. “Their continued belief and investment in our Springfield is deeply appreciated. Now we need to pack the house to help assure that professional hockey is here to stay for many years to come. Drop the puck!” Added Florida Panthers Executive Chairman Peter Luukko, “we are excited to have our AHL players take the ice next season with the Springfield Thunderbirds name and logo on their jerseys. This is the start of a new era for AHL hockey in Western Massachusetts, and we look forward to being a part of it.” Founded in 1936 and now with franchises in 30 cities across North America, the American Hockey League serves as the top development league for the players, coaches, managers, executives, and broadcasters of all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88% of today’s NHL players are AHL graduates, and for the 15th year in a row, more than 6 million fans attended AHL games in 2015-16. For more information on the Thunderbirds, go HERE.

Employer Confidence Surges in May

BOSTON — Confidence among Massachusetts employers rose to a 10-month high during May as the state approached full employment and the national economy continued to throw off mixed signals. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 1.5 points during May to 57.7, the highest level since July 2015. The reading was slightly higher than the 57.3 level posted a year ago and comfortably above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook. The brightening outlook came amid growing evidence that the U.S. economy is regaining its footing after posting a 0.8% growth rate during the first quarter. Recent reports on retail sales, housing starts, and industrial production paint an upbeat picture of the economy in the second quarter. At the same time, the government reported that the U.S. economy created just 38,000 jobs during May, the slowest pace since 2010. “Massachusetts employers appear to have shaken off the uncertainty of the fall and winter and are now feeling optimistic about the remainder of 2016,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s board of economic advisors and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The most encouraging news is that every constituent measure contained in the Business Confidence Index rose during May, and most were higher than they were a year ago.” 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. It has remained above 50 since October 2013.

UMass Generates $6.2B in Economic Impact

BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts was responsible for $6.2 billion in economic activity in Massachusetts last year — a record high — and helped to support more than 43,000 jobs statewide, President Marty Meehan announced Tuesday. “UMass educates more students than any college or university in the Commonwealth and is one of the state’s three largest research universities, but it also has a profound impact on the Massachusetts economy based on the scope and reach of its operations,” Meehan said. “UMass is a vital economic engine for the Commonwealth, and its impact is felt in every community and by virtually every family across Massachusetts.” Victor Woolridge, chairman of the UMass board of trustees, said the report illustrates that “UMass truly is here for a reason, and that reason is to serve the entire Commonwealth. The importance of generating an economic impact on the scale that we do — and having it distributed in every corner of the state — cannot be overstated.” The economic impact generated by the five-campus UMass system translates to a 10-to-1 return on investment for state government when total state funding for the university is considered, according to a FY 2015 analysis performed by the UMass Donahue Institute, which conducts economic and public-policy research. The major drivers of economic impact are student, faculty, and staff spending; construction projects; and the university’s purchasing the goods and services required for its activities. The study measured that spending and its ripple effect in determining the $6.2 billion impact estimate. According to the Donahue Institute report, each of the five university campuses generated a substantial economic impact for its region and the state. By campus or unit, the figures were: Amherst, $2.069 billion; Boston, $1.085 billion; Dartmouth, $466.1 million; Lowell, $921.9 million; Medical School, $1.584 billion; and Central Administration, $198.4 million.

Board of Higher Education Amends Leave Policies

BOSTON — A committee of the state Board of Higher Education voted Tuesday to amend the leave policies for non-unit professionals (NUPs) at the state’s 15 community colleges and nine state universities in an effort to better align such policies with those governing UMass employees, public higher-education systems in other New England states, and Massachusetts state employees. The vote is subject to a final vote by the full Board of Higher Education on June 14. If approved, the changes would impact approximately 1650 employees. The board’s Fiscal Affairs and Administrative Policy (FAAP) Committee voted to eliminate the current policy allowing employees to convert unused vacation days into sick time. Going forward under the new policy, any vacation days that remain over a 64-day balance would be forfeited by the employee if not used. The 64-day vacation balance would be reduced over the next two and a half years to a maximum of 50 days that can be ‘carried’ by an employee. Additionally, the committee voted to reduce the number of vacation days allotted to higher-education employees to a maximum of 25, a reduction from a previous allocation of 30 days per year for the longest-serving employees; and to standardize the number of personal days allotted to employees across all three segments of the higher-education system. All non-unit professionals employed at the state’s community colleges and state universities will receive a total of five annual personal days, effective Jan. 1, 2017. “These changes will bring our employment policies for non-unit professionals at community colleges and state universities into alignment with those in place at the University of Massachusetts, at public colleges and universities across New England, and for state employees,” said Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, who ordered an expedited review of the policies in March. “They will allow us to remain competitive with other institutions in our bid to attract top talent, while also making good on our commitment to be effective stewards of state resources.”

State Unemployment Rate Remains at 4.2% in May

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 4.2% in May, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The preliminary May job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that Massachusetts lost 6,400 jobs. Job losses were impacted by a temporary labor dispute in the information sector. In May, leisure and hospitality was the only sector to experience over-the-month job gains. BLS also revised upward the state’s over-the-month job gains in April, reporting that 15,200 jobs were added compared to the 13,900-job gain originally reported. From December 2015 to May 2016, Massachusetts has added 30,500 jobs. At 4.2%, the unemployment rate is down 0.7% over the year, with the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropping from 4.9% in May 2015. There were 26,600 fewer unemployed persons and 49,000 more employed persons over the year compared to May 2015. The Commonwealth’s May unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.7% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The labor force continues to grow, with 7,000 more employed residents and 2,000 fewer unemployed residents in May,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said, adding that the education and healthcare sector and the professional, scientific, and business-services sector continue to generate the most jobs in Massachusetts. 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 — remained at 65.0%. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased 0.2% compared to May 2015. Over the year, the largest private-sector percentage job gains by sector were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Online Resource Aims to Keep River Users Healthy

GREENFIELD — In time for the summer recreation season, the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) and 16 partners have launched the 2016 Connecticut River water-sampling program. Water samples are tested for E. coli bacteria as an indicator for all types of other pathogens that could potentially make one sick. River users can visit the “Is It Clean” web page at www.connecticutriver.us to find bacteria test results at more than 147 river-access and recreation sites in Massachusetts, Northern Conn., Vermont, and New Hampshire. Samples are typically collected at each site weekly or bi-weekly, and test results are posted online 24 hours later, through early October. “When weather gets warm, people head to our rivers to cool off and have fun, and they want to know if our rivers are clean. The data tells us that it is a good idea to stay out of the water for 24 to 48 hours after a heavy rain because bacteria levels could be high,” said CRWC Lower River Steward Alicea Charamut. “Heavy rain is often the cause of high bacteria levels. Bacteria can spike after a storm due to combined sewer overflows and polluted stormwater runoff from urban, suburban, and agricultural areas.” Added CRWC Massachusetts River Steward Andrea Donlon, “cities and towns along the river are making significant investments to reduce pollution to our rivers, and this has made a tremendous difference. We want people to be able to explore and enjoy this wonderful resource. Our rivers are certainly much cleaner than they used to be, but it makes sense for river users to pay attention to this information so they know when it’s clean for swimming or boating.” Water sample results are color-coded and map-based to offer guidance about whether the water is clean enough for swimming and boating. Results are a snapshot of river conditions at the moment the sample was taken, but give river users information they can use to make informed decisions and prevent potential illness. The website provides bacteria data for the Connecticut River and more than 20 tributaries, including the Chicopee River, Mill River in Northampton, Mill River/Lake Warner in Hadley, Farmington River in Connecticut, Ottauquechee and Black Rivers in Vermont, and many more.

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