Briefcase Departments


Employer Confidence Hits 12-Year High

BOSTON — Confidence among Massachusetts employers hit its highest level in 12 years during December amid the prospect of growth initiatives from the new administration in Washington and a continued strong state economy. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 2.3 points to 60.4 last month, a full 5.1 points higher than its level in December 2015 and the highest reading since December 2004. It marked the fourth consecutive monthly increase in sentiment among employers in the Commonwealth, where the unemployment rate recently fell to 2.9%. The November and December BCI readings mirror the post-election rally in U.S. financial markets, which have risen 5% as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to work with a Republican Congress on business-friendly issues such as tax reductions, regulatory reform, and infrastructure spending. The AIM survey showed a 5.5-point jump in confidence in the national economy last month, leaving that indicator at its highest level since 2007. “Massachusetts employers are taking the president-elect at his word that he will prioritize economic growth at the national level, especially if he is able to work with Congressional Democrats on a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “But employer enthusiasm is also based upon a solid economic expansion during 2016 that most analysts believe will continue in a methodical manner though the first half of 2017.” 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. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in December. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, gained 2 points to 61.8, leaving it 5.5 points ahead of the same time last year. The increase in the U.S. Index of national business conditions put that figure 7.5 points higher than its level of a year ago, but still short of the Massachusetts index. It marked the 80th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.2 points to 59.1, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.5 points to 61.7. The future outlook was 5.5 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015. The sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations also strengthened considerably. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.4 points to 60.9, while the Sales Index increased 3.2 points to 61.4. The Employment Index was the only indicator to lose ground, falling 0.2 points to 57.2. The AIM survey found that nearly 38% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable, with 37% planning to hire and only 10% downsizing. “One of the most positive results of the December survey is that business confidence is strengthening uniformly across almost every sector of the economy,” said Elliot Winer, chief economist at Winer Economic Consulting and a BEA member. “Employers both large and small, manufacturers and non-manufacturers, from the Pioneer Valley to Greater Boston, are more optimistic about their prospects than at any time since prior to the Great Recession.” The BCI Manufacturing Index jumped 0.6 points during the month and 2.6 points for the year. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 63.3 compared to 56.7 for manufacturing companies. Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were slightly more optimistic at 61.4 than those in the western part of the state at 57.6. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers appear to be encouraged by the prospect that Trump and a Republican Congress will be able to pass their tax and regulatory agenda. At the same time, Lord said, there remains uncertainty about a possible repeal of federal healthcare reform and the future of international trade agreements that are critical to Massachusetts companies. “The only certainty appears to be uncertainty for the next six months,” Lord said. “The key will be to ensure that any tax reductions and regulatory reforms made on the national level are not obviated by state measures intended to make Massachusetts a progressive model for the rest of the country.”

Advertising Club Calls for Scholarship Applications

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts announced that its 2017 scholarship applications are now available online at Applications will also be available through guidance departments at high schools in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, or by contacting the Ad Club at (413) 736-2582. Western Mass. seniors who plan to attend an accredited college or technical school in the fall of 2017 to study advertising, communications, marketing, or graphics arts are encouraged to apply. The scholarship must be applied against tuition and fees at the school. Candidates will be judged on academic performance; extracurricular activities; community service and/or work experience; a demonstrated interest in advertising, communications, marketing, or graphic design; personal recommendations; and a letter of introduction outlining future plans. In 2017, one $1,000 scholarship will be awarded. Completed scholarship applications and all support materials must be submitted to the Ad Club and postmarked by Friday, Feb. 24. Scholarship decisions are made by the scholarship committee of Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, and are considered final. The scholarship will be awarded at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show in May.

Grinspoon Foundation, Big Y AnnounceLocal Farmer Awards

AGAWAM — In partnership with Big Y, the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF) announced the third year of the Local Farmer Awards, a program to support local farmers with projects that will help them compete in the marketplace. The awards are for equipment and physical farm improvements. “Big Y has been partnering with and supporting local farmers since we began over 80 years ago,” President and Chief Operating Officer Charles D’Amour said. “Through our partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation, we are providing one more way to help the local growers to thrive in our community.” In an effort to have the widest impact, individual award recipients  a total of over $110,000 in awards. Realizing the importance of local farms in our region, Grinspoon launched these awards in 2015. The 2016 awards were distributed to 47 of the 128 applicants. The two regional Buy Local farm advocates, Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), will continue to provide insight and assistance. Philip Korman, executive director of CISA, noted that “we are so pleased to continue to work with everyone involved in this unique farm awards program to support the vital role family farms play in our communities.” Added Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, “we’re thrilled about the continuation of these financial awards for farmers in Western Massachusetts to strengthen their farm businesses. This helps build the local food economy in our region.” The deadline for applying is Tuesday, Jan. 31. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit for more information.

Greater Springfield Named 13th-least-dangerous Metro Area for Pedestrians

SPRINGFIELD — In light of Smart Growth America naming Greater Springfield the 13th-least dangerous metro area in the country for pedestrians, as well as Massachusetts ranking in the top 10 least-dangerous states for pedestrians, as part of its 2016 edition of “Dangerous by Design,” the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) is highlighting some of its collaborative efforts to make the streets of the Pioneer Valley safer for automobiles, bikers, and pedestrians. “While we are obviously happy to see Greater Springfield named the 13th-least-dangerous metro area in the United States [for pedestrians], there is clearly much more work to be done, especially on behalf of older residents, residents of color, and low-income families, who are disproportionately vulnerable as pedestrians, according to this recent report,” said Gary Roux, PVPC principal transportation planner and traffic manager. “Our regional efforts to implement complete street design into our communities will ensure our future roadways will be safe for all forms of travel.” In the pursuit of safer roadways in the Pioneer Valley, the PVPC has been actively working in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, WalkBoston, and the state Department of Public Health on Vision Zero Planning, an approach to transportation safety planning that sets a target of eliminating all serious injuries and deaths due to road traffic crashes; collaborating with member communities to apply Complete Streets design into local roads, implementing the state Department of Transportation Complete Streets funding program that promotes roadway planning that considers the safety of drivers, bikers, and pedestrians; contributing $2 million in planning and public-engagement efforts for Live Well Springfield, a community movement to support healthy and active living; and partnering with the communities of Holyoke, Springfield, Northampton, and South Hadley on bike-pedestrian visioning and planning efforts. Additionally, the PVPC has released a draft update report of the “Top 100 High-crash Intersections in the Pioneer Valley,” to help the region’s urban communities target their roadway safety-improvement efforts. A community-by-community listing of dangerous intersections is also currently being prepared to allow all 43 PVPC member communities to address their most pressing transportation-design needs.

Springfield Leadership Institute to Begin Session

SPRINGFIELD — The 2017 Springfield Leadership Institute will emphasize strategies and techniques designed to create high-energy and high-involvement leadership for middle and upper mangers who have potential to make an impact on their organization and the community, and who serve in key roles in volunteer organizations. The Institute, which begins on Feb. 9 and runs for seven consecutive Thursdays from 1 to 4:30 p.m., is directed by Robert Kleine III, dean of the Western New England University College of Business, and Jack Greeley, executive-in-residence at the university. Greeley has a strong background in management, strategic planning, and consulting to a variety of organizations. Sessions will focus on problem solving, learning to ask the right questions, and implementing creative and innovative solutions for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Participants will actively explore best practices of leaders; analyze their own leadership, learning, and problem solving styles; and experience the synergies that result from high-performing teams. The emphasis will be on experiential activities that provide opportunities to identify, develop, and refine skill sets for effective leadership. All sessions will be held at the TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Upon successful completion of Leadership 2017, participants will be eligible to enroll in a free graduate course offered through the College of Business at Western New England University (subject to certain requirements). Applications must be received by Wednesday, Feb. 1. Tuition is $885 per participant. For questions about the program or the application process, e-mail Jessica Hill at [email protected].

Community Foundation Gives $1,306,600 to Nonprofits

SPRINGFIELD — The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts is awarding $1,306,600 to 78 local nonprofit organizations in the Pioneer Valley, with awards ranging from $3,700 to $30,000. The Community Foundation awards competitive grants each year, with funds targeting projects addressing community needs in arts and culture, education, the environment, health, housing, and human services for residents of Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Over 40 of the projects funded were supported by trusts administered by Bank of America. The Community Foundation receives and reviews grant applications on behalf of Bank of America for four charitable trusts for which the bank serves as a trustee. One award was made as part of the Community Foundation’s Challenge Program to support capital campaigns taking place in the Pioneer Valley region. The $30,000 award requires a one-to-one match. Berkshire Hills Music Academy is the 2017 Challenge Grant recipient. Other grants include $20,000 to the Center for New Americans to support the training of staff and volunteers who work annually with immigrants living in the Pioneer Valley on immigration legal issues; $25,000 to Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society Inc. for masonry repairs to the exterior of the organization’s Springfield location; $25,000 to Community Music School of Springfield Inc. for its children’s chorus music program; and $25,000 to Baystate Health Foundation Inc. for its new surgical center at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “These grants are a tremendous investment in our community and in the nonprofits that under take this important work. We are fortunate to have generous donors and committed volunteers to make this investment possible,” said Community Foundation Senior Program Officer Sheila Toto. Grant funding comes from distributions from 38 funds established by various individuals and groups committed to supporting local nonprofits. These donors rely on the Community Foundation’s volunteers and staff to focus their funds for effective use by nonprofit agencies in the Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin county communities. Thirteen volunteer members of the Community Foundation’s Distribution Committee and 12 project reviewers carefully evaluated 109 applications for funding requests totaling more than $2.1 million.

Federal Funding Helps Area Farms Save Energy

NORTHAMPTON — Farms and rural small businesses in Massachusetts seeking to reduce energy costs or install clean energy technologies have long relied on the state Department of Agricultural Resources’ (MDAR) Mass. Farm Energy Program (MFEP) for funding and technical assistance. New funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) will support the work of the MFEP. The USDA has awarded a $33,000 Rural Business Development Grant to the Center for EcoTechnology (CET), a nonprofit based in Northampton, which manages MFEP. CET will use the grant to provide timely information, funding request assistance, and technical assistance to rural farms that wish to improve their energy efficiency and reduce operating costs. MDAR Commissioner John Lebeaux will join Massachusetts elected officials, USDA RD Southern New England Director Scott Soares, and Lorenzo Macaluso of CET on Friday, Jan. 6 at 10 a.m. at Smith’s Farmstead, 20 Otter River Road, Winchendon. Attendees will have the opportunity to tour the farm’s renewable and efficiency projects. USDA funding adds to funding sources the MFEP draws on to provide help to farms, including funding from public utilities, the USDA, MDAR, municipal utilities, the Mass. Clean Energy Center, and a variety of energy-efficiency and clean-energy rebates.

State Earns Top Ranking for Public-health Preparedness

BOSTON — The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) has recognized Massachusetts as first in the nation when it comes to preventing, responding to, and recovering from public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks, bioterrorism, and natural and man-made disasters. The findings were published in TFAH’s annual “Ready or Not?” report, which ranks all 50 states on a set of key preparedness indicators. “Our top ranking in the Trust for America’s Health report is a testament to the collaborative efforts of public-health and emergency-management agencies, hospitals, health centers, healthcare providers, community-based organizations, and residents to make Massachusetts as prepared and resilient as possible, no matter what,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. The TFAH report ranks each state on 10 indicators, including public-health funding commitment, National Health Security Preparedness Index, public-health accreditation, flu-vaccination rate, climate-change readiness, food safety, reducing healthcare-associated infections, public-health laboratories (biosafety training), public-health laboratories (biosafety professional on staff), and emergency healthcare access. Massachusetts was the only state in the nation to receive credit for all 10 indicators.

Report Details STEM Employment in State

BOSTON — The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on occupational employment and wages for scienc, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations in Massachusetts’ metropolitan areas and divisions for May 2015. These data are supplied by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, which produces employment and wage estimates for the U.S., by state, and by metropolitan area for more than 800 occupations. Among selected metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua New England City and Town Area (Boston NECTA) had wages that were significantly higher than the respective national averages for three STEM occupations — computer-user support specialists ($63,840), applications-software developers ($109,540), and systems-software developers ($115,180). Leominster ($58,940) also had above-average wages for computer-user support specialists, while Pittsfield ($40,790) had wages that were significantly lower than the U.S. average for this occupation. Wages for applications software developers in the Lawrence NECTA division ($112,050) were significantly higher than the national average of $102,160. Conversely, Springfield ($94,610) had wages that were significantly below the national average for this occupation. The Boston NECTA had a combined employment of 69,990 for the three selected STEM occupations, with 49,230 of these jobs in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton NECTA division. Among the other selected areas, Worcester and Springfield had a combined employment of 2,630 and 2,450, respectively, for the three occupations.

PVPC Releases New Edition of Hiking and Biking Guide

SPRINGFIELD — Recognizing both the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities and natural beauty within the region, as well as its unique involvement in the creation and protection of much of it, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) has released its second edition of “Pioneer Valley Trails: A Hiking and Biking Guide.” Self-published using revenue from the sale of the guide’s first edition, which has sold over 2,200 copies since 2011, the PVPC is hoping this comprehensive map of Hampden and Hampshire County’s recreational opportunities remains a popular item within the region’s many outdoor outfitters. In preparing the guide, the PVPC reached out to many cooperating entities for data and map information, including all 43 PVPC member municipalities, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as nonprofit partners such as the Trustees of Reservations and Mass Audubon. The guide includes many of the Pioneer Valley’s most popular trails, including the New England National Scenic Trail and the Robert Frost Trail for hiking, as well as the Manhan Rail Trail and Norwottuck – Mass Central Rail Trail for biking. It also includes many smaller trails spread out across the region’s cities and towns, allowing visitors and residents alike to discover new opportunities to enjoy nature. Since 1962, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has been the designated regional planning body for the Pioneer Valley region, which encompasses 43 cities and towns in Hampden and Hampshire counties. PVPC is the primary agency responsible for increasing communication, cooperation, and coordination among all levels of government as well as the private business and civic sectors in order to benefit the Pioneer Valley region and to improve its residents’ quality of life.

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