Home Departments Archive by category Briefcase

Briefcase

Briefcase Uncategorized

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.

Briefcase

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.

Briefcase

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.

Briefcase

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.

Briefcase

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.

Briefcase

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]ssachusetts.org.

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].

Briefcase

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 Enlgand. 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]

Jewish Nursing Home, Six Other Facilities Reach Settlement with State

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that the state reached settlements with seven nursing homes, including Jewish Nursing Home of Longmeadow, after an investigation found “systemic failures” at the facilities that led to the death or injury of some residents. About $500,000 in penalties were announced during a news conference Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported. The seven facilities will now be enrolled in strict compliance programs and must undergo safety and care-quality improvements. Settlements were reached with Jewish Nursing Home of Longmeadow (which received an $85,000 fine), Oxford Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Haverhill ($180,000), Wakefield Center in Wakefield ($30,000), the Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Everett ($40,000), Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Westboro ($37,500), Braemoor Health Center in Brockton, and Woodbriar Health Center in Wilmington. Synergy Health Centers, which owns Braemoor and Woodbriar, is banned from operating in Massachusetts for seven years. Synergy will pay between $100,000 and $200,000 in fines.

Phase 3 Complete at Atwood Professional Campus

NORTHAMPTON — A ribbon-cutting ceremony has been scheduled for Friday, April 5 at 1 p.m. at the site of phase 3 of the Atwood Professional Campus located at 15 Atwood Dr. in Northampton. This 66,000-square-foot, Class A, three-story professional office building compliments the existing office buildings located across the street at 8 and 22 Atwood Dr., immediately off exit 18 on I-91. Both previous buildings are fully occupied, with notable tenants including Cooley Dickinson Health Care Corp., Clinical & Support Options Inc., and New England Dermatology. The new building was erected at the site of the former Clarion Inn & Conference Center and is designed to appeal to professional and medical office tenants. The owners of Northwood Development, LLC — Edward O’Leary, Eileen O’Leary Sullivan, and Susan O’Leary Mulhern — developed this project. The construction of the building was completed in January 2019. The Hampshire County Probate and Family Court has leased 22,000 square feet in the new building consisting of the entire first floor along with a portion of the second floor. Cooley Dickinson Health Care Corp. has also leased 7,682 square feet on the second floor for medical offices, and construction for that space is currently underway. Development Associates of Agawam, the project manager and leasing agent for the project, has been developing commercial and industrial property throughout the Pioneer Valley for more than 35 years.

Employer Confidence Inches Up in February

BOSTON — Business confidence rebounded modestly during February as optimism about the state and national economies outweighed a darkening outlook among Massachusetts manufacturers. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index gained 0.5 points to 58.2 after dropping in January to its lowest level since October 2016. Confidence remains within optimistic territory but has lost 6.8 points during the past 12 months. The February increase was driven by a 3.4% jump in employer views of the state economy and a 3.3% rise for the national economy. The government announced last week that the U.S. economy grew at a 2.9% rate in 2018, matching 2015 as the biggest increase since the end of the 2007-09 Great Recession. “Employers remain generally optimistic about a state economy that continues to run at full-employment levels and a U.S. economy that is projected to grow by 2.2% this year” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, the erosion of confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers during the past 12 months raises some concern about the long-term sustainability of the recovery.”

Grant Funds Opioid-addiction Treatment in Two County Jails

AMHERST — In what could serve as a model for tackling one of the nation’s top public-health crises, a UMass Amherst epidemiology researcher is teaming up with two Western Mass. sheriff’s offices to design, implement, and study an opioid-treatment program for jail detainees in Franklin and Hampshire counties. Funded with a $1.5 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the three-year project aims to deliver medications to some 500 detainees who agree to treatment, and connect them to follow-up care through a comprehensive community re-entry program after their release. Elizabeth Evans, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and one of the grant recipients, will collect data from all the stakeholders to measure the project’s outcomes. “The idea is to distill the lessons learned into a playbook or guide that can be used in jails in Massachusetts and across the nation,” she said. “Evidence supports the use of medications to treat opioid-use disorder. This model signifies a willingness of the sheriffs to deliver care to reduce recidivism and to save people’s lives.” Evans will help Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan, Assistant Superintendent Ed Hayes, and their staff expand and formalize the groundbreaking opioid treatment they began offering inmates in 2015 at the county jail in Greenfield. She also will work with Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, Assistant Superintendent Melinda Cady, and their staff to implement the same program in the Northampton jail.

Hampden County Bar Assoc. Offers Two Law School Scholarships

SPRINGFIELD — The Hampden County Bar Assoc. is now accepting applications for the John F. Moriarty Scholarship and the Colonel Archer B. Battista Veterans Scholarship. The John F. Moriarty Scholarship is available to any Hampden County resident who has been admitted to or is attending a certified law school for the 2019-20 academic year. Applicants must have been residents of Hampden County for at least five years. The deadline date for the John F. Moriarty Scholarship is May 31. The Colonel Archer B. Battista Veterans Scholarship is available to any veteran with an honorable discharge or a current member of the U.S. military who has been admitted to or is attending a certified law school in New England for the 2019-20 year. The deadline for the Colonel Archer B. Battista Veterans Scholarship is May 15. Both scholarships are based on merit and financial need. Applications and additional information are available by contacting Caitlin Glenn at the Hampden County Bar Assoc. at (413) 732-4660 or [email protected] or by visiting www.hcbar.org/about-us/scholarships/.

YouthWorks Program Seeks Employers to Participate in Summer-jobs Program

SPRINGFIELD — The MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board will hold a press conference on Friday, April 5 to launch its 2019 YouthWorks summer-jobs campaign. The event will take place at 1 p.m. at the Reed Institute, located at 152 Notre Dame St., Westfield. The agency’s goal is to place up to 800 youth in summer jobs. Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan will be joined by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, and Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos to announce the summer youth-employment initiative. Also in attendance will be state Sen. James Welch and state Reps. Joseph Wagner, John Velis, Jose Tosado, Aaron Vega, Carlos Gonzalez, and Bud Williams. Each year, thousands of YouthWorks applications are received for a few hundred jobs. Employer participation is paramount to ensure a successful summer for youth between ages 14 and 21. Youth employed through the YouthWorks summer-jobs program will earn $12 per hour, work an average of 125 hours over six weeks, and receive 15 hours of training in workplace-readiness skills and workplace safety. Employers who are interested in hiring a youth, becoming a YouthWorks worksite, or donating money to help pay the wages for a youth to work should contact Kathryn Kirby, manager of Youth Employment and Workforce Programs, at (413) 755-1359.

Briefcase

Employer Confidence Slides to Begin 2019

BOSTON — Stabilizing financial markets and continued strong employment were not enough to brighten the outlook of Massachusetts employers during January as business confidence fell for the fifth time in seven months. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost 0.9 points to 57.7, its lowest level since October 2016. Confidence has dropped 6.4 points during the past 12 months. The retreat was led by a 7.3-point drop in employer views of the Massachusetts economy and a 2.4-point drop in opinions about the national economy. Overall confidence remains within optimistic territory, but every element of the AIM Index is now lower than it was a year ago. A separate survey within the January Business Confidence Index found that, while 71% of Massachusetts employers have seen some effect from the U.S. government’s imposition of tariffs on goods form China and other nations, only 10% of companies characterize the effect as “significant” or a threat to the existence of their business. The most common consequence of the tariffs has been an increase in raw-material prices, followed by changes to the supply chain, supply interruptions, products affected by retaliatory tariffs, and loss of overseas customers.

1Berkshire Begins to Implement Berkshire Blueprint 2.0

PITTSFIELD — On Feb. 15, 1Berkshire launched the implementation phase of the Berkshire Blueprint 2.0, a strategic economic-development imperative. With more than 300 registered attendees packing the Colonial Theatre in downtown Pittsfield, 1Berkshire members, regional leaders, and elected officials from across the county shared this project, already two years in the making. The event was the culmination of more than 100 interviews, thousands of hours of work, and more than 20 months of planning and design. 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler kicked off the primary outline during the launch by recognizing that $1 billion in regional investments have been made in the Berkshires in just the last three years. Beginning the implementation phase of the Blueprint 2.0 entails a number of action steps, focused on five key industrial clusters, as well as other economic-landscape components and cross-cutting issues. Collectively, this work aims to unite all geographic corners of the county for a common goal of economic development and sustained growth.

Study Shows Economic Impact of Westover Air Show

AMHERST — A UMass Amherst economic impact study estimates that the two-day Great New England Air Show (GNEAS) held at Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee in July 2018 generated $4.3 million in direct and induced local spending. The findings confirm increased per-group spending and their impacts on the local economy even though attendance was significantly down; 2018 attendance was estimated to be around 63,475, down from the 375,500 estimated in 2015. The study was undertaken to understand the economic impact and to benchmark the findings of the 2008 and 2015 air shows for the Galaxy Community Council, a charitable corporation of veterans, local business people, and other citizens who work to support the Westover base. The project was completed by the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. The overall economic significance including respondents’ expenditures both within and outside the region of the air show for 2018 was estimated to be $4.02 million. However, when local attendees were removed, the direct economic expenditures from non-locals was estimated to be $2.67 million, and the direct and induced sales multiplier impact overall was estimated to be $4.3 million. This compares to an economic significance in 2015 that was $11.6 million and a local direct economic impact (including the sales multiplier) of $14.9 million. In 2008, economic significance was $8.2 million, and the direct economic impact was $12.3 million.

Holyoke Wins Grant to Create Services for Older Victims of Domestic Abuse

HOLYOKE — The city of Holyoke has been awarded a grant of $398,205 from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women for a period of three years to create and enhance services for older victims of domestic abuse. This will allow the city to create and design Project Combating Abuse in Later Life (CALL) to address domestic abuse for those aged 50 and older who reside in the city. Project CALL will partner with the Holyoke Police Department, the Hampden District Attorney’s Office, Womanshelter Companeras, and WestMass ElderCare and receive advanced training on abuse in later life from the Office of Violence against Women, then conduct training to law enforcement, service providers, and residents to enhance effective service. Project CALL will have an HPD Elder Affairs Officer team up with a victim advocate and conduct direct services and outreach to those designated as high-risk. This team will enhance victim safety by not only providing support and services to the victim, but finding community-based interventions for the abuser while simultaneously placing them on high-risk status and sharing their information with the CALL Task Force and across systems. The collaborative team aims to have contacts at points of abuse and arrests, and include direct support through the court process. This team will also be responsible for community-based monitoring, case management, and responding to emergency referrals and implementing safety plans for the victims. The CALL Task Force will also act as a wraparound support system responsible for identifying the underserved Spanish elderly population by developing, implementing, and distributing a safety-plan brochure in Spanish for elder victims of domestic violence.

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Decline for Second Straight Year

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts declined by 4% in 2018 compared to 2017, marking the second consecutive year-over-year decrease in deaths, according to the latest quarterly opioid-related overdose deaths report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. That 4% decline follows a 2% decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths between 2016 and 2017. Fentanyl, however, remained a key factor in opioid-related overdose deaths; it was present in the toxicology of 89% of those who died of an opioid-related overdose and had a toxicology screen in the third quarter of 2018. Meanwhile, the rate of heroin or likely heroin present has been declining since 2016, falling to about 34% of opioid-related overdose deaths that had a toxicology screen in the third quarter of 2018. In 2018, preliminary estimates showed 1,974 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths, or 82 fewer deaths than the 2,056 confirmed and estimated deaths in 2017. There were 2,099 confirmed deaths in 2016. “The decrease in overdose deaths provides some hope that our approach to combating the opioid epidemic is having an impact,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “We must maintain an intense focus on this crisis and continue to expand opportunities to increase harm-reduction initiatives and expand treatment and recovery services.” While the report showed an overall decline in opioid-related overdose deaths, non-Hispanic black males experienced a 45% increase from 2016 to 2017 in the opioid-related overdose death rate.

Historic Restoration Begins at Old Hampshire County Courthouse

NORTHAMPTON — HCG announced the official start of the historic Hampshire County Courthouse restoration. This phase of the project consists of repairs to the roof, tower, as well as windows and masonry. The building is owned and occupied by HCG. Arlington-based Boston Bay Architects Inc. is overseeing the $1.8 million project, and Wesfield Construction Co. Inc. of New Hampshire won the bid for construction. The restoration will begin at the top of the southern facing tower with the replacement of terracotta roof tiles. Exterior repairs include masonry stone restoration and brick stabilization. The tower interior carpentry work will focus on roof, floor, stairs, and railings. At the completion of the tower, the work will continue down the southern façade with window repair and replacement to energy-efficient historical windows. In October 2017, the Baker-Polito administration announced the release of Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) funds to HCG for this current phase of repairs. In 2015, DCAMM released $500,000 for safety repairs to the building’s steps and roof. The Northampton Community Preservation committee has played an integral role in the plans for this phase of renovation, contributing $200,000 to the building restoration. Local Community Preservation Acts contributed an additional $10,000 from Hatfield and $8,000 from Goshen. Area banks have pledged $38,000, and the Hampshire Foundation Buy a Brick program provided $8,800 from local residents and businesses.

Briefcase

Nominations Open for Annual Ubora and Ahadi Awards

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the 28th annual Ubora Award and the 10th annual Ahadi Youth Award. These prestigious awards — conferred by the African Hall Subcommittee — honor African-American people from Greater Springfield who have gone above and beyond in demonstrating commitment to fields of community service, education, science, humanities, and/or the arts. The African Hall Subcommittee is a volunteer group comprised of educators, business people, and community leaders from the African-American community. The nomination deadline for both awards is March 31. True to the Swahili word that comprises its name, the Ubora Award recognizes an adult of African heritage who exemplifies excellence in their commitment to creating a better community through service. In 2018, the Ubora Award was given to Keshawn Dobbs, who leads the Springfield Boys and Girls Club Family Center. Named for the Swahili word for ‘promise,’ the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who excels in academics and performs admirable service to the Greater Springfield community. Eligible candidates must be age 19 or younger, live in or have strong ties to the Greater Springfield area, and be currently enrolled in grades 10, 11, or 12. In 2018, the Ahadi Award was given to Karissa Coleman. The Ubora and Ahadi Awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in September. Nomination forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. Nominations may be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

Monson Savings Bank Accepting Applications for Scholarship Program

MONSON — The 2019 Monson Savings Bank Scholarship application is now available to graduating high-school seniors residing in Hampden and Wilbraham. Applications are available at the Hampden office at 15 Somers Road, Hampden and the Wilbraham office at 100 Post Office Park, Wilbraham. The purpose of the Monson Savings Bank Scholarship is to promote the attainment of higher education for graduating seniors who reside within the bank’s footprint. Three $2,000 scholarships will awarded. Graduating seniors must be planning to attend an accredited college, technical school, or certification program. Scholarship awards will be based on the applicant’s financial need, academic performance, and extracurricular activities during and after school, work experience, as well as music, arts, and/or sports programs. Monson Savings Bank is proud to be an integral part of its greater community. A candidate for this scholarship should have demonstrated a commitment to his or her community. Please include an essay outlining that service and the impact you achieved through your contribution. The deadline for application acceptance is April 5. The completed application and required supporting documents will be accepted by mail or electronically. If you have any questions, contact Donna Easton-Vicalvi at (413) 725-4560 or [email protected]

Big Brothers Big Sisters Announces Partnership with Camp Glow It Up

AMHERST — CHD’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County announced a partnership with Camp Glow It Up, a new summer camp for women. The first weekend camp brings the fun and energy of a kids’ sleepaway camp to adults and will be held March 29-31 at Nine Mountain Retreats in Plainfield. The all-inclusive wellness camp features activities like fitness classes, yoga, hiking, group circles, a campfire, singalongs, arts and crafts, and a glow-in-the-dark dance party. Nutritious meals will be prepared by an in-house chef. The camp promises to highlight the power of women as individuals while also creating space for bonding among friends and strangers turned friends. The partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters means a portion of Camp Glow It Up’s proceeds will help fund a program to send girls involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County to their own summer-camp experiences. “We believe in our shared responsibility to invest in the next generation of women leaders, and together, we will forage a path toward empowerment of women and girls,” said Katie Lipsmeyer, the camp’s founder. Added Jessie Cooley, director of CHD’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, “knowing Katie’s passion for helping to empower others, and the role that Big Brothers Big Sisters plays in igniting the potential of young people, it is exciting to think about the girls in our program who will benefit from empowering summer-camp experiences thanks to the generosity of Camp Glow It Up.”

Briefcase

Massachusetts Unemployment Drops Slightly in December

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.3% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 5,600 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector added 5,500 jobs as gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; other services; education and health services; leisure and hospitality; manufacturing; financial activities; and information. Construction and trade, transportation, and utilities lost jobs over the month. From December 2017 to December 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,800 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.9% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Preliminary estimates show an addition of 184,700 residents to the labor force during 2018 — the largest yearly increase in the labor force since the beginning of the series in 1976. These labor-force gains, alongside the 65,800 jobs added to the economy last year, are indicators of the continued strength of the job market in the Commonwealth,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force increased by 5,000 from 3,837,000 in November, as 8,800 more residents were employed and 3,800 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped two-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 — increased one-tenth of a percentage point to 68.1%. Compared to December 2017, the labor-force participation rate is up 2.8%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in professional, scientific, and business services; information; other services; and education and health services.

HCC Secures Grant to Create Hotel Training Lab

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) secured a $35,000 grant to establish a hotel training lab on the second floor of the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute. The award, announced by Gov. Charlie Baker and other administration officials, comes from the Massachusetts Skills Capital Grant Program, which funds the purchase of new equipment for educational initiatives linked to workforce needs. The lab will be set up like a hotel reception area with front desk and adjoining guest room and equipped with up-to-date technology and software. It will be used for non-credit workforce-training programs as well as credit-based associate degree and certificate programs in Hospitality Management. The lab is expected to be up and running in February. The competitive Skills Capital Grants require institutions to partner with local businesses and align the curriculum to meet industry requirements. HCC’s partners include the Log Cabin Delaney House, the Tower Square Hotel Springfield, and MassHire career centers in Holyoke and Springfield. Over the past three years, HCC has been awarded nearly $400,000 through the Skills Capital Grant Program, including $127,741 in 2016 to expand and enhance its EMT Training Program and $229,500 in 2017 for kitchen equipment at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, which opened in January 2018 on Race Street in the Holyoke Innovation District. This new round of Skills Capital Grants mainly targets educational programs for people who may need help overcoming barriers to employment — those who may be unemployed or underemployed, lack English proficiency, or do not yet hold college credentials and want to develop new skills.

UMass Amherst Study Looks at Drought, Virus Impact on Plant Roots and Soil Carbon

AMHERST — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded biogeochemist Marco Keiluweit, assistant professor of Soils and the Environment in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst, along with his collaborators elsewhere, two grants to study how climate change affects the capacity of soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere and retain enough nutrients for food production. In particular, the teams will investigate climate-change-related effects of drought and virus infection in plants, and their interaction with soils. Keiluweit and colleagues received $200,000 and $300,000 exploratory research awards from DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research program, which supports “high-risk, high-reward” research, the soil-chemistry expert says. Keiluweit’s collaborators include Zoe Cardon at the Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory, the principal investigator on one of the grants, and Malak Tfaily at the University of Arizona, Carolyn Malmstrom at Michigan State University, and William J. Riley at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Their drought-focused research will look at plants in an alpine watershed near Gothic, Colo., where root-soil interactions are key regulators of ecosystem carbon storage and downstream nutrient loadings, the researchers say. These areas have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, they point out. For this work, Keiluweit says he and collaborators will make “very fine scale measurements of what is happening at the interface between roots and soil” in both greenhouse and field experiments. They want to explore what they call “elusive mechanisms” driving root-soil interaction, which may mobilize a “vast pool of organic matter that has been stabilized by associations with minerals for centuries or millennia.” Such mechanisms are missing from conceptual and numerical models of carbon cycling in soils, they note.

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke Opens New Boxing Program Space

HOLYOKE — In its heyday, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke was the boxing capital of Massachusetts. Its boxing program attracted seasoned and novice fighters as well as spectators from all over the Commonwealth, as well as Connecticut, New York, and other surrounding states. Some of the more prominent names even included Rocky Marciano and Mike Tyson. After years of planning and six months of buildout, the Boys & Girls Club opened its new boxing program space, equipped with a regulation, 20-foot boxing ring and a variety of punching bags and workout stations. The club will reintroduce the sport as a non-contact youth-development program for after-school and summer-camp members. All activities will focus on mentoring, character development, teamwork, and discipline. Coaches will include members of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, the Holyoke Police Department, and past club alumni.

Briefcase

Employer Confidence Weakens in December

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers gave a big “bah, humbug” to the year-end economy as business confidence withered in the face of a government shutdown and the largest one-month stock-market decline since the Great Depression. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost three points to 58.6 during December, its lowest level since December 2016. Confidence readings have dropped five points during the past 12 months. The retreat was led by an 8.6-point drop in employer views of the national economy, and a 4.7-point drop among manufacturing companies. Overall confidence remains within optimistic territory, but less comfortably so than earlier in 2018. “The Massachusetts economy remains strong, with a 3.3% growth rate and an unemployment rate of 3.4%, but employers are increasingly concerned about factors such as financial-market volatility, a dysfunctional national political debate, and challenges such as the cost of providing health insurance to employees,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. The AIM Index, based on a survey of 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 Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. It has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Bradley Adds New Non-stop Service to Raleigh-Durham, Orlando, Pittsburgh

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) announced the debut in 2019 of new, non-stop service from Bradley International Airport to Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Orlando International Airport on low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines, as well as the addition of non-stop service to Pittsburgh on Via Airlines. The service to Raleigh-Durham will commence on April 30 on an Airbus A320. It will operate seasonally on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. The service to Orlando will commence on May 1 on an Airbus A321. It will operate seasonally on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The service to Pittsburgh will commence on July 22 on an Embraer ERJ145 with 50 seats. It will operate four times a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

 

Community Foundation Awards $665,200 to 45 Nonprofits

SPRINGFIELD — The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) recently awarded $665,200 to 45 area nonprofits through its capital grant and capacity grant programs, two of the foundation’s six competitive grant-making programs that focus on improving and supporting quality of life for people in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. CFWM capital grants help local nonprofit organizations expand their impact by funding new and upgraded technology, equipment, and facilities. Capacity grants support local nonprofits to build their own organizational effectiveness and operational efficiency. Grant awards range from $4,500 to $40,000 and address community needs in the areas of arts and culture, education, the environment, health, housing, and human services. More than 25 of the projects funded were supported by trusts administered by Bank of America. CFWM receives and reviews grant applications on behalf of Bank of America for four charitable trusts for which the bank serves as a trustee. Total grant awards by county are as follows: Hampden, $412,000, Hampshire, $144,400, and Franklin, $108,800. Capital grants were awarded to the following programs and organizations: Ascentria Community Services, Baystate Health Foundation, Bethlehem House, Chester Theatre Company, Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, Davenport Child Care, Franklin County Community Meals Program, Franklin Land Trust, Friends of the Montague Common Hall, Friends of the Springfield Public Library, Gardening the Community, Hilltown Community Health Center, Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Holyoke YMCA, MHA, Multicultural Community Services of the Pioneer Valley, Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., Robert F. Kennedy Academy, Roca, Second Chance Animal Services, ServiceNet, Springfield Museums, Stanley Park, Tapestry Health Systems, Tolland Volunteer Fire Department, Valley Eye Radio, Willie Ross School for the Deaf, and Womanshelter Companeras. Capacity Grants were awarded to the following programs and organizations: 1794 Meetinghouse Inc., Birthday Wishes, Brick House Community Resource Center, Cancer Connection, Double Edge Theatre Productions, Hilltown Land Trust, Kestrel Land Trust, Link to Libraries, Mary Lyon Education Fund, Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange, Massachusetts Review, North Quabbin Citizen Advocacy, Northampton Education Foundation, Trauma Institute and Child Trauma Institute, and the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts.

Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, Big Y Announce Local Farmer Awards

AGAWAM — Starting Jan. 1, farmers in Western Mass. are invited to apply for Local Farmer Awards up to $2,500 toward equipment and infrastructure projects to help them complete in the marketplace. The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF), in partnership with Big Y and with the support of other funders, is entering the fifth year of the awards program, which has helped more than 125 farmers carry out a total of 188 projects. Some examples of how the awards have been used include a high-efficiency vegetable washer, a walk-in cooler aging room, an egg washer, high tunnel irrigation, electric fencing, and a milkplan bulk tank. To be eligible, farms must have gross sales of $10,000 or above and either be a member of Berkshire Grow or Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) or reside in one the four Western Mass. counties. Berkshire Grown and CISA share their passion for local farms by providing ongoing guidance and help with promotion of the of the Local Farmer Awards. The deadline for applying is Thursday, Jan. 31. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit www.farmerawards.org for more information.

Horace Smith Fund Offers Scholarship, Fellowship Funds

WESTFIELD — The Horace Smith Fund, now in its 120th year, has scholarship and fellowship money available for graduates of Hampden County public and private high schools. Scholarship awards of $12,000 are distributed as $3,000 annually and renewable each year until graduation. Fellowship awards of $15,000 are distributed as $5,000 annually and renewable for two additional years. Students must maintain at least a B average in college. Recipients are selected on a variety of criteria, including financial need, college entrance-exam scores, class rank, extracurricular activities, and recommendations. Of great importance is a personal, written account of why the student feels deserving of financial assistance. Fellowship applicants must also submit their transcripts and, if applicable, GRE or degree-specific test scores. All recipients must be full-time students and residents of Hampden County. Last year, $382,000 was awarded to 37 individuals. Scholarships were given to 26 graduating seniors from 13 Hampden County high schools. Five scholarships were also awarded to current college students to assist them in completing their undergraduate degrees. Six fellowships were given to college graduates pursuing graduate degrees, who had graduated from Hampden County high schools. Completed applications must be received either electronically or by mail to the Horace Smith Fund at 16 Union Ave., Suite 2K, Westfield, MA 01085 no later than March 15, 2019. Applications are available at local high-school guidance offices, college financial-aid offices, online at www.horacesmithfund.org, or by phoning (413) 739-4222.

Small Businesses Starting to Feel Impact of Shutdown

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the partial government shutdown continues, small businesses across the country are starting to feel the effects of the shutdown, resulting in unnecessary uncertainty at the start of a new fiscal year. Keith Hall, president and CEO of the National Assoc. for the Self-Employed, the nation’s leading advocate and resource for the self-employed and micro-business community, called on Congress and the White House to work together to end the shutdown on behalf of America’s small-business community. The Washington Post reported that, as of Dec. 22, the Small Business Administration stopped processing new small-business loans due to the government shutdown. Thousands of small-business owners across the country are unable to receive critical funding to start and grow their businesses because of the partial government shutdown. Even when full funding is restored, a backlog is likely. “The negative consequences of one of the longest shutdowns in U.S. history is now fully impacting our country’s small-business community,” said Hall. “From uncertainty around how the shutdown could impact delays in tax refunds small businesses were looking to invest from this year’s new tax law to the shuttering of the Small Business Administration impacting small-business loans, America’s small businesses are on the front lines feeling the adverse impact.  “The government shutdown has created additional uncertainty during a critical time when small businesses are starting a new fiscal year,” he continued. “Small businesses must continue to abide by their tax obligations, including paying quarterly tax estimates and adhering to all filing deadlines. However, the federal government is unlikely to keep their end of the deal by processing tax refunds on time and providing small businesses access to critical answers they may have to questions about filing for the first time under the new tax law.” During the shutdown, about 12% of IRS staff are expected to continue working, according to the agency’s lapsed funding contingency plan. This will result in the inability of such functions as staff being available to answer questions for small businesses filing for the first time under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act law going into full effect this tax year. It could also negatively impact the ability of IRS staff to process tax refunds in a timely manner, resulting in delays.

Briefcase

City of Springfield Files Opioid Lawsuit

SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Domenic Sarno announced that the city of Springfield filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, board members, and executives who caused the nation’s devastating opioid epidemic. The civil complaint was filed in Hampden Superior Court on Dec. 18. The complaint alleges that Springfield, along with many other communities, is currently experiencing a stark increase in the number of residents who have become addicted to prescription opioids and heroin, which has caused an increase in opioid overdoses. The complaint references a report that prescription opioids are now known to be the gateway drug to heroin; approximately 80% of current heroin users got their start with prescription opioids. According to the complaint, unlike any other epidemic, the opioid epidemic is not natural, nor typical, but largely man-made, and that it has been created, fueled, and continues to expand by the persistent unlawful conduct of the defendant pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmaceutical wholesale distributors. Springfield’s complaint was filed in conjunction with similar actions brought by Haverhill, Framingham, Gloucester, Salem, Lynnfield, Wakefield, and Worcester.

Clean-energy Industry Adds More Than 1,500 Jobs Statewide

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) announced the state’s clean-energy sector has continued its trend of upward growth, adding more than 1,500 workers to the clean-energy workforce between 2017 and 2018. The figures, released as part of MassCEC’s 2018 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report, found the industry now employs more than 110,700 workers in the Commonwealth, an increase of 1.4% since 2017 and 84% since 2010. The clean-energy industry saw robust growth in its contribution to Massachusetts’ gross state product (GSP), increasing 15% between 2017 and 2018 to contribute more than $13 billion to the statewide economy, making up about 2.5% of the GSP. The report found the clean-energy industry employs residents in every region of Mass. and makes up about 3.1% of the Massachusetts workforce. Other findings show that installation-related jobs are the largest source of clean energy employment, making up 30,057 jobs, followed closely by sales and distribution with 27,471 jobs. The fastest-growing component of the clean-energy workforce was engineering and researching, adding more than 2,400 jobs, a 2.7% increase.

Massachusetts Unemployment Drops Slightly in November

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.4% in November, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicates Massachusetts added 4,600 jobs in November. Over the month, the private sector added 4,600 jobs as gains occurred in trade, transportation, and utilities; professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; and information. Financial activities, construction, other services, and manufacturing lost jobs over the month while the jobs level in leisure and hospitality remained unchanged. From November 2017 to November 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 60,500 jobs. The November unemployment rate was three-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.7% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force increased by 4,200 from 3,832,800 in October, as 8,300 more residents were employed and 4,000 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped one-tenth 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 — remained at 68%. Compared to November 2017, the labor force participation rate is up 2.7%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in professional, scientific, and business services; construction; information; and education and health services.

Bradley Welcomes Frontier Airlines, with Non-stop Service to Denver

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) announced the expansion of Bradley International Airport’s roster of airlines with the addition of low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines. The airline will debut its inaugural service with a non-stop route to Denver. The service will commence on March 28, 2019, on an Airbus 320. From Denver International Airport, the flight will leave at 7 a.m. (MST) and arrive at Bradley International Airport at 12:50 p.m. (EST). The flight will then depart Bradley at 1:40 p.m. (EST) and land in Denver at 4:07 p.m. (MST). It will operate Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

Briefcase

UMass Report Details Costs of Reporting Sexual Harassment

AMHERST — Employees who file sexual harassment complaints often face harsh outcomes, with 65% losing their jobs within a year, and 68% reporting some form of retaliation by their employer, according to new research from the UMass Amherst Center for Employment Equity (CEE). In their report, “Employer’s Responses to Sexual Harassment,” co-authors Carly McCann, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, and M.V. Lee Badgett analyzed more than 46,000 harassment claims sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) from 2012 to 2016. These cases represent only a small amount (0.2%) of the estimated 25.6 million experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace that occurred over this same five-year window. “Since the legal standards are high, it is not surprising that only a very few file a charge,” said McCann, a UMass Amherst doctoral student and CEE research assistant. “The good news in the report is that the EEOC clearly takes sexual-harassment discrimination charges seriously. These charges are more likely to be found legally plausible, and the charging party is more likely to receive benefits, than other discrimination charges. At the same time, only a minority receive any benefit, and a majority lose their job and experience employer retaliation, so not filing a charge may also make economic and social sense. There are often severe negative consequences to filing a charge, and most people who do file a charge receive no benefits.” Even among the 27% of cases that did result in a benefit, redress was typically unsubstantial. The most common benefit — and the result of 23% of total charges that proceed through the agencies’ processed cases — was financial compensation; however, the average settlement of $24,700 (with a median amount of $10,000) is unlikely to make up for the economic cost of job loss. The discrepancy between the average and median amounts is due in large part to a handful of high-profile cases. Large monetary settlements are very rare, with only 1% of those who received monetary compensation exceeding $100,000. Just 12% of the total charges led to managerial agreements to change workplace practices. As the report notes, this lack of accountability often engenders further incidents of harassment. “Most employer responses tend to be harsh both via retaliation and firing employees who complain,” said Tomaskovic-Devey, professor of Sociology at UMass Amherst and CEE founding director. “The very low proportion of employees who file sexual-harassment complaints is very likely to be related to employers’ typically punitive responses.” While these numbers represent averages across all cases filed with the EEOC or FEPAs, gender and race influenced both the number and outcome of cases. “Although they comprise 47% of the labor force, women file 81% of sexual-harassment charges,” McCann said. “Black women, in particular, report a disproportionality large percentage of workplace sexual-harassment charges; they account for 7% of the labor force but file 27% of sexual-harassment charges.” Following recommendations given by the EEOC, the authors advocate having workplaces address sexual harassment internally through better managerial training and programs that train employees to identify and address harassment incidents.

Employer Confidence Ticks Up in November

BOSTON — Business confidence in Massachusetts recovered slightly during November amid a swirl of contradictory economic indicators ranging from agitated financial markets to international trade tensions to steady-but-slowing growth in the Bay State. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index gained 0.6 points to 61.6 in November, ending a three-month slide that brought confidence to its lowest level in more than a year. The November reading was one point lower than in November 2017 and 2.5 points lower than at the beginning of the year. Increased optimism about the state and national economies balanced employer concerns about their own operations and hiring plans during November. The reading remained well within optimistic territory, but employers also clearly see risk on the horizon. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during November. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth rose 2.4 points to 67.1, leaving it 1.9 points higher than in November 2017. The U.S. Index gained 2.1 points to 63.7, up 1.5 points from a year earlier. The Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations dropped 0.4 points to 59.2, down 3.1 points year-to-year. The Employment Index slid 3.8 points for the month while the Sales Index was up 2.3 points. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.7 points last month to 62.6 and 0.8 points for the year. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, gained 2.1 points for the month and lost 1.1 points for the year.

Nexamp Expands Access to Solar Power in Western Mass.

BOSTON — Nexamp Inc. and HCG are working together to promote community solar projects totaling more than 21 megawatts across Western Mass., enough to power approximately 4,000 homes. The solar arrays provide the opportunity for residents, businesses, and municipalities to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on their annual electricity bills while supporting local, renewable electricity. The collaborative effort is known as Hampshire Renewables. Hundreds of local residents, nonprofits, and small businesses have already signed up through the Hampshire Renewables website or with HCG or Nexamp representatives. Customers who subscribe to Nexamp’s community solar projects through Hampshire Renewables will realize a guaranteed 15% discount on electricity from the solar projects delivered to their National Grid or Eversource utility bills. In Eversource/WMECo territory, projects are located in Amherst, Whately, Plainfield, and Hadley (Nexamp’s third project in Hadley). In National Grid territory, project locations include Palmer, Wales, Granby, Oakham, Winchendon, and Charlton (Nexamp’s third project in Charlton). Anyone interested in participating should visit hcg-ma.org/hampshire-renewables.

Florence Bank Asks Customers to Vote for Their Favorite Nonprofits

FLORENCE — Florence Bank customers have until Monday, Dec. 31 to vote in the Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program for one area nonprofit in Western Mass. they want the bank to support with grant funds. The program is a year-long initiative. To qualify for a community grant, organizations must receive at least 50 customer votes before the year ends. Customers can vote online at www.florencebank.com/vote, or they can cast a ballot in person in one of the bank’s 10 branches in Amherst, Belchertown, Easthampton, Florence, Granby, Hadley, Northampton, Williamsburg and West Springfield. When Florence Bank presents the awards for the Customers’ Choice program next spring, it will be the 17th year the grant initiative has been helping local nonprofits make an impact in Western Mass. communities. Each year, the bank donates a share of $100,000 to more than 50 local organizations, and in 2019, the bank will surpass the $1.1 million mark in terms of grants made to community nonprofits. The program is unique, as the bank empowers its customers to decide which organizations will receive a portion of the grant funds. The grants program provides funds to a wide spectrum of organizations doing transformative work in the Pioneer Valley, including food pantries, therapy-dog organizations, elementary schools, and health support networks.

JA of Western Massachusetts Receives $5,000 Grant from Webster Bank

SPRINGFIELD — Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, a local nonprofit organization that provides financial-literacy, entrepreneurship, and career-readiness education, was awarded a $5,000 grant from Webster Bank to support the JA: A Valued Added Authentic Learning Project, providing students with the tools to develop the 21st-century skills needed to become highly skilled, autonomous employees. Through its charitable-giving programs, Webster Bank focuses on helping a broad set of organizations build a strong and self-reliant community. Webster has a long history of supporting Junior Achievement and its efforts to deliver K-12 programs that foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial-literacy skills. Webster Bank employees volunteer to teach the JA curriculum at a variety of schools throughout the area. JA: A Valued Added Authentic Learning Project leverages the skills, talent, and educational and career opportunities of this region to create a cadre of role models from the community to weave multiple intersecting pathways for middle-grade and high-school students to engage with JA’s relevant curriculum and instructional materials, supplemental technology-driven simulations, job-shadow experiences, and competitions. The project’s goals are to improve students’ knowledge of financial literacy in order for them to make sound financial judgments in the future; boost students’ entrepreneurial skills; increase students’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and raise awareness of career and post-secondary education and career opportunities in Western Mass.

Gaming Revenue Drops at MGM Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — Gambling revenues dropped at MGM Springfield in the third month of operation, the Associated Press reported. The state Gaming Commission said the casino generated $21.2 million in revenues from gambling in November, down from October’s $22 million and September’s $27 million. The exact breakdown was $13,371,904 from slots and $7,876,010 from table games. MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis said the company is pleased with the casino’s overall performance, and that November represented “another solid month” for the property, which also generates revenues from restaurants, bars, a hotel, and other attractions.

Briefcase

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Decrease in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts decreased in the first nine months of 2018 compared to the first nine months of 2017, according to the latest quarterly opioid-related deaths report released recently by the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH). In the first nine months of 2018, there were a total of 1,518 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths, as compared with 1,538 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2017. This estimated decrease follows a 4% decline between 2016 and 2017. “The opioid epidemic, fueled by an all-time high level of fentanyl, remains a tragic public-health crisis responsible for taking too many lives in Massachusetts,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “While there is much work left for all of us to do, we are encouraged that overdose deaths and opioid prescriptions continue to decline as searches on the Commonwealth’s Prescription Monitoring Program increase.” The latest report also indicates that the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl present in the toxicology of opioid-related overdose deaths continues to rise and reached an all-time high at 90% in the second quarter of 2018. Meanwhile, the rate of heroin or likely heroin present in those deaths continued to plummet. In 2014, heroin or likely heroin was present in 71% of opioid-related deaths; by the second quarter of this year, that number had fallen to 37%. Last month, the Baker administration filed legislation seeking $5 million to support a regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement by Massachusetts municipal police departments. The funding will supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units engaged, and officers in the field will also work to get buyers into treatment. In addition, last April, Baker signed legislation that included a long-overdue ‘fentanyl fix’ to allow law enforcement to pursue fentanyl traffickers.

Five Colleges, PVTA, Towns Agree to Increase Bus Payments

SPRINGFIELD — A proposal by the Five College Consortium to increase its annual payment to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority by a total of $250,000 over the next four years has been accepted by PVTA and area municipalities. PVTA’s costs are covered with a combination of federal and state subsidies, payments from towns and cities, and passenger fares. Since 1979, Five Colleges has agreed to pay PVTA the town portion of the cost of bus routes that include its campuses. This has been with the understanding that, to encourage bus use, Five College students do not have to pay fares. In recent years, however, the cost of operating buses along Five College routes has expanded beyond what PVTA was charging. When the campuses became aware of the gap last year, the consortium developed a schedule for increasing payments that would provide greater support to PVTA without creating an undue burden for its campuses. Building on the most current charge of $500,000, the agreement has the campuses paying an additional $50,000 each year until total annual payments reach $750,000. The first payment was made in the last fiscal year, and additional payments will be made in each of the coming four years.

Travelers Aid Begins Service at Bradley International Airport

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) and Travelers Aid announced that Travelers Aid International has begun serving the passengers of Bradley International Airport as the operator of the guest-service volunteer program at the airport. Travelers Aid now operates the Information Center in Terminal A on the lower level, which is the baggage-claim level. There are currently 45 volunteers, and Travelers Aid will be recruiting additional volunteers in order to better serve the airport’s passengers. The center’s current hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Mary Kate Doherty, an experienced volunteer manager, has been retained by Travelers Aid to manage and expand the program. Bradley International Airport will be the 18th airport in the Travelers Aid Transportation Network, which also includes four North American railroad stations and a cruise terminal. In the coming months, Travelers Aid will be reaching out to the residents of the region seeking additional volunteers. Doherty said Travelers Aid will be seeking anyone, both students and adults, interested in assisting a traveler with their questions. Anyone interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities should contact Doherty at (860) 500-8582 or [email protected].

ValleyBike Share Touts Inaugural Season Success

SPRINGFIELD — ValleyBike Share recently extended thanks to all users, sponsors, and supporters during its inaugural season. While the system experienced some expected (and unexpected) issues during this year’s startup, users successfully traveled over 88,000 miles together and made the bike-share system a success. People have been using the system instead of their cars for commuting to work and school, running errands, and even just for exercise and fresh air. “We are excited by the enthusiastic response in this first season of bike share, which has exceeded our original ridership projections,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz. “We look forward to Easthampton joining the program next spring and also filling in the gaps in the system to continue expanding this important transportation alternative in the region.” Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, noted that, since ValleyBike has been in existence, residents and visitors of the five founding communities and UMass Amherst have traveled the equivalent of three and half times around the Earth — “something truly worth celebrating as its inaugural season comes to a close.” As originally programmed, the system shut down completely on Nov. 30 and will be re-opened on April 1 (weather permitting). During the time ValleyBike Share bikes are over-wintering, ValleyBike will be working to fix the issues noted in the startup season to provide the public with new and improved riding opportunities next season.

Monson Savings Bank Seeks Input on Charitable Giving

MONSON — For the ninth year in a row, Monson Savings Bank is asking the community to help plan the bank’s community giving activities by inviting people to vote for the organizations they would like the bank to support during 2019. “Every year, we donate over $125,000 to organizations doing important work in the communities we serve,” said Steve Lowell, president of Monson Savings Bank. “For several years now, we’ve been asking the community for input on which groups they’d like us to support. We’ve been so pleased by how many people inquire each year as to when the voting will begin again and how many people actually participate.” To cast their vote, people can go to www.monsonsavings.bank/about-us/vote-community-giving. On that page, they can see a list of organizations the bank has already supported in 2018 and provide up to three names of groups they’d like the bank to donate to in 2019. The only requirement is that the organizations be nonprofit and providing services in Hampden, Monson, Wilbraham, or Ware. The voting ends at 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31. The bank pledges to support the top 10 vote getters and will announce who they are by the middle of January.

Briefcase

Gaming Commission Releases October Revenue Figures for MGM Springfield, Plainridge

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported that the month of October at Plainridge Park Casino (PPC) and MGM Springfield generated approximately $35.8 million in gross gaming revenue (GGR). MGM Springfield generated $14.623 million in revenue from slots and $7.6 million from table games. PPC, an all-slots facility, generated $13.5 million in revenue. MGM Springfield paid a total of $5.56 million in taxes on that revenue, while PPC paid $6.6 million, for a total of more than $12.2 million. PPC, a category-2 slots facility, is taxed on 49% of GGR. Of that total taxed amount, 82% is paid to local aid, and 18% is allotted to the Race Horse Development Fund. MGM Springfield, a category-1 resort casino, is taxed on 25% of GGR; those monies are allocated to several specific state funds as determined by the gaming statute. To date, the Commonwealth has collected approximately $285.5 million in total taxes and assessments from PPC and MGM since the respective openings of each gaming facility, the commission said.
 

Employer Confidence Drops During October

BOSTON — Business confidence in Massachusetts declined to its lowest level in 17 months during October as the uncertainties that roiled global financial markets seeped into employer outlooks. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost 1.6 points to 61.0 last month, the fourth decline in the last five months. The reading remains well within optimistic territory, but the BCI now sits 1.7 points lower than its level of a year ago and at its lowest point since May 2017. Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design, said the October decline is noteworthy because of large declines in employer confidence in their own operations, and among manufacturers. “Fears about slowing growth, trade wars, and rising interest rates buffeted financial markets this month, and some of those same fears, combined with an increasingly acrimonious midterm election, affected employers as well,” Torto said. “The good news is that the fundamentals of the economy remain strong. MassBenchmarks reports that the Massachusetts economy grew at a 3.3% annual rate during the third quarter, and the national economy added 250,000 jobs last month.” The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were almost all lower during October. The one exception was the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, which rose 0.2 points to 64.7. Confidence in the state economy has declined 0.4 points since October 2017. The U.S. Index lost 2.0 points to 61.6, leaving it 0.9 points lower than a year ago. The Company Index, measuring employer assessments of their own operations, dropped 2.0 points to 59.6, down 2.4 points year-to-year. The Employment Index lost 0.3 points during October, while the Sales Index tumbled 3.1 points to 57.4. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 1.0 point last month to 63.3 and 0.3 points for the year. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, lost 2.1 points for the month and 3.2 points for the year. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, agreed that international trade friction and uncertainty about the duration and scope of new tariffs are clouding employer views of an otherwise solid economy. “Concerns about trade and tariffs are likely to influence employer decisions as we move toward the end of 2018 and into the New Year. Hopefully, the results of the midterm elections will shed some light on the direction of trade policy moving forward.”

 

UMass Study: Pedal Desks Could Improve Health of Workplace

AMHERST — A recent pilot study by kinesiologists at UMass Amherst found that pedaling while conducting work tasks improved insulin responses to a test meal. Investigators led by Dr. Stuart Chipkin found that insulin levels following the meal were lower when sedentary workers used a pedal desk compared to a standard desk. In addition, work skills were not decreased in the pedaling condition. Chipkin and colleagues concluded that pedal desks “could have the potential to achieve public and occupational health goals in sedentary work environments.” They pointed out that physical inactivity and sedentary work environments have been linked to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease through insulin resistance and other mechanisms. Results appear in the October issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Chipkin, an endocrinologist who studies the impact of physical activity and medications on insulin sensitivity and skeletal muscle metabolism at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences, explained that, instead of approaching the problem by trying to squeeze intermittent activity into a largely sedentary work routine, “we chose to consider integrating physical activity into the workday.” He and colleagues felt that the alternatives now available for office workers — standing desks and treadmill desks — are not feasible to use for whole shifts and may even pose some barriers, such as standing too long. By contrast, a pedal desk can be used in a seated position at the user’s own pace for as little or as much time as the worker chooses. Though there are currently no commercial pedal desks on the market, Chipkin and colleagues were able to use a prototype Pennington Pedal Desk co-invented by UMass Amherst kinesiology researcher Catrine Tudor-Locke, a co-author who did not determine study design or have any contact with participants or study data. For this work, the researchers recruited 12 overweight or obese full-time sedentary office workers — six men and six women — and tested them in two conditions, pedaling at self-selected light-intensity pace for two hours, and working while seated for two hours at a conventional desk. In both conditions, participants performed computer-based tasks and were tested on mouse proficiency, typing speed and accuracy, reading comprehension, and concentration/attention. The participants also provided blood samples after eating a light meal for analysis of metabolic responses of glucose, insulin, and free fatty acids, a link between obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Chipkin and colleagues reported that pedal-desk use required significantly less insulin to maintain glucose concentrations compared with using the standard desk.

 

Travelers Aid Begins Service at Bradley International Airport

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) and Travelers Aid announced that Travelers Aid International has begun serving the passengers of Bradley International Airport as the operator of the guest-service volunteer program at the airport. Travelers Aid now operates the Information Center in Terminal A on the lower level, which is the baggage-claim level. There are currently 45 volunteers, and Travelers Aid will be recruiting additional volunteers in order to better serve the airport’s passengers. The center’s current hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Mary Kate Doherty, an experienced volunteer manager, has been retained by Travelers Aid to manage and expand the program. Bradley International Airport will be the 18th airport in the Travelers Aid Transportation Network, which also includes four North American railroad stations and a cruise terminal. In the coming months, Travelers Aid will be reaching out to the residents of the region seeking additional volunteers. Doherty said Travelers Aid will be seeking anyone, both students and adults, interested in assisting a traveler with their questions. Anyone interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities should contact Doherty at (860) 500-8582 or [email protected].

Briefcase

Massachusetts Unemployment Rate Holds Steady in September

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.6% in September, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 6,200 jobs in September. Over the month, the private sector lost 6,000 jobs, although gains occurred in trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; construction; and financial activities. The jobs level for other services remained unchanged over the month. From September 2017 to September 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 63,400 jobs. The September unemployment rate was one-tenth of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.7% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Last month, preliminary data indicates that there were 17,500 more employed residents and 1,500 fewer unemployed in the Commonwealth. The continued labor-force gains and an estimated addition of 48,800 jobs year-to-date are signs that our economy is attracting more residents to enter and gain employment in Massachusetts,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta. The labor force increased by 16,100 from 3,806,000 in August, as 17,500 more residents were employed and 1,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.6%. 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 — is up two-tenths of a percentage point over the month at 67.8%. Compared to September 2017, the labor-force participation rate is up 2.4%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and manufacturing.

Baystate Reports That Highly Contagious RSV Has Arrived in Area

SPRINGFIELD — It’s not just the cold and flu that parents need to worry about this fall and winter season. Pediatricians at Baystate Children’s Hospital are already seeing cases of the highly contagious respiratory syncytial virus, better known as simply RSV, which is most prevalent during the months of December, January, and February. “Over the past four years, nationwide data has shown that the RSV season has been arriving a couple of weeks earlier and lasting a few weeks later than in past years,” said Dr. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of these differences could be due to increased use of newer tests used to diagnose RSV; however, seasonality of viruses like RSV can also be influenced by many different factors, such as changes in population, climate, and pollution.” While RSV results in mild, cold-like symptoms for most — a runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, and fever — it’s nothing to sneeze at for some and can lead to serious illness, especially for infants and older adults. “Parents, however, should not be overly alarmed,” said Klatte, who noted that only a small percentage of youngsters develop severe disease and require hospitalization. “Those hospitalized often have severe breathing problems or are seriously dehydrated and need IV fluids. In most cases, hospitalization only lasts a few days, and complete recovery usually occurs in about one to two weeks.” RSV is also the most common cause of bronchiolitis and viral pneumonia in children under one year of age. RSV can also affect older children, teenagers, and adults. Those who have a higher risk for severe illness caused by RSV include premature babies, adults 65 years and older, people with chronic lung disease or certain heart problems, and people with weakened immune systems. While several companies are now conducting vaccine trials, there is currently no vaccine to prevent the illness, and there is no antibiotic to help cure it. Low-grade fevers are common with RSV infections, and may come and go for a few days. If a child is having high fevers without relief for multiple days, or increased difficulty with breathing (such as wheezing, grunting, or ongoing flaring of the nostrils) is observed along with a child’s runny nose and cough, then a visit to the doctor is warranted.

Briefcase

Invesco, MassMutual Announce Strategic Partnership of Invesco, OppenheimerFunds

SPRINGFIELD — Invesco Ltd. and MassMutual announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement, whereby Invesco will acquire MassMutual asset-management affiliate OppenheimerFunds Inc. In turn, MassMutual and OppenheimerFunds employee shareholders will receive a combination of common and preferred equity consideration, and MassMutual will become a significant shareholder in Invesco, with an approximate 15.5% stake. This strategic transaction will bring Invesco’s total assets under management to more than $1.2 trillion, making it the 13th-largest global investment manager and sixth- largest U.S. retail investment manager, further enhancing the company’s ability to meet client needs through its comprehensive range of high-conviction active, passive, and alternative capabilities. “The combination with OppenheimerFunds and the strategic partnership with MassMutual will meaningfully enhance our ability to meet client needs, accelerate growth, and strengthen our business over the long term,” said Martin Flanagan, president and CEO of Invesco. “This is a compelling, highly strategic and accretive transaction for Invesco that will help us achieve a number of objectives: enhance our leadership in the U.S. and global markets, deliver the outcomes clients seek, broaden our relevance among top clients, deliver strong financial results, and continue attracting the best talent in the industry.” “We have long held OppenheimerFunds’ people and strong investment performance track record in high regard,” Flanagan continued. “OppenheimerFunds’ culture and commitment to high-conviction investing complement our own, and the combination will create significant opportunities for the talented professionals of both companies.” MassMutual Chairman, President, and CEO Roger Crandall added that “MassMutual is excited for the next chapter in our successful asset-management strategy. Invesco is a highly regarded asset manager, and OppenheimerFunds has been an incredibly successful affiliate of MassMutual for the past 28 years. We look forward to participating in the future growth of the combined entity as a long-term partner and shareholder. This strategic combination positions us well to continue to benefit from a strong, diversified, global asset-management business, which will further strengthen our financial position and support our ability to invest in the long term, provide increased value to our policy owners and customers, and help us deliver on our purpose to help people secure their future and protect the ones they love.”

Report Evaluates Potential of New Water Technologies to Boost Jobs, Environment

AMHERST — The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) has released a comprehensive study that evaluates the potential of developing a network of water-testing demonstration centers in the Commonwealth, including one at UMass Amherst. The centers would pilot new water technologies to position Massachusetts as a global leader in the water-innovation and energy-efficiency sector, providing significant business and employment opportunities. The report was released at the Innovations and Opportunities in Water Technologies Conference held at the Life Sciences Laboratories at UMass Amherst. The conference was sponsored by MassCEC and the Economic Development Council (EDC) of Western Massachusetts. Speakers included Martin Suuberg, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection; Stephen Pike, CEO of MassCEC; Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Mass. EDC; and Kumble Subbaswamy, chancellor of UMass Amherst. The report calls for creating a network of three demonstration centers around the state. They would be located at the Wastewater Pilot Plant at UMass Amherst, the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center in Barnstable, and a pilot plant located at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s Deer Island Treatment Plant in Boston Harbor. Establishing this network of water-technology demonstration centers could create jobs, lower energy costs, and optimize municipal operations in addition to supporting water-technology research, the study says. A successfully established test-bed network could serve existing Massachusetts-based water-technology companies, help attract new companies to the Commonwealth, advance new solutions to both local and global water challenges, and provide a strong foundation for innovation. The Amherst site is ideal for this work, Sullivan said. “UMass Amherst is already a leader in this sector. The campus is positioned to undertake further research and development that will support industry growth and help grow a talented workforce for related industries.” Authorization for an investment in water technologies was approved as part of the state’s 2014 environmental bond bill. Release of state capital funds for such an investment must be evaluated and approved by the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker.

Briefcase

Big E Breaks All-time Attendance Record

WEST SPRINGFIELD — A record number of visitors attended the 2018 Big E, with the final tally of 1,543,470 surpassing the previous record of 1,525,553, set in 2017. During the fair’s run, the all-time highest single-day attendance record was also broken when 172,659 visitors attended on Saturday, Sept. 22. Five additional daily attendance records were set: Sept. 14, 87,092; Sept. 15, 118,627; Sept. 23, 134,986; Sept. 27, 105,084; and Sept. 29, 171,965. “The Eastern States Exposition closed its doors on the 102nd edition with an another record year,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO. “The outpouring of support for this organization from our region is humbling, as that support provides a mechanism for our mission to continue.”

Employer Confidence Slips Slightly During September

BOSTON — Business confidence in Massachusetts declined slightly during September as employers balanced optimism about economic fundamentals with concerns about tariffs and new state regulations. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost 0.6 points to 62.6 last month, leaving it almost even with its level of a year ago. The Index has been moving for most of 2018 within a narrow range that is well within optimistic territory. Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design, said the steady business-confidence readings may reflect the lack of any significant economic or political changes that threaten the nine-year-old recovery. “The underlying direction of the state and national economies remains positive. The Massachusetts economy grew at a staggering 7.3% annual rate during the second quarter, and unemployment remains near historic lows at 3.6%,” Torto said. “At the same time, employers remain wary of raw-material price increases brought about by new tariffs. The September survey was taken prior to the announcement Sunday of a new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, so it will be interesting to learn whether that deal affects employer attitudes moving forward.” The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly lower during September. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth ended the month at 64.5, falling 0.2 points for the month and 0.9 points for the year. The U.S. Index lost 1.1 points to 63.6, leaving it 3.8 points higher than in September 2017. The Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations declined a half-point to 61.6, down 0.7 points from September 2017. The Employment Index gained 0.3 points during September, while the Sales Index lost 0.5 points to 60.5. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 1.8 points last month to 64.3. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, gained 0.6 points. The Current Index rose 1.4 points during the year, while the Future Index lost 1.1 points.

Girl Scouts Announce Recipients of ToGetHerThere Awards

HOLYOKE — Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts (GSCWM) announced the recipients of the second annual ToGetHerThere Awards. According to the organization, the five recipients have a shared vision of creating a culture of creativity and caring, where young women feel confident in their ability to work hard, dream big, and face with courage any obstacle that stands in the way of making their dreams come true. The awardees were selected in five categories by a panel of business, community and civic leaders. They are:

• Entrepreneur: Laurie Flynn, president and CEO, Link to Libraries;

• Financial Literacy: Kate Kane, managing director, Northwestern Mutual;

• Health & Wellnes: Dr. Sarah Perez McAdoo, co-leader, Capstone Project, UMass Medical Center at Baystate Health;

• Man Enough to Be a Girl Scout: Edward Zemba, president, Robert Charles Photography; and

• STEM: Thomas Gralinski, STEM outreach coordinator, Clark Science Center and the Jandon Center for Community Engagement, Smith College.

Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts will honor the winners at the ToGetHerThere Awards Luncheon on Friday, Nov. 2, at MGM Springfield. Tickets are $55 each or $500 for a table of 10. To order tickets and for more info on each awardee, visit the Girl Scout website, www.gscwm.org/en/events/special-events/TGHTA.html, or contact Melanie Bonsu at (413) 584-2602, ext. 3623, or [email protected] The event is sponsored by BusinessWest and HCN, Chicopee Savings Bank, Balise Auto Group, Gaudreau Group, Monson Savings Bank, and People’s United Bank.

Unemployment Falls Across Massachusetts in August

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 24 labor-market areas in Massachusetts during the month of August, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to August 2017, the rates dropped in 19 labor market areas, remained the same in four areas, and increased in one labor-market area. Three of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded a seasonal job gain in August. The gains occurred in the Springfield, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, and Taunton-Middleborough-Norton areas. The Leominster-Gardner area had no change in its job level over the month. From August 2017 to August 2018, 13 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, Worcester, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, and Taunton-Middleborough-Norton areas. The Peabody-Salem-Beverly and Framingham areas lost jobs. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for August was 3.5%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported that the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the month of August remained at 3.6%. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 6,100-job gain in August, and an over-the-year gain of 68,100 jobs. The unadjusted unemployment rates and job estimates for the labor-market areas reflect seasonal fluctuations and therefore may show different levels and trends than the statewide seasonally adjusted estimates.

Single-Family Home Sales Decline in August

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales declined by 5.7% in the Pioneer Valley in August compared to the same time last year, while the median price rose 5.9% to $225,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were down 17.8%, while the median price rose 5.2% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were down 9.1%, while the median price was up 2.6%. In Hampshire County, however, sales rose 11.0% from August 2017, while the median price shot up 16.7%.

Briefcase

SPADC to End Management of Symphony Hall, CityStage

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Performing Arts Development Corp. (SPADC) said Monday it will no longer manage CityStage and Symphony Hall after its contracts expire at the end of 2018. “It is with great sadness, but also with a sense of accomplishment, we share the news that Springfield Performing Arts Development Corp. will cease operations at CityStage and Symphony Hall at the end of 2018 after a successful run in bringing entertainment to downtown Springfield for the past 20 years,” the organization posted on its website. “We are gratified to have played a role in bringing thousands of people to enjoy a diverse offering of high-quality entertainment at CityStage and Symphony Hall. Downtown entertainment is evolving, and we are proud of the contributions we have made in making the city an entertainment destination again.” The city of Springfield contracts for management of Symphony Hall, and the Springfield Parking Authority contracts for management of CityStage. Both entities are expected to discuss new requests for proposals for the two venues. MGM Springfield, which currently manages the MassMutual Center, could be an option to manage Symphony Hall and CityStage. MGM is currently obligated by its host-community agreement with the city of Springfield to book and underwrite at least three shows a year at the two venues. “Entertainment is a key component of the revitalization of downtown Springfield and the continued attraction of new visitors,” Talia Spera, executive director of entertainment at MGM Springfield, said in a news release Monday. “MGM Springfield will continue our conversations with the city leaders regarding the future of CityStage and Symphony Hall with the intent of supporting future dynamic performances in those venues.”

Cushman & Wakefield to Market Eastfield Mall Joint-venture Partnership

SPRINGFIELD — The ownership of Eastfield Mall in Springfield has appointed commercial real-estate-services firm Cushman & Wakefield to market a joint-venture partnership opportunity for the property’s mixed-use redevelopment. The 776,977-square-foot, enclosed regional shopping center sits on nearly 87 acres, providing scope and flexible zoning for a range of next-generation options. Eastfield Mall is currently 74% leased, with in-place net operating income offering interim cash flow while a redevelopment plan is put in place. Major tenants include Cinemark, Old Navy, Hannoush Jewelers, Ninety-Nine Restaurant & Pub, and Donovan’s Irish Pub, along with a non-owned Sears box that accounts for 254,446 square feet. The mall benefits from strong real-estate fundamentals, boasting a location along heavily trafficked Route 20 and access to downtown Springfield, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and interstates 291 and 91. Brian Whitmer, a member of the Cushman & Wakefield team serving as exclusive agent for the mall’s owner, Mountain Development Corp., noted that Eastfield Mall is well suited to become a mixed-use complex featuring a live-work-play atmosphere. “We expect this offering will attract an impressive level of interest from a diverse group of investors,” he said. “This is truly a distinctive opportunity given the many factors that support a successful repurposing.” That sentiment was echoed by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. “Malls all throughout our country are reinventing and redefining themselves to be more multifaceted,” he said. “My chief Development officer, Kevin Kennedy, and I will continue to assist our Eastfield Mall to restore the glory of the past toward a successful and diverse future.” The Cushman & Wakefield investment sales and retail specialists heading the Eastfield Mall assignment span two Cushman & Wakefield offices. They include Whitmer, Andrew Merin, David Bernhaut, Seth Pollack, and Kubby Tischler in East Rutherford, N.J.; and Peter Joseph, Brian Barnett, Steffen Panzone, Pete Rogers, and Ross Fishman in Boston.

Employer Confidence Strengthens During August

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers were equally confident about the national and state economies during August, breaking an eight-and-a-half-year run in which they were more bullish about the Commonwealth than the nation as a whole. The brightening view of the U.S. economy boosted overall business confidence as employers headed for the end of the third quarter. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index gained two points to 63.2 last month after tumbling more than five points during June and July. The gain left the Index two points higher than a year ago, comfortably within optimistic territory. Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design, said the last time employers were more optimistic about the national economy than the state was during the nadir of the Great Recession in May 2009, when the AIM Massachusetts Index was 33.1 and the U.S. Index was 34.4. “The confluence of opinion reflects gathering optimism about the U.S. economy rather than any weakness in the Massachusetts business climate,” Torto said. “The Massachusetts Index rose 1.5 points during the year, but the U.S. Index soared 4.5 points during that same period.” Meanwhile, the Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations rose 2.4 points to 62.1, up 1.2 points from August 2017. The Employment Index gained 2.4 points to end the month at 57.0, while the Sales Index lost 0.8 points to 61.0. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 2.5 points to 66.1, leaving it 4.8 points higher than the year earlier. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.5 points during August, but remained down 1.0 point for the year.

Briefcase

Unify Against Bullying Accepting Grant Applications

SPRINGFIELD — Unify Against Bullying Executive Director Christine Maiwald announced that the organization is accepting grant applications online. The organization will be awarding $15,000 in microgrants, which can be anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Paul Mitchell and its Neon product line will award an additional $1,000 grant. “Our number-one goal is to inspire youth of all ages and to ignite their ideas as to how to prevent bullying,” Maiwald said. “We encourage parents, guidance personnel, teachers, administrators, and charity partners to also apply. Their programs must be dedicated to anti-bullying education and furthering the Unify mission: to bring an end to bullying through the celebration of true diversity.” In addition to providing the seeds for children to come up with ideas on how to prevent bullying, Unify’s high-school students attend events and are given the opportunity to speak with younger students on the value of celebrating differences. The students are also bringing education to their younger peers in school to explain what bullying is and the effects it has on an individual. The organization has a committee of volunteers who will select the applicant initiatives that best reflect and advance the organization’s mission.

Opioid Overdose Deaths Decline in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts have fallen steadily over the past three quarters even as the presence of fentanyl in overdose deaths reached an all-time high. The presence of fentanyl in the toxicology of those who died from opioid-related overdose deaths rose to nearly 90% in 2018, underscoring its impact as the driving force behind the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, according to the latest quarterly opioid-related deaths report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The report illustrates the changing nature of the epidemic, with cocaine now surpassing heroin in the toxicology for opioid-related deaths, beginning with the fourth quarter of 2017 (October through December). DPH officials reissued a June clinical advisory to all medical providers to warn them about the increase of fentanyl in cocaine. Overall, 2017 saw a 4% decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths from 2016. The data also shows that the Commonwealth has experienced a 30% decline in opioid prescriptions since the launch of the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program (MassPAT) in August 2016. Between April and June 2018, searches by registered prescribers to MassPAT increased by 100,000 searches over the previous quarter, making it the largest increase in searches conducted in a single quarter.

Teach Western Mass Awarded License to Certify New Teachers

SPRINGFIELD — Teach Western Mass (TWM) was recently ​approved as a sponsoring organization for teacher licensure ​by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to train and certify new teachers in the region through the Teach Western Mass Residency. ​TWM completed a rigorous program-approval application process that demonstrated it is able to meet all the requirements for teacher-preparation programs, ​and expects to certify 20-50 aspiring special-education and ESL teachers annually to serve in partner schools in Holyoke and Springfield. Launched in 2015, TWM represents a network of 29 schools serving more than 11,000 students in Western Mass. Collectively, TWM and partner schools work to recruit, prepare, and support effective teachers in the region. The TWM Residency was established in 2018 in partnership with the nonprofit education organization TNTP and funded by a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help build high-quality, diverse teacher pipelines for hard-to-fill teaching positions. An accelerated, affordable alternative to traditional certification programs, the program targets recent graduates, career changers, and professionals already in the education sector, including paraprofessionals and substitutes, seeking to earn their initial teacher certification. Once accepted into the program, participants will complete an intensive summer training and teach in classrooms under the guidance of an experienced coach. Their training is focused on the most important skills they’ll need to be successful in their first year of teaching and beyond. Only those who show that they’re on the way to mastering those core instructional skills at the end of training will be recommended for certification. The application for the 2019 cohort launches on Nov. 1​. Aspiring teachers can apply for the program by visiting ​www.teachwesternmass.com​.

Institute for Applied Life Sciences Boosts Industry Relationships

AMHERST — In addition to directing the Human Testing Center at UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), Michael Busa is managing the new class of research relationships emerging for the state’s largest public university campus, with corporate partners in biotech and healthcare. “It’s a new world for research academics,” said Busa, “because, even though we are a public university, when companies come to us looking for research support, they want to retain their intellectual property. There are new rules, and we now have an example of successfully navigating those new rules and relationships.” He is referring to a recent collaboration with Novartis that will see IALS researchers use the Human Testing Center’s living-science, sleep-monitoring, human-motion, and other facilities to evaluate behavior- and movement-monitoring technologies now in development. He says it is the first of what he expects to be many “big collaborations” between IALS and biotech and healthcare firms. Specifically for the Novartis collaboration, IALS researchers will assess the validity of a Novartis device in capturing detailed aspects of human motion and behavior such as walking, balance, and sleep. Busa, who has a Ph.D. in kinesiology and training in mechanical engineering, exercise physiology, biomechanics, and physical activity, will work with kinesiologists Katherine Boyer, John Sirard, and Stuart Chipkin; neuroscientist and sleep expert Rebecca Spencer; and 10 supporting students and staff.

Briefcase

Gov. Baker Signs Groundbreaking Alzheimer’s Legislation

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s and Dementia Act, a first-of-its-kind bill that unanimously passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this year. More than 130,000 people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease in Massachusetts, and those individuals are being cared for by more than 337,000 family and friends. According to the Alzheimer’s Assoc., Massachusetts will spend more than $1.6 billion in 2018 in Medicaid costs caring for people with Alzheimer’s. The governor signed the legislation shortly after approving $100,000 for public awareness about the disease in the most recent FY19 budget. There are five major areas of focus within the bill: establishing a comprehensive state plan to address Alzheimer’s disease within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, while also establishing a permanent advisory council to help coordinate government efforts and ensure that public and private resources are maximized and leveraged; requiring curriculum content about Alzheimer’s and other dementias be incorporated into continuing-medical-education programs required for granting the renewal of licensure for physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, and licensed nurse practitioners; ensuring proper notification of an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis to the family or legal guardian and providing information on available resources to both the patient and family; improving cost-effectiveness and patient and caregiver experience in acute-care settings by requiring all state hospitals to implement an operational plan for the recognition and management of patients with dementia or delirium accountable to the Department of Public Health; and establishing minimum training standards for elder protective services social workers, to ensure protection from abuse and exploitation for elders with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Big Y Combats Opioid Crisis with Deterra System

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y Pharmacy and Wellness Centers, along with all Big Y supermarkets, are now carrying the Deterra Drug Deactivation System at all stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This is a drug-disposal pouch which allows people to easily and effectively dispose of unused or expired medications, even opioid painkillers, at home. Anyone can use a Deterra pouch to deactivate drugs, including pills, liquids, and patches. Each Deterra pouch contains activated carbon, which firmly bonds to pharmaceuticals, rendering them inert and unavailable for abuse. The Deterra pouch is the only environmentally sound, in-home drug-disposal system that permanently deactivates drugs. Big Y hopes to help combat the opioid crisis by stocking these deactivation kits in all its stores to provide customers with a safe and reliable way to keep unused medications from being diverted to abuse. Currently, the pouches are on sale for the introductory price of $3.99 for each pouch, which has the capacity to deactivate up to 45 pills, six ounces of liquid, or six patches.

Unemployment Holds Steady in July

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate increased to 3.6% in July from the June rate of 3.5%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 4,800 jobs in July. Over the month, the private sector added 5,900 jobs as gains occurred in education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; construction; manufacturing; and trade, transportation, and utilities. From July 2017 to July 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 66,800 jobs. The July unemployment rate was three-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.9% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Job estimates show the Commonwealth has gained over 51,000 jobs since December and 213,600 jobs since January 2015. These job gains, alongside low unemployment rates and labor-force growth, are signs of the continued health of the Massachusetts labor market,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force increased by 27,100 from 3,758,900 in June, as 24,700 more residents were employed and 2,400 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased one-tenth of a percentage point from 3.7% in July 2017. 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 — is up four-tenths of a percentage point over the month at 67.3%. Compared to July 2017, the labor force participation rate is up 1.8%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services.

Briefcase

Employer Confidence Flat During July

BOSTON — Confidence levels among Massachusetts employers were virtually unchanged during July as strong economic growth balanced persistent concerns about tariffs and escalating international trade tensions. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index dropped 0.1 point to 61.2 last month after tumbling more than five points in June. The drop left the BCI three-tenths of a point lower than a year ago, though still comfortably within optimistic territory. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during July. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth gained 2.3 points to 65.1, leaving it 1.9 points ahead of July 2017. The U.S. Index ended the month at 61.9, rising 1.9 points after sliding 9.3 points the previous month. The US Index was 4 points better than a year ago. July marked the 101st consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 0.1 point to 63.6. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, fell 0.4 point. The Current Index gained 2.4 points during the year, while the Future Index lost 3.1 points. Employer views of their own companies weakened. The Company Index declined 1.5 points to 59.7, down 2.5 points for 12 months. The Employment Index ended the month at 54.5, a 0.5-point decrease for the month and 1.2 points lower than a year ago. The Sales Index lost 0.6 point for the month and 2.3 points for the year.

Bradley Launches Daily, Non-stop Service to St. Louis

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — This week, the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) launched its inaugural Southwest Airlines flight from Bradley International Airport to St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The new daily, non-stop service departs from Bradley at 11:10 a.m. (EST) and arrives at St. Louis Lambert International Airport at 12:45 p.m. (CST). The inbound flight leaves St. Louis at 4:25 p.m. (CST) and arrives at Bradley at 7:50 p.m. (EST). The service utilizes a Boeing 737. Southwest Airlines currently offers non-stop service from Bradley International Airport to Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, Las Vegas, Orlando, Tampa, St. Louis, and West Palm Beach. The airline first started flying out of Bradley in 1999.

Greater Holyoke Chamber, HCC Announce Leadership Holyoke 2018-19

HOLYOKE — Leadership Holyoke — a comprehensive community leadership and board-development program of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce — is back again. Leadership Holyoke utilizes a combination of classes and practical experiences to help local business people develop their leadership skills, increase their knowledge of the community, and acquire the skills needed to serve as board members and community leaders. The series is made possible by PeoplesBank and the Republican. The 2018-19 leadership series begins on Sept. 21, consists of eight seven-hour sessions, and concludes on May 8 with a graduation ceremony at Holyoke Community College with a specialty luncheon prepared by the college’s culinary program students. All sessions will be held on Fridays (except for the Boston State House trip) and take place at Holyoke Community College and other locations throughout the city. Each session will include a segment on organization and leadership skills and a segment on community needs and resources. Faculty members from Holyoke Community College will participate as instructors and facilitators, and community leaders will participate as speakers and discussion leaders in their areas of their expertise. Tuition of $600 per participant is due at the start of the course and includes the fee for a continental breakfast each week, a bus trip to Boston, and the graduation luncheon. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com or call the chamber with any questions at (413) 534-3376.

DPH: Job-related Injuries Often Lead to Opioid Misuse

BOSTON — The rate of fatal opioid overdoses varied significantly by industry and occupation from 2011 to 2015, with construction workers dying from opioid overdoses at six times the average rate for all Massachusetts workers, according to a report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). Using available death-certificate data, DPH analyzed 4,302 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts from 2011 to 2015 by industry and occupation to understand whether work, and specifically work-related injuries, might have contributed to opioid-use disorders. Overall, workers employed in occupations known to have high rates of work-related injuries had higher rates of fatal opioid overdoses. In addition, workers in occupations with lower rates of paid sick leave and higher job insecurity had higher rates of opioid overdoses. Construction and extraction workers (quarrying and mining) accounted for more than 24% of all opioid-related deaths among the working population. This occupation group had a high death rate — 150.6 deaths per 100,000 workers — and a high number of opioid-related deaths — 1,096 — during this time period. Despite the small number of workers employed in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupations, these jobs also had a high opioid death rate. While there were fewer deaths among this group (61) than in the construction occupations, the rate of opioid-related deaths — 143.9 per 100,000 workers — was more than five times the average rate of 25.1 per 100,000 for Massachusetts workers. Several other occupations also had rates of opioid-related overdose deaths that were significantly higher than the average rate for all Massachusetts workers. These included jobs in material moving; installation, maintenance, and repair; transportation; production; food preparation and serving; building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; and healthcare support. Similar to findings for all opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts, the majority — 77.3% — of deaths in this study were among males. However, there were several occupation groups where females had significantly elevated rates of opioid-related overdose deaths, particularly healthcare support and food preparation and serving.

Briefcase

Girl Scouts Seek Nominations for ToGetHerThere Awards

SPRINGFIELD — Do you know a champion for the next generation of female leaders? The Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts announced its new awards program honoring five professionals in Western Mass. The ToGetHerThere Awards gives area businesses and organizations the opportunity to honor a difference maker from within their ranks who has shown exceptional achievement in their profession, is an inspiration to their co-workers and young women, and has made contributions to their community. The nominated person must demonstrate role-model behavior in their professional career and represent the Girl Scouts’ mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. The nomination deadline is Friday, Sept. 1. The Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts will honor the winners at the ToGetHerThere Awards Luncheon on Friday, Nov. 2, at MGM Springfield. Nomination forms and requirements can be found at www.gscwm.org/en/events/special-events/TGHTA.html, or by contacting Melanie Bonsu, (413) 584-2602, ext. 3623, or [email protected] Nominations will be reviewed by a panel of business, community, and civic leaders who will then select the honorees. 

Unemployment Picture Mixed in Massachusetts in June

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in two labor market areas, increased in 21 areas, and remained the same in one labor market area in the state during the month of June, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. 

Compared to June 2017, the rates dropped in 15 labor-market areas, remained the same in four areas, and increased in five-labor market areas. Twelve of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded a seasonal job gain in June. The largest gains occurred in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Barnstable, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, Pittsfield, and Framingham areas.  The Leominster-Gardner, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, and Peabody-Salem-Beverly areas lost jobs over the month. From June 2017 to June 2018, 13 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Taunton-Middleborough-Norton, and Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton areas. The Peabody-Salem-Beverly area’s jobs level remained unchanged over the year, while the Framingham area lost jobs.

 

Young Women’s Initiative Awards Four Mini-Grants

SPRINGFIELD — A group of Springfield young women participating in the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts’ Young Women’s Initiative (YWI) recently awarded four YWI mini-grants to nonprofits that serve the Springfield area. The project was in partnership with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. In the past year, the YWI participants were charged with identifying and researching issues that are barriers to young women and girls in Springfield. They chose four key issues: women in leadership; rape culture; mental health; and economic, community, and workforce development. A partnership with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts that provided grant funds allowed YWI to put out a call to Springfield-area organizations for projects that could address these issues through programming. Four grant applications were developed, and, after review, the YWAC chose to award funds to the Center for Human Development ($2,545), Girls Inc. of Holyoke ($2,515), Cambridge Credit Counseling ($2,515), and Springfield School Volunteers and Human in Common ($2,515). The 10-month YMI program is open to women between the ages of 14 and 24 who reside in Springfield. There is no tuition fee for this program, and accepted members are paid up to $900 in stipends for attending. Applications for the 2018-19 session are due on Sept. 21. More information is available at www.mywomensfund.org/ywi-program-details.

United Way, Peter Pan Launch Annual Stuff the Bus Program

SPRINGFIELD — United Way of Pioneer Valley and Peter Pan Bus Lines launched the annual Stuff the Bus campaign with a press-conference event on July 27 at the Holyoke Mall. The campaign will collect new school supplies through Aug. 16. The supplies will be distributed in new backpacks to children who are homeless in Chicopee, Holyoke, Springfield, Westfield, West Springfield, and South Hadley. Individuals are encouraged to donate the following age-appropriate supplies: pencil boxes, highlighters, binders, No. 2 pencils, erasers, binders, crayons, pens, glue sticks, rulers, two-pocket folders, and one-subject notebooks. Donations may be brought to the United Way of Pioneer Valley, 1441 Main St., Suite 147, Springfield, weekdays through Aug. 16, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Holyoke Mall, upper level, near Target, Aug. 11, noon to 2 p.m.; Western Mass News, 1300 Liberty St., Springfield, weekdays through Aug. 10, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; or Balise Kia, 603 Riverdale St., West Springfield, through Aug. 16, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Aug. 16 only, those who bring 20 or more items will receive a free ticket at Six Flags New England. This concludes the campaign, where donations can be made in conjunction with National Roller Coaster Day. Financial contributions are also welcome and will be used to purchase additional backpacks and supplies as needed. Contributions may be made online by clicking the ‘donate’ button at www.uwpv.org.

Sale of Chesterfield Scout Reservation Finalized

WESTFIELD — The Western Massachusetts Council of the Boy Scouts of America announced the completed sale of the 186-acre Chesterfield Scout Reservation to a buyer who plans to maintain the property and continue to offer outdoor programs. The council has owned both Chesterfield and the Horace A. Moses Scout Reservation in Russell since the merger of two area councils in 2008. The camps are 25 miles apart, and the Moses Reservation is a nearly 1,300-acre property. The maintenance of both properties — buildings and grounds — was overwhelming, and following an 18-month property study, the decision was made to sell Chesterfield in 2014. David Kruse, CEO and Scout executive for the Western Massachusetts Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said the council will remain focused on dedicating its time and resources to the Moses Reservation. Proceeds from the Chesterfield sale will allow for continual investment in the Moses Reservation, which includes adding to the maintenance endowment and eliminating the council’s debt. Some of the improvements already made to Moses Reservation feature the addition of metal roofs and replacement of windows and rotting wood on several buildings. There has also been a significant investment in activities for campers.

Briefcase

Advertising Club Selects 2018 Pynchon Medalists

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts’ trustees of the Order of William Pynchon announced their selection of four local residents as recipients of this year’s Pynchon medal. “Our choice of these four remarkable individuals represents a collective concern and dedication to the past, present, and future of our region,” said Mary Shea, chairman of the Pynchon trustees. Slated to receive the Advertising Club’s Pynchon Medal on Oct. 18 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke are: Craig Carr, one of the original incorporators of the Ronald McDonald House of Springfield; Sally Fuller, a tireless advocate for early childhood literacy; Robert McCarroll, a noted historic preservationist; and Ronald Weiss, who was instrumental in the creation of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The Advertising Club confers the Order of William Pynchon and the Pynchon Medal upon citizens of Western Mass. who have rendered distinguished service to the community. Recipients are nominated each year by members of the community, and are chosen by unanimous decision of the Pynchon trustees, who are Ad Club’s current and five past presidents.

Employer Confidence Weakens During June

BOSTON — Confidence among Massachusetts employers weakened considerably during June as tariffs, rising raw-material costs, and approval of paid family and medical leave in the Bay State raised concerns about business growth. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index dropped 5.3 points to 61.3 last month, its lowest level since August 2017. Confidence remains well within the optimistic range, but the June decline left the BCI slightly below its level of a year ago. Though analysts say the volatility in business confidence during May and June may reflect some statistical anomalies, the comments provided by employers on the monthly AIM survey suggest that companies are becoming increasingly concerned about a perfect storm of issues on the federal and state levels. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index all lost ground during June. The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth fell 7.2 points to 62.8, leaving it 1.4 points lower than in June 2017. The U.S. Index ended the month at 60.0, down 9.3 points for the month but 2.6 points better than a year ago. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, declined 2.6 points to 63.5. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, fell 7.5 points to 59.1. The Current Index gained 1.6 points during the year, while the Future Index lost 2.6 points. Employer views of their own companies also weakened. The Company Index declined 3.3 points to 61.2, down 1.2 points for 12 months. The Employment Index ended the month at 55.0, a 3.3-point decrease for the month and 3.1 points lower than a year ago. The Sales Index lost 2.9 points for the month and 0.2 points for the year. Manufacturing companies (62.5) were slightly more optimistic than non-manufacturers (60.2). Companies in the eastern part of Massachusetts (63.3) were more bullish than those in the west (58.7).

More Than $2 Million Announced for Collaborative Workspaces

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration and MassDevelopment announced $2,155,000 in funding for the third 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 two rounds of grants, the Collaborative Workspace Program provided $3 million in funding to more than 50 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 $655,000 from the Barr Foundation, the second installment of a three-year, $1,965,000 grant to the program to expand support for arts-related collaborative workspaces in the Commonwealth. Funding decisions are expected to be announced at the end of September.

MassDOT Announces $1.8M to Expand Industrial Rail and Freight

BOSTON — The state Department of Transportation recently awarded five grants totaling more than $1.8 million as part of the Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP), which helps increase rail and freight access, economic opportunity, and job growth. IRAP is a competitive, state-funded, public/private partnership program that provides financial assistance to eligible applicants to invest in improvement projects in rail infrastructure access. State funding for these five projects will be matched by more than $2.4 million in private funds. Locally, $500,000 was awarded to the Western Recycling rail-spur project in Wilbraham. The project will allow an existing solid-waste-handling facility to load outbound waste into rail cars for shipment to out-of-state landfills. With the restoration of rail service to the site, the facility will start processing municipal waste, in addition to construction and demolition debris. The project includes the construction of one loading track and five storage tracks for a total of 6,000 feet of new track. With completion of the project, the facility will be served by more than 1,500 rail cars each year, eliminating 7,500 regional truck trips each year and supporting the creation of eight to 10 additional jobs at the facility. IRAP provides grants to railroads, rail shippers, and municipalities that identify a public benefit gained through improved rail transportation usage or economic growth that would be realized through improved access to rail assets. The other four grants went to projects in Littleton, Peabody, and Upton.

DPH Releases State Study Detailing Marijuana Use

BOSTON — A new, statewide study of marijuana use among Massachusetts residents found that about 21% of adults had used marijuana in the past 30 days, and the proportion of marijuana use was highest among 18- to 25-year-olds. The study, conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), was mandated by the Legislature as part of its revisions to the 2016 adult-use marijuana law. The purpose of the study was to investigate the patterns of use, methods of consumption, and general perceptions of marijuana; incidents of impaired driving and hospitalization related to marijuana use; and the economic and fiscal impacts for state and local governments. Among the study’s other highlights, smoking is the most common method of marijuana consumption, although more than 40% of marijuana users report using multiple methods of use. More than half of adults perceive marijuana to have slight or no risks and use marijuana for non-medical purposes. A survey of patients who use marijuana products for medical use suggests that the average person uses marijuana 24 days a month, with the majority using marijuana products for at least 21 out of the past 30 days. Among respondents that use marijuana, 34.3% reported driving under the influence. Overall, 7.2% of the adult population drove under the influence of marijuana in the past 30 days, and 11.3% of adults rode with a marijuana-using driver in the past 30 days. This is similar to estimates from a survey of medical marijuana patients that found approximately 10% of respondents drove under the influence in the past 30 days. The number of marijuana-related calls to the Regional Poison Control Center in Massachusetts has been increasing over time. The calls include incidents of unintentional exposures among children, with the majority of calls related to 10- to 19-year-old individuals, and/or exposure to dried marijuana flower. The proportion of calls increased after medical marijuana was available in the Commonwealth. Economic projections suggest that marijuana will increase Massachusetts state revenue by about $215.8 million in the first two years of retail sales. The increase will largely come from sales and excise taxes collected on retail purchases. Based on experiences from states with existing legalized adult use, sales-tax revenue is expected to be higher in the second year ($154.2 million), as compared to the first year ($61.6 million).

Google Announces $100,000 Sponsorship for FutureWorks

SPRINGFIELD — During its Grow with Google tour in Springfield, Google announced a sponsorship for FutureWorks Career Center totalling $100,000. The sponsorship will help FutureWorks deepen its available resources to prepare active job seekers with the digital skills necessary to obtain jobs and succeed in the workforce. FutureWorks will deploy Google’s Applied Digital Skills Curriculum its diverse group of youth and adult job seekers over the course of a year. Some of its staff will also be trained on Google for Jobs and teach active job seekers how to use the online platform to streamline their job search. Launched in October 2017, Grow with Google is the tech company’s new initiative to help create economic opportunities for Americans. The project is an extension of Google’s long-standing commitment to making information and technology accessible to everyone, and focuses on providing digital skills and learning opportunities to communities across the U.S.

Jugglers Convention Projects Economic Impact of More Than $1 Million

SPRINGFIELD — With 600 juggling enthusiasts from all over the world descending on Springfield last week for the 71st International Jugglers’ Assoc. (IJA) Annual Festival, the area’s hoteliers, restaurateurs, and retailers expected to see an impact in their cash registers. The six-day convention was projected to have an economic impact of $1,015,545, according to the Western Mass Sports Commission, a division of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The organizers are expecting 600 attendees, and two of our largest downtown hotels have 1,100 room nights booked as a result,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This represents a strong economic shot in the arm for these properties. And we anticipate upbeat business at area eateries and shops as well. It’s a fun, terrific event to have coming into Western Mass.”

Briefcase

News of interest about the region’s business community

ValleyBike Launches Regional Bike-share Program

NORTHAMPTON — ValleyBike launched with a celebration and parade on June 28 at in Pulaski Park. ValleyBike is the first bike-share program in the Pioneer Valley and the first pedal-assist bike-share program in New England. The program allows members to pay for bikes by the trip, or join as a member for unlimited 45-minute rides by the day, month, or year. Partners include the communities of Amherst, Holyoke, Northampton, South Hadley, and Springfield, as well as UMass Amherst and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC). ValleyBike was initiated by Amherst, Northampton, and the PVPC, and then quickly joined by Springfield, Holyoke, and South Hadley. The planning effort was led by the PVPC, which found the funding for planning. Leadership of the effort switched to Northampton for the implementation phase of the project. Residents may sign up at www.valleybike.org, with special founding membership opportunities for a limited time. “ValleyBike is yet another exciting example of how our region, and its cities and towns, are working collaboratively and proactively to shape a smart and sustainable future for us all,” said PVPC Executive Director Tim Brennan. “ValleyBike not only introduces a new type of shared mobility, but offers a creative and sensible way to improve our air and our health while capturing the benefits of modern-day pedal power.” ValleyBike has contracted with Bewegen Technologies and Corps Logistics to build and operate the system, and is funded by state and federal grants, Bewegen investments, community investments in station pads, user fees, and program sponsors.

State Awards $1,080,000 to Increase Access to Healthy, Local Food

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration awarded $1,080,000 to a joint partnership between the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund and Franklin County Community Development Corporation to create a sustainable program that creates quality jobs and increases food access for low-income residents throughout the state. The funding is awarded under the Massachusetts Food Trust Program (MFTP), a program launched by the Baker-Polito administration in 2017, which seeks to establish a financing infrastructure that increases access to healthy, affordable food options and to improve economic opportunities for nutritionally underserved communities statewide. The MFTP, funded through the administration’s FY 2018 Capital Investment Plan, provides funding through grants to community development financial institutions and community development corporations. This statewide program is designed to meet the financing needs to fresh food retailers and distributors that plan to operate in underserved communities where costs and credit needs cannot be filled solely by conventional financing institutions. With the funding, grantees may provide grants, loans, and technical assistance to support entities that have shown a meaningful commitment to sell fresh, affordable, and local products, with a preference for food grown, caught, or harvested in Massachusetts. Projects that are eligible for funding through the awarded financial institutions include the development, renovation, and expansion of supermarkets; commercial community kitchens; and commercial greenhouses.

Job Picture Continues to Improve in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 13 labor-market areas, increased in six areas, and remained the same in five labor-market areas in the state during the month of May, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to May 2017, the rates dropped in 23 labor-market areas and increased in one area. Fourteen of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded a seasonal job gain in May. The largest gains occurred in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Barnstable, Worcester, Framingham, and Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury areas. The Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton area lost jobs over the month. From May 2017 to May 2018, all 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Lawrence-Methuen-Salem, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, and Worcester areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide-unadjusted unemployment rate for May was 3.3%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the month of May remained at 3.5% for the eighth consecutive month. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 6,200-job gain in May, and an over-the-year gain of 56,100 jobs.

 

Pioneer Valley Communities, PVPC Acting on Climate Change

SPRINGFIELD — Nine new Pioneer Valley municipalities recently joined six already working on Municipal Vulnerability Program (MVP) certification, bringing the total to 15 communities seeking greater resiliency in the face of climate change. That represents 35% of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s (PVPC) member municipalities — home to approximately 410,000 people, or more than 66% of the region’s population. In 2017, six pioneering municipalities applied for and secured MVP planning grants, and four of these six have now successfully secured action grants in the highly competitive first round of funding. Of these, Belchertown will assess stream crossings and culverts, Holyoke is learning from Hurricane Maria survivors how to adapt and care for vulnerable residents affected by extreme weather, Northampton is reducing storm damage by designing with nature, and Pelham aims to improve small-town resilience. Together, these 15 municipalities have secured $1,186,512 in state funding to plan for ($348,000) and adapt to ($838,512) the changing climate. The funding allows the PVPC to engage with local officials and community stakeholders, while leveraging its unique technical capabilities. Any of the 43 cities and towns of Hampden and Hampshire counties not currently engaged in MVP work, but interested, should contact PVPC Senior Planning Emily Slotnick at (413) 781-6045 or [email protected]

Briefcase

BusinessWest Accepting Nominations for Women of Impact Awards
SPRINGFIELD — BusinessWest has launched a new recognition program to honor a specific segment of the local population: women who are making an impact in and on this region. Nominees who score the highest in the eyes of a panel of three independent judges will be honored at a luncheon in December (date and venue to be determined). “We decided to create a special program recognizing women because, after careful consideration, we decided that this region needed one and that BusinessWest was the right organization to do it,” Kate Campiti, associate publisher and sales manager for BusinessWest, explained. “While women have certainly made great strides over the past several decades, and many women have made great achievements and broken through that proverbial glass ceiling, doing so remains a stern challenge for many.” ‘Women of Impact’ was chosen as the name for the program because, while nominees can be from the world of business, they can also be from other realms, such as the nonprofit community, public service, law enforcement, education, social work, the mentorship community, a combination of all these. Nominations for this honor, due on Aug. 3, should be written with one basic underlying mission: to explain why the individual in question is, indeed, a woman of impact. Nominations should explain, when applicable, how the nominee has made impactful accomplishments or contributions that have positively influenced business or the community; how the nominee demonstrates unwavering passion and commitment for an issue that has made a difference in the lives of others; how the nominee has influenced other women through her actions and contributions; how the nominee exemplifies qualities of spirit, service, compassion for others, or professionalism to achieve accomplishments, and how she may have overcome adversity in order to give back to the community; how the nominee has applied innovative thinking to push the boundaries and find new and better ways to do things; and how the nominee has consistently demonstrated exceptional and progressive leadership. Additional information and nomination guidelines are available at HERE. Nominations may be submitted HERE. For more information about this event, call Bevin Peters, Marketing and Events director, at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or e-mail [email protected]

Governor Baker Announces Western Mass. Rail Initiatives
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker joined Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, members of the Massachusetts Legislature, and local leaders at Union Station in Springfield on June 12 to announce a request for proposals for a consultant team to study the feasibility of east-west passenger rail service, the launch of a pilot for passenger rail service between Greenfield and Springfield, and one-seat service through Springfield to Hartford and New Haven, Conn. The RFP will enable the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to carry out an extensive study over approximately 18 months, analyzing many aspects and options for potential east-west passenger rail service. In addition to studying potential passenger service from Springfield to Boston, the study will look at potential origins farther west such as Pittsfield and Palmer. This will include engaging with stakeholders and evaluating the potential costs, speed, infrastructure needs, and ridership of potential passenger rail service throughout this corridor. The administration also announced that a term sheet has been finalized with the Connecticut Department of Transportation which will enable the start of passenger rail service between Springfield and Greenfield beginning on a pilot basis in spring 2019. Under the agreement, MassDOT will fund the cost and management of the pilot service, which will be operated by Amtrak and conclude in fall 2021. The pilot will provide two round-trips each day and make stops at stations in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield. Southbound service will be provided in the morning hours, and northbound in the evenings. This pilot service will leverage the MassDOT-owned Knowledge Corridor, which is currently used by Amtrak’s Vermonter service, and the recently renovated Springfield Union Station. Meanwhile, the new 62-mile Hartford Line began operating on June 16, with trains running approximately every 45 minutes between Springfield and several cities and towns in Connecticut, including Windsor Locks, Windsor, Hartford, Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford, and New Haven.

Greylock Works Transforming Mill with Help from MassDevelopment
NORTH ADAMS — MassDevelopment has provided a $1.1 million loan to Greylock WORKS LLC, the developer of the Greylock Mill, a former cotton-spinning mill campus in North Adams that Greylock WORKS is transforming into a mixed-use commercial development. The organization will use loan proceeds to continue renovations of the Weave Shed, which includes a 26,000-square-foot event venue and commercial kitchen where the owners have been producing regional festivals and dance parties, as well as hosting weddings and other private events. This loan builds on significant support from the state and MassDevelopment, including nearly $4 million in MassWorks Infrastructure Grant Program funding for North Adams. The two awards enabled the city to complete public infrastructure improvements necessary for the development’s ongoing construction. The Greylock Mill is a 240,000-square-foot former cotton-spinning facility that stretches 700 feet along Route 2 in North Adams. Plans for the building’s campus include wholesale scaled artisanal food production, a boutique hotel, housing, and event space. The Baker-Polito administration, through MassDevelopment, has worked with the developer across numerous aspects of the project, providing pre-development funding and grants through the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, the Site Readiness Program, and the Collaborative Workspace Program.

Employer Confidence Surges in May
BOSTON — Business confidence surged during May to its highest level since the summer of 2000, driven by improving employer outlooks about the state and national economies. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 2.4 points to 66.6 last month after increasing modestly during April. The BCI has risen in five of the last six months and now stands 5.8 points higher than its level a year ago. Confidence remains well within the optimistic range. The only whiff of concern came in the index that measures hiring, which dropped 1.5 points for the month and 0.2 points during the year. Economists believe the weakness in the AIM Employment Index reflects the persistent shortage of workers in Massachusetts that has forced some employers to postpone expansions or to decline new business opportunities.

Springfield Dementia Friendly Coalition Receives Grant
SPRINGFIELD — The newly formed Springfield Dementia Friendly Coalition (SDFC) has been awarded a Dementia-Friendly Capacity Building Grant from the Massachusetts Council on Aging under a Service Incentive Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs. The Council on Aging grant will enable the coalition to hold focus-group meetings over the coming months with local government and public officials, first responders, and members of the business community to make them aware of the issues facing individuals living with dementia, their friends, family, and care partners, to give an overview of the movement and elicit their thoughts and engagement in the initiative. In addition, the group will meet with those living with dementia and their care partners and expand the Dementia Friendly website, www.dementiafriendlycommunities.org. An estimated 5.7 million Americans ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Nearly 60% of people with dementia live in their own communities, and one in seven live alone, creating an urgent need for communities to support people with dementia and their caregivers. SDFC partners include the Springfield Department of Elder Affairs/Council on Aging, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Greater Springfield Senior Services, the Alzheimer’s Assoc., Silver Life Care at Home, Chapin Center, El Grupo de Apoyo, and Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing. A calendar of upcoming events is available at www.dementiafriendlycommunities.org. For more information or to get involved, contact Scott-Mitchell at (413) 263-6500, ext. 6518, or [email protected], or Carol Constant at (413) 588-5184 or [email protected].

Briefcase Departments

MGM Springfield, PVTA Introduce ‘the Loop’

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield and the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) have joined forces to create the Loop — a new public transportation service linking downtown tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants, and arts and culture destinations to provide a more robust travel experience for Springfield visitors. Debuting Aug. 24 as part of MGM Springfield’s opening day, the Loop will connect Springfield’s most storied landmarks, including Union Station, the Springfield Armory, Springfield Museums, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and MGM Springfield. The Loop schedule is designed with visitors in mind. In addition to stops at cultural highlights, the shuttle also will make stops at MassMutual Center, Holiday Inn Express, Sheraton, Hampton Inn, and La Quinta Inn & Suites. The Loop will run Wednesdays through Sundays from Union Station from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and complete a full circuit in 60 minutes during the day and 40 minutes in the evening. Traveling on the Loop will be free. Sandra Sheehan, administrator with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, noted that the Loop will be operated with a zero-emissions electric bus as part of PVTA’s goal of providing sustainable transportation. As part of its host-community agreement, MGM Springfield will provide PVTA with financial support to operate and maintain the Loop. This includes maintenance and insurance of the vehicle, as well as the costs associated with the hiring, supervising, and compensating the driver.

 

Massachusetts Business Organizations Issue Plan to Reduce Healthcare Costs

BOSTON — Twenty prominent Massachusetts business organizations representing thousands of employers announced an initiative to save $100 million in healthcare costs by reducing avoidable use of hospital emergency departments. The newly formed Massachusetts Employer-Led Coalition to Reduce Health Care Costs will work with doctors, hospitals, and health insurers to reduce inappropriate use of emergency departments (EDs) by 20% in two years. State officials estimate that 40% of ED visits are avoidable, a pattern that costs $300 million to $350 million annually for commercially insured members alone. Coalition leaders Richard Lord, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), and Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF), say the group will help employers take a direct role in the health and healthcare of their employees and beneficiaries. Healthcare industry organizations — including the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Assoc., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Assoc. of Health Plans, and the Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians — are committed to be strategic partners with the coalition. The coalition’s goal is to shift as many avoidable ED visits as possible to high-value, lower-cost settings to relieve crowded EDs, reduce the cost of care, and improve quality. Most ED use is necessary, appropriate, and in many cases life-saving. However, providers and payers broadly agree that shifting ED use for non-urgent health problems to more timely, appropriate settings will improve quality and patient experience, and lower the cost of care. Upper respiratory infections, skin rashes, allergies, and back pain are among the most common conditions for which Massachusetts patients seek care in the ED unnecessarily, and the cost of an ED visit can be five times that of care provided in a primary-care or urgent-care setting. The coalition will focus on four tactics for change:

• Work with employers to communicate information about avoidable ED use with employees and families so they can get the best possible care in settings such as primary-care practices, retail clinics, and urgent-care centers;

• Track and publicly report the rate of avoidable ED visits so employers, stakeholders, and the public may understand and tackle the scope of the issue;

• Work with labor unions, healthcare providers, health plans, employers, and employees to reward and encourage the appropriate use of the ED by aligning financial incentives, and bolster the availability of care in the community, especially during nights and weekends; and

• Advocate for policy changes that will advance new care delivery and payment models, such as accountable-care organizations, telemedicine, and mobile integrated health, which, combined, can improve access to timely care in the right setting.

Massachusetts Jobless Rate Holds Steady in April

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in April, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 6,100 jobs in April. Over the month, the private sector added 5,900 jobs, as gains occurred in education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; financial activities; and trade, transportation, and utilities. Government also added jobs over the month. From April 2017 to April 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 47,600 jobs. The April unemployment rate was four-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.9% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force increased by 20,900 from 3,683,700 in March, as 19,700 more residents were employed and 1,300 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.9% in April 2017. 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 — is up over the month four-tenths of a percentage point at 66.0%. Compared to April 2017, the labor-force participation rate is up four-tenths of a percentage point. The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services. Meanwhile, the largest job gains occurred in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Springfield, Barnstable, Worcester, Lowell-Billerica-Amesbury, and Framingham areas.

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Continue to Decline in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths continued to decline overall year over year in Massachusetts, according to the latest quarterly opioid-related deaths report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The quarterly report found that, for the first three months of 2018, opioid-related overdose deaths declined by an estimated 5% over the first three months of 2017, according to preliminary data. The report also found that the total number of estimated and confirmed opioid-related deaths for 2017 is 2,016, which is 133 fewer deaths than the 2,149 estimated and confirmed deaths in 2016, or a 6% decline.

Baystate Franklin Medical Center Reaches Agreement with Nurses

GREENFIELD — Baystate Franklin Medical Center recently announced it has reached agreement on a new five-year contract with the Massachusetts Nurses Assoc. (MNA) on behalf of BFMC registered nurses. According to Baystate Franklin officials, the hospital is committed to staffing models that maintain its flexibility to address individual patient care needs in a sustainable way. Baystate Health now has no open union contracts and has reached agreement on five union contracts within the past 14 months.

Briefcase Departments

State Receives $11.7 Million for Opioid Prevention, Treatment

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced that Massachusetts has received an $11.7 million federal grant to continue its public-health response to the opioid epidemic and bolster community overdose prevention, outpatient opioid treatment, and recovery services across the Commonwealth. This is the second consecutive year the state has received the funding, bringing the two-year total to $23.8 million. “The opioid and heroin epidemic have led to heartbreaking addiction and losses for too many families in the Commonwealth, and this critical funding will increase support for important services like recovery coaches and medication-assisted treatment,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. This grant, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is the second round of funding authorized under the 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in December 2016. The funds address the opioid crisis by increasing access to treatment, reducing unmet treatment needs, and reducing opioid overdose-related deaths through the provision of prevention, treatment and recovery activities for opioid-use disorder. It supports existing statewide services managed by the state Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services. In addition to this new federal funding, through administrative actions, the Baker-Polito administration will invest up to $219 million over five years from the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver, starting in the fiscal year 2018, to meet the needs of individuals with addictions and/or co-occurring disorders. These funds will expand residential recovery services, increase access to medication-assisted treatment, add new recovery coaches and navigators, and implement a consistent clinical assessment tool throughout the treatment system. Since 2015, the administration has doubled spending to address the opioid crisis and added more than 1,100 treatment beds, including 748 adult substance-use treatment beds at different treatment levels, and certified more than 162 sober homes, accounting for an additional 2,184 beds.

Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone Awarding $5,000 in Scholarships

HOLYOKE — The Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone in Massachusetts is sponsoring a nationwide essay contest focusing on innovative ways to prevent drunk driving. The three essay winners will receive $5,000 worth of scholarship prizes for education-related expenses. The essay contest is open to undergraduate college students and law-school students enrolled at accredited schools in the U.S. Essays must be between 500 and 1,000 words on the following topic: “How can we prevent drunk driving and promote safe driving among young motorists?” The winning essay will be awarded $2,500, second prize is $1,500, and third prize is $1,000. Each submission must include an essay as a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx format); school transcript or proof of enrollment; applicant’s name, address, and phone number; school name and address; a two- to three-sentence bio; and a waiver form with a parent or guardian’s signature for applicants under 18. The application deadline is Aug. 15. Winners will be announced on Sept. 14. Applicants can view the rules of the contest and apply online at www.marksalomone.com/scholarship.

Briefcase

MGM Springfield to Officially Open on Aug. 24

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Resorts International announced it will open the doors to MGM Springfield, New England’s first integrated luxury resort and entertainment destination, on Friday, Aug. 24. “A testament to a decade of collaboration between the city of Springfield and MGM Resorts, MGM Springfield will pay tribute to the city’s legacy and celebrate its bright future, while introducing a stellar array of hospitality and entertainment experiences that will attract guests from New England and beyond,” said Michael Mathis, president of MGM Springfield. Added Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, “I look forward to working with MGM Springfield for many years to come. They’re a world-class company and an outstanding corporate citizen. I deeply appreciate their belief and investment in our Springfield. I wish them continued success as we create another Springfield first.”

Local Farmer Awards Give $135,000 to 59 Farmers

AGAWAM — The Local Farmer Awards, funded by a group of philanthropic leaders and businesses, recently gave $135,000 in awards to 59 farmers operating in Western Mass. to fund infrastructure improvements on their farms. Each award winner received up to $2,500 through a competitive application process for projects that will help them expand their businesses, compete in the marketplace, and continue providing the health and environmental benefits of local farming. Now in its fourth year, the awards have increased the number of farmers supported, from 33 in the first year to 59 this year, thanks to 10 funders, including Big Y and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, along with a team of sponsors: HP Hood LLC, Friendly’s, PeoplesBank, Springfield Sheraton Monarch Place, Ann and Steve Davis, Baystate Health, Farm Credit East, and Florence Bank. More than half of the award winners have been in business no more than 10 years. “Western Massachusetts’ agricultural roots run deep, and we have long been known as one of the primary growing regions in New England,” said Charlie D’Amour, president and chief operating officer of Big Y. “Today, alongside families who have been farming for generations, a new crop of young farming families and entrepreneurs are continuing this fine tradition. At Big Y, we are pleased to continue our own 80-plus year tradition of supporting these farmer families by joining with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and other sponsors to provide grants and opportunities for this important part of our region’s economy and culture.” Matthew Bannister, first vice president for marketing and innovation at PeoplesBank, a new sponsor for 2018, added that “PeoplesBank is proud to support our local farmers and their innovative ideas. We congratulate the awardees and thank the entire local farming community for their efforts.” The four counties of Western Massachusetts feature an abundance of farms; more than 800 farms in the region have sales greater than $10,000 — a requirement for the award application. Recognizing that agriculture is such a strong regional force, Harold Grinspoon founded the Local Farmer Awards four years ago. “I have so much enjoyed being part of the Local Farmer Awards program,” he said. “Farmers are amazing — so hardworking and industrious. It is an absolute pleasure to get to know them.” Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, advocates for farming and agriculture in the region, have provided advice and support for this program since its inception. A farmer appreciation event will be held in late fall 2018 to recognize all applicants and promote the importance of local agriculture.

Briefcase Departments

MGM Springfield to Officially Open on Aug. 24

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Resorts International announced it will open the doors to MGM Springfield, New England’s first integrated luxury resort and entertainment destination, on Friday, Aug. 24. “A testament to a decade of collaboration between the city of Springfield and MGM Resorts, MGM Springfield will pay tribute to the city’s legacy and celebrate its bright future, while introducing a stellar array of hospitality and entertainment experiences that will attract guests from New England and beyond,” said Michael Mathis, president of MGM Springfield. Added Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, “I look forward to working with MGM Springfield for many years to come. They’re a world-class company and an outstanding corporate citizen. I deeply appreciate their belief and investment in our Springfield. I wish them continued success as we create another Springfield first.”

Local Farmer Awards Give $135,000 to 59 Farmers

AGAWAM — The Local Farmer Awards, funded by a group of philanthropic leaders and businesses, recently gave $135,000 in awards to 59 farmers operating in Western Mass. to fund infrastructure improvements on their farms. Each award winner received up to $2,500 through a competitive application process for projects that will help them expand their businesses, compete in the marketplace, and continue providing the health and environmental benefits of local farming. Now in its fourth year, the awards have increased the number of farmers supported, from 33 in the first year to 59 this year, thanks to 10 funders, including Big Y and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, along with a team of sponsors: HP Hood LLC, Friendly’s, PeoplesBank, Springfield Sheraton Monarch Place, Ann and Steve Davis, Baystate Health, Farm Credit East, and Florence Bank. More than half of the award winners have been in business no more than 10 years. “Western Massachusetts’ agricultural roots run deep, and we have long been known as one of the primary growing regions in New England,” said Charlie D’Amour, president and chief operating officer of Big Y. “Today, alongside families who have been farming for generations, a new crop of young farming families and entrepreneurs are continuing this fine tradition. At Big Y, we are pleased to continue our own 80-plus year tradition of supporting these farmer families by joining with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and other sponsors to provide grants and opportunities for this important part of our region’s economy and culture.” Matthew Bannister, first vice president for marketing and innovation at PeoplesBank, a new sponsor for 2018, added that “PeoplesBank is proud to support our local farmers and their innovative ideas. We congratulate the awardees and thank the entire local farming community for their efforts.” The four counties of Western Massachusetts feature an abundance of farms; more than 800 farms in the region have sales greater than $10,000 — a requirement for the award application. Recognizing that agriculture is such a strong regional force, Harold Grinspoon founded the Local Farmer Awards four years ago. “I have so much enjoyed being part of the Local Farmer Awards program,” he said. “Farmers are amazing — so hardworking and industrious. It is an absolute pleasure to get to know them.” Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, advocates for farming and agriculture in the region, have provided advice and support for this program since its inception. A farmer appreciation event will be held in late fall 2018 to recognize all applicants and promote the importance of local agriculture.

Briefcase

Columbia Gas Files New Rates with DPU

WESTBOROUGH —  Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., recently filed a petition with the Mass. Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to increase annual revenues by $24.1 million, representing a 3.9% increase in current operating revenues. If approved by the DPU, the change would impact the annual gas bill for a typical residential heating customer by an average of $4.95 per month, or 3.6%. The revised rates take effect March 1, 2019. In the first year after the rates take effect, the $9.1 million refund due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will reduce the customer bill impact to an average of $2.80 per month, or 2%. The request addresses increases in operating and maintenance costs incurred to comply with increasingly stringent federal and state regulatory mandates and capital costs incurred to upgrade gas infrastructure since the last time Columbia Gas changed its rates in 2016. The DPU decision is expected by Feb. 28, 2019, with rates taking effect March 1, 2019.

Farmington Bank Offers Assistance to Homebuyers

FARMINGTON, Conn. — Farmington Bank announced it has been selected to participate in the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Equity Builder Program (EBP), which assists local homebuyers with down-payment and closing costs as well as homebuyer counseling and rehabilitation assistance. The EBP provides grants to financial institutions to assist households at or below 80% of the area median income. Farmington Bank is eligible to receive up to $110,000 in 2018 through the EBP, depending on availability of funds. Farmington Bank borrowers are eligible to receive up to $11,000 in assistance for homes located in Massachusetts and Connecticut on a first-come, first-served basis. Buyers must also complete a homebuyer counseling program.  In addition, Farmington Bank offers a variety of affordable lending programs that have lower down-payment requirements and closing costs, including special mortgage financing for first-time homebuyers and veterans. Since 2003, the EBP has awarded more than $35 million in EBP funds, assisting 3,150 income-eligible households to purchase a home.

Grant to CHD Improves Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

SPRINGFIELD — The ATI Foundation recently present CHD’s Disability Resources program with a $5,000 check. The program offers barrier-free recreational and competitive opportunities for people of all skill levels and age groups, as well as their family and friends. The program emphasizes access and ability. Rock climbing, waterskiing, sled hockey, dance, wheelchair basketball, and other programs and services designed for individuals with physical and/or intellectual disabilities are offered to more than 500 children, teenagers, and young adults each year. According to Sharon Franceschini from the ATI Foundation, when the possibility of funding CHD’s Disability Resources program was presented, it was a quick decision. “The CHD Disabilities Resources program was brought to our attention by the therapists and staff who live and work in the Greater Springfield community,” she said. “The mission of the ATI Foundation is directly aligned with what CHD’s Disabilities Resources is doing for kids every day. We are thrilled to support the Springfield community in this way and hope that the resources make a big difference in the lives of physically impaired children for years to come.”

Briefcase Departments

Columbia Gas Files New Rates with DPU

WESTBOROUGH —  Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., recently filed a petition with the Mass. Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to increase annual revenues by $24.1 million, representing a 3.9% increase in current operating revenues. If approved by the DPU, the change would impact the annual gas bill for a typical residential heating customer by an average of $4.95 per month, or 3.6%. The revised rates take effect March 1, 2019. In the first year after the rates take effect, the $9.1 million refund due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will reduce the customer bill impact to an average of $2.80 per month, or 2%. The request addresses increases in operating and maintenance costs incurred to comply with increasingly stringent federal and state regulatory mandates and capital costs incurred to upgrade gas infrastructure since the last time Columbia Gas changed its rates in 2016. The DPU decision is expected by Feb. 28, 2019, with rates taking effect March 1, 2019.

Farmington Bank Offers Assistance to Homebuyers

FARMINGTON, Conn. — Farmington Bank announced it has been selected to participate in the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Equity Builder Program (EBP), which assists local homebuyers with down-payment and closing costs as well as homebuyer counseling and rehabilitation assistance. The EBP provides grants to financial institutions to assist households at or below 80% of the area median income. Farmington Bank is eligible to receive up to $110,000 in 2018 through the EBP, depending on availability of funds. Farmington Bank borrowers are eligible to receive up to $11,000 in assistance for homes located in Massachusetts and Connecticut on a first-come, first-served basis. Buyers must also complete a homebuyer counseling program.  In addition, Farmington Bank offers a variety of affordable lending programs that have lower down-payment requirements and closing costs, including special mortgage financing for first-time homebuyers and veterans. Since 2003, the EBP has awarded more than $35 million in EBP funds, assisting 3,150 income-eligible households to purchase a home.

Grant to CHD Improves Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

SPRINGFIELD — The ATI Foundation recently present CHD’s Disability Resources program with a $5,000 check. The program offers barrier-free recreational and competitive opportunities for people of all skill levels and age groups, as well as their family and friends. The program emphasizes access and ability. Rock climbing, waterskiing, sled hockey, dance, wheelchair basketball, and other programs and services designed for individuals with physical and/or intellectual disabilities are offered to more than 500 children, teenagers, and young adults each year. According to Sharon Franceschini from the ATI Foundation, when the possibility of funding CHD’s Disability Resources program was presented, it was a quick decision. “The CHD Disabilities Resources program was brought to our attention by the therapists and staff who live and work in the Greater Springfield community,” she said. “The mission of the ATI Foundation is directly aligned with what CHD’s Disabilities Resources is doing for kids every day. We are thrilled to support the Springfield community in this way and hope that the resources make a big difference in the lives of physically impaired children for years to come.”

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Falls Slightly in March

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index (BCI) declined a point to 63.5 in March, retreating from a 17-year high in February. The BCI has gained 1.1 points during the past 12 months and remains comfortably within the optimistic range. But virtually every element of the March confidence survey lost ground, led by a 1.7-point drop in the U.S. Index of national business conditions. Several employers blamed the Trump administration’s decision to level tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other products for their uncertain outlook.

Pioneer Valley Receives Grant to Pursue Healthcare Access Solutions

SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) announced that it, in partnership with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), has been selected as one of seven regions in the country by the National Center for Mobility Management to develop and test ways to increase community members’ access to healthcare services. Through this grant, the project team will be looking at barriers that patients face when trying to access healthcare for chronic conditions or sudden, non-emergency health needs. With missed appointment rates of up to 25% at some healthcare facilities, this project seeks to improve patient health outcomes, improve cost efficiency for healthcare providers, and optimize transportation systems for non-emergency healthcare. The project team, which includes representatives from PVTA, PVPC, Baystate Medical Center, Health New England, Stavros, Greater Springfield Senior Services, and the New North Citizens Council, represents a variety of stakeholders and perspectives to address this issue. The ultimate goal of this project, slated to conclude in October 2018, is to come up with a ‘pitch’ for a solution to the problem of missed appointments. In order to develop its pitch, the project team is going to host a series of focus groups, conduct surveys, and do on-site observations with the people involved in the medical scheduling and transportation process.

Single-family Home Sales in Valley Soar in February

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales rose by 27.4% in the Pioneer Valley in February compared to the same time last year, posting big gains in all three counties, while the median price rose 8.3% to $194,900, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were up 36.4%, while the median price shot up by 45.8% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 23.6%, while the median price was up 7.9%. In Hampshire County, sales rose by 27.7% from February 2017, while the median price was up 16.8%.

Chamber Board Votes to Endorse Pledge Against Human Trafficking

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber board of directors voted unanimously to publicly endorse the Western Massachusetts Businesses Against Human Trafficking Pledge and encourage members of the chamber to take the pledge. Convened by MGM Springfield, the chamber joined a coalition of businesses and organizations in 2017 to support the work already being conducted by law enforcement, community organizations, and faith-based groups across the region and to lend its assistance to help eliminate the scourge of human trafficking. Since then, the chamber has formalized its support by endorsing a pledge to increase awareness of and protect against human trafficking in its places of business, and to collaborate broadly across the community and region to address the issue. Coalition members include MGM Springfield, Peter Pan Bus Lines, the Springfield Regional Chamber, East of the River Five Town Chamber, the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Springfield Redevelopment Authority (owner of Union Station), Sheraton Springfield, and Springfield/Worcester Hilton Garden Inns.

Amherst Chamber Moves to Volunteer Management

AMHERST — The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce will transition to an all-volunteer team structure for several months in order to better serve its members and leverage its robust network of volunteers. Peter Vickery, president of the chamber’s board of directors, said the change will also help the membership-based organization dedicate more resources to member-to-member services, networking, and advocacy. As part of the transition, interim Executive Director Jerry Guidera will step down from his organizational support role. The chamber will maintain a presence at the Visitor Information Center in downtown Amherst, co-located with the Amherst Business Improvement District.

Briefcase Departments

Local River Advocates Join
National Trend with EPA Lawsuit
GREENFIELD — Last fall, the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) joined the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and eight other watershed groups from across Massachusetts to file suit against the EPA and Administrator Scott Pruitt in Boston’s federal district court. Their request of the court is simple: reject EPA’s one-year delay in implementing Massachusetts’ new stormwater permit because stormwater is one of the greatest threats to clean water in Massachusetts. This lawsuit is part of a growing national trend in suing the EPA in order to protect the environment. The CRC argues that Pruitt and the EPA have been hastily rolling back environmental regulations, but mistakes have been made in their haste and disregard for legal process, such as failing to hold required public comment periods or provide rationale for a repeal or delay. Now, environmental groups across the nation are going to court and using these mistakes to successfully halt environmental rollbacks. For example, the courts have prevented the suspension of rules to curb methane emissions and the delay of tougher standards on air pollutants and lead in paint. River advocates fear the updated stormwater permit could be delayed much longer than one year. “We think the EPA’s legal case is fundamentally flawed,” said Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Connecticut River Conservancy. “Pruitt and the EPA have asked for this delay while permit appeals are being decided, but then in the same breath also asked the court to delay judicial review of the appeals. It is clear that EPA is looking at every maneuver they can find to stop doing the right thing for the public’s water.” The river groups are represented by Kevin Cassidy of Earthrise Law Center and Access to Justice Fellow Irene Freidel. Of particular concern is the public-health issue of harmful bacteria flowing to rivers when it rains. About one in five water samples collected by CRC and partners in 2017 from the Connecticut River and tributaries in Massachusetts showed bacteria levels too high for recreation (swimming and/or boating). “Delaying the implementation of this updated permit puts our rivers and our water at risk, which also put our citizens and local economies that use and rely on our rivers at risk,” Fisk continued. “The EPA is charged with implementing the Clean Water Act for the benefit of the public, yet it did not weigh the public’s interest when it slammed the brakes on the MS4 Permit.” That permit regulates stormwater pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. The current MS4 permit was issued in 2003 and was set to expire on May 1, 2008. Instead, it has been administratively continued and remains in effect. A multi-year, multi-stakeholder process for updating the expired permit began in 2008. In April 2016, the EPA issued the updated MS4 permit after many rounds of public comment. The updated permit was set to go into effect on July 1, 2017 but was abruptly delayed by Pruitt and the EPA just two days before that date. The delay will cause existing stormwater projects to move forward with outdated stormwater controls, forcing costly upgrades in the future rather than the lower-cost option of adding updated controls at the time of construction, river advocates say. The delay also ignores the time and money invested by cities and towns that have already implemented new stormwater protection measures in preparation for the new permit to take effect last July. Stormwater is generated from rain and snowmelt that does not soak into the ground. Instead, it flows over land or impervious surfaces, such as paved streets and driveways, parking lots, and building rooftops into storm drains. During heavy rains, stormwater can flow directly into rivers. Common pollutants in stormwater runoff include antifreeze, detergents, fertilizers, gasoline, household chemicals, oil and grease, paints, pesticides, harmful bacteria, road salt, trash such as plastics and cigarette butts, ammonia, solvents, and fecal matter from pets, farm animals, and wildlife.

Creative Community Fellows
Accepting New England Applications
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — National Arts Strategies (NAS) announced that applications for the Creative Community Fellows program are now open to those living and working in the New England region. NAS is looking for artists, community organizers, administrators, and entrepreneurs who are driving positive change through arts and culture in their communities. Applications are due Sunday, April 22. Creative Community Fellows brings together a group of 25 creative change makers across New England. Fellows will jump-start the program by living and learning together in Vermont for one week in an incubator-like environment, building their skills in strategy, leadership, and design thinking. Over the course of five months, they will take monthly online courses in topic areas such as community development, finding capital and support, budgeting, and more. Together, they will share updates on their projects and meet with leaders in the field who will serve as mentors. Fellows are curious, open, collaborative, and interested in learning new skills and sharing their expertise. They are already doing this work and looking to create and even greater impact. The Barr Foundation has brought this program to New England in order to support creative leaders in the region. Thanks to its support, participation in this program is completely underwritten. “Arts and creativity can play a vital role in engaging communities to spark positive change. It’s our privilege to partner with National Arts Strategies to network and support the development of New England change agents who are artists and leaders across sectors,” said San San Wong, director of Arts & Creativity at the Barr Foundation.

Massachusetts Adds
13,700 Jobs in February
BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in February, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 13,700 jobs in February. Over the month, the private sector added 13,100 jobs as gains occurred in education and health services; construction; trade, transportation, and utilities; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and financial activities. The jobs level remained unchanged in leisure and hospitality. From February 2017 to February 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 39,100 jobs. The February unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta noted that “2017 was the first time since 2000 in which the monthly unemployment rate remained below 4% for the entire year in the Commonwealth. Our low unemployment rate, coupled with over-the-year job and labor-force gains, all point towards the continued strength of the Massachusetts economy.” The labor force increased by 10,000 from 3,659,600 in January, as 9,500 more residents were employed and 500 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.9% in February 2017. 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 — is up one-tenth of a percentage point at 65.4%. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased by two-tenths of a percentage point compared to February 2017. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; and other services. The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development also announced that, compared to February 2017, unemployment rates dropped in 22 labor-market areas, increased in one, and remained the same in one labor-market area. Twelve of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published added jobs from February 2017 to February 2018, with the largest percentage gains in the Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, Leominster-Gardner, and Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead areas.

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence
Strengthens in February

BOSTON — Massachusetts employer confidence strengthened during February as optimism about long-term economic growth outweighed a volatile month in the financial markets. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 0.4 points to 64.5, setting another 17-year high. The Index has gained 2.4 points during the past 12 months as confidence levels have remained comfortably within the optimistic range. Enthusiasm about the U.S. and Massachusetts economies, along with a bullish outlook on the part of manufacturers, fueled the February increase. At the same time, hiring remained a red flag as the BCI Employment Index fell 4 points between February 2017 and February 2018. Almost 90% of employers who responded to the February confidence survey indicated that the inability to find skilled employees is either a modest, large, or huge problem. “Fourteen percent of respondents said finding employees represents a huge problem that is hampering their company’s growth. One-third of employers see employee recruitment as a big problem, while 29% see it as a modest issue,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “For the short-term, however, the state and national economies remain strong, and the recent announcement by Amazon of a major expansion in Boston indicates that the trend should continue.” The survey was taken before President Donald Trump roiled the financial markets by pledging to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The AIM Index, based on a survey of 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 Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. It has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during February. The most significant gains came in the Manufacturing Index, which surged 3.9 points to 66.2, and the U.S. Index, which rose 2.1 points for the month to 66.9 and 8.0 points for the year. The Massachusetts Index fell 0.4 points to 68.5, but was up 5.3 points for the year and still higher than the national outlook for the 96th consecutive month. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 2.4 points to 64.1. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, declined 1.6 points to 65. The Current Index has risen 4.2 points and the Future Index 0.6 points during the past 12 months. The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, was essentially flat, gaining 0.1 points to 62.4. The Employment Index also rose 0.1 points, to 56.4, versus 60.4 in February 2017. Manufacturing companies (66.2) were more optimistic than non-manufacturers (61.9). Large employers (69.8) were more bullish than medium-sized (62.0) or small businesses (62.7).

Single-family Home Sales
in Pioneer Valley Up in January

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales rose by 17.2% in the Pioneer Valley in January compared to the same time last year, while the median price rose 1.0% to $197,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were up 27.0%, while the median price fell 2.1% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 26.2%, while the median price was up 8.8%. In Hampshire County, sales fell by 5.6% from January 2017, while the median price was up 1.2%.

Advertising Club Seeks
Nominations for Pynchon Award

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts is seeking nominations from throughout Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties for the Pynchon Award, which recognizes citizens of the region who have rendered distinguished service to the community. The Order of William Pynchon was established by the Advertising Club in 1915 to recognize and encourage individuals whose lives and achievements typified the ideals of promoting citizenship and the building of a better community in Western Mass. Past recipients include war heroes, social activists, teachers, volunteers, philanthropists, historians, clergy, physicians, journalists, public servants, and business leaders — a diverse group, each with a passion for the region and a selfless streak. A complete list of recipients since 1915 can be found at www.adclubwm.org/events/pynchonaward. To nominate an individual, submit a one-page letter explaining why the nominee should be considered. Include biographical information, outstanding accomplishments, examples of service to the community, organizations he or she is or has been active in, and the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of at least three people who can further attest to the nominee’s eligibility for induction into the Order of William Pynchon. All nominees will be considered and researched by the Pynchon Trustees, comprised of the current and five past presidents of the Advertising Club. Nominations must be submitted by Friday, March 30 to: William Pynchon Trustees, Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, P.O. Box 1022, West Springfield, MA 01090 or by e-mail to [email protected] Pynchon medalists are chosen by unanimous decision of the Pynchon Trustees. 2018 recipients will be announced in June 2018, with an awards ceremony scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 18 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

Unemployment Rate Holds
at 3.5% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in January, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 6,100 jobs in January. Over the month, the private sector lost 4,200 jobs; although gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; information; and other services. From January 2017 to January 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 29,000 jobs. The January unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Massachusetts continues to experience a low unemployment rate and labor force expansions,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. “While the overall health of our economy remains strong, and 2017 marked the eighth consecutive year of job growth, persistent skills gaps remain. That is why our workforce-development partners remain committed to ensuring that those who are still unemployed or underemployed have access to the training resources they need to access high-demand jobs.” The labor force increased by 2,200 from 3,657,300 in December, as 3,900 more residents were employed and 1,700 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.9% in January 2017. 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 — remained at 65.3%. The labor force participation rate over the year has decreased by 0.2% compared to January 2017. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; and other services.

Hampden County Bar Assoc.
Offers Two Law-school Scholarships

SPRINGFIELD — The Hampden County Bar Assoc. is now accepting applications for the John F. Moriarty Scholarship and the Colonel Archer B. Battista Veterans Scholarship. The John F. Moriarty Scholarship is available to any Hampden County resident who has been admitted to or is attending a certified law school for the 2018-19 academic year. Applicants must have been residents of Hampden County for at least five years. The application deadline is May 25. The Colonel Archer B. Battista Veterans Scholarship is available to any veteran with an honorable discharge or a current member of the U.S. military who has been admitted to or is attending a certified law school in New England for the 2018-19 year. The application deadline is May 15, 2018. Both scholarships are based on merit and financial need. Both applications and additional information are available by contacting the Caitlin Glenn at the Hampden County Bar Assoc. at (413) 732-4660 or [email protected], or by visiting www.hcbar.org/news/scholarships.

Briefcase Departments

Tighe & Bond Publishes 2017 Water and Sewer Rate Survey Results

WESTFIELD — Tighe & Bond published the results of its most recent Massachusetts Water and Sewer Rate Survey. Since 1997, Tighe & Bond has gathered and published Massachusetts water and sewer user rate data that municipal government and private water suppliers can use as a benchmarking tool for comparing their rates against other suppliers in the state. The survey, conducted across the state during 2017, includes typical annual homeowner water and sewer costs for most systems throughout Massachusetts. It also provides information regarding rate structures and billing cycles. This can be particularly useful information when suppliers are considering adjustments to their current rates or rate structures. Tighe & Bond is now teaming with the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina School of Government to present the results of the firm’s rate study using a free, online rates dashboard developed, hosted and maintained by the center. This gives users more flexibility in examining the survey data. Users can adjust the assumed annual usage the comparison is based on, review conservation and affordability metrics, as well as compare annual bills. They can also compare rates by utility size, river basin, geographic area, and median household income. The 2017 water survey indicates that annual water costs in in Massachusetts range from a low of $123 to a high of $2,025. The 2017 average is $595, and the median is $568. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents have increased their rates since the 2014 survey. The 2017 sewer survey indicates that annual sewer costs in in Massachusetts range from a low of $229 to a high of $2,316. The 2017 average is $862, and the median is $838. Three-quarters of survey respondents have increased their rates since the 2014 survey. Anyone can access the online rates dashboard, or request a copy of these survey results, by visiting www.tighebond.com/category/rate-surveys.

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Fell by More Than 8% in 2017

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts declined in 2017 by an estimated 8.3% compared to 2016. This is the first time in several years there has been a year-over-year decline, according to the quarterly report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This is the third consecutive quarterly report where the number of estimated and confirmed opioid-related deaths declined. The total number of estimated and confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017 was 1,977, which is 178 fewer deaths than the 2,155 estimated and confirmed deaths in 2016, or an 8.3% decrease. In previous years, the year-over-year comparisons showed increases in opioid-related overdose deaths; the estimated opioid-related overdose death rate in 2016 increased by 22% from 2015, there was a 30% increase in 2015 from the prior year, and in 2014, there was a 39% increase from 2013.

Bradley Airport to Introduce Non-stop Service to St. Louis

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) announced the debut of new daily, non-stop service between Bradley International Airport and St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Southwest Airlines. The service will commence on Aug. 7, utilizing a Boeing 737, with an average of 143 seats. The daily departure from Bradley International Airport is scheduled for 11:10 a.m. (Eastern Time), with an arrival at St. Louis Lambert International Airport at 12:45 p.m. (Central Time). The inbound flight is scheduled to leave St. Louis at 4:25 p.m. (Central) and arrive at Bradley at 7:50 p.m. (Eastern). This route will be Southwest’s 10th non-stop destination out of Bradley International Airport. The airline currently offers non-stop service from Bradley to Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, Las Vegas, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach. The airline first started flying out of Bradley in 1999.

State Announces Grants to Restore Rivers, Boost Climate Readiness

BOSTON — The state recently announced $97,397 in state grant funds for priority projects in the city of Northampton and the towns of Duxbury, Middleton, and West Boylston to remove dams, aid in the restoration of rivers to their natural state, and increase climate readiness. Benefits of river restoration include increased habitat for fish and wildlife, flood management, landscape development, and an increase in recreational opportunities and access. The grant funds are administered by the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration (DER). Locally, work will include the Upper Roberts Meadow Brook restoration and the Upper Roberts Meadow Brook dam removal in Northampton, to be funded with a $25,000 state grant. The brook is a cold-water stream with a resident trout population. Removal of the 30-foot-high dam will provide numerous environmental benefits, including conversion of the dam impoundment back to a free-flowing reach, reconnection of approximately nine miles of upstream habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms, and repair of ecological processes that support a healthy stream system, including the movement of sediment and organic matter. This grant will support the city in completing the permitting phase, conducting the bid phase, and beginning the project implementation phase. Priority projects are evaluated by DER on their ecological benefit, cost, size, practicality, feasibility, contribution to climate readiness, opportunity for public education and recreation, available program resources, and partner support.

New Energy-efficiency Program Offers Opportunities and Rebates

BOSTON — A new pilot program funded by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is making incentives for energy-efficiency upgrades in residential buildings with one to four units available to Massachusetts residents, including those serviced by municipal lighting companies. DOER, established to develop and implement policies and programs to further the energy-related goals of the Commonwealth, has created the Home Energy Market Value Performance (MVP) pilot program to test innovations to residential energy-efficiency program delivery. This program is designed to be custom-built around a home’s individual needs instead of a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all process, relying on the participating contractors’ expertise in building science and advanced modeling software used during the energy audit. The incentives and rebates available for energy-efficiency upgrades are based on the reduction of annual energy consumption of the home. The initial audit will model the current annual energy usage, and the energy specialists will create a plan to reduce that usage. Together with the energy specialists, homeowners can make decisions about what measures to install or upgrade based on their homes’ particular needs and the projected incentive paid by the program. A site visit will be conducted after the upgrades have been completed to confirm their installation and approve the customer’s rebate package. The MVP pilot will run until November 2019 or until all funding is spent, which is estimated to cover 600 projects statewide. Massachusetts residences up to a four-unit building that meet health and safety standards are eligible for participation, including condominiums and rentals with written agreement from the landlord. Currently, homes that heat with Berkshire Gas or that are on a reduced rate code or heating assistance are not eligible for the program. The pilot consists of just eight participating contractors across the state. Locally, the Energy Store, an Easthampton-based Building Performance Institute Goldstar Contractor, was chosen as a participating contractor. Inquiries about the DOER MVP pilot can be directed to the Energy Store at [email protected]

Advertising Club Accepting Scholarship Applications

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts scholarship committee announced that scholarship applications are now available online at adclubwm.org. Applications will also be available through guidance departments at high schools in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties, or by contacting the Ad Club at (413) 736-2582. In 2018, one $1,000 scholarship will be awarded. Western Mass. seniors who plan to attend an accredited college or technical school to study advertising, communications, marketing, or graphics arts and will be attending in September 2018 are encouraged to apply. The scholarship must be applied against tuition and fees at the school. Candidates will be judged on academic performance; extracurricular activities; community service and/or work experience; a demonstrated interest in advertising, communications, marketing, or graphic design; personal recommendations; and a letter of introduction outlining future plans. Completed scholarship applications and all support materials must be submitted to the Ad Club and postmarked by Friday, March 30. Scholarship decisions are made by the scholarship committee of the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, and are considered final. The scholarship will be awarded at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show in May.

HCC Foundation Offers More Than $200,000 in College Scholarships

HOLYOKE — More than $200,000 in scholarships is available for new, current, and transferring Holyoke Community College (HCC) students for the 2018-19 academic year. Students must be currently enrolled at HCC or have been accepted for the upcoming academic year to be eligible for scholarships, which are awarded through the HCC Foundation. Last year, for the 2017-18 academic year, the HCC Foundation awarded scholarships to more than 200 students. For more information or to fill out the online application, visit www.hcc.edu/scholarships. The application deadline is Wednesday, March 21. For more information, call the HCC Foundation scholarship office at (413) 552-2182 or visit the Institutional Advancement office in Donahue 170 on the HCC campus, 303 Homestead Ave., Holyoke.