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Employer Confidence Slips Slightly in July

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index shed 0.3 points to 61.5 last month, leaving it 6.4 points higher than a year ago. The Index has gained ground in five of seven months so far in 2017. The July slip was led by the Employment Index, which dropped 2.4 points from June. Experts on the AIM Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) believe the slide reflects employers’ inability to hire skilled workers amid a tight labor market rather than a hiring slowdown caused by economic factors. “Confidence levels at or above 60 signal continued strong confidence among employers in the direction of the state and national economies,” said Raymond Torto, BEA chair and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The labor shortage is a serious issue. We hear anecdotes from companies in multiple industries that are turning away business or postponing expansions because they can’t find tech specialists, manufacturing workers, or electricians to take the new jobs.” 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. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during July. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, lost a point to 63.2, still six points higher than in July 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 0.5 points to 57.9 despite lingering uncertainty about federal healthcare and economic policy. July marked the 88th 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, declined 0.7 points to 61.2, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, edged up 0.1 point to 61.8. The Future Index ended the month seven points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.2 points to 62.2, up 6.3 points during the 12-month period. And though the Employment Index dropped to 55.7, the Sales Index rose for the third consecutive month, gaining 1.5 points to 64.1. The AIM survey found that 39% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months are similar, with 37% expecting to hire and only 10% downsizing. Elliot Winer, chief economist with Winer Economic Consulting, said workers with the type of skills needed by employers in growing industries remain in short supply, even though Massachusetts has posted significant increases to its labor force so far in 2017. “Employers report that it is increasingly hard to fill jobs. Job vacancies now significantly exceed new hiring. And yet, wage growth in the state has been near zero when adjusted for inflation,” Winer said. Manufacturing companies remained optimistic about the economy with the 59.6 confidence reading, but not as optimistic as employers outside the manufacturing sector, who posted a 63.6 result. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, noted that employer confidence in the Massachusetts economy has stalled as the state Legislature has taken several troubling votes, including one to force employers to close a $200 million gap in MassHealth with no long-term program reforms.

Family Business Center to Host Summit for Couples in Business

AMHERST — Anyone in the unique (but not uncommon) situation of working with their spouse or significant other might be interested in being one of eight to 10 couples to take part in an upcoming ‘spouses summit,’ a constructive, honest, cathartic discussion and learning opportunity for couples in business. The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley is planning such an event. The business owners represented will be from a mix of non-competing companies of various sizes and industries. A few lessons will be built in a la short talks on communication, conflict, professionalism, marketing oneself as a family business, etc., but it will also be a lightly facilitated, largely free-flowing conversation, comparing notes with others who are in the same scenario: working with one’s beloved. The Family Business Center has been presenting helpful programs, workshops, roundtables, and more for families in business since 1994, including a couple of successful sibling summits and one spouses summit. The cost will likely be around  $120 per couple, and limited to the first eight to 10 couples who register and pay. A date will then be chosen that will work for all participants. For more information, call Ira Bryck at (413) 835-0810.

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