WRC Launches Wicked Wednesdays
WEST SPRINGFIELD — The West of the River Chamber of Commerce (WRC) has a new lineup of events for the business community as well as career-minded students, including Wicked Wednesdays. Starting in March, Wicked Wednesdays will be conducted on the first Wednesday of every month, to be hosted by various businesses throughout Agawam and West Springfield. The gatherings are free for members and $10 for non-members. The first event is planned for March 7 at 5 p.m. at Westfield Bank, 206 Park St., West Springfield. For more information about Wicked Wednesdays or other events, visit www.ourwrc.com or call (413) 426-3880.

Construction Employment Hits Two-year High
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The construction sector added 21,000 jobs in January as a second consecutive month of unseasonably mild winter weather helped the industry raise employment to a two-year high, according to an analysis of new federal employment data recently released by Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials cautioned that the gains remain fragile amid declining public-sector investments in construction and infrastructure. “Although it’s great news that the industry has added 52,000 jobs in the past two months, the unemployment rate in construction is still double that of the overall economy, and construction employment remains at 1996 levels,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “It will take another month or two to see if the recent job growth reflects a sustained pickup or merely acceleration of home building and highway projects that normally halt when the ground freezes in December and January.” Total construction employment now stands at 5,572,000, or 0.4% higher than a month earlier, and 116,000 (21%) higher than in January 2011 — which was an exceptionally cold and snowy month in many regions, noted Simonson. He added that construction employment is still 28% below its peak level of 7,726,000 in April 2006 and is no higher than in August 1996. The industry’s unemployment rate in January was 17.7%, not seasonally adjusted, Simonson noted. The rate was down from 22.5% a year earlier but still double the all-industry rate of 8.8% (8.5%, seasonally adjusted). Job gains occurred at similar rates across the major construction segments in the past year, added Simonson. Heavy and civil-engineering construction employment grew by 2.6% or 21,000 jobs from January 2011 to last month. Non-residential building and specialty trade contractors increased their combined employment by 2% (17,000 jobs), while employment among residential building and specialty trade contractors rose by 2.1% (41,000 jobs), he said. Association officials said the across-the-board increase in construction jobs was heartening, but they were concerned that an ongoing failure to enact highway and other infrastructure funding in Washington would drag down employment numbers across the industry, especially in heavy and civil-engineering construction. “While it is encouraging to see some recent progress on aviation and surface transportation measures, it is vital that Congress and the White House make passing key infrastructure and pro-growth measures a top priority,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s CEO. “Without adequate long-term funding for infrastructure, competitive tax rates, and fewer costly regulatory hurdles, the construction industry may lose many of the jobs it has gained in the past year.”

Submissions Sought for Mass. Chamber Awards
BOSTON — The Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is seeking submissions for the annual Business of the Year and Employer of Choice awards. Business of the Year recipients receive statewide visibility for companies that have dedicated resources toward working with lawmakers in Boston and Washington, D.C., to make changes and support laws that improve the business climate in Massachusetts. The Employer of Choice award, sponsored by the Employers Association of the NorthEast, provides statewide visibility for companies that have developed a culture for transforming and rewarding employee performance. The awards committee ranks companies based on the following criteria: company culture, training and development, communication, performance recognition and rewards, life/work balance, and Employer of Choice-related results of on-site visits performed. An award will also be presented to a business in the manufacturing and non-manufacturing/service sectors. Applications will be accepted until April 9. Winners of both awards will receive invitations to attend the Massachusetts Business Summit in September in Hyannis, where they will meet other business leaders from across Massachusetts, as well as state and local elected officials, and will be recognized at a luncheon in their honor on Sept. 11. The application process is free. For more information or to obtain an application, visit www.masschambersummit.com or call (617) 512-9667 or (413) 426-3850. The Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce provides legislative advocacy, marketing, networking, and educational and informational programs for businesses across the state. The chamber also provides managerial services for local chambers of commerce and professional organizations such as the West of the River Chamber of Commerce and the Realtors Commercial Alliance of Massachusetts.

Employers Step Up
Hiring in January
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The nation’s labor market posted strong gains in January, according to a recent statement by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “The economy added 257,000 private-sector jobs last month, exceeding expectations, while the unemployment rate dropped to 8.3% — its lowest level since February 2009,” said Solis. “These numbers show that the labor market continues on a positive trajectory.” More than 3.7 million private-sector jobs have been created over the last 23 months, according to revised numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. January’s job growth was the strongest in nine months. The unemployment rate among African-Americans fell by 2.2% in January down to 13.6% — the largest one-month drop in recorded history. “The national unemployment rate has fallen by 0.8% in the last five months,” added Solis. “The drop in unemployment has been driven by employment gains, not workers leaving the labor force. We’re seeing accelerated growth in our labor force across almost every industry.” Solis noted that the manufacturing industry surged in January, adding 50,000 jobs. “Over the past year, we’ve added 235,000 manufacturing jobs,” she said. “More products are rolling off the assembly line marked ‘made in the USA.’ We can build on this encouraging trend if Congress acts on the president’s proposals to remove tax incentives for companies that ship American jobs overseas and invests in training programs so our workers can fill existing openings in advanced manufacturing. January’s employment numbers exceeded all forecasts and provide the strongest evidence yet that our economic recovery is on track.”

Census Bureau Reports Post-recession Growth in 10 of 11 Service Sectors
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its 2010 Service Annual Survey, which shows that, of the nation’s 11 service sectors, 10 showed an increase in revenues for employer firms between 2009 and 2010. Only the finance and insurance sector showed a loss ($27.2 billion, down 0.8%). “The statistics presented in this year’s Service Annual Survey are noteworthy,” said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau’s deputy director. “We are able to present a six-year trend that clearly shows the impact the most recent recession had on certain service sectors. At the same time, the newly released 2010 statistics show that, in some industries, there is evidence of a statistically significant change in an upward direction.” These figures are the first findings from this survey to track the revenues of services after the December 2007 to June 2009 recession. The survey provides the most comprehensive national statistics available annually on service activity in the U.S. Since 2009, the survey has been expanded to collect data for all service industries, capturing 55% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Previously, the survey accounted for only 30% of GDP.
“Increases varied widely across service sectors,” said Mesenbourg. For example, the information sector increased from $1.08 trillion to $1.1 trillion. Within this sector, Internet publishing and broadcasting continued to see increased revenues, up 11.3% from $19.1 billion to $21.3 billion in 2010. Television broadcasting increased 12.0% from $31.6 billion to $35 billion. Cable and subscription other programming as well as wireless telecommunications carriers also saw increases in revenue of 7.3% and 5.3%, respectively, to $55.2 billion and $195.5 billion. However, revenues for newspaper and periodical publishers continued to fall. Newspaper publishers declined by 4.6% to $34.7 billion, and periodical publishers declined 1.8% to $38.4 billion. Wired telecommunications carriers continued to decline, falling 2.3% to $168.8 billion. Health care and social-assistance revenue continued to increase for employer firms, rising to $1.9 trillion in 2010, an increase of 4.0%. Hospitals increased revenue to $822.6 billion, up 4.5% from 2009. Nursing and residential care facilities also rose 4.4% to $192 billion.  The finance and insurance sector had a small decline to $3.3 trillion in revenues in 2010, decreasing 0.8% from the prior year. Revenues for securities and commodity exchanges decreased 1.5% to $10.9 billion, while miscellaneous intermediation revenue rose 16.0% to $23.6 billion. Among other sectors covered by the Service Annual Survey, the utilities sector showed estimated revenues of $501.7 billion, an increase of 5.0% from $477.6 billion in 2009. Arts, entertainment, and recreation increased 2.0% to $192 billion in revenue. Revenues for the transportation and warehousing sector were $640.2 billion in 2010, up 7.6% from $595.2 billion in 2009. The real-estate rental and leasing sector had total revenues of $356.0 billion, up 1.8% from 2009. New subsectors added last year to this sector included real estate and lessors of nonfinancial, intangible assets. For measures of sampling variability and other survey information, visit www.census.gov/svsd/www/cv.html.

Retailers Say January
Ends on Mixed Note
NEW YORK — The fiscal month of January ended on a mixed note for retailers, as retail sales rose marginally on a week-over-week basis. For the week ending Jan. 28, weekly retail sales rose modestly by 0.1%, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and the Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index. However, on a year-over-year basis, retail sales rose sharply by 3.9% to end the fiscal month, which was lifted by a weather-depressed sales performance during the same week of 2011. “With the fiscal month and year coming to a close this past week, retail sales once again showed how much sales patterns can shift, especially in January,” said Michael Niemira, ICSC vice president of research and chief economist. “The good news is that sales on a year-over-year basis continue to show strength, which is a positive sign as the industry moves into the new fiscal year beginning this week.” For January, ICSC Research anticipates that January comparable-store sales for the retail industry will increase by 2% to 3% on a year-over-year basis when retailers release their monthly sales figures in February. The Weekly Chain Store Sales Snapshot measures U.S. nominal same-store or comparable-store sales excluding restaurant and vehicle demand. The weekly index is constructed as a sales-weighted geometric average growth rate to preserve long-term consistency, and is statistically benchmarked to a broad-based, monthly retail-industry sales aggregate that currently represents approximately 40 retail chain stores, also compiled by ICSC.

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