Ludlow Riverwalk Moves Forward
LUDLOW — The Westmass Area Development Corp. has announced that it is seeking bids for phase one of the Riverwalk project, part of the approved Ludlow Mills Preservation and Redevelopment Master Plan, and has advertised for bids from contractors. Bids will be opened on Aug. 21, with construction expected to begin in the fall. The Riverwalk is one of the early commitments that Westmass made to the town of Ludlow and its residents, and is being funded through a partnership between HealthSouth and Westmass. The Riverwalk will offer public space for foot traffic and passive recreation, opening up the Chicopee River to Ludlow Mills businesses and residents of Ludlow. This phase of the project will start near Center Street, just east of the town common, run along the river toward the new HealthSouth Hospital, and then return through the proposed future park and reconnect with the recently installed municipal sidewalk system on State Street. This initial phase of construction is expected to cost more than $500,000. “The solicitation of bids to construct the Ludlow Mills Riverwalk represents another important development as the project begins to realize its potential as a significant mixed-use economic resource for Ludlow and for all of Western Mass.,” said Kenn Delude, president and CEO of Westmass. He noted that the Ludlow Mills project would not have been possible without the support of the Western Mass. legislative delegation, particularly the efforts of state Rep. Tom Petrolati and state Sen. Gail Candaras. Together, the proposed Riverwalk and future public park will cover approximately 52 acres, or roughly one-third of the Ludlow Mills project site. Westmass intends to convey that entire area to the town so that it will remain in public use. These open spaces and recreational areas are intended to integrate the Ludlow Mills project into the neighborhood and community, said Delude, and also support the many existing and new businesses that are attracted by the vibrancy of the Ludlow Mills. Redevelopment of the Ludlow Mills complex over the next 15 to 20 years will create and retain more than 2,000 jobs and stimulate up to $300 million in private investment, he said, adding that the initiative is a mixed-use project with a primary focus on commercial and industrial development.
Business Confidence Index Climbs in July
BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index showed further strength in July, adding 2.5 points to 56.2. “Business confidence in Massachusetts, after sliding into the neutral range for more than a year, has climbed back to within a point of its post-recession high of 57.1 in April 2012,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The index was up 3.7 points compared to July 2013. Last year, Torto noted, uncertainty arising from political deadlock in Washington and the threat of financial crisis in Europe, plus fiscal drag from tax increases and unsteady economic growth in the U.S. and globally, held down confidence. “However, this year, we have seen rising business confidence and, not coincidentally, more robust job creation,” he went on. “The biggest year-to-year gainers among our sub-indices are those tracking general business conditions in the state and nation, which appears to reflect a growing sense among employers that they are operating in something like a normal economy.” AIM’s Business Confidence Index has been issued monthly since July 1991 under the oversight of the Board of Economic Advisors. Presented on a 100-point scale on which 50 is neutral, its historical high was 68.5, attained in 1997 and 1998; its all-time low was 33.3 in February 2009. All but one of the sub-indices based on selected questions or respondent characteristics were up from June to July, and all were above their levels of a year before. The Current Index, tracking employers’ assessment of existing business conditions, added three points from June to 55.8, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for the next six months, rose two points to 56.6. “Since its stumble in the first quarter, the economy has rebounded well, and employment has been trending up,” remarked BEA member Michael Tyler, chief investment officer at Eastern Bank Wealth Management. “It is gratifying to see more people returning to the workforce and finding jobs. If this trend continues to gain momentum, the Federal Reserve will need to rein in overly optimistic expectations by raising interest rates sometime next year.” The U.S. Index of business conditions prevailing nationally rose 3.7 points in July to 51.9, and the Massachusetts Index of conditions within the Commonwealth gained 4.9 to 55.8. Compared to last July, these sub-indices were up 5.9 and 6.4, respectively. “The state indicator is higher and has risen more, but was at this level as recently as April 2012,” said Tyler. “The U.S. Index, by contrast, has not been this high since August 2007, or above 50 since October 2007, before the recession. The national economy faced something of a stress test in the first quarter of this year, and passed it.” The Company Index, which measures survey respondents’ overall confidence in the situations of their own operations, rose 1.5 points in July to 58.0. The Employment Index added 1.4 points to 56.0, and the Sales Index edged up three-tenths to 57.9. Each was up between two and three points on the year. “Many Massachusetts employers added staff in the first half of the year, with additions outweighing reductions by almost three to one (34% to 12%), and expectations for the next six months are similar,” said Sara Johnson, senior research director of Global Economics at IHS Global Insight, a BEA member. “Greater confidence in the stability of the economy is at last making employers more willing to hire.” Confidence was up in July among manufacturers (+5.1 to 56.6) and off slightly among other employers (-0.8 to 56.0). There was a similar small difference in confidence levels between employers outside Greater Boston (56.6, +3.8) and those within the metropolitan area (56.0, +1.8). Large employers were somewhat more confident than small ones, but all size groupings were on the positive side. “We have been seeing greater consistency in our survey responses across sector, geography, and size for several months, and that continued in July,” Johnson noted. “In Massachusetts, as in the country as a whole, some regions and industries came back from the recession much more quickly than others, but as time goes on, the differences are evening out, or at least becoming less stark.”
Attorney General Files Suit Against Evan Dobelle
WESTFIELD — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a lawsuit against former Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle on Thursday, alleging that he improperly spent nearly $100,000 in university resources on personal expenses. Filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the suit alleges that Dobelle, who resigned his position in November 2013 amid searing controversy about his lavish spending, filed false reports to Westfield State to justify $59,000 in personal expenses and $39,000 in personal travel. The suit said Dobelle claimed to be attending conferences, raising money, or doing other university business when he was primarily there on personal business. “We allege the former president of the university blatently misued public funds for trips that were nothing but week-long vacations with family and friends,” said Coakley in a statement. “This pattern of inappropriate spending of state funds is unacceptable, as leaders of public schools should be enforcing their policies instead of knowingly violating them for their own personal benefit.”
State Labor Secretary Visits Tech Foundry
SPRINGFIELD — Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rachel Kaprielian recently sat in on the first class of students at Tech Foundry, a new workforce-development program that will recruit, train, and place urban high-school students, unemployed college graduates, and veterans in jobs within the high-tech industry in the Pioneer Valley. Tech Foundry is just one of a number of organizations participating in the Commonwealth’s YouthWorks program, which subsidized jobs and training for more than 4,800 at-risk teens and young adults in 31 communities this summer. “This is the kind of innovative use of YouthWorks funding that the Patrick Administration would like to see replicated across the state,” said Kaprielian. “Tech Foundry partnered with the Hampden Regional Employment Board (REB) and New England Farm Workers’ Council, which operates the YouthWorks program in Springfield, to introduce these students to in-demand careers and fill the shortage of computer-science professionals in Western Mass.” Kaprielian shadowed 17-year-old Arian Richardson, one of 22 students in the inaugural class who is taking classes and earning ‘badges’ in hard and soft skills to set them up for entry-level jobs in the tech industry. The high-school students are learning how to dress professionally and interview, as well as basic computer science like scripting and network management. In between classes, the students intern at local tech firms. “I know that successful business leaders have to know much more about technology than ever before to be competitive in their industry,” said Richardson. “I want to learn technology so that I can be a better leader down the road.” Added Delcie Bean, president of Tech Foundry and owner of Paragus Strategic IT, “we believe our approach to badge-based learning combined with a curriculum that is 100% driven by regional employers is a unique model that is not only going to someday make Springfield a large employer of IT talent in the country, but also serve as a model for other industries. We are incredibly grateful to have such a great relationship with the REB and Farm Workers’ Council.” David Cruise, executive director of the Hampden Regional Employment Board, noted that “Tech Foundry represents an innovative opportunity for students to experience a summer of work and learning that exposes them to educational and career pathways in a high-demand industry. The REB is excited about this partnership with Tech Foundry and looks forward to expanding its partnership going forward.”
Patrick Signs Bill to Stimulate Growth
BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick has signed H.4377, “An Act to Promote Economic Growth in the Commonwealth,” building on his administration’s economic-development strategy of investing in education, innovation, and infrastructure. The economic-development package provides new tools and training to ensure the Massachusetts workforce meets the needs of employers, invests in Gateway Cities to promote development across the entire state, and provides incentives to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Patrick also refiled legislation that limits the use of non-compete agreements and adopts the Uniform Trade Secrets Act to ensure that government acts to retain talented entrepreneurs, supports individual career growth, and encourages the development of new, innovative businesses to drive future economic growth. The legislation also includes a provision to give local governments across Massachusetts control over the number of liquor licenses in their jurisdiction. Placing the authority to approve liquor licenses in the hands of municipal officials will allow local communities to make responsible decisions regarding their economic development and growth, helping to free the Legislature from time-consuming local issues. “In important ways, this legislation improves existing tools and provides a few new ones to continue our strong job growth, and I thank the Legislature for being so responsive,” said Patrick. “At the same time, we have unfinished business, so I am filing further legislation today to give innovators and municipalities all the tools they need to grow jobs and opportunity.” The act bolsters the economic revitalization of the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities with $15 million for the Gateway Cities Transformative Development Fund and encourages the reuse of brownfields in economically distressed areas of Massachusetts with $10 million in funding. “This legislation makes many targeted investments in our emerging industries, like big data and advanced manufacturing, that are necessary to create a competitive environment here in Massachusetts and grow our status as a leader in the world economy,” said Senate President Therese Murray. “By capitalizing on our state’s existing and developing industries, as well as investing in a strong, educated workforce, we are outlining a path to success for our residents and promoting economic development throughout the entire Commonwealth.” Added House Speaker Robert DeLeo, “this comprehensive bill will help ensure that residents, businesses, and communities are able to compete and excel in a dynamic economy. We’ve made substantial gains in strengthening our economy and must now focus on broadening the circle of prosperity beyond Greater Boston to all regions of the Commonwealth. This bill does just that while preparing future leaders through provisions like MassCAN, a computer-science-education partnership, and the Talent Pipeline Initiative.” In the area of workforce development and training, the act includes $12 million for the Middle Skills Job Training Grant Fund to support advanced manufacturing, mechanical and technical skills at vocational-technical schools, and community colleges. Also, the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund will receive $1.5 million to prepare Massachuse tts residents for new jobs in high-demand occupations, helping close the middle-skills gap and creating a seamless pathway to employment. The economic-development legislation also includes a number of initiatives to expand the Commonwealth’s world-class innovation economy, including $2 million for a Big Data Innovation and Workforce Fund to promote the use of big data, open data, and analytics, and $2 million for the Innovation Institute Fund at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The legislation also creates a $1 million talent-pipeline program that will provide matching grants aimed at increasing technology and innovation internships, and another $1 million for a startup mentoring program to connect early-stage entrepreneurs, technology startups, and small business with experienced business enterprises and capital financing.
Berkshire Museum Wins Energy-incentive Grants
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Museum has been awarded energy-incentive grants totaling $83,600 from Berkshire Gas and Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECo) in partial funding for a project to incorporate energy-efficiency measures into the museum’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) building systems. Berkshire Gas awarded $50,000, and WMECo provided $33,600 for an innovative solution to control humidity, which is necessary to protect the museum’s collections of art, historical objects, and natural specimens. The design innovation recycles the heat byproduct from a new high-efficiency chiller, thereby saving energy while providing humidity control. The HVAC improvements were implemented over the past year as part of the museum’s 21st Century Energy project, which included changes to the building envelope and lighting systems, also with the aim of reducing energy consumption. An engineering study determined that the museum will reduce both electricity and gas use for an annual savings of $60,000 at current prices. Lead funding for the museum’s 21st Century Energy project was provided by a $1 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in September 2012. “We are thrilled to have contributed in this way to the important mission of the Berkshire Museum,” said Berkshire Gas President Karen Zink. “Innovative energy-management technologies and practices will allow visitors to experience the treasures of the past and present well into the future.” Berkshire Museum Executive Director Van Shields said that “the representatives from WMECo and Berkshire Gas played a critical role in helping us sort through different approaches to control temperature and humidity, while improving energy conservation. Having their expertise on the design team from the very beginning helped us create the innovative solution to meet our needs. We are very grateful to our energy providers for their proactive participation in helping design systems to conserve energy, and for the grants that helped us implement our plans.” Located at 39 South St. in downtown Pittsfield, Berkshire Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $13 for adults, $6 for children, and free for members and children age 3 and under. For more information, visit www.berkshiremuseum.org or call (413) 443-7171.