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PVPC Releases Economic-development Strategy

SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) recently released its 2016 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) annual update, as part of its larger Plan for Progress, a 10-year blueprint for economic development in the region. The CEDS features a description of regional economic-development conditions and sets forth goals and objectives for the future, as well as a list of projects seeking the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) public-works funding in the next year. The report highlights the region’s continued decrease in unemployment, an improved workforce-talent pipeline, and increased early-education enrollment and high-school and community-college graduation rates, among others, as metrics illustrating the overall progress being made. The CEDS also lists many major committed projects of regional significance, such as the Center for Hospitality and Culinary Excellence at Holyoke Community College, the Springfield Innovation Center, the CRRC MA subway-car manufacturing plant, and the Aviation Research and Training Center, a collaboration between UMass Amherst and Westover Air Reserve Base. A full digital copy of the 2016 CEDS is available on the PVPC website, Hard copies are also available upon request. The PVPC, which administers this process, has been the EDA-designated regional planning agency for the Pioneer Valley region since 1999, which includes 43 cities and towns in Hampshire and Hampden counties.

Home Sales Rise in Pioneer Valley

SPRINGFIELD — The REALTOR Association of Pioneer Valley reported that single-family home sales in May were up 19.4% compared to the same time last year. The median price was up 2.0% to $205,000. County reports vary. In Franklin County, sales were up 90.3% and prices up 5.6%; in Hampden County, sales were up 16.8% and prices up 1.5%; in Hampshire County, sales were up 10.6% and prices down 3.7%.

Passenger Rail Platform Delayed at Union Station

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA) Director Christopher Moskal announced recently that required design modifications will delay the opening of a new boarding platform at Springfield Union Station. He said progress at the Union Station Regional Intermodal Transportation Center project continues to advance, and he “expects that the Union Station terminal project itself will open on schedule in January 2017, albeit without the new boarding platform in operation.” He said this “includes the terminal building, the bus terminal, the parking garage, and the passenger tunnel up to the current Amtrak lobby on Lyman Street.” As a separate component of the overall project, MassDOT is committed to delivering a new boarding platform for Amtrak trains. This high-level platform, which will provide ‘level-entry boarding’ for Amtrak passengers, was scheduled to be in operation when Union Station opened. However, in reviewing the new platform’s design, Amtrak indicated that a waiver of two Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) design requirements would be needed. This waiver relating to the width of the new platform was necessitated by the unique configuration of the existing Union Station tracks. The SRA submitted the waiver request on March 10. After discussions between FRA and MassDOT, FRA issued a letter on May 23 requiring full compliance with its design regulations. This FRA decision requires major modifications to the initial design of both the platform and the underground passenger tunnel. Accordingly, the project’s architect has been directed to prepare necessary changes to the project’s plans and specifications. The project team is currently working to finalize a revised schedule and budget. Moskal indicated that MassDOT remains committed to funding related design and construction costs. In the interim, he indicated that Amtrak passengers will access trains from the new terminal by passing through the renovated portion of the tunnel into the current Amtrak lobby and using the existing boarding platform on the Lyman Street side as they do today. After the new boarding platform is completed, the Lyman Street end of the tunnel — the current Amtrak lobby — will be renovated and will reopen. This will result in a fully renovated passenger tunnel between the terminal and Lyman Street.

Ashe Explores Starting Foundation

Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Jr., honored by BusinessWest as one of its Difference Makers for 2016, issued a statement to the press recently announcing that he is exploring the possibility of staring a foundation to continue his life’s work. “Like most anyone else facing retirement, I find myself contemplating what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he said. “I know that, despite being in my mid-70s, I still have great intensity and energy. The fire still burns in me for my life’s work of 42 years — assuring that offenders have the best possible likelihood of re-entering the community as law-abiding, productive, positive citizens, giving to, rather than taking from, the lives of others. That life’s work would be hard for me to completely walk away from when I still feel vital and useful and passionate about its value to others. One of the scenarios that I’ve contemplated is to continue that life’s calling in a new framework, to create a local foundation, with myself as its unpaid chief administrator, to enhance our community’s effort to successfully re-enter offenders.” Ashe said he’s far from having an exact blueprint regarding specific ways that such a nonprofit might help, and he’s not yet completely certain that starting and heading up such a philanthropic foundation is where he can be of best service in retirement. But he did say it’s an idea worth exploring. “Although I am not far enough along to have detailed the specifics of the structures of such a possible foundation, I would want any such foundation to be marked by simplicity and integrity,” he explained. “One model that I would use is the local charity Griffin’s Friends, which was founded to bring moments of joy to courageous kids at Baystate Medical Center, and which minimizes administrative costs and maximizes direct service to those it seeks to help.” Ashe said one reason he’s thinking aloud and publicly about this is to put the word out to others who might be likewise interested in founding such a new nonprofit, to let him know of their interest in helping to build what could be “an inspired addition to the edifice that we’ve labored so tirelessly to build during these last 42 years — a community corrections system driven by a vision of social justice, integrity, and public safety.”

Employer Confidence Weakens in June

BOSTON — A month of economic uncertainty punctuated by weak U.S. job growth and the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union drove Massachusetts employer confidence lower during June. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index fell 1.6 points to 56.1 as employers took an increasingly bearish view of the U.S. economy. At the same time, the confidence reading remained comfortably above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook. Taken quarterly, confidence rose from 55.8 during the first three months of the year to 56.7 during April, May, and June. The June survey of employers overlapped by a few days the landmark vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union, an outcome that caused financial gyrations and concern about U.S. exports in the face of a rising dollar. The confidence readings also came in the wake of the slowest pace of job creation in the U.S. since 2010. “Massachusetts employers are trying to balance a range of economic and political distractions that pull them in different directions month to month,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The good news is that employers remain highly confident in the Massachusetts economy and in the prospects for their own companies.” Added AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, a BEA member, “the sustained optimism that Massachusetts employers have shown toward the state economy reflects the ability of the Legislature and several administrations to maintain disciplined fiscal policy while creating an environment that allows employers to grow. We look forward to working with policymakers to continue that record as the two-year legislative session ends next month.” 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.