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Business Confidence Index Stabilizes
BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index stabilized in July after drops in May and June, adding a half-point to 50.5. “The index remains near the neutral midpoint of its 100-point scale, and results overall are very similar to what we saw in June,” said Raymond Torto, global chief economist at CB Richard Ellis Group Inc., chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors. “July brought more evidence of a lackluster economy, with the deadlock in Washington adding to the uncertainty about prospects for future growth. The deal reached at the end of the month to end the debt crisis may or may not restore faith in national leadership; it will not end the uncertainty, however, because we don’t know what the impact will be on the economy.” AIM’s Business Confidence Index has been issued monthly since July 1991 under the oversight of the Board of Economic Advisors. Its historical high was 68.5, attained in 1997 and 1998; its all-time low was 33.3 in February 2009. Although the index is up 2 points from last July, and about 10 points over two years, Torto noted, “a more realistic interpretation is that we saw confidence grow steadily from March 2009 to June 2010, and have bumped along since then.”

Baystate to Eliminate
354 Positions
SPRINGFIELD  — Citing continued cuts in state reimbursement and “the government’s inability to properly fund the expansion of health care,” as well as the lingering impact of a weak economy, Baystate Health recently announced a reduction in workforce totaling 354 positions. The cuts, announced on July 20, involve positions held by 169 managers and staff, as well as another 185 vacant, funded positions. Affected employees will receive severance pay and other benefits “in accordance with Baystate Health’s workforce-transition policy,” said Gregory Harb, executive vice president and COO at Baystate Health. “Our leadership carefully reviewed all positions system-wide, and … announced a reduction in our workforce by 354 positions.” Baystate Health, the region’s largest employer, took the action to ensure its financial viability and ability to fulfill its charitable mission, focused on improving the health of the people of Western Mass., said Mark Tolosky, president and CEO of the system. The combination of continued reductions in state reimbursements, inadequate funding of the expansion of health care, and a soft economy is creating dire situations for health care organizations throughout the state, and Baystate Health is not immune from these challenges, he added. Baystate senior leaders project a $25 million budget shortfall in 2011 growing to $54 million in 2012 unless expenses are reduced. Plans are to continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the long-term viability of the system. “At Baystate Health, we embrace changing models of patient care and health coverage expansion; however, these changes are not based on a properly funded plan,” said Tolosky. “Massachusetts has expanded and enhanced health care for our residents, which we applaud, but the Commonwealth is not paying for these commitments.” Elaborating, he said that health care providers are facing intense pressures to transition to a less costly, highly coordinated, patient-centered model of care amid an environment of continuing underpayments. Massachusetts health care providers are faced with freezes in reimbursements for patient care by Medicaid and other state programs, Tolosky explained, while medical inflation is rising by 3% to 4% annually. The disparity created by decreasing revenues and increasing costs threatens the financial viability of hospitals throughout the Commonwealth. Baystate, like so many others within health care, is being paid less than the cost of the care it provides, he went on. The three hospitals of Baystate Health — Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, and Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware — were underpaid $26.5 million by the state government for the cost of care for Medicaid patients in 2010. Medicaid patients represent 26% of the patient population at Baystate’s hospitals, resulting in significant financial loss for care of these patients.

Springfield Sells School Offices to Developer
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield City Council voted last month to sell the vacant for School Department office building at 195 State St. to CSM North of Acton for $1. In exchange, CSM North must deliver on its commitment to use private funds to develop the site into 30 to 35 market-rate apartments. The School Department moved out of the building a year ago, relocating to the old federal courthouse building. The 195 State St. property is considered one of many efforts by the city to encourage the development of market-rate housing in the city’s central business district, and therefore one of the keys to revitalization of that area.

East Baking Co. Approved for Tax-incentive Program
HOLYOKE — The Holyoke Office of Planning and Development announced last month that the Mass. Economic Assistance Coordinating Council had approved the East Baking Co. certified project. The certified project status allows the company to be eligible for state investment tax credits and local property-tax exemptions. East Baking Co. is relocating and expanding operations to its new facility at 104 Whiting Farms Road, located within the Holyoke Economic Opportunity Area. Prior to the state approval, the Holyoke City Council approved the project, which includes a tax-increment financing agreement. East Baking Co. is a five-year-old Massachusetts company that manufactures baked goods. It counts UMass Amherst and Baystate Health among its many clients. The company outgrew its original location and is consolidating all of its operations at the 28,000-square-foot facility in Holyoke.

Survey: Salaries to Increase — for Some
NEW YORK — Despite ongoing uncertainty, companies are betting on their best workers — and are willing to pay more to prove it, according to a recent survey. After years of stagnant wages, nearly all — 97% — of the 1,200 U.S. employers polled in a compensation survey by Mercer said they plan to increase salaries in 2012. The average increase in base pay is expected to be 3% in 2012, up slightly from 2.9% in 2011 and 2.7% in 2010, the consulting firm said. However, the top-performing employees — just 8% of the workforce — will see their salaries increase by an average of 4.8% next year, the survey said.

Springfield Wins Square Dance Convention
SPRINGFIELD — The City of Homes will become the city of square dancing for a week in 2015, following the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau’s successful bid to win a major convention. After a lengthy sales process, organizers of the National Square Dance Convention agreed to bring their event to Springfield for the first time. Nearly 7,000 attendees are expected for the convention.

Big E to Feature Diverse Lineup of Talent, Events
WEST SPRINGFIELD — The 2011 Big E, slated for Sept. 16 to Oct. 2, will feature a diverse lineup of talent this year, including Reba, Blake Shelton, and Darius Rucker. New England’s largest fair will also present two weekday Mardi Gras parades, sponsored by Mohegan Sun; the Big E Super Circus, sponsored by Coca-Cola; along with a assortment of rides, crafts, food, animals, and the best of the old and new that fairgoers have come to expect. The fair opens Friday, Sept. 16 with Be a Kid for a Day — all ages pay the children’s price of $10 — and Military Appreciation Day, honoring the men and women of the armed services; admission is free for military personnel and dependents with ID, as well as veterans with ID (copy of DD-214 or proof of membership to any veterans’ organization). For tickets, showtimes, and detailed information, visit thebige.com; www.facebook.com/thebige; or
twitter.com/the_big_e. Appearing on the Comcast Arena Stage will be:
Reba — Country-music legend and winner of seven CMAs and two Grammys, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m. (tickets: $69/$59/$49).
• Blake Shelton — Country sensation with four out of five gold albums, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. (tickets: $39/$29).
• Darius Rucker — Rising country star and former lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. (tickets: $39/$29).
• Freestyle Motocross — Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 17 and 18 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. (free).
• Bowzer’s Rock & Roll Party — John Bauman stars as his alter ego Bowzer, featuring his band, the Stingrays, and a lineup of 50s and 60s bands, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m. (free).
• Jake Owen — CMA-nominated, rising country star, Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. (free).
• An Evening with Cheap Trick — 70s icons, writer and producer of The Colbert Report theme song, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. (free).
Appearing on the Court of Honor Stage, sponsored by Comcast, will be:
• Extreme Vegas — Spectacular illusions, acrobatics, and more, daily at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8 p.m.;
• Frankie Lymon’s Legendary Teenagers — Sept. 16-22 at 1 and 6:30 p.m.;
• The Buckinghams — “Kind of a Drag,” “Don’t You Care,” Sept. 23-27 at 1 and 6:30 p.m.;
• Yvonne Elliman — Disco diva, Sept. 28-Oct. 2 at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
• Galaxy Girl — Tina Winn, who swings on a 120-foot sway pole, daily at 2, 5, and 7 p.m.

OPAL Real Estate Named Preferred Developer for Court Square Project
SPRINGFIELD – A development group led by local businessman Peter Picknelly has been designated the preferred developer for a project to convert a long-vacant office building on Elm Street at Court Square into a multi-million-dollar project with a mix of retail, office, and residential uses. The Springfield Redevelopment Authority, which owns the six-story office building at 13-31 Elm St. and four connected properties, voted unanimously in July to designate OPAL Real Estate Group of Springfield as preferred developer. The preferred-developer designation is for 120 days and, if successful, would culminate with the sale of the property to the developer. Picknelly is president of OPAL and Peter Pan Bus Lines. The OPAL team also includes Demetrios Panteleakis, managing partner; Robert Schwarz, executive vice-president; and Mark Healy, vice president of brokerage.

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