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West of the River Chamber Foundation Funds Equipment at Agawam High School

AGAWAM — The West of the River Chamber of Commerce and its 501(c)(3) foundation presented Agawam High School with a check for $3,600 on Feb. 27 for the purchase of a Haas Simulator for its new manufacturing program. The West of the River Chamber Foundation (WRCF) has a mission to impact the local economy and area businesses by engaging in philanthropic work in the communities of Agawam and West Springfield. It recognizes that approximately 500 machinists’ jobs are vacant in the Commonwealth on any given day. This affects local business and industry because they cannot hire skilled machinists, and, therefore, machine shops cannot operate at maximum capacity. Lower productivity means lower incoming revenue. In an effort to alleviate this problem, the WRCF enacted a plan. It formed a focus group with the Agawam school system and the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative. The focus group’s efforts have resulted in programs, like the new Agawam High School program, implemented in its STEM program to introduce students to the vocation of a machinist. With the purchase of the new machines, the students will be able to learn trades that will provide them with lifelong skills and careers. Ace Precision, a manufacturing company in Agawam, has purchased two new simulators and donated a CNC machine towards this new program as well. Agawam High School has received more than $100,000 in community donations towards this new opportunity for its students.

Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts Earns 5-Star Award

SPRINGFIELD — Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts (JAWM), now celebrating its centennial anniversary, has earned a 5-Star Award from Junior Achievement USA for the third consecutive year. Junior Achievement organizations are judged on five categories: Student Growth/Year-over-Year % Change in Contact Hours; Surplus; Cash on Hand; Debt Ratio, and Current Ratio, defined as current assets divided by current liabilities. All chapters must meet the criteria for Surplus and at least one of the two student ratios, with the level of the star determined by how many of the other three standards are met. JAWM’s volunteer-delivered, K-12 programs foster work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial-literacy skills, and use experiential learning to inspire students to reach their potential. It provides turnkey solutions for businesses to engage students; rigorous and proven curriculum to educators for Massachusetts frameworks in English-language arts, mathematics, and social studies; and business-startup experience for teens. In addition, Junior Achievement provides educational programming for K-12 students that supports the newly signed law by Gov. Charlie Baker aimed at giving Massachusetts students the tools they need to navigate their financial futures, including milestones like buying a home and planning for retirement. The law allows state education officials to establish standards around financial literacy, which schools could incorporate into their existing curricula in subjects like math, business, and social sciences.

 

Allied Flooring and Paint Donates $5,000 to MHA

SPRINGFIELD — Allied Flooring and Paint made a $5,000 donation to support the work of MHA, which provides residential and support services to people impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, and homelessness. “Allied has supplied and installed carpet, floors, and paint for MHA residences throughout the area for many years,” said Allied President Mario Tedeschi. “These are family homes for the individuals MHA serves, and I’m proud to help ensure they are comfortable, clean, and bright.” Kimberley Lee, vice president, Resource Development & Branding for MHA, noted that the donation will support MHA’s new outpatient clinic for emotional wellness, known as BestLife. “I’ve had opportunity to see first-hand the compassion and caring that MHA has for the clients they serve,” Tedeschi said. “I’m proud of my long-time affiliation with MHA and consider myself a champion of their work and a cheerleader as well.”

Briefcase

Employer Confidence Slides to Begin 2019

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

1Berkshire Begins to Implement Berkshire Blueprint 2.0

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

Study Shows Economic Impact of Westover Air Show

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

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

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

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Decline for Second Straight Year

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

Historic Restoration Begins at Old Hampshire County Courthouse

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

Briefcase

City of Springfield Files Opioid Lawsuit

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

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

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

Massachusetts Unemployment Drops Slightly in November

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.4% in November, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicates Massachusetts added 4,600 jobs in November. Over the month, the private sector added 4,600 jobs as gains occurred in trade, transportation, and utilities; professional, scientific, and business services; education and health services; and information. Financial activities, construction, other services, and manufacturing lost jobs over the month while the jobs level in leisure and hospitality remained unchanged. From November 2017 to November 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 60,500 jobs. The November unemployment rate was three-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.7% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force increased by 4,200 from 3,832,800 in October, as 8,300 more residents were employed and 4,000 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point. The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — remained at 68%. Compared to November 2017, the labor force participation rate is up 2.7%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in professional, scientific, and business services; construction; information; and education and health services.

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

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

Briefcase

Gaming Commission Releases October Revenue Figures for MGM Springfield, Plainridge

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

Employer Confidence Drops During October

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

 

UMass Study: Pedal Desks Could Improve Health of Workplace

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

 

Travelers Aid Begins Service at Bradley International Airport

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