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Rolling the Dice

Diane Garvey

Diane Garvey, frustrated in her search for a sales position, has started down a much different career path, and was one of the first to sign up for classes at MCCTI.

Diane Garvey was at a career crossroads. In a big way.

In her 50s, she had spent most of her career working at call centers, as an office manager, and mostly in sales positions, specifically in the candy business, supplying retailers with everything from M&Ms to Russell Stover samplings.

Her most recent position had been eliminated in a restructuring last August, and she spent the next several months in a decidedly futile search for something else. By late last year, with her unemployment benefits winding down, her stop at the crossroads ended, sort of, and she started down a road previously not available to her and one she probably couldn’t have imagined last July.

That would be the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, or MCCTI, an acronym that is quickly working its way into the region’s workforce lexicon and into the vocabulary of people like Garvey.

She was on the ninth floor of 95 State St. in downtown Springfield last Monday, taking the first of six weeks of classes that will likely earn her an audition with MGM Springfield, the $950 million casino going up next door, and perhaps a job on the casino floor by early summer, a few months before the sprawling complex is set to open.

“I was unable to relocate into a different position, so I looked at what was available,” she explained. “With MGM coming to the area and all the publicity they’ve had lately and their reputation for being number one in the entertainment business, maybe the best plan would be to go to the dealer class.”

There are roughly 70 people signed up for the first set of classes at MCCTI, a joint venture of Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College and part of the schools’ hugely successful TWO (Training and Workforce Options) program, which has created training programs to qualify individuals for work in several fields.

For each one of those students, the story is a little different, even though they’ve chosen the same path. Some, like Garvey, are unemployed and looking toward the casino as a place to relaunch their careers. Others are retired or near retirement and looking for something part-time to help fill the day and put a little money in their pocket. Others have some experience working table games in casinos and look upon MGM Springfield as a way to parlay that experience into a job with one of the leading gaming and entertainment companies in the world.

Orlando Marrero can check that last box, and as he talked about what brought him to the ninth floor for the evening class of MCCTI, he borrowed an industry term.

“I rolled the dice,” Marrero, who has a seasonal job delivering propane, told BusinessWest, not once, but several times as he discussed his decision to relocate to the City of Homes and essentially position himself for a job with MGM Springfield when it opens.

With his experience, Marrero probably faces slightly better odds than many of the other students at MCCTI, but all those enrolled stand a good chance of winning a jackpot, in the form of a job, if they are diligent and also passionate about mastering what Alex Dixon, general manager of MGM Springfield, called a “craft.”

“Sometimes people think that you have to know or like table games or like casinos to get into this,” he explained. “This is a craft, and it’s a skill, and with a small investment, you can really become skilled for the rest of your life. As long as you can pass an audition, you’re employable, and these jobs are in high demand.”

Dixon said the casino will need roughly 450 table-games workers and poker dealers when the casino opens, and he admits that MGM has its work cut out for it to not only meet that number but succeed with a much larger goal — sustainability.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he told BusinessWest. “And this is ongoing; we’re looking forward to developing a long-term pipeline of people in Western Mass. who want to choose an opportunity with us.”

For this issue and its focus on workforce development, BusinessWest talked with Marrero and Garvey about their decision to enroll in MCCTI, and with Dixon and others about the many challenges involved with having the casino floor fully staffed by opening night.

Playing the Numbers

With this pipeline-building test in mind, MGM Springfield has taken a number of steps designed to generate interest in the school and prompt more people across that broad spectrum described above to consider careers in table games.

An instructor works with students of all ages on the first day of classes at MCCTI.

An instructor works with students of all ages on the first day of classes at MCCTI.

These include options when it comes to how many games one wishes to learn, flexibility in the scheduling of classes (they run morning, afternoon, and night); similar flexibility when it comes to hours of employment (there are full- and part-time jobs and several shifts); and even reimbursement of the tuition cost.

Still, with all those incentives and flexibility, creating a large, talented corps of table-games workers in an area new to the casino industry will be a daunting challenge, said Dixon.

But he’s hoping, and expecting, that some of the first students to enter the pipeline — people like Garvey and Marrero — will become effective spokespeople, if you will, and help in the recruiting effort.

This is exactly what happened at MGM’s property in Maryland, National Harbor, which opened just over a year ago. There, a school similar to MCCTI and operated in conjunction with Prince George’s (County) Community College, was instrumental in helping that facility staff up with table-games workers.

“In many cases, our best recruiting tool will be our current students,” he explained. “They can certainly help people understand that this is an opportunity; if you’re a recent retiree or you’re currently employed and are looking to pick up a couple of shifts a week, just about anyone with a good attitude can do this.”

Marrero hasn’t even been hired yet, and he’s already helping in this regard, with comments like these when asked about why he was looking forward to returning to the casino floor — sometime soon, he hopes.

“This is what I like doing,” he explained. “I like interacting with the customers; we have a good time. I have a ball when I’m dealing.”

Marrero was a dealer for several years at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. He relocated to Western Mass. so his wife could take a job here, and he has taken odd things (like delivering propane) since. He first contacted Holyoke Community College with inquiries about a dealer school about three years ago, and was one of the first to sign up for the initial cohort of classes.

“I haven’t been a dealer for seven years, and wanted to refresh myself,” he explained, “so I can work at the new casino.”

Overall, Marrero fits just one of many profiles that TWO administrators are seeing in the group signed up for the first cohort that started on Feb. 26, said Jeff Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services at Holyoke Community College.

He told BusinessWest that students come in all age groups and with a host of different backgrounds. Some signed up looking for a new career; others arrived on the ninth floor at 95 State St. hoping to find something new, different, and fulfilling to do in their retirement.

Orlando Marrero is an experienced dealer who enrolled at MCCTI to refresh his skills and learn more games.

Orlando Marrero is an experienced dealer who enrolled at MCCTI to refresh his skills and learn more games.

“So far, we’ve had a good response, but we’re always looking for more people,” said Hayden. “We’re seeing a mix that reflects the region; we’ve had a significant number of people who have some experience and are looking for a refresher course, or they know two games and want to know four games.

“We’ve had more women than men, but the men are primarily the ones with the prior experience,” he went on. “Some are unemployed, but many others are employed, but feel they’re underemployed or in a dead-end position. Still others are looking for something new and different, and MGM appeals to them.”

Dixon told BusinessWest that widely diverse student bodies are typical at these so-called ‘dealer schools,’ which exist even in areas, like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where the gaming industry has a huge presence. That’s because table-games workers will often seek to add to their skills by mastering new games or by refreshing themselves on ones they already know, perhaps with the goal of winning a supervisory position.

In markets like Greater Springfield, however, a larger number of students are being introduced to these games — and to careers in gaming.

Hayden said that students essentially sign on for a 10-week block of classes. The first six weeks are spent on a so-called ‘level 1’ class in either blackjack, roulette, craps, or poker. A student would then take a four-week ‘level-2’ class in everything from mini baccarat to pai gow poker to follow-up sessions in blackjack, roulette, and craps.

Successfully completing classes for two or more games guarantees the student an audition with MGM, said Hayden, adding that, if a student were so inclined, they could sign up for two 10-week blocks and learn three or four games, thus likely improving their odds for employment and perhaps advancement.

Those auditions could come as early as mid-spring, said Dixon, noting that MGM Springfield will begin hiring experienced table-games workers in April and early May, and will likely start the hiring process with the first MCCTI graduates around that same time, meaning they could be on the payroll by June.

With that timetable, Diane Garvey will likely need an extension of her unemployment benefits to get by — something individuals can apply for and something that is often granted to those enrolled in training programs like MCCTI.

She told BusinessWest that she didn’t come to her decision to enroll in these classes quickly or easily. Instead, after much consideration, she decided that this seemed like the most logical path to take from the crossroads she arrived at, and maybe the best fit.

“I would have interaction with people, which is what I liked most about sales,” she explained. “And to be in an exciting environment like MGM … I thought that would be good for me as well. It looked like an opportunity I wanted to pursue.”

Improving Their Odds

While each student currently enrolled at MCCTI has a different story and a different perspective, there is a common denominator: they all use that word ‘opportunity.’

They see MGM and a job on the casino floor as a chance to add a missing piece — whether that piece is a career that’s not at a dead end or a part-time position that can add an intriguing wrinkle to retirement.

In both cases and a host of others that fall somewhere in between, it’s an opportunity. And to seize that opportunity, many are doing just what Orlando Marrero decided he had to do.

Roll the dice.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

HOLYOKE — CareerPoint, the Holyoke-based one-stop career center, announced three events for the coming week.

The public is invited to a ribbon cutting for the grand reopening of its College and Career Center at Westfield High School on Wednesday, March 7 at 9 a.m. Westfield Public Schools has engaged in a partnership with CareerPoint to coordinate the center’s activities. The focus of the center is to provide career and job services to students, and to help make connections for students between their academics and their future career options. Rosalin Acosta, state secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, and other state and local dignitaries plan to attend.

Also on Wednesday, March 7, at 11 a.m., Acosta and other state and local dignitaries will participate in a press conference at CareerPoint, 850 High St., Holyoke. Included will be an announcement about the implementation of a Massachusetts Disaster Hurricane Response Dislocated Worker Grant created to assist relocated citizens impacted by Hurricane Marie and Hurricane Irma. Individuals enrolled in the grant will be able to access vocational and ESOL training opportunities.

Finally, a delegation of Puerto Rican workforce-development professionals are visiting Massachusetts this week to learn how the Commonwealth, and specifically community-service organizations in Hampden County, have responded to the influx of relocated citizens impacted by Hurricane Maria. An information-sharing discussion with heads of many of those organizations and local political leaders is scheduled at CareerPoint on Thursday, March 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Briefcase Departments

Unemployment Rate Drops to 3.5% in Massachusetts

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 300 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector lost 200 jobs; gains occurred in construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities. The November estimate was revised to a gain of 7,800 jobs. From December 2016 to December 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 63,000 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor force decreased by 500 from 3,647,500 in November, as 1,900 more residents were employed and 2,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in December 2016. There were 17,900 more unemployed residents over the year compared to December 2016. 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 — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.3% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to December 2016. The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Union Station Wins Prize for Brownfields Redevelopment

WESTFIELD — Springfield Union Station has won the prestigious Phoenix Award grand prize for the best brownfields-redevelopment project in the nation. Announced during the December National Brownfields Training Conference in Pittsburgh, the Union Station project also won the Region 1 Phoenix Award. Both awards recognize exemplary brownfield redevelopment and revitalization. These awards highlight the critical environmental cleanup phase at Springfield Union Station, as well as the demolition and removal of a massive baggage warehouse and the remediation of the former site of the Hotel Charles. It also celebrates the redevelopment of a long-vacant historic train station into a state-of-the-art intermodal transit center. Built in 1926, the original Union Station was boarded up for 44 years before taken over by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority in 1989. After many fits and starts, the $94.1 million redevelopment project was funded by numerous federal, state, and local sources. This included grants from the EPA Brownfield Assessment and Cleanup program, MassDevelopment, the Federal Transit Administration, state transportation bond funds, a state parking grant, and more. Tighe & Bond provided extensive hazardous-building-material evaluations, abatement monitoring, building demolition design, and the assessment and remediation of widespread areas of subsurface contamination. After almost 10 years, Union Station has been transformed and repurposed into a LEED-certified building that opened last June, and is the new headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines. It has also spurred a new, adjacent, $15 million, 265-unit housing redevelopment. Besides the Phoenix Award, the project has already won other statewide awards for historic preservation, including the Preservation Massachusetts Paul & Nikki Tsongas Best Then & Now Award for 2017.

Expedia Names Lenox ‘Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts’

LENOX — The Lenox Chamber of Commerce announced that travel-booking website giant Expedia has named Lenox as the “Best Place to Escape in Massachusetts.” Expedia released its “Best Place to Escape in Every State” feature on Jan. 3. These places made the list for being ideal for a relaxing getaway where visitors can recharge, take a breather, and revel in serene solitude. “From quaint small towns to quiet nature preserves, this country is full of places to escape to, and we’ve chosen our favorite in each state, highlighting the perfectly restful things to do there. So, sit back, relax, and start dreaming of better times ahead — these calm places are calling your name,” Expedia author Lily Rogers wrote. Lenox and Berkshire notables highlighted in the article included Blantyre, Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home, and Berkshire Grown.

Study Examines Veterans’ Addiction Risk Related to Childhood Adversity

AMHERST — Results of a national study led by public health scientist Elizabeth Evans at UMass Amherst, along with others at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and UCLA, suggest that risk for alcohol- and drug-use disorders among U.S. military veterans is increased by childhood adversity, and in ways that are different between women and men and different compared to the civilian population. According to Evans, assistant professor of Health Promotion and Policy at UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, in the general population, fewer women than men have an alcohol- or drug-use disorder. “Veterans are different in that there is no gender difference in the prevalence of these problems,” she explained. “Among veterans, a similar proportion of women and men — about 37% — have ever had an alcohol or drug-use disorder. This finding that women veterans are similar to men veterans, and are so different from civilian women, is unexpected. Also surprising are the high rates of childhood adversity among veterans, especially among women; 68% of women veterans report some childhood adversity, and they have the highest rates of childhood sexual abuse.” The study results appeared in a recent early online edition of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology and will be in print this year. “One of the implications of this study is the need to assess for childhood adversity, to help people recognize its relationship with substance use and cope with its health impacts,” Evans noted. “When people join the military or when veterans access healthcare at the VA or in the community would be good times to assess and treat childhood adversity, and we’re often missing those opportunities now.” The researchers found that, with increasing exposure to adversity in childhood, risks of alcohol-use disorder among civilian men and women grew more similar, but for drug-use disorder, the gender differences in risk widened. By contrast, among veterans, more childhood adversity elevated men’s alcohol risk and increased women’s drug risk. “In general right now, we don’t assess for childhood adversity until there’s a problem, in particular with alcohol or drugs, or attempts to harm oneself or others,” Evans said. “However, we know that childhood adversity is an early life experience that is associated with anxiety, depression, and other risk factors for later health and social problems. We in public health, along with others in the community, can do more to prevent childhood adversity altogether. Also, more can be done to assess and address childhood adversity when it does occur so that we mitigate or undo its harmful effects. The need for such efforts is especially critical now given the devastating impacts of the current opioid epidemic on families and communities.”

Nominations Open for Ubora and Ahadi Awards

SPRINGFIELD — The African Hall subcommittee of the Springfield Museums is seeking nominations for the 27th annual Ubora Award and the ninth annual Ahadi Youth Award. The African Hall subcommittee is a volunteer group comprised of educators, business people, and community leaders from the African-American community. The nomination deadline for both awards is March 31. The Ubora Award is presented to an African-American adult who has demonstrated a commitment to the Greater Springfield area and exhibited excellence in the fields of community service, education, science, humanities, or the arts. The Swahili word ‘ubora’ means ‘excellence.’ Named for the Swahili word for ‘promise,’ the Ahadi Youth Award is presented to a young African-American who has excelled in academics and performed 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 grade 10, 11, or 12. The Ubora and Ahadi Awards will be presented at a ceremony at the Springfield Museums in September. Nominations forms can be downloaded by visiting springfieldmuseums.org/ubora. For additional information, call (413) 263-6800, ext. 325, or e-mail to [email protected] 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.

Berkshire Bank Launches $52,500 Scholarship Program

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced it will honor 35 high-school seniors across Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for their volunteer service with Berkshire Bank scholarships. The scholarships recognize students who excel academically, have a financial need, and share the bank’s commitment to community service. Additionally, students must attend a high school that is located in a county with a Berkshire Bank or Commerce Bank office. The recipients will share in $52,500 in scholarship funds. Through the program, 35 $1,500 scholarships will be awarded to high-school seniors who will be attending a two-year or four-year college in the fall. Applications are evaluated based on the student’s record of volunteerism in the community, academic standing, and financial need. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of a 3.0 and a family household income under $100,000 to be eligible to apply. A team of 200 bank employee volunteers will review the applications and select this year’s recipients. Recipients will include 15 students in Massachusetts, nine in New York, three in Connecticut, three in Vermont, three in New Jersey, and two in Pennsylvania. Students can apply online at www.berkshirebank.com/scholarships. To be considered, all applications must be submitted online by Wednesday, March 21 at 4 p.m. Additional information about this year’s program can be obtained through the bank’s website or by e-mailing the Berkshire Bank Foundation at [email protected]

Daily News

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in December, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 300 jobs in December. Over the month, the private sector lost 200 jobs; gains occurred in construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and financial activities. The November estimate was revised to a gain of 7,800 jobs.

From December 2016 to December 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 63,000 jobs. The December unemployment rate was six-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Throughout 2017, the Commonwealth continued to experience steady economic growth, adding 63,000 jobs, over 64,000 additional residents participating in the labor force, and closing out the year with a low unemployment rate of 3.5%. While much of these job gains continue to be in sectors like professional, business, and scientific services, manufacturing also posted a preliminary 2,800 over-the-year job gain, the first over-the-year over job gain in that sector in 18 years,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said.

The labor force decreased by 500 from 3,647,500 in November, as 1,900 more residents were employed and 2,500 fewer residents were unemployed over the month.

Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased four-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in December 2016. There were 17,900 more unemployed residents over the year compared to December 2016.

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 — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.3% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to December 2016.

The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; and leisure and hospitality.

Daily News

EAST LONGMEADOW — A Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund information session will be held on Feb. 2 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Bay Path University’s Philip H. Ryan Health Science Center in East Longmeadow. To register, visit workforcetrainingfund.org/events or call (413) 565-1555.

The Workforce Training Fund Program (WTFP) helps address business productivity and competitiveness by providing resources to Massachusetts businesses to fund training for current and newly hired employees. In order to qualify, businesses must pay into the fund. All for-profit companies automatically pay into the fund. Nonprofit organizations can visit www.workforcetrainingfund.org and click on ‘programs’ for more information and to learn if the organization qualifies. Government agencies are not eligible to apply.

While available to businesses and organizations of all sizes, the WTFP focuses on small to medium-sized businesses that would not be able to invest in improving employee skills without the assistance of the Fund. As recently as October, the Workforce Training Fund Program awarded grants to 121 Massachusetts companies and organizations totaling $11.9 million. More than $17 million in grants were distributed in FY17.

Bay Path’s Strategic Alliances division, which offers customized talent and leadership programs, as well as specialized training, is hosting this event. The WTFP information session is part of “How to Build Company Loyalty Through Professional Development” and will include an overview of the features and benefits of each Workforce Training Fund grant program, the amount of available funding, program guidelines, and how to apply for each grant. Participants will have direct access to staff to ask questions about the WTFP and training opportunities.

Speakers on the event agenda include Kristen Rayne, outreach manager, Workforce Training Fund at Commonwealth Corp.; Stephen Brand, executive director of Global Learning, Strategic Alliances at Bay Path University; and two talent-development experts with vast experience in the Western Mass. region.

The Workforce Training Fund is a program of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, administered by Commonwealth Corp.

Briefcase Departments

UMass, Research Partners Aim to Improve Flu-season Forecasts
AMHERST — Research teams, including one led by biostatistician Nicholas Reich at UMass Amherst, are participating in a national influenza-forecasting challenge to try to predict the onset, progress, and peaks of regional flu outbreaks to aid prevention and control. This year, the Reich Lab is leading an effort to improve the forecasting by increasing the collaboration between groups. “Every year, the Centers for Disease Control host a flu-forecasting challenge,” Reich said. “It’s the most organized and public effort at forecasting any infectious disease anywhere in the world. Our lab is now in our third year of participating, and we find that each year we get a little better and learn a bit more. This year, we wanted to take it to the next level, so we worked with other teams year-round to develop a way that our models could work together to make a single best forecast for influenza. This entire effort is public, so anyone can go to the website and see the forecasts.” While this flu season has started earlier than usual in the northeastern and southern regions of the U.S., according to the most recent data, the forecasts are still showing a fair amount of uncertainty about how big a season it will be, Reich said. “The holiday season is a notoriously difficult time to forecast because typically fewer people go to the doctor, and yet everyone is traveling around spreading or being exposed to infections such as flu.” Reich and colleagues at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences collaborate with teams at Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, and a group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, in a group they have dubbed the FluSight Network. It issues a new flu season forecast every Monday for public-health researchers and practitioners that compares the flu trajectory this year to past years. In a recent publication, Reich and colleagues state that their aim is to “combine forecasting models for seasonal influenza in the U.S. to create a single ensemble forecast. The central question is, can we provide better information to decision makers by combining forecasting models and, specifically, by using past performance of the models to inform the ensemble approach.” Added Reich, “we are working closely with our collaborators at the CDC to determine how to improve the timeliness and relevance of our forecasts.” To prepare for this flu season, he and colleagues spent many hours designing a standard structure that each team needed to use when submitting models. This allowed for comparison of methods over the past seven years of flu data in the U.S. They also conducted a cross-validation study of data from the past seven flu seasons to compare five different methods for combining models into a single ensemble forecast. They found that four of their collaborative ensemble methods had higher average scores than any of the individual models. The team is now submitting forecasts from their best-performing model and are posting them once a week this season to the CDC’s 2017-18 FluSight Challenge. Reich estimates there are about 20 teams this year participating in the CDC challenge nationwide, who produce about 30 different models. Each model forecasts the onset of the flu season, how it will progress over the coming few weeks, when it will peak, and how intense the peak will be compared to other seasons. In a heavy flu season, between 5% and 12% of doctor’s visits are for influenza-like illness, and that number varies regionally in the U.S. This metric is one of the key indicators for the CDC of how bad the flu season is, and it is the measure used in the forecasting challenges. “Certainly for the CDC, there are policy decisions that could be impacted by these forecasts, including the timing of public communication about flu season starting and when to get vaccinated. Models can help with all of that,” Reich said. “Also, hospitals often try to have enhanced precautions in place during a certain peak period for the disease. If you do that too early, or for too long, you run the risk of individuals getting tired of taking the extra time to comply with the policies.” Hospital epidemiologists and others responsible for public-health decisions do not declare the onset of flu season lightly, he noted. In hospitals, flu onset — a technical set of symptoms reported to physicians — triggers many extra time-consuming and costly precautions and procedures such as added gloves, masks, and gowns; donning and doffing time; special decontamination procedures; increased surveillance; and reduced visitor access, for example. There is also healthcare worker fatigue to consider. Hospitals want to be as effective and efficient as possible in their preparations and response to reduce time and money spent and worker burnout. The public-health effort to improve flu season forecasts is relatively recent, Reich said. “There has been tremendous progress in how we think about infectious disease forecasting in just the last five years. If you compare that to something like weather forecasting, which has been going on for decades, we’re in the middle of a long process of learning and improvement. Someday, we might be able to imagine having a flu forecast on our smartphones that tells us, for example, it’s an early season and I’d better get Mom to the clinic to get her vaccination early this year. We’re close, but that’s not here quite yet.”

Massachusetts Adds 6,700 Jobs in November
BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% in November, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 6,700 jobs in November. Over the month, the private sector added 7,300 jobs as gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; education and health services; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; and manufacturing. The October estimate was revised to a gain of 3,200 jobs. From November 2016 to November 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,200 jobs. The November unemployment rate was five-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Year-to-date the jobs and labor force estimates indicate a strong and stable economy in the Commonwealth. Since December 2016, Massachusetts is estimated to have added 62,200 jobs, 64,300 more residents are participating in the labor force, and the unemployment rate remains low, averaging 3.8%. November also marks the 13th consecutive month of private-sector job growth, with manufacturing adding 1,600 jobs,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. The labor force decreased by 8,200 from 3,656,000 in October, as 4,000 fewer residents were employed and 4,200 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased five-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in November 2016. There were 18,300 more unemployed residents over the year compared to November 2016. 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 — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.4% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to November 2016. The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services.

Applications Open for 2018 Local Farmer Awards
AGAWAM — The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF), in partnership with Big Y and a sponsorship team, announced the fourth year of the Local Farmer Awards, supporting local farmers in Western Mass. with funds for infrastructure improvements and farm equipment. Launched in 2015, the awards draw attention to the importance of local farmers to the region’s economy and health. “Big Y has been supporting local farmers since we began over 80 years ago,” said Charles D’Amour, Big Y president and COO. “Through our partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, we are providing one more way to help the local growers to thrive in our community.” Awards of up to $2,500 will be given to each recipient farmer. The 2017 awards were made to 49 of the 116 applicants. Essential to the program’s success has been the ongoing advice and assistance from the two regional Buy Local farm advocates, Berkshire Grown and Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA). “Local family farms are a part of our culture and economy and the reason we call this area home,” said Philip Korman, executive director of CISA. “This unique farm awards program makes it possible for family farms to strengthen that connection in our communities.” Added Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown, “we’re thrilled about the continuation of these financial awards for farmers in Western Massachusetts. This helps build the local food economy in our region.” The application is open through Jan. 31, 2018. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit the website for more information: www.farmerawards.org.

DevelopSpringfield Sells 700 State St. to Pride Stores for Redevelopment
SPRINGFIELD — DevelopSpringfield announced the sale of property at the corner of Thompson and State streets to Pride Stores for redevelopment. The site had been identified as a priority for redevelopment in the State Street Corridor Redevelopment Program, a plan focused on the economic revitalization of State Street and adjacent neighborhoods. DevelopSpringfield acquired the former River Inn at 700 State St. in 2013 with adjacent lots on Thompson Street to remove a blight on the neighborhood, promote revitalization, and prepare the site for appropriate commercial redevelopment. The organization performed extensive asbestos remediation, demolished the building, and prepared the site for redevelopment. “We listened closely to the interests of community members, including the Springfield Food Policy Council and the McKnight Neighborhood Council, to identify a developer whose project would meet community needs and be a good neighbor to the many residents near the site,” said Nicholas Fyntrilakis, DevelopSpringfield’s chairman. “Pride’s new store will offer fresh food and produce and address the community’s interests for healthier food options.” Added Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, “this is exactly why my administration created this public/private partnership of DevelopSpringfield. This in-question property had been a troublesome area for the neighborhood for many years. I look forward to the redevelopment of this site with a project that will bring jobs, tax revenue, and a quality retail operator who cares about our community.” The sale of the property was complete on Dec. 15. Construction is targeted to begin in the spring. The new store will include a Pride gas station and convenience store and will feature a variety of convenient food items, Pride Café Bakery, local produce, and fresh healthy food offerings. In addition, incubator space will be provided to a local food entrepreneur. “We are excited to bring Pride Markets to this important area of the State Street corridor,” said Bob Bolduc, owner of Pride Stores. “Not only will the store have the amenities our customers traditionally expect, but it will also have fresh local produce available through an innovative collaboration led by local food advocate Liz O’Gilvie, who will coordinate a farmer’s market on the site.”

MassDOT: $1B Invested in Infrastructure in 2017
BOSTON — The Mass. Department of Transportation announced that approximately $1 billion was invested in improving and upgrading roads, bridges, sidewalks, multi-use paths, and intersections across the state in calendar year 2017. This $1 billion in capital investments included repairs and improvements to 386 bridges in 123 communities and improved road conditions in more than 155 cities and towns across Massachusetts. An additional $30 million was programmed through the Complete Streets and Municipal Small Bridge programs in order to support local transportation planning and community bridges not eligible for federal aid. “The Baker-Polito Administration has focused on improving the reliability and resiliency of our transportation infrastructure to ensure that people throughout the Commonwealth are able to drive, walk, bike, or use public transit and reach the places they need to go,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack. “By investing in our roads, bridges, sidewalks, multi-use paths, and intersections, we can provide better options to travelers and allow them to utilize their preferred mode of transportation to reach their jobs, homes, businesses, and places that improve their quality of life.” Among the notable construction project highlights from 2017 are reaching the full beneficial use milestone for the $148 million I-91 viaduct rehabilitation project in Springfield approximately eight months ahead of schedule. The majority of the work has now been completed, and the lanes and ramps on I-91 have reopened.

Daily News

BOSTON — Local unemployment rates decreased in four labor market areas, increased in nine areas, and remained the same in 11 labor-market areas in the state during the month of November, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. Compared to November 2016, the rates were up in 24 labor-market areas.

Eight of the 15 areas for which job estimates are published recorded seasonal job gains in November. The gains occurred in the Springfield, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Worcester, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, New Bedford, Taunton-Middleborough-Norton, Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford, and Framingham areas.

From November 2016 to November 2017, all 15 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the Barnstable, New Bedford, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Springfield, and Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead areas.

In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide-unadjusted unemployment rate for November was 3.3%.

Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% in the month of November. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 6,700-job gain in November, and an over-the-year gain of 65,200 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. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Daily News

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% in November, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced Thursday.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 6,700 jobs in November. Over the month, the private sector added 7,300 jobs as gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; education and health services; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; and manufacturing. The October estimate was revised to a gain of 3,200 jobs.

From November 2016 to November 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 65,200 jobs. The November unemployment rate was five-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Year-to-date the jobs and labor force estimates indicate a strong and stable economy in the Commonwealth. Since December 2016, Massachusetts is estimated to have added 62,200 jobs, 64,300 more residents are participating in the labor force, and the unemployment rate remains low, averaging 3.8%. November also marks the 13th consecutive month of private-sector job growth, with manufacturing adding 1,600 jobs,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said.

The labor force decreased by 8,200 from 3,656,000 in October, as 4,000 fewer residents were employed and 4,200 fewer residents were unemployed over the month.

Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased five-tenths of a percentage point from 3.1% in November 2016. There were 18,300 more unemployed residents over the year compared to November 2016.

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 — decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.4% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.7% compared to November 2016.

The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in construction; professional, scientific and business services; leisure and hospitality; and other services.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College will again offer its popular Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Training Program, as well as the Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) Plus Program, both starting in January.

The EMT program consists of about 171 hours of lectures, 15 to 20 hours of online instruction, an auto-extrication class, and an eight-hour clinical hospital emergency-room observation designed to prepare the student for the Massachusetts State Certification Examination. The program, based on the Department of Transportation curriculum for Basic Emergency Medical Technician, is approved by the Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Services.

“The EMT program gives the student an excellent foundation in Basic Life Support skills and techniques and patient assessment,” said Paul Sheehan, director of the Workforce Development Center at STCC. “This program always fills up long before the start date, and applications are now being accepted.

Daytime and evening classes start Jan. 22. Visit www.stcc.edu/wdc or call (413) 755-4225 to enroll.

Meanwhile, the employment of CNAs is projected to grow by 19%, faster than average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which projects employers will add 279,600 CNA positions during the next decade. The CAN Plus Program at STCC is designed to provide participants with job skills that will allow entry into the healthcare field as well as preparation for the Massachusetts state board examination to become a certified nurse aide.

Day classes, which start Jan. 22, will be held Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Students will receive clinical experience in a local nursing home under the supervision of registered nurse (RN) instructors. Major topics will include vital signs; moving and turning patients; personal-care basics; bed making; bed, bath, and feeding; record keeping; and responding to emergencies.

This course will also include a Home Health Aide Training Certificate and an Enhanced Alzheimer’s Module. Students will attend a job fair scheduled at the conclusion of this program.

Evening Classes for BASIC CNA start Jan. 28, and will be held Monday through Friday, 4-9:30 p.m. The Workforce Development Center at STCC offers a wide variety of entry-level health programs. Visit www.stcc.edu/wdc or call (413) 755-4225 to enroll.

Daily News

BOSTON — The state’s total unemployment rate dropped to 3.7% in October, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts added 4,800 jobs in October. Over the month, the private sector added 4,100 jobs as gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; professional, scientific, and business services; other services; financial activities; manufacturing; construction; and information. The September estimate was revised to a gain of 10,300 jobs.

From October 2016 to October 2017, BLS estimates Massachusetts has added 69,000 jobs. The October unemployment rate was four-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 4.1% reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The low unemployment rate and job gains are indicators of the ongoing strength of the economy in Massachusetts. But not all communities and regions are feeling the benefits of this economy equally. Our workforce-development programs continue to prioritize closing skills gaps and connecting all citizens of the Commonwealth to prosperous career pathways,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said.

The labor force decreased by 13,400 from 3,669,500 in September, as 5,600 fewer residents were employed and 7,700 fewer residents were unemployed over the month.

Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased five-tenths of a percentage point from 3.2% in October 2016. There were 19,600 more unemployed residents over the year compared to October 2016.

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 — decreased three-tenths of a percentage point to 65.5% over the month. The labor-force participation rate over the year has increased by 0.8% compared to October 2016.

The largest private-sector percentage job gains over the year were in other services; construction; professional, scientific, and business services; financial activities; and education and health services.

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