State Adds 3,200 Jobs
BOSTON — The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development recently reported the total unemployment rate in March was 8%, down two tenths of a percentage point from the February rate. The rate remains below the national rate of 8.8% and is seven tenths of a percentage point less than the rate in March 2010. The preliminary March job estimates show 3.213 million jobs in Massachusetts, an increase of 3,200 jobs. The private sector added 4,400 jobs. The largest gain in employment occurred in leisure and hospitality, while construction had the largest growth rate. Job gains were also posted in professional, scientific and business services, information, manufacturing, and education and health services. Trade, transportation, and utilities; government; financial activities; and ‘other services’ lost jobs. The March job gain follows a revised 14,400-jobs gain in February, previously reported as a 15,400-job gain. Over-the-year, jobs are up 34,100 (+1.1%) with private-sector jobs up 38,600 (+1.4%). Jobs have now been added in each of the past six months. The three-month average seasonally adjusted total unemployment rate was 8.2% and the six-month average was 8.3%. Over-the-year, 31,100 more residents were employed, and 21,500 fewer residents unemployed. Trends for the labor force, unemployed residents, employed residents, the unemployment rate, and jobs continue to indicate improvement for the Commonwealth’s economy. The March estimates show 3,221,700 Massachusetts residents were employed and 281,800 were unemployed, for a total labor force of 3,503,500. The labor force increased by 2,100 from 3,501,400 in February, as 8,400 more residents were employed and 6,300 fewer residents were unemployed over the month.
$1.5M Gift Establishes Research Center at PVLSI
SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a scientific partnership involving UMass Amherst and Baystate Medical Center, has received $1.5 million from the Rays of Hope Walk Toward the Cure of Breast Cancer to establish a new center devoted to breast cancer research. The donation to create the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research will be delivered over five years beginning this year, and is intended to broaden and expand the breast cancer research already taking place at PVLSI. With new technology now in use at the institute, researchers can generate, capture, and analyze data on a much larger scale, making it possible to integrate and coordinate the work of multiple investigators for greater and more rapid progress in answering research questions. “The naming of this center is yet another indication of the enduring legacy that Rays of Hope and all its participants have created in our community,” said Carol Baribeau, director of annual fund and events for the Baystate Health Foundation, in a statement. “On the basis of their own experience, our Rays of Hope walkers are creating hope for future generations by supporting research that could take us much closer to a cure for the disease.” Breast cancer affects one in eight women. A major research goal of the new center is examining links between obesity and breast cancer. It is believed that obesity and metabolic syndrome, a complex illness whose symptoms include obesity, hypertension, and early indications of diabetes, can increase breast cancer risk; given increasing obesity rates in the U.S., there is concern about an accompanying increase in breast cancer diagnoses. “We are just beginning to unlock clues as to whether obesity and breast cancer may be linked, and what those links could mean for prevention, diagnosis, and management of the disease,” added UMass Amherst faculty member Joseph Jerry, science director for PVLSI and co-director of the new center. “With this more robust support to our continuing research, we are provided significantly improved tools for answering important questions about the cellular and metabolic processes that cause lesions and tumors to develop.” One of the strengths of the new center will be its multidisciplinary approach, combining Baystate Medical Center’s resources and expertise in medical specialties such as oncology, endocrinology, and pathology with UMass Amherst’s strengths in polymer and other sciences and bio-epidemiology. Bringing these strengths under one roof allows researchers to approach the complex and intertwined biological processes behind diseases like obesity, diabetes and breast cancer in an integrated and disease-focused fashion, rather than breaking out individual pieces and causative factors and looking at them one by one.
Constellation Energy Partnering with Holyoke G&E
HOLYOKE — Holyoke Gas & Electric Department (HG&E) and Constellation Energy of Maryland recently announced the development of a new 4.5-megawatt solar installation that will generate electricity for the municipally owned utility’s 18,000 customers in Holyoke. The system, which is scheduled for commercial operation this summer, will be among the largest solar installations in New England and the largest in Western Mass. Constellation Energy will build, own, and maintain the system, and HG&E will purchase all of the electricity generated from the solar panels under a 20-year power purchase agreement at a fixed cost that is less than projected market rates. “HG&E is committed to continuing to provide our customers with cost-competitive and clean electricity,” said James M. Lavelle, manager, HG&E, in a statement. “HG&E currently offers its customers some of the lowest retail electric rates available in the Commonwealth and has a carbon footprint that is 25% of the average New England utility. Through this solar-power-purchase agreement with Constellation Energy, we are able to ensure affordability and price stability for our customers, and promote Holyoke as a more attractive location for new and existing industry, with no upfront capital expenditure.” HG&E’s solar power system will be comprised of 18,400 SolarWorld photovoltaic ground-mounted panels at two locations, and is expected to produce nearly 5.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. Generating the same amount of electricity using non-renewable sources would result in the release of 3,950 metric tons of carbon dioxide or the equivalent emissions from 755 passenger vehicles annually. “Large-scale solar generation is an attractive option for municipal utilities to manage volatile energy costs for their customers and meet renewable energy goals,” added Michael D. Smith, senior vice president of green initiatives for Constellation Energy’s retail business. “In states like Massachusetts with strong market-based incentive programs, Constellation can provide solar power to municipal utilities at a rate that is significantly less than electricity from other generation sources, which benefits both the environment and power customers’ bottom lines.” Constellation Energy, a Fortune 500 company, currently owns and operates approximately 60 megawatts of solar installations that have been completed or are under construction throughout the country. For more information, visit www.constellation.com.
State Workers’ Compensation Rate Saves Businesses $65M
BOSTON — The Patrick-Murray Administration’s vommissioner of Insurance Joseph G. Murphy has signed an agreement that holds workers’ compensation rates at current levels, saving businesses $65 million in proposed increases. The agreement between the Workers’ Compensation Rating and Inspecting Bureau (WCRIB), the Division of Insurance’s State Rating Bureau, and the attorney general’s Office holds rates at current levels until at least September 2012. The WCRIB had originally asked for an overall 6.6% increase. “Our goal at the Division of Insurance is to make sure that these rates are fair, they protect workers, and that they do not overly burden employers,” said Commissioner Murphy in a statement. “This agreement does all of those things.” Last year, an agreement with WCRIB cut overall rates 2.4%, instead of increasing them 4.5% as originally requested. That agreement also saved approximately $65 million in annual workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Traditionally, WCRIB files rate proposals every two years, but last year’s agreement included a required filing in the next year. Holding down workers’ compensation rates complements other efforts by the Patrick-Murray Administration to bring down insurance costs. The administration’s work to contain health insurance costs saved small businesses and working families $106 million in the last year. The three-year-old reform of auto insurance has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to drivers across the Commonwealth.
MMWEC: Connecticut Energy Tax “Unfair Burden”
LUDLOW — A proposed Connecticut tax on electric generation is “at the very least unfair” because it would cost Massachusetts consumers more than $9 million a year while Connecticut consumers pay nothing, according to the Mass. Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), which owns 4.8% of Millstone Unit 3, a nuclear power plant in Connecticut. Proponents of the tax, which is being proposed to address a Connecticut budget shortfall, say that the tax will not be passed on to Connecticut consumers by the electricity generators required to pay it. The proposed tax, which is working its way through the Connecticut General Assembly, would tax nuclear generation from Millstone at 2 cents/kilowatt hour, raising about $330 million a year in tax revenue for Connecticut from Millstone. Other proposed taxes on power plants that use oil and coal would raise about $10 million a year. MMWEC resells its share of electricity from Millstone Unit 3 at cost to 27 Massachusetts municipal utilities. Those 27 utilities provide electricity to approximately 265,000 customers in Massachusetts. Based on the electric output of Millstone Unit 3 and MMWEC’s ownership share of that output, the proposed tax on Millstone generation would cost MMWEC, its Millstone project participants and their consumers approximately $9.3 million a year, according to David Tuohey, director of communications and external affairs at MMWEC. Because MMWEC and its municipal utilities are nonprofit, public entities with no profits to absorb the tax, the Connecticut tax would be a direct pass-through to consumers, Tuohey said.
Howdy Award Finalists Named
SPRINGFIELD — More than 40 individuals from across the Pioneer Valley are finalists for the 2011 Howdy Awards for Hospitality Excellence, sponsored by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB). The finalists were recently honored at a reception to recognize front-line employees in the hospitality industry for providing outstanding service to their guests and customers. The finalists, who represent a variety of businesses, organizations and activities from throughout Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties, now move up to the next level of competition — judging by a group of recognized industry professionals from outside the region. The winners will then be announced and honored at a gala dinner and awards presentation on May 10 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. A Spotlight Award, which recognizes individuals or organizations that have made a significant contribution to the tourism industry in the Pioneer Valley, will also be presented that evening. Tickets to the gala are $65 per person, and $625 for a table of 10. For more information, call the GSCVB at (413) 755-1345. The GSCVB, an affiliate of the Economic Development Council of Western MA, is a private, nonprofit destination marketing organization dedicated to promoting the Pioneer Valley for meetings and conventions, group tours and leisure travel. For more information, visit www.valleyvisitor.com.