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Getting the Message Across

 

Marketing and communications in 2024 are evolving further, with no signs of slowing down. The year ahead promises groundbreaking shifts, from artificial intelligence revolutionizing marketing and user engagement to big brands capitalizing on social media’s bite-sized content for enhanced product exposure. Add to this the rise of immersive digital experiences, and you have a transformative landscape. Here’s what the experts at the integrated marketing agency 9Rooftops have to say:

 

Creative Shifts: Renewed Nostalgia and Inspiration

By Scott Seymour

Adaptable Personalization: With advancements in customization and AI workflows, new opportunities arise to resonate in ways we never thought possible. People will have the freedom to consume content tailored specifically for them. The ability to create adaptable creative to match someone’s current mood or their desired need state is worth exploring. Then, having the design expressed in a way that is completely in sync with their personal aesthetic preferences will be incredibly valuable.

Minimalism and Decluttering: Now more than ever, with massive amounts of information coming at us at any given moment, a movement toward simplification is welcomed. Reducing clutter throughout all aspects of our lives, including incoming communications, allows people to truly focus on what matters most without unnecessary distractions. Carefully curated content and purposeful design choices will genuinely deliver on the principle that less is more.

“With advancements in customization and AI workflows, new opportunities arise to resonate in ways we never thought possible.”

Fantastical Inspiration: Sparked by AI image generation and fueled by possibility, we anticipate an acceleration of surreal, fantastical styles that provoke a sense of wonder and escapism. A hyper-real utopian aesthetic blurs the lines between reality and imagination. With this extraordinary style of captivating imagery, surreal illumination, and dreamlike color palettes, they will continue to delight and defy reality.

Rise of Kindness: Acts of kindness uplift people when they need it most. Brands that tap into this concept will deepen connections with their consumers in new ways. This will promote empathy, fostering a sense of gratitude that can be contagious.

Nostalgia Reimagined: Fueled by a need for authenticity, optimism, and a desire for what’s next, a foundation of shared nostalgic cultural connections, themes, and designs will create stronger social bonds. Blending this charm with a modern twist will keep things fresh and interesting.

 

Social Media Shifts: Connecting Through Social-first Tactics

By Julia Repisky

TikTok: It’s no surprise that this social-media platform will continue to reign; in fact, TikTok is anticipated to increase its user base to 900 million, an 8% increase, so being active is more paramount than ever in 2024, especially as the audience continues to diversify beyond just kids.

Bite-sized Content: Short, easily digestible content led TikTok and Instagram reels to their huge success, especially as attention spans continue to shrink. People want content they can consume in seconds, and your brand should be able to deliver that in an authentic way.

SEO on Social: Gen Z and Millennials rely on social for more than entertainment. About 40% of young adults between 18 and 24 use social media like a search engine, meaning you’ll need to go beyond just hashtags to hit the right keywords to make your social presence known.

Hybrid, AI Content: The AI buzz won’t calm down anytime soon and will become an integral part of social-media content creation, whether to help with inspiration, optimize content, or create something completely new. Don’t be afraid to play around with what AI can help you do.

Raw, Authentic Content: Social media isn’t the place for polished product placement anymore. Users don’t want perfection, but a feed full of relatable, highly (or even completely) unedited content that feels natural. In 2024, aim for less overanalyzing and creating more content in the moment.

 

Customer Relationship Management: Emerging Patterns and Insights

By Jenny Brenner

Decisioning and Personalization Relevancy: This has always been a key driver in connecting effectively with prospects and customers, and with new AI tools aiming to decrease technical barriers, automate, and ease integration, anticipate an even higher baseline for personalized product offerings, content, and communications in the marketplace. Revisit your personalization capabilities to ensure you’re scoring and maximizing output across transactional, behavioral, and situational data.

Zero-Party Data Campaigns: They’re not going anywhere, gaining popularity in 2023 as an initial outcome of cookie-deprecation announcements. Expect brands to continue to take advantage of these for turnkey data collection and application, which are well-suited for on-the-fly personalization, situational and environmental touchpoints, and driving conversion-rate optimization results.

Interactivity: In an increasingly digital environment, it’s even more challenging for brands to break through the clutter in inboxes and experiences. Increasing the interactivity of your digital touchpoints, from email to MMS/SMS, can help significantly boost engagement and results. Make interactive features and formats, like GIFs, quizzes, and countdown clocks a regular part of your digital brand experience to engage customers and deliver offers and content in a unique and memorable way.

Experiential Rewards: Engaging loyalty-program members requires a blend of transactional and emotional benefits. While transactional benefits — discounts, offers, points — can drive direct replenishment and purchase retention, incorporating experiences, whether gamified or as exclusive rewards, can drive brand differentiation, preference, and loyalty. Pilot a gamified or exclusive experiential element in your loyalty program to spark member interest and engagement.

“In an increasingly digital environment, it’s even more challenging for brands to break through the clutter in inboxes and experiences.”

Prioritizing Customer Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Increases in consumer privacy policy will continue into 2024, and as key platforms and providers decrease the amount of data shared back to marketers, brands need to find alternative measurement solutions across digital ecosystems. Prioritize defining, regularly calculating, and placing weight on customer-centric metrics alongside campaign KPIs in 2024 to provide a bigger picture of your campaign’s impact on ultimate goals: changing key behaviors and growing customer lifetime value.

 

Experience Marketing: Transformational Engagement

By Kate Bradbury

Immersive Digital Experiences: The introduction of the Sphere in Las Vegas has sparked a ton of excitement around the power of immersive artistic experiences where visual, sound, and physical form all come together in awe-inspiring ways. Advances in technology have made production more flexible and affordable for smaller-scale events. Moreover, discussing experiential marketing ROI through data science remains a way forward to measure results for a diversity of experience marketing strategies.

Scalable and Reusable: Efficient execution and long-term thinking around event assets will be critical as larger economic trends put pressure on marketing budgets. Creating event platforms that can scale up and down and reusable assets can help stretch marketing dollars. Plus, reusable assets help make events more sustainable.

Tech-powered Personalization and Customization: AI has seen a rapid technological increase and adoption rates. We think AI will enhance targeting and customization exponentially, allowing marketers to build dynamic experiences precisely tailored to their consumers from beginning to end. AI will also allow for consumer-driven, personalized experiences.

Exclusivity: FOMO (fear of missing out) is real, and post-COVID consumers are again placing an emphasis on gathering once-in-a-lifetime-style memories and experiences. Highly curated events with a level of exclusivity are a perfect fit for the right brand and can be magnified via an influencer approach.

“Online shopping is more convenient than ever, so if people are going to spend time going to a store, they want something special.”

Experiential Retail and Pop-ups: Online shopping is more convenient than ever, so if people are going to spend time going to a store, they want something special. Creating unique experiences with the full transformation of spaces or launching memorable pop-up shops are ways for brands to stand out. These dynamic and bespoke experiences help drive social sharing, additional brand impressions, and customer loyalty.

 

Digital Experience: Advancements in Personalization and AI

By Patti Mulligan

Hyper-personalization: As the practice of being treated as a unique individual increases loyalty, the demand for personalized experiences will continue to grow. AI will be increasingly reliant on analyzing customer data to facilitate these experiences. In fact, AI will offer real-time personalization of user experiences, which may result in immediate data analysis. An AI algorithm will immediately analyze a user’s actions on platforms, including clicks, navigation, and internal search queries, and adjust the website page’s products.

Sustainability: Developers will focus on improving performance of digital solutions, requiring less from servers and networks. There is a general concern across the spectrum of designers, developers, users, and customers who are committed to social responsibility and the environmental impacts of their experiences and products.

AI Integration: This is an obvious trend that is only gaining traction from development tools for more efficient coding to image generation and behavior insights. In fact, by 2030, the global revenue forecast for AI is projected to reach a mind-numbing $1.3 billion. Every big brand is traversing the AI landscape, including Google’s generative AI search experience. In theory, this will result in more data-driven designs that revolve around user insights.

Immersive Experiences: AR and VR will grow in usage and popularity and will be used increasingly to enable product interactions that are key to encouraging customer loyalty. Future evolutions will allow for virtual stores, enhanced product visualizations and experiences, and interactive product demonstrations. AR already enables virtual try-ons, which allows users to see how products look on them with their smartphones, helping encourage more confidence in the purchase process. Moreover, AR personalization allows you to see if that sofa looks right in your living room, or if that hat you found online will match your sport coat. Expect all these examples to evolve and expand into more consumer use cases.

Accessibility: A timeless requirement rather than a trend, accessibility should never fall out of the limelight. With one in four Americans having a disability, it is imperative for all users to be able to access websites. By implementing ADA guidelines, the benefits to companies are great as accessibility fosters inclusivity and quality, expands audiences, builds brand image and reputation, and prevents costly litigation.

 

The Creator Economy: New Influences

By Pamela Pacheco

Brand and Influencer Collaborations: Influencer marketing has become an integral part of brand promotion. In a 2023 Influencer Marketing Hub survey, an overwhelming 83% of respondents said they believe influencer marketing continues to be effective. Now, brands are taking it a step further by collaborating with influencers to create new products. This approach enables brands to leverage the influencer’s creativity and knowledge of their audience, resulting in more authentic products for their target audience. It also generates greater engagement and loyalty among consumers. This mutually beneficial collaboration between brands and influencers has proven to be effective in enhancing the overall success of marketing campaigns and will continue to evolve during 2024.

Social Commerce: In 2024, the alliance between influencer marketing and social commerce is set to rewrite the rules of online shopping. As the annual average social commerce sales per buyer is projected to grow 21.3% (according to an eMarketer report) this year and social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube continue to incorporate shopping features, influencers will act as the center, providing first-hand product reviews, live demonstrations, and real-time purchasing guidance to their audiences. This trend will enhance the shopping experience and offer brands a dynamic way to reach and convert consumers directly within their favorite social platforms.

“In a fun twist, employees are stepping into the spotlight as new influencers, leveraging their connection to the brand’s values and culture to cultivate deeper trust and engagement with consumers.”

Brand Employees Become Influencers: As this industry continues to evolve, brands are recognizing the potential within their staff. In a fun twist, employees are stepping into the spotlight as new influencers, leveraging their connection to the brand’s values and culture to cultivate deeper trust and engagement with consumers. Employees turned influencers will be encouraged to share their experiences, opinions, and knowledge about the brand to create authentic content that fosters deeper connections with consumers. So how are brands selecting these employees? They look for employees who are active on social media, have a considerable following, and possess strong communication skills. Now, anyone from the CEO to a sales associate can become a brand ambassador.

Macro- and Micro-Influencers Combine: The combination of macro- and micro-influencers will become a popular strategy for brands looking to diversify their audience reach and engagement in the world of influencer marketing. Macro-influencers typically have a larger following and higher social-media reach, while micro-influencers are more relatable and have a more niche following, which can result in higher engagement rates. By combining both types of influencers, brands can create a marketing campaign that appeals to a wide range of consumers and generates a higher level of engagement and loyalty.

Community-centric Influence: Influencers will shift their focus from chasing follower counts to nurturing social communities. This trend emphasizes meaningful engagements, discussions, and immersive experiences within niche communities, reshaping the influencer landscape.

 

 

Scott Seymour is executive vice president and chief creative officer, Julia Repisky is senior content and social media strategist, Jenny Brenner is group director of digital strategy and CRM solutions, Kate Bradbury is managing director, Patti Mulligan is vice president and director of digital experience, and Pamela Pacheco is senior social media strategist at 9Rooftops.

Features Special Coverage

A Year of Challenge and Progress

By Joseph Bednar and George O’Brien

Way Finder CEO Keith Fairey

Way Finder CEO Keith Fairey says the housing crisis has been years in the making and results from several factors, including a lack of investment in new housing.

One one hand, every year removed from the pandemic of 2020 is a step toward normalcy, and, for the most part, business rolled on in 2023 — but the effects of that pivotal year still linger, through persistent challenges like inflation, workforce shortages, the deepening roots of remote work, and behavioral-health crises.

But other trends have emerged as well, from a harsher landscape for cannabis businesses to actual movement on east-west rail, to positive developments in downtown Springfield.

As 2024 dawns, undoubtedly bringing a new host of challenges and opportunities, BusinessWest presents its year in review: a look back at some of the stories and issues that shaped our lives, and will, in many cases, continue to do so.

 

The Housing Crisis Deepens

One of the more poignant stories of 2023 was a deepening housing crisis that is touching virtually every community in this region, the state, and many parts of the country.

“We got here over decades of underinvesting in housing production nationally, and not tuning that production to the needs and demographic changes of communities,” Keith Fairey, president and CEO of Springfield-based Way Finders, told BusinessWest in an interview this fall, adding that a resolution to this crisis won’t come quickly or easily, either.

“One of the things we have to do is make sure Massachusetts remains a competitive state for years to come. And one of the main indicators of whether you are competitive is ‘can people afford to live in this state?”

The major challenges involve not only creating more housing, because not much was built over the past few decades, but housing that fals into the ‘affordable’ category.

Indeed, state Rep. John Velis, a member of the Senate’s Housing Committee, said there are many side effects from the housing crisis, especially when it comes to the state’s ability to retain residents. “One of the things we have to do is make sure Massachusetts remains a competitive state for years to come. And one of the main indicators of whether you are competitive is ‘can people afford to live in this state?’”

 

Inflation and Interest Rates

The Fed was on a mission in 2023 — to tame inflation but without putting the country into recession, as it famously did in the ’80s. By and large, it was mission accomplished.

Indeed, the latest data on inflation showed a 3% increase over last year in November, a significant improvement on the numbers from late last year and early this year. Meanwhile, the country seems to have avoided a recession, with the economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted, annualized rate of 5.2% in the third quarter, after generating 2.2% annualized growth in the first quarter and 2.2% in the second quarter. In short, the economy actually accelerated, rather than slowing down, due to persistently strong consumer spending.

Efforts to stem inflation by raising interest rates were not without consequences, though, as the housing market cooled tremendously, if not historically. And commercial lending cooled as well, as many business owners took a wait-and-see approach with regard to where interest rates were headed.

 

New Challenges for Cannabis

Is the ‘green rush’ over for the cannabis industry in Massachusetts? If so, the Bay State is simply following the pattern of every other state that legalizes the drug.

According to that well-told story, the first dispensaries on the scene are bouyed by a favorable supply-and-demand equation — and long lines of customers. But as the market is flooded with competitors — not only locally, but from across state lines — not everyone survives, as a series of business closings this year demonstrates. In fact, according to the Cannabis Control Commission, 16 licenses in Massachusetts have been surrendered, not been renewed, or been revoked by the agency.

The heightened competition has caused retail prices to plummet for an industry already beset by profit-margin challenges. Unfavorable federal tax laws surrounding the growth, production, and sale of cannabis, coupled with local and state tax obligations and continued federal roadblocks to financing, transport, and other aspects of business have made it increasingly difficult to turn a profit. On the latter issue, federal decriminalization would ease the challenges somewhat, but progress there has been frustratingly slow.

Steven Weiss, shareholder at Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin

Steven Weiss, shareholder at Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, says he’s surprised lawmakers haven’t moved more quickly toward decriminalizing cannabis on the federal level.

Workforce Challenges Continue

While many businesses and institutions, including the region’s hospitals, reported some progress in 2023 when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, workforce issues persisted in many sectors, especially hospitality.

Indeed, across the region, many restaurants have been forced to reduce the number of days they are open, and some banquet facilities have been limiting capacity due to challenges with securing adequate levels of staff.

Those are some of the visible manifestations of a workforce crisis that started during the pandemic and has lingered for a variety of reasons, from the retirement of Baby Boomers to an apparent lack of willingness to accept lower-wage positions in service businesses.

The ongoing crisis has led to stiff battles for help in certain sectors, including manufacturing, the building trades, engineering, and healthcare, among others, resulting in higher wages, more benefits, and greater flexibility when it comes to where and when people work, which brings us to another of the big stories in 2023…

 

Remote Work, Hybrid Schedules Gain More Traction

While some larger employers succeeded in bringing everyone back to the office in 2023, most have decided not to even try. Indeed, there was more evidence in 2023 that remote work and hybrid schedules have become a permanent part of the workplace landscape.

In interviews with employers large and small, a persistent theme on this topic has been the need to be flexible when it comes to schedules, and especially where people work. Many businesses, from banks to architecture firms to financial-services companies, have found that employees can be effective and productive working remotely, with many favoring a hybrid schedule that brings people to the office a few days a week. Such flexibility makes employees happier, they said, making it easier to attract and retain talent.

This pattern is causing some anxiety in the commercial office market amid speculation that companies will be seeking smaller spaces moving forward, but the full impact of the shift to remote work and hybrid schedules may not be known for years.

 

Movement on East-west Rail

This story might continue to inch down the tracks, so to speak, for years before the engine really starts moving, but after many years of debate, planning, and crunching the numbers, actual progress is emerging in the effort to connect Pittsfield with Boston by rail, with stops in Springfield, Palmer, and Worcester, among others.

“We can also make progress in breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty by helping residents complete their higher-education credentials so they can attain good jobs and build a career path.”

The big news this past fall was a federal grant of $108 million to Massachusetts for rail infrastructure upgrades, and Gov. Maura Healey also signed off on $12.5 million in DOT funding in the state’s FY 2024 budget toward the effort.

The additional east-west service would complement passenger trains now running north-south through Springfield’s Union Station, offering access to points from Greenfield to New Haven.

“The facts are simple: improving and expanding passenger rail service will have a tremendous impact on regional economies throughout Massachusetts,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said. “That is why we will continue to invest in a project whose framework has the potential to serve as a model for expanding passenger rail service across the country.”

 

Free Community College

Almost 2 million Massachusetts residents are over age 25 without a college degree. MassReconnect aims to change that, by offering free tuition and fees — as well as an allowance for books and supplies — at any of Massachusetts’ community colleges for residents over age 25.

Gov. Maura Healey pitched it as a strategy to generate more young, skilled talent in the workplace at a time when businesses are struggling to recruit and retain employees (more on that later). “We can also make progress in breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty by helping residents complete their higher-education credentials so they can attain good jobs and build a career path,” she added.

New HCC President George Timmons

New HCC President George Timmons says “community colleges are, to me, a great pathway to a better life.”

Holyoke Community College President George Timmons called the initiative “an exciting moment for HCC and all Massachusetts community colleges,” adding that “MassReconnect will enable our community colleges to do more of what we do best, which is serve students from all ages and all backgrounds and provide them with an exceptional education that leads to employment and, ultimately, a stronger economy and thriving region.”

 

New Higher-education Leadership

Speaking of Timmons, he was among the new presidents at the region’s colleges and universities, taking the the reins from Christina Royal, who had been at HCC since January 2017. Timmons was previously provost and senior vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at Columbia Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y.

Meanwhile, Danielle Ren Holley, a noted legal educator and social-justice scholar, became the first Black woman in the 186-year history of Mount Holyoke College to serve as permanent president. Since 2014, Holley had served as dean and professor of Law at Howard University School of Law.

And at UMass Amherst, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy stepped down after 11 years leading the university, to be succeeded by Javier Reyes, who had been serving as interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“You’re not coming in to repair something, but to build on the shoulders of giants — and that is a very attractive opportunity,” Reyes said. “You’re not trying to catch up; you’re really trying to move and set the direction and be a forward leader. It comes with more pressure, but it’s more exciting.”

 

Thunderous Impact for the T-Birds

The Springfield Thunderbirds released the results of an economic-impact study conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute that shows the team’s operations have generated $126 million for the local economy since 2017.

The study included an analysis of team operations data, MassMutual Center concessions figures, a survey of more than 2,000 T-Birds patrons, and interviews with local business owners and other local stakeholders. Among its findings, the study shows that the T-Birds created $76 million in cumulative personal income throughout the region and contributed $10 million to state and local taxes.

The impact on downtown Springfield businesses is especially profound. Seventy-eight percent of T-Birds fans spend money on something other than hockey when they go to a game, including 68% who are patronizing a bar, restaurant, or MGM Springfield. The study also found that median spending by fans outside the arena is $40 per person on game nights and that every dollar of T-Birds’ revenue is estimated to yield $4.09 of additional economic activity in the Pioneer Valley. Meanwhile, since the team’s inaugural season, it has doubled the number of jobs created from 112 in 2017 to 236 in 2023.

 

Big Y Opens Downtown

In fact, despite the speed bump posed by the pandemic, downtown Springfield seems to have some momentum again. One of the more intriguing stories of 2023 was the opening during the summer of a scaled-down Big Y supermarket on the ground floor of Tower Square.

The new Big Y Express

The new Big Y Express represents an imaginative use of ARPA funds, addresses a food desert, and contributes to momentum in downtown Springfield.

The development was noteworthy for several reasons. First, it continued the reimagination of Tower Square, which now boasts the Greater Springfield YMCA, White Lion Brewing, two colleges, and other institutions. It also brings a supermarket to what had been a food desert. And it represents an imaginative, community-building use of ARPA funds.

The store opened its doors in June to considerable fanfare, and early results have been solid, with the store becoming a welcome addition to the downtown landscape. Combined with the Thunderbirds’ success, some of MGM Springfield’s strongest revenue months, and the ongoing residential development at the former Court Square Hotel, there’s a lot to be excited about.

 

New Home Sought for ‘Sick Courthouse’

Not all downtown news emerged from a positive place. Another developing story in 2023 was the ongoing work to secure a replacement for the Roderick Ireland Courthouse on State Street in Springfield, whose dilapidated conditions have been under scrutiny for years and have earned it the nickname the ‘sick courthouse,’ because many who have worked there have contracted various illnesses.

Gov. Maura Healey has called for investing $106 million over a five-year period to construct a new justice center in Springfield, and in November, the Healey administration issued an official request for proposals involving a least two developable acres on which to build a new courthouse. Proposals are due Jan. 31.

While redevelopment of the current site remains an option, Springfield officials are intrigued by the possibility of building not only a new courthouse, but also redeveloping the current site, which is right off I-91 in the heart of downtown.

 

Weather Challenges for Farmers

It’s called the Natural Disaster Recovery Program for Agriculture, and it exists because Mother Nature hit Massachusetts — in particular, its farmers — hard in 2023.

The state program provides financial assistance to farmers who suffered crop losses as a result of any of three natural disasters: the Feb. 3-5 deep freeze that impacted a large amount of peach and stone-fruit production, the May 17-18 frost that impacted a large amount of apple production and vineyards, and the July 9-16 rainfall and flooding that impacted a large amount of vegetable crops, field crops, and hay and forage crops.

But the government wasn’t alone in the effort to help farmers sustain this triple body blow. Area banks and other oranizations created funds, as did philanthropist Harold Grinspoon — a long-time and notable advocate for farmers through his foundation’s Local Farmer Awards — swiftly pledged $50,000 toward flood-relief efforts following the July rains, distributing checks to 50 farmers impacted by the floods.

 

Behavioral Health at the Forefront

In August, Baystate Health and Lifepoint Health celebrated the opening of Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital, a 122,000-square-foot, four-story facility in Holyoke featuring 150 private and semi-private rooms for inpatient behavioral healthcare for adults and adolescents.

It’s yet another development — the opening of MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke in 2021 was another one — that aims to fill an access gap in behavioral health, at a time when the mental-health and addiction needs remain high. The pandemic caused a spike in both, the effects of which are still being felt today.

Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, said Valley Springs increases the inpatient behavioral-health capacity in the region by 50%. “Until now, about 30% of behavioral-health patients needing care would have to go outside the region. Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital will allow us to provide top-quality care for more patients right here in Western Massachusetts.”

 

Holyoke Celebrates Its 150th

One of the more fun stories of 2023 was Holyoke’s year-long 150th-anniversary celebration. BusinessWest printed a special edition in March to coincide with the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which included stories and photos that celebrated the past and present, while speculating on the future. The many interviews captured the unique essence and character of Holyoke, a close-knit community with a proud history and many traditions.

“There’s been a lot of change over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the spirit of the people,” Jim Sullivan, president of the O’Connell Companies and a Holyoke native, said. “There is a very proud heritage in Holyoke, and it still exists today.”

Said Gary Rome, another native of the Paper City and owner of Gary Rome Auto Group, “there’s a saying … as Holyokers, we can talk bad about Holyoke, but you can’t talk bad about Holyoke.”

Opinion

Opinion

By MissionSquare Research Institute

 

State and local governments, along with other public-service organizations, faced yet another challenging year. Recent research by MissionSquare Research Institute highlights key strategies to become public-service employers of choice in 2023.

1. Communicate the full value of benefits. The wages advertised for a position represent only a small portion of the full value of a job’s financial and other benefits. Public-service jobs often include more than traditional benefits like health insurance, pensions, and deferred compensation. Benefits also can include paid leave, life insurance, flexible scheduling, and student loan or housing assistance, not to mention greater job stability in the public sector.

2. Customize recruitment appeals. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs are important to many jurisdictions’ recruitment and retention efforts. Each position’s recruitment plan may include new audiences, active partnerships with outside agencies, and outreach that communicates in ways that best resonate with audiences. Tailor campaigns to appeal to candidates with different benefit focuses depending on their life stages or economic circumstances.

3. Maintain retirement plan funding. While 2021 data showed steady funding for retirement plans, 2022 brought significant economic volatility impacting individual finances and worker anxiety. The first mission for plan sponsors is to weather volatility and commit to maintaining actuarially determined contributions. Full funding of retirement plans supports the dual goals of long-term fiscal stability and leveraging retirement plans to serve as effective workforce recruitment and retention tools.

4. Restructure the workforce. The recession and Great Resignation have been significant disrupters to the public workforce status quo, offering opportunities to rethink future staffing models. Workforce restructurings anticipated in 2023 and beyond stem not only from the pandemic and economic changes; they are also tied to evolving technologies touching every field from customer service to accounting to transportation. And while automation may not fully replace certain jobs, it is certain to contribute to job restructurings, the need to update job descriptions, and the consideration of part-time or temporary staffing models.

5. Take a holistic view. The pandemic normalized the idea that it is okay for workers not to be OK. Now, there’s a focus on worker mental health and burnout as real concerns that employers must take seriously. And as persistent inflation leads to consideration of compensation changes, it will no longer be enough to point to cost-of-living adjustments. Rather, employers should lean into difficult conversations with team members about their financial stress, workload, health, or childcare issues.

6. Prioritize data-driven decision making. The Institute’s recent DEI survey found a majority of governments identified workforce DEI as a priority, yet about a quarter are not tracking DEI results. Institute research also found 85% of governments are performing exit interviews, but just 37% are performing employee-satisfaction surveys, while only 11% are conducting stay interviews. Public-service workforce management cannot be viewed as something that is only managed at budget time or at the end of a worker’s career. Instead, it requires timely analysis of recruitment results, regular check-ins with existing staff, and strategic action on the data collected to avoid preventable staffing or retention problems.

Manufacturing

Keeping Pace

Both the immediate and long-term future of the manufacturing industry will be defined by the development of a number of ever-evolving and prominent trends, according to the Assoc. of Equipment Manufacturers. These trends are poised to have a significant impact in 2021 (and, in many cases, beyond), so it’s critically important for manufacturers to develop a keen understanding of what they are, how they will grow over time, and how they will impact the industry and the customers it serves.

 

COVID-19 and Employee Safety

It almost goes without saying that workplace safety and compliance with CDC guidelines and OSHA regulations (along with local safety measures) will remain front of mind for manufacturers as 2021 gets under way. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many parts of the world, organizations will need to continue to be vigilant in their efforts to protect employees. Doing so, however, requires a significant investment of time, effort, and resources on the part of company leaders.

While an efficient rollout of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 would bode well for an eventual return to normalcy for the manufacturing industry, the impact of such a rollout won’t be felt for some time. In the interim, organizations will need to continue practicing social distancing in the workplace, restricting visitors to facilities, encouraging the practice of good hygiene, and ensuring employees are healthy and fit for work before allowing them on the job.

It’s been nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S., and it remains a major challenge for manufacturers across the country and around the world. While companies do have plans and protocols in place to combat the virus, adhering to them and ensuring the health and well-being of employees is — and will continue to be — no small task.

 

Connected Workforce

The desire to equip workers with technology capable of allowing them to connect and collaborate from a distance has long been on a trend on the rise within the manufacturing industry. As older generations continue to leave the workforce and are replaced by younger employees, and the rise of the big-data era in manufacturing takes shape, finding tools and technologies to make an increasingly spread-out and remote workforce as productive as possible is a top priority for companies today.

As a recent article from McKinsey explained, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased reliance on digital collaboration to establish and maintain a connected manufacturing workforce. An increased emphasis on safety and changes to work processes, in an effort to maintain social distancing and minimize physical contact, has led organizations of all types and sizes to adopt cutting-edge ways to allow for workers to communicate and interact virtually.

While the widespread impact of the pandemic has caused this trend (and the adoption rate of related tools and technologies) to grow, it remains critical for manufacturers to provide training and resources to employees as they try to maximize productivity from afar. Why? Because doing so is poised to pay off over time. According to McKinsey, “by digitizing processes to improve equipment management and optimize physical assets, digital collaboration tools give manufacturers ways to boost productivity while enhancing quality.” And those who do it first — and well — will achieve a significant competitive advantage.

 

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) has long been a trend to watch in manufacturing, and this year is no different. As it continues to grow in prominence and becomes more and more widespread over time, IoT technology will drive value for the industry by allowing organizations to make measured, informed decisions using real-time data in an effort to increase efficiency and positively impact their bottom lines.

According to a recent study conducted by the MPI Group, approximately 31% of manufacturing production processes now incorporate smart devices and embedded intelligence. Furthermore, more than one-third of manufacturers have established plans to implement IoT technology into their processes, while 32% plan to embed IoT technology into their products.

IoT technology offers both remote-monitoring and predictive-maintenance capabilities, making it even more valuable for organizations looking to maintain visibility of equipment performance from afar. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact the industry in 2021, IoT technology will continue to be a go-to for manufacturers looking to maintain efficiency and productivity.

 

Localized Production and Near Sourcing

The rise of customization and personalization has given way to large opportunities for manufacturers willing — and, perhaps more importantly, able — to succeed in a localized economy. By rethinking the way products get out to the public, organizations can craft an ecosystem of smaller, flexible factories located near existing and prospective customers.

Manufacturers are used to thinking on a global level. However, shifting their focus to a local level, they may be better able to meet the ever-changing needs, wants, and preferences of the markets they serve. Consumers are making it abundantly clear that authenticity matters, and a localized approach to manufacturing is proving to be among the most effective ways to for organizations to respond accordingly.

The impact of COVID-19 also cannot be discounted. The pandemic has led manufacturers to re-evaluate and reconsider sourcing, largely due to supply chain disruptions (especially in the earliest days of COVID-19). As a result, manufacturers have made a concerted effort to bring their operations closer to where their offerings are sold, and there has been an increasing desire on the part of many companies to source raw materials from domestic suppliers. All this is being done in an effort to avoid pandemic-related disruptions and support the U.S. economy during these uncertain times.

 

Predictive Maintenance

It’s no secret that the ability for manufacturers to predict impending equipment failures and — more importantly — prevent equipment downtime is incredibly impactful to their bottom lines. Advancements in technology now allow organizations to do just that (and much, much more).

The benefits, according to a recent blog post from EAM-Mosca Corp., showcase why predictive maintenance (PM) is so valuable to organizations today. PM helps companies reduce costs, decrease failures, minimize scheduled downtime, and optimize parts delivery

Effectively conducting predictive maintenance is no easy task, however. Adopting a (successful) predictive maintenance model requires manufacturers to gain insights into the variables they are collecting and — more importantly — how often those variables present themselves on factory floors. Therefore, it’s imperative for manufacturers to possess accurate and relevant knowledge about their equipment. They must know what previous failures have taken place, and they need to make decisions around lead time — becausem the closer to failure a machine is allowed to go, the more accurate the prediction will be.

 

This article was written by the Assoc. of Equipment Manufacturers.

Coronavirus Features

Looking Up

Could better times be around the corner? A growing number of executives across the U.S. think so.

In the just-released 2021 National Business Trends Survey from the Employer Associations of America (EAA), 44% of company executives see an improving economic outlook in 2021. This annual survey shares information on what executives nationally are doing to address the changing business climate. Survey responses also reflect the impact COVID-19 has had on this year’s business trends.

When executives were asked if the overall U.S. economy in the next 12 months will “improve, stay the same, or decline,” the largest segment of respondents (44%) think it will improve, as opposed to last year, with only 12% expecting the economy to improve — and that was before the pandemic had come into view. This year, 33% think it will stay the same, as opposed to 52% last year. Only 24% think it will decline, compared to 36% a year ago.

“COVID certainly has had a significant impact, and perhaps many are feeling that the economy can only get better moving forward into 2021,” said Thoran Towler, who chairs the EAA board of directors. “In fact, fueling that optimism, 57% of executives project slight to significant increases in sales and revenue. American businesses are showing their resilience and readiness to tackle today’s challenges and come out stronger than ever before.”

An additional 11 questions were added to this year’s survey regarding COVID-19’s impact on business, addressing employee safety, stay-at-home measures and social distancing, remote work, online interviews and training, hazard pay and bonuses, and candidates who are unwilling to work in the office or out in the field.

When asked how concerned respondents are regarding COVID-19 and its impact on business continuity (specifically the supply chain, financial implications, and temporary shutdowns), 52% indicated they are “extremely to moderately concerned.” In the Northeast, 43% of the region’s executives expect the pandemic to negatively impact business and capital spending either moderately or significantly.

However, companies are already starting to pivot from a focus on pandemic measures to investing in the future. As the charts the two charts demonstrate, respondents expect to put less effort into COVID-specific activities in 2021 than they did in 2020, and more effort into investing in technology, equipment, and other efforts to grow their business.

“The pandemic has forced companies to be agile and innovative during these uncertain times,” said Mark Adams, director of Compliance at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. “While expenditures are being scrutinized now more than ever before, the need to invest strategically nonetheless remains important as businesses seek to position themselves to rebound in 2021 and make up for lost ground.”

Similar to last year’s survey responses, the top three serious challenges for business executives include talent acquisition, talent retention, and the ability to pay competitive wages. The ability to pay for benefit costs and the cost of regulatory compliance rounded out the top five.

Also noteworthy for 2021, 64% of the survey respondents are planning to award wage and salary increases, while 29% plan to award variable pay bonuses next year.

The EAA is a national nonprofit association that provides this annual survey to business executives. The 2021 survey included 1,484 participating organizations throughout the U.S., an increase of nearly 400 over last year’s survey.

Construction

Home Makers

Walk-in closets in master bedrooms, low-emissivity windows, and laundry rooms are the most likely features in typical new homes in 2020, based on a recent survey of single-family home builders by the National Assoc. of Home Builders.

Energy-efficient features such as efficient lighting, programmable thermostats, and ENERGY STAR appliances will also be popular, as will open design concepts such as great rooms and nine-plus-foot ceilings on the first floor. Energy-efficient or eco-friendly features not likely to be included in new homes, however, are cork flooring in main-level living areas, geothermal heat pumps, and solar water heating and cooling.

Consumers continue to desire smaller homes, not only in overall square footage, but also the number of features, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. This four-year downward trend has led to the smallest average home size since 2011 at 2,520 square feet — only 20 square feet above the average in 2007, the pre-recession peak. The percentage of homes incorporating four-plus bedrooms, three-plus full bathrooms, and three-plus-car garages have also dropped to levels not seen since 2012.

“This points to an industry trying to meet the demands of the entry-level home buyer,” said Rose Quint, NAHB assistant vice president of survey research. “Builders are struggling to meet these demands, however, because of factors such as restrictive zoning regulations and lot prices, with the price of a new lot in 2019 averaging $57,000.”

NAHB also examined preferences among first-time buyers and repeat buyers to help builders determine what features are most likely to resonate in the market in 2020. When asked which they prefer, the majority of both first-time buyers and repeat buyers would rather have a smaller home with high-quality products and services than a bigger home with fewer amenities. The top features desired by both groups include:

• Laundry rooms;

• ENERGY STAR windows;

• Hardwood flooring;

• Walk-in pantries;

• Patios;

• Ceiling fans; and

• Kitchen double sinks.

These trends are reflected in this year’s Best in American Living Award (BALA) winners as well. For example, designers are including flex spaces that add increased functionality to laundry rooms, hardwood flooring and wood finishes to add warmth and character both inside and outside the home, and creating outdoor spaces that seamlessly integrate with indoor living.

“This points to an industry trying to meet the demands of the entry-level home buyer. Builders are struggling to meet these demands, however, because of factors such as restrictive zoning regulations and lot prices.”

“Every year, winners of the Best in American Living Awards showcase the best of what the home building industry has to offer,” said Donald Ruthroff of the Dahlin Group. “As the chair of the BALA subcommittee and BALA judging, I am privileged to see projects from across the nation, and those projects help me identify the design trends that drive discussions in our offices with our clients.”

Designers are also working to address attainability concerns by developing multi-family and higher-density projects that feel more like single-family homes to meet consumer interest at more affordable price points.

Features

The Future Is Now

Both the immediate and long-term future of the manufacturing industry will be defined by the development of several evolving trends and cutting-edge technologies. According to the Assoc. of Equipment Managers (AEM), many of these are poised to have a significant impact in 2020 and beyond, so it’s critically important for manufacturers to develop a keen understanding of what they are and how they will grow over time. Here are the five most notable trends the AEM sees impacting those within the industry, both this year and in the future.

Wearable Technology

Manufacturers of all types and sizes are increasingly looking into — and investing in — wearable devices with different sensors that can be used by their workforce. According to a recent article from EHS Today, electronic features found in wearable devices allow for organizations to monitor and increase workplace productivity, safety, and efficiency. In addition, employers are now readily capable of collecting valuable information, tracking activities, and providing customized experiences depending on needs and desires.

Predictive Maintenance

Effective equipment maintenance is central to the success of any manufacturer. So the ability to predict impending failures and mitigate downtime is incredibly valuable. Predictive maintenance gives manufacturers the means to optimize maintenance tasks in real time, extending the life of their machinery and avoiding disruption to their operations.

However, iIn order to successfully build a predictive maintenance model, manufacturers must gain insights on the variables they are collecting and how often certain variable behaviors occur on the factory floor.

5G/Smart Manufacturing

Smart factories are becoming the norm in manufacturing, and they rely on connected devices to leverage technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, and more. In addition, these devices are capable of sensing their environments and interacting with one another. As factories of the future continue to grow and develop, manufacturers need to realize that they must be able to adapt the networks that connect them, efficiently and effectively.

VR and AR

When it comes to using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in manufacturing, the possibilities are endless. Whether it’s helping make processes more efficient, improving product design and development, or maintaining machinery more effectively, these technologies are capable of becoming game-changers in the coming years.

According to an article from PwC, manufacturers are becoming more adept at finding ways to incorporate these technologies within their organizations in an effort to drive a future defined by digital connectivity. In fact, one in three manufacturers have adopted — or will adopt — VR and AR in the next three years.

Cybersecurity

The importance of cybersecurity in manufacturing cannot be overstated. More and more connected devices are being integrated into organizational processes each day, so it almost goes without saying that the manufacturing industry needs to develop a keen understanding of how to best deal with them.