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Briefcase

Employer Confidence
Strengthens in February

BOSTON — Massachusetts employer confidence strengthened during February as optimism about long-term economic growth outweighed a volatile month in the financial markets. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 0.4 points to 64.5, setting another 17-year high. The Index has gained 2.4 points during the past 12 months as confidence levels have remained comfortably within the optimistic range. Enthusiasm about the U.S. and Massachusetts economies, along with a bullish outlook on the part of manufacturers, fueled the February increase. At the same time, hiring remained a red flag as the BCI Employment Index fell 4 points between February 2017 and February 2018. Almost 90% of employers who responded to the February confidence survey indicated that the inability to find skilled employees is either a modest, large, or huge problem. “Fourteen percent of respondents said finding employees represents a huge problem that is hampering their company’s growth. One-third of employers see employee recruitment as a big problem, while 29% see it as a modest issue,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “For the short-term, however, the state and national economies remain strong, and the recent announcement by Amazon of a major expansion in Boston indicates that the trend should continue.” The survey was taken before President Donald Trump roiled the financial markets by pledging to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. 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 mixed during February. The most significant gains came in the Manufacturing Index, which surged 3.9 points to 66.2, and the U.S. Index, which rose 2.1 points for the month to 66.9 and 8.0 points for the year. The Massachusetts Index fell 0.4 points to 68.5, but was up 5.3 points for the year and still higher than the national outlook for the 96th consecutive month. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 2.4 points to 64.1. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, declined 1.6 points to 65. The Current Index has risen 4.2 points and the Future Index 0.6 points during the past 12 months. The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, was essentially flat, gaining 0.1 points to 62.4. The Employment Index also rose 0.1 points, to 56.4, versus 60.4 in February 2017. Manufacturing companies (66.2) were more optimistic than non-manufacturers (61.9). Large employers (69.8) were more bullish than medium-sized (62.0) or small businesses (62.7).

Single-family Home Sales
in Pioneer Valley Up in January

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales rose by 17.2% in the Pioneer Valley in January compared to the same time last year, while the median price rose 1.0% to $197,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were up 27.0%, while the median price fell 2.1% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 26.2%, while the median price was up 8.8%. In Hampshire County, sales fell by 5.6% from January 2017, while the median price was up 1.2%.

Advertising Club Seeks
Nominations for Pynchon Award

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts is seeking nominations from throughout Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties for the Pynchon Award, which recognizes citizens of the region who have rendered distinguished service to the community. The Order of William Pynchon was established by the Advertising Club in 1915 to recognize and encourage individuals whose lives and achievements typified the ideals of promoting citizenship and the building of a better community in Western Mass. Past recipients include war heroes, social activists, teachers, volunteers, philanthropists, historians, clergy, physicians, journalists, public servants, and business leaders — a diverse group, each with a passion for the region and a selfless streak. A complete list of recipients since 1915 can be found at www.adclubwm.org/events/pynchonaward. To nominate an individual, submit a one-page letter explaining why the nominee should be considered. Include biographical information, outstanding accomplishments, examples of service to the community, organizations he or she is or has been active in, and the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of at least three people who can further attest to the nominee’s eligibility for induction into the Order of William Pynchon. All nominees will be considered and researched by the Pynchon Trustees, comprised of the current and five past presidents of the Advertising Club. Nominations must be submitted by Friday, March 30 to: William Pynchon Trustees, Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, P.O. Box 1022, West Springfield, MA 01090 or by e-mail to [email protected] Pynchon medalists are chosen by unanimous decision of the Pynchon Trustees. 2018 recipients will be announced in June 2018, with an awards ceremony scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 18 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

Unemployment Rate Holds
at 3.5% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in January, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 6,100 jobs in January. Over the month, the private sector lost 4,200 jobs; although gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; information; and other services. From January 2017 to January 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 29,000 jobs. The January unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Massachusetts continues to experience a low unemployment rate and labor force expansions,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. “While the overall health of our economy remains strong, and 2017 marked the eighth consecutive year of job growth, persistent skills gaps remain. That is why our workforce-development partners remain committed to ensuring that those who are still unemployed or underemployed have access to the training resources they need to access high-demand jobs.” The labor force increased by 2,200 from 3,657,300 in December, as 3,900 more residents were employed and 1,700 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.9% in January 2017. 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 — remained at 65.3%. The labor force participation rate over the year has decreased by 0.2% compared to January 2017. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; and other services.

Hampden County Bar Assoc.
Offers Two Law-school Scholarships

SPRINGFIELD — The Hampden County Bar Assoc. is now accepting applications for the John F. Moriarty Scholarship and the Colonel Archer B. Battista Veterans Scholarship. The John F. Moriarty Scholarship is available to any Hampden County resident who has been admitted to or is attending a certified law school for the 2018-19 academic year. Applicants must have been residents of Hampden County for at least five years. The application deadline is May 25. The Colonel Archer B. Battista Veterans Scholarship is available to any veteran with an honorable discharge or a current member of the U.S. military who has been admitted to or is attending a certified law school in New England for the 2018-19 year. The application deadline is May 15, 2018. Both scholarships are based on merit and financial need. Both applications and additional information are available by contacting the Caitlin Glenn at the Hampden County Bar Assoc. at (413) 732-4660 or [email protected], or by visiting www.hcbar.org/news/scholarships.

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