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Employer Confidence Surges During July

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers shrugged off mounting evidence of an economic slowdown during July and expressed growing confidence in both the state and national economies. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 4.4 points to 62.0 last month, reaching its highest level since September. The Index has gained 0.8 points during the past 12 months and remains comfortably within optimistic territory. The confidence surge was driven by optimism in the Massachusetts economy and a strengthening outlook among manufacturers. The July confidence survey was taken before President Donald Trump touched off financial-market gyrations last week by announcing another round of tariffs on Chinese products. The constituent indicators that make up the Index all increased during July. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth surged 7 points to 68.2, while the U.S. Index rose 4.6 points to 62.6. The Massachusetts reading has risen 3.1 points, and the U.S. reading 0.7 points, during the past 12 months. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 4.6 points to 60.8, leaving it 2.1 points higher than a year ago. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, gained 4.2 points to 63.2, virtually even with its reading of July 2018. The Employment Index gained 1.9 points for the month and 0.2 points for the year. Employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a full-employment state economy facing a demographic challenge as Baby Boomers leave the workforce. Non-manufacturers (63.6) were more confident than manufacturers (60.5), who remain concerned about the consequences of tariffs and trade tensions. Small companies (65.2) were more confident than large companies (58.9) or medium-sized companies (62.3). Companies in Eastern Mass. (63.3) continued to be more optimistic than those in the west (59.8).

UMass Amherst Economists Examine How Minimum-wage Increases Impact Job Growth

AMHERST — Economists at UMass Amherst, along with colleagues from University College London and the Economic Policy Institute, have found that the overall number of low-wage jobs remained essentially unchanged over the five years following increases to the minimum wage, and that affected low-wage workers overall saw a wage gain of 7% after a minimum-wage increase. These spillovers extended up to $3 above the minimum wage and represent around 40 percent of the overall wage increase from minimum wage changes. The authors also found that, within the scope of minimum wages they studied — which range between 37% and 59% percent of the median wage – there was no evidence of job losses even at the higher end of this scale. These findings, the researchers say, suggest minimum wages are mostly having the intended effect of raising bottom wages with little adverse, unintended consequences on jobs. The research into the impacts of 138 prominent state-level minimum-wage changes in the U.S. between 1979 and 2016 was conducted by Arindrajit Dube, professor of Economics at UMass Amherst; Doruk Cengiz, a doctoral student in Economics at UMass Amherst; Attila Lindner of University College London; and Ben Zipperer of the Economic Policy Institute. Their report, “The Effect of Minimum Wages on Low-Wage Jobs,” was published in the August edition of the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

State Designates Agawam High School for New Innovation Pathway Program

AGAWAM — Agawam High School is one of four schools, including Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Brockton High School, and Burlington High School, that will launch new Innovation Pathway programs this fall to give students skills and experience in particular industries through college courses and internships after recently receiving official designation status from the state departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education, the Baker-Polito administration announced. More than 1,000 students are expected to be enrolled in these college and career pathways when the new programs are fully enrolled. Twenty-five high schools in the Commonwealth now have Innovation Pathway programs designated by the state. Agawam High School is launching an Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Pathway that will serve 466 students when fully enrolled. The school is partnering with the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board and multiple employer partners, including the Western Mass. Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Assoc., Peerless Precision, Governor’s America Corp., Mechanical Plastics, OMG Roofing Products, Ben Franklin Manufacturing, EBTEC Corp., and DFF Corp. Students will take courses at Springfield Technical Community College. Launched in 2017, Innovation Pathways give students experience in a specific high-demand industry, such as information technology, engineering, healthcare, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing, through coursework and internships at local area employers. Students earn college credits, at no cost to them, and gain insight as to whether the field is something they want to pursue in college or as a career.

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Bradley Begins Construction on New Ground Transportation Center

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — Gov. Ned Lamont, state leaders, Connecticut Airport Authority officials, and project stakeholders held a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at the construction site of Bradley International Airport’s new Ground Transportation Center on July 18. The new facility, spanning 1.4 million square feet across 13.4 acres, will be located west of the existing short-term and long-term parking garage, with a direct connection to Terminal A. Its major features will include convenient rental-car services across from Terminal A, additional public parking, and improved access to public transportation, including a dedicated area that will be used to receive high-frequency buses connecting the airport to the CTrail line, as well as regional bus services. The construction phase will be completed over the next three years and will cost approximately $210 million, which is being entirely financed by customer facility-charge revenues. In anticipation of the construction of the new Ground Transportation Center, several enabling projects were initiated in 2018 to prepare the site for construction. These projects focused on the realignment of roadways and the addition of a new intersection. Additional enabling projects will commence in the late summer and will be publicized in the coming weeks.

Massachusetts Unemployment Rate Holds Steady at 3.0% in June

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate in June remained unchanged at 3.0%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 9,800 jobs in June. Over the month, the private sector added 8,400 jobs as gains occurred in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, financial activities, manufacturing, information, and trade, transportation, and utilities. Government added jobs over the month. From June 2018 to June 2019, BLS estimates Massachusetts added 35,500 jobs. The June unemployment rate was seven-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.7% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force decreased by 2,100 from 3,840,900 in May, as 1,700 fewer residents were employed and 500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents age 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — dropped one-tenth of a percentage point at 67.7% over the month. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in education and health services, information, leisure and hospitality, and other services.

Adam Quenneville Seeks Nominations for No Roof Left Behind Program

SOUTH HADLEY — When hard times fall on a local family, caring people in the community want to help. No Roof Left Behind is a nationwide program that gives good neighbors a chance to nominate a deserving homeowner to receive a free new roof. It also provides a local contractor the framework to provide a new roof at no cost. Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc. has participated in the No Roof Left Behind program since 2014, and will do so again this year. Online nominations will be accepted from local people who know someone in dire need of a new roof in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin Counties from Aug. 2 through Aug. 23, and then the public will vote online for the 2019 winner. To submit a nomination, visit noroofleftbehind.com. Each participant must upload a photo and brief story about someone who needs a new roof. Volunteers will review the nominees and select four finalists. From Aug. 26 through Sept. 13, the public will vote for the winner online. Finalists will be revealed, and the public will vote online for the 2019 winner, who will be revealed on Oct. 11.

MassDevelopment Provides $310,000 for Real-estate Projects Across State

BOSTON — MassDevelopment announced up to $310,000 in funding for 10 projects through its Real Estate Technical Assistance program. Under this program, through a combination of in-house expertise and contracts with consultants, MassDevelopment works with municipal officials, planners, local stakeholders, and others to address site-specific and district-wide economic-development challenges. The technical-assistance funds will support a range of projects, from feasibility studies to master-planning efforts. Locally, the town of Greenfield will use one of the awards to prepare a market assessment and operational analysis of proposed uses in the First National Bank and Trust building. This follows a feasibility study that consultant Taylor Burns completed in June. The other local award will be given to the city of Holyoke to develop architectural and financial analyses to determine the cost of rehabilitation of the former National Guard Armory at 163 Sargeant St. Findings from the analyses will help the city secure additional funding needed to move the project forward.

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Construction to Begin at Paramount, Massasoit House Hotel

SPRINGFIELD — Saying he is “bullish” on downtown Springfield, Gov. Charlie Baker was among a group of local and state officials who gathered recently to ceremonially break ground on a $38 million restoration of the Paramount Theater and Massasoit House Hotel. The project will transform the Paramount, which opened 90 years ago as a vaudeville theater, into a performing-arts center, while the adjoining Massasoit building will become an 85-room boutique hotel. The property was purchased in 2011 by the New England Farm Workers Council. The 85-room hotel is expected to be completed by December 2020, with the theater expected to finish a year after that. Main Street Hospitality — whose properties include the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Hotel on North in Pittsfield, and the Porches Inn at MASS MoCA in North Adams — will manage the new Massasoit House Hotel. Main Street CEO Sarah Eustis has been looking to enter the Springfield market for a few years. Project funding involves roughly $20 million from state and federal historic tax credits and a federal opportunity-zone tax credit. The project will also reap $3.8 million in HUD Section 108 loan funds through the city and the federal government, a $2 million state grant, and private funding.

Employer Confidence Stabilizes in June

BOSTON — Employer confidence stabilized in Massachusetts during June despite a continued swirl of conflicting economic and political signals around the globe. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 0.5 points to 57.6 last month, rebounding from a May drop that left it at its lowest level since October 2016. The Index has declined 3.7 points since June 2018 but remains within optimistic territory. And though confidence levels are virtually unchanged since January, the AIM Index reflects constantly changing headlines about international trade, economic growth, and the direction of interest rates. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth rose 0.3 points to 61.2, while the U.S. Index rose 3 points to 58.0. The Massachusetts reading has declined 1.6 points during the past 12 months, and the U.S. reading has dropped 2.0 points during the same period. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.2 points to 56.2. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, gained 0.8 points to 59.0, 4.5 points lower than a year ago. The Employment Index declined 0.4 points for the month and 2.2 percent for 12 months. Analysts say employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a state economy with a 2.9% jobless rate.

SBA Awards $100,000 for Veteran-owned Small-business Growth Training Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced a partnership with the Veteran Entrepreneurial Training and Resource Network (VETRN) to establish a pilot training program for military veterans who are small-business owners and their immediate family members. The program will equip these entrepreneurs with the resources and networks necessary to grow their small businesses. Starting in September, this 26-week program based in Portsmouth, N.H. will feature 13 weeks of Saturday-morning classroom sessions with 12 to 20 participants, as well as 13 weeks of peer-to-peer mentoring sessions. The course curriculum will include strategic planning, financial management, cash-flow forecasting, marketing the small business, sales methods, human resources, developing a growth plan, access to capital, legal issues, and government contracting. Applicants must be a current business owner with at least one year of operation and one employee (not including the owner), and annual revenues of $75,000 or more.  Also required is the passion, dedication, and commitment to grow the small business. Veteran business owners interested in finding out more information or applying for the September 2019 program can visit vetrn.org to complete an application, or e-mail [email protected]

Massachusetts Credit Unions Unite to Support ‘A Bed for Every Child’

MARLBOROUGH — Ronald McLean, president and CEO of the Cooperative Credit Union Assoc. Inc. (CCUA), on behalf of Massachusetts credit unions, along with members of the Massachusetts Credit Unions Social Responsibility Committee, presented a check for $202,725 to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless at the third Annual Stephen D. Jones Credit Union Charity Golf Tournament in support of the “A Bed for Every Child” campaign. Massachusetts credit unions have supported the coalition for more than two decades, surpassing more than $2 million in donations and providing blankets, toys, and books to help families in need. In 2018, Massachusetts credit unions raised $202,725 through efforts including the Stephen D. Jones Charity Golf Tournament and a variety of credit-union-driven initiatives. The need for “A Bed for Every Child” reaches all cities and towns in Massachusetts. “A Bed for Every Child” began when a concerned inner-city public-school teacher reached out to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. At the time, the teacher was seeing an increase in the number of students who did not have a bed of their own. Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said demand continues to outpace the coalition’s capacity.

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Nominations Sought for 30th Annual Super 60 Awards

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber is seeking nominations for its annual Super 60 awards program, presented by Health New England.

Marking its 30th year, the awards program recognizes the success of the fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the region that continue to make significant contributions to the strength of the regional economy. Each year, the program identifies the top-performing companies in revenue growth and total revenue. Last year, total-revenue winners combined for more than $750 million in revenues, with 25% of these winners exceeding revenues of $40 million. All winners in the revenue-growth category had growth in excess of 13%, while one-quarter of the top 30 companies experienced growth in excess of 75%. To be considered, companies must be independently and privately owned, be based in Hampden or Hampshire county or be a member of the Springfield Regional Chamber, produce revenues of at least $1 million in the past fiscal year, and be in business for at least three full years. Companies are selected based on their percentage of revenue growth over a full three-year period or total revenues for the latest fiscal year. Companies may be nominated by financial institutions, attorneys, accountants, or be self-nominated, and must submit a nomination form and provide net-operating-revenue figures for the last three full fiscal years, signed and verified by an independent auditor. All financial information must be reported under generally accepted accounting principles and will be held and considered confidential and not released without prior approval. Nomination forms are available by contacting Grace Szydziak at [email protected] or (413) 755-1310. Nominations must be submitted no later than Aug. 2. The Super 60 awards will be presented at the annual luncheon and recognition program on Oct. 25 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam.

Municipal Utilities Support Integrating Emerging Technologies

BOSTON — Massachusetts municipal utilities are leading the way in integrating carbon-free technologies into their power portfolios, contributing significantly to achievement of the Commonwealth’s energy goals, according to speakers at a State House event sponsored by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), the joint action agency for Massachusetts municipal utilities. Approximately 14% of electric consumers in the state are served by municipal light plants (MLPs), a valuable part of the electric-utility industry that deliver low-cost, reliable electric service to consumers. MLPs are nonprofit and owned by the people they serve. Locally appointed or elected boards of commissioners maintain decision-making authority for each light department. MMWEC CEO Ronald DeCurzio outlined the clean-energy projects included in the MLP portfolios, dating back to the 1984 construction of a 40-kilowatt wind project built by the Princeton municipal utility. “Municipal utilities have been at the forefront of the carbon-free energy movement for some time,” he said. “MLPs have recognized trends and implemented emerging technologies in an efficient, economic manner in the best interest of their customers.” In just a few weeks, a new municipal-utility wind project will commence commercial operation. Phase two of the Berkshire Wind Power Project in Hancock will add 4.6 megawatts (MW) to the existing 15-MW wind farm. The project, the second-largest wind farm in Massachusetts, is owned by a cooperative consisting of 16 municipal utilities and MMWEC. By the end of 2019, MMWEC member utilities will have 67.8 MW of wind generation, 48 MW of solar, and 26.2 MW of energy storage — nearly 15% of the 2020 target of 200 MW of storage in place in Massachusetts. Three of MMWEC’s members utilized a total of $1.64 million in grants through the Advancing Commonwealth Energy Storage initiative, a coordinated effort between the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the state Department of Energy Resources, to fund their energy-storage projects. A fourth municipal utility took advantage of declining energy storage costs to install an energy-storage system without the help of state grants or federal tax incentives, a first among municipal utilities in Massachusetts.

Donations of $100,000 to Help Hispanic Students at HCC, WSU

HOLYOKE – College students of Hispanic heritage from Holyoke will benefit from new scholarships established at both Westfield State University (WSU) and Holyoke Community College (HCC), thanks to $100,000 gifts to each institution from Victor and Mariellen Quillard. Victor Quillard, a retired president of Hampden Bank, and his wife, Mariellen, are both Holyoke natives, and their gifts aim to support Hispanic residents from Holyoke who are pursuing their college degrees. The $100,000 donations were given to the Westfield State Foundation and the Holyoke Community College Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising corporations of each institution. The gifts will establish two new endowed scholarships in the Quillards’ name. The Victor E. and Mariellen Quillard Scholarship at HCC gives preference to Holyoke residents of Hispanic heritage who have completed a minimum of 12 credits and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.75. The Victor and Mariellen Quillard Scholarship at WSU gives preference to Holyoke residents of Hispanic heritage who transfer from HCC to Westfield State and have a minimum GPA of 2.75. Westfield State University President Ramon Torrecilha noted that “these significant monies will support the university’s goals to offer an accessible and affordable education while supporting its commitment to a diverse and welcoming community.”

Watch, Clock Collectors Make Time in Western Mass.

SPRINGFIELD — The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) staged its national convention in Western Mass. — 39 years after its last such event in New England. The convention, which took place at the Eastern States Exposition on June 27-30, featured products for purchase along with raffles, lectures, and contests. The group was brought to Western Mass. by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB). The economic impact is estimated at $2,543,423, which includes hotel rooms, meals, and other costs associated with the convention. “The convention is unique to New England because the first clocks and watches were produced in New England in the 1700s,” said Alicia Szenda, director of Sales at the GSCVB. “This convention is all about clocks, watches, the tools used in making and repairing them, sundials, barometers, and ephemera. Members of the group share a common interest in collecting, buying, selling, trading, repairing, restoring, and studying the science of time.”

State Unemployment Rate Rises Slightly in May

BOSTON —  The state’s May total unemployment rate is up one-tenth of a percentage point at 3.0%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 3,600 jobs in May. Over the month, the private sector lost 4,000 jobs, although gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; information; and manufacturing sectors. The jobs level in ‘other services’ remained unchanged over the month. Government added jobs over the month. From May 2018 to May 2019, BLS estimates Massachusetts added 26,700 jobs. The May unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.6 percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Massachusetts continues to experience a strong economy with a low unemployment rate of 3.0% percent and over 60,000 more employed residents and 17,500 fewer unemployed residents in the last year. Also, the Commonwealth’s labor force participation rate remains at a near 15-year high and is 5 points above the U.S. rate,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force increased by 600 from 3,840,400 in April, as 1,100 fewer residents were employed and 1,700 more residents were unemployed over the month.

Unify Against Bullying to Award Record $20,000 in Grants

SPRINGFIELD — Unify Against Bullying’s 2019 online grant applications are now open. All applications are due to be submitted by Aug. 14. Unify also announced it has increased the amount it is awarding this year to $20,000 — a record amount for the organization. Grant applications are available at unifyagainstbullying.org. “One of our key goals is to inspire youth of all ages to participate,” Executive Director Christine Maiwald said. “It’s our job to give life to their ideas. They know best how we can bring an end to bullying. Additionally, we are in search of parents, teachers, and community leaders who would like to help us end this epidemic. All are encouraged to apply.” To date, Unify has awarded 27 grants to students and others who have helped lead anti-bullying efforts in their schools and communities. All programs have been dedicated to anti-bullying education and furthering the Unify mission: to bring an end to bullying through the celebration of true diversity. “To encourage youth participation, the grant application process has been made very easy,” Maiwald said. “It’s a single-page form which can be filled out in a matter of minutes.” The organization has a committee of volunteers who select the initiatives which best reflect and advance their mission. “This is the fourth year that Unify will be awarding grants,” Maiwald said. “We’ve come a long way from our first year, when we were only able to provide $3,500 in grants. Although it was a modest start, it was the beginning of something very special.” Unify Against Bullying is a tax-exempt organization dedicated to bringing an end to bullying through the celebration of true diversity. To achieve this mission, Unify provides grants to students, teachers, parents, and community leaders dedicated to bringing an end to bullying. One of Unify’s core missions is to inspire youth of all ages and ignite their ideas on how to prevent or reduce bullying. Unify’s high-school students attend events and help educate their communities on the different resources available. The organization also coordinates programs where high-school students educate their younger peers on the value of celebrating each other’s differences.

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LEAP Class of 2020 Enrollment Ends July 1

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) is accepting applications for enrollment in LEAP 2020, a regional leadership-development program, until Monday, July 1. LEAP engages the Pioneer Valley’s most promising emerging leaders through learning and exploration. Participants are trained in leadership skills by experts in a classroom setting. They also attend in-depth field experiences across the region where they meet with local leaders and explore the region’s economy and culture. The LEAP program runs September through May. In its eight years running, nearly 300 individuals representing more than 100 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated. The program has filled a critical need for a leadership program that builds a network of emerging leaders to address the challenges and opportunities of the region. Fifty-three percent of alumni have a new leadership role at work, 64% have joined a new board of directors, and 99% have made new, meaningful connections. Applicants are considered in a competitive application process that prioritizes diversity by employment sector, geography, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Emerging leaders, mid-career professionals with leadership potential, and those looking to better the Pioneer Valley should consider applying. Applications and further information can be found at www.leadershippv.org.

Freedom Credit Union Holds Annual Summer Food Drive

SPRINGFIELD — Freedom Credit Union is once again holding its annual summer food drive to benefit the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Donations can be brought to Freedom branch locations in the Pioneer Valley through Sept. 27. Suggested donations of non-perishable food and personal care items include hot and cold cereals; packaged rice and grains; pasta and noodles; canned beans and vegetables; canned and dried fruit; peanut butter and nuts; granola bars and crackers; powdered or evaporated milk; instant potatoes; canned chicken, fish, and meat; cooking oils and spices (in plastic containers); canned soups, stews, and chili; powdered or canned baby formula; diapers, wipes, and toilet paper; shampoo and body wash; and toothpaste and toothbrushes. For safety, items in glass jars or bottles, homemade food, unlabeled items, baby food, and severely dented cans cannot be accepted.

Baker-Polito Administration, MassDevelopment Announce Funds for Collaborative Workspaces

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration and MassDevelopment announced $2,165,000 in funding for the fourth round of Collaborative Workspace Program grants, a MassDevelopment program that accelerates business formation, job creation, and entrepreneurial activity in communities by supporting infrastructure that fuels locally based innovation. Eligible organizations may apply for either seed grants to plan and study the feasibility of new collaborative workspaces, or fit-out grants to develop and expand existing workspaces. Through its first three rounds of grants, the Collaborative Workspace Program provided more than $5 million in funding to more than 75 organizations for the planning, development, and build-out of different types of collaborative workspaces. This new round includes $1.5 million from the Commonwealth’s capital budget and $665,000 from the Barr Foundation, the third installment of a three-year, $1,965,000 grant to the program to expand support for arts-related collaborative workspaces in the Commonwealth. MassDevelopment’s continued partnership with the Barr Foundation broadens the reach of the Collaborative Workspace Program to include the creative sector, a critical source of innovation and positive community change.  Proposals are due in electronic format via e-mail at [email protected] by 5 p.m. on Friday, July 12. Funding decisions are expected to be announced by the fall.

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Massachusetts Unemployment Falls Below 3% in April

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate for April was down one-tenth of a percentage point at 2.9%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 4,100 jobs in April. Over the month, the private sector added 4,000 jobs as gains occurred in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; financial activities; information; and other services. Trade, transportation, and utilities; manufacturing; and leisure and hospitality lost jobs over the month. From April 2018 to April 2019, BLS estimates Massachusetts added 37,100 jobs. The April unemployment rate was 0.7% lower than the national rate of 3.6% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Preliminary estimates indicate that, in April, the Massachusetts unemployment rate fell below 3% for the first time since December of 2000,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta. “Year to date, the Commonwealth’s economy has added 25,400 jobs, showing that, even with a low, 2.9% unemployment rate, Massachusetts employers continue to add jobs to help fuel their growth needs.” The labor force decreased by 3,200 from 3,843,500 in March, as 1,600 fewer residents were employed and 1,600 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped six-tenths of a percentage point. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 67.8%. Compared to April 2018, the labor-force participation rate is up 0.4%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in professional, scientific, and business services; information; construction; and education and health services.

Manning Family Gift Will Advance Innovative Research at UMass

AMHERST — UMass Amherst alumnus Paul Manning and his wife, Diane Manning, have committed $1 million through their family foundation to establish the Manning Innovation Program, which provides three years of support in advancing a robust and sustainable pipeline of applied and translational research projects from UMass Amherst. It will allow the university’s College of Natural Sciences (CNS) to support bold, promising researchers, providing resources for them to innovate in new directions and to develop real-world applications for their discoveries. The initiative will provide assistance to researchers and business students across campus through the critical early stages on the path to commercialization, such as ideation, proof of concept, and business development. Faculty will receive seed funding and engage in business training and mentorship from a number of campus units, including the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Isenberg School of Management. The first grant to be awarded from the Manning Innovation Program will support research on a topic that hits close to home for the Manning family, Stargardt disease. Both of the Mannings’ sons, Bradford and Bryan, have the disease, which causes loss of central vision. Currently, there is no treatment to delay or cure the disease. The two Manning brothers now run a clothing line called Two Blind Brothers, and they donate all of its proceeds directly to blindness research. Abigail Jensen, associate professor of Biology, will use a $40,000 grant to support her research on Stargardt disease and possible therapies using zebrafish. Her research seeks to identify how the disease works on a molecular level. Development of zebrafish with therapeutic mutations subverting Stargardt disease at the genetic level provides the first opportunity to discover the molecular mechanism of cone-photoreceptor degeneration and potential pathways for translation of research to therapeutic applications. In keeping with the university’s core values, the Manning Innovation Program will stimulate, recognize, and reward innovation. It will foster a culture of entrepreneurship in the college and enhance the spirit of collaboration among Isenberg School of Management advisors, science and technology researchers, and industry experts. Further, the Manning Foundation’s gift provides vital investment to support UMass as a partner of choice in advancing and applying knowledge and innovation for the betterment of society. The next wave in the application process for the Manning Innovation Program will result in a new round of applications being submitted by July 15. The review committee will notify recipients at the end of August, and the next round of projects could begin in September. Paul Manning, an entrepreneur with 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry, most recently founded PBM Capital Group in 2010. PBM Capital is a healthcare-focused private investment group that looks for opportunities to use its entrepreneurial and operational experience to make high-growth pharmaceutical, molecular-diagnostic, gene-therapy, life-science, health and wellness, and consumer product investments. He was the anchor investor in Maroon Venture Partners, the first venture-capital fund at UMass Amherst. Created in 2017, the fund is a $6 million, for-profit investment vehicle created to support alumni, faculty, and student businesses in their early stages.

Communities Receive $647,000 for Middle-school Exploration Programs

BOSTON — American Student Assistance (ASA), a national nonprofit, announced it has awarded grants totaling $647,000 to seven Massachusetts school districts, including two in Western Mass., to fund career and interest exploration programs for middle-school students. The school communities, which will receive their funding over the course of three years, will begin implementing the programs in the 2019-20 school year. In Western Mass., Monson Public Schools will launch the Careers in the Middle program, providing students in grades 6 to 8 with classroom lessons, field trips, and events that will expose them to career-awareness opportunities. “Monson is thrilled to be chosen by ASA to partner to provide additional resources that focus on our middle grades,” said Robert Bardwell, director of School Counseling and School-to-Career coordinator. “This grant will give us the opportunity to do more for our middle-level students and collect data that tells us which activities are best to facilitate and encourage career development early on.” Meanwhile, Springfield STEM Academy will enhance and expand the Tech/Engineering Exploration program to expose students to new fields such as bioengineering, solar and wind engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. “Exposing students to biological, solar, wind, electrical, and mechanical engineering at a young age is a potential game changer for their rest of their lives,” Superintendent Daniel Warwick said. “It allows them to think about the wide array of STEM careers in real ways and opens the door to unlimited possibilities in this burgeoning field. We are extremely grateful that this ASA grant will help us provide this opportunity for our students.”

Employer Confidence in Massachusetts Falls in May

BOSTON — Employer confidence weakened in Massachusetts during May amid renewed trade tensions and concerns among companies about increased operating costs from paid family leave and other government mandates. The outlook among business leaders has moved in a narrow, overall optimistic range for much of 2019. However, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost 3.2 points last month to 57.1, its lowest level since October 2016. The Index has declined 9.5 points since May 2018. All the constituent indicators that make up the BCI weakened during May, with the largest drop coming in employer views of conditions six months from now. The erosion of confidence during the past 12 months has been driven largely by caution about the national economy and concern among manufacturing companies. “The Business Confidence Index continues to reflect the Goldilocks economy in which we find ourselves — U.S. GDP growth is expected to remain at a modest level of 2% to 3%, and there is not much inflation or deflation. There are both encouraging signs and red flags,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Several employers participating in the survey said regulatory costs have become a significant concern. “The cost to operate has increased dramatically — higher wages, benefit costs, supply costs, and cost of compliance with all the new regulations coming out of the State House,” one employer wrote. Constituent indicators showed a broad-based retrenchment during May. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth fell 2.3 points to 60.9, while the U.S. Index shed 3.3 points to 55.0. The Massachusetts reading has declined 9.1 points during the past 12 months, and the U.S. reading has dropped 14.3 points during the same period. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, tumbled 4.5 points to 56.0. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, lost 1.8 points to 58.2, 8.4 points lower than a year ago. The Employment Index declined 1.2 points for the month and 5.1 percent for 12 months. Analysts say employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a state economy with a 2.9% jobless rate. AIM President and CEO John Regan, also a BEA member, said the national economic uncertainty comes at a time when Massachusetts employers are struggling with a series of expensive new employment-law mandates such as the state’s $1 billion paid family and medical leave program. “AIM has joined Raise Up Massachusetts and other groups in asking the Baker administration to delay the scheduled July 1 start of paid leave by three months to provide employers time to consider how much of the cost they will share with workers and whether they wish to opt out of the state system,” Regan said. “The delay is necessary to ensure a smooth rollout of this new entitlement.”

Opioid-overdose Death Rate Falls 4% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The opioid-related overdose death rate in Massachusetts continues to decline, falling an estimated 4% between 2016 and 2018, according to updated figures rin the latest quarterly opioid-related overdose deaths report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. For the first three months of 2019, preliminary data shows 497 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths. The decline in opioid-related overdose deaths is occurring despite the persistent presence of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. In 2018, fentanyl was present in the toxicology of 89% of those who died of an opioid-related overdose and had a toxicology screen. The presence of some stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, has also been increasing in opioid-related overdose deaths since 2017, while the presence of heroin or likely heroin in opioid-related overdose deaths has been declining since 2014. “While we remain encouraged that opioid-related overdose deaths have declined over the last two years, the epidemic continues to present very real challenges across Massachusetts that are made worse by the presence of fentanyl, cocaine, and amphetamines,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature to provide the $266 million we proposed in our budget to support prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services in addition to $5 million for a new Regional Fentanyl Interdiction Task Force.” In 2018, the total number of confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths was 2,033. That’s 17 fewer deaths than the 2,050 confirmed and estimated in 2017. By comparison, there were 2,100 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016. “The inroads we are making are also the result of our relentless focus on using data to drive our decision making around programs and policies,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “We continue to focus our efforts on multiple strategies that are proven effective.”

Massachusetts Health Officials Report Second Case of Measles

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed that a case of measles was diagnosed in a child in Greater Boston on May 24. During the infectious period, the child was present in a number of locations in Quincy and Weymouth that could have resulted in exposure to other people. This second case of measles this year in Massachusetts has occurred in the context of a large national outbreak of measles and a very large international outbreak. “Lack of vaccination, combined with domestic and international travel, has resulted in the spread of measles nationally and internationally,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “Getting vaccinated is the best way for people to protect themselves from this disease.” DPH urges all those who do not know their measles immunization status to get vaccinated with at least one dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Measles vaccine given within 72 hours of exposure may prevent measles disease, and vaccination beyond this window will provide protection from subsequent exposures. DPH, local health departments, and healthcare providers are working to contact individuals at high risk for exposure. Early symptoms of measles occur 10 days to two weeks after exposure and may resemble a cold (with fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes), and a rash occurs on the skin two to four days after the initial symptoms develop. The rash usually appears first on the head and then moves downward. The rash typically lasts a few days and then disappears in the same order. People with measles may be contagious up to four days before the rash appears and for four days after the day the rash appears. People who have had measles, or who have been vaccinated against measles per U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, are considered immune.

U.S. Department of Commerce Invests in Growth of Ludlow’s Manufacturing Sector

LUDLOW — U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that the department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is investing $3.1 million in the town of Ludlow to help support of the growth of local manufacturing by improving Riverside Drive. The project, to be matched with $3.1 million in local funds, is located in a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act-designated Opportunity Zone and is expected to create more than 950 jobs and generate more than $90.6 million in private investment. “Improving Riverside Drive will support the needs of larger commercial and industrial users, which require reliable water and sanitary sewer systems, as well as electric and communication services, to be competitive in the regional and global economy,” Ross said. “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Opportunity Zone designation will further incentives businesses to invest in the area and develop the local economy.” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal noted that the investment will bring the Riverside Drive project at Ludlow Mills one step closer to completion. “I have visited the site many times and know how important this federal investment is to the town of Ludlow. The transformation of the former mill on the Chicopee River has been impressive, and I am pleased to have been an enthusiastic supporter of this business and housing venture from the start.” The Riverside Drive improvement project will include construction of approximately 4,500 feet of public roadway, including water and sewer lines and underground utilities, to provide safe and adequate access to new manufacturing space within Ludlow’s industrial area. This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC). EDA funds the PVPC to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic -development road map to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment, and create jobs.

Briefcase

Employer Confidence Strengthens in April

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 2.4 points to 60.3 last month. Confidence remains well within optimistic territory, though still 3.9 points below its strong reading of April 2018. The April 2019 increase reflected growing employer optimism about economic prospects for the next six months and about the future of their own companies. All of the constituent indicators that make up the Index rose during April with one notable exception. The Employment Index fell 1.5 points to 54.4, suggesting that employer sentiment continues to be tempered by a persistent shortage of qualified workers. “The Business Confidence Index continues to show a conflict between short-term economic optimism and long-term concern about the prospect of finding enough appropriately skilled workers to run Massachusetts businesses,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The immediate news for employers is positive as economic growth in Massachusetts surged to an annual rate of 4.6% during the first quarter of 2019, and U.S. growth came in at 3.2%.” The constituent indicators showed a broad-based strengthening of confidence during April. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth rose 1.5 points to 63.2, while the U.S. Index gained 2.8 points to 58.3. The Massachusetts reading has declined 0.9 points during the past 12 months, and the U.S. reading has dropped 5.6 points during the same period. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 3.1 points to 60.5. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 1.7 points to 60.0, still 5.1 points lower than a year ago. The decline in the Employment Index left that measure 5.4 points lower than in April 2018. One good sign for job seekers is that the Sales Index, a key predictor of future business activity, rose 3.9 points during the month.

Leadership Pioneer Valley Partners with Tech Foundry on Program for Students

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) and Tech Foundry partnered together for a leadership-development curriculum for the students participating in the 14-week IT-training program. At no cost to the students, Tech Foundry prepares a cross-section of the population to step into a sustainable career in the information-technology sector. The program provides a comprehensive computer-science curriculum that gives students the fundamental knowledge needed to work with a variety of programming languages, computer hardware, networking solutions, and more. Partnering with Leadership Pioneer Valley, Tech Foundry was able to offer leadership development and skills to the students. “I can definitely say that, as a result of working with LPV, our students’ skill sets and confidence increased by leaps and bounds. Lora was thoughtful and responsive from our first planning meetings designing the curriculum to establishing the schedule, to securing trainers and delivering the workshops to meet our unique program needs,” said Dara Nussbaum-Vazquez, executive director of Tech Foundry. “Interactive and engaging LPV sessions with Tech Foundry ranged from students creating an elevator pitch on video to team exercises building towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows, to a creativity and problem-solving session rooted in improv-comedy techniques. We would highly recommend LPV to other nonprofits and companies, and look forward to a longstanding partnership.” LPV is also currently seeking applications for its LEAP Class of 2020. Emerging leaders, mid-career professionals with leadership potential, and those looking to better the Pioneer Valley are encouraged to apply. The deadline for applications is Monday, July 1. Applications and further information can be found at www.leadershippv.org.

Scholarships Available for STEM Studies at HCC

HOLYOKE — Students enrolled full-time in chemistry, engineering, mathematics, physics, or other STEM fields at Holyoke Community College (HCC) may qualify for a National Science Foundation (NSF) scholarship of up to $10,000 a year toward tuition and fees. Recipients of the scholarship become members of HCC’s STEM Scholars program and participate in field trips and benefit from other exclusive STEM-related events and activities each semester. The NSF STEM scholarship continues each semester students maintain good academic standing. Incoming and current HCC students are encouraged to apply. The application deadline for the 2019-20 academic year is Monday, July 15. Eligibility guidelines for the National Science Foundation STEM scholarship can be viewed at www.hcc.edu/scholarships, where there is also a link to the online application under ‘National Science Foundation Scholarships in STEM.’ Applicants must be enrolled full time in a STEM program, demonstrate academic ability or potential, and demonstrate financial need, according to the guidelines. STEM disciplines include biological sciences, physical sciences, math, computer and information services, geosciences, and engineering.

Briefcase

Leadership Pioneer Valley Accepting Applications for LEAP Class of 2020

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) is now accepting applications for enrollment in the LEAP class of 2020, a nine-month, regional leadership-development program that engages the Pioneer Valley’s most promising emerging leaders through learning and exploration. Participants are trained in leadership skills by experts in a classroom setting. They also attend in-depth field experiences across the region where they meet with local leaders and explore the region’s economy and culture. The LEAP program runs September through May. In its seven years, nearly 300 individuals representing more than 90 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated. The program has filled a critical need for a leadership program that builds a network of emerging leaders to address the challenges and opportunities of the region. Fifty-three percent of alumni have a new leadership role at work, 64% have joined a new board of directors, and 99% made new meaningful connections. LPV is seeking applicants all over the Pioneer Valley, including Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties in different sectors. The program is made for those in nonprofits, businesses, and government who are eager to increase their leadership skills and take action to better the region. Applicants are considered in a competitive application process that prioritizes diversity by employment sector, geography, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Emerging leaders, mid-career professionals with leadership potential, and those looking to better the Pioneer Valley should consider applying. Those who apply by June 1 will be eligible for $100 off of their personal tuition, and companies with three or more applicants by June 1 will receive 50% off one participant. The deadline for LPV class of 2020 applications is July 1. Applications and further information can be found at www.leadershippv.org.

First-quarter Profits Up Across MGM Resorts

LAS VEGAS — MGM Resorts International reported financial results for the quarter ended March 31, 2019. Consolidated net revenues increased 13% compared to the prior year quarter to $3.2 billion. MGM Springfield earned $9.38 million on $77.9 million in net revenue. That figure represents adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization, or EBITDA. “The first quarter came in slightly better than our expectations with consolidated net revenues up by 13% and adjusted EBITDA up 5%,” said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. “Our Las Vegas resorts experienced broad and diversified customer demand. Our non-gaming revenues grew by 4%.” Net revenues increased 21% to $804 million, including $78 million in contributions from the opening of MGM Springfield in August and $37 million in contributions from the acquisition of Empire City Casino in New York in January. “We remain focused on achieving our 2020 targets of $3.6 billion to $3.9 billion in consolidated adjusted EBITDA and significant growth in free cash flow,” Murren said. “Our strategy to achieve these goals includes the continued ramping up of MGM Cotai [in Macau], Park MGM [in Las Vegas], and MGM Springfield, and the implementation of the MGM 2020 Plan. MGM 2020 is a company-wide initiative aimed at leveraging a more centralized organization to maximize profitability and lay the groundwork for the company’s digital transformation to drive revenue growth.”

PVPC Releases Economic-development Strategy

SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) recently released its 2019 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) and Pioneer Valley Plan for Progress Five-year Update, a blueprint for economic development in the region. The CEDS features a description of regional economic-development conditions and sets forth goals and objectives for the future, as well as a list of projects seeking the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration Public Works funding in the next year. The report highlights the region’s continued decrease in unemployment, an improved workforce-talent pipeline, and increased early-education enrollment and high-school and community-college graduation rates, among others, as metrics illustrating the overall progress being made. The CEDS also lists many major committed projects of regional significance, such as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame renovations in Springfield, North Square at the Mill District in Amherst, and the One Ferry Street mixed-use development in Easthampton. A full digital copy is available at www.pvpc.org/plans/comprehensive-economic-development-strategy-ceds. Hard copies are also available upon request.

Briefcase

Springfield Regional Chamber Releases Legislative Agenda

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber (SRC) 2019 Outlook has released its legislative agenda outlining the priorities of its more than 500 members for the legislative session and the major issues it will focus on to strengthen business competitiveness, lower business costs, and stimulate growth in the Greater Springfield region. The SRC’s 2019-20 legislative agenda touches upon key issues in the areas of healthcare, workplace issues, workforce development and education, tax policy, and energy. Creed said the cost of healthcare and access to it is the number-one priority of the business community. In support of this focus, Creed serves as a steering committee member of the Employer Health Coalition, an employer-led effort to use its collective influence to uncover solutions that drive real change in the healthcare delivery system and reduce cost. She the SRC will also focus its efforts on the ending of the temporary increase to the Employer Medical Assistance Contribution (EMAC). To address the rising costs of MassHealth, the Legislature imposed a temporary assessment on businesses to cover these costs. Creed said the assessment was passed as a temporary measure, and the legislation dictates it to sunset at the end of 2019. Creed added that the SRC will also work to ensure mandated benefits be evidence-based and that their values exceeds their cost, while advocating for geographic equity in hospital reimbursements. She was part of the group that negotiated the legislative compromise which came to be known as the ‘grand bargain’ which enacted, among other things, a new Paid Family and Medical Leave program. She said the SRC will remain actively involved in its implementation. In addition, the SRC will encourage reforms to independent-contractor laws. Advocating for a return to prior statutory language for treble damages and opposing changes to wage ‘theft’ laws are also part of the chamber’s advocacy work. Workforce development remains a priority for the SRC and its members. Creed said finding qualified workers is at a critical juncture to the growth of the region. She said that supporting innovation which not only expands educational opportunities but links it to labor-market demand will be key to helping businesses with this need. The SRC will also advocate for modernizing the state funding formula while coupling it with reforms. Creed noted that the SRC will continue its focus on the state budget and how revenues are prioritized and spent, including supporting the rebuilding of the Stabilization Fund, or ‘rainy day’ fund, and encouraging it only in dire circumstances; supporting adequate funding for programs to meet the unique needs of the region’s gateway cities; advocating for adequate funding for local aid; maintaining the state’s high bond rating; ensuring the revenues collected from cannabis taxation are appropriately spent; and opposing any increase in the income tax on business. Rounding out the SRC’s legislative agenda is energy, and to that end, the SRC will advocate for a comprehensive energy strategy which includes a balanced energy portfolio, development of alternative renewable energy sources, expansion of the supply of natural gas and conservation, and energy-efficiency measures.

Independent Hospital Systems Launch Mass. Value Alliance

HOLYOKE — A coalition of 10 independent Massachusetts health systems, including 14 community hospitals, have formed the Massachusetts Value Alliance (MVA) to enhance their efforts in delivering high-quality, patient-centered, and cost-effective care to their communities. The member hospitals of the MVA collectively represent the largest collaboration of independent healthcare providers in the Commonwealth, with a combined $3.1 billion in total revenue. The 10-member collaborative spans the breadth of Massachusetts geographically, and serves approximately 2 million people in their combined market areas. This alliance is unique in Massachusetts as the only collaboration of independent healthcare systems. The MVA was founded in 2016 by Emerson Hospital, Sturdy Memorial Hospital, and South Shore Health. Membership has continued to grow and now also includes Holyoke Medical Center, Berkshire Health Systems, Harrington HealthCare System, Heywood Healthcare, Lawrence General Hospital, Signature Healthcare, and Southcoast Health. The specific goals of the MVA include the development of group purchasing and shared service arrangements, identification and sharing of best practices to enhance each organization’s ability to affect and lower the total cost of care while enhancing quality of care, and support for the development of population-health-management and care-coordination skill sets and capabilities. To date, the MVA has worked to facilitate cost savings for its member organizations through group purchasing of services, including reference-lab services and employee health benefits. Other initiatives are underway, including several MVA hospitals working together on the selection and implementation of a common electronic-medical-record platform. The MVA is governed by a board of directors and operates on a shared decision-making platform. MVA member health systems remain competitive and independent, each maintaining their community focus.

Statewide Unemployment Holds Steady In March

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.0% in March, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 4,100 jobs in March. Over the month, the private sector added 5,400 jobs as gains occurred in education and health services; manufacturing; professional, scientific, and business services; construction; other services; financial activities; trade, transportation, and utilities; and information. Leisure and hospitality lost jobs over the month. 

From March 2018 to March 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates Massachusetts added 28,200 jobs. The March unemployment rate was eight-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.8% reported by the BLS. The labor force increased by 100 from 3,843,600 in February, as 1,700 more residents were employed and 1,600 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped five-tenths of a percentage point. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 67.9%. Compared to March 2018, the labor force participation rate is up 0.7%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in other services; professional, scientific, and business services; and education and health services.

Baystate Health Informs Patients of E-mail Phishing Incident

SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Health announced it has mailed letters to patients about an e-mail phishing incident that affected approximately 12,000 patients. On Feb. 7, Baystate Health learned of unauthorized access to an employee’s e-mail account and immediately launched an investigation. During the course of the investigation, it learned that nine employee e-mail accounts were compromised as a result of an e-mail phishing incident. “As soon as Baystate identified the unauthorized access, each account was secured,” said Kevin Hamel, chief Information Security officer for Baystate Health. “Baystate hired an experienced computer forensic firm to assist in this investigation.” The investigation determined that some patient information was contained in the e-mail accounts, including patient names, dates of birth, health information (such as diagnoses, treatment information, and medications), and, in some instances, health-insurance information, as well as a limited number of Medicare numbers and Social Security numbers. Neither patient medical records nor any of Baystate’s electronic-medical-record systems were compromised. Baystate is offering a complimentary one-year membership to credit-monitoring and identity-protection services for those patients whose Social Security numbers were exposed. “The integrity of our information systems and e-mail security is a high priority, and we are committed to maintaining and securing patient information at all times,” said Joel Vengco, senior vice president and chief Information officer for Baystate Health. To help prevent something like this from happening in the future, the health system required a password change for all affected employees, increased the level of e-mail logging (and is reviewing those logs regularly), and has blocked access to e-mail accounts outside of its network. It is also reinforcing its current, ongoing training and education of all employees focused on detecting and avoiding phishing e-mails. More information may be found on Baystate’s website at baystatehealth.org/phishing.

Valley Blue Sox Seek Volunteer Host Families

SPRINGFIELD — The Valley Blue Sox are currently searching for volunteer host families for the upcoming 2019 New England Collegiate Baseball League season. The Blue Sox are a nonprofit, collegiate summer baseball team that recruits baseball players from across the country. Players come to the Valley in hopes of enhancing their draft status and furthering their professional baseball careers. Volunteer host families offer Blue Sox players housing for the duration of the summer season, which runs from June 5 to August 1. Families who volunteer to host Blue Sox players will receive the following: paid general admission and concessions vouchers for all family members in the household at all 2019 Blue Sox home games, access to special team events, on-field recognition at the end of the 2019 season, and two tickets to the Western Massachusetts Baseball Hall of Fame induction banquet. Families are required to provide a private bedroom, which may be shared with another Blue Sox player, with proper bedding, linens, and towels. Questions regarding hosting Blue Sox players can be addressed to Blue Sox General Manager Chris Weyant at [email protected]

Briefcase

Employer Confidence Slips in March

BOSTON — Business confidence weakened slightly in March amid signs of both a cyclical global slowdown and persistent demographic factors limiting the growth of the labor force in Massachusetts. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost 0.3 points to 57.9 during March. Confidence remains within optimistic territory but has lost 5.6 points during the past 12 months. The decrease reflected employer concerns about economic prospects for the next six months. Those concerns outweighed growing optimism among manufacturing companies and rising confidence in the Massachusetts economy. The March survey took place as the government announced that Massachusetts created only 20,000 jobs during 2018 instead of the 65,500 previously estimated. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average payroll job growth in Massachusetts fell from 1.3% in 2017 to 0.9% last year. The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord said employers remain concerned as Beacon Hill lawmakers undertake a broad discussion of how to fund expensive policy priorities such as transportation infrastructure, public education, and clean energy. He noted that AIM will be part of a group assembled by the state Senate to look at the Massachusetts tax code, adding that “Massachusetts must develop a fair strategy to address its spending needs without harming employers who are already struggling to implement a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program along with the rising cost of both health insurance and energy.”

Two Massachusetts Organizations Call for an End to Trashed Rivers

GREENFIELD — The Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) and the Charles River Watershed Assoc. (CRWA), two national leaders in the effort to clean up the nation’s rivers, called on Massachusetts lawmakers to take legislative action on reducing trash before it reaches rivers. The two organizations pointed to a number of bills currently working their way through the Massachusetts State House that would, if approved, go a long way to reduce or eliminate trash that might otherwise end up in the state’s waterways. The proposed legislation includes measures to eliminate single-use plastic bags, restrict single-use plastic straws, and eliminate foam from food containers. “For years, thousands of volunteers from these two organizations have been doing their part to keep our rivers clean,” noted CRC Cleanup Coordinator Stacey Lennard. “Now we want decision makers at the state level to do their part in helping redesign our economy so there isn’t waste in the first place.” Added Emily Norton, CRWA’s executive director, “with environmental regulations being rolled back weekly at the federal level, it is more important than ever that we have strong protections for our waterways at both the state and the local levels. We need your help to make sure that happens.” CRC and CRWA also called on the public to join them in urging legislators to do their part by signing CRC’s petition telling manufacturers, businesses, and local government to lead the way on overhauling how plastic and other waste products are made and used, and to take greater responsibility in solving the trash crisis (visit www.ctriver.org/takeaction); joining the 23rd annual Source to Sea Cleanup on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, along the Connecticut River and tributary streams across the four-state watershed (visit www.ctriver.org/cleanup to learn more); and participating in the 20th annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup on Saturday, April 27 from 9 a.m. to noon (www.crwa.org/cleanup).

Sportsmen’s Land Trust Announces New License Plate

BOSTON — A new Massachusetts passenger plate is now available at all full-service RMV locations for outdoor enthusiasts interested in wildlife conservation, habitat improvement, and guaranteed public access to Massachusetts land. The new “Habitat and Heritage” plate features a whitetail deer buck drawn by Springfield wildlife artist Edward Snyder. Proceeds from the plate will benefit the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sportsmen’s National Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit established in 2007, dedicated to conserving and improving wildlife habitat for use by the public. With funds from the license plate, the Sportsmen’s Land Trust can further its mission to acquire open space and partner with other like-minded organizations to complete habitat improvement projects across Massachusetts. For more information, visit the special plates section of the Massachusetts RMV website, or e-mail the SNLT at [email protected].

BusinessWest Accepting Continued Excellence Award Nominations

SPRINGFIELD — BusinessWest is looking for nominees for its fifth Continued Excellence Award, and will accept nominations through Friday, May 3. The winner of the award will be unveiled at the magazine’s 40 Under Forty gala on Thursday, June 20. Four years ago, BusinessWest inaugurated the award to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who had significantly built on their achievements since they were honored. The first two winners were Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT, and Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center. Both were originally named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2008. The judges chose two winners in 2017: Scott Foster, an attorney with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas (40 Under Forty class of 2011); and Nicole Griffin, owner of Griffin Staffing Network (class of 2014). Last year, Samalid Hogan, regional director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (class of 2013), took home the honor. Candidates must hail from 40 Under Forty classes prior to the year of the award — in this case, classes 2007-18 — and will be judged on qualities including outstanding leadership, dedicated community involvement, professional achievement, and ability to inspire. The award’s presenting sponsor is Health New England. The nomination form is available HERE. A list of the past 12 40 Under Forty classes may be found HERE. For more information, call Bevin Peters, Marketing and Events director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or e-mail [email protected].