Briefcase Departments


Employer Confidence Closes 2017 at 18-year High

BOSTON — Surging optimism about the state and national economies left Massachusetts employers with their highest level of confidence in 18 years as 2017 drew to a close. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose one point to 63.6 during December, its highest level since November 2000. The BCI gained 3.2 points during a year in which employer confidence levels remained comfortably within the optimistic range. Every element of the overall index increased during 2017 except for the Employment Index, which dropped a half-point. Analysts believe low unemployment and demographic shifts are impeding the ability of employers to find the workers they need. “Massachusetts employers maintained a uniformly positive outlook throughout 2017, and passage of the federal tax bill only added to that optimism,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, the 12-month decline in the Employment Index reminds us that the persistent shortage of skilled workers has reached an inflection point for the Massachusetts economy. Massachusetts companies have postponed expansions, declined to bid for contracts, or outsourced work because they simply can’t find people.” 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. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly higher during December. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, surged 2.4 points to 67.6, leaving it 5.8 points better than a year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions continued a yearlong rally by gaining two points to 64.2. December marked the 94th 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, decreased 0.7 points to 62.7, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.7 points to 64.5. The Current Index gained 3.6 points and the Future Index 2.8 points during 2017. The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, declined 0.2 points to 62.1. The Employment Index rose slightly to 56.7, but still ended the year 0.5 points below the 57.2 posted in December 2016. Manufacturing companies (64.3) continued to be more optimistic than non-manufacturers (62.6). Another unusual result was that employers in Western Mass. (64.6) posted higher confidence readings than those in Eastern Mass. (62.7).

UMass Team Reports Gambling Research to Gaming Commission

AMHERST — Results of a baseline study on gambling behavior in Massachusetts that establishes how people participated — or not — in gambling prior to the opening of any casinos were reported this week to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) by epidemiologist Rachel Volberg and colleagues at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences. It is the first major cohort study of adult gambling to be carried out in the U.S. Volberg and colleagues were selected by the MGC in 2013 to conduct a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive, multi-year study on the economic and social impacts of introducing casino gambling in the state. The Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) team is examining an array of social and economic effects. As part of MGC’s research agenda, the results are from the separate Massachusetts Gambling Impact Cohort study of factors critical to developing strategic and data-driven problem-gambling services. Cohort studies survey the same individuals over time and provide information on how gambling and problem gambling develops and progresses, and how individuals may experience remission. “This has significant value as it can highlight risk and protective factors important in developing effective prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery-support services,” Volberg noted. Before beginning this research, she predicted the state’s sweeping research initiative would change the intellectual landscape and knowledge base about gambling, and she said the results released this week support that view. “This tells us new things, but it is nuanced. Based on this new study, researchers will think about gambling behavior in new ways.” One interesting finding is “the apparent ease with which people move in and out of problem-gambling status within a given year,” the lead author pointed out. “It’s pretty clear that people phase in and out of the problem gambling group. This movement is different than the way problem gambling has been characterized in the past. Until recently, the general orientation has been that disordered gambling is an unremitting chronic condition.” According to the report, only 49.4% of individuals who were problem or pathological gamblers in wave 1 were in this same category in wave 2, with sizeable numbers transitioning into at-risk gambling and recreational gambling categories. At-risk gamblers were the most unstable members of the cohort, with only 37.5% being in the same category in both waves. Most of them transitioned to recreational gambling, but a significant minority transitioned to become problem or pathological gamblers, the researchers reported. Added Volberg, “we’ve seen this movement in studies done in other jurisdictions, but this will be news to some researchers who are used to thinking of problem gambling as a progressive and chronic disorder.” An important aspect of all physical and mental disorders is incidence, she noted. That is the proportion of a population that newly develops a condition over a specified period of time. The study found problem gambling incidence in Massachusetts, at 2.4%, to be high compared to studies elsewhere. The authors pointed out, however, that those other studies have different ‘gambling landscapes,’ used different measures of problem gambling, and had shorter follow-up periods. The report noted that the cause of the high incidence rate is unclear given that there was no significant change in the actual availability of legal gambling opportunities in Massachusetts during this time period. In addition to Volberg and colleagues at UMass Amherst, co-investigator Robert Williams of the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, provided oversight of study design and implementation as well as help with data analysis and reporting.

Springfield Central Cultural District Receives $25,000 Grant

SPRINGFIELD — Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD), announced the receipt of a $25,000 Beveridge Family Foundation grant to help the organization create an artist database, as well as increase internal capacity. Part of the grant from the Beveridge Foundation will be utilized to hire the UMass Arts Extension Service, a nationally renowned thought leader in the arts field, to help create a grassroots network of artists. This network will increase the economic growth of the creative-economy sector in Springfield by connecting artists to paid opportunities, as well as making it easier for local businesses, nonprofits, and individuals to find an artist of a specific discipline. The mission of the Beveridge Family Foundation is to preserve and enhance the quality of life by embracing and perpetuating Frank Stanley Beveridge’s philanthropic vision, through grant-making incentives in support of programs in youth development, health, education, religion, art, and environment, primarily in Hampden and Hampshire counties. The Springfield Central Cultural District encompasses an area of the metro center of Springfield, and is membership-based, involving many of the downtown arts institutions. Its mission is to create and sustain a vibrant cultural environment in Springfield.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts Offers Winter Safety Tips

WESTBOROUGH — As winter continues to have a frigid grip on New England, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is reminding customers of important safety tips during snowy and icy conditions. To be safe and avoid hazards, customers should:

• Keep natural-gas meters clear of snow and ice to ensure they are visible and accessible at all times for maintenance by Columbia Gas. Keeping natural-gas meters clear also ensures proper venting;

• Remove snow from the meter with hands or a broom. Never use a shovel or kick or hit the meter to break away snow or ice. If the meter is encased in ice, contact Columbia Gas for assistance at (800) 688-6160;

• Keep fresh air and exhaust vents for natural-gas appliances free of snow, ice, and debris to prevent equipment malfunction;

• Use caution when removing snow from flat rooftops, especially on commercial and industrial buildings, as there may be heating and cooling equipment and electric or fuel lines that may not be visible under the snow;

• Make sure all appliances and heating equipment are inspected and operating properly;

• Never use cook tops, ovens, or outdoor grills as a source of heat;

• Check your carbon-monoxide detectors and smoke detectors to ensure they operate properly; and

• As always, if you smell natural gas at any time, leave the area and call 911 or Columbia Gas at (800) 525-8222.

“The safety and comfort of our customers is a high priority,” said Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. “We ask, during these winter months when temperatures are well below freezing, that you check on your families and neighbors, particularly those that are elderly or need special attention.”