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The State of the Bay State


Brooke Thomson said her story is of the kind the Bay State and its leaders like to write.

Hailing from the Midwest, she graduated from Mount Holyoke College, went to law school in Boston, and then made the decision to start her career and raise a family here.

It wasn’t easy, she recalled, noting that she needed roommates when she got her first apartment, and housing in the Boston area, as well as countless other expenses, made those early years — and even the later ones — a stern challenge.

But she stayed and is now president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), a position from which she reflects on, and often retells, her story while noting, with large doses of frustration and even dismay, that it is becoming a harder story to write today.

Indeed, some of the thousands who graduate from Bay State colleges and universities each year are opting not to start their careers here, said Thomson, who sat down recently with BusinessWest to discuss the state of the Bay State. And some who did start here are finding it too difficult to stay amid sky-high prices for everything from homes to daycare and tax burdens that are far less friendly than many other states, including several in the Northeast.

This exodus, if you will, is one of many forces, most of them interconnected in some ways, that are colliding at what is an inflection point for the state, said Thomson, a critical time in its history, when the dust has largely settled from COVID and its aftermath, and this state, like all others, must devise a business plan, if you will, for coping with a new set of realities.

“Businesses, municipal leaders, state leaders, and federal leaders must make sure we’re putting in place the economic incentives and the regulatory pathways so that we can continue to have a strong economy in Massachusetts.”

These forces include the momentous shift in how and where people work post-pandemic, a swing toward remote work and hybrid schedules that is impacting everything from commercial real estate to hospitality and service businesses in central business districts in cities from Boston to Springfield and everywhere in between. They also include demographics — everything from smaller high-school graduating classes to huge numbers of retiring Baby Boomers — a persisting workforce crisis impacting most all sectors of the economy, falling state tax revenues, transportation issues led by the famously unreliable MBTA, a housing crisis that is impacting most of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth, high energy costs and the growing need to address climate change, and, of course, the spiraling cost of living, punctuated by sky-high home prices, not just in Boston, but in an ever-wider radius around the city and many other parts of the state as well.

A poignant example of how many of these forces are intertwined came late last month, when Boston Mayor Michelle Wu proposed legislation to increase commercial property tax rates amid a decline in property values post-pandemic — and as many buildings suffer from remote-work-related issues — in an effort to protect residents from what she called “sudden and dramatic tax increases.”

The matter went to a subcommittee last week, where its fate is in question, especially in an election year, and amid warnings from real-estate trade groups and business leaders that the move would increase the burden on an already-struggling office market and could deter new investment.

Brooke Thomson

Brooke Thomson says housing — and the need to build more of it — is among the many challenges confronting the Bay State at this critical time.

Wu’s proposal, and the reaction to it, are examples of how complicated these problems are — neither side is really in a position to absorb a higher tax burden — and how elected leaders, the business community, and even residents are going to have to work collaboratively in this time of stern challenges, Thomson noted, adding that the state’s businesses, despite some rumors to the contrary, cannot shoulder the burden itself.

“I think this is a critical time because there is so much uncertainty and because we are coming out of the COVID bubble,” said Thomson, who took the helm at AIM at the start of this year. “Businesses, municipal leaders, state leaders, and federal leaders must make sure we’re putting in place the economic incentives and the regulatory pathways so that we can continue to have a strong economy in Massachusetts.

“I think we’ve seen elsewhere in the country that, depending on what actions are taken, certain cities that used to be centers of business and growth are no longer there,” she went on. “Part of this was out of our control, part of it was this COVID bubble where everything was shut down and then people re-evaluated how they worked and where they worked, and businesses re-evaluated where they located and what their space looks like and where they draw talent from. But as we are moving out of that, we must collectively figure out the right sauce, the right recipe, sort of speak, for success.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Thomson about this recipe and the ingredients that might go into it.


Work in Progress

Thomson said she can usually tell what day it is — or isn’t — by the volume of traffic in and around Boston.

While it’s still difficult to get where one wants to go most of the time, Mondays and Fridays are at least somewhat better, she said, adding that, by and large, these are the days when many who can and do work a hybrid schedule are not in the office. And the impact of that many people working from their home offices or dining-room tables is felt not just on the roads, but in the office towers in that city, where valuations are falling, and the countless diners, restaurants, and service businesses that rely on foot traffic from people working in the city.

“Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday — that’s when people are coming in,” she said. “And that presents a whole host of challenges; it exacerbates transit, and if you have a workforce, like ours, that’s in this sandwich generation where they’re caring for children but also caring for parents, not only do we not have enough support there, but our systems are not set up where daycare facilities have a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday schedule.”

“There are a lot of things we have to move on quickly, meaning right now, to set ourselves up to be in a place of continued growth so that, 10 years from now, some of these trends that we’ve seen, like outmigration and tax-return dips, don’t continue. But it’s going to require some strong action right now.”

While Boston is the poster child for the challenges that have come post-pandemic, the same issues are being seen in communities across the state and in businesses of all sizes and in most every sector.

Indeed, she said AIM, which employs more than 25 people full-time, exemplifies the current colliding forces and trends. It has seen a few of its valued employees leave the agency and the Commonwealth for more affordable states, she said. Meanwhile, it is preparing to move into new quarters and reduce its overall footprint to reflect a need for less space amid more remote work.

“Like a lot of businesses in the wake of COVID, we re-evaluated what our footprint should look like and where we should be,” she said, adding that the agency is slated to move in June into space that is slightly smaller, but also features more “collaborative space,” as she called it, and more gathering and event space amid fewer private offices.

As for losing employees to other states, “we’ve lost two people in the past year who were under 30,” she said. “It’s not because they didn’t love Massachusetts; it’s not because they didn’t love AIM. One moved to Tennessee, and one moved to Texas because those states are more affordable, and they have the prospect of buying a home.”

Extrapolate these recent developments across the state and its business community, and it’s easy to see why this is a critical juncture for the Commonwealth, Thomson said.

She can cite some positives and possible reasons for optimism — everything from the tax cuts Gov. Maura Healey signed into law last fall to projections that falling state tax revenues may pick up in the last few months of the fiscal year; from persistently low unemployment rates to signs on Beacon Hill that leaders there understand what needs to be done.

“I remain cautiously optimistic because many municipal leaders, and our administration, are laser-focused on providing incentives to try to make it very clear to the business community that Massachusetts wants businesses to be here and wants businesses to grow,” she said. “And they recognize that, for there to be good jobs and good quality of life and affordable housing, we have to have a strong economy.

“I haven’t seen that messaging in recent years as strong as I’m hearing it now,” she went on. “The question is … will the actions that go along with that be put into place and be effective? From AIM’s perspective, that’s why we’re working alongside the administration and the Legislature to say, ‘now is the time to act.’”

Elaborating, and citing ways in which in the state and its leaders need to act, she listed the housing bond bill proposed by Healey, as well as the so-called ‘Mass Leads’ legislation, an economic-development bill that contains incentives for businesses.

“We have to look at this because, as we see the demographic shift, as we see folks retiring, we’re going to have a real problem if we’re not saying to those young folks, ‘this is where you want to stay and work and raise a family.’”

“There are a lot of things we have to move on quickly, meaning right now, to set ourselves up to be in a place of continued growth so that, 10 years from now, some of these trends that we’ve seen, like outmigration and tax-return dips, don’t continue,” she went on. “But it’s going to require some strong action right now.”


It’s About Time

Thomson kept repeating those words ‘right now’ for emphasis, and they apply to everything from housing to how the state will meet its energy needs in the future as it moves on from nuclear power and some fossil fuels to natural gas and clean-energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro, for which infrastructures must be built.

“If it’s not done quickly, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, I don’t think we’re going to be at a point where we have as much control over turning the ship around,” she told BusinessWest, adding, again, that the responsibility for turning the ship, and the costs involved, must be borne by all constituencies, and not simply the business community.

“We have to be thoughtful and intentional about how everyone has a role,” she went on. “What AIM has said consistently is that this cannot be a burden that is carried by the business community alone. We know that our businesses are really taxed right now; they’re at a point where many of them are just barely getting by, and they’re in a real competition for talent and resources.”

While she’s generally optimistic that the ship can, in fact, be turned, she is troubled by much of what she’s seeing, especially the exodus of talent to other states. She noted that 22- to 35-year-olds are leaving the state at a rate of 35%, a number significantly higher than it has been historically.

And they’re leaving primarily because of the high cost of living, she said, noting that, while it’s always been expensive to live in Greater Boston — she had to work two jobs to afford her first home — it is much harder to make ends meet now, as evidenced by those two AIM employees who packed the car and moved south and west.

“That’s what I worry about — that’s your talent, those are your creative minds,” Thomson said. “Those are the folks who are going to bring the innovation that has made our economy so great. And we’re not selling them on staying here in Massachusetts.”

And these young people are leaving just as the Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce, she went on, noting that the state now has what would be called an older workforce, with an average age around 40.

“We have to look at this because, as we see the demographic shift, as we see folks retiring, we’re going to have a real problem if we’re not saying to those young folks, ‘this is where you want to stay and work and raise a family,’” she noted. “I really do worry about it, and it’s worse in certain areas and worse in certain industries; the average age of a utility lineman is 57 years old. How are we going to make the energy investments, upgrades, and transitions we need if we don’t have the workforce that’s capable of doing it?”

There are ongoing initiatives to generate interest in such fields, Thomson went on, but the challenge is the full slate of issues that must be addressed simultaneously — and soon.

Which begs the question: where to start?

“The hard thing is, we’re going to have to do a lot of things at once,” she said. “We must take aggressive actions on housing because it’s going to take long, and the price of not acting now is that, once you start losing folks at a high rate, they’re not going to come back. And even if we can build more housing and find creative ways to make some affordable housing, Massachusetts is going to be more expensive than some states.”

It’s the same with the other issues on that long list as well, Thomson went on, adding that, when it comes to housing, new businesses, or other forms of change, communities will need to be willing to adjust — or suffer the consequences.

“Communities that say, ‘this is what my community looks now, change is hard, and we don’t want to adapt,’ those communities are going to lose out to those who are willing to be more adaptive,” she noted. “And then the question is … do we have enough consensus as a state, enough communities willing to step up and do it, that we’re successful?”




Amid some very concerning trends on outmigration — more than 110,000 people have left the Bay State for … well, somewhere else since early 2020 — Massachusetts House leaders have unveiled a tax-relief plan they believe will improve the state’s overall competitiveness.

The plan, which echoes much of what Gov. Maura Healey proposed in her own tax plan, would, among other things:

• Raise the estate-tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million and tax only the value of an estate that exceeds $2 million, and not the entire estate, as the law currently requires;

• Cut the rate on short-term capital gains from 12% to 5% in two years. During the first year, short-term capital gains would be taxed at 8%;

• Change how state corporate taxes are calculated to what is known as the ‘single sales factor,’ to line up with how most states tax companies now;

• Expand tax credits for seniors and renters; and

• Combine two existing tax credits — childcare and dependent care — to create one $600 credit per dependent, while eliminating the current cap.

The Senate has yet to release its tax plan, and there will be considerable debate before one plan — if there is one — eventually emerges.

But the House plan is cause for optimism in the Bay State. It shows that the chamber’s leaders get it when it comes to outmigration and the many ways in which this ongoing exodus is impacting the state and its business community.

This plan recognizes the need for Massachusetts to be able to compete for talent and then retain it, whether the employer is MassMutual, the University of Massachusetts, or even the New England Patriots.

The outmigration, as we’ve noted many times before, is a strong indicator that this state has become too expensive, both for individuals and the corporations that hire them.

There are many factors that go into this equation, including the skyrocketing cost of living, especiallly when it comes to housing. This is a problem that was many years in the making, and it will take many more years, and strong efforts to create more housing worthy of that adjective ‘affordable,’ before we can see any kind of relief.

But there are things this state can and should do now, such as raising the estate-tax threshold and cutting the rates on short-term capital gains, that can have more immediate results when it comes to making the state more competitive.

It is time to stem the tide, and this proposal is a step in that direction.

Daily News

PALMER —  Baystate Wing Hospital has announced an investment of $30,000 in grants to benefit local community-based nonprofit organizations. The grant awards were given to the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation, the Quaboag Connector to support local transportation in the region, the Ware Fire Department to support Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and paramedic training, and to the Ware Regional Recovery Center to increased access to support and expand knowledge about recovery support services and resources in the region.

“Everyone is strengthened when we work together to build and sustain a culture of health and wellness within our communities,” said Molly Gray, president and chief administrative officer for Baystate Health’s Eastern Region, which includes Baystate Wing Hospital and Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center. “We are very happy to support the work with our community partners with these grant investments.”

Baystate Health’s Eastern Region represents 15 communities comprising a population of approximately 120,000 people. Programs supported by the hospital’s grant investments include:


Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation, the Quaboag Connector: The $30,000 grant to the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation (QVCDC) will provide continued support to the Quaboag Connector Transportation Initiative which addresses the lack of transportation to employment, education, healthcare, workforce training, shopping, and benefit services within and outside the region. The service which began in January 2017 has provided thousands of rides to community members. In March 2022, the Quaboag Connector surpassed all previous months in number of rides providing 1,397 rides demonstrating the continued need for this service.


The Ware Fire Department $11,500: The $11,500 grant was awarded to the Ware Fire Department in support of EMS Paramedic training for a member of the Ware Fire/EMS Team.


Growing Strong: Ware Regional Recovery Center’s Next Chapter

The $3500 grant to the Ware Regional Recovery Center, a program of the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium, will support their work in the Quaboag Hills Region to respond with increased momentum in raising community awareness about local access to recovery support and resources, to decrease stigma and to encourage people to seek out recovery support services in a time of critical need.



LLCs in the Bay State

By Benjamin M. Coyle, Esq.

Benjamin M. Coyle

Benjamin M. Coyle

Many families have homes or other real estate that parents hope to pass along to the next generation. In the world of estate planning, there are a variety of ways to achieve the movement of a family home from parents to children — sometimes through a trust, sometimes through a will after death, or even sometimes by outright gift.

While all these methods have their place, another option that should be considered is the formation of a limited-liability company (LLC) to hold title to real estate.

In Massachusetts, a limited-liability company is a business entity, formed with the secretary of the Commonwealth, and offering great flexibility in its management. This flexibility is very appealing, particularly when a home or other real estate is to be owned, used, and managed by a group.

For example, parents may want their four children to inherit a property equally. By using an LLC, rather than deeding each child a 25% interest in the property outright, parents would be able to transfer shares in the LLC to their children. Doing things this way is beneficial for several reasons.

One of the most important advantages of an LLC is the ability to work under an operating agreement — a formal, written document that clearly states the owners/members of the LLC, their respective interests, and the manner in which the LLC is operated and governed. The operating agreement can also allocate profits and losses to various members (which can be different than their ownership interest). Most importantly, the operating agreement also clearly states rules for use of the property by the members, and allocation of expenses.

“One of the most important advantages of an LLC is the ability to work under an operating agreement — a formal, written document that clearly states the owners/members of the LLC, their respective interests, and the manner in which the LLC is operated and governed.”

This gives everyone involved a crystal-clear understanding of their privileges and responsibilities relative to the property.

Once an LLC is formed and an operating agreement established, the real estate in question would be transferred into the LLC by deed, and the LLC would then be the owner of the property. By transferring the property to the LLC, the grantor has essentially converted real estate into tangible personal property, thereby avoiding many of the probate complexities of real estate.

Additionally, an LLC offers continuity in the property’s title, while still providing for the flexibility of changing ownership interests and membership shares (in contrast to multiple deeds divvying up the property, which could cause significant title confusion).

In the event the property is rented, the LLC provides limited-liability protection for its members, either short term or long term. Further, LLCs often offer tax advantages (over outright ownership) with respect to rental income, repair costs, renovations, and other expenses associated with the property. Additionally, since the LLC is a recognized business entity, it may often be easier for the LLC to obtain insurance or borrow money from a bank, in contrast with the banking difficulties that can be experienced by individuals with a shared interest via deed, or if the property were held in a trust.

Although there are significant advantages to the LLC, there are also startup costs and recurring annual expenses associated with the formation and continued maintenance of the LLC. Initial formation costs include a filing fee of $500 with the secretary of the Commonwealth, and any legal fees associated with the completion of articles of organization and the operating agreement.

Massachusetts requires that LLCs file an annual report with the secretary of the Commonwealth. For LLCs formed outside of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth requires a foreign LLC to register in Massachusetts and comply with the state’s annual filing requirements.

It is good practice (and may even be required by the operating agreement) for the members of an LLC to hold regular meetings, at least annually, where they discuss the business of the prior year and the upcoming year as it pertains to the LLC and the operation of the property. The LLC should maintain a corporate book that includes the minutes of each membership meeting, as well as minutes for any special meetings that may occur throughout the year. Since the LLC is a business entity, it will require its own tax-identification number and annual tax return. Depending upon the tax election chosen by the LLC, if there is any associated tax liability, those costs can potentially be passed on to each member to be addressed on their individual tax returns, and the expenses associated with annual fees and costs can be deducted from any LLC income.

An LLC is an excellent option to consider when determining the best way to address transferring real estate from one generation to the next. The transfer can occur during the lifetime of the current owners with relative ease and can be added to many existing estate plans, thereby providing families with effective ownership transitions and limited liability for the members of the LLC.

Benjamin M. Coyle is a shareholder with Bacon Wilson, P.C. He specializes in matters of estate planning and administration, and also has extensive experience with real estate, business, corporate, and municipal law; (413) 781-0560; [email protected]


What’s Next for the Cannabis Industry?

The cannabis industry is off to a fast and quite intriguing start in the Bay State, and two new categories of license have particular potential to move this sector in new directions: one for home delivery of cannabis products, and another for social-consumption establishments, or cannabis cafés.

By Isaac C. Fleisher, Esq.

We are nearly three years into the Commonwealth’s experiment with recreational cannabis, and the industry is finally moving beyond an amusing novelty.

The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) reports that retail sales in 2019 alone have already exceeded $190 million, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. To date, the CCC has issued only 72 final licenses for marijuana establishments, but there are currently another 400 license applications that are pending or have received provisional approval.

Isaac C. Fleisher

This all means that, over the next few years, the Massachusetts cannabis industry is set to grow at an unprecedented rate. What we don’t know is how this growth will change and shape the industry.

Much of the excitement and rhetoric around legalization has focused on the potential to create new business and employment opportunities for communities that have been disproportionately harmed by prohibition and for local entrepreneurs. Lawmakers attempted to pursue these goals (with mixed success) through the design of the original regulations, with provisions for local control by cities and towns, special categories for equity applicants, and caps on the number of licenses that a single business could control.

The CCC has recently been grappling with these issues once again as it revises its regulations.

On July 2, after months of policy discussions and hearings, the CCC released new draft regulations for both medical and recreational marijuana, which will be open for public comment until Aug. 16. While most casual observers will not find the draft regulations to be scintillating reading material, there are a number of interesting new provisions that can tell us a lot about what the future of Massachusetts’ cannabis industry could look like.

Two new categories of license have particular potential to move the cannabis industry in new directions; one for home delivery of cannabis products, and another for social-consumption establishments (i.e., cannabis cafés).

Social Consumption

A social-consumption license would authorize businesses to sell cannabis products to customers for on-site consumption. Just think of your neighborhood bar, but it serves cannabis instead of alcohol. Under the proposed regulations, cannabis could be consumed at a social-consumption establishment in almost any form, except for combustible (i.e. smoking it the old-fashioned way), but even that possibility is left open by a provision for an outdoor smoking waiver.

Cannabis edibles would have to be prepackaged and shelf-stable, but there is no prohibition on serving prepared food on site, so long as the food isn’t directly infused with marijuana. That means we could soon be seeing cannabis restaurants that offer gourmet food alongside gourmet pot.

“There is no prohibition on serving prepared food on site, so long as the food isn’t directly infused with marijuana. That means we could soon be seeing cannabis restaurants that offer gourmet food alongside gourmet pot.”

The CCC is taking an incremental approach to this new class of license by including provisions for a social-consumption pilot program that would be limited to only 12 municipalities. Towns that participated in a working group on social consumption — including North Adams, Amherst, Springfield, Provincetown, and Somerville — would be among those able to opt into the pilot program. Licenses would initially be available only to applicants that were already licensed as a ‘microbusiness’ or a ‘craft marijuana cooperative,’ or applicants certified by the CCC as an ‘economic empowerment’ applicant or ‘social equity’ applicant. The pilot program is an interesting attempt to address the demand for new cannabis markets, while still preserving access for small, local, and minority-owned businesses.

Home Delivery

A licensed ‘delivery-only retailer’ could deliver marijuana products directly to a customer’s residence. Advocates for home delivery have long touted its potential to level the playing field between large, well-funded businesses and the small, local entrepreneurs the CCC seeks to attract.

In theory, a delivery-only licensee wouldn’t need much more than a vehicle in order to begin operating. However, the draft regulations include a number of provisions that could create substantial barriers to entry for small-time operators. Home-delivery orders would still need to go through a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer, who would presumably not be particularly interested in providing their product to competitors at wholesale prices.

Additionally, the draft regulations prohibit deliveries to any residence in a town that has banned brick-and-mortar retailers.

Numerous security provisions included in the draft regulations create further costly (and controversial) requirements for delivery-only retailers. Each delivery vehicle would need multiple surveillance cameras, and delivery agents would need to wear body cameras to record the entire delivery, including the customer. This has predictably resulted in a number of concerns about privacy and regulatory overreach.

At a recent CCC meeting, Commissioner Shaleen Title pointed out that, “to the extent that home delivery to [medical-marijuana] patients has been ongoing, there may already be security in place that goes above and beyond our regulations, and to my knowledge there haven’t been incidents … That seems to be an argument that you should not be putting in additional burdens and regulations.”

While body cameras got the most attention at the CCC’s meetings, one provision in the proposed home delivery regulations with the potential to be far more consequential is the option to use a “third-party technology platform provider” to facilitate the ordering process. In simpler terms, we could soon be saying “there’s an app for that.”

While there is still a thorny tangle of federal and state laws preventing a true e-commerce for cannabis, it’s not hard to imagine startups racing to be the first ‘Uber for weed.’ This would certainly make the consumer experience even more convenient, but it would mean yet another blow to the delivery only retailer’s profit margin, and does not seem consistent with the goal of lowering the barrier to entry for small businesses.

Of course, excitement about new markets comes with the important caveat that the rules still need to be finalized and, in some cases, there would need to be a corresponding change in state law. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see that regulators are willing to consider new ideas for Massachusetts’ cannabis industry. The lines around the block at the first retailers have everybody seeing dollar signs, but with no statutory limits on the number of licenses that the CCC can issue, it is only a matter of time before supply exceeds demand.

In states that are further along in this process there is already evidence of a boom-bust cycle, as oversupply causes wholesale prices to plummet and smaller operators are forced out of the market. In Massachusetts, where the cannabis industry is still relatively nascent, there is still opportunity for regulators, consumers, activists, and entrepreneurs to play important roles in shaping the future of the industry.

Attorney Isaac C. Fleisher is an associate with Bacon Wilson, P.C., where his practice is focused on business and corporate law, with particular emphasis on the rapidly expanding cannabis industry. An accomplished transactional attorney, he has broad experience in all aspects of business representation, for legal matters ranging from mergers and acquisitions to business formation and financing; (413) 781-0560; [email protected].