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Briefcase

UMass President Robert Caret to Step Down
AMHERST — University of Massachusetts president Robert Caret has announced he will leave his job after four years to become the next chancellor of the University of Maryland system. Caret, who became president of the five-campus UMass system in July 2011, begins his new position in July. Before coming to Massachusetts, he had spent much of his career at Towson University, near Baltimore, where he worked as a faculty member, dean, executive vice president, president, and provost. “I could not say no to an offer to return to my home state, where I will be closer to my family,” Caret wrote in a statement. He will succeed chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, who has led the 12-institution Maryland system for the past 12 years. In a statement, Kirwan praised his successor, saying, “I’ve known Bob Caret for several years. He has had significant positive impact on each institution he has led. The University System of Maryland and the state will benefit greatly from his leadership in the years ahead.” Caret, who will be formally introduced to the University of Maryland community at a news conference Friday, will earn $600,000 a year, and his contract will run for five years. At UMass, he was paid about $500,000 a year. He will be taking over a much larger system, with 162,000 students and an operating budget of $4.9 billion. UMass has half as many students and a budget of $2.9 billion.

MassBenchmarks Report Optimistic About Area’s Economic Prospects
HADLEY — The state’s workforce and job seekers have reason for optimism, according to the economists behind MassBenchmarks, a study of the state’s economy prepared by the UMass Donahue Institute. “State gross product growth has kept pace with strong national growth for the past two quarters,” according to the report. “State job growth has been steady, with software, information technology, and staffing-services sectors doing well. The Commonwealth’s labor force has grown consistently since June, as workers who were previously discouraged re-enter the labor market. And strikingly, Massachusetts has the fastest-growing population not only in New England, but in all of the Northeastern U.S. This is in large part due to international immigration and a lower level of domestic net outmigration than has been experienced in recent recoveries.” The state also appears to be benefiting from a national economic expansion that is gaining traction. The national jobs report for October was strong, with more than 300,000 jobs added, an increase in the average workweek, modestly rising wages, and upward revisions in job growth for August and September. Falling oil and gas prices are putting more money in the pockets of consumers and lowering business costs. Still, challenges remain, the report notes. “Electricity prices in Massachusetts are expected to rise steeply this winter largely as a result of the New England region’s ongoing difficulties in accessing a sufficient supply of natural gas to power its electricity generators. Rising electricity prices can be expected to partially offset the beneficial effects of the drop in oil prices and will create significant financial challenges for energy-intensive industrial users. Federal-government expenditures, long an important funding source for a variety of private-sector contractors and nonprofit research institutions (universities and hospitals), will continue to be squeezed. And, absent action on the part of the incoming governor and Legislature, state infrastructure spending will be significantly constrained in coming years now that state voters have determined that the gas tax will not be indexed to inflation.” In addition, housing production, especially single-family units, remains well below pre-Great Recession levels. “Despite these challenges,” the report goes on, “the Massachusetts economy continues to experience solid economic growth, particularly in the Greater Boston region, and the prospects for continued growth remain strong. After a weak first quarter of the year, the Massachusetts economy has rebounded strongly. While there continue to be serious concerns about the geographically and financially imbalanced nature of this recovery, the MassBenchmarks editorial board is as optimistic as it has been in some time and expects the state’s economic expansion to continue for the foreseeable future.”

Valley Gives Day Brings In More than $2.67 Million
SPRINGFIELD — Western Mass.-based nonprofits sent out the call, and their supporters gave — and gave and gave. In 24 hours, 14,189 donors made 28,824 gifts for a grand total of $2,676,595 at the third annual Valley Gives Day. In addition, a prize pool of $225,000 was distributed among several nonprofits. Organizations in three budget categories competed for bonus grants presented to the top three slots for ‘most unique donors.’ First prize was $5,000, second was $4,000, and third was $3,000. In keeping with a In addition, nonprofits in 12th place in each category were awarded a $1,200 bonus grant. In the category of large nonprofits, the winners were New England Public Radio (839 unique donors), Dakin Humane Society (739 donors), and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts (696 donors). Among medium-sized nonprofits, the winners were New Spirit Inc. (641 donors), Whole Children (632 donors), and Pioneer Valley Symphony (384 donors). Among small nonprofits, the winners were Friends of the Hilltown Cooperative Charter School Inc. (437 donors), Grow Food Northampton (342 donors), and the Jackson Street School PTO Inc. (299 donors). Other awards were given in the category of money raised by first-time participants, with first place going to the Jackson Street School PTO Inc. with $24,356. Also, hourly beginning at 9 a.m., a randomly selected donation to a participating nonprofit had a $1,000 golden ticket added to the total. Throughout the day, there were five bonus power hours (10 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., 6 p.m., and 9 p.m.) when a total of $22,000 golden tickets were added to randomly selected donations. The full list of nonprofits and their totals raised is available at www.valleygivesday.org. 

Leadership Pioneer Valley Launches Leadership 2.0
SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) is offering offering a new series of bite-sized training sessions beginning in January to enhance leadership skills and understanding of the region. The sessions are open to LPV alumni and other emerging and established leaders. LPV recognizes that leadership is a lifelong process, and the Leadership 2.0 series features six two- to three-hour training sessions on a variety of topics with the goal of deepening leadership skills, creating new and diverse connections, and making an impact on the region. The sessions are open to LPV alumni who want to continue their learning or others who are unable to be part of LPV’s 10-month program. The intent is to diversify Leadership Pioneer Valley’s offerings and create new opportunities. Workshop topics include “Effective Communications,” “Becoming a Superhero Board Member,” and a field experience to explore the Agawam area. The series sponsors include Sisters of Providence Health System/Mercy Hospital, Appleton Corp., the Beveridge Family Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Springfield Chamber Opposes Recommended Tax Rates in City
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Chamber of Commerce, an affiliate of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, announced that it has reviewed the city of Springfield’s proposal for property taxes for fiscal year 2015 and has issued a position paper opposing the rates recommended. “The Springfield Chamber, on behalf of its more than 500 members, has consistently advocated for a reduction in the heavy tax burden that has been shifted from the residential community onto the backs of the business community,” said chamber President Jeffrey Ciuffreda. “While the recommended tax rates being proposed by Mayor [Domenic] Sarno reduces both classes of rates, his proposal actually increases the burden again onto the business community, and that is something the chamber cannot accept.” The chamber has a stated, long-term goal of reducing the heavy burden of taxes that has been shifted onto the business community, especially over the past 10 years, to a level that is more reasonable and one that has been used in past years, it said in its position paper. “In 2004, the business classification of properties paid 12.93% more in property taxes than its percentage of overall value. The chamber refers to this increased business-tax burden as the ‘gap.’ Businesses made up 26.86% of all property values in Springfield, yet paid 39.79% of all the property taxes, and used less municipal services. The gap provides for the business community to pay additional taxes so that the residential tax rate can remain lower. Since 2004, the chamber has consistently advocated for a reduction in the gap. Despite these efforts, that gap has seen a steady increase, to its current level of 15.37%.” Ciuffreda said that, while the chamber firmly believes that reducing this burden will spur economic growth, it recognizes the current economic fragility of the city and, for fiscal year 2015, is simply recommending a freeze in the extra level of taxes borne by the business sector. The chamber recommends that the difference between what the business community pays and the percent of value it comprises overall remain at the current level of 15.37%. Under the chamber’s recommendation, all classes of property taxes would be reduced (to $19.68 for residents and $38.72 for businesses), but, more importantly, the gap between the business tax rate and the residential tax rate would remain level. Under the mayor’s proposal, the tax rates would be reduced, but the business sector would pay an even higher rate of taxes, increasing the gap to 15.57%, again shifting more of an already burdensome tax level onto the business community, the chamber argues.

Red Cross Seeks Nominations for Hometown Heroes
SPRINGFIELD — Each year, the American Red Cross of Western Massachusetts hosts the Hometown Heroes Breakfast to honor local individuals and groups that have shown courage, kindness, and unselfish character when a friend, family member, or stranger faced a life-threatening situation, or who have had an extraordinary impact on his or her community. Next year’s breakfast will take place on Thursday, March 19 from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. Members of the community are invited to nominate local heroes for consideration by sharing their story. Honorees will be selected by a committee of individuals from the community, including former Hometown Heroes. Submissions for nominations are welcome from throughout Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Nomination forms and criteria are available on the chapter website at www.redcross.org/news/event/ma/springfield. Nominations must be submitted online or postmarked no later than Dec. 31. This year’s event is being sponsored by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, Channel 22 News, the MassMutual Center, and OMG Inc. Additional sponsorship opportunities are still available for this event. Hometown Heroes is the chapter’s largest annual fund-raising event and supports the ability to provide the resources necessary to serve its communities. The American Red Cross of Western Massachusetts serves Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, assisting families affected by disaster, helping military families relay emergency communications to their deployed loved ones, and providing life-saving training programs. For further information, contact Gina Czerwinski at (413) 233-1035 or [email protected]

State Issues $12.2M to Reduce Healthcare Costs
LOWELL — Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rachel Kaprielian awarded more than $12.2 million in the latest round of grants to help train healthcare providers to improve patient service and reduce healthcare costs. The funding goes to 53 organizations across the state as part of the Patrick administration’s effort to encourage economic growth by supporting innovation in the Commonwealth’s healthcare industry. “These grants will help ensure healthcare providers succeed in implementing new models of service delivery and adapt to new payment structures,” said Kaprielian. “By providing resources to develop new and innovative training and education programs, Massachusetts will continue to solidify its place as a leader in healthcare modernization and advances.” In 2012, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law making Massachusetts the first state in the country to enact healthcare quality-improvement and cost-containment legislation. The act allocated $20 million to prepare the healthcare industry for the new demands and innovations called for in the legislation. Patrick announced the first round of grants in March, allowing businesses to assess their workforce and determine what skills and training they will need to change operations and deliver more efficient healthcare. For many of this week’s grantees, the training activity ahead builds on that planning work. All the grantees have identified a set of operational changes that are driving their need for increased workforce skills. The training activity will support new models for coordinating care across professions, institutions, and settings; focus on patient-centered care, stronger patient engagement, and health education to promote health and wellness; and spur the integration of primary care and behavioral health. In Western Mass., grants were awarded to Berkshire Health System ($249,286), Community Health Programs ($148,349), Baystate Medical Center ($249,682), Gandara Center ($250,000); Springfield Technical Community College ($156,338); and Carson Center for Human Services ($249,996).

Park with Ease Program Continues in Springfield
SPRINGFIELD — As the temperatures continue to drop, the Springfield Business Improvement District (SBID) plans to continue its Park with Ease valet program through the winter. “We are thrilled the community has responded so positively to our valet program,” said Chris Russell, executive director of SBID. “After many conversations with stakeholders downtown, including building owners, business owners, and community members, we kept hearing the same comment about parking issues, so we have addressed the concern.” Two valet stations are set up each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday along Main Street; simply look for the signs and valet kiosk. The first is at Court Square across from the MassMutual Center, and the other at the corner of Worthington and Main streets. Car acceptance runs from 5 to 9 p.m., with retrieval continuing until midnight. The SBID is underwriting the service, lowering the customer’s cost to just $5. For more information, visit www.springfielddowntown.com/parkwithease.

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