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Employer Confidence Begins 2018 with Increase

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers began 2018 much the way they ended 2017 — with growing confidence in the economy and optimism about their own business prospects. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose a half-point to 64.1 during January, setting another 17-year high. The Index has gained 2.7 points during the past 12 months as employer confidence levels have remained comfortably within the optimistic range. Growing enthusiasm about the Massachusetts economy and a brightening outlook on economic conditions six months from now fueled the January confidence increase. At the same time, the hiring outlook remained muted as low unemployment and demographic shifts continued to impede the ability of employers to find the workers they need. The survey was taken prior to major declines in global financial markets during the past several days. “Rising confidence is not surprising in a state with 3.5% unemployment and an economy that grew at a 3.3% annual rate during the fourth quarter,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “Economic output, job growth, and spending all rose at a healthy clip in Massachusetts during the final three months of the year, and economists expect modest growth to continue during the first half of 2018.” 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 January. The most significant gain came in the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, which rose 1.3 points to 68.9. The Massachusetts Index has gained 3.7 points in the past two months, 5.5 points year over year, and now stands at its highest level since November 2000. The U.S. Index of national business conditions also continued a yearlong rally by gaining 0.6 points to 64.8. January marked the 95th 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, decreased a point to 61.7, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 2.1 points to 66.6. The Current Index has risen 2.1 points and the Future Index 3.3 points during the past 12 months. The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, rose slightly, gaining 0.2 points to 62.3. The Employment Index was essentially flat, leaving it 2.1 points below its level of January 2017. Non-manufacturing companies (66.6) were more optimistic than manufacturers (62.3). Large employers (67.2) were more bullish than medium-sized companies (62.7) or small businesses (63.5). “The strong Future Index readings signal that employers anticipate steady growth during the first two quarters of 2018. The only fly in ointment remains the prospect that labor shortages may constrict the ability of companies to grow and expand,” said Paul Bolger, president, Massachusetts Capital Resource Co., and a BEA member. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also BEA member, said 2018 brings with it significant risk for employers as progressive groups push ballot questions that could create a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program, impose a punitive tax on many small businesses, and raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour. “The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will today hear arguments in a challenge that I and four other business leaders filed to the constitutionality of the income surtax question,” Lord noted. “Meanwhile, the business community is seeking common ground on a compromise paid-leave proposal that will not harm the economy.”

Home Sales in Pioneer Valley Post Gains in 2017

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales posted gains in both volume and price last year, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley, with total sales up 1.7% from 2016 to 2017, and median price up 4.5%. In Franklin County, sales were up 3.0% in 2017, and median price up 2.3%. In Hampden County, sales rose 3.6%, and median price saw a 5.5% gain. However, in Hampshire County, sales were down 3.4%, though median price rose 4.1%.

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Unemployment Rate Drops to 3.5% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 300 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector lost 200 jobs; gains occurred in construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities. The November estimate was revised to a gain of 7,800 jobs. From December 2016 to December 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 63,000 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force decreased by 500 from 3,647,500 in November, as 1,900 more residents were employed and 2,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in December 2016. There were 17,900 more unemployed residents over the year compared to December 2016. 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 65.3% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to December 2016. The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Union Station Wins Prize for Brownfields Redevelopment

WESTFIELD — Springfield Union Station has won the prestigious Phoenix Award grand prize for the best brownfields-redevelopment project in the nation. Announced during the December National Brownfields Training Conference in Pittsburgh, the Union Station project also won the Region 1 Phoenix Award. Both awards recognize exemplary brownfield redevelopment and revitalization. These awards highlight the critical environmental cleanup phase at Springfield Union Station, as well as the demolition and removal of a massive baggage warehouse and the remediation of the former site of the Hotel Charles. It also celebrates the redevelopment of a long-vacant historic train station into a state-of-the-art intermodal transit center. Built in 1926, the original Union Station was boarded up for 44 years before taken over by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority in 1989. After many fits and starts, the $94.1 million redevelopment project was funded by numerous federal, state, and local sources. This included grants from the EPA Brownfield Assessment and Cleanup program, MassDevelopment, the Federal Transit Administration, state transportation bond funds, a state parking grant, and more. Tighe & Bond provided extensive hazardous-building-material evaluations, abatement monitoring, building demolition design, and the assessment and remediation of widespread areas of subsurface contamination. After almost 10 years, Union Station has been transformed and repurposed into a LEED-certified building that opened last June, and is the new headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines. It has also spurred a new, adjacent, $15 million, 265-unit housing redevelopment. Besides the Phoenix Award, the project has already won other statewide awards for historic preservation, including the Preservation Massachusetts Paul & Nikki Tsongas Best Then & Now Award for 2017.

Expedia Names Lenox ‘Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts’

LENOX — The Lenox Chamber of Commerce announced that travel-booking website giant Expedia has named Lenox as the “Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts.” Expedia released its “Best Place to Escape in Every State” feature on Jan. 3. These places made the list for being ideal for a relaxing getaway where visitors can recharge, take a breather, and revel in serene solitude. “From quaint small towns to quiet nature preserves, this country is full of places to escape to, and we’ve chosen our favorite in each state, highlighting the perfectly restful things to do there. So, sit back, relax, and start dreaming of better times ahead — these calm places are calling your name,” Expedia author Lily Rogers wrote. Lenox and Berkshire notables highlighted in the article included Blantyre, Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home, and Berkshire Grown.

Study Examines Veterans’ Addiction Risk Related to Childhood Adversity

AMHERST — Results of a national study led by public health scientist Elizabeth Evans at UMass Amherst, along with others at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and UCLA, suggest that risk for alcohol- and drug-use disorders among U.S. military veterans is increased by childhood adversity, and in ways that are different between women and men and different compared to the civilian population. According to Evans, assistant professor of Health Promotion and Policy at UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, in the general population, fewer women than men have an alcohol- or drug-use disorder. “Veterans are different in that there is no gender difference in the prevalence of these problems,” she explained. “Among veterans, a similar proportion of women and men — about 37% — have ever had an alcohol or drug-use disorder. This finding that women veterans are similar to men veterans, and are so different from civilian women, is unexpected. Also surprising are the high rates of childhood adversity among veterans, especially among women; 68% of women veterans report some childhood adversity, and they have the highest rates of childhood sexual abuse.” The study results appeared in a recent early online edition of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology and will be in print this year. “One of the implications of this study is the need to assess for childhood adversity, to help people recognize its relationship with substance use and cope with its health impacts,” Evans noted. “When people join the military or when veterans access healthcare at the VA or in the community would be good times to assess and treat childhood adversity, and we’re often missing those opportunities now.” The researchers found that, with increasing exposure to adversity in childhood, risks of alcohol-use disorder among civilian men and women grew more similar, but for drug-use disorder, the gender differences in risk widened. By contrast, among veterans, more childhood adversity elevated men’s alcohol risk and increased women’s drug risk. “In general right now, we don’t assess for childhood adversity until there’s a problem, in particular with alcohol or drugs, or attempts to harm oneself or others,” Evans said. “However, we know that childhood adversity is an early life experience that is associated with anxiety, depression, and other risk factors for later health and social problems. We in public health, along with others in the community, can do more to prevent childhood adversity altogether. Also, more can be done to assess and address childhood adversity when it does occur so that we mitigate or undo its harmful effects. The need for such efforts is especially critical now given the devastating impacts of the current opioid epidemic on families and communities.”

Nominations Open for Ubora and Ahadi Awards

SPRINGFIELD — The African Hall subcommittee of the Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the 27th annual Ubora Award and the ninth annual Ahadi Youth Award. 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. The Ubora Award is presented to an African-American adult who has demonstrated a commitment to the Greater Springfield area and exhibited excellence in the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, or the arts. The Swahili word ‘ubora’ means ‘excellence.’ Named for the Swahili word for ‘promise,’ the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who has excelled in academics and performed 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 grade 10, 11, or 12. The Ubora and Ahadi Awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in September. Nominations forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. For additional information, call (413) 263-6800, ext. 325, or e-mail to [email protected] Nominations may be e-mailed to [email protected] or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

Berkshire Bank Launches $52,500 Scholarship Program

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced it will honor 35 high-school seniors across Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for their volunteer service with Berkshire Bank scholarships. The scholarships recognize students who excel academically, have a financial need, and share the bank’s commitment to community service. Additionally, students must attend a high school that is located in a county with a Berkshire Bank or Commerce Bank office. The recipients will share in $52,500 in scholarship funds. Through the program, 35 $1,500 scholarships will be awarded to high-school seniors who will be attending a two-year or four-year college in the fall. Applications are evaluated based on the student’s record of volunteerism in the community, academic standing, and financial need. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of a 3.0 and a family household income under $100,000 to be eligible to apply. A team of 200 bank employee volunteers will review the applications and select this year’s recipients. Recipients will include 15 students in Massachusetts, nine in New York, three in Connecticut, three in Vermont, three in New Jersey, and two in Pennsylvania. Students can apply online at www.berkshirebank.com/scholarships. To be considered, all applications must be submitted online by Wednesday, March 21 at 4 p.m. Additional information about this year’s program can be obtained through the bank’s website or by e-mailing the Berkshire Bank Foundation at [email protected]

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Employer Confidence Closes 2017 at 18-year High

BOSTON — Surging optimism about the state and national economies left Massachusetts employers with their highest level of confidence in 18 years as 2017 drew to a close. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose one point to 63.6 during December, its highest level since November 2000. The BCI gained 3.2 points during a year in which employer confidence levels remained comfortably within the optimistic range. Every element of the overall index increased during 2017 except for the Employment Index, which dropped a half-point. Analysts believe low unemployment and demographic shifts are impeding the ability of employers to find the workers they need. “Massachusetts employers maintained a uniformly positive outlook throughout 2017, and passage of the federal tax bill only added to that optimism,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, the 12-month decline in the Employment Index reminds us that the persistent shortage of skilled workers has reached an inflection point for the Massachusetts economy. Massachusetts companies have postponed expansions, declined to bid for contracts, or outsourced work because they simply can’t find people.” 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 mostly higher during December. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, surged 2.4 points to 67.6, leaving it 5.8 points better than a year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions continued a yearlong rally by gaining two points to 64.2. December marked the 94th 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, decreased 0.7 points to 62.7, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.7 points to 64.5. The Current Index gained 3.6 points and the Future Index 2.8 points during 2017. The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, declined 0.2 points to 62.1. The Employment Index rose slightly to 56.7, but still ended the year 0.5 points below the 57.2 posted in December 2016. Manufacturing companies (64.3) continued to be more optimistic than non-manufacturers (62.6). Another unusual result was that employers in Western Mass. (64.6) posted higher confidence readings than those in Eastern Mass. (62.7).

UMass Team Reports Gambling Research to Gaming Commission

AMHERST — Results of a baseline study on gambling behavior in Massachusetts that establishes how people participated — or not — in gambling prior to the opening of any casinos were reported this week to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) by epidemiologist Rachel Volberg and colleagues at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences. It is the first major cohort study of adult gambling to be carried out in the U.S. Volberg and colleagues were selected by the MGC in 2013 to conduct a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive, multi-year study on the economic and social impacts of introducing casino gambling in the state. The Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) team is examining an array of social and economic effects. As part of MGC’s research agenda, the results are from the separate Massachusetts Gambling Impact Cohort study of factors critical to developing strategic and data-driven problem-gambling services. Cohort studies survey the same individuals over time and provide information on how gambling and problem gambling develops and progresses, and how individuals may experience remission. “This has significant value as it can highlight risk and protective factors important in developing effective prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery-support services,” Volberg noted. Before beginning this research, she predicted the state’s sweeping research initiative would change the intellectual landscape and knowledge base about gambling, and she said the results released this week support that view. “This tells us new things, but it is nuanced. Based on this new study, researchers will think about gambling behavior in new ways.” One interesting finding is “the apparent ease with which people move in and out of problem-gambling status within a given year,” the lead author pointed out. “It’s pretty clear that people phase in and out of the problem gambling group. This movement is different than the way problem gambling has been characterized in the past. Until recently, the general orientation has been that disordered gambling is an unremitting chronic condition.” According to the report, only 49.4% of individuals who were problem or pathological gamblers in wave 1 were in this same category in wave 2, with sizeable numbers transitioning into at-risk gambling and recreational gambling categories. At-risk gamblers were the most unstable members of the cohort, with only 37.5% being in the same category in both waves. Most of them transitioned to recreational gambling, but a significant minority transitioned to become problem or pathological gamblers, the researchers reported. Added Volberg, “we’ve seen this movement in studies done in other jurisdictions, but this will be news to some researchers who are used to thinking of problem gambling as a progressive and chronic disorder.” An important aspect of all physical and mental disorders is incidence, she noted. That is the proportion of a population that newly develops a condition over a specified period of time. The study found problem gambling incidence in Massachusetts, at 2.4%, to be high compared to studies elsewhere. The authors pointed out, however, that those other studies have different ‘gambling landscapes,’ used different measures of problem gambling, and had shorter follow-up periods. The report noted that the cause of the high incidence rate is unclear given that there was no significant change in the actual availability of legal gambling opportunities in Massachusetts during this time period. In addition to Volberg and colleagues at UMass Amherst, co-investigator Robert Williams of the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, provided oversight of study design and implementation as well as help with data analysis and reporting.

Springfield Central Cultural District Receives $25,000 Grant

SPRINGFIELD — Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD), announced the receipt of a $25,000 Beveridge Family Foundation grant to help the organization create an artist database, as well as increase internal capacity. Part of the grant from the Beveridge Foundation will be utilized to hire the UMass Arts Extension Service, a nationally renowned thought leader in the arts field, to help create a grassroots network of artists. This network will increase the economic growth of the creative-economy sector in Springfield by connecting artists to paid opportunities, as well as making it easier for local businesses, nonprofits, and individuals to find an artist of a specific discipline. The mission of the Beveridge Family Foundation is to preserve and enhance the quality of life by embracing and perpetuating Frank Stanley Beveridge’s philanthropic vision, through grant-making incentives in support of programs in youth development, health, education, religion, art, and environment, primarily in Hampden and Hampshire counties. The Springfield Central Cultural District encompasses an area of the metro center of Springfield, and is membership-based, involving many of the downtown arts institutions. Its mission is to create and sustain a vibrant cultural environment in Springfield.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts Offers Winter Safety Tips

WESTBOROUGH — As winter continues to have a frigid grip on New England, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts is reminding customers of important safety tips during snowy and icy conditions. To be safe and avoid hazards, customers should:

• Keep natural-gas meters clear of snow and ice to ensure they are visible and accessible at all times for maintenance by Columbia Gas. Keeping natural-gas meters clear also ensures proper venting;

• Remove snow from the meter with hands or a broom. Never use a shovel or kick or hit the meter to break away snow or ice. If the meter is encased in ice, contact Columbia Gas for assistance at (800) 688-6160;

• Keep fresh air and exhaust vents for natural-gas appliances free of snow, ice, and debris to prevent equipment malfunction;

• Use caution when removing snow from flat rooftops, especially on commercial and industrial buildings, as there may be heating and cooling equipment and electric or fuel lines that may not be visible under the snow;

• Make sure all appliances and heating equipment are inspected and operating properly;

• Never use cook tops, ovens, or outdoor grills as a source of heat;

• Check your carbon-monoxide detectors and smoke detectors to ensure they operate properly; and

• As always, if you smell natural gas at any time, leave the area and call 911 or Columbia Gas at (800) 525-8222.

“The safety and comfort of our customers is a high priority,” said Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. “We ask, during these winter months when temperatures are well below freezing, that you check on your families and neighbors, particularly those that are elderly or need special attention.”

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UMass, Research Partners Aim to Improve Flu-season Forecasts
AMHERST — Research teams, including one led by biostatistician Nicholas Reich at UMass Amherst, are participating in a national influenza-forecasting challenge to try to predict the onset, progress, and peaks of regional flu outbreaks to aid prevention and control. This year, the Reich Lab is leading an effort to improve the forecasting by increasing the collaboration between groups. “Every year, the Centers for Disease Control host a flu-forecasting challenge,” Reich said. “It’s the most organized and public effort at forecasting any infectious disease anywhere in the world. Our lab is now in our third year of participating, and we find that each year we get a little better and learn a bit more. This year, we wanted to take it to the next level, so we worked with other teams year-round to develop a way that our models could work together to make a single best forecast for influenza. This entire effort is public, so anyone can go to the website and see the forecasts.” While this flu season has started earlier than usual in the northeastern and southern regions of the U.S., according to the most recent data, the forecasts are still showing a fair amount of uncertainty about how big a season it will be, Reich said. “The holiday season is a notoriously difficult time to forecast because typically fewer people go to the doctor, and yet everyone is traveling around spreading or being exposed to infections such as flu.” Reich and colleagues at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences collaborate with teams at Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, and a group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, in a group they have dubbed the FluSight Network. It issues a new flu season forecast every Monday for public-health researchers and practitioners that compares the flu trajectory this year to past years. In a recent publication, Reich and colleagues state that their aim is to “combine forecasting models for seasonal influenza in the U.S. to create a single ensemble forecast. The central question is, can we provide better information to decision makers by combining forecasting models and, specifically, by using past performance of the models to inform the ensemble approach.” Added Reich, “we are working closely with our collaborators at the CDC to determine how to improve the timeliness and relevance of our forecasts.” To prepare for this flu season, he and colleagues spent many hours designing a standard structure that each team needed to use when submitting models. This allowed for comparison of methods over the past seven years of flu data in the U.S. They also conducted a cross-validation study of data from the past seven flu seasons to compare five different methods for combining models into a single ensemble forecast. They found that four of their collaborative ensemble methods had higher average scores than any of the individual models. The team is now submitting forecasts from their best-performing model and are posting them once a week this season to the CDC’s 2017-18 FluSight Challenge. Reich estimates there are about 20 teams this year participating in the CDC challenge nationwide, who produce about 30 different models. Each model forecasts the onset of the flu season, how it will progress over the coming few weeks, when it will peak, and how intense the peak will be compared to other seasons. In a heavy flu season, between 5% and 12% of doctor’s visits are for influenza-like illness, and that number varies regionally in the U.S. This metric is one of the key indicators for the CDC of how bad the flu season is, and it is the measure used in the forecasting challenges. “Certainly for the CDC, there are policy decisions that could be impacted by these forecasts, including the timing of public communication about flu season starting and when to get vaccinated. Models can help with all of that,” Reich said. “Also, hospitals often try to have enhanced precautions in place during a certain peak period for the disease. If you do that too early, or for too long, you run the risk of individuals getting tired of taking the extra time to comply with the policies.” Hospital epidemiologists and others responsible for public-health decisions do not declare the onset of flu season lightly, he noted. In hospitals, flu onset — a technical set of symptoms reported to physicians — triggers many extra time-consuming and costly precautions and procedures such as added gloves, masks, and gowns; donning and doffing time; special decontamination procedures; increased surveillance; and reduced visitor access, for example. There is also healthcare worker fatigue to consider. Hospitals want to be as effective and efficient as possible in their preparations and response to reduce time and money spent and worker burnout. The public-health effort to improve flu season forecasts is relatively recent, Reich said. “There has been tremendous progress in how we think about infectious disease forecasting in just the last five years. If you compare that to something like weather forecasting, which has been going on for decades, we’re in the middle of a long process of learning and improvement. Someday, we might be able to imagine having a flu forecast on our smartphones that tells us, for example, it’s an early season and I’d better get Mom to the clinic to get her vaccination early this year. We’re close, but that’s not here quite yet.”

Massachusetts Adds 6,700 Jobs in November
BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% in November, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 6,700 jobs in November. Over the month, the private sector added 7,300 jobs as gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; education and health services; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; and manufacturing. The October estimate was revised to a gain of 3,200 jobs. From November 2016 to November 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,200 jobs. The November unemployment rate was five-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Year-to-date the jobs and labor force estimates indicate a strong and stable economy in the Commonwealth. Since December 2016, Massachusetts is estimated to have added 62,200 jobs, 64,300 more residents are participating in the labor force, and the unemployment rate remains low, averaging 3.8%. November also marks the 13th consecutive month of private-sector job growth, with manufacturing adding 1,600 jobs,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force decreased by 8,200 from 3,656,000 in October, as 4,000 fewer residents were employed and 4,200 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased five-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in November 2016. There were 18,300 more unemployed residents over the year compared to November 2016. 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 65.4% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to November 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services.

Applications Open for 2018 Local Farmer Awards
AGAWAM — The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF), in partnership with Big Y and a sponsorship team, announced the fourth year of the Local Farmer Awards, supporting local farmers in Western Mass. with funds for infrastructure improvements and farm equipment. Launched in 2015, the awards draw attention to the importance of local farmers to the region’s economy and health. “Big Y has been supporting local farmers since we began over 80 years ago,” said Charles D’Amour, Big Y president and COO. “Through our partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, we are providing one more way to help the local growers to thrive in our community.” Awards of up to $2,500 will be given to each recipient farmer. The 2017 awards were made to 49 of the 116 applicants. Essential to the program’s success has been the ongoing advice and assistance from the two regional Buy Local farm advocates, Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA). “Local family farms are a part of our culture and economy and the reason we call this area home,” said Philip Korman, executive director of CISA. “This unique farm awards program makes it possible for family farms to strengthen that connection in our communities.” Added Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, “we’re thrilled about the continuation of these financial awards for farmers in Western Massachusetts. This helps build the local food economy in our region.” The application is open through Jan. 31, 2018. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit the website for more information: www.farmerawards.org.

DevelopSpringfield Sells 700 State St. to Pride Stores for Redevelopment
SPRINGFIELD — DevelopSpringfield announced the sale of property at the corner of Thompson and State streets to Pride Stores for redevelopment. The site had been identified as a priority for redevelopment in the State Street Corridor Redevelopment Program, a plan focused on the economic revitalization of State Street and adjacent neighborhoods. DevelopSpringfield acquired the former River Inn at 700 State St. in 2013 with adjacent lots on Thompson Street to remove a blight on the neighborhood, promote revitalization, and prepare the site for appropriate commercial redevelopment. The organization performed extensive asbestos remediation, demolished the building, and prepared the site for redevelopment. “We listened closely to the interests of community members, including the Springfield Food Policy Council and the McKnight Neighborhood Council, to identify a developer whose project would meet community needs and be a good neighbor to the many residents near the site,” said Nicholas Fyntrilakis, DevelopSpringfield’s chairman. “Pride’s new store will offer fresh food and produce and address the community’s interests for healthier food options.” Added Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, “this is exactly why my administration created this public/private partnership of DevelopSpringfield. This in-question property had been a troublesome area for the neighborhood for many years. I look forward to the redevelopment of this site with a project that will bring jobs, tax revenue, and a quality retail operator who cares about our community.” The sale of the property was complete on Dec. 15. Construction is targeted to begin in the spring. The new store will include a Pride gas station and convenience store and will feature a variety of convenient food items, Pride Café Bakery, local produce, and fresh healthy food offerings. In addition, incubator space will be provided to a local food entrepreneur. “We are excited to bring Pride Markets to this important area of the State Street corridor,” said Bob Bolduc, owner of Pride Stores. “Not only will the store have the amenities our customers traditionally expect, but it will also have fresh local produce available through an innovative collaboration led by local food advocate Liz O’Gilvie, who will coordinate a farmer’s market on the site.”

MassDOT: $1B Invested in Infrastructure in 2017
BOSTON — The Mass. Department of Transportation announced that approximately $1 billion was invested in improving and upgrading roads, bridges, sidewalks, multi-use paths, and intersections across the state in calendar year 2017. This $1 billion in capital investments included repairs and improvements to 386 bridges in 123 communities and improved road conditions in more than 155 cities and towns across Massachusetts. An additional $30 million was programmed through the Complete Streets and Municipal Small Bridge programs in order to support local transportation planning and community bridges not eligible for federal aid. “The Baker-Polito Administration has focused on improving the reliability and resiliency of our transportation infrastructure to ensure that people throughout the Commonwealth are able to drive, walk, bike, or use public transit and reach the places they need to go,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “By investing in our roads, bridges, sidewalks, multi-use paths, and intersections, we can provide better options to travelers and allow them to utilize their preferred mode of transportation to reach their jobs, homes, businesses, and places that improve their quality of life.” Among the notable construction project highlights from 2017 are reaching the full beneficial use milestone for the $148 million I-91 viaduct rehabilitation project in Springfield approximately eight months ahead of schedule. The majority of the work has now been completed, and the lanes and ramps on I-91 have reopened.

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HCC, STCC Launch Gaming School, Open Registration for Classes

SPRINGFIELD — Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College officially launched the new MCCTI Gaming School, where area residents interested in working as professional card dealers or croupiers at MGM Springfield can start taking training classes early next year. HCC and STCC, through TWO, their Training and Workforce Options collaborative, and MCCTI, the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, will run the gaming school on the ninth floor of 95 State St., Springfield. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission recently issued a certificate to MCCTI to operate the school. “MGM Springfield is inspired by our educational and workforce-development partners’ strong commitment to creating a healthier regional economy through career opportunities,” said Alex Dixon, general manager for MGM Springfield. “We are grateful for their willingness to learn about and adapt teachings for the gaming and hospitality industry. Today, we celebrate this milestone and look forward to hiring the first-ever table-game professionals in the Commonwealth.” The launch event also signaled the opening of registration for training classes, which will begin Feb. 26 in anticipation of the opening of the $960 million MGM Springfield resort casino in September 2018. Jeffrey Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services for HCC, who also serves as executive director of TWO and MCCTI, noted that the MGM International website prominently features two new resort casinos MGM is building that are literally half a world apart, one in Springfield and another in Macau. “There will be a $1 billion facility one block from here,” he said. “The show is coming to Springfield.” A full schedule of training classes, along with course descriptions, prices, and school policies is available on the MCCTI website at www.mccti.org under ‘Gaming School,’ where job seekers can also register and explore other employment possibilities with MGM. “The citizens of the region want to work in positions that provide a livable wage and the potential for advancement,” said Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. “MGM Springfield will provide both, right in the heart of our region in downtown Springfield. I want to thank the community-college presidents for their continued dedication to providing people with the education and skills they need to be successful in the job market.” Robert Westerfield, vice president of Table Games for MGM Springfield, said starting out as a dealer with MGM can truly open up career pathways with the organization. “I started off as a craps dealer,” he said. “I stand before you as vice president of Table Games. Anybody can do it. If you bring the attitude, we’ll give you the aptitude.” In 2012, the presidents of the state’s 15 community colleges signed a memorandum of understanding with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to work collaboratively to provide training for casino jobs in each of the state’s three defined casino regions: Greater Boston, Southeastern Mass., and Western Mass. In the Western Mass. region, MCCTI is operated by TWO. “We know that economic development and workforce development are not separate efforts,” said STCC President John Cook. “It is imperative that economic and workforce development are integrated for the benefit of our region’s businesses and citizens. The investment of MGM Springfield will allow many of our citizens to begin the process of getting employed and establishing a career pathway.” Added HCC President Christina Royal, “I particularly appreciate HCC’s historic and continuing partnerships with STCC in support of the workforce needs of area businesses. Both colleges offer a wide variety of educational and training options for job seekers and incumbent workers in industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, culinary arts, and many other fields. MCCTI and events like today reinforce the important role community colleges play in the state and regional economy.” The MCCTI Gaming School will provide dealer training in blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, and other casino games. Participants who successfully complete training programs for at least two different table games will be guaranteed an ‘audition,’ or tryout, for a job at MGM Springfield.

Report: Massachusetts Is Healthiest State in the Nation

BOSTON — Massachusetts is the healthiest state in the nation, according to the 28th annual America’s Health Rankings report. Among the state’s strengths are its low percentage of uninsured people, low prevalence of obesity, and high vaccination rates. The 2017 report also ranked Massachusetts first for the health of women and children. “This report highlights the notable progress that our state is making to improve the health and well-being of every individual living in the Commonwealth,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Massachusetts is proud to have the lowest number of uninsured residents in the country and robust public-health efforts, and our administration will keep working across all levels of government to ensure quality healthcare and a safe, healthy environment for our residents to live, work, and play.” The 2017 report analyzed 35 measures covering behaviors, community and environment, policy, clinical care, and outcomes data. The report serves as a benchmark for states — and the nation — to measure progress, identify emerging trends, and drive action for improving public health. Last year, Massachusetts ranked second, behind Hawaii. “This year’s findings demonstrate that our focus on improving health outcomes is making a real difference in the lives of Massachusetts families and communities,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “Today’s news is a testament to the hard work and dedication of many people working across state and local government, healthcare providers, and at the community grassroots level to make Massachusetts healthier.” Among other categories in which Massachusetts was ranked first were immunizations of children ages 19 to 35 months; immunization of adolescents ages 13 to 17 years with Tdap vaccine, a combination vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough); percentage of the population that is uninsured; number of dentists per 100,000 people; and number of mental-health providers per 100,000 people.

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Report Features Advice on Nonprofit Fund-raising

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MNN) released its latest edition of its Commonwealth Insights report series. The report, titled “From the Experts: Advice to Inform Your Organization’s Fundraising,” features advice from interviews with four successful Massachusetts nonprofit fund-raisers in an effort to inform and support year-end fund-raising efforts of nonprofit organizations. In an early 2017 survey of its membership, nearly 60% of MNN member nonprofits cited fund-raising as the largest challenge facing their organization. With many nonprofits currently accelerating their fund-raising operations to coincide with the end of the calendar year, MNN believes this report will be useful to its over 700 nonprofit members representing every region of the state, as well as members of the state’s nonprofit sector at large. “Fund-raising is an ever-present challenge — and opportunity — for all types of nonprofits. This edition of Commonwealth Insights focuses on ideas that can help nonprofits take their fund-raising to new heights,” said Jim Klocke, CEO of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network. The report is centered on general strategies for fund-raisers to consider in their efforts and is supplemented with actionable advice. In a fast-paced and changing fund-raising landscape, all four experts agree that the need to consistently engage donors and provide them with new, creative ways to be involved with a nonprofit organization is critical to building and retaining support. The report also touches upon a concern of those working in fund-raising, particularly at smaller organizations: that current events and overwhelming needs from across the country and world could further heighten the competition for donors’ support. The interviewed experts agreed that, while this concern is understandable, donors of all ages are looking for even more ways to support causes they care about. “I think that many people are looking for more ways to make a difference, and I think that is what we need right now,” said Margaret Keller, executive director of Community Access to the Arts in Great Barrington, one of the experts featured in the report. “Donors are more engaged and more committed than ever.” This is the third edition of Commonwealth Insights MNN has published in 2017. Earlier editions focused on federal tax reform and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The series is made possible by support from the Barr Foundation.

Financial Literacy Ambassadors Project Receives Funding

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Partners for Community Action Inc. has been awarded a Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) Special Projects grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development to support its Financial Literacy Ambassadors project. The Financial Literacy Ambassadors project is designed to facilitate the training and certification of multi-cultural and multi-lingual community residents to become peer-to-peer trainers and deliver financial education to their own communities. “We thank the department and Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay for their support,” said Paul Bailey, executive director at Springfield Partners. “With this round of funding, we plan to identify interested applicants to train and become certified financial-literacy educators capable of delivering peer training to others in the community in multiple languages.” Applications are being accepted now. Anyone interested in applying should contact T.J. Steele at (413) 263-6500, ext. 6568, or [email protected], or Stephen Plummer at (413) 263-6500, ext. 6567, or [email protected] Springfield Partners is the official anti-poverty agency serving Springfield’s poor and low-income community since 1964. It offers programs and services in financial literacy, credit counseling, weatherization, emergency fuel assistance, multi-cultural Alzheimer’s, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, early education and care, community scholarship, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, veteran services, eviction clinic, and housing counseling.

Single-family Home Sales in Pioneer Valley Up in October

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were up 20.6% in the Pioneer Valley in October compared to the same time last year, while the median price rose 6% to $205,550, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were down 13.1%, while the median price also fell 13.1% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 24.4%, while the median price was up 3.6%. And in Hampshire County, sales rose 24.4% from October 2016, while the median price was up 1.9%.

Community Collaboration Boosts OT Services at Square One

SPRINGFIELD — In support of the Square One mission to ensure that all children have the foundation they need to be successful in life, Bay Path University and Eversource have formed a partnership to enhance the clinical services provided to Square One children. Eversource recently awarded a $2,500 grant to the university for its Play Matters Therapy program. The funding will be utilized to expand current services and broaden the scope of assessments that will be conducted with children in this program, incorporate nutrition curriculum, and to purchase materials and equipment needed to facilitate movement groups or treatment components. Students and faculty from Bay Path have provided occupational therapy (OT) services to children at the Square One Family Center on King Street in Springfield for nearly three years through Play Matters Therapy. The Eversource grant further cements the longstanding partnership that dates back years prior to the conception of Play Matters. “From the ground up, we started building the Play Matters Therapy program that provided free, community-based, occupational-therapy services to the children and families of Square One,” said Amanda Lizotte, coordinator of Emerging Practice Fieldwork at Bay Path University. “The purpose of this program is three-fold: to provide services to children in need to support their overall development, prepare them for entrance to kindergarten, and ensure successful participation in life activities; to provide support to the child’s network, which includes parents, caregivers, and educators, by disseminating resources and education; and to provide Bay Path occupational therapy students, the majority of whom will remain in the region to live and work, with critical experiential learning opportunities that enable them to professionally grow and develop into future occupational-therapy practitioners.” Under close supervision by clinical OT instructors, students hone their skills as OTs as they work with children across a variety of focus areas — gross and fine motor development, visual motor skills, sensory integration, social skills, nutrition, self-esteem, stress relief, and coping mechanisms, to name a few — in an attempt to help bridge a crucial gap during a critical time in the child’s development. A full-time therapist from the university is also on site at Square One so that services may be provided even when Bay Path students are not present. “We are so grateful to Bay Path and Eversource for this unique collaboration,” said Kristine Allard, chief Development & Communications officer for Square One. “Many of our children experience trauma in their lives as a result of the challenges they are faced with at home. Poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, abuse, and neglect all place a tremendous strain on their health and development. Our partnership with Bay Path is meeting a critical need. We are very grateful to them, as well as Eversource for recognizing the importance of this work.”

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Employer Confidence Hits Another High for 2017

BOSTON — Employer confidence in Massachusetts hit another high for 2017 during October as economic growth accelerated and companies remained optimistic about the national outlook. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index edged up 0.3 points to 62.7, leaving it 6.5 points better than in October 2016. The uptick was driven by a brightening view of employment growth and firming confidence among manufacturers. The reading came as MassBenchmarks reported that the Massachusetts economy grew at 5.9% during the third quarter, almost double the rate of the national economy. Payroll employment grew at a 2.1% annual rate in Massachusetts in the third quarter as compared to 1.2% nationally. “The acceleration of the Massachusetts economy in the third quarter provided additional fuel to an already solid sense of confidence among employers as we head for 2018,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “At the same time, optimism about the national economy suggests that employers believe growth rates throughout the U.S. will increase even more if Congress follows through on its proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.” 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. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were largely higher during October. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, slipped 0.3 points to 65.1, still 4.1 points more than a year earlier. October marked the 91st consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.7 points to 62.5, continuing a 13.3-point surge for the 12-month period. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.7 points to 63.6, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, remained even at 61.9 points. The Current Index has risen 7.6 points and the Future Index 5.6 points during the past year. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.3 points to 62.0. There was better news in the Employment Index, a key predictor of economic health, which rose 2.0 points to 57.8.

Arrha President Testifies on Bill to Modernize Credit-union Laws

SPRINGFIELD — Michael Ostrowski, president and CEO of Arrha Credit Union, testified on an act to modernize credit-union laws before the state Joint Committee on Financial Services. Ostrowski testified on allowing technological advances, increasing transactional authority for chartering and merging credit unions, and increasing state authority for low-income designation. “A top priority of Arrha Credit Union is to be able to fully utilize today’s advances in technology. We are not allowed to offer electronic loan applications, along with other credit unions. Our members want technological convenience in today’s advanced electronic world,” Ostrowski said. “Also, mail was meaningful during the time this law was enacted; however, today’s electronic voting has largely taken the place of mail ballot voting, and is more easily accessible for members to actively participate in our governance. Such technological advances will provide convenience, time-saving opportunities, and cost-saving opportunities. It is important for Arrha Credit Union to stay as technically advanced as possible to best serve our membership and communities.” Arrha Credit Union supports the provisions of this bill, which allows the Massachusetts commissioner of Banks to recognize the credit-union low-income designation for state-chartered credit unions. A credit union that receives the low-income designation is a credit union in which has more than half of its members have a family income 80% or less than the median family income for the metropolitan area where they live or national metropolitan area, whichever is greater. This authority will open an opportunity for credit unions to gain access to grant money to provide additional training opportunities for its staff, better and more tailored products for its low-income base, and other such improvements. It will also allow for expedited and easier recognition of credit for Community Reinvestment Act purposes. “Arrha Credit Union is considered a low-income-designated credit union and has used its low-income designation in the area of auto lending with 100% loan-to-value ratios, which allows us to better and more timely serve our members,” Ostrowski said. “It is clear that values and general banking business dynamics change very quickly in this day and age; as a result, it is necessary that our laws are also kept up-to-date, modernized, with today’s needs.

Unemployment Rates Decrease Across State in September

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 19 labor-market areas, increased in two areas, and remained the same in three areas in the state during the month of September, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to September 2016, the rates were up in 18 labor-market areas and remained the same in six labor-market areas. Six of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in September. The gains occurred in the Springfield, Worcester, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, New Bedford, Peabody-Salem-Beverly, and Leominster-Gardner areas. From September 2016 to September 2017, 14 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the New Bedford, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Barnstable, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead, and Springfield areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for September was 3.5%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% in the month of September. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 9,300-job gain in September and an over-the-year gain of 62,300 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. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Board of Higher Education Votes to Join Agreement on Online Learning

BOSTON — The state Board of Higher Education recently authorized the state’s commissioner of Higher Education to submit an application to join the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), a multi-state approach to regulating the growing number of online learning programs offered by colleges and universities across the U.S. The board’s unanimous vote follows an extensive review of what joining SARA would mean for the Commonwealth. Last year, Massachusetts Education Secretary James Peyser chaired a legislative Special Commission on Interstate Reciprocity Agreements, which issued a report that was reviewed by the Board of Higher Education as part of its decision-making process to join SARA. In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Education incorporated recommendations from the state Board and Department of Higher Education, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Executive Office of Education in final authorization regulations for postsecondary online education. “As we strive to make higher education more affordable and accessible for residents of the Commonwealth, adding online learning options is a critical step in the right direction,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “We are pleased to join SARA with the assurance that we would be able to continue vital consumer protections for our students, and look forward to preparing our application.” Added Peyser, “if Massachusetts’ application for SARA membership is approved, students in the Commonwealth will see a multitude of options in online education open up for them, and our state’s colleges and universities will find it less cumbersome and costly to offer online courses to students in other states.” Massachusetts will be the 49th state to join SARA, if its application is accepted by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. Currently, the Board of Higher Education regulates the degree-granting authority of most post-secondary institutions with a physical presence in the Commonwealth, granting them the ability to offer specific credit-bearing programs of study and to use the terms ‘college’ or ‘university’ in their names. At present, it does not exercise oversight over out-of-state institutions that offer only online programs to Massachusetts students. With the proliferation of distance-learning providers and modalities, the need for a new, more nimble regulatory approach that will allow for greater access and options for students — while maintaining robust student protections and safeguards — has emerged. “Massachusetts has a strong history when it comes to regulations and standards that benefit consumers — in this case, students — and we were willing to take our time in deliberating whether to join SARA rather than rush into an agreement that might shortchange them,” said Carlos Santiago, state commissioner of Higher Education. If Massachusetts’ application to join SARA is accepted, institutions in the Commonwealth may be able to submit applications to begin operating under SARA by the summer of 2018.

Connecticut Airport Authority Seeks Development Proposals

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority is seeking developers to enter into a long-term land lease to develop, operate, and maintain commercial property owned by Bradley International Airport located on a vacant, 4.8-acre parcel on Ella Grasso Turnpike. A pre-proposal meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 10 a.m. in the Human Resources Conference Room located at 334 Ella Grasso Turnpike, Suite 100, Windsor Locks. Full copies of the request for proposal may be downloaded at www.ctairports.org/economic-development/procurement, or by e-mailing [email protected].

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Eastern States Exposition Breaks Attendance Record

WEST SPRINGFIELD — A record number of visitors attended the Big E this year, breaking the fair’s all-time high attendance figure, with a final tally of 1,525,553. The previous record of 1,498,605 was set in 2014. Oct. 1 attendance was 137,208, also a new record for the final Sunday of the 17-day fair. During the fair’s run, the all-time-highest single-day attendance record was also broken when 171,897 visitors attended Saturday, Sept. 23. Three additional daily attendance records were set: Sept. 21, 85,019; Sept. 28, 89,905; and Sept. 29, 109,871. “I am humbled to see the incredible support of Eastern States Exposition by our loyal fair patrons,” said Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Exposition. “The 2017, 101st edition of the Big E broke records again, recording for the first time in history over 1.5 million guests. Patrons of New England’s Great State Fair braved days of punishing temperatures that pushed the heat index to above 100 degrees, they endured a 55-degree drop in temperature accompanied by rain, and yet they came in great numbers to participate in, enjoy, and support this organization and all it stands for.”

Employer Confidence Rebounds in September

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index broke a two-month slide in September, rising 1.2 points to 62.4. The reading equaled its high for 2017 and was 6.5 points better than a year ago. Employer confidence has moved in a narrow range so far in 2017, as employers appear bullish about the growth prospects of their companies. The September uptick was driven in part by a 5.7-point surge in the Sales Index, which is often a leading indicator of increased business activity. “The Index was also taken prior to the announcement of an effort by Congressional Republicans and the White House to significantly reduce corporate taxes, a move that enjoys broad support among employers,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The prospect of tax reform and tax simplification is likely to buoy employer sentiment through the end of the year.” 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. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were generally higher during September. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, rose 2.2 points to 65.4, a reading that was 8.4 points higher than in September 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions dropped 0.4 points to 59.8 after surging more than 10 points during the previous 12 months. September marked the 90th 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, increased 1.6 points to 62.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.7 points to 61.9. The Future Index ended the month 5.9 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, gained 1.4 points to 62.3. Finally, the Employment Index fell 2.2 points to 55.8, continuing an up-and-down pattern within the mid-50s on the 100-point scale. “The Massachusetts economy continues to maintain a steady recovery, with employers adding 10,800 jobs during August and the state jobless rate declining to 4.2%,” said Elmore Alexander, dean of Ricciardi College of Business at Bridgewater State University, and a BEA member. “The surge in the AIM Sales and Future indices suggests that business activity may actually accelerate in coming months, so the primary challenge for employers will remain hiring and retaining skilled workers in a tight labor market.” AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers generally support federal initiatives to reduce business taxes, but also remain concerned about the potential effect those reductions might have on the deficit. It is ironic, Lord added, that the proposed Republican tax plan would lower levies for subchapter-S corporations and other small pass-through businesses, while Massachusetts voters may be voting on a surtax next year on those same companies. “Subchapter-S corporations and other companies that pay taxes on the individual level are generally small to medium-sized enterprises that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy,” he noted. “What a shame it would be if the federal government were to help these companies while Massachusetts penalizes them.”

MGM’s 95% Document Submittal Consistent with HCA Commitments

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Kevin Kennedy, the city’s chief Development officer, announced that the MGM 95% construction-design submittals are consistent with the commitments outlined within the city’s host-community agreement (HCA). “As we move closer to the completion and grand opening of this unique urban development, I am pleased to be able to announce another milestone as the city accepts the 95% construction-design submittals,” said Sarno. “Through this continued collaborative effort between the city of Springfield and MGM, the designs submitted remain consistent with what has been outlined within the host-community agreement.” This determination of compliance is based on a detailed review of the submittal documents by a number of city departments, including the Office of Planning & Economic Development, the Law Department, the Building Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Casino Liaison Office. A full review of the 95% construction-design documents was also completed by Chicago Consultants Studio Inc., an urban-planning consultant that has been used extensively by the city of Springfield throughout the casino design-review process. “Based on a thorough review and engaged process over the past few months, we believe that MGM’s 95% construction documents continue to illustrate a high-quality, attractive, and innovative design,” said Kim Goluska of Chicago Consultants Studio Inc. “MGM’s cooperation with the city and its positive enhancements and completion of the key design components has resulted in a project that not only conforms to the HCA intent and requirements, but also creates a new, truly innovative precedent for urban casino developments.” Added Kennedy, “with MGM Springfield nearing completion and the numerous other economic-development efforts underway throughout the city, including the recent grand opening of Union Station, we are really starting to see the new Springfield take shape. Our focus will continue to be on capitalizing on these larger transformative developments to help attract other private investment and jobs to the city of Springfield.”

New England Unemployment Holds Steady in August

BOSTON — The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released New England and state unemployment numbers for August 2017. These data are supplied by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program, which produces monthly and annual employment, unemployment, and labor-force data for Census regions and divisions, states, counties, metropolitan areas, and many cities. The New England unemployment rate was little changed at 4.0% in August. One year ago, the New England jobless rate was 3.9%. The U.S. jobless rate was little changed from July at 4.4%. No New England state had a significant over-the-year jobless rate change.

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Pathlight, VVM Seek Innovations to Benefit People with Disabilities

SPRINGFIELD — Applications are now open for the second year of the Pathlight Challenge, Pathlight’s partnership with Valley Venture Mentors (VVM). The two organizations have put out a national call to entrepreneurs to develop solutions aimed at increasing independence for people with intellectual disabilities and those with autism. Pathlight, headquartered in Springfield, has served people with developmental and intellectual disabilities throughout Western Mass. since 1952, while VVM offers support to business startups. The Pathlight Challenge is supported by a grant from the Westfield Bank Future Fund. Startups from anywhere in the world are invited to apply for two spots in VVM’s prestigious, intensive, four-month Accelerator program, which kicks off in January. Pathlight Executive Director Ruth Banta said that the partnership with Valley Venture Mentors highlights the organization’s long-standing history of innovation. Pathlight has been a pioneer in partnering with people with developmental disabilities and autism to live full and engaged lives. She said it seems a natural next step to consider how technology or other innovative solutions can help a new generation of people with disabilities live as independently as possible. The Accelerator program is held over one long weekend a month, offering startups connections to subject-matter experts, investors, and engaged and collaborative peers. Those competing in the program can win up to $50,000 in grants to develop their business or product. Applications for the Accelerator are open through Wednesday, Oct. 18. The Pathlight fellows will graduate from the Accelerator program in May, when they will also unveil their new products or services. For more information or to apply for the Pathlight Challenge, visit pathlightgroup.org/our-community/pathlight-challenge.

Massachusetts Adds 10,800 Jobs in August

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 4.2% in  August, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate that Massachusetts added 10,800 jobs in August. Over the month, the private sector added 9,900 jobs as gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; other services; information; construction; and manufacturing. The July estimate was revised to a gain of 2,500 jobs. From August 2016 to August 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 57,400 jobs. The August unemployment rate was two-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.4% reported by the bureau. “Massachusetts has gained 57,400 jobs in the last year, with much of that growth concentrated in key economic sectors like health, education, professional, business, and scientific services,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta. “While these job gains, alongside a low unemployment rate, are signs of a strong economy in the Commonwealth, skills gaps and labor-market pressures persist. That is why our workforce-development agencies and partners continue to focus on matching available workers with the training and resources they need to connect to high-demand jobs.” The labor force decreased by 17,200 from 3,697,700 in July, as 10,700 fewer residents were employed and 6,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased eight-tenths of a percentage point from 3.4% in August 2016. There were 31,300 more unemployed residents over the year compared to August 2016. 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 three-tenths of a percentage point to 66.1% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased 1.3% compared to August 2016. The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in other services; professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; and financial activities.

State Campaign to Help Parents Protect Kids from Opioid Misuse

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) recently launched a new, statewide public-information campaign to raise awareness among parents about what they can do to protect their middle- and high-school-aged kids from prescription-drug misuse and addiction. “Parents play an important role in protecting their kids from opioid and substance misuse, and our administration is supporting another tool to begin that conversation and to keep talking — because kids will listen,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “This public-information campaign adds to our strong foundation of prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery in ending the opioid crisis that has impacted too many families throughout the Commonwealth.” The prevention campaign, launched with funding from the DPH Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, is titled “Stop Addiction Before It Starts,” and encourages parents to talk early and often with their children about the dangers of misusing prescription pain medications. Four out of five people who use heroin began by misusing prescription pain medications, and one in four teens report they’ve misused or abused a prescription drug at least once. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, kids whose parents talked with them about prescription pain medications were 42% less likely to misuse these drugs than those whose parents didn’t. The campaign will appear across the state on TV and on digital and paid social-media platforms. Viewers will be directed to mass.gov/stopaddiction for additional information about the importance of talking with teens about opioid misuse, tips on how to start the conversation, further information about opioids including the safe disposal of unused prescription pain pills, and resources for treatment and recovery.

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Employer Confidence Slips in August

BOSTON — Massachusetts employer confidence edged lower for the second consecutive month during August. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index (BCI) shed 0.3 points to 61.2 last month, leaving it 7.1 points higher than a year ago. The Index has been essentially flat since April and now stands 0.2 points lower than at the beginning of 2017. Last month’s slip reflected offsetting trends in employer attitudes about conditions inside and outside their walls. Employers grew less bullish about their own companies during the month, but showed growing optimism about the national economy and about prospects for manufacturers. “Employer confidence continues to move in a narrow range defined by broad optimism about both the state and national economies,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The steady level of confidence readings above the 60 mark reflect a state economy that grew at a 4% annual rate during the second quarter while maintaining a steady level of employment growth.” 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.

Valley Venture Mentors Joins Global Accelerator Network

SPRINGFIELD — After a rigorous selection process, the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) has invited Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) to join its network. To date, GAN has helped more than 5,000 startups receive more than $4.8 billion in funding and create 28,000 jobs globally. VVM will join more than 85 other accelerators in a network that includes notable programs such as TechStars, Microsoft Accelerator, and PlayLabs @ MIT. The network offers expansive opportunities for VVM’s startups and for VVM as a whole, including startup accelerator alumni access to morw than $1 million in in-kind perks, from cloud hosting credits to airline tickets; a network of thought partners with which to share best practices and develop innovations; a global coworking exchange that will allow VVM’s startups to work all over the world and bring other GAN members to Springfield; access to a global network that will match startups with interested investors; the opportunity for VVM to serve as a pipeline to GAN Ventures, which invests in early-stage startups; and programming for alumni that will augment VVM offerings.

New App Accompanies Springfield Walking Tour

SPRINGFIELD — Finding the next big thing or a historic old thing is now easier than ever. The Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) has launched an app version of its Cultural Walking Tour. The walking tour, first introduced in the summer of 2015, is a tool designed to be used by visitors or residents to learn more about the city’s architectural, historic, and cultural highlights. Printed maps are available at attractions and the visitor’s center, and a video map is hosted on springfieldculture.org, but until now, it wasn’t possible to access easily on your phone. Easily found by searching ‘Springfield Cultural Tour’ in the App Store or Google Play, visitors and residents alike can learn something new about the Cultural District and its assets. Public art; attractions like the Armory, Springfield Museums, and Basketball Hall of Fame; and architectural and historic points of interest have background information and video that are accessible from the app, which is based in Google Maps. Users can choose what they’re interested in and sort points of interest. “As people walk around, they can see themselves moving through the app. What we couldn’t do before this existed was point out the HH Richardson Courthouse or the Sol Lewitt mural without being on site with a visitor. Now they can see it in real time, and navigate directly there on their own schedule,” said Morgan Drewniany, SCCD director. The app was designed to not only engage a changing demographic in and around Springfield to appreciate their surroundings, but to help shed light on little-known assets within the downtown and orient visitors not familiar with the area. Paper maps will continue to be available alongside the app. The project was funded by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Additional support was provided by the city of Springfield, the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and the Springfield Business Improvement District.

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Nominations Sought for Difference Makers Award

SPRINGFIELD — Nearly a decade ago, BusinessWest created a new recognition program called Difference Makers. That carefully chosen name sums up what this initiative is all about — identifying and then celebrating individuals, groups, and agencies in this region that are making a difference in our communities. And now, it’s time to nominate candidates for the class of 2018. The nomination form can be found at www.buisnesswest.com; click ‘Our Events,’ and then ‘Difference Makers.’ Nominations must be submitted by Nov. 3. Over the first nine years of the program, honorees have included a host of individuals and nonprofit agencies focusing on everything from childhood literacy to combatting homelessness; from reducing gang violence in Springfield to creating a walk to battle breast cancer. For a full list of previous winners, visit www.businesswest.com.

Those nominating candidates are encouraged to make their submissions detailed and explain why the individual or group in question is a true Difference Maker.

VVM Graduates 14 from Collegiate Accelerator

SPRINGFIELD — Valley Venture Mentors announced that it has graduated 14 startups from its inaugural Collegiate Accelerator Program. After nine weeks of intensive training, more than $20,000 in cash prizes was distributed to the entrepreneurs by accredited investors. Additionally, a $5,000 award was given to the startup that showed the most grit. Here is a rundown of the teams and the prize distribution:

• The Travel Unicorn, the LGBTQ+ travel guide that works to connect travelers to safe destinations based on their recommendations: $6,000, plus the $5,000 Grit Award;

• lymph + honey, which provides access to healthful, wholesome, and sustainable natural hair- and body-care products: $6,000;

• Vidvision, which helps marketers convert their video viewers into customers: $2,700;

• Zirui, offering innovative and stylish solutions for traveling with beauty and care products: $2,700;

• Mt. Mitho, bringing flavors from the highest peak on Earth: $1,350;

• redflowers, an online media platform that fosters community and dismantles societal stereotypes surrounding black identities and black women: $700;

• STEAMporio, training the makers of tomorrow by creating a passion for learning: $700;

• Boman, where a shipping container plus agricultural system equals a turn-key platform for growing any crop, anytime, anywhere;

• El Cherufe Chile Paste, an artisanal chile paste that offers a new flavor experience to lovers of spicy heat;

• INDI10.com, where you bid to wear it first;

• Lighthouse, which helps students with projects, no matter the size;

• Shesabelle Chandeliears, helping those with limited earring options experience the full range of expression earrings have to offer;

• Studio 26, a promotional service that offers underground musicians in Massachusetts tools and resources to help expand and build their brand; and

• The Black Enterprise Business Resource Center, which cultivates the empowerment and collaboration of black entrepreneurs in the Western Mass. area through quality business education and business services.

Leadership Holyoke 2017-18 Series to Begin

HOLYOKE — Leadership Holyoke is a comprehensive community-leadership and board-development program of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. The series 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 2017-18 Leadership series begins on Sept. 22, consists of a weekly series of eight seven-hour sessions, and concludes on May 2 with a graduation ceremony at Holyoke Community College (HCC) 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 HCC as well as 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 HCC will participate as instructors and facilitators, and community leaders will participate as speakers and discussion leaders in areas of their expertise. The Leadership Holyoke series is made possible by PeoplesBank. Tuition of $600 per participant is due at the start of the course and includes a continental breakfast each week, a bus trip to Boston, and the graduation luncheon. Sign up online at holyokechamber.com or call the chamber at (413) 534-3376 with any questions.

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Employer Confidence Slips Slightly in July

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index shed 0.3 points to 61.5 last month, leaving it 6.4 points higher than a year ago. The Index has gained ground in five of seven months so far in 2017. The July slip was led by the Employment Index, which dropped 2.4 points from June. Experts on the AIM Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) believe the slide reflects employers’ inability to hire skilled workers amid a tight labor market rather than a hiring slowdown caused by economic factors. “Confidence levels at or above 60 signal continued strong confidence among employers in the direction of the state and national economies,” said Raymond Torto, BEA chair and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The labor shortage is a serious issue. We hear anecdotes from companies in multiple industries that are turning away business or postponing expansions because they can’t find tech specialists, manufacturing workers, or electricians to take the new jobs.” 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. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during July. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, lost a point to 63.2, still six points higher than in July 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 0.5 points to 57.9 despite lingering uncertainty about federal healthcare and economic policy. July marked the 88th 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, declined 0.7 points to 61.2, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, edged up 0.1 point to 61.8. The Future Index ended the month seven points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.2 points to 62.2, up 6.3 points during the 12-month period. And though the Employment Index dropped to 55.7, the Sales Index rose for the third consecutive month, gaining 1.5 points to 64.1. The AIM survey found that 39% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months are similar, with 37% expecting to hire and only 10% downsizing. Elliot Winer, chief economist with Winer Economic Consulting, said workers with the type of skills needed by employers in growing industries remain in short supply, even though Massachusetts has posted significant increases to its labor force so far in 2017. “Employers report that it is increasingly hard to fill jobs. Job vacancies now significantly exceed new hiring. And yet, wage growth in the state has been near zero when adjusted for inflation,” Winer said. Manufacturing companies remained optimistic about the economy with the 59.6 confidence reading, but not as optimistic as employers outside the manufacturing sector, who posted a 63.6 result. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, noted that employer confidence in the Massachusetts economy has stalled as the state Legislature has taken several troubling votes, including one to force employers to close a $200 million gap in MassHealth with no long-term program reforms.

Family Business Center to Host Summit for Couples in Business

AMHERST — Anyone in the unique (but not uncommon) situation of working with their spouse or significant other might be interested in being one of eight to 10 couples to take part in an upcoming ‘spouses summit,’ a constructive, honest, cathartic discussion and learning opportunity for couples in business. The Family Business Center of Pioneer Valley is planning such an event. The business owners represented will be from a mix of non-competing companies of various sizes and industries. A few lessons will be built in a la short talks on communication, conflict, professionalism, marketing oneself as a family business, etc., but it will also be a lightly facilitated, largely free-flowing conversation, comparing notes with others who are in the same scenario: working with one’s beloved. The Family Business Center has been presenting helpful programs, workshops, roundtables, and more for families in business since 1994, including a couple of successful sibling summits and one spouses summit. The cost will likely be around  $120 per couple, and limited to the first eight to 10 couples who register and pay. A date will then be chosen that will work for all participants. For more information, call Ira Bryck at (413) 835-0810.

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Massachusetts Adds 10,000 Jobs in June

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate increased to 4.3% in June from the May rate of 4.2%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts added 10,000 jobs in June. Over-the-month job gains occurred in education and health services; trade, transportation, and utilities; leisure and hospitality; other services; manufacturing; information; and financial activities. The May estimate was revised to a gain of 2,000 jobs. From June 2016 to June 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,900 jobs. The June state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.4% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force decreased by 2,600 from 3,711,100 in May, as 7,600 fewer residents were employed and 5,100 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased six-tenths of a percentage point from 3.7% in June 2016. There were 27,400 more unemployed persons over the year compared to June 2016. 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 66.7% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased 1.8% compared to June 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; financial activities; and other services. “During the first six months of 2017, Massachusetts has experienced the largest increase in the labor force on record, and the 66.7% labor-force participation rate is now 3.9 points higher than the U.S. rate,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta. “These marked labor-force gains should help ease labor-market pressures and are signs of a growing economy in the Commonwealth.”

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 on July 28. 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. “All children in our community deserve to enter school feeling confident, proud, and equipped to learn. Yet, in our community, hundreds of children are without homes,” said United Way President Jim Ayers. “United Way and our supporters want to ensure that these most vulnerable children return to school with what they need: their own unique backpack, new supplies, and a symbolic message from our community that we care deeply about them and recognize their potential.” Individuals are encouraged to donate the following age-appropriate supplies: number-2 pencils, erasers, binders, paper, crayons, highlighters, pencil boxes, pens, glue sticks, rulers, two-pocket folders, and one-subject notebooks. Through August 16, 2017, donations can be brought to the United Way of Pioneer Valley, 1441 Main St., Suite 147, Springfield (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), Western Mass News, 1300 Liberty St., Springfield (weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Balise Kia, 603 Riverdale St., West Springfield (every day, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), or Six Flags New England (Wednesday, Aug. 16 only). Aug. 16 is National Roller Coaster Day. Donors who provide six to 19 items will receive a $20.17 coupon toward main-gate admission at Six Flags New England. Those who provide 20 or more items will receive a free ticket. This event concludes the Stuff the Bus campaign.

Single-family Home Sales Down Slightly in June

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were down 2.6% in the Pioneer Valley in June compared to the same time last year, while the median price rose 4.8% to $218,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were down 1.3%, while the median price rose 16.3% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 3.2%, while the median price was up 5.5%. And in Hampshire County, sales fell 15% from June 2016, while the median price was up 6%.

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Confidence Rises in June Among Massachusetts Employers

BOSTON — Massachusetts employer confidence rose for the ninth time in 10 months during June amid optimism about an economy that is finally attracting more people into the workforce. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose one point to 61.8 last month, leaving it 5.7 points higher than a year ago. The Index has gained ground in each of the past two months after slipping in April. The results come a month after state officials reported a long-awaited expansion of the Massachusetts labor market; the labor-force participation rate rose to 66.7% in May, its highest mark since before the Great Recession. “Employer confidence in both the state and national economies remains well above the level we saw a year ago, especially among manufacturers,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “Key Massachusetts indicators such as total jobs, wages, and gross state product far exceed pre-recession levels, and that is outweighing concerns about long-term growth.” 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. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly positive during June. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, gained 2.1 points to 64.2, leaving it 5.7 points higher than in June 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.8 points to 57.4 despite lingering uncertainty about federal economic policy. June marked the 87th 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 1.5 points to 61.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, increased 0.4 points to 61.7. The Future Index was 5.1 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, was unchanged for the month at 62.4 and up 4.7 points during the 12-month period. The Employment Index fell 0.4 points to 58.1, while the Sales index rose 0.6 points to 62.6. The AIM survey found that 39% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 18% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months are stable, with 38% expecting to hire and only 10% downsizing. Alan Clayton-Matthews, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, said the supply of workers remains one of the most important factors in the ability of Massachusetts to maintain long-term economic growth. “There is little slack left in the labor market,” he said. “Unemployment rates are back to pre-recession levels, and employment rates are very close to pre-recession levels. The slack that does remain is largely among young workers, those with less than a high-school education, and part-time workers who have been unable to find full-time work, suggesting that many workers lack the skills that employers are seeking.” Overall participation in the labor force nationally has hovered below 63% during the recovery, compared with more than 66% before the recession. Eastern Mass. companies were more confident in June than those in the western portion of the Commonwealth, posting a 61.8 confidence reading in June versus 60.8 for Western Mass. employers. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers are increasingly concerned about a passel of potentially expensive and disruptive Beacon Hill proposals, including a surtax on incomes more than $1 million, paid family leave, and an employer assessment to close a budget gap in the MassHealth program. “Massachusetts employers have led what is now one of the longest and most consistent economic recoveries of the past 100 years. Much of that growth reflects the fact that policymakers have refrained from unnecessarily raising business costs and imposing inefficient regulation,” Lord said. “We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Baker administration to ensure that those policies continue.”

Gaming Commission Approves Workforce-development Grants

SPRINGFIELD — Members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) approved close to $600,000 in grants — including two for the city of Springfield — for a workforce-development pilot program designed to fund gaming career pathways for local residents. The Workforce Program is a component of the 2017 Community Mitigation Fund, which was established by the state’s gaming law to help entities offset costs related to the construction and operations of gaming establishments. The Workforce Program was developed to provide interested residents in gaming regions the ability to attain academic and occupational credentials needed to work in the most in-demand occupations related to the gaming industry. Additionally, it was established to assist the unemployed or underemployed to either get their GED or Adult Basic Education, which would position them to get future jobs in the casino industry or training in advance by the backfilling of jobs. The two initiatives in Springfield include:

• $171,833 for a program the Springfield Public Schools is working to establish called Ahead of the Game, which will target low-skill, low-income adults interested in pursuing long-term careers with MGM Springfield; and

• $200,000 for Hampden Prep, an initiative involving Springfield Technical Community College in collaboration with Holyoke Community College to develop and implement an innovative high-school-equivalency and workforce-readiness program.

“Workforce-development programs are a critical component of job creation, economic opportunity, and the Commonwealth’s ability to meet gaming’s burgeoning hiring demand,” said MGC Chairman Steve Crosby. “MGC looks forward to further collaborations as we continue to work together to ensure that we are able to deliver on our legislative mandate to establish a highly skilled and diverse Massachusetts workforce for the state’s new casino industry.”

Single-family Home Sales in Pioneer Valley Down in May

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were down 6.9% in the Pioneer Valley in May compared to the same time last year, while the median price rose 1.2% to $204,500, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were down 1.7%, while the median price rose 8.2% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were down 7.4%, while the median price was up 1.9%. And in Hampshire County, sales fell 4.2% from May 2016, while the median price was up 2.5%.

Painted Piano Performances Begin in Downtown Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — Residents, employees, and visitors to Springfield have recently been treated to a series of unusual art installations downtown: painted pianos. Three beautified, moralized, upright units were decorated and placed throughout the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) in early June, with the mission to bring music to the people, and people to the streets. The locations are at 1350 Main St., the Shops at Marketplace, and 1550 Main St. Now, professionals will be playing every Wednesday during lunch. “We’ve seen such a diverse crowd interacting with this public art,” said Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the SCCD. “I saw a construction worker on his break playing a beautiful classical piece at 1350, and videos of children delighted by tinkling the keys at 1550, the School Department building. We want to continue this excitement by programming the pianos.” Local professional pianists will be playing on the painted pianos during the 12-1 p.m. lunch hour. Pedestrians are invited to leave their offices to stop by, or simply enjoy the music on their walk. Programming will continue every Wednesday through August, but between performances, the public is still invited to stop by at their leisure. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is scheduled to receive his first piano lesson ever on the unit at 1350 Main Street. “Following the mayor’s excitement for the project, we’re even having a special performance on August 9,” said Drewniany. This programming is made possible by individual and organizational sponsors, including the Doleva family, Lessard Property Management, NAI Plotkin, Rus Peotter, Sarno, Springfield Techinical Community College, and state Sen. James Welch. Funding for the pianos was provided by the Springfield Cultural Council, the Community Music School of Springfield, and ChooseSpringfieldNow.com.

CAA Begins Roadway Reconstruction at Bradley International Airport

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — The Connecticut Airport Authority is beginning the reconstruction and realignment of the main Bradley International Airport entrance roadway at Route 20 and Schoephoester Road. The work will involve the realignment of Schoephoester Road along with a portion of the airport’s lower roadway system, as well as the construction of a modern roundabout. The project will provide a new entrance to the airport from Route 20 and open up a 19-acre site for the future development of Bradley’s ground transportation center. The construction will not interrupt access to the airport from the Route 20 connector. However, there may be slight delays due to the shifting and reduction of lanes. Construction signs and variable message boards are present along the roadway to alert motorists of any changes in traffic patterns. The project will consist of six phases of work and is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2018. Regular updates will be provided to the public during this time period. “This project begins our preparations for the development of our new, state-of-the-art ground transportation center,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority. “We anticipate minimal impact to our passengers; however, it is important for them to be aware of the construction.” For more information about this project, visit www.flybdl.org/about/construction.

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Springfield Officials Announce Downtown Street Improvements

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy, and Public Works Director Christopher Cignoli announced several major streetscape improvements to downtown Springfield in the anticipation of the grand opening of Union Station and MGM Springfield. The city’s Main Street Refresh Project will target Main Street from Union Station to Central Street. Work will include numerous sidewalk repairs, tree plantings, intersection and crosswalk improvements, and enhancements to the railroad underpasses along Main Street, Dwight Street, and Chestnut Street. The project will also include a new pedestrian wayfinding system currently in the final phases of design. The project is designed to complement MGM Springfield’s significant investment in downtown infrastructure. That work just getting underway includes signal improvements at key intersections, major utility upgrades, new paving, curb and sidewalk work for improved pedestrian access, and more. MGM Springfield will distribute regular communications to the city and residents to give notice of where and when travel disruptions may occur. The project will have a total cost of $6.9 million, including approximately $5.5 million from MGM Springfield and $1.4 million from the city of Springfield. Work is anticipated to begin immediately and scheduled to be completed by late spring 2018.

Massachusetts Adds 2,900 Jobs in May

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate increased to 4.2% in May from the April rate of 3.9%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts added 2,900 jobs in May. Over-the-month job gains occurred in education and health services; leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; information; and construction. The April estimate was revised to a loss of 800 jobs. From May 2016 to May 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 58,300 jobs. The May state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.3% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force increased by 17,100 from 3,694,200 in April, as 4,900 more residents were employed and 12,200 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.8% in May 2016. There were 17,300 more unemployed people over the year compared to May 2016. 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 two-tenths of a percentage point to 66.7% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased 1.7% compared to May 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in information; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; and education and health services.

Horace Smith Fund Awards $216,000 to Area Students

SPRINGFIELD — On Thursday, June 15, the Horace Smith Fund will hold its 118th corporators’ meeting and scholarship awards ceremony at the Carriage House at Storrowton Tavern in West Springfield for recipients, their parents and school counselors, and corporators. Wayne Webster, chair of the board of trustees, announced that there will be 18 scholarship recipients and three fellowship recipients this year. Each scholarship provides a total of $10,000 over four years, and each fellowship provides $12,000 over three years. This year’s scholarship recipients include Thomas Hendrickson, Agawam High School; Aqsa Maham and Willard McKinstry, Chicopee Comprehensive High School; Xavier Farrell, High School of Science & Technology; Jordan Kei-Rahn, Longmeadow High School; Ashley Gurney, Minnechaug Regional High School; Timothy Canning, Palmer High School; Richard Nguyen, Roger L. Putnam Vocational-Technical Academy; Padraig Smith, Saint Mary High School; David Giang, Kiara Mickens, and Brendan Truong, Springfield Central High School; Ilona Znackharchuk, Westfield High School; Lindsay Gearty, West Springfield High School; Ngan Tran, Springfield Central High School, Bay Path University; Parris Porter, SABIS, Hampshire College; Amelia Vega, Holyoke High School, UMass Amherst; and Kevin Pelletier, Chicopee Comprehensive High School, Westfield State University. The three fellowship recipients are graduates of the following high schools and colleges: Melanie Gomes, Chicopee High School, Brandeis University; John-Marc Austin, Austin Family Homeschool, Elms College; and Alexander Smith, Minnechaug Regional High School, UMass Amherst. Students were selected on a variety of criteria, including test scores, class rank, extracurricular activities, and a personal essay.

Cultural District Celebrates Public Art Venture Downtown

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) launched its second district-wide public art program, following the success of last summer’s utility-box mural program. Three painted pianos have been installed in the metro center of Springfield, with the mission of activating space, encouraging pedestrian activity, and providing artist income. The pianos are located at Market Place Shops, located behind 1341 Main St., as well as at 1350 Main St. and 1550 Main St. This program of public pianos is linked to the international street-pianos movement, with participating cities including London, Paris, and Sydney.

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Unemployment Down Across Most of Massachusetts in April

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 13 labor-market areas, increased in three areas, and remained the same in eight areas in the state during the month of April, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to April 2016, the rates were down in nine labor-market areas, increased in 10 areas, and remained the same in five areas. All 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in April. The largest gains occurred in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Springfield, Barnstable, Worcester, and Framingham areas. From April 2016 to April 2017, 12 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the New Bedford, Barnstable, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, and Boston-Cambridge-Newton areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for April was 3.8%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 3.9% in the month of April. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 3,900 job gain in April, and an over-the-year gain of 58,600 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. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Single-family Home Sales in Pioneer Valley Up in April

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were up 2.3% in the Pioneer Valley in April compared to the same time last year, while the median price fell 0.2% to $194,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were down 5.7%, while the median price fell 11.3% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 6.7%, while the median price was down 1.3%. And in Hampshire County, sales fell 5.1% from March 2016, while the median price was up 7.9%.

Local Land Trust Offers New License Plate

AGAWAM — The Massachusetts Chapter of the Sportsmen’s National Land Trust (SNLT) is collecting pre-orders for a new Massachusetts license plate which it plans to have released later this year. The SNLT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Agawam, founded in 2003 to help conserve natural resources and wildlife habitat across the state. Proceeds from the plate will be used to acquire, maintain, and improve open land strictly within Massachusetts, which will be available to the public forever. The all-volunteer land trust has created a special plate with a deer-buck image created by local wildlife artist Ed Snyder. A limited number of low-number original issue plates are still available at the land trust website at www.snltmassachusetts.org, but quantities are limited. Further information about the SNLT can be found at the website as well.

AMA Study: Practice Owners No Longer Physician Majority

CHICAGO — Less than half of patient-care physicians had an ownership stake in their medical practice, according to a newly updated study on physician-practice arrangements by the American Medical Assoc. (AMA). This marks the first time physician-practice owners fell below a majority of the nation’s patient-care physicians since the AMA began documenting practice-arrangement trends. The share of patient-care physicians with ownership stakes in a medical practice declined 6% to 47.1% in 2016 from 53.2% in 2012. In contrast, the share of patient-care physicians with employed positions increased about 5% to 47.1% in 2016 from 41.8% in 2012. As a result, there were equal shares of physician employees and physician practice owners in 2016, while 5.9% of patient-care physicians were independent contractors. The preference of younger physicians toward employed positions has had a prominent impact. Nearly two-thirds (65.1%) of physicians under age 40 were employees in 2016, compared to 51.3% in 2012. The share of employees among physicians age 40 and older also increased between 2012 and 2016, but at a more modest pace than younger physicians. “Patients benefit when physicians practice in settings they find professionally and personally rewarding, and the AMA strongly supports a physician’s right to practice in the setting of their choice,” said AMA President Dr. Andrew Gurman. “The AMA is committed to helping physicians navigate their practice options and offers innovative strategies and resources to ensure physicians in all practice sizes and setting can thrive in the changing health environment.”

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Massachusetts Adds 3,900 Jobs in April

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate increased to 3.9% in April from the March rate of 3.6%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts added 3,900 jobs in April. Over-the-month job gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; trade, transportation, and utilities; other services; information; and manufacturing. From April 2016 to April 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts added 58,600 jobs. The April state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.4% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Through the first four months of 2017, Massachusetts has added over 20,000 jobs, with much of those gains coming from key sectors of the economy like professional, business, and scientific services,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said. “These job gains, coupled with large increases to the labor force and a low unemployment rate, are signs of a strong economy in the Commonwealth. Our workforce agencies remain focused on closing the skills gap and ensuring that those newly entering the job market have the training necessary to access employment opportunities.” The labor force increased by 33,000 from 3,661,200 in March, as 21,200 more residents were employed and 11,800 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point from 4.0% in April 2016. There were 300 more unemployed persons over the year compared to April 2016. 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 six-tenths of a percentage point to 66.5% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased 1.5% compared to April 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in professional, scientific, and business services; construction; financial activities; education; and health services.

Cultural District Seeks Pop-up Gallery Proposals

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) has issued a call to artists for a unique opportunity in downtown Springfield. The Cultural District is searching for artists to host a solo show in their Art Stop pop-up gallery program and sell their work in one of three locations downtown – New England Public Radio (NEPR), UMass Springfield, and 1550 Main. The RFP asks for proposals from artists of all mediums to show their work from July to October. Requirements to what the art should look like are fairly laid-back, to best enable creative expression. All art will be available for sale during the display period, with 100% of proceeds going directly back to the creator. A stipend of $200 will also be awarded to the chosen artists. The Art Stop venues include a small community meeting space at NEPR which has been used for its youth arts program, MediaLab, and yoga classes; the highly visible first-floor lobby of 1550 Main, trafficked by hundreds of people daily; and the sunny and recently renovated main entryway of the UMass Center at Springfield. The SCCD hopes artists will draw inspiration from these differing spaces. “Art Stop has now become a flagship program of the Cultural District,” said director Morgan Drewniany. “We began this in October of last year and continued the effort in April, expanding to include Tower Square. Visitors love the unique blend of art, music, and community at the openings, and artists love being able to connect directly with their audience, as well as have a platform to sell their work downtown.” A joint reception will be held between the three locations in mid-summer, with gallery openings, street art, and performances between the locations to encourage walking, and light food and drinks, all provided by the SCCD and the artist hosts. The Springfield Central Cultural District encompasses an area of the metro center of Springfield and is membership-based, involving many of the downtown arts institutions. Its mission is to create and sustain a vibrant cultural environment in Springfield. The RFP and more program details can be found at springfieldculture.org/artistresources. Any questions can be forwarded to Drewniany at [email protected] or (413) 454-1195.

Plainridge Study Suggests Casino Projects Can Lower Unemployment

HADLEY — The UMass Donahue Institute released a compilation of results from two years of new employee questionnaires at Plainridge Park Casino. This report is the latest in a series of studies focused on the economic impacts of the gaming industry in the Commonwealth. Representatives from the UMass Donahue Institute presented its findings to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) during a public meeting on May 10. The findings reveal several important characteristics of new hires at Plainridge Park Casino and the emergent casino workforce in Massachusetts:

• 50.1% of new hires worked part-time or were unemployed before obtaining their job at Plainridge Park Casino;

• Major reasons for seeking employment included career advancement, improved pay, and improved benefits;

• 40.1% of new hires said they needed work due to being unemployed, part-time, or underemployed. 86.2% had no gaming experience prior to their jobs at Plainridge Park Casino;

• 96.5% of new hires did not transfer from other Penn National Gaming locations, and 92.8% did not move to take their jobs at the casino. Of those who moved, one-quarter originated from cities or towns within Massachusetts; and

• Nearly three-quarters of respondents come to their job without pre-employment training for their position.

The vast majority of survey respondents are people who are new to the gaming industry and are now being hired for gaming and non-gaming positions at Plainridge Park Casino, including its food-court vendors. Very few workers (only 7%) moved to take their job at Plainridge Park Casino, and those who did were mostly from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This suggests that most new employees live close enough to commute to their positions at Plainridge Park Casino. “As we have pointed out repeatedly, the Legislature made broad-based economic development a key focus of the Gaming Act, with a particular focus on local employment for those underemployed and unemployed,” said MGC Chairman Steve Crosby. “This report, thus far, demonstrates that legislative intent is being achieved. We are also pleased to see the implementation of the legislative mandate to objectively and rigorously assess the economic and social impacts of gaming. This report represents one of the many important research topics fulfilling that objective.” Added Rachel Volberg, principal investigator of the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) group, “one of the most important positive impacts of expanded gambling is increased employment. However, in assessing the overall impacts of expanded gambling, it is important to understand whether employment gains at the casino result in the loss of employment in other sectors of the economy and in surrounding communities. This report establishes a basis for making this determination going forward and will help us understand the role of casinos in increasing economic activity, and overall employment, in Massachusetts.”

Manufacturing Partnership Graduates 100th Student

TURNERS FALLS — On Friday, May 19, 14 advanced-manufacturing trainees will receive certificates of completion and start down the pathway toward precision-machining careers in Pioneer Valley manufacturing companies. The current cohort of students in the Advanced Manufacturing Pipeline – Computer Numerical Control (AMP-CNC) training program hail from across Franklin and Hampshire counties, including Belchertown, Colrain, Easthampton, Greenfield, Montague, Northfield, South Hadley, and Shelburne. Among these trainees will be the 100th graduate of a successful job-training partnership that began four years ago to address a shortage of skilled machinists in the Valley’s precision-manufacturing industry. The event will be held at 4 p.m. at the Franklin County Technical School. AMP-CNC is a non-credit, 15-week, 300-hour, hands-on training program offered by Greenfield Community College (GCC) in partnership with the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board (FHREB), the Franklin Hampshire Career Centers, Franklin County Technical School (FCTS), and area machining companies. The program has been offered at no cost to qualifying participants thanks to funding provided by federal and state grants and employer contributions. The AMP-CNC program is taught by experienced instructors in a state-of-the-art machine shop at Franklin County Technical School. The shop is outfitted with Haas CNC mill and lathe machines funded by employer contributions and matching state funding. The program uses the FCTS machine shop in the evenings after the high-school day concludes, thereby maximizing training use of the equipment. The previous seven cohorts have averaged a 93% graduation rate and an 84% job-placement rate. Students participating in the program complete testing, a four-week Foundational Manufacturing precursor program, and online Tooling U assignments. Coaching and job-placement support are provided to help students demonstrate readiness and pursue careers in precision machining by completing résumés, cover letters, and work-search plans. Trainees recently completed their résumés and cover letters to participate in a recent CNC job fair before graduation. Employers present included Bete Fog Nozzle, Hassay-Savage, G.S. Precision, Mayhew Tool Co., Poplar Hill Machine, Quabbin Inc., and VSS Inc., all employer partners of the program. Those interested in applying can sign up to attend one of the monthly information and application sessions by registering online at www.gcc.mass.edu/manufacturing or by calling the Franklin Hampshire Career Center at (413) 774-4361. The next information session will take place on Monday, June 12 at 3 p.m. at the GCC Downtown Center, 270 Main St., Greenfield. For more information about the AMP-CNC training program, contact Andrew Baker at FHREB, (413) 774-4361, ext. 375, or [email protected], or April Estis-Clark at GCC, (413) 774-1602 or [email protected].

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Employer Confidence Declines in Massachusetts in April

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers hit the pause button on a seven-month rally in business confidence during April, but their outlook remained solidly optimistic in the face of mixed political and economic signals. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost 2.2 points to 60.2 last month, 4.0 points higher than its level of a year earlier. Every constituent element of the confidence index lost ground after reaching a 13-year high during March. The results came as the Massachusetts economy contracted at a 0.5% annual rate during the first quarter and state unemployment rate rose to 3.6%. “We should not be surprised to see confidence readings correct slightly after advancing six points since September,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “It bears watching to determine whether the broad April decline becomes a trend as we move into the summer.” Analysts believe the numbers may also reflect growing concern among employers about the ability of the Trump administration to deliver the many pro-growth policies it promised during the campaign. 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. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. Employers grew less confident about both the overall economy and their own operations during April. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, lost 0.4 points to 63.3, leaving it 6 points higher than in April 2016. The U.S. Index of national business conditions shed 2.7 points after gaining ground for the previous sixth months. April marked the 85th 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, declined 1.9 points to 59.9, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, dropped 2.5 points to 60.5. The future outlook remained 3.2 points higher than a year ago. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 2.6 points to 60.2. The Employment Index fell 2.8 points to 56.2, and the Sales Index declined 2.1 points to 60.5. The AIM survey found that nearly 39% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable, with 37% planning to hire and only 10% downsizing. The April survey also reversed an unusual result in March, when Western Mass. companies were more confident than those in the eastern portion of the Commonwealth. Eastern Mass. employers posted a 61.7 confidence reading in April versus 58 for employers in the western part of the state. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord said employer confidence is facing headwinds from accelerating healthcare and health-insurance costs. Massachusetts has exceeded its objective for healthcare spending in each of the past two years, and employers continue to pay some of the highest costs in the nation. “The good news is that Massachusetts is beginning to identify some answers. And there appears to be enough common ground and political will on the issue to pursue some solutions,” Lord said. “New research conducted by the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission suggests that Massachusetts employers, insurers, and policymakers could reduce total healthcare expenditures anywhere from $279 million per year to $794 million per year, or 0.5% to 1.3%, by making several key improvements to the healthcare system.”

Ko-Aqua Kit Wins Elevator-pitch Competition

HOLYOKE — Nkori Edem, a student from Mount Holyoke College, took first place at last week’s elevator-pitch competition at the Awards Ceremony & Banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. She pitched the Ko-Aqua Kit, a completely waterproof and airtight swim cap designed specifically for women of color. Edem convinced a panel of judges from area banks that her pitch was the best. Rune Percy and Alexander Smith, a student team from UMass Amherst, took second place based on their business-concept pitch for ARBioDesign, which aims to save tens of thousands of patients every year by personalizing dialysis treatment using rapid and inexpensive microfluidic blood-diagnostic tests. Finally, Daniel Olive, a student at Elms College, took third place with the DBL (Don’t Be Late) Pillow, which utilizes Bluetooth technology to revolutionize waking up. Representatives from six area banks once again sponsored the elevator-pitch competition and served as judges at the annual event held at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. The banks include Berkshire Bank, Country Bank, KeyBank, PeoplesBank, United Bank, and Westfield Bank. The live event featured a student representative from each of 13 participating local colleges: American International College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Hampshire College, Holyoke Community College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, and Westfield State University. First-, second-, and third-place winners received $1,000, $750, and $500 respectively. Each student participating received $100. Six student businesses were identified by the bank judges as Best Exhibitors. These were selected from a pool of 62 unique companies during a trade-show-type portion of the evening which featured the 2017 Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winners. The winning exhibitors were Elms College: JMH Partners, LLC (Kevin Hepburn, Connor Holland, John Jacquinet, and Raphael Monterio); Western New England University: Sparks to Sparkles (Rebecca Abramson); Westfield State University: JPS Design Solutions (James Schmidt); Western New England University: Napollo Music (Sebastien Percy); Springfield College: Thorello Leather Goods (Dilyara Celik), and UMass Amherst: App Outreach, LLC (Jordan Ames, Davis McVay, Rich Sadick, and Lauren Tse-Wall). The Grinspoon, Garvey & Young Alumni Entrepreneurship Award is presented each year to an individual who has advanced substantially as an entrepreneur since receiving the Grinspoon Spirit Award. Phil Scarfi, founder of Pioneer Mobile Applications and alumnus of UMass Amherst, was awarded the 2017 Alumni Award and $1,000. Pioneer Mobile Applications is a software consulting agency, specializing in mobile app design and development.

Unemployment Down Across State in March

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in 23 labor-market areas and increased in one area in the Commonwealth during the month of March, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to March 2016, the rates were down in all 24 labor-market areas. All 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in March. The largest gains occurred in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Worcester, Barnstable, Framingham, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Lawrence-Methuen-Salem, and Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford areas. From March 2016 to March 2017, 13 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the New Bedford, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Barnstable, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, and Pittsfield areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for March was 3.9%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 3.6% in the month of March. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 200-job gain in March, and an over-the-year gain of 49,000 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. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Dragon Boat Festival Seeks Organizations to Sponsor Boats

SPRINGFIELD — The fifth annual Springfield Dragon Boat Festival will take place on Saturday, June 24 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. at North Riverfront Park, 121 West St. in Springfield. Racing begins at 9 a.m. Registration is now open for teams wishing to participate at www.pvriverfront.org/db-fest-reg. In addition to dragon-boat races, the festival will feature family-friendly events such as music, performances, food, vendors, and children’s activities. The boat races will have both community and club racing categories. For businesses and organizations looking for a team-building opportunity, the $2,000 race fee includes a coached training session the week prior to the race, the use of boats and paddles, and personal flotation devices. On race day, teams will participate in three 200-meter races. No prior experience is necessary to participate. Proceeds from the event will provide support for riverfront programs for youth and adults at Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club as it grows and strengthens its presence in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley. “Our mission is to connect the community to the Connecticut River,” said Ben Quick, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club. “Past community team participants have included MassMutual, Health New England, the Center for Human Development, and more. It is a great way for community groups to have fun and create awareness. They love that they can enjoy a great team-building event and support programs that help our local youth and adults get fit.”

State Receives Federal Funds to Fight Opioid Crisis

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration recently announced that Massachusetts has received a federal grant totaling nearly $12 million to bolster its public-health response to the opioid epidemic, particularly for outpatient opioid treatment, recovery services, and expanded community overdose-prevention programs. “Our administration strongly supported the 21st Century Cures Act as an effort to advance Massachusetts’ leadership in biomedical innovation and expedite new ways to treat disease and addiction,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “We are grateful for the opportunity to use these funds for prevention and treatment activities to address the opioid crisis that has devastated families in every corner of Massachusetts.” The grant, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is the first round of annual funding authorized under the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law late last year. The funds will support an array of statewide prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery activities managed by the state Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. “This administration is intensely focused on ending this epidemic, which has claimed far too many lives across our Commonwealth,” said Marylou Sudders, state Secretary of Health and Human Services. “This new grant enables us to continue the fight and expand successful prevention, treatment, and recovery programs throughout the state.” The majority of the $11.7 million in funding will be used to increase outpatient opioid treatment and recovery services and expand community overdose-prevention programs. The funding will also support new programs to promote treatment and recovery for at-risk populations, including pregnant and post-partum women and correctional inmates scheduled for release. “This funding comes at a critical time and supports our comprehensive response to this deadly epidemic,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “Investing in prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery saves lives, and this funding helps us in each of those areas.”

Single-family Home Sales Record Uptick in March

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were up 5.9% in the Pioneer Valley in March compared to the same time last year, while the median price was up 1.7% to $188,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were up 21.2%, while the median price fell 12.0% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were up 10.2%, while the median price was up 2.8%. And in Hampshire County, sales fell 8.0% from March 2016, while the median price rose 4.3%.

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SC Learning Commons to Be Named for Benefactor

SPRINGFIELD — During his lifetime, Rev. Harold Smith dedicated himself and his many gifts to Springfield College. Mary-Beth Cooper, Springfield College president, announced that, to celebrate his rich legacy, the college will name its newly reconstructed learning commons to honor his memory and the many ways in which he helped Springfield College grow and prosper. Smith passed away March 21, 2017, in New York City, at age 83. “Harold had a passion for Springfield College and for the YMCA,” said Cooper. “His life’s work will live on in this learning commons and in the lives of our students who will study and research there.” Smith was a valued member of the Springfield College board of trustees for more than three decades, and served as chair of the board’s investment committee for 25 of those years, as well as on the executive committee and the committee on business affairs. Under his leadership, and through his investment expertise and strategy, the college’s endowment experienced unprecedented growth through a diverse portfolio. Smith was recognized for his dedication and commitment to serving others in the Springfield College tradition when he was awarded the Springfield College honorary doctor of humanics degree in 1998. He was a member of the college Naismith Giving Society, which recognizes donors who have given more than $1 million during their lifetime. He is enshrined in the YMCA Hall of Fame located on the college campus. The Harold C. Smith Learning Commons will be dedicated when the building is opened later this year to honor the man who studied for the ministry, but went on to become the president and chief investment officer of the YMCA Retirement Fund. Reflecting 21st-century library innovations, the learning commons will become the heart of the college’s academic program, providing facilities where students and faculty can study, research, work in groups, and receive writing and other academic support. Renovations of the college’s 45-year-old library began in August 2016, and the new facility will include a 24-hour reading room, a café, and a technology hub designed to promote collaboration between research and information technology, and will be home to the college’s Academic Success Center. Smith was a dedicated philanthropist and volunteer throughout his lifetime and volunteered for the League of Women Voters, the Interfaith Committee of Trumbull, and the Bridgeport Area Foundation. He was a trustee of the YMCA Retirement Fund, YMCA Greater Bridgeport, and Ursinus College, as well as a board member of the YMCA of Greater New York, Bank Mart, and Y-Mutual Insurance. Born in the Bronx, Smith was an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and held a bachelor’s degree and doctor of divinity degree from Ursinus College, a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary, and an MBA from New York University. He was a chartered financial analyst, a member of the New York Society of Security Analysts, and a member of the American Economics Assoc. He had a 40-year dual career in ministry and investments.

STCC to Offer Summer Classes

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) will offer five-week and 10-week on campus and online summer classes. Session One begins June 5, and Session Two starts July 10. Summer classes an ideal opportunity for area college students to earn college credit between June and August, said STCC Dean of Enrollment Management Matthew Gravel. “The majority of classes available during summer session can be used to fulfill requirements at other colleges and universities,” he added. “Classes fill up very quickly, and we continue to offer classes across the curriculum to meet the demands of STCC students, as well as students from other colleges and universities who are home for the summer.” Academic subject areas include accounting, anthropology, biology, business law, chemistry, criminal justice, economics, electronic systems, English, finance, graphic communication and photography, history, IT, math, marketing, medical assisting, music, office information technologies, philosophy, physics, psychology, sign language, sociology, Spanish, and speech. Class schedules are available at www.stcc.edu/summer. Students can register online, by phone at (413) 755-4321, or in the Registrar’s Office, Garvey Hall South, first floor.

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Leadership Pioneer Valley Campaign Kicks Off

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley’s leadership campaign committee gathered last week to announce outreach efforts for LPV’s class of 2018. The committee includes emerging leaders in education, banking, insurance, healthcare, local government, and nonprofit management. In small teams, they plan to connect with employers, community leaders, and prospective class participants throughout the region. They’ll work through June to identify the most promising applicants. Only 40 spots are available for the class of 2018, which begins in September. LPV’s 10-month regional leadership-development program engages the Pioneer Valley’s up-and-coming 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. Applied leadership experience is developed through work on projects for local nonprofits and government agencies. To date, more than 200 individuals representing more than 90 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated. “Leadership Pioneer Valley made me a better collaborator, and it’s exciting to revisit that skill in partnership with other alums as we seek out new LPV participants who can help the Pioneer Valley succeed,” said Pat Gagnon of Baystate Health and LPV’s class of 2015. The campaign committee will seek out individuals in all sectors and focus on recruiting those committed to growing their personal, professional, and civic leadership. Applicants will be 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. Now entering its seventh class cycle, LPV alumni are leading in many ways throughout the region. Graduates are receiving promotions, growing businesses, running for elected office, and governing nonprofit boards. Together, the group represents a regionally unique leadership network reaching into every community. The deadline for LPV class of 2018 applications is July 3. Applications and further information can be found at www.leadershippv.org.

Unemployment Up in February

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates increased in 22 labor-market areas, remained the same in one area, and dropped in one area in the state during the month of February, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to February 2016, the rates were down in 23 areas and remained the same in one area. Six of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in February. Gains occurred in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Springfield, Worcester, Peabody-Salem-Beverly, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, and New Bedford areas. From February 2016 to February 2017, 13 of the 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the New Bedford, Barnstable, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Taunton-Middleborough-Norton, and Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for February was 4.2%. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 3.4% in the month of February. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 10,100-job gain in February, and an over-the-year gain of 57,700 jobs.

Speaker Sisterhood Adds Two Public-speaking Clubs

NORTHAMPTON — The Speaker Sisterhood, a network of public-speaking clubs for women with clubs in Springfield, Amherst, Northampton, and South Hadley, is adding two new clubs, one in Greenfield and a second Northampton club, for women who want to become more confident speakers. Both new clubs scheduled open houses. The Northampton open house was held on April 6 at Click Workspace at 9 1/2 Market St., and was be led by Cathy McNally, a corporate communication trainer with a background in stand-up and improv comedy. The Greenfield open house will take place on Tuesday, April 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at 170 Main St., and will be led by documentarian and communication coach Carlyn Saltman, innovator of the coaching method known as Video Mirror Feedback. Angela Lussier, CEO of Speaker Sisterhood, says that the mission of the clubs is to provide a community for “women who want to increase confidence, boost public-speaking skills, have fun, and maybe even change the world.” Lussier, a well-known public speaker and author of three books, added that “each Speaker Sisterhood club is more than just a place to practice speaking in front of a group. It’s a tribe of women who are supporting and empowering each other to follow their dreams by building confidence in their voice.” According to McNally, who is also the Speaker Sisterhood program development director, the program uses interactive activities, humor, and other tools that engage women at all skill levels. “We draw on fun exercises from the comedy world to make sure women have a blast at our meetings. At our open houses, guests can get a sense right away of the lively and supportive atmosphere we create together.” According to Saltman, women can attend two club meetings for free before deciding to join. “We want to give every woman who visits a chance to see if the club is a good match for them.” Saltman said the group covers the topics that meet the needs of most public speakers: storytelling, persuasion, humor, body language, and thinking on one’s feet. “Women are a powerful force in our world, and we want to bring them together to help them better articulate their ideas, stories, and views. We believe that is exactly what the world needs right now,” said Lussier of the Speaker Sisterhood, which formed in 2016, has several clubs in Western Mass., and is expected to expand nationwide in 2017.

Single-family Home Sales Down in February

SPRINGFIELD — Single-family home sales were down 23.3% in the Pioneer Valley in February compared to the same time last year, while the median price was up 3.2% to $180,000, according to the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley. In Franklin County, sales were down 31.3%, while the median price fell 25.4% from a year earlier. In Hampden County, sales were down 21.9%, while the median price was up 3.8%. And in Hampshire County, sales fell 13.0% from February 2016, while the median price was down 4.7%.

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Massachusetts Tops U.S. News Ranking of States

BOSTON — The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been named the best overall state in U.S. News & World Report’s inaugural report. This best-state ranking evaluates all 50 states in various categories, with Massachusetts ranked the top overall state, first in healthcare, second in education, and among the top 10 for economy and crime and corrections. Massachusetts was recognized for having the most accessible healthcare and is ranked third for pre-K through grade-12 education. “Massachusetts is a great place to live, work, and raise a family because of the strength and character of all those who call the Commonwealth home,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Everyone should be proud that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in healthcare access and public education for all citizens, and our administration will continue to build on these accomplishments to bring more economic success to every corner of Massachusetts.” Massachusetts ranked well above the national average as number one in enrollment for Medicare Advantage plans, higher-education educational attainment, and college readiness, and number two in patents granted and populations with fast download speed.

Connecticut River Watershed Council Applauds Clean-water Legislation

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker recently introduced legislation that — if signed into law along with his budget proposal to begin increasing staffing at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — will start a several-year process of rebuilding and significantly changing the state’s clean-water program. The immediate focus of the announced legislation is to begin the process of delegating Clean Water Act permitting, enforcement, and compliance authority to the state. Massachusetts is currently one of three states in the country that does not have this authority. “The Connecticut River Watershed Council supports creating a top-notch water-quality program that administers the federal Clean Water Act at the Mass. DEP. The governor’s budget proposal combined with this legislation is a first step to begin creating such a program,” said CRWC Executive Director Andrew Fisk. “We stand ready to work with the administration and the Legislature to enact additional legislation that will create a program based on strong and achievable standards, timely and fair permitting, robust enforcement, and widely available technical assistance.” The Connecticut River Watershed Council works to protect the watershed from source to sea by collaborating, educating, organizing, restoring, and intervening to preserve its health for generations to come.

Survey: Most Businesses That Chose Massachusetts Would Do So Again

WATERTOWN — A large majority of companies that chose Massachusetts as a place to expand their business would do it again, primarily based on its innovative economy, industry clusters, and skilled workforce, according to “Choosing Massachusetts for Business: Key Factors in Location Decision Making,” an 18-month study commissioned by MassEcon, a non-partisan economic-development organization, and conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute’s Economic and Public Policy Research group. A statewide survey of businesses that had expanded within Massachusetts found that more than three out of four (77%) would choose to locate or expand here again, if faced with the same decision, and 64% rated the state as a “good” or “very good” place to do business. Nearly all of the surveyed companies (96%) cited the state’s high-quality workforce as a key factor in choosing Massachusetts. According to survey respondents, the top three strengths of doing business in Massachusetts were workforce, superior industry clusters, and the community environment. “This report is a valuable tool for us to use to measure our successes in creating a business environment that supports employer growth and uncover opportunities to strengthen collaboration across the state to help our cities and towns increase jobs and investment,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. “I look forward to the solutions that we can implement with our partners across business, nonprofit and government sectors to improve the business environment for the benefit of all Massachusetts residents.” The comprehensive study was drawn from a multi-faceted survey and in-depth interviews of nearly 90 companies that had expanded or relocated within Massachusetts over the past 10 years. “We are heartened by the validation of Massachusetts as an outstanding location for business expansion,” said Susan Houston, executive director of MassEcon, “but equally important, this study tells us that we can’t be complacent. For Massachusetts to maintain — and grow — its leadership position, we must continue to nurture our key assets and address the challenges that could undermine our economic competitiveness.”

Pioneer Valley Home Sales Down Slightly in January

SPRINGFIELD — The Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley reported that single-family home sales in January were down 0.6% in the region compared to the same time last year. The median price was up 5.9% to $195,000. In Franklin County, sales were up 2.9%, while the median price rose 8.2%. In Hampden County, sales were down 11.4%, while the median price was up 0.6%. And in Hampshire County, home sales rose by 41.3%, while the median price fell by 1.9%.

Commonwealth Adds 13,000 Jobs in January

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate increased to 3.2% in January from the revised December rate of 3.1%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate Massachusetts added 13,000 jobs in January. Over-the-month job gains occurred in trade, transportation, and utilities; financial activities; construction; leisure and hospitality; education and health services; information; and government. From January 2016 to January 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,100 jobs. The January state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.8% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Massachusetts continues to experience low levels of unemployment with the largest year-over-year percentage gains in jobs in the construction, education, and health services sectors. We remain focused on fostering an employment environment where businesses can grow and create jobs while having access to workers with the skills and training needed to fill them,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said. The labor force increased by 1,600 from 3,561,700 in December, as 9,800 more residents were employed and 8,200 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped 1.1% from 4.3% in January 2016. There were 40,400 fewer unemployed people over the year compared to January 2016. 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 to 64.9% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased 0.1% compared to January 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; education and health services; financial activities; professional, scientific, and business services; and leisure and hospitality.

State Expands Residential Substance-use Treatment Programs for Women

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration recently announced it is awarding contracts to programs in Pittsfield, Lowell, and Salisbury to support and expand residential substance-use-disorder treatment for women in Massachusetts. The contracts will fund 60 long-term, residential treatment slots that, when operational, will provide services to approximately 240 women each year. “The opioid and heroin epidemic has tragically impacted too many people and communities in our Commonwealth, and we are committed to helping those struggling with addiction,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Support for these residential treatment slots underscores not only our comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid epidemic, but also adds to the investment we’ve already made to strengthen our treatment and recovery infrastructure.” Since coming into office in 2015, the Baker-Polito administration has increased spending on addiction services by 50%, from $120 million to $180 million, and has added more than 500 substance-use treatment beds to the system. “As the Commonwealth continues to fight the opioid and heroin epidemic from all angles, our administration is pleased to announce these contracts for communities in need,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “We will keep investing in this public-health crisis and partnering with communities in every corner of the state to offer resources and treatment for those struggling with this horrific epidemic.” The $1.75 million in annual funding awarded to the three programs was based on a competitive procurement and will support expansion of one existing and two new programs. The funded programs are:

• The Brien Center/Seymour House, Pittsfield: funding to create a new, 17-bed program serving the needs of pregnant or post-partum women.

• Megan’s House, Lowell: funding to support 28 beds in its existing program serving the needs of young women, ages 18-25. This new funding will ensure greater access to treatment for women without health insurance.

• John Ashford Link House/Seacoast Recovery Home for Women, Salisbury: funding to create a new 15-bed program with a focus on serving the needs of women on the North Shore, some of whom are criminal-justice-involved.

Residential treatment programs provide a highly structured and supportive environment to assist each resident’s recovery from substance-use disorders. Programs include individual and group counseling, comprehensive case management, and assistance with skills necessary to maintain a drug- or alcohol-free lifestyle. Work on each of the funded programs will begin immediately and are expected to be fully operational by the end of June.

Briefcase Departments

VVM Graduates Manufacturing Cohort

SPRINGFIELD — This week, Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) celebrated the graduation of participants in its Massachusetts Manufacturing Accelerator. The graduation ceremony took place at VVM World Headquarters at Tower Square in front of a crowd of nearly 100 friends, supporters, and members of the political and business communities. The Manufacturing Accelerator delivered intensive and immersive training sessions to seven small precision manufacturers over four months to help them identify new revenue streams and connect them with new industries and customers. “This program is unique because it takes startup methodology and applies it to established manufacturers,” said Paul Silva, VVM co-founder. “We encouraged these businesses to boldly question the way they’ve been doing business for decades and discover new markets and opportunities. We’re very excited about the results.” Funding for this program was provided by the Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program administered by MassDevelopment. “The manufacturers who participated in the Massachusetts Manufacturing Accelerator benefited from the creative and thoughtful approach Valley Venture Mentors and its partners took with this program, and MassDevelopment is pleased to support the accelerator with a grant from the Manufacturing Futures Fund,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones said. “Congratulations to everyone on this accomplishment, which will help Western Massachusetts’ innovative manufacturing industry continue to grow.” Graduates of the program include BSS Additive, Boulevard Machine & Gear, Decker Machine Works Inc., Mitchell Machine Inc. and Precise Turning and Manufacturing.

Nominees Sought for Ubora, Ahadi Awards

SPRINGFIELD — The African Hall subcommittee of the Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the 26th annual Ubora Award and the ninth annual Ahadi Youth Award. 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. The Ubora Award is presented to an African-American adult who has demonstrated a commitment to the Greater Springfield area and exhibited excellence in the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, or the arts. The Swahili word ‘ubora’ means ‘excellence.’ Named for the Swahili word for ‘promise,’ the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who has excelled in academics and performed 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. 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. For additional information, call (413) 263-6800, ext. 325, or e-mail Valerie Cavagni at [email protected] Nominations may be e-mailed to Cavagni or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

Nominations Sought 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 this 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 building 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 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 Tuesday, Feb. 28 to William Pynchon Trustees, Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, P.O. Box 1022, West Springfield, MA 01090-1022, or by e-mail to [email protected] Pynchon medalists are chosen by unanimous decision of the Pynchon trustees. The 2017 recipients will be announced in June, with an awards ceremony scheduled for Oct. 19 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Recipients are presented with a bronze medal cast with the name and likeness of Springfield’s founder, William Pynchon, and bearing the inscription, “They honor us whom we honor.”

Briefcase Departments

State Unemployment Rate Drops to 2.8% in December

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 2.8% in December, marking the sixth consecutive month the rate has declined, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday. The last time the state’s unemployment rate was at 2.8% was in December 2000. In December, preliminary estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts added 6,600 jobs over the month. The November job gain had an upward revision, with the state adding 7,000 jobs compared to the previously published 5,800-job-gain estimate. Over the year, Massachusetts has added 75,000 jobs. At 2.8%, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is down 2.1% over the year from 4.9% in December 2015. There were 73,300 fewer unemployed residents and 112,900 more employed residents over the year compared to December 2015. “For the past six months, the unemployment has continued to drop, and the labor-force participation rate has held steady over the year, which is very good news for the state,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said. “We are also pleased to see the state continues to add jobs in key sectors, such as education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; information; and construction.” In December, over-the-month job gains occurred in the education and health services; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; information; leisure and hospitality; financial activities; manufacturing; and other services sectors. 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 64.7%. Over the year, the labor-force participation rate has increased 0.2% compared to December 2015. Over the year, the largest private-sector percentage job gains were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. Massachusetts’ unemployment rate has remained lower than the national rate since April 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the December national rate at 4.7%. Since the statewide rate peaked at 8.8% in September 2009, there are now 335,600 more Massachusetts residents employed and 202,700 fewer residents unemployed, as the labor force increased by 133,000.

VVM Announces 36 Startups in 2017 Accelerator

SPRINGFIELD — Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) announced the 2017 Startup Accelerator cohort this week. The 36 startups, chosen from more than 200 applicants received from around the world, represent high-quality, early-stage startups across more than eight industries, including technology, beauty, healthcare, transportation, and publishing. “We are excited by the diversity of industries represented in this cohort,” VVM CEO Liz Roberts said. “We are honored that they are choosing to invest their time in our accelerator. They will get intensive training, mentorship, and resources to take their startups to the next level.” Sixty-five percent of this year’s startups are led by women, and 36% are led by people of color. International teams from Canada, India, and Ghana will participate. “Educating startup founders is all about helping them minimize their startup risks. Over the next four months, these entrepreneurs and their teams are going to spend time analyzing their products, services, business models, and the markets they intend to disrupt,” said Paul Silva, VVM chief innovation officer and co-founder. “They will learn from successful entrepreneurs — people who have been exactly where these founders are.” VVM Startup Accelerator participants also develop relationships with funders and are eligible to win up to $50,000 in equity-free cash at the end of the program. The winners will be announced on Thursday, May 25 at an awards ceremony with an expected 600 people in attendance at the MassMutual Center. VVM’s visionary partners include MassMutual, MassDevelopment, the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, MassTech Collaborative, and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. Another aspect of this year’s program is VVM’s partnership with Pathlight, a local organization which serves people with intellectual disabilities. The two organizations put out a national call for entrepreneurs with technology ideas that could increase independence for those with intellectual disabilities. After a rigorous selection process, two such startups were selected to participate in the accelerator: Galactic Smarties and Habit Stackr. Several of the companies accepted to the 2017 VVM Startup Accelerator are graduates of VVM’s mentorship program, including AlignMeeting, Bhlue Publishing, FootCare by Nurses, Hot Oven Cookies, Listen2aBook, Lumme, RecordME, Streamliners, TripleTote, and Yummy Yammy. The 2017 VVM Startup Accelerator cohort includes:
• AlignMeeting, business-productivity software facilitating best meeting practices to improve team efficiency before, during, and long after meetings;
• AuCoDe, the Google Alerts of controversies and crisis situations, providing early detection as a signal for hedge funds;
• Barakat Bundle, a curated package of life-saving solutions for mothers and newborns in South Asia;
• Bhlue Publishing, a cloud-based career-development platform for teens and young adults who are struggling to figure out a career direction;
• Bharat Babies, which produces developmentally appropriate children’s books that are inspired by the stories of India and South Asia;
• Connecticut Horse, a bimonthly print and online magazine for horse enthusiasts in Connecticut;
• Emotive Agility Training Center, a consulting company offering training tools and curricula for people with autism to crack the non-verbal code of social interactions;
• Enrichment Express, which provides instructors with the curriculum, materials, and logistical support needed to teach engaging enrichment classes to children 5 to 12 years old;
• Ernest Pharmaceuticals, programmed bacteria to eliminate metastatic cancer;
• Fields Center, which provides help for individuals with autism and families;
• FirmOffer, a software solution for legal recruiting enabling law students to make binding offers to law firms;
• FootCare by Nurses, foot-wellness experts;
• Galactic Smarties, which makes technology that supports independence for people of all ages and abilities;
• GeneRisk, which identifies genetic variants of autism allowing for better understanding of risk and ID targets for more personalized intervention;
• Genoverde Biosciences Inc., an agricultural biotech startup focused on improving crop yield for commercial farming through bioengineering;
• Habit Stackr, which helps people keep daily routines through brain science and a mobile app;
• Hot Oven Cookies, a handcrafted cookie bakery specializing in the delivery and curbside sales of warm, gourmet cookies;
• Kwema, which developed a smart bracelet that can call for help to friends and family, authorities, and Kwema’s safety communities;
• Listen2aBook, which makes audiobook production accessible to everyone;
• Lumme Inc., a startup funded by the National Cancer Institute that develops smart technology to help people quit smoking;
• M1 Tapes, which makes premium, contractor-grade tape measures;
• MEANS Database, a nonprofit technology company devoted to business-friendly food recovery;
• MyBarber, which provides on-site haircuts at offices, apartment complexes, and co-working spaces;
• NERv Technology, which is developing an implantable biochip platform to detect post-operative complications;
• New England Breath Technologies, which developing a pain-free diabetic monitoring device to improve outcomes of patients;
• Nonspec, which has created a low-ost, durable, and adjustable prosthetic system;
• Paysa, which is developing a fingerprint-authorized cashless payment system for stores in rural India with the goal of increasing bank-account owners;
• ProjectMQ, a social-media app for independent game studios and fans worldwide;
• RateFrame, which helps users highlight and share the best parts of any video;
• RecordME, a studio-recording company that provides hardware, engineers, and distribution so content creators and venues can make more money;
• Streamliners, which sells aerodynamic devices to the trucking industry, saving $4,000 per truck per year in fuel costs, paying for itself in three months;
• Trabapido, an online marketplace that helps individuals and businesses find and hire service providers, such as plumbers, painters, and tutors;
• TripBuddy, a ride-sharing startup;
• Tripletote, which manufactures consumer products that help people carry items as they travel, commute, shop, and work;
• VaxAtlas, which provide real-time access to one’s vaccine history, helping to avoid unnecessary repeat vaccines, identify missed vaccines, and alert for outbreaks; and
• Yummy Yammy, which helps busy people eat better, one deliciously addictive sweet potato at a time.

Simon Youth Foundation Seeks Scholarship Applicants

LEE — Simon Malls and Simon Premium Outlets in New England announced that, once again, its malls and centers — including Lee Premium Outlets — will help deserving graduating seniors pay for college. Simon Youth Foundation, a national nonprofit that provides educational opportunities for at-risk high school students, is looking for qualified applicants. Each year, Simon Youth Community Scholarships are awarded in every community across the country that is home to a Simon Malls or Premium Outlets center. The application period ends on March 1. Students can apply online by visiting syf.org/scholarships. Any student who will be graduating in the class of 2017 and lives in the community surrounding a Simon property is eligible. Applicants can check their eligibility by entering their ZIP code at syf.org/scholarships. Recipients will receive up to $1,500 to enroll in an accredited college, university, or vocational or technical school. In addition, 11 regional Awards of Excellence will be given to top candidates. The regions eligible are Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, New York, Orange County (Calif.), Orlando, and Seattle/Tacoma. Students from these areas will have the opportunity to receive a $10,000 award ($2,500 for up to four years). In 2016, the Simon Youth Foundation awarded $1.2 million to 300 students nationwide. Scholarship recipients will be selected by International Scholarship and Tuition Services Inc., a third-party administrator. Students are selected based on a variety of criteria, including financial need, academic performance, leadership skills, and participation in school and community activities. Students who are the first in their family to pursue a post-secondary education will also be given close consideration. Recipients will be notified in May.

Horace Smith Fund Calls for Scholarship, Fellowship Applications

SPRINGFIELD — The Horace Smith Fund, a private foundation that offers scholarships and fellowships, has extended the application deadline date for the Walter S. Barr Scholarships and Fellowships until March 1, 2017, due to the low number of applications so far. Last year, The fund awarded $258,000 to 25 area students. “To date, we have received only 46 scholarship applications and 16 fellowship applications. It is surprising that more students haven’t applied yet,” said Teresa Regina, trustee and chair of the scholarship committee. “Applications can be downloaded or completed online. They are also available at every area high school and college or by contacting our office.” The Walter S. Barr Scholarship is available for graduates of Hampden County public and private high schools. Applicants may either be graduating high-school seniors or in college. Scholarship awards of $10,000 are distributed in annual installments of $2,500 and renewable each year until graduation. Recipients are selected on a variety of criteria, including their test scores, class rank, extracurricular activities, and a personal written account of why the student feels deserving of financial assistance. The Walter S. Barr Fellowship awards are made annually to those wishing to enroll in full-time graduate studies. In general, applicants must be residents of Hampden County. Awards are made to students pursuing a specific post-graduate degree. The award of $12,000 is distributed in annual installments of $4,000 for a maximum of three years. Awards will be made on the basis of all available information, including school records, recommendations, and examination scores. Consideration will be given to both the merit and financial need of the applicant. “We hope students take advantage of this local resource,” Regina said.

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Hits 12-Year High

BOSTON — Confidence among Massachusetts employers hit its highest level in 12 years during December amid the prospect of growth initiatives from the new administration in Washington and a continued strong state economy. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 2.3 points to 60.4 last month, a full 5.1 points higher than its level in December 2015 and the highest reading since December 2004. It marked the fourth consecutive monthly increase in sentiment among employers in the Commonwealth, where the unemployment rate recently fell to 2.9%. The November and December BCI readings mirror the post-election rally in U.S. financial markets, which have risen 5% as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to work with a Republican Congress on business-friendly issues such as tax reductions, regulatory reform, and infrastructure spending. The AIM survey showed a 5.5-point jump in confidence in the national economy last month, leaving that indicator at its highest level since 2007. “Massachusetts employers are taking the president-elect at his word that he will prioritize economic growth at the national level, especially if he is able to work with Congressional Democrats on a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “But employer enthusiasm is also based upon a solid economic expansion during 2016 that most analysts believe will continue in a methodical manner though the first half of 2017.” 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. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013. Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in December. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, gained 2 points to 61.8, leaving it 5.5 points ahead of the same time last year. The increase in the U.S. Index of national business conditions put that figure 7.5 points higher than its level of a year ago, but still short of the Massachusetts index. It marked the 80th 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, increased 2.2 points to 59.1, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.5 points to 61.7. The future outlook was 5.5 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015. The sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations also strengthened considerably. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.4 points to 60.9, while the Sales Index increased 3.2 points to 61.4. The Employment Index was the only indicator to lose ground, falling 0.2 points to 57.2. The AIM survey found that nearly 38% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable, with 37% planning to hire and only 10% downsizing. “One of the most positive results of the December survey is that business confidence is strengthening uniformly across almost every sector of the economy,” said Elliot Winer, chief economist at Winer Economic Consulting and a BEA member. “Employers both large and small, manufacturers and non-manufacturers, from the Pioneer Valley to Greater Boston, are more optimistic about their prospects than at any time since prior to the Great Recession.” The BCI Manufacturing Index jumped 0.6 points during the month and 2.6 points for the year. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 63.3 compared to 56.7 for manufacturing companies. Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were slightly more optimistic at 61.4 than those in the western part of the state at 57.6. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, also a BEA member, said employers appear to be encouraged by the prospect that Trump and a Republican Congress will be able to pass their tax and regulatory agenda. At the same time, Lord said, there remains uncertainty about a possible repeal of federal healthcare reform and the future of international trade agreements that are critical to Massachusetts companies. “The only certainty appears to be uncertainty for the next six months,” Lord said. “The key will be to ensure that any tax reductions and regulatory reforms made on the national level are not obviated by state measures intended to make Massachusetts a progressive model for the rest of the country.”

Advertising Club Calls for Scholarship Applications

SPRINGFIELD — The Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts announced that its 2017 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. Western Mass. seniors who plan to attend an accredited college or technical school in the fall of 2017 to study advertising, communications, marketing, or graphics arts 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. In 2017, one $1,000 scholarship will be awarded. Completed scholarship applications and all support materials must be submitted to the Ad Club and postmarked by Friday, Feb. 24. Scholarship decisions are made by the scholarship committee of Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, and are considered final. The scholarship will be awarded at the Ad Club’s Creative Awards show in May.

Grinspoon Foundation, Big Y AnnounceLocal Farmer Awards

AGAWAM — In partnership with Big Y, the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF) announced the third year of the Local Farmer Awards, a program to support local farmers with projects that will help them compete in the marketplace. The awards are for equipment and physical farm improvements. “Big Y has been partnering with and supporting local farmers since we began over 80 years ago,” President and Chief Operating Officer Charles D’Amour said. “Through our partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation, we are providing one more way to help the local growers to thrive in our community.” In an effort to have the widest impact, individual award recipients  a total of over $110,000 in awards. Realizing the importance of local farms in our region, Grinspoon launched these awards in 2015. The 2016 awards were distributed to 47 of the 128 applicants. The two regional Buy Local farm advocates, Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), will continue to provide insight and assistance. Philip Korman, executive director of CISA, noted that “we are so pleased to continue to work with everyone involved in this unique farm awards program to support the vital role family farms play in our communities.” Added Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, “we’re thrilled about the continuation of these financial awards for farmers in Western Massachusetts to strengthen their farm businesses. This helps build the local food economy in our region.” The deadline for applying is Tuesday, Jan. 31. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit www.farmerawards.org for more information.

Greater Springfield Named 13th-least-dangerous Metro Area for Pedestrians

SPRINGFIELD — In light of Smart Growth America naming Greater Springfield the 13th-least dangerous metro area in the country for pedestrians, as well as Massachusetts ranking in the top 10 least-dangerous states for pedestrians, as part of its 2016 edition of “Dangerous by Design,” the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) is highlighting some of its collaborative efforts to make the streets of the Pioneer Valley safer for automobiles, bikers, and pedestrians. “While we are obviously happy to see Greater Springfield named the 13th-least-dangerous metro area in the United States [for pedestrians], there is clearly much more work to be done, especially on behalf of older residents, residents of color, and low-income families, who are disproportionately vulnerable as pedestrians, according to this recent report,” said Gary Roux, PVPC principal transportation planner and traffic manager. “Our regional efforts to implement complete street design into our communities will ensure our future roadways will be safe for all forms of travel.” In the pursuit of safer roadways in the Pioneer Valley, the PVPC has been actively working in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, WalkBoston, and the state Department of Public Health on Vision Zero Planning, an approach to transportation safety planning that sets a target of eliminating all serious injuries and deaths due to road traffic crashes; collaborating with member communities to apply Complete Streets design into local roads, implementing the state Department of Transportation Complete Streets funding program that promotes roadway planning that considers the safety of drivers, bikers, and pedestrians; contributing $2 million in planning and public-engagement efforts for Live Well Springfield, a community movement to support healthy and active living; and partnering with the communities of Holyoke, Springfield, Northampton, and South Hadley on bike-pedestrian visioning and planning efforts. Additionally, the PVPC has released a draft update report of the “Top 100 High-crash Intersections in the Pioneer Valley,” to help the region’s urban communities target their roadway safety-improvement efforts. A community-by-community listing of dangerous intersections is also currently being prepared to allow all 43 PVPC member communities to address their most pressing transportation-design needs.

Springfield Leadership Institute to Begin Session

SPRINGFIELD — The 2017 Springfield Leadership Institute will emphasize strategies and techniques designed to create high-energy and high-involvement leadership for middle and upper mangers who have potential to make an impact on their organization and the community, and who serve in key roles in volunteer organizations. The Institute, which begins on Feb. 9 and runs for seven consecutive Thursdays from 1 to 4:30 p.m., is directed by Robert Kleine III, dean of the Western New England University College of Business, and Jack Greeley, executive-in-residence at the university. Greeley has a strong background in management, strategic planning, and consulting to a variety of organizations. Sessions will focus on problem solving, learning to ask the right questions, and implementing creative and innovative solutions for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Participants will actively explore best practices of leaders; analyze their own leadership, learning, and problem solving styles; and experience the synergies that result from high-performing teams. The emphasis will be on experiential activities that provide opportunities to identify, develop, and refine skill sets for effective leadership. All sessions will be held at the TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Upon successful completion of Leadership 2017, participants will be eligible to enroll in a free graduate course offered through the College of Business at Western New England University (subject to certain requirements). Applications must be received by Wednesday, Feb. 1. Tuition is $885 per participant. For questions about the program or the application process, e-mail Jessica Hill at [email protected]

Community Foundation Gives $1,306,600 to Nonprofits

SPRINGFIELD — The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts is awarding $1,306,600 to 78 local nonprofit organizations in the Pioneer Valley, with awards ranging from $3,700 to $30,000. The Community Foundation awards competitive grants each year, with funds targeting projects addressing community needs in arts and culture, education, the environment, health, housing, and human services for residents of Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Over 40 of the projects funded were supported by trusts administered by Bank of America. The Community Foundation receives and reviews grant applications on behalf of Bank of America for four charitable trusts for which the bank serves as a trustee. One award was made as part of the Community Foundation’s Challenge Program to support capital campaigns taking place in the Pioneer Valley region. The $30,000 award requires a one-to-one match. Berkshire Hills Music Academy is the 2017 Challenge Grant recipient. Other grants include $20,000 to the Center for New Americans to support the training of staff and volunteers who work annually with immigrants living in the Pioneer Valley on immigration legal issues; $25,000 to Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society Inc. for masonry repairs to the exterior of the organization’s Springfield location; $25,000 to Community Music School of Springfield Inc. for its children’s chorus music program; and $25,000 to Baystate Health Foundation Inc. for its new surgical center at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “These grants are a tremendous investment in our community and in the nonprofits that under take this important work. We are fortunate to have generous donors and committed volunteers to make this investment possible,” said Community Foundation Senior Program Officer Sheila Toto. Grant funding comes from distributions from 38 funds established by various individuals and groups committed to supporting local nonprofits. These donors rely on the Community Foundation’s volunteers and staff to focus their funds for effective use by nonprofit agencies in the Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin county communities. Thirteen volunteer members of the Community Foundation’s Distribution Committee and 12 project reviewers carefully evaluated 109 applications for funding requests totaling more than $2.1 million.

Federal Funding Helps Area Farms Save Energy

NORTHAMPTON — Farms and rural small businesses in Massachusetts seeking to reduce energy costs or install clean energy technologies have long relied on the state Department of Agricultural Resources’ (MDAR) Mass. Farm Energy Program (MFEP) for funding and technical assistance. New funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) will support the work of the MFEP. The USDA has awarded a $33,000 Rural Business Development Grant to the Center for EcoTechnology (CET), a nonprofit based in Northampton, which manages MFEP. CET will use the grant to provide timely information, funding request assistance, and technical assistance to rural farms that wish to improve their energy efficiency and reduce operating costs. MDAR Commissioner John Lebeaux will join Massachusetts elected officials, USDA RD Southern New England Director Scott Soares, and Lorenzo Macaluso of CET on Friday, Jan. 6 at 10 a.m. at Smith’s Farmstead, 20 Otter River Road, Winchendon. Attendees will have the opportunity to tour the farm’s renewable and efficiency projects. USDA funding adds to funding sources the MFEP draws on to provide help to farms, including funding from public utilities, the USDA, MDAR, municipal utilities, the Mass. Clean Energy Center, and a variety of energy-efficiency and clean-energy rebates.

State Earns Top Ranking for Public-health Preparedness

BOSTON — The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) has recognized Massachusetts as first in the nation when it comes to preventing, responding to, and recovering from public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks, bioterrorism, and natural and man-made disasters. The findings were published in TFAH’s annual “Ready or Not?” report, which ranks all 50 states on a set of key preparedness indicators. “Our top ranking in the Trust for America’s Health report is a testament to the collaborative efforts of public-health and emergency-management agencies, hospitals, health centers, healthcare providers, community-based organizations, and residents to make Massachusetts as prepared and resilient as possible, no matter what,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. The TFAH report ranks each state on 10 indicators, including public-health funding commitment, National Health Security Preparedness Index, public-health accreditation, flu-vaccination rate, climate-change readiness, food safety, reducing healthcare-associated infections, public-health laboratories (biosafety training), public-health laboratories (biosafety professional on staff), and emergency healthcare access. Massachusetts was the only state in the nation to receive credit for all 10 indicators.

Report Details STEM Employment in State

BOSTON — The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data on occupational employment and wages for scienc, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations in Massachusetts’ metropolitan areas and divisions for May 2015. These data are supplied by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, which produces employment and wage estimates for the U.S., by state, and by metropolitan area for more than 800 occupations. Among selected metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, the Boston-Cambridge-Nashua New England City and Town Area (Boston NECTA) had wages that were significantly higher than the respective national averages for three STEM occupations — computer-user support specialists ($63,840), applications-software developers ($109,540), and systems-software developers ($115,180). Leominster ($58,940) also had above-average wages for computer-user support specialists, while Pittsfield ($40,790) had wages that were significantly lower than the U.S. average for this occupation. Wages for applications software developers in the Lawrence NECTA division ($112,050) were significantly higher than the national average of $102,160. Conversely, Springfield ($94,610) had wages that were significantly below the national average for this occupation. The Boston NECTA had a combined employment of 69,990 for the three selected STEM occupations, with 49,230 of these jobs in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton NECTA division. Among the other selected areas, Worcester and Springfield had a combined employment of 2,630 and 2,450, respectively, for the three occupations.

PVPC Releases New Edition of Hiking and Biking Guide

SPRINGFIELD — Recognizing both the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities and natural beauty within the region, as well as its unique involvement in the creation and protection of much of it, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) has released its second edition of “Pioneer Valley Trails: A Hiking and Biking Guide.” Self-published using revenue from the sale of the guide’s first edition, which has sold over 2,200 copies since 2011, the PVPC is hoping this comprehensive map of Hampden and Hampshire County’s recreational opportunities remains a popular item within the region’s many outdoor outfitters. In preparing the guide, the PVPC reached out to many cooperating entities for data and map information, including all 43 PVPC member municipalities, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as nonprofit partners such as the Trustees of Reservations and Mass Audubon. The guide includes many of the Pioneer Valley’s most popular trails, including the New England National Scenic Trail and the Robert Frost Trail for hiking, as well as the Manhan Rail Trail and Norwottuck – Mass Central Rail Trail for biking. It also includes many smaller trails spread out across the region’s cities and towns, allowing visitors and residents alike to discover new opportunities to enjoy nature. Since 1962, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has been the designated regional planning body for the Pioneer Valley region, which encompasses 43 cities and towns in Hampden and Hampshire counties. PVPC is the primary agency responsible for increasing communication, cooperation, and coordination among all levels of government as well as the private business and civic sectors in order to benefit the Pioneer Valley region and to improve its residents’ quality of life.

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November Unemployment Rate Drops to 2.9%

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 2.9% in November, marking the fifth consecutive month the rate declined, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday.
The last time the state’s unemployment rate was at 2.9% was in January 2001. The unemployment rate in October was 3.3%.
In November, preliminary estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts added 5,800 jobs over the month.  BLS slightly revised the October job estimates, reporting the state loss 5,400 jobs as opposed to the previously reported 5,500 job loss estimate. Year-to-date, December 2015 to November 2016, Massachusetts has added 67,200 jobs.
Massachusetts’ unemployment rate has remained lower than the national rate since April 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national rate at 4.6% in November.
At 2.9%, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is down 2.0% over the year from 4.9% in November 2015. There were 68,100 fewer unemployed residents and 108,400 more employed residents over the year compared to November 2015.
“We are very pleased to see the unemployment rate consistently go down month after month,” said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald L. Walker, II. “Not only is the unemployment rate declining, but we have continued job growth in key sectors that drive the Massachusetts economy.”
In November, over-the-month job gains occurred in the financial activities; professional, scientific and business services; construction; information; ‘other services’; education and health services; and local government sectors.
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 64.7%, down 0.2 of a percentage point over the month.  Over the year, the labor force participation rate has increased 0.1 of a percentage point compared to November 2015.

MBTA to Place Second Order of Rail Cars with CRRC

BOSTON — The MBTA announced it will place a second order for new Red Line cars with CRRC, the company already contracted to build new train cars at a facility it is building in Springfield, the Republican reported. MBTA officials say it’s cheaper to pay $300,000 for each new car than to rehab aging trains. CRRC, the Chinese-owned world leader in rail-car manufacturing, won a contract in 2014 to build 152 Orange Line cars and 132 Red Line cars to replace aging trains. Under the new proposal, CRRC will start building an additional 120 Red Line cars in 2022 after completing the initial order of Red Line and Orange Line cars. The proposal includes an option to purchase 14 more.

State Adds More Than 6,300 Clean-energy Jobs

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) today announced that the Commonwealth added 6,317 clean- energy jobs and has surpassed 100,000 clean energy jobs statewide for the first time, currently 105,212. The figures, released as part of MassCEC’s 2016 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report, show the Bay State clean energy sector maintained a strong growth rate of six percent between 2015 and 2016. The report also found that the number of clean energy jobs in Massachusetts has increased by 75% since 2010.
“The Commonwealth’s highly educated and well-trained workforce makes it an attractive place for innovative industries, including clean energy companies,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “Massachusetts’ recently passed comprehensive energy diversification legislation will continue to build on the recent success of the clean energy industry by increasing opportunities for growth and advancement.”
“The Clean Energy Industry Report clearly shows that the booming clean energy sector is a pivotal jobs creator within the Commonwealth and a driving force for diversifying our energy sources,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “The Baker-Polito Administration is committed to continuing our support of Massachusetts’ robust clean energy sector and making these benefits accessible to residents throughout the Commonwealth.”
The report found that clean energy is an $11.8 billion industry in Massachusetts, and represents 2.5% of the Commonwealth’s Gross State Product. Clean energy jobs represent 2.9% of the overall workforce in the state, the report found. The clean energy industry employs residents of every region in Massachusetts. Jobs grew over the past year in each of the state’s regions, with the largest growth coming in Northeastern Massachusetts (8.8%) and Southeastern Massachusetts (8.2%).
“The continued strength of Massachusetts’ clean energy industry continues to bring innovation, energy savings and environmental benefits to communities across the state,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Matthew Beaton. “The Baker-Polito Administration will continue to work with our partners in the clean energy industry to reduce costs to ratepayers, usage and emissions as we work to achieve our Global Warming Solutions Act goals.”
“The clean energy industry in Massachusetts continues to see strong job growth while helping to drive the state’s vibrant innovation economy,” said MassCEC CEO Stephen Pike. “The clean energy sector is fueled by the economic activity of small businesses, universities, nonprofits, technologists and entrepreneurs hard at work on addressing our most pressing energy challenges.”
The report found that Massachusetts installed 25,390 renewable energy projects in 2016, adding an additional 374 megawatts (MW) of electric capacity in the process, enough to power 56,040 homes. The Commonwealth also remains first in the United States for per-capita early-stage clean energy venture investment, beating out California. Early stage investment in Massachusetts clean energy companies grew 166% over the previous year.
The report, prepared for MassCEC by BW Research Partnership, also found Massachusetts to be the national leader in early-stage clean energy investment. Overall, public and private investment in the industry exceeded $658 million.

State Treasurer Issues Report on Financial Literacy in Massachusetts

BOSTON — State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg recently unveiled a one-year progress report on her Office of Economic Empowerment’s financial-education initiatives. The review highlighted the advancements resulting from the 2015 Financial Literacy Task Force Report. The task force consisted of a diverse group of policymakers, educators, bankers and advocates, and convened last year to develop an action plan for Massachusetts residents to have access to the financial skills they need to attain economic stability. The report culminated with the release of 22 recommendations aimed at empowering residents with an understanding of how to budget their money, save for retirement, and understand the impact of economic decisions. “I am thankful for the many partners that share our vision and commitment to expanding economic security in Massachusetts,” Goldberg said. “We will continue to innovate and expand our programs through a digital delivery of financial education and partnerships throughout the state.” In one year, Goldberg’s Office of Economic Empowerment initiated 14 of the 22 policy recommendations provided by the task force, including: establishing $eedMA, a pilot program designed to help kindergarten families save for post-secondary education and training; creating the Women’s Economic Empowerment Series, a free financial-empowerment workshop series for women; and the relaunch of Operation Money Wise as a grant program for organizations to provide financial education and programming to the military, veteran, family, and survivor community.

Springfield Cultural District Releases Video Map

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) launched a new video map to accompany the Downtown Springfield Cultural Walking Tour. The tour, first introduced in the summer of 2015, is a tool designed to be used by visitors or residents to learn more about the city’s architectural, historic, and cultural highlights. Printed maps are available at all downtown hotels, visitor’s centers, and cultural institutions, and is also available digitally on the SCCD website, springfieldculture.org. “Sometimes even residents are unaware of the beautiful assets we have throughout the Cultural District, and these videos are a living, breathing way for everyone to connect with the people at our historic and cultural landmarks, not just the buildings,” said Morgan Drewniany, SCCD director. The video map brings a new dimension to the walking tour. Viewers gain insight into the history of each location on the map and have the chance to learn an unexpected fact about the venue or building. Each video is presented by a member of the Springfield Central Cultural District on location, and is under two minutes, to allow viewing while out and about. There are 12 videos linked to the Walking Tour. Kay Simpson, president of the Springfield Museums; John Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame; Stacey Church, general manager of the MassMutual Center; and Peter Salerno, executive director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, are just a few of the highlighted speakers, among many others. The project was funded, in part, by a Springfield Cultural Council grant, and was produced by Focus Springfield.

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Local Nonprofit Launches
White House Initiative

SPRINGFIELD — On Nov. 30, the White House announced the Diversify Access to Capital Pledge, in which a group of angel investors, venture capitalists, and startup accelerators, including more than 30 organizations, pledge to increase access to seed and early-stage capital to entrepreneurs from diverse groups. Participating organizations represent more than 11,000 investors deploying more than $800 million in investment dollars across the country. “Our goal is to catalyze early-seed investors to fund startups founded by entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups who historically have had less access to capital,” said Liz Roberts, CEO of Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), one of the pledge signers. “This is one of VVM’s core values and, frankly, common sense when it comes to finding the best investments, innovations, and startups.” VVM, funded in part by the MassMutual Foundation, is honoring this commitment through training and mentoring diverse entrepreneurs. To date, VVM has graduated 174 startups via its Mentorship and Accelerator programs. In last year’s Accelerator cohort, approximately 50% of the startups were women-led, and 36% led by people of color. Other local firms, such as the Springfield Venture Fund, also signed the pledge and are invested in making a difference. “We are thrilled to be a signer to the Diversify Access to Capital Pledge and garner national recognition for helping to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Western Massachusetts,” said Jay Leonard, co-manager at the Springfield Venture Fund. In October, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Commerce Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship invited Roberts, as part of a select group of angel investors and those working to create more angel and seed capital, to a conversation at the White House. This group worked to identify best practices in stimulating broader access to risk capital for entrepreneurs, including for entrepreneurs from backgrounds historically and currently underrepresented in science and tech entrepreneurship. The pledge was an organic byproduct of that meeting.

Volunteers Needed for
Tax-preparation Program

SPRINGFIELD — Volunteers are needed to participate in this year’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA offers free tax preparation for low- to moderate-income residents in Hampden County. The program relies on dedicated volunteers to provide free tax preparation from late January through mid-April. No experience is necessary, and all volunteers are trained by the Internal Revenue Service. Volunteers prepare taxes, greet clients, translate, and coordinate VITA sites. “Last year our volunteers completed more than 5,000 tax returns, free of charge,” said Jennifer Kinsman, United Way director of Community Impact. “These volunteers are an enormous asset to our community.” The VITA program runs from Jan. 29 through April 15. Volunteer training will take place in December. For more information or to volunteer, call (413) 263-6500 or (413) 612-0206.

State Releases Report
on Opioid Epidemic

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration has released “The Massachusetts Opioid Epidemic: a Data Visualization of Findings from the Chapter 55 Report.” The visualization can be viewed at www.mass.gov/chapter55. This website is designed to complement the recent release of the Chapter 55 Report, an unprecedented public/private partnership that reviewed opioid-related data sets from a variety of sources to better understand the opioid epidemic. The report was a product of the Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2015 signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in August 2015. “This project represents our latest effort to use and present data to better understand the opioid epidemic and inform our residents about one of the great public-health challenges of our time,” Baker said. “It is also an example of drawing talent from across state government and working with our external partners to create a tool that makes this important report accessible to more people.” The online site, produced by a MassIT and the Mass. Department Public Health (DPH) partnership, is an online, multi-media resource which illustrates and explains the complex nature of the disease of addiction, the role that legal prescription medications and illegal substances play in the epidemic, its impact across the demographic spectrum in Massachusetts, and what steps are being taken to address this fundamental public-health crisis in communities across the state. “The Chapter 55 report was truly groundbreaking in the depth of its analysis and its use of advanced data to understand the underlying causes of opioid-related deaths,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “We hope that this new way of communicating the data helps underscore the challenges ahead and our resolve for addressing this crisis.” Led by DPH, the Chapter 55 analysis involved 10 data sets from 5 different government agencies. In total, 29 groups from government, higher education, and the private sector provided information and expertise. This level of partnership is what makes the Chapter 55 report a milestone achievement in Massachusetts. Before this legislation was passed, such a comprehensive look at the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth would not have been possible. “This innovative tool takes us beyond charts and statistics in a way that allows even greater insight into the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “We hope it will be a useful resource to help inform policymakers, stakeholders, and community members understand where we are, and how we move forward.”

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Employer Confidence Strengthens in October

BOSTON — Confidence among Massachusetts employers rose for a second consecutive month during October, bolstered by a surprising improvement in the outlook among manufacturers and the continued strong performance of the state economy. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 0.3 points to 56.2 last month, 0.6 points higher than in October 2015. The increase was driven by a 2.6-point jump in the manufacturing index, which has lagged overall confidence readings for the past 18 months as companies struggled with economic weakness in Europe, China, and other key export markets. The increase came as the Massachusetts unemployment rate fell to 3.6%, its lowest rate since the dot-com boom of 2001. 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. Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in October. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, gained 0.9 points to 57.9, leaving it a healthy 3.8 points ahead of the same time last year. The U.S. Index of national business conditions remained unchanged at 49.2, 1.7 points lower than its level of October 2015. Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 78 consecutive months. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased slightly to 56, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.3 points to 56.3. The future view is virtually the same as it was a year ago. The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations also strengthened. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.2 points to 57.9, while the Employment Index surged 0.9 points to 55.4. The Sales Index lost ground, however, falling 1.2 points during October and 3.9 points during the previous 12 months.

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LIPPI Featured in National Storytelling Platform

EASTHAMPTON — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts’ Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI) was one of several featured programs that launched Tuesday during the rollout of a new national storytelling initiative unveiled by the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. The uniquely interactive digital tool seeks to bring attention to a leading challenge facing women in the U.S. and around the world — economic security — and lift up the vital work of women’s foundations that are addressing this issue. “Telling the story of local women on a national scale is crucial to the work we do. If we want our communities to thrive, we must ensure the economic security of women,” said Elizabeth Barajas-Román, CEO, of the Women’s Fund. This year, Barajas-Román was invited to represent Western Mass. on the national board of the Women’s Funding Network. The launch highlights the story of the Women’s Fund LIPPI program, a unique leadership institute developed in response to a shortage of women in civic leadership positions, in public office, and serving on boards. The coursework equips women with the tools and confidence to become civic and political leaders. More than 250 participants are now leaders in their local communities; 22 have run for elected office, one received a gubernatorial appointment, one graduate is the first female police chief of Northampton, one ran a successful race for mayor of Pittsfield, and two graduates are serving in executive cabinet positions. Many more continue to serve on various boards and commissions, organizing grassroots campaigns, and raising their collective voices on issues that impact women and families. The Economic Security Digital Storytelling Platform is a data-driven, yet narrative, evidence of women’s foundations’ ongoing commitment to ensuring women’s economic prosperity. The platform gives users the opportunity to explore the data alongside the powerful stories of the women, programs, and organizations making an impact on this issue, breathing life into facts and figures. The responsive and flexible format encourages user engagement and learning by featuring links and downloadable files throughout, as well as links to social media to make these important stories easy to share. WFN’s Economic Security Digital Storytelling Platform can be previewed at economicsecurity.womensfundingnetwork.org.

State Nets $2.5M Grant to Help People with Disabilities Find Jobs

BOSTON — Massachusetts was one of only six states awarded $2.5 million this week by the federal government to help people with disabilities find employment. The grant will target youth and young adults, ages 14 to 24, in Hampden County and the Greater Lowell area by expanding access to credential-based education and training. The U.S. Department of Labor yesterday announced $14.9 million in grants to six states as part of the Disability Employment Initiative. “We know that, unfortunately, people with disabilities face much higher rates of unemployment, and we have been developing plans to tackle that problem for over a year now. One of the first executive orders I signed was to create a task force to look at ways to help people with barriers to employment find and keep jobs,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “This award from the federal government will help us continue that important work, and create more opportunities for young people with disabilities to find fulfilling careers.” According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people with disabilities make up only 19.8% of the nation’s workforce. In Massachusetts, it is estimated that 15% of people with disabilities are unemployed. The grant is expected to serve more than 350 youth and young adults with disabilities. In Massachusetts the funds will also be used to create partnerships with local employers to increase hiring opportunities for young people with disabilities, and expand short-term subsidized work programs. The grant will provide job-retention and placement services to young people who have difficulty finding work due to their disability. “This is the first initiative where we will completely focus on youth and young adults with disabilities in order to help them find and keep employment,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said. “We are thrilled to be one of only a few states to receive this grant, and it will enable us to continue the work started by the task force for people facing higher employment.” The other states to receive grants were Connecticut, California, Idaho, Minnesota, and Maryland. While Massachusetts’ unemployment rate is lower than the national average, at 3.9% in August, certain populations face chronically higher rates of unemployment, including African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, people with disabilities, Native Americans, and recently returned veterans.

Unemployment Rate Drops to 3.9% in August

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% in August from 4.1% in July, and preliminary estimates show the state gained 5,900 jobs over the month, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. The last time the state’s unemployment rate hit 3.9% was in August 2001. At 3.9%, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is down 0.9% over the year from 4.8% in August 2015. There were 30,300 fewer unemployed residents and 73,000 more employed residents over the year compared to August 2015. Massachusetts’ unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.9% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state added fewer jobs over the month in July than the Bureau of Labor Statistics originally estimated, gaining 5,800 jobs compared to the previously published 7,300-job-gain estimate. Year to date, December 2015 to August 2016, Massachusetts has added 61,000 jobs. In August, the largest over-the-month job gains occurred in the leisure and hospitality, education and health services, and other services sectors. 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 65.0%. Over the year, the labor-force participation rate has increased 0.2% compared to August 2015.

State Releases Detailed Report on Opioid Epidemic

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration released an in-depth analysis of the state’s opioid-related deaths from 2013 to 2014. The findings reveal that opioid-related deaths have increased by 350% in Massachusetts in 15 years and marks the first time data from multiple state agencies has been linked to give a comprehensive overview of deaths associated with the opioid epidemic. “We are pleased to unveil this report to combine state resources and aggregate data in an innovative way to better understand the drivers behind opioid and heroin-related overdoses,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “We are hopeful that new information will help us better understand the contours of this public-health crisis as we continue to work on prevention, education, and treatment in our communities to combat the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth.” Added Marylou Sudders, secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, “in 2013 and 2014 alone, opioid-related deaths were recorded for two-thirds of the cities and towns in Massachusetts. In the face of this crisis, we must continue our efforts to battle this epidemic that continues to take a record number of lives.” The analysis, performed by the state Department of Public Health, reviewed opioid-related deaths in 2013 and 2014 by analyzing data from multiple government entities including the Department of Public Health, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Department of Correction, MassHealth, and the Center for Health Information and Analysis. The Commonwealth’s technology agency, MassIT, facilitated integration work to bring the various streams of data together. The report, which was released at a reconvening of the Governor’s Opioid Working Group, chaired by Sudders, is part of continued efforts to improve the collection and release of data examining the impact that opioids have on Bay State communities. Earlier this year, Baker signed landmark opioid legislation into law to address the deadly opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing the Commonwealth. “Opioid-use disorder is a chronic disease, and this epidemic is a complex and persistent problem that will not be solved through a single solution,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “This data will be leveraged to allocate resources more efficiently and effectively to help us save lives.” In 2015, the Governor’s Opioid Working Group released recommendations and a comprehensive action plan aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic. These short- and long-term recommendations focus on prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support. Approximately 93% of the initiatives in the governor’s action plan are complete or underway.

Five Colleges Inc. Breaks Ground for Library Annex

HATFIELD — At a brief ceremony on Sept. 15 attended by campus officials and developers, Five Colleges Inc. broke ground on for its Library Annex on a site it purchased in Hatfield. When complete, the 35,000-square-foot building will provide shelving for up to 2.5 million items from the libraries of the campuses of the consortium — Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith colleges and UMass Amherst — freeing up space for new materials and other academic needs. In addition, it will serve as a temporary home for much of the collection of Smith College’s Neilson Library while it undergoes a major renovation. “This facility will help Smith greatly in coming years. It’s a great example of how the institutions help each other,” said Susan Fliss, Smith College dean of Libraries. Added Chris Loring, the recently retired director of libraries at Smith College and a driving force behind the development of the annex, “this will become another library for us.” The 12-acre parcel is at the junctions of the Interstate 91 exit 22 ramp, West Street, and Plain Road in Hatfield. Five Colleges paid $925,000 for the property, which had been owned by Lynda, Martin, and Sharyn Holich. Site preparation work began on May 17, and work is expected to be complete in May 2017. With climate-controlled conditions for long-term preservation of print materials, the annex will house a part of the Five College library repository collection, which already preserves nearly 600,000 items for its member campuses.

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Falls for Third Consecutive Month

Confidence among Massachusetts employers fell for a third consecutive month during August as companies remained uncertain about the vigor and durability of the economic recovery.
The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) declined one point to 54.1 last month, leaving it three full points lower than in August 2015. The confidence reading remained above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook, but optimism dimmed sharply on current economic conditions and employers’ outlook on their own companies. The employer confidence readings are consistent with a recent weakening of consumer confidence in Massachusetts. The Mass Insight Consumer Confidence Index slid 10 points during the third quarter. “The national and state economies continue to improve, but without the kind of momentum we have seen in previous recoveries. So employers remain confident overall, but circumspect,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design. “One potential red flag is the degree to which employer confidence in their own companies has weakened during the past several months.” 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. The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

More Than 1,100 Volunteer for Annual Day of Caring

PIONEER VALLEY — On Sept. 9, the United Way of Pioneer Valley launched its annual fund-raising campaign with the Day of Caring, when more than 1,100 volunteers from more than 40 area businesses volunteered across the region to help local nonprofits. Starting with a kickoff breakfast in Court Square in downtown Springfield, participants traveled to towns across the Valley, contributing in myriad ways to support programs and organizations that support the community. Projects included lawn work, painting projects, light construction, gardening, and trash removal. The day was ideal for team building, but it was also a chance for both nonprofits and area businesses to learn more about each other’s work. “I participate in the Day of Caring because I believe that giving back to the community is a central part of promoting unity,” said Sharon Dorsey, an executive assistant from Health New England. “The past few years I participated in the Day of Caring, I loved seeing how appreciative and grateful the beneficiaries were.” This year’s Day of Caring sponsors included Baystate Health, MassMutual, Health New England, Comcast, Excel Dryer, UTC Aerospace Systems, IAMAW Local 743, Harry Grodsky & Co., Mestek Inc., Monson Savings Bank, PeoplesBank, Peoples United Bank, Quabbin Wire & Cable Co., TD Bank, Gulf Stream, the Springfield Community Music School, and Sodexo.

Springfield Regional Chamber Debuts New Dental Benefit

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber has teamed up Altus Dental to offer to its chamber members a new employee benefit to enhance their employee-compensation package. Administered through American Benefits Group, dental insurance provided by Altus Dental is now available for companies with as few as one employee. Altus Dental offers the state’s largest preferred-provider (PPO) dental network with more than 6,200 participating locations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Southern New Hampshire, and national access through CONNECTION Dental, with more than 108,000 dentist locations nationwide. Three coverage options are available at competitive rates. Plus Plan 1 is basic coverage available to employers with one or more participating employees. Plus Plan 2 is an enhanced coverage option available to those with 10 or more participating employees, and Plus Plan 3 is an enhanced coverage option for companies with 20 or more participating employees. Each option includes 100% diagnostic and preventative services with no deductible, 80% for basic restorative care with a $50 single or $150 family deductible, and a low benefit maximum per year. Plus Plan 2 and Plus Plan 3 include major restorative care such as crowns and dentures. Plus Plan 3 includes orthodontic services. To be eligible, a business must be a member of the Springfield Regional Chamber and contribute at least 50% of the monthly premium. Coverage is open to active, full-time employees.

ServiceNet Wins Grant to Boost Work with Homeless Individuals

NORTHAMPTON — To further combat the continuing challenge of homelessness in communities across Western Mass., ServiceNet’s Shelter & Housing division has been awarded a three-year grant, totaling $1.2 million, by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Returning Home, the program funded by this grant, is specifically focused on the needs of chronically homeless individuals and homeless veterans who also have a serious mental illness and/or substance-use disorder. The SAMHSA grant is one of 30 recently awarded nationwide, and it is the only one awarded in Massachusetts. Returning Home has a two-fold goal: to successfully move individuals from homelessness to permanent housing, and to improve their overall health and well-being. It does so through a combination of intensive case-management services and evidence-based clinical care. Increased funding will enable ServiceNet to assist an additional 112 individuals in the three-year period, and to expand its community outreach to meet with people on the streets, in outdoor camps, and elsewhere in the community. Returning Home will accept referrals from service providers throughout Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire counties, as well as from ServiceNet’s own network of emergency shelters.  “This award reflects SAMHSA’s trust in the outstanding work our team has done to date in housing individuals who are chronically homeless,” said Jay Sacchetti, ServiceNet’s vice president of Shelter & Housing, Vocational, and Addiction Services. “We are proud of the work they do, and this funding further stabilizes and preserves our Returning Home program.” Sacchetti also cited ServiceNet’s longstanding commitment to applied research as an advantage in securing the national grant. “When we say something works, we have the data to prove it; and when something doesn’t work, we understand why,” he said. “Our research team will continue to track the impact of Returning Home’s expanded services as we move forward.” ServiceNet is partnering with the Hilltown Community Development Corp. — administrator of the federal continuum of care which oversees area initiatives related to homelessness — to serve as steering committee for the grant. “This grant is going to help a lot of people a lot,” said Jack Tulloss, a former Marine and now clinical case manager with ServiceNet’s Shelter and Housing division. Increased case-management efforts will be underway by Oct. 1.

State Awards $2.4 Million in Workforce-training Grants

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration awarded more than $2.4 million in workforce-training fund grants to 25 companies to train current or newly hired workers. This round of grant funding will help train 2,162 workers, and is expected to create 263 new jobs. “We have made workforce development a priority for Massachusetts residents to get the skills they need to prosper and for companies to have a talented pool of workers to expand,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “The training and career-building skills provided by these investments will help bolster economic prosperity and success throughout the Commonwealth.” The Workforce Training Fund assists Massachusetts businesses in becoming more competitive by investing in the skills of their workers. The Workforce Training Fund is also a key resource to thousands of Massachusetts workers who wish to advance their skills to achieve promotional opportunities and higher wages. It also acts as a catalyst for job creation. “The Workforce Training Fund is a vital tool for many companies to upgrade employees’ skills and increase productivity,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. “The training helps both the workers and the companies compete in a global environment.” The Workforce Training Fund provides grants of up to $250,000 to companies in Massachusetts, to pay for workforce training over a two-year period. Grants are awarded to projects that will upgrade workers’ skills, increase productivity, and enhance the competitiveness of Massachusetts businesses. Grants are matched dollar-for-dollar by the award recipients. The Workforce Training Fund is a program of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and administered by Commonwealth Corp., a quasi-public state agency that fosters partnerships between industry, education, and workforce organizations to strengthen skills for youth and adults in order to help them thrive in the state’s economy. Locally, Freedom Credit Union in Springfield was awarded $126,175 to train 133 workers. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership was awarded $151,016 to train 93 workers, with nine additional jobs expected by 2018. This grant was awarded to a consortium of businesses, including Universal Plastics Corp. of Holyoke, Advanced Welding of Springfield, Duval Precision Grinding of Chicopee, Metronic of Chicopee, and Millitech Inc. of Northampton.

Study Details Spending of Consumer-driven Health Plan Enrollees

WASHINGTON, D.C. — People with consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) had lower total per-capita spending on healthcare, driven in part by using less healthcare overall, than people with traditional non-CDHP commercial health plans, finds a new study from the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI). At the same time, spending out of pocket by CDHP consumers was 1.5 times higher on average than non-CDHP consumers. For example, people enrolled in consumer-driven health plans paid an annual average $58 more out of pocket on visits to the doctor and $50 more on emergency room visits than their non-CDHP counterparts, while using roughly 8% and 10% fewer visits, respectively. The study, “Consumer Driven Health Plans: A Cost and Utilization Analysis,” examines healthcare use and spending from 2010 to 2014 for people covered by employer-sponsored insurance and under 65 years of age who are enrolled in CDHPs. Enrollment in CDHPs has been steadily increasing within HCCI’s employee-sponsored insurance population; more than one-quarter had a CDHP in 2014, compared to just 15% in 2010. Overall, the study found that that fewer total dollars were spent on healthcare for people with CDHPs, in part because people with CDHPs tended to use fewer healthcare services. However, people with CDHPs had higher spending out of pocket on deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance (excluding premiums). This higher out-of-pocket spending meant people enrolled in CDHPs were responsible for nearly one-quarter of their medical costs on average, compared to 14% for those enrolled in non-CDHPs. “As the costs of healthcare increase, consumer-driven health plans try to balance lower premiums with higher deductibles and higher limits on out-of-pocket spending,” said HCCI Senior Researcher Amanda Frost. “As these types of plans grow in prevalence, it is important to look beyond premium dollars and also consider dollars spent directly on healthcare services.”

Briefcase Departments

Springfield Wins Grant from
U.S. Department of Justice

SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno recently announced that the city of Springfield has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in the amount of $147,456 to expand communications and technology at the Springfield Police Department, and to increase officer safety and efficiency. The funds were awarded through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, the primary provider of federal criminal justice assistance to state and local governments. The JAG funds support for a range of program areas, including law enforcement, drug treatment, victim and witness initiatives, and technology-improvement programs. “This important crime-prevention assistance for the city is timely and needed,” Neal said. “I have always said the men and women of the Springfield Police Department deserve the appropriate amount of local, state, and federal resources they need to do their jobs effectively. Each day, they put their lives at risk to protect families and keep our community safe. With these additional funds, they will be able to continue to do their vital and courageous work on the streets of Springfield. In my opinion, Mayor Sarno and Commissioner Barbieri deserve great credit for their efforts to secure this highly competitive grant.” Added Sarno, “Police Commissioner John Barbieri is always looking to do cutting-edge innovative technology initiatives which in turn will continue to enhance the public safety of each and every one of our residents in the city of Springfield. These funds will assist with improving the technology needed to make the Springfield Police Department more efficient and effective in serving the residents of our fine city.” According to the DOJ, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program allows states and units of local government to prevent and control crime based on their own state and local needs and conditions. Grant funds can used for state and local initiatives, technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and information systems for criminal justice, including for any one or more of the following areas: law-enforcement programs; prosecution and court programs; prevention and education programs; corrections and community-corrections programs; drug-treatment and enforcement programs; planning, evaluation, and technology-improvement programs; and crime victim and witness programs (other than compensation). The Springfield Police Department will use the award funds to support information-technology upgrades and purchase protective equipment. The use of this federal assistance meets unfunded needs and expands communications and technology capacity and increases officer safety and efficiency.

Employer Confidence Falls
for Second Straight Month

BOSTON — A resurgent U.S. stock market, better-than-expected job growth, and growing labor-force participation failed to make believers of Massachusetts employers during July as business confidence fell for a second consecutive month. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index declined one point to 55.1 last month, leaving it more than four full points lower than in July 2015. The confidence reading remained above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook, but optimism dimmed across the board on employment, the Massachusetts economy, and employers’ outlook on their own companies. The index has now declined in three of the past four months. Economists suggest that employers may be caught between the expectation of an expanding U.S. economy and concern about anemic growth and instability overseas. It’s a paradox that has resulted in the stock and bond markets, which usually move in opposite directions, rising in tandem this year. “We see a familiar pattern in what is now the fourth-longest economic expansion since World War II — employers remain optimistic about the state of the economy, but it is an optimism marked by fits and starts and reactions to all sorts of political and economic events,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. The AIM Business Confidence 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. Most of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer declined during July. The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth, dropped 1.3 points during July and 0.3 points over the year to 57.2. The U.S. Index of national business conditions, in contrast, bucked the downward trend of the past year (in which it dropped 3.0 points) by gaining 1.5 points. Even so, employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 75 consecutive months. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.2 points to 55.3, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, slid 1.8 points to 54.8. “July marked the first time since September 2015 that employers were more positive about current conditions than those six months from now. It’s something to watch, since confidence drives employer decisions on hiring and investment moving forward,” said Elliot Winer, chief economist for Northeast Economic Analysis Group LLC. “It’s also worth noting that employer confidence in their own companies has declined by 5.8 points, albeit from a high level, during the past 12 months.” Indeed, the three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations all weakened. The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 1.8 points to 55.9, while the Sales Index lost 1.4 points to 55.6, and the Employment Index dropped 2.0 points to 52.5. The AIM survey found that nearly 39% of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months, while 19% reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable, with 37% expecting to hire and only 10% downsizing. “A tightening labor market is finally beginning to put upward pressure on wage growth as employers compete for skilled workers,” said Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center (PPC) at UMass Dartmouth. “Wages rose 2.6% for the 12 months ended in June, the fastest annual growth rate since 2009. While this is welcome news for the state’s working families, whose wages have been stagnant for an extended period, it represents a challenge for those employers with limited pricing power who can expect it to be increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain the labor they need to support expected growth in coming months.” Confidence levels in July were higher in Greater Boston (56.8) than in the rest of the Commonwealth (52.2). Non-manufacturing companies enjoyed a significantly brighter outlook at 58.0 than manufacturing employers, who posted an overall confidence level of 52.6. AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, a BEA member, said employers should take encouragement from the moderate approach to business issues taken by state lawmakers during the two-year legislative session that ended Sunday night. Beacon Hill balanced a difficult budget with no tax increases, passed economic-development and energy legislation, and developed a consensus pay-equity measure that balances the needs of employers and workers. “The Legislature and the Baker administration again showed an understanding of the factors that contribute to business growth and job creation,” Lord said.

Pioneer Valley Home Sales
Down 11.3% in July

SPRINGFIELD — The Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley reported that single-family home sales in July were down by 11.3% in the Pioneer Valley, compared to the same time last year. The median price was up 8.2% to $224,000. In Franklin County, sales were down 26%, and the median price was up 24.7%. Hampden County saw a 7.5% sales decrease, with the median price rising 0.1%. In Hampshire County, sales were down down 15.6%, while the median price rose 8.1%.

Briefcase Departments

Baystate Health Laying Off 300

SPRINGFIELD — In a memo to employees, Baystate Health President and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack announced the elimination of 300 positions from among the system’s 12,500 employees, citing a budget gap of $75 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2016. “Many factors are causing this projected shortfall, most significantly the continuing shortfalls in the reimbursements we receive for providing Medicaid services,” Keroack said. “Other factors are also contributing to this challenge, most prominently the recent decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services not to accept corrected wage data resulting in $23 million in reduced Medicare reimbursements next year, as well as increased spending on wages and benefits, pharmaceutical costs, and malpractice insurance.” He explained that Baystate’s leadership team has identified almost $40 million in strategies to mitigate these impacts and reduce the budget gap to about $35 million, but workforce cuts are necessary to further trim the deficit. “We expect that these reductions will affect management as well as front-line team members, prioritizing non-clinical areas for reductions, and most importantly preserving the quality and safety of the care we provide,” he wrote. “We expect the majority of these reductions will take place in Springfield-based operations, but we anticipate some impact throughout many parts of Baystate Health. As we know more specifics about impact on teams and individuals, we will share them.” Employees affected by the cuts will have access to severance pay and Baystate Health’s workforce placement and transition services, and may apply for open positions of critical need in the system. “Even after these painful steps, we expect to face a remaining budget gap of $15 million. We’ll continue our work to address this gap and do all we can to preserve jobs,” Keroack noted. “Our leadership has worked hard, as our financial challenges have mounted in recent months, to minimize the impact of these challenges. We are doing everything we can to help our elected leaders change some of the long-standing disparities in Medicaid reimbursement between different provider organizations in Massachusetts, which have been a major driver of our current difficulties.”

GCC Survey Uncovers What Employers Look for

GREENFIELD — What skills and knowledge do Pioneer Valley employers look for in their recent hires? That was the focus of a spring 2016 survey conducted by Greenfield Community College (GCC). More than 125 businesses, municipalities, nonprofit organizations, and schools weighed in on the college-learning outcomes they value the most. The survey, modeled after a national study conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the Assoc. of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), was sent to Pioneer Valley employers on the member lists of the Franklin County, Greater Northampton, and Amherst Area chambers of commerce. It presented 17 distinct skill and knowledge areas and asked respondents to indicate how important it is that the new college graduates they employ exhibit proficiency in each. Among the results, at least four out of five respondents said they want new hires to have the ability to effectively communicate orally, ethical judgment and decision making, the ability to work effectively with others in teams, the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings, and critical-thinking and analytical-reasoning skills. Employers, both large and small, report placing high value on these skills when hiring recent college graduates. Recently, GCC students participated in the national Community College Survey of Student Engagement and were asked how much their experience at the college has contributed to their knowledge, skills, and personal development in a number of areas similar to those on the employer survey. A majority of respondents indicated that their time at GCC has contributed “quite a bit” or “very much” to their abilities to write and speak clearly and effectively, think critically and analytically, and work effectively with others. Marie Breheny, GCC’s director of Assessment, noted that “the findings from this local survey of Pioneer Valley employers were very similar to those obtained through the AAC&U’s larger effort. The ongoing national debate about the purpose of a college education is often presented in terms of conflicting viewpoints, with some believing that college is primarily for the development of a person and others believing that it is primarily to get a job. Following from that argument are questions about the value of various courses of study. The results from these surveys show no such conflict, as the outcomes from a broad education that that contribute to the development of a well-rounded individual are also highly valued by employers. In short, a liberal-arts education that fosters communication, ethics, critical thinking, teamwork, and the application of knowledge to real-world settings prepares students for success in employment and success in life.” Added GCC President Bob Pura, “Greenfield Community College thanks employers in the Pioneer Valley for their participation in this effort. Input such as this helps the college understand how issues in higher education that garner national attention play out at the local level. GCC will use this information to inform its programming and planning so as to best serve students while being responsive to the needs of area employers and the community.”

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Governor Signs Bipartisan Pay-equity Legislation

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bipartisan pay equity bill last week, passed unanimously by both legislative branches, to ensure equal pay for comparable work for all Massachusetts workers and equal opportunities to earn competitive salaries in the workplace. The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, State Auditor Suzanne Bump, state Sen. Patricia Jehlen, state Rep. Ellen Story, state Rep. Patricia Haddad, and members of the Legislature at a signing ceremony in the State House to enact S.2119, An Act to Establish Pay Equity, which will go into effect on July 1, 2018 for Commonwealth employers and employees. “I am pleased to sign bipartisan legislation to create a more level playing field in the Commonwealth and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to earn a competitive salary for comparable work,” Baker said. “I thank the Legislature for unanimously passing this bill and working closely with the business community to support women and families across the state.” Added Polito, “this legislation is an important step toward advancing more equal, inclusive, and thriving workplaces throughout the Commonwealth for women and families.” The new law will prevent pay discrimination for comparable work based on gender. The bill allows employees to freely discuss their salaries with coworkers, prohibits employers from requiring applicants to provide their salary history before receiving a formal job offer, and authorizes the attorney general to issue regulations interpreting and applying the expanded law. Under the new law, employers are permitted to take certain attributes of an employee or applicant into account when determining variation in pay, including their work experience, education, job training, or measurements of production, sales, or revenue. “This new law is an important step toward ensuring economic security for Massachusetts women and families. It makes vital updates that reflect our modern economy and balance the needs of workers and the business community,” said Attorney General Maura Healey, adding that “pay equity is not only a women’s issue, it’s a family issue, and with this new law on the books, we are closer to closing the pay gap in our state.” The statute of limitations laid out currently under the equal-pay statute will be expanded from one to three years, and employees will no longer be required to pursue a general claim of intentional discrimination at the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination before filing a separate equal-pay claim in court.

ABA Bringing Franchise to Springfield This Fall

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Sting will be the first American Basketball Assoc. (ABA) team to call Springfield, the birthplace of basketball, its home when it commences play in November. The organization will boast top talent from the Greater Springfield area and beyond. The Sting will join the ABA’s Northeast Division for the start of the 2016-17 season, alongside teams in Boston, Providence, New York, Long Island, and New Jersey. The franchise will be owned by Zach Baru of Longmeadow. Baru’s past experience in sports and entertainment includes the Springfield Spirit of the National Women’s Basketball League, the Greater Springfield Pro-Am Basketball League, the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League, and the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League. Dr. Steven Sobel has been hired as the team’s first general manager and head coach. Sobel, a former Division II star at the University of Hartford, has spent more than 40 years coaching collegiate and professional basketball teams and players. During the offseason, he helms the Springfield Slamm of the Greater Hartford Pro-Am Basketball League. Sobel is also a nationally recognized motivational speaker and author of The Good Times Handbook: Your Guide to Positive Living and Exciting Life. “We are excited to bring professional basketball back to the city of Springfield. With Dr. Sobel at the helm, and potential supporters already reaching out, the possibilities for success here in the community are endless,” Baru said.

Free Legal Assistance Available to Small Businesses

SPRINGFIELD — The Western New England University Small Business Legal Clinic is now accepting applications from entrepreneurs and small-business owners seeking legal assistance for the fall 2016 semester. Under faculty supervision, law students assist clients with legal issues, including choice of entity, employment policies, contract drafting, regulatory compliance, and intellectual-property issues relating to trademark applications and copyright. This is a free service available to local businesses that would not otherwise have the resources to obtain these types of services. The Small Business Clinic at Western New England School of Law has assisted more than 300 small businesses. By using the clinic’s services, businesses can avoid problems by getting legal issues addressed early and correctly. It also provides students with an opportunity to get real-world experience. The Small Business Legal Clinic asks small-business owners to submit their applications by Monday, Aug. 15. Applications received after that date will be considered if additional resources are available. Students will begin providing services in September. For more information, call the clinic at (413) 782-1469 or e-mail [email protected].

Briefcase Departments

UMass Vaults to Top 30 in Patents Awarded in 2015

BOSTON — In the latest display of its R&D firepower, the University of Massachusetts vaulted to 30th globally in the Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Patents in 2015. Winning a record 62 U.S. patents arising out of faculty inventions, UMass placed third in Massachusetts and New England and was tied for 24th place among American universities. “Our faculty continues to shine with cutting-edge research and innovation that places us in the top tier of universities in the world. They lead us to new frontiers of human understanding, and their work opens the door to a more prosperous economic future,” President Marty Meehan said. “We’re proud of this accomplishment because today’s patent is tomorrow’s job-creating startup technology company.” The patents awarded are based on UMass research in areas as diverse as gene silencing, high-technology textiles, polymers, and nanotechnology, according to Abigail Barrow, interim executive director of the university’s Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures. The 62 patents represent a 55% increase over the 40 awarded to UMass in the previous year and is the highest number issued in a single calendar year since UMass began its technology-transfer program in 1995, she added. UMass is also a national leader among universities in licensing income earned on its patented inventions. “Congratulations to the University of Massachusetts for making the Top 100 again this year and for an impressive increase,” said Paul Sanberg, president of the National Academy of Inventors, which produces the rankings along with the Intellectual Property Owners Assoc. One of the UMass patents relates to Geckskin, a super-strong adhesive discovered at UMass Amherst that can be used multiple times without losing effectiveness. This year’s top 10 ranked universities worldwide were: the University of California system, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Texas, Tsinghua University (China), California Institute of Technology, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and University of Michigan. The rankings are calculated using data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. UMass is on pace to match or modestly exceed its record 62 patents in the next report, Barrow said. “Our impressive patent numbers reflect the rapid growth and influence of UMass’ research enterprise and the discovery going on at all of our campuses.” UMass shares the number-30 spot with the University of Utah Research Foundation and the Research Foundation of the State University of New York. The National Academy of Inventors is a nonprofit organization of U.S. and international universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutions with more than 3,000 members. The Intellectual Property Owners Assoc. is a trade association of owners of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. This is the fourth year they have collaborated to issue the rankings report.

Springfield Regional Chamber Seeks Super 60 Nominations

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber is seeking nominations for its annual Super 60 awards program. Now in its 27th year, the awards program celebrates the success of the fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the region, which 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 revenues of more than $1 billion, with only-third of winners exceeding revenues of $30 million. All winners in the revenue-growth category had growth in excess of 20% while one-third experienced growth in excess of 65%. To be considered, companies must 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 last fiscal year, be an independent and privately owned company, and have been 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, or accountants, or be self-nominated. Companies 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 here or by contacting Kara Cavanaugh at [email protected] or (413) 755-1310. Nominations must be submitted no later than Friday, Aug. 12. The Super 60 awards will be presented in partnership with the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce at the annual luncheon and recognition program on Friday, Oct. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam.

Springfield Launches Futurecity Massachusetts

SPRINGFIELD — On Friday, July 15, the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) will be one of three statewide districts to launch Futurecity Massachusetts, a new approach to transforming cities that puts art, culture, and creativity at the center of redevelopment and revitalization. Futurecity Mass is a joint initiative of the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) and the Boston Foundation. Futurecity Massachusetts will work with mayors, urban planners, and arts and business leaders in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield on key real-estate projects in state-designated cultural districts in the three cities, targeting areas ready for development and job growth. It is the first U.S. effort to advance the strategies of Mark Davy and his London-based Futurecity, which has created more than 200 partnerships across the globe that reposition cultural assets from community amenities to marketplace drivers. Futurecity has been immersed in cultural placemaking projects for more than a decade, and Davy believes Futurecity Massachusetts will secure the Commonwealth’s global position as a cultural leader. Davy will visit Springfield on July 15 to meet and workshop with local cultural and economic-development leaders. He will take knowledge from a walking tour of the Cultural District, an extensive workshop, and a general reception back to his UK team to review. In October, Futurecity will return to present a strategy to the Springfield public. The MCC hopes to eventually expand the program statewide. A press event will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday with Davy, MCC Executive Director Anita Walker, Mayor Domenic Sarno, and SCCD Executive Director Morgan Drewniany on the steps of City Hall. Both press and the general public are invited to attend. The Springfield Central Cultural District, which encompasses an area of the metro center of Springfield, is membership-based, involving many of the downtown arts institutions. Its mission is to create and sustain a vibrant cultural environment in Springfield.

Local Business Volunteers Bring JA to Fairview School

CHICOPEE — Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts (JA) and 33 volunteers from area banks, businesses, and colleges teamed up to bring Junior Achievement programs to all 436 students at Fairview School in Chicopee for last month’s JA in a Day event. “This is the sixth year that Chicopee Savings Bank Foundation has sponsored JA in a Day for these students,” noted Jennifer Connolly, president of Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts. “The students and teachers look forward to ending their year with JA, and Junior Achievement looks forward to ending our year with this terrific school. Nowhere else are our JA Volunteers treated to a final assembly with hundreds of cheering students and handmade cards and notes. It is an amazing event.” This year, JA volunteers from Chicopee Savings Bank, Bank of America, Santander Bank, Westfield Bank, Webster Bank, TD Bank, Babson Capital, Elms College, UMass Amherst, and Lead Yourself Youth brought Junior Achievement programs to students in grades K-5 at Fairview School. Carlos DeLeon, a Chicopee Savings Bank volunteer, noted, “the students had a good understanding of how a city runs. They had a great understanding of a savings account, and we talked about how taxes help the city rebuild.” Erika Eisnor, a Santander volunteer who taught JA Our Region in a fourth-grade class, noted that “JA is so much fun and a great learning experience.” Added Kidon Gebersadik from Bank of America, “it’s never too early to learn about good money habits. These exceptional students are learning about building blocks that will lead to more stable financial lives down the road, making our communities and local economies stronger.” Tim Dominick, a teacher at Fairview School, explained that the program “further offered the students a chance to explore their creative thinking process. The students benefited from the teamwork and problem solving the program offered.” JA programs empower students to make a connection between what they learn in school and how it can be applied in the real world, enhancing the relevance of their classroom learning and increasing their understanding of the value of staying in school. Each year, JA reaches more than 10 million students worldwide and helps them develop successful financial-management habits, empowering them to explore the potential of becoming an entrepreneur and providing them with the skills necessary to succeed in a global workforce. Locally, Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts reaches more than 11,000 students.

Baker Signs Transgender Anti-discrimination Law

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law an anti-discrimination bill, previously passed by the state House and Senate, that gives transgender people the right to use public restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identities, regardless of their sex at birth. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will adopt policies to enforce its provisions, a statement from the governor’s office said. “No one should be discriminated against in Massachusetts because of their gender identity,” Baker said, according to CNN. “This compromise legislation extends additional protections to the Commonwealth’s transgender community, and includes language to address the public-safety concerns expressed by some by requiring the attorney general to issue regulations to protect against people abusing the law.”

Area Business Leaders to Head to Capitol Hill

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber will hold its biannual Washington Symposium on September 21-23 hosted by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. This popular event brings the region’s business leaders to Washington, D.C. to listen to and question some of the country’s most influential leaders, including members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, top federal policy makers, and members of the Obama Administration in its last months in office. Past speakers have included political strategist Stan Greenberg, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, House Ways and Means Chair David Camp, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors Jason Furman, and Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anne Anderson. Registrations are limited and include air transportation, airport parking, hotel transfers, hotel accommodations at the Phoenix Park Hotel within walking distance to the Capitol, breakfast and lunch each day, and welcome and closing evening receptions. The reservation deadline is Friday, Aug. 5, and no refunds will be granted after that date. The all-inclusive cost is $1,395 (single) or $1,270 (per person, double occupancy) if made by Friday, July 15. Reservations made after July 15 will increase to $1,495 (single) or $1,370 (per person, double occupancy). Sponsorship opportunities are also available and include complimentary attendance. For reservations or more information, visit www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or e-mail Nancy Creed at [email protected]

BTCF HousingUs Initiative Issues RFP

SHEFFIELD — Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation’s HousingUs initiative is soliciting proposals from nonprofits, community organizations, and public agencies to plan and convene outreach activities that bring residents together to explore the interrelated issues of affordable housing, economic development, and town-center vitality. Grants of up to $10,000 will be available for projects that result in action-oriented community-development strategies or create broader public awareness of the elements of healthy and resilient communities, including the availability of affordable housing. Only collaborative proposals with one lead applicant and at least one other partner will be considered. Organizations serving Berkshire County, Mass.; Columbia County and Northeast Dutchess County, N.Y.; and Northwest Litchfield County, Conn., are eligible. The deadline for submitting proposals is Friday, Aug. 26. For more information, visit www.berkshiretaconic.org/housingus.

AMA Recognizes Benefits of Paid Sick Leave

CHICAGO — The American Medical Assoc. (AMA) recently adopted new policy recognizing the public-health benefits of paid sick leave and other discretionary time off. Citing a growing body of evidence that lack of access to paid sick leave results in the spread of infectious diseases, as well as delayed screenings, diagnoses, and treatment, the new AMA policies support paid sick leave, as well as unpaid sick leave, for employees to care for themselves or a family member. “With both dual-earner and single-parent households on the rise in the United States, it is increasingly challenging for workers to juggle family and work,” said former AMA board chair Dr. Barbara McAneny. “Workers without paid sick days are more likely to work sick and are more likely to delay needed medical care, which can lead to prolonged illness and worsen otherwise minor health issues. Lack of paid leave also has a ripple effect across a worker’s family. Paid sick leave has been shown to aid children’s health, shorten hospital stays, and reduce the risk of disease transmission by allowing parents to stay home with sick children. Paid sick leave keeps our homes, offices, and communities healthier while ensuring the family’s economic security.” The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a federal family-leave law that guarantees workers may receive pay while taking time to care for themselves or their family. Although the Family and Medical Leave Act mandates that companies provide leave, the law does not require that it be paid. The AMA also reaffirmed existing policy supporting voluntary leave policies that provide employees with job security and the continued availability of health-plan benefits in the event that leave becomes necessary due to medical conditions.

Rep. Neal Releases Rail Study for Northern New England

SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, dean of the New England congressional delegation, held a press conference in Springfield last week to release the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative (NNEIRI), a study funded by the Federal Railroad Administration and requested by Neal and former U.S. Rep. John Olver to identify and improve rail service in the region, including Springfield to Boston. NNEIRI is a conceptual planning study that examines the benefits, opportunities, and impacts of adding more frequent and higher-speed inter-city passenger rail service on two rail corridors, the inland route and the Boston-to-Montreal route. The inland route would run between Boston and New Haven, Conn. via Springfield. The Boston-to-Montreal route would run between Boston and Montreal, Quebec via Springfield. The two routes would share the trackage between Boston and Springfield. The combination of these two rail routes defines the study area that is collectively identified as the NNEIRI Corridor. “More than 2 million people live within three miles of a station along this corridor,” said FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “For everyone to move safely and efficiently, this region needs a robust rail system, and this blueprint will help achieve that goal.”

Report Details State Residents without Insurance Coverage

BOSTON — The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation released a new report, “Massachusetts Residents without Health Insurance Coverage: Understanding Those at Risk of Long-term Uninsurance.” Massachusetts currently has the lowest uninsurance rate in the nation, and as part of the individual mandate to carry health insurance coverage, the state collects detailed information through its tax-filing process about the health-insurance status of more than 4 million residents. This report analyzes 2011 and 2012 state-tax-filer data and provides new information about Massachusetts residents who are prone to remaining uninsured over consecutive years. The findings can help inform stakeholders who want to maintain the state’s low uninsurance rate and strive to lower the number of individuals without health-insurance coverage. Prepared by Michael Chin of UMass Medical School and Audrey Gasteier of the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, the analyses in this report represent the first time that tax-filer data is being used to quantify the state’s uninsured population over a period of two consecutive calendar years. No other state has such detailed information on its residents’ insurance status.

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PVPC Releases Economic-development Strategy

SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) recently released its 2016 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) annual update, as part of its larger Plan for Progress, a 10-year 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 (EDA) 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 Center for Hospitality and Culinary Excellence at Holyoke Community College, the Springfield Innovation Center, the CRRC MA subway-car manufacturing plant, and the Aviation Research and Training Center, a collaboration between UMass Amherst and Westover Air Reserve Base. A full digital copy of the 2016 CEDS is available on the PVPC website, www.pvpc.org. Hard copies are also available upon request. The PVPC, which administers this process, has been the EDA-designated regional planning agency for the Pioneer Valley region since 1999, which includes 43 cities and towns in Hampshire and Hampden counties.

Home Sales Rise in Pioneer Valley

SPRINGFIELD — The REALTOR Association of Pioneer Valley reported that single-family home sales in May were up 19.4% compared to the same time last year. The median price was up 2.0% to $205,000. County reports vary. In Franklin County, sales were up 90.3% and prices up 5.6%; in Hampden County, sales were up 16.8% and prices up 1.5%; in Hampshire County, sales were up 10.6% and prices down 3.7%.

Passenger Rail Platform Delayed at Union Station

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA) Director Christopher Moskal announced recently that required design modifications will delay the opening of a new boarding platform at Springfield Union Station. He said progress at the Union Station Regional Intermodal Transportation Center project continues to advance, and he “expects that the Union Station terminal project itself will open on schedule in January 2017, albeit without the new boarding platform in operation.” He said this “includes the terminal building, the bus terminal, the parking garage, and the passenger tunnel up to the current Amtrak lobby on Lyman Street.” As a separate component of the overall project, MassDOT is committed to delivering a new boarding platform for Amtrak trains. This high-level platform, which will provide ‘level-entry boarding’ for Amtrak passengers, was scheduled to be in operation when Union Station opened. However, in reviewing the new platform’s design, Amtrak indicated that a waiver of two Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) design requirements would be needed. This waiver relating to the width of the new platform was necessitated by the unique configuration of the existing Union Station tracks. The SRA submitted the waiver request on March 10. After discussions between FRA and MassDOT, FRA issued a letter on May 23 requiring full compliance with its design regulations. This FRA decision requires major modifications to the initial design of both the platform and the underground passenger tunnel. Accordingly, the project’s architect has been directed to prepare necessary changes to the project’s plans and specifications. The project team is currently working to finalize a revised schedule and budget. Moskal indicated that MassDOT remains committed to funding related design and construction costs. In the interim, he indicated that Amtrak passengers will access trains from the new terminal by passing through the renovated portion of the tunnel into the current Amtrak lobby and using the existing boarding platform on the Lyman Street side as they do today. After the new boarding platform is completed, the Lyman Street end of the tunnel — the current Amtrak lobby — will be renovated and will reopen. This will result in a fully renovated passenger tunnel between the terminal and Lyman Street.

Ashe Explores Starting Foundation

Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe Jr., honored by BusinessWest as one of its Difference Makers for 2016, issued a statement to the press recently announcing that he is exploring the possibility of staring a foundation to continue his life’s work. “Like most anyone else facing retirement, I find myself contemplating what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he said. “I know that, despite being in my mid-70s, I still have great intensity and energy. The fire still burns in me for my life’s work of 42 years — assuring that offenders have the best possible likelihood of re-entering the community as law-abiding, productive, positive citizens, giving to, rather than taking from, the lives of others. That life’s work would be hard for me to completely walk away from when I still feel vital and useful and passionate about its value to others. One of the scenarios that I’ve contemplated is to continue that life’s calling in a new framework, to create a local foundation, with myself as its unpaid chief administrator, to enhance our community’s effort to successfully re-enter offenders.” Ashe said he’s far from having an exact blueprint regarding specific ways that such a nonprofit might help, and he’s not yet completely certain that starting and heading up such a philanthropic foundation is where he can be of best service in retirement. But he did say it’s an idea worth exploring. “Although I am not far enough along to have detailed the specifics of the structures of such a possible foundation, I would want any such foundation to be marked by simplicity and integrity,” he explained. “One model that I would use is the local charity Griffin’s Friends, which was founded to bring moments of joy to courageous kids at Baystate Medical Center, and which minimizes administrative costs and maximizes direct service to those it seeks to help.” Ashe said one reason he’s thinking aloud and publicly about this is to put the word out to others who might be likewise interested in founding such a new nonprofit, to let him know of their interest in helping to build what could be “an inspired addition to the edifice that we’ve labored so tirelessly to build during these last 42 years — a community corrections system driven by a vision of social justice, integrity, and public safety.”

Employer Confidence Weakens in June

BOSTON — A month of economic uncertainty punctuated by weak U.S. job growth and the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union drove Massachusetts employer confidence lower during June. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index fell 1.6 points to 56.1 as employers took an increasingly bearish view of the U.S. economy. At the same time, the confidence reading remained comfortably above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook. Taken quarterly, confidence rose from 55.8 during the first three months of the year to 56.7 during April, May, and June. The June survey of employers overlapped by a few days the landmark vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union, an outcome that caused financial gyrations and concern about U.S. exports in the face of a rising dollar. The confidence readings also came in the wake of the slowest pace of job creation in the U.S. since 2010. “Massachusetts employers are trying to balance a range of economic and political distractions that pull them in different directions month to month,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The good news is that employers remain highly confident in the Massachusetts economy and in the prospects for their own companies.” Added AIM President and CEO Richard Lord, a BEA member, “the sustained optimism that Massachusetts employers have shown toward the state economy reflects the ability of the Legislature and several administrations to maintain disciplined fiscal policy while creating an environment that allows employers to grow. We look forward to working with policymakers to continue that record as the two-year legislative session ends next month.” 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.

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New AHL Franchise Named Springfield Thunderbirds

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield’s new American Hockey League (AHL) franchise will take the ice for the upcoming 2016-17 season as the Springfield Thunderbirds. With hockey fans and local dignitaries looking on from center-ice seats at the MassMutual Center Arena, team officials announced the new name through a pulsating two-minute video on the arena’s state-of-the-art LED scoreboard. “The Springfield Thunderbirds’ name represents the strength and pride of Western Massachusetts. It is a nod to our hockey past, a tribute to the men and woman of the Air Force who are so vital to this region, and a symbol of the new energy and spirit that is palpable in Springfield,” said Nathan Costa, Thunderbirds executive vice president. Thunderbirds is an allusion to two previous Springfield AHL hockey team names, the Indians and the Falcons. The name refers to the animal of Native American legend that creates thunder and lightning by flapping its massive wings. Like the Falcon, it is also a fierce bird of prey. The name also refers to the famous demonstration planes of the U.S. Air Force and serves as an homage to Barnes Air National Guard Base and Westover Air Reserve Base, in Westfield and Chicopee, respectively. The announcement follows a name-the-team campaign that solicited suggestions from the public in a survey coordinated in partnership with MassLive and the Republican. The survey received more than 2,600 responses. “We would like to thank the thousands of fans who participated in this survey,” Costa said. “We were overwhelmed by the creativity and enthusiasm of those who submitted suggestions. Our fans wanted a name that honored the proud history of AHL hockey in Springfield while at the same time reflecting the new energy and excitement of this franchise. We believe the Thunderbirds captures this spirit.” The logo features a bird’s head in bright blue with a curved beak against a background of red and yellow. The team’s name is picked out in yellow and white. “The City of Springfield has a long and storied relationship with the American Hockey League going back to the days of Eddie Shore,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. “For 80 years, professional hockey has been played in our community, and many fans could not imagine a season without a local franchise playing home games at the MassMutual Center. Next season, the Springfield Thunderbirds will take the ice in pursuit of their first Calder Cup. And we have the ownership group to thank for the efforts to keep a charter member of the AHL in downtown Springfield. I am certain that local fans will welcome this exciting new team to ‘the Nest,’ and that the 2016-17 season will be a successful partnership between the Thunderbirds and the Florida Panthers of the NHL.” In coordination with the announcement, the franchise also launched its new website, www.springfieldthunderbirds.com, where fans can now place deposits for season-ticket memberships. The team’s social-media handles are Springfield Thunderbirds on Facebook, @thunderbirdsahl on Twitter, and thunderbirdsahl on Instagram. “Again, so thankful, but not surprised that these outstanding corporate citizens continue to step up for our city of Springfield,” Mayor Domenic Sarno said. “Their continued belief and investment in our Springfield is deeply appreciated. Now we need to pack the house to help assure that professional hockey is here to stay for many years to come. Drop the puck!” Added Florida Panthers Executive Chairman Peter Luukko, “we are excited to have our AHL players take the ice next season with the Springfield Thunderbirds name and logo on their jerseys. This is the start of a new era for AHL hockey in Western Massachusetts, and we look forward to being a part of it.” Founded in 1936 and now with franchises in 30 cities across North America, the American Hockey League serves as the top development league for the players, coaches, managers, executives, and broadcasters of all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88% of today’s NHL players are AHL graduates, and for the 15th year in a row, more than 6 million fans attended AHL games in 2015-16. For more information on the Thunderbirds, go HERE.

Employer Confidence Surges in May

BOSTON — Confidence among Massachusetts employers rose to a 10-month high during May as the state approached full employment and the national economy continued to throw off mixed signals. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 1.5 points during May to 57.7, the highest level since July 2015. The reading was slightly higher than the 57.3 level posted a year ago and comfortably above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook. The brightening outlook came amid growing evidence that the U.S. economy is regaining its footing after posting a 0.8% growth rate during the first quarter. Recent reports on retail sales, housing starts, and industrial production paint an upbeat picture of the economy in the second quarter. At the same time, the government reported that the U.S. economy created just 38,000 jobs during May, the slowest pace since 2010. “Massachusetts employers appear to have shaken off the uncertainty of the fall and winter and are now feeling optimistic about the remainder of 2016,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s board of economic advisors and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The most encouraging news is that every constituent measure contained in the Business Confidence Index rose during May, and most were higher than they were a year ago.” 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.

UMass Generates $6.2B in Economic Impact

BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts was responsible for $6.2 billion in economic activity in Massachusetts last year — a record high — and helped to support more than 43,000 jobs statewide, President Marty Meehan announced Tuesday. “UMass educates more students than any college or university in the Commonwealth and is one of the state’s three largest research universities, but it also has a profound impact on the Massachusetts economy based on the scope and reach of its operations,” Meehan said. “UMass is a vital economic engine for the Commonwealth, and its impact is felt in every community and by virtually every family across Massachusetts.” Victor Woolridge, chairman of the UMass board of trustees, said the report illustrates that “UMass truly is here for a reason, and that reason is to serve the entire Commonwealth. The importance of generating an economic impact on the scale that we do — and having it distributed in every corner of the state — cannot be overstated.” The economic impact generated by the five-campus UMass system translates to a 10-to-1 return on investment for state government when total state funding for the university is considered, according to a FY 2015 analysis performed by the UMass Donahue Institute, which conducts economic and public-policy research. The major drivers of economic impact are student, faculty, and staff spending; construction projects; and the university’s purchasing the goods and services required for its activities. The study measured that spending and its ripple effect in determining the $6.2 billion impact estimate. According to the Donahue Institute report, each of the five university campuses generated a substantial economic impact for its region and the state. By campus or unit, the figures were: Amherst, $2.069 billion; Boston, $1.085 billion; Dartmouth, $466.1 million; Lowell, $921.9 million; Medical School, $1.584 billion; and Central Administration, $198.4 million.

Board of Higher Education Amends Leave Policies

BOSTON — A committee of the state Board of Higher Education voted Tuesday to amend the leave policies for non-unit professionals (NUPs) at the state’s 15 community colleges and nine state universities in an effort to better align such policies with those governing UMass employees, public higher-education systems in other New England states, and Massachusetts state employees. The vote is subject to a final vote by the full Board of Higher Education on June 14. If approved, the changes would impact approximately 1650 employees. The board’s Fiscal Affairs and Administrative Policy (FAAP) Committee voted to eliminate the current policy allowing employees to convert unused vacation days into sick time. Going forward under the new policy, any vacation days that remain over a 64-day balance would be forfeited by the employee if not used. The 64-day vacation balance would be reduced over the next two and a half years to a maximum of 50 days that can be ‘carried’ by an employee. Additionally, the committee voted to reduce the number of vacation days allotted to higher-education employees to a maximum of 25, a reduction from a previous allocation of 30 days per year for the longest-serving employees; and to standardize the number of personal days allotted to employees across all three segments of the higher-education system. All non-unit professionals employed at the state’s community colleges and state universities will receive a total of five annual personal days, effective Jan. 1, 2017. “These changes will bring our employment policies for non-unit professionals at community colleges and state universities into alignment with those in place at the University of Massachusetts, at public colleges and universities across New England, and for state employees,” said Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, who ordered an expedited review of the policies in March. “They will allow us to remain competitive with other institutions in our bid to attract top talent, while also making good on our commitment to be effective stewards of state resources.”

State Unemployment Rate Remains at 4.2% in May

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 4.2% in May, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The preliminary May job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that Massachusetts lost 6,400 jobs. Job losses were impacted by a temporary labor dispute in the information sector. In May, leisure and hospitality was the only sector to experience over-the-month job gains. BLS also revised upward the state’s over-the-month job gains in April, reporting that 15,200 jobs were added compared to the 13,900-job gain originally reported. From December 2015 to May 2016, Massachusetts has added 30,500 jobs. At 4.2%, the unemployment rate is down 0.7% over the year, with the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropping from 4.9% in May 2015. There were 26,600 fewer unemployed persons and 49,000 more employed persons over the year compared to May 2015. The Commonwealth’s May unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 4.7% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The labor force continues to grow, with 7,000 more employed residents and 2,000 fewer unemployed residents in May,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ronald Walker II said, adding that the education and healthcare sector and the professional, scientific, and business-services sector continue to generate the most jobs in Massachusetts. 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 65.0%. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased 0.2% compared to May 2015. Over the year, the largest private-sector percentage job gains by sector were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Online Resource Aims to Keep River Users Healthy

GREENFIELD — In time for the summer recreation season, the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) and 16 partners have launched the 2016 Connecticut River water-sampling program. Water samples are tested for E. coli bacteria as an indicator for all types of other pathogens that could potentially make one sick. River users can visit the “Is It Clean” web page at www.connecticutriver.us to find bacteria test results at more than 147 river-access and recreation sites in Massachusetts, Northern Conn., Vermont, and New Hampshire. Samples are typically collected at each site weekly or bi-weekly, and test results are posted online 24 hours later, through early October. “When weather gets warm, people head to our rivers to cool off and have fun, and they want to know if our rivers are clean. The data tells us that it is a good idea to stay out of the water for 24 to 48 hours after a heavy rain because bacteria levels could be high,” said CRWC Lower River Steward Alicea Charamut. “Heavy rain is often the cause of high bacteria levels. Bacteria can spike after a storm due to combined sewer overflows and polluted stormwater runoff from urban, suburban, and agricultural areas.” Added CRWC Massachusetts River Steward Andrea Donlon, “cities and towns along the river are making significant investments to reduce pollution to our rivers, and this has made a tremendous difference. We want people to be able to explore and enjoy this wonderful resource. Our rivers are certainly much cleaner than they used to be, but it makes sense for river users to pay attention to this information so they know when it’s clean for swimming or boating.” Water sample results are color-coded and map-based to offer guidance about whether the water is clean enough for swimming and boating. Results are a snapshot of river conditions at the moment the sample was taken, but give river users information they can use to make informed decisions and prevent potential illness. The website provides bacteria data for the Connecticut River and more than 20 tributaries, including the Chicopee River, Mill River in Northampton, Mill River/Lake Warner in Hadley, Farmington River in Connecticut, Ottauquechee and Black Rivers in Vermont, and many more.

Briefcase Departments

FutureCity 2026 Presents Development Strategy

SPRINGFIELD — An executive summary of the FutureCity 2026 economic-development strategy was presented to about 120 business and community leaders and stakeholders at CityStage last week. FutureCity is a joint initiative by DevelopSpringfield, the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the city of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. Its purpose is to build on the strategies identified in earlier studies such at the Urban Land Institute study of 2006 and the Rebuild Springfield Plan of 2012 — both of which identified tangible goals that continue to be the focus of public and private economic-development strategy in Springfield. Both plans recommended the importance of developing a long-term strategy for economic growth in the city that would ultimately benefit the entire region. “The goal of this project was to pinpoint and leverage the city’s attributes, including geographic location, infrastructure, workforce, and industries, and align these existing characteristics, assets, and conditions with pillars of realistic current and prospective market opportunities,” said Jeff Fialky, an attorney with Bacon Wilson and co-chair of the FutureCity initiative. “The objective was to develop an approach based upon realistic market opportunities that is obtainable rather than merely aspirational.” The FutureCity strategy was prepared by the nationally recognized real-estate and economic-development consulting firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, guided by a steering committee representing a broad spectrum of businesses and organizations over the course of a nine-month period. The consultants were charged with an ambitious scope of work which took place over nine months to include the following: assess existing conditions, analyze target industries, assess logistics and supply-chain capabilities, assess talent-development strategies, develop a list of recruitment opportunities for target industries, and identify strategic initiatives and an implementation plan with measurable deliverables. Newmark conducted over 100 interviews, which included city and state leaders, economic-development agencies, large employers, young professionals, elected officials, nonprofits, workforce-development organizations, real-estate and creative-economy experts, and more, in addition to deep dives into relevant data, peer-city comparisons, and several site visits to Springfield. Major themes emerging from the study include site and space readiness, centralization of small-business resources, development of a multi-generational workforce plan, development of a unified marketing and messaging plan, fostering collaboration and connectivity, strategically unifying economic-development efforts, collaboration, and a focus on Springfield’s unique strengths. “This was a very pragmatic exercise that shows there are many more pros than cons as we continue to market Springfield,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno. “As we have done with the Urban Land Institute and our Rebuild Springfield plans, we will follow through with this one, too. Now is our time. We will continue to capitalize on the synergy of our public and private collaborations and keep the momentum going as the ‘can-do city.’” Added Jay Minkarah, DevelopSpringfield president and CEO and co-chair of the FutureCity initiative, “the FutureCity economic-development strategy is designed to be a guide to action, not simply a plan to sit on a shelf. The plan includes over 170 specific recommendations along with metrics for measuring success, estimated costs, potential impact, and priorities, and identifies the parties responsible for implementation.” Funding was provided by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the U.S. Economic Development Agency, the Springfield Regional Chamber, Smith and Wesson, and DevelopSpringfield. A link to the presentation can be found at www.developspringfield.com. Over the next few weeks, an executive summary and detailed report will be made available through DevelopSpringfield, the Springfield Regional Chamber, and the city of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development.

Springfield, Pittsfield Each Given $475,000 in Working Cities Challenge

BOSTON — The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston announced that Springfield, Pittsfield, Haverhill, Lowell, and Worcester will each receive $475,000 in the second round of the Working Cities Challenge, a competition for smaller cities in New England focused on building collaborative leadership, which is shown to be a critical element in economic growth for struggling post-industrial cities. The five communities put forward initiatives focused on neighborhood revitalization, workforce development, and improving access to economic opportunity. The cities will work on these initiatives over a three-year period, accompanied by technical assistance and a learning community for best-practice sharing. “I want to congratulate the winners of the Working Cities Challenge. Collaborative leadership is at the heart of this competition, and these five cities demonstrated significant capacity to reach across sectors and advance efforts on behalf of low-income residents in their communities,” said Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren. “I look forward to following the progress in the communities in the coming months and years.” Added Gov. Charlie Baker, “together with our partners in the private, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors, we are proud to leverage greater resources to support and prepare communities for success. The Working Cities Challenge elevates local leadership, amplifying solutions from the community level to increase cross-sector collaboration and improve economic outcomes for low-income residents.” Last fall, 10 Massachusetts communities were each awarded $15,000 design grants through the Working Cities Challenge to strengthen their bids to the competition. The five winning cities were selected after a six-month design-grant period, which saw the cities refining proposals and adding partners from across their community. The Springfield Works Initiative will advance the city’s economy by enhancing and strengthening the connectivity between employers who need qualified workers and low- income Springfield residents who need meaningful employment. It aims to achieve this goal through an innovative collaboration between employers, educational institutions, service providers, community leaders, community-based organizations, government, and residents. The Springfield Works Initiative core team includes the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, the Springfield Office of Planning and Economic Development, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, MGM Springfield, Partners for Community Action, HAPHousing, Springfield Technical Community College, Western MA National Machine and Tooling Assoc., the Community Foundation of Western Mass., Tech Foundry, United Personnel Services, United Way of Pioneer Valley, and DevelopSpringfield. The Pittsfield Bridges: Transformative Movement (PBTM) initiative will support the journey from poverty to sustainability by collaboratively building community resources and removing barriers. The effort’s vision is for all people in Pittsfield to experience a just, thriving, and safe community. The PBTM’s goal is to improve individual, institutional, and social fairness and respect in the community and thus support individuals moving out of poverty. The PBTM’s core team includes Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, the city of Pittsfield, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Berkshire Community College, BerkshireWorks Career Center, Berkshire United Way, Goodwill Industries, Berkshire Children and Families, Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Community Action Council, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., Pittsfield public schools, the local NAACP chapter, Pittsfield Community Connection, West Side Neighborhood Initiative, First United Methodist Church, Heart 2 Heart Ministry, Manos Unidas, Brien Center for Mental Health, Multi-Cultural Bridge, and Girls Inc. For more information on the Working Cities Challenge, visit www.bostonfed.org/workingcities.

Celia Grace Wins $50,000 at VVM Accelerator Awards

SPRINGFIELD — Twelve area startups won a total of $252,000 at the Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) Accelerator Awards on May 26, led by Celia Grace, whose founder, Marcelia Muehlke, calls her company a fair-trade, ethical wedding-dress seller that gives back and empowers women around the world. Muehlke, who won $50,000 at the ceremony at the MassMutual Center, launched the company several years ago after searching, fruitlessly, for a maker of fair-trade wedding dresses. Sensing both a need and an opportunity, she set about creating such a company. She traveled to Asia and set up a supply chain that could create high-quality garments that she and her clients could feel good about. She then began working with a group of women in a sewing group in Cambodia, contracted with a designer in New York, and got her business — and her dream — up and running. Today, Celia Grace sells dresses across the country and in Europe. The VVM award is just one in a long line of accolades, including a Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Success Spirit Award in 2011, a finish in the money at the UMass Pitch Competition in 2012, and a second-place finish at Valley Venture Mentors’ pitch contest during the Western Mass. Business Expo in 2012. About 500 people attended the May 26 ceremony. The other 11 winners of VVM Accelerator Awards, and their prize money, include:
• Homebody Holistics ($45,000), a maker of all-natural, hand-crafted, herbal cleaning solutions using no harsh chemicals or additives;
• Scout Curated Wears ($32,000), a designer, curator, and producer of thoughtful women’s accessories;
• DaVinci Arms ($21,000), a designer and manufacturer of firearms suppressors and accessories for mission-critical applications;
• Treaty ($21,000), a nanotechnology company whose flagship product is FogKicker, a biodegradable anti-fog solution made from nanocellulose;
• Prophit Insight ($19,000), a software company that helps healthcare providers identify and acquire unique sources of physician referrals;
• Livingua ($18,000), an app that connects travelers to locals who know the language and culture wherever and whenever they want;
• Name Net Worth ($15,000), a connective platform that leverages trusted relationships to measure and strengthen a user’s personal and professional networks;
• iRollie ($9,000), a niche-market phone-case manufacturer and online retailer featuring the rolling tray phone case;
• Need/Done Inc. ($9,000), instant help for kids at home from people their parents trust;
• Sumu ($7,000), which works with property managers and landlords to post fee-free apartments to help users find their next home; and
• AnyCafé ($6,000), a developer of hot beverage solutions for the future, including the Travel Brewer.

Legislation Filed to Cap Sick-time Accrual

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito recently introduced “An Act to Reform Sick Time,” aimed at limiting sick-time accruals that have led to exorbitant payouts upon retirement from state government. The legislation would cap accrual of sick time for state employees in the Executive Department at no more than 1,000 hours, equivalent to six months of work. The bill grandfathers in approximately 5,800 current state employees who already have more than 1,000 hours accrued. Those employees would be capped at their current earned amount as of the date of enactment. Once the legislation is passed, the policy will take effect immediately. “Sick leave is a benefit designed to offer employees a way to deal with health and family issues, not a retirement bonus,” Baker said. “Bringing the Commonwealth’s sick-leave-accrual policy in line with other private- and public-sector employers just makes sense and is the fiscally responsible thing to do.” Added Polito, “this legislation ensures the use of sick time remains consistent with its intended purpose. Benefits for Executive Department employees will remain competitive while we implement an accrual policy that is fair to Massachusetts taxpayers.” Under current law, employees can accrue a maximum of 15 sick days per year, and those employees who retire are permitted to cash out 20% of unused sick time. In FY 2015, 378 employees had an accrual of more than 1,000 hours upon retirement. While this represents only about one-third the number of retiring employees, the cashouts for these employees accounted for nearly 80% of the total cashout cost. Based on the last three fiscal years, if fully implemented, a 1,000-hour cap on accruals would have saved an average of $3.5 million in cashouts per year. “Sick days serve an important purpose, but they must be used in an appropriate and accountable way for our compensation system to have the integrity and transparency taxpayers deserve,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. Added House Minority Leader Bradley Jones Jr., “recent media reports highlighting excessive sick-leave payouts in the public higher-education system clearly demonstrate the need to crack down on these types of abuses. The reforms proposed by the Baker-Polito administration will help to provide greater transparency and accountability to the state’s taxpayers.”

Habitat for Humanity Partners with Faith Organizations

SPRINGFIELD — Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) announced an upcoming Circle of Faith build on 479 Allen St. in Springfield. This project is a partnership between GSHFH and 11 local faith communities who have come together to raise the funds for a Habitat home, and who will also contribute volunteers, in-kind materials, and amenities for the project. As an intentionally interfaith project, this build incorporates Christian, Islamic, and Jewish communities. These 11 faith communities include First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, Sinai Temple in Springfield, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in East Longmeadow, St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Longmeadow, the Islamic Society of Western Mass. in West Springfield, Christ the King Lutheran Church in Wilbraham, East Longmeadow United Methodist Church, Mercy Medical Center and the Sisters of Providence Health System in Springfield, St. Cecilia’s Parish in Wilbraham, and Foster Memorial Church in Springfield. Ellen Tougias, the point person for First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, says her church is “proud to be a part of the Circle of Faith Build for Habitat. We have committed to this project as part of our 30th-year celebration. It is one way that we have chosen to give back to our community in honor of this special year.” Mohammad Bajwa of the Islamic Society of Western Mass. referenced a piece of Scripture in relation to the project: “cooperate with one another, for doing good deeds and righteousness … surely God’s mercy is upon the good doers.” To kick off this partnership, the Circle of Faith communities and GSHFH hosted a “House Wrapped in Love” event at the Islamic Society of Western Mass. on June 1. The family-friendly event invited kids to paint what home, family, and love means to them on sheets of plywood that will then be used to build the walls of the new habitat house at 479 Allen St. Following this event will be several days of building on the job site, where the exterior walls of the home will start to take shape.

Unemployment Drops Across State in April

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates dropped in all labor market areas in the state during the month of April, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. All 15 areas added jobs over the month, with the largest gains in the Springfield, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Barnstable, Worcester, and Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford areas. From April 2015 to April 2016, 14 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, Taunton-Middleborough-Norton, and Barnstable areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for April is 3.9%, down 0.7% from the March rate. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.2% for the month of April. The unemployment rate is down 0.8% over the year. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 13,900-job gain in April and an over-the-year gain of 73,500 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. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Leadership Pioneer Valley, Women’s Fund Partner on Alumni Discount

SPRINGFIELD — Effective immediately, Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) and the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts will begin offering alumni of their programs a mutual 20% discount — just one part of a new effort between these organizations to strengthen and coordinate learning opportunities for emerging leaders in the region. Both LPV’s core program and the Women’s Fund’s Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI) program seek to empower up-and-coming leaders and, ultimately, strengthen the region as a whole. However, each program has unique content and perspectives that, if taken subsequently, provide a comprehensive leadership experience. Graduates of the LPV program can apply for LIPPI at womensfund.net; graduates of LIPPI can apply for LPV at leadershippv.org. “The Women’s Fund is thrilled to participate in this collaborative effort with Leadership Pioneer Valley,” said Elizabeth Barajas-Román, CEO of the Women’s Fund. “We think this is a natural partnership for our organizations, as we both invest in creating strong communities through leadership development. Together, our participants will become the civic and business leaders of tomorrow who will help the region thrive.” Added Lora Wondolowski, executive director of Leadership Pioneer Valley, “this partnership makes so much sense as we feel our curriculums are complementary. Together, we are building a cadre of leaders who are making a difference in their careers and communities.” LPV is a nonprofit that works to identify, develop, and connect diverse leaders to strengthen the region. LPV’s core program challenges and engages emerging leaders from all sectors of the community from throughout the region. The curriculum consists of both classroom and hands-on, experiential learning that builds leadership skills, enhances regional understanding, and creates broader networks. The Women’s Fund is a public foundation that connects donors with the lives of local women and girls through strategic grant making and leadership development. Its signature, non-partisan program, LIPPI, is designed to address the need to provide women with the tools, mentors, and confidence they need to become powerful and effective civic leaders and elected officials. Further information on each program can be found at leadershippv.org and womensfund.net.

Local Farmers Receive Awards Totaling $117,500

AGAWAM — Recognizing that farming is essential to the region, the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and Big Y awarded 47 local farmers from the Berkshires to the Pioneer Valley $2,500 each to make physical infrastructure improvements to their farms. Along with the support of sponsors Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and MGM Springfield, farmers have already put to use the awards for farm-improvement projects. This represents a 42% increase in awards from the 2015 inaugural year. With the collaboration of local agriculture advocacy organizations Berkshire Grown and CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture), the applications selected for the Local Farmer Awards were announced in December. More than 120 farmers submitted applications describing their improvement projects. The award recipients are diverse: 32% have been farming for more than 20 years, and 23% for five years or fewer; and more than 40% of the farms have sales of more than $100,000, while another 30% recorded sales of less than $49,000. A winner from 2015 and 2016, Julia Coffey of Mycoterra Farm in Westhampton said, “we are thrilled to be a Local Farmer Award recipient. The projects that these awards have helped fund are making our farm more viable.” This year, Coffey is purchasing equipment required for outfitting a commercial kitchen that will allow the farm to begin manufacturing value-added food products with unsold fresh mushrooms. Jennifer Salinetti, owner of Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham, will install a permanent vegetable wash station which will directly impact the farm’s productivity. Gideon Porth of Atlas Farm in Deerfield will install a pump system for a new well to increase the supply of potable water for the farm’s packing house and greenhouses, which will double its current watering abilities. Harold Grinspoon, founder of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, who launched the Local Farmer Awards in 2015, noted that “farmers don’t typically ask for help. They are genuinely appreciative of these awards and use the money in creative ways for projects to help their businesses.” Charlie D’Amour, president & COO of Big Y, added, “through our partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation, we are providing one more way to help local growers thrive in our community.” The goal of the Local Farmer Awards is to strengthen farmers’ ability to compete in the marketplace so the region benefits from the environmental, health, and economic advantages of local farming. A farmer appreciation event is held yearly for all applicants and awardees to honor and recognize farmers and promote the importance of local farming.

Briefcase Departments

Tishman Construction, Fontaine Brothers Win MGM Garage Contract

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield, the urban announced it has awarded a construction contract to Tishman Construction, a wholly-owned subsidiary of AECOM, in partnership with Springfield-based construction manager Fontaine Brothers Inc. Together these companies will be responsible for erecting the seven-level, 3,400-space parking garage structure. Construction is set to begin this month and be completed in approximately 20 months. “We are delighted about our continuous progress toward building MGM Springfield. Today’s announcement is yet another example of how we are engaging top global companies and local businesses to develop this tremendous project,” said Michael Mathis, president and COO, MGM Springfield. “We are excited to see construction on the garage move forward as the foundation is poured and we watch this structure rise out of the ground over the coming months.” MGM Springfield is expected to open in fall 2018, and is currently the largest construction project under development in Western Mass. The resort will feature a luxury hotel and a variety of entertainment offerings, including dining, shopping, gaming, and amusements, expected to attract millions of visitors and locals to downtown Springfield. “We are thrilled to be part of another iconic MGM Resorts development and excited to continue our work with the city of Springfield, Pioneer Valley Building Trades, and Fontaine Brothers Inc. to bring the vision of MGM Springfield to life,” said Edward Cettina, COO of AECOM’s building construction group. MGM Springfield is committed to engaging the community and maintaining diversity across its workforce, partners, and supply chain. In alignment with this commitment, Tishman Construction will host information sessions for diverse companies interested in working as subcontractors on the project. Tishman is partnering with Fontaine Brothers to manage the parking-garage project, including solicitation of subcontractors and other procurement efforts. Fontaine Brothers is a local, fourth-generation, family-owned construction firm. In Springfield, Fontaine is best-known for its work on major construction and renovation projects including Symphony Hall, the MassMutual Center, Hilton Garden Inn, and dozens of educational institutions. “Fontaine Brothers is elated to partner with Tishman Construction and MGM Springfield on this exciting project,” said David Fontaine Jr., vice president, Fontaine Bros. “We are thrilled to join this world-class team and to play an active role in the continuing revitalization of the city we call home. We look forward to working with Tishman to manage the construction effort while continuing to help the team connect and partner with talented contractors based here in Western Massachusetts.”

Business Leaders Purchase South Hadley Plaza

SOUTH HADLEY — South Hadley Plaza, located at 501 Newton St., is officially under new ownership. The new owners are a triumvirate of local business leaders: Rocco Falcone of Rocky’s Hardware, Peter Picknelly of Peter Pan Bus Lines, and the Yee Family, whose other South Hadley businesses include Johnny’s Bar and Grille, Johnny’s Taproom, and IYA Sushi & Noodle Kitchen. The plaza is home to Rocky’s Hardware, Friendly’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, General Cleaners, and Mandarin Gourmet. There are currently vacancies in the former Movie Gallery and Big Y locations. That is due to change under the new ownership. “We’re in a great position to attract a mix of local and national businesses,” Falcone said. “This is a vibrant community, and we want to deliver some exciting options and breathe new life into South Hadley Plaza. The former Big Y site in particular, with its 60,000 square feet of space, is a unique offering that we’re exploring some interesting ideas for.” The new owners bring the resources and pedigree to draw new business and connect with the South Hadley community. Rocky’s Hardware has 31 stores in New England and four in Florida. Meanwhile, this will be the second collaboration for Picknelly and the Yee Family, who purchased and revitalized Springfield’s historic Student Prince restaurant in 2014. “It’s essentially three family businesses coming together — big families with big businesses, but families all the same,” Falcone said. “We look forward to expanding the horizons of this space and being a great resource for the community.”

State Unemployment Drops to 4.2% in April

BOSTON — The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.2% in April from the March rate of 4.4%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The preliminary job estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate Massachusetts continues to gain jobs, with 13,900 added in April. The April gain follows March’s revised gain of 6,600 jobs. From December 2015 to April 2016, Massachusetts has added 35,600 jobs. In April, over-the-month job gains occurred in the professional, scientific, and business services; leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; other services; information; financial activities; and manufacturing sectors. The April state unemployment rate remains lower than the national rate of 5.0% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “We see continued strong job gains in many of the traditional economic drivers for the state,” Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Ronald Walker II said. “The strong job gains in April are on the heels of 6,600 jobs added in March and 13,900 jobs added in February.” The labor force increased by 15,400 from 3,581,500 in March, as 19,000 more residents were employed and 3,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped 0.8% from 5.0% in April 2015. There were 27,100 fewer unemployed people and 404,000 more employed people over the year compared to April 2015. 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 0.3% to 65% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased 0.3% compared to April 2015. Over the year, the largest private-sector percentage job gains were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; information; and education and health services.

State Launches Campaign for Good Samaritan Law

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey announced a new public-information campaign to encourage people to call 911 for emergency medical services at the first signs of a drug overdose. Along with Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, and members of the law-enforcement community, state officials launched the $250,000 Make the Right Call campaign to promote the Massachusetts 911 Good Samaritan Law. This law provides protection to individuals seeking medical assistance for themselves or someone else experiencing a drug-related overdose, including opioid-related overdoses, without the risk of charges of possession of a controlled substance. “Today we’re proud to announce, along with the attorney general, a partnership for a $250,000 campaign to encourage people to call 911 at the first sign of a drug overdose,” Baker said. Added Healey, “what the Good Samaritan Law says is that, if you see someone overdosing, or if you’re with someone who is overdosing, call 911. Get them help. And if you do call 911 to save that person’s, life you will not be prosecuted for drug use or possession.” Sudders noted that addiction is a disease, and “just like if we saw someone on the side of the street who had collapsed from a heart attack, we would stop, and we would call 911, and that is what this campaign is about.” Baker added that “this 911 Good Samaritan Law, will reinforce to bystanders and first responders alike that the most important step to take when someone is having an overdose is to save their life, and that someone shouldn’t face legal consequences for taking that step.”

Briefcase Departments

AHL Hockey Could Return to Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — Less than a month after losing the Falcons to Tucson, Ariz., hockey could be returning to Springfield for the 2016-17 season. According to Portland, Maine-based WCSH, the Portland Pirates, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Florida Panthers, has been sold to a new ownership group that intends to relocate the team in Springfield. According to a statement released yesterday by the team, “the Portland Pirates have announced that a letter of intent has been signed with an outsider buyer to purchase and relocate the AHL franchise to a new city. The details of the agreement were not disclosed, and final sale is pending approval of the AHL board of governors and the Florida Panthers. All previously purchased season tickets for the 2016-17 season will be refunded.” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling told WCSH that losing the team “will have a terrible impact on the local economy.” The Springfield Falcons were purchased by their National Hockey League affiliate, the Arizona Coyotes, in April. The club intends to move the Falcons to Tucson in time for the 2016-17 season, and will refund all advance tickets sold to Springfield fans for that season. Portland has been the host city to a minor-league hockey team for almost 40 years, dating back to the Maine Mariners, WCSH said. The Mariners left in 1992, and after a one-year gap, the Pirates arrived in 1993.

State’s Economic Growth Improves in First Quarter

HADLEY — Massachusetts real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3% in the first quarter of 2016, according to the Current Economic Index released this week by MassBenchmarks, the journal of the Massachusetts economy published by the UMass Donahue Institute in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. In contrast, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, national real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 0.5% during the same period. Recently revised data now reveal that, in 2015, the state’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 1.4% in the fourth quarter (1.4% for the U.S.), 2.0% in the third quarter (2.0%), 4.9% in the second quarter (3.9%), and 2.0% in the first quarter (0.6%). The pace of economic growth in Massachusetts picked up in the first three months of 2016 after slowing in the second half of 2015. Although underlying indicators were mixed, both employment and earnings recorded strong growth, and the unemployment rate fell. Payroll employment grew at a 2.0% annual rate in the first quarter, up from 0.7% in the prior quarter. Wage and salary income, as estimated from state withholding tax revenue, expanded 5.6% in the first quarter, after falling 7.0% in the final three months of last year. The state’s headline unemployment rate — the so-called U-3 measure — stood at 4.4% in March, down from 4.9% in December, and down from 5.1% in March 2015. The U.S. unemployment rate in March was 5.0%, the same as in December, and down from 5.5% in March of last year. The unemployment rate in Massachusetts is now lower than its pre-recession low of 4.6% in 2007. But this overall strong performance continues to mask troubling imbalances in the labor market. The broader U-6 measure of unemployment, which includes those who are working part-time but want full-time work, as well as those who are marginally attached to the labor force, is still significantly above pre-recession levels. It inched down to 9.3% in March from 9.5% in December and 9.8% in March 2015. The U.S. rate in March was 9.8%, down from 9.9% in December and 10.9% in March 2015. Prior to the recession in 2007, the U-6 reached lows of 7.1% in Massachusetts and 8.0% in the U.S. “Spending on items subject to the state regular sales tax declined by 6.3% in the first quarter, in stark contrast to the very strong growth of 9.5% experienced in the fourth quarter of 2015. Year over year, spending is up 3.5%,” noted Alan Clayton-Matthews, MassBenchmarks senior contributing editor and associate professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University. “Most of the drop this quarter was due to spending on automobiles, which slowed after expanding strongly at the end of 2015, and also to weak spending on other taxable sales items in February.” The Mass. Department of Revenue recorded weaker bonus payouts in February, tied to stock-market performance and corporate profits. Market fear tends to dampen business confidence and investment, and a prolonged market downturn may restrain consumer spending as well. The MassBenchmarks Leading Economic Index suggests the state economy will continue to grow at a moderate pace over the next six months, at a 3.1% rate in the second quarter, and a 2.5% rate in the third quarter of this year. The factors weighing on the state and national economic outlook have changed little from last quarter. One factor is the tightening labor market. As there are fewer unemployed workers and as more Baby Boomers retire, it is becoming more difficult for employers to find the workers they need. This is reflected in historically low levels of initial unemployment claims, a sign that employers are reacting to the tightening labor market by holding on to the workers they have. Another factor is slower worldwide economic growth as China’s rapid pace of economic growth has decelerated, Japan’s economy is stalled, and Europe remains sluggish. A third is turmoil in financial markets. Although volatility in stock markets in reaction to falling commodity prices has calmed, there are remaining downside risk factors related to the fallout of weak global demand on corporate profits.

Sergeant Shower Wins Pitch Competition

HOLYOKE — Jonathan LaFrance, an MBA student from Bay Path University, took first place at last night’s awards ceremony and banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, pitching Sergeant Shower, a biodegradable, two-sided, single-use, all-in-one shampoo and body-wash cloth mitt. LaFrance convinced a panel of judges from six area banks that his pitch was the best at the event held at the Log Cabin. Jonathan Mendez, a Holyoke Community College student, took second place based on his business concept pitch for Mean Green Detergent Machine, a kiosk in stores allowing people to refill their laundry-detergent bottle. Steven Goldberg, a student at Amherst College, took third place with DineToday, a platform allowing restaurants to post discounts for off-peak reservation times. The live event featured a student representative from each of the 14 participating local colleges: American International College, Amherst College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Hampshire College, Holyoke Community College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, and Westfield State University. First-, second-, and third-place winners received $1000, $750, and $500 respectively. Each student participating received $100. The judges represented Berkshire Bank, Country Bank, First Niagara Bank, PeoplesBank, United Bank, and Westfield Bank. The judges also identified nine winning teams as Best Exhibitors. These were selected from a pool of 56 unique companies during a ‘trade show’ portion of the evening which featured the 2016 Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winners. The three first-place winners (each receiving an additional award of $600) were: Connor Brown and Xavier Reed from Amherst College with Meetum, a platform for students to openly share events and activities with the college community; Misael Ramos from Springfield College with Royaume Expressions, garment decoration; and Joey Baurys and Nicolette LaPierre from Western New England University with Hemoflux, a prenatal genetic testing company. The Entrepreneurship Initiative is one of several local initiatives supported by the philanthropy of Harold Grinspoon. For more information, visit www.hgf.org.

Briefcase Departments

Leadership Pioneer Valley Seeks Class of 2017

SPRINGFIELD — Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) is now accepting applications for enrollment in its class of 2017. The regional leadership-development program begins in September.
LPV utilizes a 10-month, topically relevant, ever-changing curriculum designed to challenge and engage emerging leaders from all sectors of the community within the Pioneer Valley region. The curriculum consists of both classroom and hands-on, experiential learning through retreats, day-long seminars, field experiences, and team projects. To date, more than 180 individuals representing more than 82 companies, organizations, and municipalities have participated.
LPV is seeking applicants from 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.
In its five years running, 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.
The deadline for LPV class of 2017 applications is July 1. Applications and further information can be found at www.leadershippv.org.

State Unveils Low-cost Bachelor’s Degree Plan

LOWELL — Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito joined public higher-education leaders Thursday to announce the ‘Commonwealth Commitment,’ an innovative college affordability and completion plan to help more students achieve the dream of a college degree.
The Commonwealth Commitment, the first agreement of its kind in the nation, was signed by UMass President Marty Meehan, Worcester State University President Barry Maloney, and Middlesex Community College President James Mabry, representing the three segments of the public higher-education system, at a ceremony at Middlesex Community College. The plan commits every public campus to providing 10% rebates at the end of each successfully completed semester to qualifying undergraduate students, in addition to the standard MassTransfer tuition waiver received upon entering a four-year institution from a community college. Students who meet the program requirements will, depending on the transfer pathway they choose, be able to realize an average savings of $5,090 off the cost of a baccalaureate degree. Also, as part of the Commonwealth Commitment’s goal to increase cost savings and predictability, tuition and mandatory fees will be frozen for program participants as of the date they enter the program.
Students will begin their studies at one of the state’s 15 community colleges, enrolling in one of 24 Commonwealth Commitment/Mass Transfer Pathways programs that will roll out in fall 2016 (14 programs) and fall 2017 (10 additional programs). They must attend full-time, and must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0. After earning an associate’s degree in two and a half years or less, students will transfer to a state university or UMass campus to earn a baccalaureate degree.
“I am pleased that our higher-education leaders have worked collaboratively to create this program to decrease the cost of a college degree and accelerate on-time completion,” Baker. “Even though public higher education in Massachusetts is already a great value, the Commonwealth Commitment will make it even easier for students to go to school full-time and to enter the workforce faster and with less debt.”

Springfield Among Cities Gaining Jobs

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates dropped in 12 labor market areas, remained the same in nine areas, and increased in three areas in the state during the month of March, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. The rates were down in all areas compared to March 2015.
A total of 14 areas added jobs over the month, with the largest gains in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Springfield, Worcester, Framingham, and Barnstable areas. The Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford area recorded the only loss over the month. From March 2015 to March 2016, 14 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the Haverhill-Newport-Amesbury, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, and Barnstable areas. The Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead area jobs level remained unchanged.

Hydropower Project Upgrades Announced

WEST SPRINGFIELD — State energy officials announced more than $1 million in funding to support upgrades to hydroelectric facilities in three communities. Facilities receiving grant funding are Mini-Watt Hydroelectric in Orange, Pioneer Hydro Electric in Ware, and A&D Hydro Inc. in West Springfield. The initiatives, announced during Earth Week, are aimed at increasing Massachusetts’ clean-energy generation.
“In filing legislation for the procurement of cost-effective, low-carbon hydropower, our administration recognizes the importance of improving renewable-energy facilities to help the Commonwealth continue to lead the way on clean energy, energy efficiency, and the adoption of innovative technologies,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “These grants to make hydropower facilities more efficient and increase hydropower production will help us meet our greenhouse-gas emissions goals and continue to increase the role of renewables in our energy portfolio.”
The upgrades, which are being funded through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Hydropower Program, will allow the facilities to annually produce an average of 1.2 million more kilowatt hours of renewable electricity.
“Upgrading local hydroelectric facilities further diversifies the Commonwealth’s energy portfolio, while helping to reach our ambitious greenhouse-gas emissions-reduction goals,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “Hydropower is a low-cost, clean resource that allows us to provide reliable electricity to Massachusetts residents while protecting the environment.”

Briefcase Departments

Leadership 2016 Lauds 22 Graduates

SPRINGFIELD — Twenty-two business professionals graduated from the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Leadership 2016 in a ceremony on April 14 at the Springfield Sheraton. Sponsored by the MassMutual Financial Group with scholarship support from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, the program is a collaboration between the Springfield Regional Chamber and Western New England University to teach middle- and upper-level managers the crucial thinking and problem-solving skills needed to prepare participants to be effective leaders in service to the community and their workplaces. This year’s program, “Leadership Skills: For Personal, Organizational, and Community Development,” included an emphasis on strategies and techniques designed to create high-energy and high-involvement leadership, focusing on problem solving, learning to ask the right questions, and implementing creative and innovative solutions for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. “Notwithstanding the learning component, the Leadership program is unique in that it brings together people from different business backgrounds, providing an opportunity to view the various learning topics from different points of view, giving participants a greater appreciation of the lessons,” said 2016 graduate Youssef Fadel of New England Promotional Marketing. “The setting is casual and friendly, making it conducive to developing an atmosphere where one wants to learn and observe. You get to appreciate many aspects of leadership and come out with a specific plan for your own leadership journey. You can use what you learned in your professional, volunteer, or personal life.” Working alongside Western New England University professors, participants actively explored best practices of leaders; analyzed their own leadership, learning, and problem-solving styles; were challenged to think in new ways and to analyze their own strengths and organizational challenges within a dynamic economy; and explored task and interpersonal focus, negotiation orientation, and emotional intelligence, supplemented by self-diagnostics, experiential activities, and case studies. “The Leadership Institute offers a wonderful refresher on various leadership frameworks such as planning and problem solving. It helps you to stretch your mind to explore ways you can use your influence to help others. If you get the opportunity to participate in the Leadership Institute, I highly recommend it,” said 2016 graduate Gillian Palmer, business development and group sales coordinator with the Eastern States Exposition. Sessions included “Each Person’s Behavior Makes Perfectly Good Sense to Them: We Are All Different,” which explored how individuals differ in the ways they learn, communicate, lead, and follow, and “Leadership Who Get Things Done: The Power of Influence,” which focused on influence skills such as reading other people and adapting the message so it will be better-understood, understanding the six universal forms of influence, and developing political savvy. Since 1982, more than 900 area leaders have graduated from the institute. “TD Bank’s focus on continued development of our rising talent goes hand in hand with the goals of the Leadership program,” said Christine Moran, senior vice president and market commercial credit manager for TD Bank, who has sponsored many of these area leaders. “Year over year, we have seen our employees develop increased confidence and gain negotiation and influential skills to become stronger team members. These accomplishments keep us committed to the program, as we continually grow our next generation of leaders.” Members of this year’s class include: Bill Raimondi and Christopher Savenko, Baystate Health; Sean Nimmons, Big Y Foods Inc.; Gillian Palmer, Eastern States Exposition; Abby Getman, Food Bank of Western Mass.; Mahera Chiarizio, Ryan Howard, Terri Lombardo, Naida Lopez, and Shawn Teece, HCS Headstart Inc.; Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, Healing Racism Institute of the Pioneer Valley; Steven Facchetti and Tina Whitney, MassMutual Financial Group; Melissa Nelson, Medvest LLC (Doctors Express); Youssef Fadel, New England Promotional Marketing; Latora Godbolt, Ormsby Insurance Agency; Vickie Dempesy, Shriners Hospital for Children; Michael Ehmke and Christopher Scott, TD Bank; Julie Fregeau, the Republican; Marlene Johnson, United Personnel; and Mike Murray, Western New England University.

Employer Confidence Strengthens in March

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers grew more confident during March as turbulence in China and other key global markets subsided. At the same time, a significant gap has developed between the bullish outlook of service companies and a less optimistic view among manufacturers that is also reflective of national developments. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 1.4 points to 56.5 last month, its highest level since November and well above the 50 mark that denotes a positive economic outlook. The index for service companies and other non-manufacturers increased to 61.3, while the manufacturing index fell to 54.8, down 7.1 points from its level in March 2015. The results come a week after the state announced that the unemployment rate dropped to 4.5% during February and that employers added 14,400 jobs during the first two months of the year. “The good news is that the Massachusetts and U.S. economies have proven remarkably resilient in the face of weak growth globally that unsettled financial markets at the beginning of the year,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “What happens next? Employers here in Massachusetts appear to be generally optimistic about their prospects during the next six months, though the outlook among manufacturers remains muted by global uncertainty, weakening corporate earnings, the strength of the dollar, and rising credit risk.” The AIM Business Confidence 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.

Law Reduces Barriers for People Convicted of Drug Offenses

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed bipartisan legislation passed unanimously by both branches of the Legislature to ease the transition for those convicted of drug offenses to re-enter society, hold employment, and care for their families by repealing the automatic suspension of drivers licenses and a subsequent $500 reinstatement fee for all drug convictions. “As the Commonwealth takes important steps to battle substance abuse and re-examine our criminal-justice system, I am pleased to sign legislation providing opportunities for those convicted of drug offenses and who have served their time to re-enter society, find and keep a job, and support their families,” Baker said. “Removing this significant barrier to re-entry reduces the prospects of recidivism as individuals continue treatment or recovery and gives them a better chance at getting back on their feet.” The legislation provides certain exceptions for drug-trafficking convictions and takes effect immediately. “We are proud to support this legislation that would ensure those who have paid their debts to society for drug offenses have the means to be productive citizens, capable of supporting themselves and their loved ones,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “I’m proud of our administration’s efforts and collaboration with the Legislature to counter opioid addiction, and ending the automatic license suspension is a reform that will help put people on a path that keeps them out of our criminal-justice system.”

Meehan Praises Baker, Legislature for Backing UMass Funding

BOSTON — UMass President Marty Meehan praised Gov. Baker and the state Legislature for approving funding to the system. “The support we are receiving from Gov. Charlie Baker and from the House and Senate will help to fuel our progress and success — and will have a real impact on the Commonwealth’s future,” Meehan said. A $158 million supplemental budget approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor includes $10.9 million for UMass. The funding, which relates to labor contracts, will be used for workforce purposes and will also fund $7 million in student scholarships, in addition to aiding the university’s overall pursuit of quality and excellence. Meehan praised Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, saying, “I am grateful to our state leaders for their commitment to UMass and to the cause of high-quality public higher education — a cause that is so critical to the Commonwealth and its citizens and will remain so for generations to come.” The Legislature’s action comes at a time when UMass is enjoying successes on many fronts, with its endowment, enrollment, and research output reaching record levels. Additionally, UMass has been named the top public university in New England, one of the best 20 public universities in the nation, and among the top 100 in the world, according to the 2015 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings.

Springfield Named Among Best Cities for African-Americans

SPRINGFIELD — The City of Springfield has been named one of the “10 Best Cities for African-Americans, 2016” by Livability.com. The cities were selected based on basic indicators of livability including cost of living, healthcare availability, economic equality, commute time, access to parks, and safety. Editors looked for cities with higher-than-average and growing African-American populations, and where they are succeeding in terms of income, academic achievement, and home ownership.
Springfield is cited for its diverse economy and recovery from the financial recession of 2008, as well as ongoing economic development. Also noted are the strong presence of corporate headquarters, which offer employment opportunities and commitments to workforce diversity. Local nonprofit organizations are noted for leveling the educational and economic playing field for African-Americans through after-school programs for children, mentoring, housing, and parenting-skills training.
Livability.com notes that African-Americans are the ethnic group most likely to stress the importance of a college education, and Springfield and the surrounding area is home to more than two dozen colleges and universities.
“In this age of reality TV, where negativity sells with some media outlets, especially in how they depict our urban American cities, it’s nice to know that our Springfield does and will continue to make good lists, too,” Mayor Domenic Sarno said. “We’ve always believed there is plenty of good that our diverse city has to offer.”