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Daily News

BOSTON — Business confidence strengthened in Massachusetts last month amid signs that the state and national economies are more resilient than many experts predicted.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 2 points to 60.9 last month, leaving it virtually even with its level of a year ago.

The October upswing was led by growing employer optimism in the Massachusetts and national economies, as well as brightening prospects for manufacturers.

The survey results came during a month when U.S. employers added a stronger-than-expected 128,000 jobs. And while the Massachusetts economy contracted slightly during the third quarter, experts say the reversal reflects workforce capacity limits rather than an economic downturn.

“U.S. hiring was unexpectedly resilient in October, and prior months saw upward revisions. It appears that consumers will extend the record-long expansion despite trade tensions and weak business investment,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA).

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 100 Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative.

The constituent indicators that make up the Business Confidence Index all moved higher during October. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth surged 4.5 points to 67.8, while the U.S. Index rose 3.1 points to 59.6. The increase left the Massachusetts reading 3 points higher than a year ago; the U.S. index has dropped by 2 points during the past 12 months.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, gained 2.2 points to 58.6, virtually even with its reading from October 2018. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.0 points to 63.3, also matching its reading of a year ago.

The Employment Index rose 0.3 points for the month but remained down 2.5 points for the year, underscoring the capacity issues faced by employers struggling to find qualified workers in a full-employment state economy.

Non-manufacturers (63.4) were more confident than manufacturers (59.0), despite a strong October gain in optimism among industrial companies. Small companies (63.6) were more optimistic than medium-sized companies (60.6) or large companies (59.6). Companies in Eastern Mass. (61.2) remained more optimistic than those in Western Mass. (60.4).

Paul Bolger, president of Massachusetts Capital Resource Co. and a BEA member, said employers appear to have concluded that the slowing economy remains fundamentally strong enough to make a recession unlikely in the near future.

“Companies are also hoping that a preliminary trade agreement between China and the United States will clear up some of the uncertainty that has been causes by tariffs and an escalating trade battle,” he added.

AIM President and CEO John Regan, also a BEA member, said the persistent shortage of skilled workers constraining the Massachusetts economy underscores the need for the Legislature to pass an education-funding bill that establishes accountability for school districts to prepare students for both college and the workforce.

“The job of sustaining Massachusetts’ global leadership in innovation belongs to everyone, and that requires a thoughtful, long-range plan to maintain our competitive advantage, including our education system. The foundation of such a plan is a set of educational standards that ensure our students’ continued achievement via distinct criteria,” Regan said. “Whether Massachusetts high-school graduates choose a college track or enter the workforce directly upon graduation, we must remain vigilant and insist on relevant, high standards to provide all our students with equal access to the economic advantages that follow educational achievement.”

Daily News

WILBRAHAM — Colony Hills Capital (CHC), based in Wilbraham, announced it recently purchased Windfield Senior Estates and Windfield Family Estates, a combined 160-unit multi-family apartment community located in nearby Hadley. It was purchased for $14,035,000 on Oct. 23.

Built in 2002, the property consists of 80 independent senior apartments and 80  family apartments. The property was originally developed and financed using the LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credit) program and currently has income and rent restrictions on 80% of the units. The community is located just off Route 9 in close proximity to UMass Amherst. It is also within a mile of top retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, LL Bean, and numerous restaurants and entertainment venues. Windfields also offers direct access to the Norwottuck Branch Rail Trail, part of the 104-mile Mass Central Rail Trail system.

Colony Hills Capital is rolling out a capital-improvement plan that includes upgrades and remodeling to interior resident common areas, hallways, and office areas,  as well as adding exterior amenities including a dog park; additional sitting, picnic, and garden areas; and grilling stations. There will also be a complete repaving of parking areas and interior roadways. Additionally, the company plans to make the community more energy-efficient, bike friendly, and environmentally conscious.

“We are proud to own our first affordable-housing community, and appreciate the role MassHousing and Community Development played in transitioning the community from the original developers to us,” said Glenn Hanson, founder and CEO of Colony Hills Capital. “Acquiring a property previously financed by LITHC is challenging to master but rewarding to execute, and MassHousing was instrumental in our successful effort. And now our team on the ground is making a difference to our residents every day. We are also grateful to our investors who helped make our first affordable-housing investment a reality.”

Colony Hills Capital is a multi-family real-estate investment company that targets workforce, value-add investment opportunities located  primarily in secondary markets in the Southeastern U.S. Since its inception in 2008, Colony and its affiliates have acquired more than 8,800 apartment in seven states.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On Tuesday, Nov. 19, Bulkley Richardson and Millbrook Benefits will collaborate on a panel to discuss next steps in preparing for Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave.

Mary Jo Kennedy, chair of the Employment Group at Bulkley Richardson, and Peter Miller, managing partner at Millbrook Benefits and Insurance, will discuss how current leave programs fit with PFML benefits, the pros and cons of private plans, applying for an exemption to PFML benefits, and training management on how to avoid legal liability related to new PFML claims.

The event will take place from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Bulkley Richardson’s office at 1500 Main St., Springfield. Register to attend at [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling announced the appointment of Dawn Forbes DiStefano to its board of directors.

“Dawn is an extraordinarily talented woman who values community engagement and involvement,” said Marlene Warner, executive director of the council. “Dawn brings a wealth of knowledge on nonprofit development to the board. We’re very fortunate to have her at the table as we work to serve those experiencing problems with gambling and their loved ones, especially in Western Massachusetts.”

DiStefano is the executive vice president at Square One, where she manages contracts and annual budgeting of $9 million. Square One is a private, nonprofit organization that provides early education and care to 500 children each day, as well as a range of family-support services to 1,500 families each year.

Founded in 1983, the Mass Council on Compulsive Gambling has been instrumental in bringing the issue of gambling disorder to the attention of the public and policymakers. With the gambling landscape evolving and expanding, the council has continued to play a leading role in protecting and educating the public.

“Advocating for the community and for families, and working to ensure resources are there for those who need it most, have always been important to me,” DiStefano said. “Joining the board of the Mass Council is a natural fit. I’m excited about the opportunity to help residents in the Commonwealth.”

DiStefano received her master’s degree in public administration and nonprofit management from Westfield State University. She serves on several boards, including Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts, the Springfield Regional Chamber, and Baystate Community Relations at Westover Job Corps. In addition, she chairs the Hampden County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Bay Path University’s division of Strategic Alliances announced that producer, author, entrepreneur, educator, and, of course, top model Tyra Banks will bring her bold attitude, unique style, and well-honed business acumen to Springfield on Friday, March 27 as the keynote speaker at the 25th annual Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC). 

This year’s theme, “Own Your Now,” will encourage conference guests to examine the forces that have shaped their careers, relationships, and aspirations; recognize what drives them and what holds them back; and empower them to confidently move forward. As the WLC reflects upon its 25-year history and the impending retirement of its founder, Bay Path president Carol Leary, the theme carries added significance.

“Now is the perfect time for us to really examine all we’ve accomplished over the last 25 years and to challenge ourselves by asking, ‘what can we do next?’ There’s a lot of change in the air, so there’s some intentional synergy between the conference theme, Dr. Leary’s retirement after 25 years of leading Bay Path, and the ongoing growth we all strive for,” said Caron Hobin, vice president of Strategic Alliances, Bay Path’s division of workplace education and corporate training.

Banks is the creator of America’s Next Top Model, the reality show and modeling competition that has been replicated in 47 international markets and viewed in 150 countries. A graduate of Harvard’s Executive Education program, she has taught graduate courses at Stanford University and is opening Modelland, an interactive attraction based in Los Angeles that will allow visitors to experience a fantasy version of the modeling world.

“Tyra is a remarkably driven woman with a keen ability to leverage the knowledge and experience gained in one phase of her life toward creating future opportunities for herself,” Hobin said. “We think that those who know her primarily as a model and television personality will be pleasantly surprised, thoroughly impressed, and deeply inspired by her story, her perspective, and her accomplishments.” 

This year’s conference also will feature breakout sessions focused on navigating the complicated relationships, personalities, and dynamics of the workplace and the impact those have on our careers and opportunities. Sessions will be led by bestselling authors and researchers including Laura Huang, Harvard Business School professor and author of Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage; Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning; Dr. Ramani Durvasula, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Don’t You Know Who I Am: How to Stay Sane in the Era of Narcissism, Entitlement and Incivility; and Jennifer Romolini, author of Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits.

For further information on the conference and to register, visit www.baypathconference.com.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The National Science Foundation recently awarded two grants to support research by two Western New England University faculty members — Robert Barron, assistant professor of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management, and Amer Qouneh, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering — and their collaborative partners.

Barron is a co-principal investigator on a project titled “INFEWS/T2 FEWtures: Innovation Analysis Framework for Resilient Futures, with Application to the Central Arkansas River Basin.” The project will develop strategies to promote resilient small-town and rural (STAR) communities using renewably powered fertilizer production and wastewater treatment. FEWtures will equip STAR communities to face urgent challenges such as low crop prices, high prices for energy and fertilizer, pollution, and depleting water supplies. Barron is among a team of researchers led by the University of Kansas and including Western New England University, Kansas State University, and Washington State University that have been awarded $2.5 million to craft a creative, multi-faceted set of responses to these challenges.

The focus of Qouneh’s research is “SHF: Medium: Collaborative Research: Enhancing Mobile VR/AR User Experience: An Integrated Architecture-System Approach.” This research will open the door for next-generation mobile platforms that provide high-quality, low-power applications for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). It seeks to develop a synergetic architecture-system approach to improve the user’s experience with AR and VR by addressing performance, battery life, and thermal issues. The project is a collaboration effort between Qouneh and faculty at the University of Florida and the University of Houston. The total amount of the grant is $1.1 million.

Daily News

AGAWAM — CIS Abroad of Northampton was selected as the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) Employer of Choice award recipient for 2019. The award was presented at EANE’s Employment Law and HR Practices Conference luncheon at the Sheraton Monarch Place in Springfield on Nov. 7.

The Employer of Choice award recognizes companies and organizations for developing workplaces that value employees, foster engagement, invest in employee development, and reward performance. Past winners view the award as a cornerstone of their company credentials and often highlight the award in recruiting and retention, grants and funding applications, and business development. Many past winners have gone on to sit on the application review board to help select future winners of this award.

“In our present job market, employers need to consider how they’re investing in their workforce,” said Meredith Wise, president of EANE. “In order to attract and retain top-level talent, organizations need to offer more than a paycheck to their employees. CIS Abroad has demonstrated their commitment to fostering a people-focused operation, where their entire workforce knows the importance of the organization’s core values and mission. CIS Abroad has developed an employee-engagement plan that is both measurable and personally impactful for their entire workforce.”

CIS Abroad provides innovative education programs that broaden academic perspectives, promote global awareness, and encourage personal development while laying the foundation for student participants to become engaged world citizens. The passion of the CIS Abroad employees is visibly present when they talk about their programs and partners, as the lives of their employees have all been transformed by international experiences.

Employers from the Northeast who have been in business for at least three years and have a minimum of 25 employees are eligible to apply for EANE’s annual Employer of Choice award. Both the company size and its resources are considered in the screening and selection process. Entrants are judged in areas that include company culture, training and development, communication, and recognition and reward.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The annual Springfield College President’s Gala raised more than $500,000 for student scholarships.

More than 300 gathered on Oct. 26 at the MGM Springfield Aria Ballroom. All proceeds will go toward need and merit-based scholarships.

“The results are nothing short of extraordinary, and because of everyone’s support, we have made it possible for students to continue to choose Springfield College,” said President Mary-Beth Cooper. “We appreciate every gift from our generous community and corporate supporters and every member of our Springfield College family, including our alumni, faculty, staff, and students. Our students are truly inspirational people, and because of all of the generous donations, these funds will go toward helping the next generation of scholars. These financial contributions help to ensure that we continue to provide top-quality experiences and resources to our students so that each student has the essential tools to be successful.”

Serving on the President’s Gala planning committee were senior Alexandra Goslin, a math and secondary education major from South Windsor, Conn., who is serving as the elected 49th student trustee this academic year, and junior Kristian Rhim, a communications/sports journalism major from Philadelphia who serves as the student trustee-elect this academic year; he will continue on as the 50th student trustee starting in June 2020.

Daily News

SALEM — Insa, a vertically integrated cannabis organization with locations in Springfield and Easthampton, announced the opening of its newest location on Highland Avenue in Salem, near the Lynn town line. 

“We are so proud of our team here in Salem,” Insa CEO Mark Zatyrka said. “For the past month, they have gone through extensive trainings as well as volunteered at dozens of nonprofits, community events, and cleanups. We couldn’t be more excited to open up a dispensary in the city of Salem. This city has been wonderful to work with, and we are looking forward to furthering our partnership and commitment to the city. We are so excited to open here in the North Shore.”

Insa Salem will be a recreational dispensary and the first Insa location in Eastern Mass.; however, many other dispensaries across the state carry Insa’s cannabis products.

Insa Salem will also offer online express ordering, a first-of-its-kind offering in the North Shore area. Patrons can skip the line by placing their orders on myinsa.com, and their order will be ready for pickup and payment when they arrive at the shop. 

Insa’s newest location will open its doors to the public today, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. A grand-opening ceremony will follow on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at noon.

Daily News

GREENFIELD — On Wednesday, Nov. 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Cohn Family Dining Commons at Greenfield Community College (GCC), the Interfaith Council of Franklin County and GCC are collaborating to create Come for Supper, a community meal celebrating the cultures, traditions, and ethnicities of the region.

This family-friendly event will include games for children, music, dance, information tables, and food representing Guatemalan, Egyptian, Thai, Puerto Rican, Korean, Mexican, Jewish, Senegalese, Tibetan, and indigenous peoples’ cultures. There will also be an opportunity for people from different communities and ethnicities to offer blessings or share traditions.

The idea for the collaboration emerged from a desire to highlight and celebrate the many cultures and ethnicities embedded in Franklin County and the surrounding areas. Come for Supper is designed to be a community meal that encourages interaction and helps people to get to know the neighbors that help make Franklin County so dynamic.

“To a certain degree, you can measure quality of life by the diversity of cultures represented in a city or town’s culinary options. We are incredibly lucky in this region to have a wealth of locally grown food that feeds into a rich range of restaurants and caterers,” said Dean Leo Hwang. “People in Franklin County are hungry and eager to try new foods and meet new people, but sometimes in a rural region, it is hard to have the space to make that happen. We hope that Come for Supper will be one way to bring people together to strengthen our bonds of community.”

Added the Rev. Kate Stevens, “as a member of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, it is an honor to work in partnership with GCC to celebrate the culinary and cultural diversity of this community. I look forward to a stimulating and delicious evening.”

The event is free and open to the public. RSVP at gcc.mass.edu/supper.