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Massachusetts Tops U.S. News Ranking of States

BOSTON — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been named the best overall state in U.S. News & World Report’s inaugural report. This best-state ranking evaluates all 50 states in various categories, with Massachusetts ranked the top overall state, first in healthcare, second in education, and among the top 10 for economy and crime and corrections. Massachusetts was recognized for having the most accessible healthcare and is ranked third for pre-K through grade-12 education. “Massachusetts is a great place to live, work, and raise a family because of the strength and character of all those who call the Commonwealth home,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Everyone should be proud that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in healthcare access and public education for all citizens, and our administration will continue to build on these accomplishments to bring more economic success to every corner of Massachusetts.” Massachusetts ranked well above the national average as number one in enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans, higher-education educational attainment, and college readiness, and number two in patents granted and populations with fast download speed.

Connecticut River Watershed Council Applauds Clean-water Legislation

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker recently introduced legislation that — if signed into law along with his budget proposal to begin increasing staffing at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — will start a several-year process of rebuilding and significantly changing the state’s clean-water program. The immediate focus of the announced legislation is to begin the process of delegating Clean Water Act permitting, enforcement, and compliance authority to the state. Massachusetts is currently one of three states in the country that does not have this authority. “The Connecticut River Watershed Council supports creating a top-notch water-quality program that administers the federal Clean Water Act at the Mass. DEP. The governor’s budget proposal combined with this legislation is a first step to begin creating such a program,” said CRWC Executive Director Andrew Fisk. “We stand ready to work with the administration and the Legislature to enact additional legislation that will create a program based on strong and achievable standards, timely and fair permitting, robust enforcement, and widely available technical assistance.” The Connecticut River Watershed Council works to protect the watershed from source to sea by collaborating, educating, organizing, restoring, and intervening to preserve its health for generations to come.

Survey: Most Businesses That Chose Massachusetts Would Do So Again

WATERTOWN — A large majority of companies that chose Massachusetts as a place to expand their business would do it again, primarily based on its innovative economy, industry clusters, and skilled workforce, according to “Choosing Massachusetts for Business: Key Factors in Location Decision Making,” an 18-month study commissioned by MassEcon, a non-partisan economic-development organization, and conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute’s Economic and Public Policy Research group. A statewide survey of businesses that had expanded within Massachusetts found that more than three out of four (77%) would choose to locate or expand here again, if faced with the same decision, and 64% rated the state as a “good” or “very good” place to do business. Nearly all of the surveyed companies (96%) cited the state’s high-quality workforce as a key factor in choosing Massachusetts. According to survey respondents, the top three strengths of doing business in Massachusetts were workforce, superior industry clusters, and the community environment. “This report is a valuable tool for us to use to measure our successes in creating a business environment that supports employer growth and uncover opportunities to strengthen collaboration across the state to help our cities and towns increase jobs and investment,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. “I look forward to the solutions that we can implement with our partners across business, nonprofit and government sectors to improve the business environment for the benefit of all Massachusetts residents.” The comprehensive study was drawn from a multi-faceted survey and in-depth interviews of nearly 90 companies that had expanded or relocated within Massachusetts over the past 10 years. “We are heartened by the validation of Massachusetts as an outstanding location for business expansion,” said Susan Houston, executive director of MassEcon, “but equally important, this study tells us that we can’t be complacent. For Massachusetts to maintain — and grow — its leadership position, we must continue to nurture our key assets and address the challenges that could undermine our economic competitiveness.”

Pioneer Valley Home Sales Down Slightly in January

SPRINGFIELD — The Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley reported that single-family home sales in January were down 0.6% in the region compared to the same time last year. The median price was up 5.9% to $195,000. In Franklin County, sales were up 2.9%, while the median price rose 8.2%. In Hampden County, sales were down 11.4%, while the median price was up 0.6%. And in Hampshire County, home sales rose by 41.3%, while the median price fell by 1.9%.

Commonwealth Adds 13,000 Jobs in January

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate increased to 3.2% in January from the revised December rate of 3.1%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate Massachusetts added 13,000 jobs in January. Over-the-month job gains occurred in trade, transportation, and utilities; financial activities; construction; leisure and hospitality; education and health services; information; and government. From January 2016 to January 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,100 jobs. The January state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.8% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Massachusetts continues to experience low levels of unemployment with the largest year-over-year percentage gains in jobs in the construction, education, and health services sectors. We remain focused on fostering an employment environment where businesses can grow and create jobs while having access to workers with the skills and training needed to fill them,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said. The labor force increased by 1,600 from 3,561,700 in December, as 9,800 more residents were employed and 8,200 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped 1.1% from 4.3% in January 2016. There were 40,400 fewer unemployed people over the year compared to January 2016. 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 — increased to 64.9% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased 0.1% compared to January 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; education and health services; financial activities; professional, scientific, and business services; and leisure and hospitality.

State Expands Residential Substance-use Treatment Programs for Women

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration recently announced it is awarding contracts to programs in Pittsfield, Lowell, and Salisbury to support and expand residential substance-use-disorder treatment for women in Massachusetts. The contracts will fund 60 long-term, residential treatment slots that, when operational, will provide services to approximately 240 women each year. “The opioid and heroin epidemic has tragically impacted too many people and communities in our Commonwealth, and we are committed to helping those struggling with addiction,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Support for these residential treatment slots underscores not only our comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid epidemic, but also adds to the investment we’ve already made to strengthen our treatment and recovery infrastructure.” Since coming into office in 2015, the Baker-Polito administration has increased spending on addiction services by 50%, from $120 million to $180 million, and has added more than 500 substance-use treatment beds to the system. “As the Commonwealth continues to fight the opioid and heroin epidemic from all angles, our administration is pleased to announce these contracts for communities in need,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “We will keep investing in this public-health crisis and partnering with communities in every corner of the state to offer resources and treatment for those struggling with this horrific epidemic.” The $1.75 million in annual funding awarded to the three programs was based on a competitive procurement and will support expansion of one existing and two new programs. The funded programs are:

• The Brien Center/Seymour House, Pittsfield: funding to create a new, 17-bed program serving the needs of pregnant or post-partum women.

• Megan’s House, Lowell: funding to support 28 beds in its existing program serving the needs of young women, ages 18-25. This new funding will ensure greater access to treatment for women without health insurance.

• John Ashford Link House/Seacoast Recovery Home for Women, Salisbury: funding to create a new 15-bed program with a focus on serving the needs of women on the North Shore, some of whom are criminal-justice-involved.

Residential treatment programs provide a highly structured and supportive environment to assist each resident’s recovery from substance-use disorders. Programs include individual and group counseling, comprehensive case management, and assistance with skills necessary to maintain a drug- or alcohol-free lifestyle. Work on each of the funded programs will begin immediately and are expected to be fully operational by the end of June.

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