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Normandeau Technologies Inc. Can Help Companies Comply Kari’s Law

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Is your business telephone system compliant with Kari’s Law, which went into effect on Feb. 16? Normandeau Technologies Inc. (NTI) can help businesses determine compliance with the law. To reach NTI, call (413) 584-3131. Kari’s Law requires telephone systems to provide direct dial and routing to 911 with no prefixes or other button press, as well as on-site notification of a 911 call being made, with a ‘dispatchable location’ conveyed (for example, which floor and room of an office building a worker is on or which classroom a student is calling from). In addition to facing potentially devastating civil liabilities should a tragedy occur, businesses that fail to comply with the law risk fines, and may be subject to additional penalties for each day they remain non-compliant. With Kari’s Law now included within the amended Communications Act, the Federal Communications Commission has the power to enforce the rules, assign judgments, and collect penalties. Kari’s Law is named after Kari Hunt, who was tragically murdered in her hotel room in 2013 after multiple failed attempts by her daughter to dial 911. Medical examiners agree that, had her daughter been able to reach emergency services, Hunt would have survived the attack. The law is designed to ensure that anyone, anywhere can reach emergency services and that critical location data is provided with that call.

Springfield Museums Seeking Ubora, Ahadi Nominations

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the 29th annual Ubora Award and the 11th annual Ahadi Youth Award. These prestigious awards — conferred by the African Hall subcommittee — are awarded to African-American people from Greater Springfield who have gone above and beyond in demonstrating commitment to fields of community service, education, science, humanities, and/or the arts. The nomination deadline for both awards is March 31. True to the Swahili word that comprises its name, the Ubora Award recognizes an adult of African heritage who exemplifies excellence in their commitment to creating a better community through service. Named for the Swahili word for promise, the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who excels in academics and performs admirable service to the Greater Springfield community. Eligible candidates must be age 19 or younger, live in or have strong ties to the Greater Springfield area, and be currently enrolled in grades 10, 11, or 12. A full list of past awardees can be found on the Springfield Museums website. The Ubora and Ahadi awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in September. Nomination forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. Nominations may be e-mailed to [email protected] or mailed to African Hall Subcommittee, c/o Valerie Cavagni, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, MA 01103.

United Personnel Wins Best of Staffing Designation

SPRINGFIELD — United Personnel, a leading Springfield-based staffing firm serving Massachusetts and Connecticut, has won ClearlyRated’s Best of Staffing Client and Talent Award for the third consecutive year. According to ClearlyRated, this industry award recognizes staffing firms that have demonstrated exceptional service quality based exclusively on ratings provided by their clients and placed talent. The Best of Staffing designation serves as a credible point of differentiation for a firm’s commitment to service excellence, providing prospective clients and job seekers with qualitative data critical to vetting staffing and recruiting agencies. United Personnel is based in Springfield with additional offices in Northampton and Chelmsford, as well as New Haven and Hartford, Conn. The agency manages temporary, contract, and direct-hire placements in professional, administrative, information-technology, and light-industrial roles. Focused on placing highly qualified candidates with their clients, United Personnel received satisfaction scores of 9 or 10 out of 10 from a significant number of both clients and candidates placed in jobs, resulting in the Best of Staffing Client and Candidate recognition. These two awards are distinctions that fewer than 2% of all staffing agencies in the U.S. and Canada have earned.

Eversource Customers Benefit from Increase in Reliability

BOSTON — Eversource’s commitment to enhancing system reliability is significantly reducing the number of power interruptions that customers experience, with outages in the Commonwealth down by nearly 17% in 2019 compared to 2018, the company reports. This improvement stems from the energy company’s investments in strengthening and modernizing its electric system, including a program to install more than 1,000 smart fuses to the system throughout the Commonwealth. These smart fuses can automatically restore power to customers when a tree limb temporarily contacts wires and help to protect the electric system when a problem is detected, such as a current surge or overload. Eversource has invested more than $2.5 million to install more than 350 smart fuses on its electric system throughout Massachusetts since 2018. The energy company plans to expand the program in 2020 by installing more than 300 devices on the system throughout the state. In addition to its smart-fuse program, Eversource will continue to install smart switches, devices that enable system operators to remotely reroute power to customers in minutes. The energy company has installed more than 1,100 smart switches over the last five years and continues to replace utility poles with more durable structures, install hundreds of miles of covered wire, and conduct robust tree-trimming programs to ensure the reliable delivery of energy to customers. Eversource customers across New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all experienced a significant improvement in reliability in 2019. January through December of this year represented the system’s strongest reliability performance across Eversource’s entire service territory since 2013.

Bay Path University Programs Rank Highly on Intelligent.com

LONGMEADOW — Intelligent.com has recognized eight Bay Path University degree programs as some of the best online degree programs available in multiple areas of study. The website is a free, privately supported online platform that’s editorially independent and claims to provide unbiased, accurate, and fact-based information on a wide range of issues surrounding education. According to the website, programs were evaluated on reputation, course strength, cost, faculty, and flexibility. In addition to their numerical rankings, Bay Path’s master of science in accounting and bachelor of science in health services administration degree programs were recognized as “Best Student Resources” in their respective categories, while its bachelor of arts in psychology – counseling foundations and master of science in nonprofit management and philanthropy programs were recognized as the “Best in the Northeast” out of all degree programs assessed in their respective fields. Bay Path’s master of science in leadership and negotiation program was awarded “Best Job Placement Rate” out of the 147 colleges and universities assessed. Other programs awarded include the master of science in applied behavior analysis, the master of science in higher education administration, and the master of fine arts in creative nonfiction, which ranked in the top 8% of creative-writing graduate programs reviewed.

STCC Kicks Off Fundraising Effort

SPRINGFIELD — In celebration of the leap year, the Springfield Technical Community College Foundation has launched a fundraising campaign called “Leap Forward” to support students. The foundation is asking alumni, parents, the community, and friends of the college to make a gift of $29 in the month of February. The contribution will go directly to support the students currently enrolled at STCC. To donate, visit stcc.edu/leap and click on ‘give now.’ The website gives donors the choice to donate in $29 increments, and each $29 represents support for one student. Donors also can enter any amount in an ‘other’ box. In addition, donors can use a drop-down menu to designate their gift for a specific category (where the need is greatest, general scholarship fund, Society of Women Engineers, Hispanic Assoc. in Higher Education, Arts at STCC, STCC athletics, or a named scholarship fund). STCC graduates said financial support from donors made a meaningful difference and were excited to hear about the “Leap Forward” campaign. For questions about the campaign or the STCC Foundation, contact Galanis at (413) 755-4529 or [email protected]

Wilbraham & Monson Academy Cuts Day Tuition by 20%

WILBRAHAM — Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) announced a 20% cut in its day student tuition rate for the 2020-21 academic year. The tuition for Upper School day students will decrease from $42,500 to $34,000. The tuition reset, recently approved by the board of trustees, was made in part because WMA recognized the growing cost of private secondary education, which has outpaced growth in regional household median income. In turn, this has created uncertainty for local families about the attainability of an independent school education. The reset is paired with a new five-day boarding option, two recent $10 million bequests to the endowment, a $6 million library set to open this spring, and a new, 4,800-square-foot, state-of-the-art STEM Lab that will be ready for use in September.

MGM Springfield to Welcome Casual Italian Restaurant Costa

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield will welcome Costa, a classic Italian restaurant serving housemade charcuterie, pizzas, pastas, salads, desserts, and more, to the resort’s food and beverage portfolio on Friday, Feb. 28. This will be Costa’s third outpost, having debuted as Osteria Costa at the Mirage Las Vegas and MGM National Harbor in 2018. Costa at MGM Springfield will be located in the Cal Mare space, which will close on Monday, Feb. 24. For reservations, visit Open Table or call (413) 273-5430.

Company Notebook

Colony Hills Capital Buys Windfield Senior Estates, Windfield Family Estates

WILBRAHAM — Colony Hills Capital (CHC), based in Wilbraham, announced it recently purchased Windfield Senior Estates and Windfield Family Estates, a combined 160-unit multi-family apartment community located in nearby Hadley. It was purchased for $14,035,000 on Oct. 23. Built in 2002, the property consists of 80 independent senior apartments and 80 family apartments. The property was originally developed and financed using the LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credit) program and currently has income and rent restrictions on 80% of the units. The community is located just off Route 9 in close proximity to UMass Amherst. It is also within a mile of top retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, LL Bean, and numerous restaurants and entertainment venues. Windfields also offers direct access to the Norwottuck Branch Rail Trail, part of the 104-mile Mass Central Rail Trail system. Colony Hills Capital is rolling out a capital-improvement plan that includes upgrades and remodeling to interior resident common areas, hallways, and office areas, as well as adding exterior amenities including a dog park; additional sitting, picnic, and garden areas; and grilling stations. There will also be a complete repaving of parking areas and interior roadways. Additionally, the company plans to make the community more energy-efficient, bike friendly, and environmentally conscious. Colony Hills Capital is a multi-family real-estate investment company that targets workforce, value-add investment opportunities located primarily in secondary markets in the Southeastern U.S. Since its inception in 2008, Colony and its affiliates have acquired more than 8,800 apartment in seven states.

Smith & Wesson Separates Firearms Business from American Outdoor Brands

SPRINGFIELD — Smith & Wesson plans to separate from the outdoor products and accessories businesses of American Outdoor Brands Corp. (AOBC). Smith & Wesson changed its name to American Outdoor Brands in 2016. Instead, the organization will include two separate companies: Smith & Wesson Brands Inc., which will encompass the firearms business, and American Outdoor Brands Inc., which will include the outdoor products and accessories businesses. “There have been significant changes in the political climate as well as the economic, investing, and insurance markets since we embarked upon what we believe have been our very successful diversification efforts,” said Barry Monheit, chairman of the board, in a press release. “We believe that separating into two independent public companies will allow each company to better align its strategic objectives with its capital allocation priorities. James Debney, currently president and CEO of American Outdoor Brands Corp., will lead American Outdoor Brands Inc., while Mark Smith, currently head of firearms manufacturing operations, will be CEO of Smith & Wesson Brands Inc.

HG&E Earns Recognition as Smart Energy Provider

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) has earned a Smart Energy Provider (SEP) designation from the American Public Power Assoc. for demonstrating commitment to and proficiency in energy efficiency, distributed generation, and environmental initiatives that support a goal of providing low-cost, quality, safe, and reliable electric service. Chris Van Dokkumburg, planning analyst at ‎Holland Board of Public Works and chair of the Energy Services Committee in Michigan presented the designations on Oct. 29 during the association’s annual Customer Connections Conference held in New Orleans, Louisiana. The SEP designation, which lasts for two years, recognizes public power utilities for demonstrating leading practices in four key disciplines: smart energy-program structure, energy-efficiency and distributed-energy programs, environmental and sustainability initiatives, and the customer experience. This is the first year the association has offered the SEP designation. HG&E joins a pioneering group of 60 public power utilities nationwide that received the inaugural SEP designation.

Marcus Printing Acquires ILS Business Services

HOLYOKE — Marcus Printing announced it has acquired ILS Business Services of West Springfield, strengthening the capabilities of both companies. Both Marcus Printing and ILS Business Services are local Western Mass. companies built on the shared values of providing exceptional customer service at excellent prices, said Marcus Printing President Susan Goldsmith. Marcus Printing was established in 1930 by Goldsmith’s grandparents, Phil and Sarah Marcus. ILS Business Services was founded by Bob and Irene Scalise in 1980, and their daughter, Amy Scalise, grew up around the business and officially joined the family business in 2014. Amy joins Marcus as the mailing manager, Bob will remain on board as a consultant, and the other ILS employees have joined the Marcus staff. The operations of ILS will move in the near future to the 33,000-square-foot Marcus Printing plant at 750 Main St. in Holyoke.

Pullman & Comley Opens First Massachusetts Office

SPRINGFIELD — Law firm Pullman & Comley, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary of practicing law, recently expanded into Springfield with an office in Tower Square at 1500 Main St. Pullman & Comley’s new Springfield office is its first in the Bay State, adding to offices in Bridgeport (where the firm was founded 100 years ago), Hartford, Westport, Stamford, and Waterbury, Conn., as well as an office in White Plains, N.Y. With nearly 100 attorneys, Pullman & Comley is one of the area’s largest law firms. The law firm’s expansion into Massachusetts gives its local clients — whom it has served for years — easy access to their lawyers. The lawyers in the Springfield office currently focus on legal matters relating to property tax and valuation, labor and employment law, and litigation. In addition, the firm’s Springfield location allows Pullman’s real-estate and public-finance attorneys, who often collaborate with the firm’s environmental, land-use, and energy practices, to serve the commercial real-estate industry in Western Mass. and bring their experience to local public and private development projects.

C&H Architects Celebrates 30 Years in Business

AMHERST — C&H Architects is celebrating 30 years of designing sustainable architecture. The firm’s work serves as an example of how, in a time of critical climate challenges, developers can add to the built environment in a way that improves the sustainability of future generations, rather than threatening it, partner Jesse Selman said. At their most basic level, buildings protect individuals from the elements. Beyond that, they shape the environment and provide texture to people’s lives. Buildings, however, are also one of the largest contributors to global warming, accounting for nearly 40% of all greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide — a statistic expected to double by 2050. In an effort to mitigate these impacts, there has been a steady increase in sustainable architecture — the design of buildings that work in harmony with the environment. C&H Architects has been at the forefront of this effort for the past 30 years. It designed the fifth-ever certified Living Building Challenge project in the world (and the first in New England) for Smith College’s MacLeish Field Station, the most rigorous performance standard for buildings available. The firm has designed more than 10 net-zero homes, the most recent of which won the top honor at AIA (American Institute of Architecture) Rhode Island in 2018, and includes a solar array that powers both the house and the car of its occupants. Founded in 1989 by Bruce Coldham to create architecture that responds to our rapidly changing climate and resources, the Amherst-based firm has served hundreds of clients with projects at every scale, from small residential renovations to large institutional construction. Today, the firm’s four partners — Tom Hartman, Garth Schwellenbach, Jesse Selman, and Elizabeth Morgan — carry on the tradition Coldham started, while constantly incorporating advances in building technology, materials, and practices.

EANE Names CIS Abroad 2019 Employer of Choice

AGAWAM — CIS Abroad of Northampton was selected as the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) Employer of Choice award recipient for 2019. The award was presented at EANE’s Employment Law and HR Practices Conference luncheon at the Sheraton Monarch Place in Springfield on Nov. 7. The Employer of Choice award recognizes companies and organizations for developing workplaces that value employees, foster engagement, invest in employee development, and reward performance. Past winners view the award as a cornerstone of their company credentials and often highlight the award in recruiting and retention, grants and funding applications, and business development. Many past winners have gone on to sit on the application review board to help select future winners of this award. CIS Abroad provides innovative education programs that broaden academic perspectives, promote global awareness, and encourage personal development while laying the foundation for student participants to become engaged world citizens.

Dillon Bodley & Associates Relocates in Amherst

AMHERST — Dillon Bodley & Associates, P.C., owned and operated by certified public accountants Brian Dillon and Catherine Bodley, recently moved its Amherst location to 196 North Pleasant St. to offer its clients more convenient parking and better access. The firm closed at its former location at 37 South Pleasant St. on Oct. 27 and reopened at the new address on Nov. 1. Dillon Bodley & Associates, P.C. provides a broad range of accounting and tax services, including tax preparation and planning engagements for individuals, small businesses, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. It also offers bookkeeping services to its business tax clients and provides consulting to small businesses and startups. The firm was located on South Pleasant Street for four years, with Bodley working on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Dillon working on Wednesdays during tax season. Services are provided on other days of the week and throughout the rest of the year by appointment. Dillon Bodley & Associates, P.C. also has a West Springfield office at 63 Myron St., which will move to 71 Park Ave., Suite C, on Dec. 4 to accommodate an increased number of staff members.

Teach Western Mass Awarded Grant to Develop Diverse Group of Teachers

SPRINGFIELD — Teach Western Mass was recently selected as a member of the Diverse Teachers cohort at ​NewSchools Venture Fund​, supported by the Walton Family Foundation. Teach Western Mass is one of 14 organizations in the cohort. Each cohort member is committed to enhancing the recruitment, development, and retention of underrepresented teachers (including Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American/Alaskan Native teachers). In addition to financial support, NewSchools will provide management assistance and create a community of practice for the cohort members. The TWM Residency is a customized credentialing program training new teachers to be effective in the classroom while building strong relationships in their school communities and developing standards-based and culturally relevant curriculum for students in the region’s highest-need schools.

Health New England Recogized for Worksite Health Promotion

SPRINGFIELD — Health New England, a regional health plan based in Springfield, was named a 2019 WorkWell Massachusetts Award Program Silver Level winner for exemplary worksite health promotion. The award recognizes Health New England’s achievements developing, implementing, and participating in corporate health-improvement and wellness programs. The Health New England Healthy Directions wellness program encourages overall well-being, helping employees focus on prevention, nutrition, and physical activity. With leadership support, Healthy Directions is able to offer engaging and evidence-based health tools and incentives. An easy-to-access online portal, onsite nutritional counseling, tread desks, healthy dining options, group fitness challenges, and intensive lifestyle-change programs are examples of Health New England’s dedication to creating an enjoyable and healthy work culture for all its employees. WorkWell Massachusetts Award is a corporate award program created by the Worksite Wellness Council of Massachusetts (WWCMA), a not-for-profit member organization dedicated to the advancement of worksite wellness programs. The award program’s criteria are based on the employers’ strategic planning and organizational support, program design and implementation, participant engagement, and measurements and evaluation.

Company Notebook

Tufts, Harvard Pilgrim Announce Plan to Merge

MASSACHUSETTS — Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan recently inked an agreement to merge, a marriage that would bring together the Commonwealth’s second- and third-largest insurers, creating a powerhouse to rival Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Tom Croswell, president and CEO of Tufts Health Plan, will serve as CEO of the new organization. Michael Carson, president and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim, will serve as president, overseeing the organization’s diverse business lines and subsidiaries, according to a release. “Our communities and consumers today face four major hurdles in health care: affordability, access, quality of health, and a fragmented healthcare experience across various stakeholders and health systems. Through our shared vision, we believe we can tackle these issues and bring more value to the communities we serve,” said Croswell in a statement. The plan was unanimously voted on by the boards of both organizations. The new combined entity does not yet have a name. The deal would bring together Tufts Health Plan’s 2,841 employees and approximately 1.16 million members with Harvard Pilgrim’s 1,182 employees and approximately 1.16 million members. Together, the insurers will have members in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

Elms College Will No Longer Require SAT, ACT Scores for Most Admissions

CHICOPEE — Starting with the class entering in the fall of 2020, Elms College will no longer require scores from standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT for admission to most majors. The move to a test-optional policy is intended to make higher education accessible to students from all backgrounds, including from underrepresented populations. Elms admission counselors will review applicants’ essays, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. They also will talk with prospective students to get to know them as full people. The test-optional policy will give all students, including those from underrepresented populations such as racial and ethnic minorities or those with economic disadvantages — groups who traditionally earn lower scores on standardized tests because of systemic social inequities — a greater chance to access the educational and experiential opportunities Elms offers. The School of Nursing at Elms will still require test scores, however, because nursing majors are required, upon graduation, to take the NCLEX exam to become licensed as nurses, and the college needs to know that its nursing students can succeed on such exams. Students or families with questions about test-optional admission, academics at Elms, or the application process are encouraged to contact the Office of Admission at (413) 592-3189 or [email protected] More information is also available online at elms.edu/testoptional.

UMassFive to Bring Employees Student-loan Repayment Benefits

HADLEY — UMassFive College Federal Credit Union announced it is bringing student-loan repayment benefits to its employees via a new partnership between Student Choice and FutureFuel.io. Student Choice teamed up with FutureFuel.io earlier this year to better help credit unions address the growing challenge of student-loan debt faced by the emerging workforce. Participating in this new perk allows credit unions to offer their employees and employees of select employee groups access to FutureFuel’s online portal of automated tools that can help reduce the impact of student debt.

Monson High School Golfers, Monson Savings Bank Support Shriners

MONSON — Monson High School graduate Cam Kratovil, sophomore Mason Dumas, and varsity golf coach Paul Nothe, in cooperation with Monson Savings Bank, teamed up to raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield. Kratovil and Dumas collected pledges for a marathon golf round they recently played at Quaboag Country Club. They were escorted in golf carts around the course by Nothe and his wife, Nicole, as they completed their goal of playing 100 holes between the hours of 6 a.m. and noon. All the money pledged to them will be given to Shriners Hospitals for Children – Springfield. In addition, Monson Savings Bank sponsored the 2019 Pro-Am Golf Tournament at Quaboag Country Club on Aug. 17 and 18 to benefit the hospital.

Tighe & Bond Climbs in ENR’s Ranking of Environmental Firms

WESTFIELD — Tighe & Bond, a Northeast leader in engineering and environmental consulting, climbed six spots this year to number 142 on Engineering News Record’s (ENR) “2019 Top 200 Environmental Firms” ranking. ENR ranks its list of top 200 envi environmental firms nationally based on the percentage of their 2018 gross revenue from environmental services. Earlier this year, Tighe & Bond also climbed 19 spots to number on ENR’s “2019 Top 500 Design Firms” ranking, moving up a total of 38 spots in the past two years. ENR ranks its list of top 500 design firms nationally based on design-specific revenue from the previous year. Tighe & Bond provides comprehensive engineering and environmental services to hundreds of public and private clients across the Northeast, with emphasis on the education, energy, government, healthcare, industrial, real-estate, and water/wastewater markets. A staff of 385 work from nine offices in five states.

People’s United Community Foundation Grant Boosts JA Summer Program

SPRINGFIELD — Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, which provides workforce-readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial-literacy programs to K-12 youth, recently received a $5,000 grant from the People’s United Community Foundation to support its Summer BEE (Business and Entrepreneurial Exploration) program for middle- and high-school students. The funds will be used to provide out-of-school educational experiences for youth from grades 6 to 12, focusing on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, career exploration/work readiness, and STEM education. The program includes in-class learning, hands-on learning, and experiential out-of-school learning experiences, such as lessons about the water ecosystem with presentations, videos, and techniques to test the water in the nearby Connecticut River. To learn problem solving, decision making and teamwork, students form companies, create a product, and market and sell the product, with the goal of earning a profit. Students have several opportunities to sell their products and pitch the companies to business people, family, and friends.

ESB Foundation Donates $5,000 to Hilltown Community Health Center

EASTHAMPTON — Matthew Sosik, president and CEO of bankESB, announced that the Easthampton Savings Bank Foundation awarded a $5,000 grant to the capital campaign for the John P. Musante Health Center of Hilltown Community Health Center. Located at 70 Boltwood Walk in Amherst, the John P. Musante Health Center provides accessible and affordable healthcare for primary and preventive medical, dental, and behavioral healthcare services. The center’s service area includes Amherst, Hadley, Northampton, Hatfield, Belchertown, Ware, South Hadley, Sunderland, South Deerfield, and Leverett.

WNEU Teams Up with Comcast to Offer Xfinity on Campus Service

SPRINGFIELD — Comcast announced it will bring its Xfinity on Campus service to Western New England University, allowing students to watch live TV and on-demand and recorded content on their IP-enabled devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The service is included with room and board for students living in on-campus housing. Xfinity on Campus offers more than 100 live channels and access to thousands of current TV shows and hit movies via Xfinity on Demand. While off campus, students can use the Xfinity Stream app to log in and access TV Everywhere programming that’s part of their subscription.

Eversource Upgrading Electric System in Western Mass.

SPRINGFIELD — Eversource is investing $4 million in upgrades to electric-distribution systems in the towns of Plainfield, Cummington, Chesterfield, Worthington, Windsor, Savoy, and Dalton. These enhancement projects include replacing more than 130 utility poles with stronger, thicker ones and installing more than 21,000 feet of more resilient power lines. ‘Smart switches’ are also being added to the system to help restore power outages more quickly in the event they happen. These devices can limit the number of customers affected by an outage and restore power with computer-assisted technology from the energy company’s operations center even before sending a crew to inspect the line and make repairs. A major component of this upgrade project is connecting two electrical circuits, creating a loop. Once the two electrical systems are tied together, it will make substations on either end accessible when needed, boosting the company’s ability to deliver reliable power. Customers may experience short power interruptions during the project, so crews can safely perform the work. Any customers affected will be notified by the company in advance. The project is expected to be complete by this fall.

Holyoke Medical Center Expands Services in Westfield

WESTFIELD — Holyoke Medical Center announced expanded healthcare services in Westfield, including family medicine, women’s services, gastroenterology, walk-in care, and more. Holyoke Medical Group Family Medicine, an affiliate of Holyoke Medical Center, has relocated to 140 Southampton Road in Westfield. The office offers care for the entire family, including pediatrics, adult primary care, women’s health, and geriatric care. Dr. Thomas Graziano and Deborah Pisciotta, MS, PA-C, are accepting new patients. The office is open weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. To make an appointment, call (413) 535-4800. In addition to Holyoke Medical Group Family Medicine, Holyoke Medical Center plans to offer walk-in care, lab draw, imaging services, and physical therapy at the 140 Southampton Road facility starting this fall. Holyoke Medical Group Women’s Services also has an office in Westfield, located at 94 North Elm St., Suite 102, in Westfield. Holyoke Medical Center Gastroenterology will also open a new office at 94 North Elm St., Suite 206, in Westfield on Oct. 21.

Massachusetts Unemployment Drops Slightly in July

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point to 2.9% in July, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 3,500 jobs in July. Over the month, the private sector lost 4,100 jobs as losses occurred in leisure and hospitality; education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; construction; and financial activities. Manufacturing jobs remained unchanged over the month, while trade, transportation, and utilities; other services; and information added jobs. Government added jobs over the month. From July 2018 to July 2019, BLS estimates Massachusetts added 37,300 jobs. The July unemployment rate was eight-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.7% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped four-tenths of a percentage point. The labor force decreased by 4,400 from 3,838,800 in June, as 2,100 fewer residents were employed and 2,400 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. 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 — dropped one-tenth of a percentage point over the month to 67.6%. Compared to July 2018, the labor-force participation rate is up one-tenth of a percentage point. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in other services; education and health services; information; and leisure and hospitality.

SPARK EforAll Holyoke Seeks Volunteer Mentors

HOLYOKE — SPARK EforAll Holyoke is actively seeking volunteers to participate as mentors in this winter’s business-accelerator program. Accelerator mentors come from a variety of backgrounds and use their business and leadership experience to guide new entrepreneurs through the process of turning their idea into a growing business. Mentors work in teams of three and are matched with an entrepreneur based on schedule availability and the desire to work together. The team meets as a group to help reaffirm topics and themes raised during classes, while also strategizing with the entrepreneur on how to reach their specific goals during the program. This is a high-touch, year-long commitment. Mentor teams have 90-minute in-person meetings for three months and then meet once a month for the following nine months. Anyone looking for an interactive and meaningful volunteer opportunity and interested in learning more about EforAll should e-mail [email protected]

Court Upholds Dismissal of Class-action Special-ed Suit

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced that the Federal Appeals Court upheld the dismissal of a class-action suit that had been brought by special-education advocates against the city of Springfield and Springfield Public Schools. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Court entered judgment on Aug. 8 affirming the decision of Judge Mark Mastroianni to dismiss the class action. The underlying suit alleged that the city of Springfield and Springfield Public Schools (SPS) violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily segregating students with mental-health disabilities in a separate and inferior school, the Springfield Public Day School (SPDS). A student brought the suit on his own behalf and on behalf of a class of all students with a mental-health disability who are or have been enrolled at SPDS. Two associations, the Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) and Disability Law Center (DLC), joined as plaintiffs seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, including an order that defendants provide the class plaintiffs with “school-based behavior services in neighborhood schools to afford them an equal educational opportunity and enable them to be educated in neighborhood schools.” The U.S. District Court, in an opinion by Mastroianni, denied class certification. The court later ruled that the associations had standing but granted the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the associations. The plaintiffs’ appeal challenges the district court’s denial of class certification. The city appeal argued that the district court erred in concluding that PPAL and DLC had standing. The Court of Appeals agreed that these organizations lack standing to pursue the claims in the complaint, and affirmed the district court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings as to PPAL and DLC on that ground. The case was argued by Deputy City Solicitor Lisa deSousa and attorney Stephen Holstrom, with whom City Solicitor Edward Pikula and attorney Melinda Phelps of Bulkley Richardson were on the brief.

Company Notebook

Johnson & Hill Staffing Cops ‘Best of Staffing’ Honors

WEST SPRINGFIELD —  Johnson & Hill Staffing, specializing in administrative, professional, legal, and accounting and finance staffing in the Western Mass. and Northern Conn. region, announced recently that it has won ClearlyRated’s Best of Staffing Client and Talent Awards. Johnson & Hill achieved World Class status, a distinction reserved for firms who receive a 70% or higher net promoter score (on a scale running from –100 to +100). It received satisfaction scores of 9 or 10 out of 10 from 90.9% of its clients and 75% of its talent — significantly higher than the industry’s average in both categories. “At Johnson & Hill Staffing, we always strive to differentiate ourselves on service,” said Johnson & Hill President Andrea Hill-Cataldo. “We’re focused on relationships and the long term with our clients, and we push ourselves to offer the best possible experience to each candidate we meet. It’s very exciting to see our efforts recognized in this way.” All data is gathered through ClearlyRated and includes feedback both from clients and candidates Johnson & Hill has helped find jobs.

Mountain View Acquires Amherst Landscape & Design

CHICOPEE — Stephen Corrigan, of Mountain View Landscapes & Lawncare Inc., announced the recent acquisition of Amherst Landscape & Design Associates. Since 1976, Corrigan has spent the last 43 years offering landscape-maintenance and construction services throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and surrounding states. In 1979, Steve Prothers established Amherst Landscape & Design, providing the Pioneer Valley and beyond with creative design-build landscape installations. Focused on project development, Prothers will be dedicated to expanding the residential and commercial projects division of Mountain View Landscapes. Mountain View Landscapes and Amherst Landscape & Design have always held a strong belief that their team members are the cornerstone of the work that is accomplished and the success they achieve, Corrigan said.

SkinCatering Earns Women’s Business Enterprise Certficate

SPRINGFIELD — SkinCatering, LLC, an all-natural skincare brand with two spa locations in Springfield and Holyoke, announced it has been awarded the national WBENC Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certificate. WBENC’s certification validates that the business is 51% owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women. “We are making purposeful strides to create the foundation to allow women to own a franchise location of SkinCatering concept spas,” said Leanne Sedlak, owner, chief visionary officer, and lead massage therapist. “I believe this certification is important for any woman considering going into business with us and opening their own SkinCatering branch.” The application process was rigorous, including on-site visits, as the WBENC certification standard is the most relied-upon certification of women-owned businesses, Sedlak said.

Chicopee Savings Foundation Awards $17,000 Grant to MHA

SPRINGFIELD — The Chicopee Savings Charitable Foundation has awarded a $17,000 grant over two years to MHA Inc. to help upgrade and repair two of the nonprofit organization’s community-based residences for people with developmental disabilities. The scope of work provided through the grant targets two of MHA’s residential programs located in Chicopee and will provide a new wheelchair-accessible ramp and roof repairs. MHA’s developmental-disability homes based in Chicopee serve adults facing challenges such as severe developmental delays, cerebral palsy, autistic disorder, epilepsy/seizure disorder, and blindness.

Springfield College, YMCA Unveil Online Degree-completion Program

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper and YMCA President and CEO Kevin Washington recently signed a five-year agreement for an online degree-completion program, which provides staff, who have earned leadership certification through YMCA of the USA, an opportunity to turn that learning into college credits that can count towards their degree completion at Springfield College. The program’s participants represent the first class of students participating in full online courses at Springfield College. The inaugural class of 30 YMCA professionals representing the new degree-completion program recently visited the campus for their new-student orientation. The cohort will begin working toward earning their degrees through the Springfield College online courses starting immediately. These 30 students each received scholarship funding through a grant made possible by the Harold C. Smith Foundation.

Abington Bank to Merge with Pilgrim Bank, Expanding Hometown Financial Group

ABINGTON — Andrew Raczka, CEO of Abington Bank, announced that Abington Bank will merge with Pilgrim Bank, a member of Hometown Financial Group, MHC, the holding company that includes Easthampton-based bankESB. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of this year. Raczka will lead the merged bank as its CEO. Hometown Financial Group recently closed on its acquisition of Pilgrim Bank. “Pilgrim Bank was our entry point into the Eastern Massachusetts market,” said Matthew Sosik, president and CEO of Hometown Financial Group Inc. “From the start, we knew that finding the right mutual partner would be the key to our success with our acquisition of Pilgrim Bancshares Inc.” Following the transaction, Hometown Financial Group will have consolidated assets of $2.7 billion and 30 branches across Massachusetts and Northeastern Conn.

Bay Path Awarded Grant to Connect Adult Women with Jobs

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University was named a winner of a philanthropic funding contest by national nonprofit Strada Education Network. Bay Path was awarded $1,582,600 for a three-year project titled “Closing the Gaps: Building Pathways for Adult Women in a Technology-driven Workforce.” Implemented through the American Women’s College of Bay Path University, the project will address a critical national need for developing a digitally fluent workforce — applicable not only in cybersecurity and the tech sector, but in other fields as well — that is well-prepared with foundational 21st-century skills in digital technologies, coding, data science, and systems thinking, and the ability to apply these skills across different problems, settings, and industries. Bay Path will use its grant to undertake extensive employer research and engagement and to build capacity of the American Women’s College to scale enrollment of adult women and prepare them with core cybersecurity and information-technology competencies that meet the needs of employers, support them as they persist to degree completion, and assist them to successfully transition to careers in cybersecurity and IT-related employment.

ACC Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program Offers Opportunities for Free Tuition, Wage Reimbursement

ENFIELD, Conn. — Starting in March, Asnuntuck Community College is offering a new, free apprenticeship program that will provide employers an opportunity to both enhance their employees’ skills and receive wage reimbursements of up to $13,000 per participant. This two-year program has a $3,750 value per participant but will be entirely free for Connecticut businesses. The time commitment will be three hours per week (Mondays from 6 to 9 p.m.), with breaks for holidays and summer, and classes will occur evenings at Asnuntuck Community College. The Asnuntuck Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship will cover Applied Shop Math, Blueprint Reading (I and II), Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing, Overview of Mechanical Maintenance, Overview of Industrial Maintenance, OSHA 30 – General Industry, and Quality Control. Businesses seeking more information on this opportunity at Asnuntuck may contact Gary Carra at (860) 253-3128 or [email protected]

GCC Increases Job-related Technical Training in Region

GREENFIELD — Thanks to a recent Skills Capital Grant award from the Commonwealth, Greenfield Community College (GCC) will soon increase its capacity and upgrading its medical assistant certificate (MAC) program by offering additional training at its existing satellite location on the campus of Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School in Northampton. The Baker-Polito administration has awarded more than $52 million over the past three years through Skills Capital Grants across the Commonwealth. This round of grants focus on helping residents with barriers to employment, including those who are unemployed or underemployed, lack English proficiency, or do not have degrees or certificates and need new skills to obtain good-paying jobs. The grants cover a broad array of fields from construction and engineering to healthcare and hospitality. Greenfield Community College received $83,764 to purchase portable examination tables, patient simulation anatomical trainers, and medical instrument sterilization equipment. The expansion of GCC’s MAC program will provide greater access to technical education and training in Franklin and Hampshire counties to attract recent high-school graduates, incumbent workers looking to gain new skills, and displaced workers training for new careers in healthcare.

Company Notebook

Community Bank N.A. Reopens Springfield Branch

SPRINGFIELD — The Community Bank N.A. Springfield branch recently celebrated its grand reopening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Local dignitaries, customers, community members, and Community Bank N.A. team members gathered to celebrate the completion of the branch’s renovations. Located within Tower Square, the renovated branch will offer Springfield customers enhanced and expanded services, including a 24-hour ATM and a night drop. At the celebration, Community Bank N.A. leaders also announced the results of a community vote between three nonprofits to receive a portion of the bank’s $12,500 commitment to give back to the Springfield area. Springfield Boys & Girls Club received the majority of the community vote and was presented with a $7,500 donation. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County and YMCA of Greater Springfield each received a $2,500 donation. The Community Bank N.A. Springfield branch began renovations in early October 2018 to add convenient features for customers. The branch will house nine team members and offer customers a wide range of services, including checking and savings accounts, commercial business, and mortgages.

Travel Kuz Provides Services at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta

GILL — Travel Kuz, a motorcoach charter company based in Gill, sent six of its luxurious motorcoach buses to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year. The Travel Kuz buses and drivers were used in Atlanta for VIP and dignitary transportation, which included the special guests of each team and the athletes’ families. In addition to last year’s Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Travel Kuz has also provided transportation services at Super Bowl XLI in Miami in 2007, and at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. F.M. Kuzmeskus Inc., doing business as Travel Kuz, is a fifth-generation family business that has been providing school-bus and luxury motorcoach transportation for more than 90 years. The company operates more than 150 vehicles employing 136 local residents in Franklin County and Southern Vermont.

MassDevelopment Boosts Patriot Armored Systems

LEE — MassDevelopment has issued a $2,646,000 tax-exempt bond on behalf of Patriot Armored Systems Holding LLC, a real-estate entity affiliated with glass manufacturer Patriot Armored Systems. Patriot Armored Systems currently leases 45,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space at 100 Valley St. in Lee. The company’s real-estate entity will use bond proceeds to buy the building and construct a 7,500-square-foot addition, allowing Patriot Armored Systems to expand its manufacturing operations and hire 13 additional employees. Berkshire Bank purchased the bond. Founded in 1992, Patriot Armored Systems manufactures laminated, customized protective glass systems by purchasing glass as a raw material and melding it with bonding compounds. The company specializes in bullet-resistant glass and security glazing and offers an array of glass types, including architectural, ballistic, and bullet-resistant glass. Patriot Armored Systems serves a broad customer base, manufacturing customized products for various military operations, law enforcement, government buildings, banks, hospitals, retail businesses, vehicles, and homes.

United Financial Bancorp Announces Record Earnings

HARTFORD, Conn. — United Financial Bancorp Inc., the holding company for United Bank, announced results for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2018. The company reported net income of $12.2 million, or $0.24 per diluted share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2018, compared to net income for the linked quarter of $16.3 million, or $0.32 per diluted share. The company reported net income of $9.5 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2017. Net income for the year ended Dec. 31, 2018 was $59.9 million, or $1.17 per diluted share, compared to net income of $54.6 million, or $1.07 per diluted share, for the year ended Dec. 31, 2017. “In the fourth quarter of 2018, United Financial Bancorp Inc. delivered annualized linked quarter loan growth of 9% and deposit growth of 12%, while maintaining pristine asset quality and a strong balance sheet,” said William Crawford, IV, CEO and president of the company and the bank.

Pride Cuts Ribbon on New Hadley Location

HADLEY — Pride Stores held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 23 at its newest store, located at 25 Russell St. in Hadley. The new store offers a wide range of services, including an expanded dining area, a café and bakery, fresh deli and grill, Subway, a convenient drive-thru lane, as well as a separate room for beer and wine sales. It’s the first Pride to offer Chester’s Chicken for fresh fried chicken and family meals. The site also includes 12 charging stations for Tesla vehicles. Pride also donated five cents from every gallon of gasoline purchased that week to the Hadley Library Fund, a local nonprofit that is raising funds to support the building of the new Goodwin Library slated to break ground this summer.

Eversource Recognized for Energy-efficiency Programs

BOSTON — Homeowners, renters, and business owners across Massachusetts are always looking for ways to reduce expenses, and that includes energy costs. In recognition of its efforts to help these customers better manage their energy, Eversource was recognized by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) with Exemplary Energy Efficiency Program awards for both its Home Energy Services (HES) program and Franchise Customer Initiative in Massachusetts. The national award recognizes the best utility programs across the country. ACEEE’s national review evaluates and recognizes exemplary programs in areas such as direct customer energy savings, cost-effectiveness, customer service, innovation, and expansion potential. Eversource’s HES program takes a fuel-blind approach and provides in-home energy assessments, turnkey facilitation of weatherization measures, and 0% financing to help homeowners or renters retrofit their homes with cost-effective, energy-efficient measures. Since 2016, the energy saved through Eversource’s HES program in Massachusetts is enough to power approximately 6,000 homes for a year, and the greenhouse-gas emission reductions are equivalent to taking 1,062 cars off the road for a year.

Berkshire Theatre Group Receives Universal Participation Designation

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) announced it was the recipient of the Mass Cultural Council’s (MCC) Universal Participation (UP) Designation. The UP initiative seeks to break down barriers that prevent civic participation in the cultural sector of Massachusetts. The UP designation provides peer networking, leadership platforms, access to grants, promotional opportunities, and professional development for organizations demonstrating inclusive practices. Through the MCC Innovation and Learning Network and the UP designation, the goals of the UP initiative are to support the growth and development of organizations that embrace inclusivity as core to their mission and recognize the power of design to anticipate and accommodate patrons, staff, volunteers, and students. BTG received this designation through providing training to the staff, board, and volunteers about inclusion; engaging users and experts to steward institutional needs to facilitate program and policy development; and implementing innovative accessible practices.

Hazen Paper Co. Launches 2019 ‘Space’ Calendar

HOLYOKE — Hazen Paper Co. is sharing a futuristic view of holography with its 2019 calendar, titled “Space – the Infinite Frontier.” Hazen Holography creates the illusion of motion and dimension on two-dimensional printed items by reflecting and refracting light at different angles. Revolving around the design concept of concentric circles, the calendar depicts a view of space from within a space capsule and a rocket launch. The poster/calendar incorporates several new holographic effects, including circular pillars, which resemble a sun-like orb pulsating with prismatic color that appears concave or convex, depending upon the viewer’s perspective. It also features holographic radial burst, a ray of light beams that alternates from monochrome to a rainbow of colors. The 18-by-24-inch poster/calendar was created to showcase Hazen’s wide-format tableau. This capability enables production of materials up to 52 inches wide without recombine lines, providing designers greater creative freedom. The custom Hazen hologram on 10-point board, coated on both sides, was finished with four-color printing plus opaque white. Hazen is known for the holographic stadium edition NFL Super Bowl program and the holographic enshrinement yearbook for the Basketball Hall of Fame. It is the most vertically integrated producer of holographic paper and film in the U.S., with a holographic lab and design studio on its Holyoke manufacturing campus. To receive a calendar, e-mail [email protected] or call (413) 538-8040.

Berkshire Hills Bancorp Reports Q4 Results

BOSTON — Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. reported GAAP net income of $14 million, or $0.31 per common share, in the fourth quarter of 2018. The non-GAAP measure of core earnings totaled $29 million, or $0.63 per share, during this period. Both GAAP and core EPS totaled $0.70 in the prior quarter. The benefit of higher net interest income in the fourth quarter was offset by lower fee income and higher expense. Core EPS is net of non-core charges, which totaled $0.32 per share after tax in the fourth quarter and included merger-related expenses and other items, including costs related to the restructuring of the company’s banking systems provider relationships. Fourth-quarter financial highlights included 2% loan and deposit growth, 3.41% net interest margin, 60.3% efficiency ratio, 0.17% net loan charge-offs/average loans, and 0.28% non-performing assets/assets. “Core earnings for the year were in line with our original plan, and fourth quarter core earnings also met our expectations before the impact of the government shutdown on SBA-related fee revenue,” CEO Richard Marotta said. “During 2018, our teams made great strides integrating our Eastern Massachusetts acquisition and developing organic business across our footprint. Loan growth was consistent throughout the year, and deposit balances increased with the benefit of higher activity in the fourth quarter. Our internal capital generation supported our balance-sheet growth, and our credit performance and asset quality remain strong.” The board of directors voted to increase the quarterly cash dividend by $0.01, or 5%, to $0.23 per common share to shareholders of record at the close of business on Feb. 14, 2019, payable on Feb. 28, 2019. Effective on the same dates, the board also increased the quarterly cash dividend on preferred stock by 5% to $0.46 per share.

Teach Western Mass Receives $250,000 Grant from Barr Foundation

SPRINGFIELD — Teach Western Mass has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Barr Foundation that will allow the education nonprofit to make investments in strategic planning and capacity-building efforts. Launched in 2015, Teach Western Mass is a nonprofit organization focused on improving the volume, quality, and diversity of teacher candidates in Western Mass. Teach Western Mass (TWM) leads regional teacher-recruitment campaigns in collaboration with school and district partners. As a result, it is the primary source of job opportunities for prospective teachers in Western Mass., while also offering a high-quality, diverse talent pool for partner schools. In the last two years, TWM partner schools have accelerated hiring timelines and increased the percentage of incoming teachers who self-identify as people of color to 40%. Teach Western Mass also offers four innovative and regionally based teacher-training programs that seek to address persistent talent and hiring challenges faced by partner schools, which include both district and charter schools.

Way Finders Awarded $140,000 Grant from Tufts Health Plan Foundation

SPRINGFIELD — Way Finders Inc. was awarded a two-year grant for $140,000 from Tufts Health Plan Foundation to advocate for equitable infrastructure and improved public safety in Springfield. This is one of 11 new community investments totaling more than $1.2 million that reflect the foundation’s commitment to advancing policies and practices that support healthy aging, including addressing gaps in oral health, nutrition, housing, transportation, and community safety. Through this grant, Way Finders will increase the capacity of low-income, older people who are advocating for policy and system changes in Springfield. These older people will lead efforts to address the built environment and community safety. The project leverages Way Finders’ existing Resident Health Advocate programming and its relationships with LiveWell Springfield and the Massachusetts Senior Action Coalition to enable the development of a robust advocacy infrastructure for the city.

Briefcase

UMass Report Details Costs of Reporting Sexual Harassment

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

Employer Confidence Ticks Up in November

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

Nexamp Expands Access to Solar Power in Western Mass.

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

Florence Bank Asks Customers to Vote for Their Favorite Nonprofits

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

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

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

Gaming Revenue Drops at MGM Springfield

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

Briefcase

Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Decrease in Massachusetts

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

Five Colleges, PVTA, Towns Agree to Increase Bus Payments

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

Travelers Aid Begins Service at Bradley International Airport

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

ValleyBike Share Touts Inaugural Season Success

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

Monson Savings Bank Seeks Input on Charitable Giving

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

Briefcase

Gaming Commission Releases October Revenue Figures for MGM Springfield, Plainridge

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

Employer Confidence Drops During October

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

 

UMass Study: Pedal Desks Could Improve Health of Workplace

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

 

Travelers Aid Begins Service at Bradley International Airport

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

Briefcase

Massachusetts Unemployment Rate Holds Steady in September

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

Baystate Reports That Highly Contagious RSV Has Arrived in Area

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

Briefcase

Big E Breaks All-time Attendance Record

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

Employer Confidence Slips Slightly During September

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

Girl Scouts Announce Recipients of ToGetHerThere Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unemployment Falls Across Massachusetts in August

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

Single-Family Home Sales Decline in August

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

Company Notebook

Gaming at MGM Springfield Generates $9.45M in August
SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported that MGM Springfield generated $9,456,976.90 in gross gaming revenue between Aug. 23 and Aug. 31, its first week of operation. Slot machines generated $7,347,491.15 in revenues, while table games generated $2,109,485.75. Of that, or $2,364,244.23, will go to the state in taxes. MGM Springfield is taxed by the state on 25% of its gross gaming revenue. Under its host-community agreement, MGM pays the city of Springfield $17.6 million annually in lieu of taxes.

USI Insurance Services Acquires Gaudreau Group
WILBRAHAM — USI Insurance Services (USI), a world leader in insurance brokerage and risk management, announced the acquisition of the Gaudreau Group. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Founded in 1921, the Gaudreau Group is a commercial-insurance, employee-benefits, personal-risk, and financial-services firm insuring more than 6,000 businesses and families across 14 states. Jules Gaudreau, company president, represents the third generation of the Gaudreau family to lead the company. He will join USI’s New England regional management team as president of the company’s Springfield office.

Baystate Wing Opens New Emergency Department
PALMER — On Sept. 18, Baystate Wing Hospital opened its new, $17.2 million Emergency Department to patients. The new facility includes separate ambulance and public entryways and features 20 patient rooms, including critical care, behavioral health, and other dedicated specialty-care areas. Private rooms have replaced curtained bays to enhance patient privacy, along with dedicated space for behavioral-health patients. The new 17,800-square-foot facility will include sophisticated medical technology, including CT scan and radiology (X-ray) services. The Baystate Wing Emergency Department campaign has raised over $2.9 million to date. The overall cost of building and equipping the new emergency department at Baystate Wing Hospital is $17.2 million, with Baystate Health committing funding through capital investment and bonds. 

Polish National Credit Union Wins CFS/SPF Impact Award
CHICOPEE — Polish National Credit Union (PCNU) was recently awarded the Bronze CFS/SPF 2017 Impact Award at annual conference of CUSO Financial Services, LP and Sorrento Pacific Financial, LLC in San Diego. The conference is an opportunity for businesses to come together to share and discuss best practices as well as hear from industry experts. This award is given to a financial institution that demonstrates an excellent job of building awareness through branch marketing efforts. “As the investment industry becomes more competitive, financial institutions must be increasingly creative and resourceful when it comes to the promotion of their investment-services program,” said James Kelly, president and CEO of Polish National Credit Union. “Not only is our team receptive to our ideas, they are eager to participate and shed light on all the fantastic options there are for our members to reach their financial goals through PNCU Financial Services.”

Elms College Wins Grant for Project to Spark Girls’ Interest in STEM Fields
CHICOPEE — Elms College announced that its Computer Science department has been awarded more than $188,000 through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to fund a project designed to spark interest in computer science and related fields among middle-school girls in Holyoke. The project — which will include participants from UMass Amherst, Holyoke Codes, Girls Inc. of Holyoke, and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke — will combine robotics, coding, and a simulated natural-disaster situation. The project, titled Girls Involved in Robotics Learning Simulations (GIRLS), was born after Beryl Hoffman, associate professor of Computer Science at Elms College, met Florence Sullivan, professor at UMass Amherst College of Education, at Holyoke Codes, an organization that provides opportunities for kids to get involved in coding, robotics, and technology. Hoffman and Sullivan aim to learn more about the role of immersive simulation scenarios in encouraging girls to take interest in and learn about computer science and robotics. In year one of the project, the team will finalize all materials and curricula, and test them in single-day workshops. In year two, the educational program will be implemented in partnership with Girls Inc. of Holyoke and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holyoke, with 40 to 60 female students expected to participate. In year three, the team will open the program to middle-school-aged boys, too, and analyze the outcomes of coed learning. As part of the grant project, Elms will offer three paid internships, one per year, to junior or senior computer science or CITS (computer information technology and security) majors.

Baystate Health, VertitechIT Partner to Launch baytechIT
HOLYOKE — Baystate Health and VertitechIT announced the formation of a new company to meet the increasingly complex IT needs of medical practices, clinics, and healthcare social-service organizations in the Western Mass. and Northern Conn. regions. BaytechIT is a first-of-its-kind independent joint venture, providing monitoring and management of information-technology networks, telephony, clinical engineering support, and other IT-related consulting and engineering expertise previously unaffordable to the local healthcare community. Already serving Baystate Health, its operating medical practices, and several large and mid-sized offices and clinics, baytechIT currently has 150 clients and manages/monitors more than 16,000 endpoint devices. BaytechIT will be headquartered in Holyoke with additional offices throughout Western Mass.

TWO Helps Enhance Skills of Medical Assistants
SPRINGFIELD — When Holyoke Medical Center and Western Mass Physician Associates (WMPA) needed help enhancing the skills of their medical assistants, they partnered with Training & Workforce Options (TWO), which developed a curriculum and taught a 10-week class to 15 medical assistants from WMPA. The training was designed to prepare the workers for a national credentialing exam. The TWO course at Holyoke Community College (HCC) was a hybrid of classroom work and online learning taught by a medical assistant. An additional 25 medical assistants from Holyoke Medical Center Specialty Practices enrolled in a second round of training. TWO, a collaboration between HCC and Springfield Technical Community College, is designed to deliver high-quality, custom training solutions to the business community to boost bottom-line performance and productivity. In addition to classroom learning, Holyoke Medical Center and Western Mass Physician Associates developed and staffed a full-scale skills day for all trainees. The session included 10 hands-on stations covering clinical and administrative tasks such as checking vital signs, administering injections and medication, taking EKG measurements, and other competency tests.

Tighe & Bond Climbs in National Ranking of Environmental Firms
WESTFIELD — Tighe & Bond climbed six spots this year to 148th on Engineering News Record’s (ENR) 2018 Top 200 Environmental Firms ranking. ENR ranks its list of top 200 environmental firms nationally based on the percentage of their 2017 gross revenue from environmental services. Earlier this year, Tighe & Bond moved up 19 spots to 241st on ENR’s 2018 Top 500 Design Firms ranking, up 34 spots in the past two years. ENR ranks its list of top 500 design firms nationally based on design-specific revenue from the previous year.

Country Bank Sponsors Habitat for Humanity Build
WARE — Country Bank staff recently volunteered their time to assist the Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity build a home for a local Springfield family. “Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity is blessed to have wonderful community partners like Country Bank who contribute the time, talent, and treasure needed to help families build strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter,” said Jennifer Schimmel, executive director for Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity. Added Jodie Gerulaitis, vice president, Community Relations at Country Bank, “when asked to support such a meaningful cause, the staff at Country Bank was eager to help with this project. The staff was truly grateful to be a part of making the dream of home ownership a reality for Joseph and Lakery and their family.”

HMC Physician Affiliate Changes Name
HOLYOKE — The Holyoke Medical Center provider affiliate, Western Mass Physician Associates, announced it is changing the name to Holyoke Medical Group as of Oct. 1. Four years after launching a new organization-wide logo and rebranding campaign, the Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems leadership recognize the disconnect still perceived by patients between Holyoke Medical Center and Western Mass Physician Associates. “The name change will allow for the organization to have stronger brand awareness in the community,” said Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems. “The new name also releases the belief that all clinicians are doctors. The future success of healthcare relies not only on our excellent physicians, but on the growing number of mid-level providers, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, expertly qualified to care for our community.” Holyoke Medical Group consists of two primary-care provider offices, a family medicine office, a pediatric office, and three women’s services offices with ob/gyn and certified nurse midwife care. Each office location is accepting new patients.

Briefcase

SPADC to End Management of Symphony Hall, CityStage

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

Cushman & Wakefield to Market Eastfield Mall Joint-venture Partnership

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

Employer Confidence Strengthens During August

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

Company Notebook

Elms College Launches Student Leadership Institute

CHICOPEE — To expand its offering of leadership-development opportunities to all students, the Elms College will launch the Elms College Student Leadership Institute (SLI) at the start of the fall 2018 semester. SLI — run by the Office of Student Engagement and Leadership — encourages leadership development by hosting dynamic workshops and seminars; establishing mentoring relationships with faculty, staff, and students within the campus community; creating opportunities for community service by partnering with local organizations; and sparking discussions with peers about important personal and social issues. Fall 2018 SLI sessions include offerings centered around the college’s core values of faith, community, justice, and excellence. Participants may choose to attend individual sessions for personal enrichment, or take part in a series of sessions to earn a certificate in values-based leadership. This certificate is awarded to students who complete all eight of the SLI programs offered each year. The new institute is an extension of Elms College’s existing Sophomore Leadership Program, which will continue to be offered this year as a part of SLI to encourage second-year students to engage in deep development of their leadership qualities and potential. Through leadership programming, workshops, and activities, sophomores will self-reflect, develop skills, and make changes through action.

Colony Hills Capital Sells Mobile Five Portfolio for $134.3M

WILBRAHAM — Colony Hills Capital announced that it recently sold the 2,013-unit Mobile Five portfolio for $134,300,000. The sale of the multi-family apartment portfolio, purchased for $98 million in May 2013, produced a healthy, double-digit return for the firm’s investors. This sale is the latest example of Colony Hills’ ability to source investment opportunities to which it can add substantial value through strategic capital investments and optimizing on-site management. This profitable investment also highlights how Colony Hills can enter various markets and capitalize on opportunities that others may overlook. Colony Hills recognized that Mobile, Ala. was an underappreciated market for multi-family investments and purchased the portfolio prior to the arrival of major employers like Airbus, Whole Foods, SSAB, and Amazon, as well as the major expansion of Austal, USA. Colony Hills Capital is a real-estate investment company specializing in the acquisition and management of value-add multi-family properties. The investment targets are typically sourced ‘off-market,’ and at the time Colony Hills acquires them, they are underperforming relative to their peers in the marketplace. The Mobile Five portfolio was identified as an ideal investment by President David Kaufman, due to it being mismanaged, undercapitalized, and lacking a clear business plan. The portfolio consists of five separate communities comprising a variety of vintages and styles, which catered to a wide spectrum of renters. The properties are Yester Oaks (587 units), Crossings at Pinebrook (545 units), Windsor Place (384 units), Sandpiper Townhomes (253 units), and Pathways Apartments (244 units). The portfolio is also geographically diversified, from east of Interstate 65 to the western suburbs, and further diversified in product quality ranging from class-A to class-C apartments, demonstrating that Colony Hills has the capability to manage assets of varying classes and in diverse locations. While under Colony Hills’ ownership, the properties benefited from a $4 million capital-improvement program which focused on upgrading unit interiors, modernizing outdated clubhouses, adding resident amenities such as fitness centers and dog parks, and enhancing existing resort-size pools with new furniture and grilling centers. Colony Hills also rebranded the communities with new signage and landscaping, and added management systems to optimize the marketing and sales execution. As a result of these improvements, average rents rose considerably. The neighborhoods surrounding the communities improved as well. A new Whole Foods market moved in a short distance from Crossings at Pinebrook. The city of Mobile garnered a number of awards for the business climate created by the addition of Whole Foods, Airbus, Amazon, and SSAB.

Bay Path’s Online Liberal Studies Program Earns National Accolades

LONGMEADOW — The American Women’s College at Bay Path University has been helping women complete their bachelor’s degrees at twice the rate of the national average since its inception in 2013, thanks to its digitally enhanced learning model, SOUL (Social Online Universal Learning). This innovative approach to education has placed its bachelor of arts degree in liberal studies among the 50 best in the nation, as ranked by TheBestSchools.org, which ranked colleges based on six major categories: academic excellence, strength of faculty scholarship, reputation, financial aid, range of degree programs, and strength of online instruction methodology. The university’s program placed 21st on the list, in which the editor highlighted the freedom it provides to students, particularly adult women who have other responsibilities, including family and work obligations, to design an academic program to suit their needs and schedule. The SOUL model uses data-driven intervention strategies to help mitigate achievement gaps, and has been recognized with more than $5 million in support from industry thought leaders and organizations. SOUL was developed after the American Women’s College was awarded a grant through the First in the World competition administered through the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The four-year, $3.5 million award was used to develop — and continually hone — the program by improving educator access to learning data, allowing for targeted feedback and personalized guidance. SOUL has been recognized with several other grants and awards from national foundations, the federal government, and awarding agencies.

PV Financial Group Makes $5,000 Donation to MHA

SPRINGFIELD — Ed Sokolowski, managing partner of PV Financial Group in Ludlow, presented a $5,000 donation to MHA on Sept. 6. “At PV Financial Group, we are committed to giving back to our community and demonstrating leadership through philanthropy,” said Sokolowski. “Instead of spending money on traditional marketing efforts, we choose instead to invest dollars directly into organizations that support the future growth of our community. MHA is close to our hearts because the organization’s ideals of integrity, respect, and compassion are directly aligned with our values at PV Financial Group. While our organizations may have different clients, we believe they all deserve to be treated with the same level of care.” Cheryl Fasano, president and CEO of MHA, noted that the funds will be directed to the agency’s efforts to launch a new outpatient behavioral-health clinic in Springfield this January.

First Connecticut Bancorp Issues Quarterly Dividend

FARMINGTON, Conn. — First Connecticut Bancorp Inc. announced that its board of directors has voted to pay its quarterly dividend of $0.17 per share. Dividends will be payable on Sept. 17 to all shareholders of record as of Sept. 7. First Connecticut Bancorp is the holding company for Farmington Bank, a full-service community bank with 25 branch locations throughout Central Conn. and Western Mass., offering commercial and residential lending as well as wealth-management services. Farmington Bank has assets of $3.3 billion.

Bay Path Recognizes Springfield JCC with Award

LONGMEADOW — Springfield Jewish Community Center was recognized with Bay Path University’s first-ever Community Partnership Spirit Award, which is bestowed upon an individual, team, or organization that has demonstrated a long-term commitment to the Bay Path community, students, and mission by playing an integral role in student success through mentorship, leadership, and fostering career development. The Springfield JCC was selected as this year’s award recipient from a pool of nominations submitted by faculty and staff at Bay Path throughout the spring. The process was thorough, requiring that nominations include a narrative explaining the impact of the partner on Bay Path’s mission and students. A selection committee reviewed submissions and made the final decision. “Students from our occupational therapy, psychology, and education programs have held internships, volunteered, and engaged in service learning projects with the organization,” Bay Path President Carol Leary said. “Most recently, our master’s in occupational therapy faculty and students collaborated with the JCC Kehillah program for individuals with special needs to develop a ‘SensiPlay’ program for children with various disabilities.”

Bulkley Richardson Launches Cannabis Practice

SPRINGFIELD — As the legalization of marijuana continues to roll out in Massachusetts, attorneys at Bulkley Richardson saw an opportunity to meet the unique needs of businesses within the cannabis industry. The firm assembled a group of cross-disciplinary lawyers to form a cannabis practice group. To help launch this new practice, Bulkley Richardson recently sponsored a conference, “That Cannabis Show,” at the MassMutual Center, where the firm’s panel discussed from a legal perspective how cannabis is both like and unlike any other business. The Cannabis Group is led by attorneys Scott Foster, chair of the business and finance group and co-founder of Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), and Andy Levchuk, chair of the cybersecurity group and a 24-year veteran of the Department of Justice. The group also includes Ron Weiss, Kathy Bernardo, Mary Jo Kennedy, Sarah Willey, and Ryan Barry. “When doing business in a highly regulated industry, a rapidly changing legal landscape exists that requires a team of attorneys to collaborate across practice areas,” Foster said. “Bulkley Richardson understands the unique legal needs of cannabis businesses operating in Massachusetts and has developed a comprehensive practice group to specifically meet the many challenges within the cannabis industry.”

Briefcase

Gov. Baker Signs Groundbreaking Alzheimer’s Legislation

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

Big Y Combats Opioid Crisis with Deterra System

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

Unemployment Holds Steady in July

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate increased to 3.6% in July from the June rate of 3.5%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 4,800 jobs in July. Over the month, the private sector added 5,900 jobs as gains occurred in education and health services; professional, scientific, and business services; construction; manufacturing; and trade, transportation, and utilities. From July 2017 to July 2018, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 66,800 jobs. The July unemployment rate was three-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.9% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Job estimates show the Commonwealth has gained over 51,000 jobs since December and 213,600 jobs since January 2015. These job gains, alongside low unemployment rates and labor-force growth, are signs of the continued health of the Massachusetts labor market,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force increased by 27,100 from 3,758,900 in June, as 24,700 more residents were employed and 2,400 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased one-tenth of a percentage point from 3.7% in July 2017. The state’s labor force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — is up four-tenths of a percentage point over the month at 67.3%. Compared to July 2017, the labor force participation rate is up 1.8%. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services.