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State Receives $11.7 Million for Opioid Prevention, Treatment

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

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

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

Briefcase

MGM Springfield to Officially Open on Aug. 24

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

Local Farmer Awards Give $135,000 to 59 Farmers

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

Briefcase Departments

MGM Springfield to Officially Open on Aug. 24

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

Local Farmer Awards Give $135,000 to 59 Farmers

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

Briefcase

Columbia Gas Files New Rates with DPU

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

Farmington Bank Offers Assistance to Homebuyers

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

Grant to CHD Improves Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

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

Briefcase Departments

Columbia Gas Files New Rates with DPU

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

Farmington Bank Offers Assistance to Homebuyers

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

Grant to CHD Improves Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

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

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence Falls Slightly in March

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

Pioneer Valley Receives Grant to Pursue Healthcare Access Solutions

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

Single-family Home Sales in Valley Soar in February

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

Chamber Board Votes to Endorse Pledge Against Human Trafficking

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

Amherst Chamber Moves to Volunteer Management

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

Briefcase Departments

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

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

Massachusetts Adds
13,700 Jobs in February
BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in February, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 13,700 jobs in February. Over the month, the private sector added 13,100 jobs as gains occurred in education and health services; construction; trade, transportation, and utilities; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and financial activities. The jobs level remained unchanged in leisure and hospitality. From February 2017 to February 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 39,100 jobs. The February unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta noted that “2017 was the first time since 2000 in which the monthly unemployment rate remained below 4% for the entire year in the Commonwealth. Our low unemployment rate, coupled with over-the-year job and labor-force gains, all point towards the continued strength of the Massachusetts economy.” The labor force increased by 10,000 from 3,659,600 in January, as 9,500 more residents were employed and 500 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.9% in February 2017. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — is up one-tenth of a percentage point at 65.4%. The labor-force participation rate over the year has decreased by two-tenths of a percentage point compared to February 2017. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; and other services. The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development also announced that, compared to February 2017, unemployment rates dropped in 22 labor-market areas, increased in one, and remained the same in one labor-market area. Twelve of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published added jobs from February 2017 to February 2018, with the largest percentage gains in the Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, Leominster-Gardner, and Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead areas.

Briefcase Departments

Employer Confidence
Strengthens in February

BOSTON — Massachusetts employer confidence strengthened during February as optimism about long-term economic growth outweighed a volatile month in the financial markets. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 0.4 points to 64.5, setting another 17-year high. The Index has gained 2.4 points during the past 12 months as confidence levels have remained comfortably within the optimistic range. Enthusiasm about the U.S. and Massachusetts economies, along with a bullish outlook on the part of manufacturers, fueled the February increase. At the same time, hiring remained a red flag as the BCI Employment Index fell 4 points between February 2017 and February 2018. Almost 90% of employers who responded to the February confidence survey indicated that the inability to find skilled employees is either a modest, large, or huge problem. “Fourteen percent of respondents said finding employees represents a huge problem that is hampering their company’s growth. One-third of employers see employee recruitment as a big problem, while 29% see it as a modest issue,” said Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “For the short-term, however, the state and national economies remain strong, and the recent announcement by Amazon of a major expansion in Boston indicates that the trend should continue.” The survey was taken before President Donald Trump roiled the financial markets by pledging to impose stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. It has remained above 50 since October 2013. The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during February. The most significant gains came in the Manufacturing Index, which surged 3.9 points to 66.2, and the U.S. Index, which rose 2.1 points for the month to 66.9 and 8.0 points for the year. The Massachusetts Index fell 0.4 points to 68.5, but was up 5.3 points for the year and still higher than the national outlook for the 96th consecutive month. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 2.4 points to 64.1. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, declined 1.6 points to 65. The Current Index has risen 4.2 points and the Future Index 0.6 points during the past 12 months. The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, was essentially flat, gaining 0.1 points to 62.4. The Employment Index also rose 0.1 points, to 56.4, versus 60.4 in February 2017. Manufacturing companies (66.2) were more optimistic than non-manufacturers (61.9). Large employers (69.8) were more bullish than medium-sized (62.0) or small businesses (62.7).

Single-family Home Sales
in Pioneer Valley Up in January

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

Advertising Club Seeks
Nominations for Pynchon Award

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

Unemployment Rate Holds
at 3.5% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate remained at 3.5% in January, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 6,100 jobs in January. Over the month, the private sector lost 4,200 jobs; although gains occurred in professional, scientific, and business services; information; and other services. From January 2017 to January 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 29,000 jobs. The January unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Massachusetts continues to experience a low unemployment rate and labor force expansions,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. “While the overall health of our economy remains strong, and 2017 marked the eighth consecutive year of job growth, persistent skills gaps remain. That is why our workforce-development partners remain committed to ensuring that those who are still unemployed or underemployed have access to the training resources they need to access high-demand jobs.” The labor force increased by 2,200 from 3,657,300 in December, as 3,900 more residents were employed and 1,700 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.9% in January 2017. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — remained at 65.3%. The labor force participation rate over the year has decreased by 0.2% compared to January 2017. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; and other services.

Hampden County Bar Assoc.
Offers Two Law-school Scholarships

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

Briefcase Departments

Tighe & Bond Publishes 2017 Water and Sewer Rate Survey Results

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

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

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

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

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

State Announces Grants to Restore Rivers, Boost Climate Readiness

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

New Energy-efficiency Program Offers Opportunities and Rebates

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

Advertising Club Accepting Scholarship Applications

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

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

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

Briefcase Departments

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%.