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Briefcase

State Moves Forward with Interstate 91 Study
SPRINGFIELD — State officials have chosen a consultant to study possible alternative alignments for Interstate 91 through Springfield, while highway officials proceed with a plan to replace decks on a deteriorating elevated portion of the highway in the city. The state Department of Transportation has selected the Cheshire, Conn.-based consulting firm Milone & MacBroom to evaluate alternatives for a section of Interstate 91, including possibly depressing the highway section to ground level or below ground. At the same time, the state highway division will be moving forward with a plan to replace decks on the crumbling Interstate 91 viaduct. Milone & MacBroom will study a section of Interstate 91 south of the most elevated portion of the viaduct near the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. At the same time, the state highway division will develop a plan for replacing the decks of the existing Interstate 91 viaduct, which raised safety concerns after a chunk of concrete fell from the section in April. The activity comes amid plans by MGM Resorts International to build $800 million casino in the South End of Springfield that would front Interstate 91 and would draw most of its traffic from the highway. MGM is competing with Mohegan Sun Massachusetts in Palmer for the single casino license to be awarded in Western Mass. The state is starting contract negotiations with Milone & MacBroom with a goal of starting work in January. The firm will coordinate with the state highway division as it moves forward with its proposal to replace the decks on the viaduct.

U.S. Manufacturing Gains 2,000 Jobs in September
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The latest monthly U.S. jobs report shows America’s manufacturing sector gained 2,000 jobs in September. However, for all of 2013, the U.S. has gained only 12,000 manufacturing jobs. Commented Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), “in manufacturing, we’ve been treading water for nearly 18 months now. Yet no one in Washington seems to care. The September jobs report shows that private-sector job growth, and manufacturing in particular, is too weak to put the U.S. on a sound fiscal footing or to get the middle class back on track. It’s time for Congress to stop manufacturing crises and deal with our real manufacturing crisis. Washington needs to put into place policies that will get America back to work. The neglect is glaring: 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. Math and science achievement down compared to other industrialized nations. And our economic competitors are not standing still. This is no way to run a country or to support the private sector’s efforts to create jobs. And here’s the kicker: the October numbers could be even worse.” President Obama set a goal of creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs in his second term. To follow the president’s progress, the AAM continually updates a jobs tracker based on monthly jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Student Debt Load Rising in Bay State
BOSTON — More students in Massachusetts public universities and colleges are incurring larger amounts of debt to finance their educations, the state higher education commissioner told lawmakers recently. “Let me sound the alarm on this issue,” Commissioner Richard Freeland said at the fourth in a series of hearings on college debt. “Make no mistake: the burden of student debt could derail us from achieving our goals.” The average debt for graduates of the University of Massachusetts system, other state universities, and community colleges increased 27% from fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2011, the last year for which data are available, Freeland said. And the percentage of graduates who accumulated debt rose across all levels, including a high of 64.8% at the state universities in 2011. The average graduate in the UMass system left with $26,844 in debt in 2011, an increase of $5,525 over three years earlier. At other state universities, the average figure was $22,362, a jump of $4,822. For graduates of community colleges, the average debt in 2011 ranged from $7,229 for graduates with associate degrees to $4,655 for graduates with one-year certificates or less. The percentage of graduates who left the UMass system in debt rose to 61.4% in 2011 from 57.9% in 2008. The biggest increase in public institutions, from 31.1% to 48.6%, was registered by community-college graduates with one- or two-year certificates.

Savage Arms, Cirtec Medical Win Grants
WESTFIELD, EAST LONGMEADOW — Firearms manufacturer Savage Arms in Westfield and Cirtec Medical in East Longmeadow, a maker of medical devices, have been awarded grants from the state’s Workforce Training Fund to expand their workforces and train employees in lean-manufacturing processes. Savage Arms was awarded $179,600, which will be used to train 400 employees, and 48 new jobs are expected to be created. Cirtec Medical was awarded $106,805, which will be used to train 63 employees, and three new jobs are expected to be created as a result of training. Lean manufacturing emphasizes on avoiding waste and improving quality, and is based on the Toyota manufacturing methods. The two awards are part of a package of 37 grants totaling $2.8 million. All told, the grants fund 3,106 current and newly hired employees. Savage Arms represents one-third of the total market for traditional firearms, with a particular focus on bolt-action rifles. Cirtec Medical is a contract design, development, and manufacturing firm focusing on medical devices, with a particular strength in active and passive implantable devices and minimally invasive systems.

State Increases Incentives for Hiring Veterans, Long-term Unemployed
BOSTON — The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced that it has more than doubled cash grants available to employers hiring Massachusetts residents who have been unemployed for six months or more, or Massachusetts veterans (regardless of length of unemployment). Increased grant funding is available through the state’s Hiring Incentive Training Grant (HITG), a program of the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund. Any for-profit company or nonprofit organization that contributes to the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund, a state fund enacted in 1998, is encouraged to apply. Eligible employers may now apply for grants of $5,000 for each new hire who meets the HITG program requirements. Employers may receive up to $75,000 each calendar year. Upon approval, payment will be available to the employer once the new hire has retained employment for at least 120 days. A copy of the Hiring Incentive Training Grant application, eligibility requirements, frequently asked questions, and other relevant materials are available at EOLWD’s website, www.mass.gov/hiringgrant. Grant awards are subject to funding availability, and applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

Retailers Cautious About Seasonal Hiring Boosts
WASHINGTON — Facing economic wariness and wavering consumer confidence, retailers are approaching their holiday hiring with caution, forecasters say. Research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said it expects hiring will, at best, match the 752,000 retail jobs that were added last year between October and December, and the National Retail Federation projects retailers will add between 720,000 and 780,000 seasonal workers this year. Retailers are making their staffing decisions against a backdrop of uncertainty caused by tepid economic growth and, more recently, standoffs in Congress over funding the federal government and the debt limit. Toys R Us plans to hire 45,000 workers, about the same as it hired last year. Kohl’s is poised to hire 50,000 workers, also consistent with its 2012 hiring. Macy’s is set to add 83,000 seasonal workers, a slight increase from the 80,000 brought on the previous year. Wal-Mart says it will hire 55,000 holiday workers, a 10% increase from 2012. It will also transition an additional 35,000 temporary workers to part-time positions and yet another 35,000 part-time workers to full-time positions. Meanwhile, Target plans to pare back its seasonal staffing, expecting to add 70,000 workers in 2013 compared with 88,000 last year. The company said it will focus on giving existing staffers the chance to work extra hours. Foot traffic to bricks-and-mortar stores is taking a hit as more consumers buy online. That growth is reflected in Amazon.com’s hiring plans; the online giant expects to create 70,000 seasonal positions, a 40% increase from last year. While holiday retail hiring is expected to be somewhat flat, sales are expected to inch up. The National Retail Federation forecasts a 3.9% increase to $602.1 billion, an improvement over last year’s sales growth of 3.5% over 2011.

WSU President Files Suit Against Several Parties
WESTFIELD — Evan Dobelle, the embattled president of Westfield State University who was placed on paid leave of absence last month amid investigations of alleged improper spending and violations of university policies regarding travel and credit, has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Springfield against a number of parties directly or indirectly related to the action taken against him. Dobelle, who is suing the university, Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, three trustees, the school’s accounting firm, a Boston law firm, and the university’s lawyers, is seeking an unspecified amount of money and legal fees. He claims that Freeland and the trustees are waging a “guerilla war for control of the university,” and that Freeland used extortion-like tactics in an attempt to force Dobelle from office. The suit also alleges that trustees Chairman John Flynn III conducted a “one-man investigation” into Dobelle’s travel between 2008 and 2013. Also named in the suit are trustees Kevin Queenin and Elizabeth Scheibel, the former Northwestern district attorney; the Braintree-based accounting firm O’Connell and Drew; Rudin and Rudman, a Boston law firm; and James Cox, lawyer for the Board of Trustees. The trustees voted on Oct. 15 to suspend Dobelle, following a 10-hou, closed-door meeting the president. The board also hired a Boston-based law firm to investigate Dobelle’s travel and spending, and report back by Nov. 25.

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