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GSCVB Touts Discounts in Updated WOW Value Book

SPRINGFIELD — The Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) has produced a new edition of the WOW Value Book, a collection of discount coupons for several of the Pioneer Valley’s leading attractions, restaurants, shops, and more. Offers include discounted admission prices, free restaurant items with the purchase of entrée selections, and shopping discounts. More than 12,500 copies of the dollar-bill-sized book have been printed. Each of the offers highlighted in the coupon book are also available online by visiting www.valleyvisitor.com and clicking “Download WOW Values.” The book offers more than $100 in total savings. According to GSCVB President Mary Kay Wydra, “we got a terrific response to the earlier edition of the WOW Value Book that we released several months ago, and it was our plan to have subsequent editions to allow our seasonal attractions to participate. We created the book for people who came to the region to attend conventions and meetings, to encourage them to visit our restaurants, shops, and attractions in their free time. It also came in handy for people who couldn’t download and print the coupons on our Web site.” Pioneer Valley residents who would like a copy of the WOW Value Book should email [email protected] and provide their name and mailing address, or call (413) 787-1548. The book’s participants include: Adolfo’s Ristorante, Artist Square Group Art Gallery, Bright Nights at Forest Park, CityStage and Symphony Hall, Frigo’s Foods, the Handbag Outlet, La Fiorentina Pastry Shop, Mana Iguana’s, Nadim’s Mediterranean Grill, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Petra Hookah Lounge, Springfield Museums, the Student Prince Café and the Fort Dining Room, Zonin’s Deli, and the Zoo in Forest Park, all in Springfield; the Pizza Guy and Six Flags New England in Agawam; the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the White Hut in Amherst; Lee Premium Outlets in Lee; the Loft Restaurant & Lounge in Northampton; Renew.calm, Storrowtown Tavern & Carriage House, and the White Hut in West Springfield; Horizons Restaurant & Bar in Wilbraham; the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford; and Friendly’s locations throughout the Pioneer Valley.

 

Survey: Employers Increase Health and Wellness Benefits

ATLANTA — More employers are offering benefits that encourage employees to improve their health, according to a survey released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) at its 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition in Atlanta. Over the past five years, benefits that reward employees for improving their health have jumped — a sign that organizations are looking for ways to cut business costs and recognize that employees value these benefits. For example, the percentage of employers offering health and lifestyle coaching jumped from 33% in 2008 to 45% in 2012, and rewards or bonuses for completing a health and wellness program increased from 23% in 2008 to 35% in 2012. “Employers recognize that providing employees with the opportunity to improve their health can increase morale, confidence, and productivity,” said Mark Schmit, vice president of research at SHRM. “Organizations continue to look for ways to manage costs as the economy slowly improves. Benefits that encourage healthier behavior are a cost-effective way to keep up employee morale, while healthier employees also help decrease health care costs to employers and employees.” SHRM’s 2012 Employee Benefits Survey found that, while most employee benefits stabilized this year, 73% of HR professionals reported that the economic downtown negatively impacted employee-benefit offerings (11% to a large extent and 62% to some extent). This is more or less the same as in 2011, when 77% said the economy negatively affected benefits to some or a large extent. Because of the economy and recent employment-related legislation, many employers have switched to benefits that shift primary responsibility and control to employees. For example, more employers offer defined-contribution retirement-savings plans (92%) than defined-benefit pension plans (21%) in 2012, putting the impetus on employees to manage their own retirement savings instead of relying on employer-provided pensions. “By shifting primary responsibility in controlling certain health care and financial benefits, employers are recognizing a shift in workplace culture,” said Schmit. “The new plans allow employees have more control over how they save for retirement and manage their health, while reducing costs for employers. These plans are also more flexible, and thus more attractive, to employees who will likely not spend an entire career with one organization.” Employer spending on benefits remained stable this year, with organizations spending, on average, 19% of an employee’s annual salary on voluntary benefits, 18% on mandatory benefits, and 10% on pay for time employees did not work. Paid-time-off plans have become more  popular; more than half of organizations (51%) provide paid-time-off plans, a combination of traditional vacation time, sick leave, and personal days in one plan, up from 42% in 2009. For more survey data, visit shrm.org/surveys.

 

 

Construction Backlog Bounces Back in

Second Quarter

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) reported that its Construction Backlog Indicator (CBI) rose 4.3% in the second quarter of 2012 after declining the two previous quarters. Despite the quarterly expansion, CBI is 0.3 months, or 4.2%, below the second quarter of 2011, and progress in the Northeast region of the U.S remains sluggish. CBI is a forward-looking economic indicator that measures the amount of construction work under contract to be completed in the future. “The CBI accurately predicted both the broader economic softness experienced during the first half of 2012, as well as a flattening of the nation’s non-residential construction recovery,” said ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “The latest CBI data is now projecting gradual acceleration in non-residential construction spending, and perhaps a slight increase in the overall pace of construction activity going forward. Unfortunately, any improvement in non-residential construction activity is likely to remain modest given the ongoing uncertainty regarding America’s fiscal cliff — a number of tax increases and spending cuts that take effect at the end of the year — as well as European sovereign-debt issues and increasingly volatile energy prices. While there is pent-up demand for new construction in the power, manufacturing, and infrastructure segments, the level of economic and political uncertainty remains far too elevated to permit more aggressive non-residential-construction spending recovery in the near term.” During the second quarter of 2012, the Northeast had the smallest gain in construction backlog at 0.05 months for the quarter, and is now at 7.28 months. Across the U.S. average construction backlog rose for all monitored industry segments after declining the two previous quarters. The infrastructure segment registered the largest quarter-to-quarter construction backlog increase, up 1.4 months to more than 10 months — the first time infrastructure backlog has been above 10 months since the second quarter of 2010. Construction backlog in the heavy-industrial category is at its highest level since the first quarter of 2011, but at the lowest level of all the industry segments at 5.92 months. Construction backlog in the commercial and institutional segment is 0.85 months lower than one year ago, and now stands at 7.78 months.

 

Prices of Construction Materials Decline Again

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Prices of construction materials declined 0.7% in July, according to the Aug. 14 Producer Price Index report released by the U.S. Department of Labor. On a yearly basis, construction materials prices are down 0.6% — the first year-over-year decline since November 2009, when non-residential construction spending was at its lowest point. Non-residential construction materials prices also are down, falling 0.9% for the month and 1.2% for the year. Prices for iron and steel dropped 3.7% for the month and are 9.7% lower on a yearly basis. Softwood lumber prices fell 3.7% in July, but are still 5.9% higher than in July 2011. Steel-mill product prices decreased 2.8% for the month and are down 5.9% year over year. Prices for fabricated structural metal products slipped 1% for the month and are up 0.1% during the past 12 months. Prices for prepared asphalt, tar roofing, and siding surged 5.4% for the month, but are still down 3.8% year over year. Non-ferrous wire and cable prices increased 0.5% for the month, but are down 8.9% from July 2011. Prices for concrete products are up 0.3% for the month and are 1.8% higher year over year. Prices for plumbing fixtures and fittings inched up 0.1% in July and are 1.2% more expensive than one year ago. Crude-energy-material prices increased 0.6% in July, the first monthly increase since February 2012. Year over year, crude-energy-material prices are down 19.1%. Overall, the nation’s wholesale-goods prices increased 0.3% for the month and are 0.5% higher than in July 2011. The report “should be viewed by the non-residential construction industry as good news,” said Anirban Basu, chief economist at Associated Builders and Contractors. “Prices of a number of key inputs declined significantly last month, including steel-mill products, iron and steel, and softwood lumber. Lower construction materials prices translate into more attractive project pro-formas, which in turn make it more likely that a project will be financed and move forward. While it is true that last month’s decline in materials prices is a reflection of a still-sluggish economic environment, there are reasons for growing optimism. For example, much of the economy’s lackluster performance can be attributed to ongoing uncertainty emerging from Washington, D.C., including the looming fiscal cliff. If Congress acts soon to create greater certainty around federal budgetary and taxation issues, the level of business certainty would increase meaningfully. That would result in the availability of more risk-seeking capital to finance projects. Anecdotal and survey information indicate that bankers are becoming more aggressive in their lending. Lower and more stable materials prices are associated with less risky construction, and permanent loans and are more likely to attract capital to construction projects. This means that, for the first time in several months, more robust recovery in non-residential construction spending is conceivable. However, Congress and the administration still must act appropriately before capital becomes sufficiently risk-seeking.”

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