$5 Million Allocated to UMass Amherst for R&D Center at Westover
CHICOPEE — Gov. Deval Patrick recently released a business plan on growth opportunities at Westover Airport, outlining numerous steps the Commonwealth and Greater Chicopee region can undertake to grow the economy in Western Mass. and to support the mission of Westover Air Reserve Base (ARB), the joint user of the military and civilian airfield. As a result of the plan’s findings, Patrick announced four initiatives to benefit the Westover region, including the proposed creation of a UMass Amherst Research, Development, and Training Center in Chicopee. “Westover Airport and Westover Air Reserve Base are two stellar assets with so much potential for smart growth,” said Patrick. “To support the region’s economy and potential for more private and commercial air service, I commissioned this report to look at a wide variety of options. I’m pleased with the team’s effort and with UMass Amherst’s plan to open a research, development, and training center in Chicopee to tap into the innovative minds in the city and region.” Patrick has allocated up to $5 million to UMass Amherst to support the creation of a research and development partnership program at Westover ARB. This funding would be used to lease and renovate a vacant Westover ARB building to establish a National Aeronautics, Research, Development, and Training Center with UMass Amherst as the lead institution. UMass Amherst is in the process of partnering with NASA on several innovative research projects leveraging promising new technologies to promote efficiencies, safety, and economic growth in aviation. This research would be performed at the proposed center by UMass Amherst and its industry partner M2C Aerospace, a Massachusetts-based, woman-owned small business. The Commonwealth’s funding leverages $15 million in private investment and sponsored research to be conducted by UMass Amherst and benefiting federal agencies. This site would also host a school to train air-traffic controllers and pilots and provide aviation-related courses for the next generation of researchers and engineers to develop future technologies. The proposed aeronautics center will also serve as a nexus for government and industry to collaborate on future aviation initiatives. The Westover site will house state-of-the-art laboratories, including a high-fidelity, 3-D, simulation-based training capability that meets the FAA’s requirements for certifying air-traffic controllers at U.S. aviation facilities. A significant number of air controllers in the New England region are expected to retire in the next 10 years, which will increase the demand for a modern educational facility. This approach could be adapted for new civilian controllers, which — in combination with the transitioning military controllers — would help alleviate the FAA’s shortage of certifiable controllers and allow for joint military training with Westover’s staff. It is estimated that this partnership could generate millions of dollars annually in research, education, and training from a combination of government agencies, such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as the aviation industry. This fall, Patrick celebrated the grand opening of the UMass Center in Springfield, and the Chicopee site will add to its already-strong educational assets in Western Mass. “This partnership involving UMass Amherst, NASA, and industry will address vital national needs in the aviation sector and help revitalize the Western Massachusetts economy,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who also serves as a member of the Military Task Force. “This is a perfect match for our role as one on the country’s top research universities, applying our expertise to enhance the safety of air travel and foster economic opportunity.”
Feb. 6 Deadline Set for 40 Under Forty Nominations
BusinessWest is currently accepting nominations for the 2015 class of its 40 Under Forty program. Launched in 2007, the initiative identifies 40 rising stars in Western Mass., individuals excelling in business, nonprofit management, and service to the community. The process begins with nominations, which will later be sent to a team of five judges for scoring. Nominations should be thorough and essentially answer the question, ‘why is this individual worthy of a 40 Under Forty plaque?’ The winners (those with the highest total scores from those five judges) will be announced in BusinessWest’s April 20 edition, and they will feted at the annual gala on June 18 at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House. Nomination forms can be found in the next few issues of BusinessWest and also online HERE.
Festival of Trees Breaks Fund-raising Record
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Boys & Girls Club’s 14th annual Festival of Trees had a record-breaking year, drawing more than 13,000 visitors and raising more than $116,000 to support the club’s mission. Featuring 141 trees in 2014, the hallmark holiday event for families and children raises much-needed funds for after-school and summer programs that serve 1,500 inner-city youth each year. The 2014 Festival of Trees officially kicked off on Nov. 28 and closed its doors for the season on Dec. 14. After the final viewing, volunteers made 141 phone calls to the lucky winners of the fully decorated trees that were raffled off as part of the event. All of the trees were donated by businesses, organizations, families, and individuals. The majority of the festival’s visitors participated in the raffle hoping to win one of the trees, valued between $200 and $2,000. The Springfield Boys & Girls Club provides youth-development programs for more than 1,500 children each year in the areas of recreation, educational enrichment, technology training, career development, substance-abuse prevention, health and fitness, and leadership. All of the proceeds from the Festival of Trees directly fund the club’s operations. For more information, visit www.sbgc.org or call (413) 785-5266. The names of all sponsors, and tree winners, can also be found on the website.
Unemployment Up Slightly in November, Down for Year
BOSTON — The state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported that the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for November were up in 20 labor market areas and two areas remained unchanged over the month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the year, unemployment rates were down in all the labor market areas. The preliminary statewide unadjusted unemployment rate estimate for November was 5.2%, up 0.1% from October. Over the year, the statewide unadjusted rate was down 1.5% from the November 2013 rate of 6.7%. During November, eight of the 12 areas for which job estimates are published recorded job gains. The largest job gains were in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Framingham, New Bedford, Peabody, Worcester, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, and Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner areas. Losses occurred in the Barnstable, Springfield, Haverhill-North Andover-Amesbury, and Pittsfield areas. Since November 2013, all 12 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains occurring in the Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, Worcester, Barnstable, Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, and Peabody areas.
State to Strengthen Manufacturing Industry
AMHERST — Building on the Patrick administration’s historic commitment to strengthening the advanced-manufacturing industry in Massachusetts, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki recently joined Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rachel Kaprielian and State Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg to announce nearly $2 million in funding to support manufacturing workforce training across the Commonwealth. The announcement was made at the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative (AMC) Pioneer Valley Summit, held at UMass Amherst. “I am proud of the work the AMC has accomplished over the years, creating opportunities for workers with a range of skill levels that will strengthen our economy for years to come,” said Bialecki. “Collaborative efforts like this are a critical reason why Massachusetts is leading the nation in growing a 21st-century advanced-manufacturing sector.” Nearly $1.5 million of the total funding was awarded through the Advanced Manufacturing Pipeline Training Grants Program to support five regional workforce-investment boards throughout Massachusetts. This funding will help recruit and train approximately 280 unemployed or underemployed participants for careers in advanced manufacturing. The grants program is a cross-secretariat initiative between the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. Two Western Mass. organizations are among those receiving funding:
• The Hampden Regional Employment Board received $219,960 to conduct the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program, in partnership with the Western Mass. Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Assoc. The Hampden Regional Employment Board will contract with local community colleges, part-time instructors from two vocational technical high schools, and an advanced-manufacturing company to train unemployed or underemployed adults of Hampden County.
• The Franklin/Hampshire Regional Employment Board received $276,705 to continue collaboration with employers from across the region, as well as community partners such as Greenfield Community College (GCC), the two area vocational-technical schools, and two adult-education sites, to enable the Regional Employment Board and GCC to offer three additional cycles of entry-level precision-machine training over the next two years in Franklin County. This will expand it from 220 hours to 300 hours and add skill building in the areas of blueprint reading, metrology, grinding, and lean manufacturing.
“The quick turnaround in awarding these grants reflects the urgency the Patrick Administration has adopted in scaling up these pipelines to help fill current job openings in advanced manufacturing all over the state,” said Kaprielian. “These awards will allow the grantees to build upon their proven successes and their capacity to work collaboratively through industry partnerships to increase the number of seats in their existing pipelines.” Through a separate grant program, the Industry Training Capital Equipment grant program, also aimed at supporting the manufacturing industry in Massachusetts, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton was awarded $400,000 to rebuild its precision-manufacturing training program. With the support of more than 25 regional manufacturing and workforce leaders in Hampshire County, the rebuilt training program will be a site for daytime students and evening adult learners, in partnership with the Franklin-Hampshire Regional Employment Board.
EDC Sounds Alarm on Rising Energy Costs
CHICOPEE — The Economic Development Council of Western Mass. recently voiced its concerns regarding the rising costs of natural gas and electricity in the region. “More expensive energy affects all of us negatively. All of us need to be concerned. Individuals face a reduction of disposable income and increased hardship,” the agency said in a prepared statement. “Businesses face reduced competiveness that threatens job growth and retention. Municipalities face increased energy costs while facing decreasing revenues. Hospitals and higher-education institutions must divert more resources to energy purchases, thus diverting resources from their core missions. Shrinking business and consumer spending reduces investments in those things that define quality of life in Western Massachusetts.” Through a series of meetings and discussions with entities familiar with the issues, the EDC infrastructure committee released the following findings:
• Recent and future closings of oil- and coal-fired plants have boosted, and will continue to increase, Massachusetts’ dependency on natural gas for electric power generation. Nearly 50% of all electricity in Massachusetts is generated by natural gas, and that proportion is rising. These conditions, when combined with inadequate supplies of natural gas, are resulting in dramatically increased power costs during the winter.
• Gas companies serving this region are reaching the limits of their capacity to serve new customers. Berkshire Gas will stop adding customers in Greenfield at the end of 2014, and in Amherst in 2016. Columbia Gas is reaching the end of its capacity to serve Northampton and Easthampton. It could serve 10,000 more customers in the region if it had additional capacity. The inability to serve new customers will negatively affect economic growth in the region.
• Kinder Morgan is proposing a pipeline-extension project through Northern Mass. that will increase natural-gas supply to Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire counties as well as Eastern Mass.
• NU/Spectra proposes an expansion of the Algonquin Pipeline that would increase natural-gas supplies available to the Springfield area and Eastern Mass.
• Several New England states have been working to bring electricity generated by Hydro Quebec to the region.
EDC Infrastructure Committee Chair Paul Nicolai summarized the committee’s work, suggesting that “supplying cost-effective, responsibly clean energy for our people and businesses is a complicated problem requiring balanced approaches and moderate thinking. EDC has struck that balance and encourages policymakers to do so as well.” At a recent meeting, the EDC board of directors approved a resolution supporting the following actions, which, if implemented, will help to provide an adequate, stable supply of energy at competitive prices:
• Increase natural-gas supply by permitting both natural-gas pipeline-expansion projects proposed for the region and state;
• Increase the sources of power generation by enabling the purchase of hydro-generated electricity from the north;
• Continue support of conservation and renewable-energy technologies; and
• Encourage a regulatory environment that promotes market stability and competitive outcomes.
Leaders Celebrate Springfield Park and Recreation Investments
SPRINGFIELD — State Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno recently celebrated Camp STAR Angelina, Mary Troy Park, and Balliet Park, all park projects reflecting the more than $7.7 million invested in parks and open space in Springfield by Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration. “Open space and outdoor recreation investments are a critical component of building robust, healthy communities,” said Bartlett. “Gov. Patrick has made urban neighborhoods a top priority, and the evidence of that is clear today in Springfield and across the Commonwealth.” Sarno thanked Patrick and Bartlett “for your continued vision in providing funding to increase and revitalize recreational and green spaces in urban areas. The legacy you are leaving here in Springfield is one of inclusion and opportunity, which is evidenced by the $3.5 million investment made here in Springfield, which demonstrates the Patrick administration’s commitment in creating strong and healthy communities.” Located in Springfield’s Forest Park and operated by the city, Camp STAR Angelina offers inclusive recreational programs for youth and young adults with and without disabilities, medical concerns, and hearing and visual impairments. EEA provided more than $1.325 million in capital funding to help fund the construction of a nearly complete, fully accessible pool and accessible bath house, as well as a universal outdoor amphitheater, construction of which will begin soon. As part of Monday’s celebration, Sarno announced that the pool and bath-house facility would be named after Gov. Patrick, in recognition of his efforts to increase access outdoor recreation for all children. North Riverfront Park sits along the northern end of Springfield’s portion of the Connecticut River Walk and Bikeway, a proposed 20-mile corridor that would run through Agawam, Springfield, West Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke. EEA invested $1.2 million in North Riverfront Park to transform a property surrounded by barbed wire into a welcoming, vibrant site that will better connect Springfield’s North End to the riverfront. The city’s design features a reduction of pavement, installation of picnic tables, and an increase of pervious lawn areas, plant beds, rain gardens, and additional trees to provide shade. The city is contributing an additional $300,000 toward the project, and construction will be beginning shortly. Mary Troy Park, a new park in the densely populated Liberty Heights neighborhood, will provide green space and access to outdoor recreation for residents. The park, set to be completed next spring, was made possible by a $400,000 Parkland Acquisition and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant from the Patrick administration. The city will use this funding to design and build a new park, including a universally accessible series of free-standing play structures, including a water-spray feature and exercise equipment along a central pathway, as well as park amenities like drinking fountains and trash receptacles. The city of Springfield is contributing $380,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding toward the project. Balliet Park received a $400,000 PARC grant to renovate the baseball diamond and tennis courts, install a playground and swingset equipment, establish a picnic area, and improve access to park entrances and walkways. Springfield is using its Our Common Backyards Grant to construct a splash pad at the park, which will be completed by the year’s end. Springfield is one of seven cities to receive funding through the governor’s Signature Urban Parks program.
Construction Employment Expands in Most Areas
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Construction employment expanded in 224 metro areas, declined in 64, and was stagnant in 51 between November 2013 and November 2014, according to a new analysis of federal employment data by Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said contractors in many parts of the country were benefitting from growing demand, yet labor shortages threaten to undermine the sector’s recovery. “It is good news that construction employment is now rising in two-thirds of the nation’s metro areas,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the association. “But now that the unemployment rate for construction workers has fallen to a seven-year low, it has become a major challenge to find qualified workers in many fields.”