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IBM Watson Health Redefines Boundaries of Health, Information Technology

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 20, 2017 2:24:55 PM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts President Richard C. Lord used his annual State of Massachusetts Business Speech this morning to highlight IBM Watson Health in Cambridge as emblematic of the commonwealth's growing economy.

IBM Watson Health is prospering by exploring the still unknown boundaries between health care and information technology. The company seeks nothing less than to redefine the relationship between technology and humanity in a manner that improves the quality of medical care for all of us. IBM Watson Health could have located anywhere, but decided to establish its operations and hundreds of employees in Kendall Square, Cambridge, the epicenter of the global biosciences and software industries.

The idea behind IBM Watson Health is to use cognitive computer systems that understand, reason and learn to make sense of the estimated 80 percent of health data that is currently invisible to computer systems because it is unstructured.

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Technology, State of Massachusetts Business Address

State of Massachusetts Business - The Age of Uncertainty

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 20, 2017 10:47:52 AM

The success of diverse Massachusetts companies like VIBRAM and IBM Watson Health underscores the need for employers to engage in public policy debates, Associated Industries of Massachusetts President Richard C. Lord said Friday.

Lord used his annual State of Massachusetts Business address to more than 350 business leaders to call for call upon elected officials and all involved in public policy to set aside polemics and engage instead in civil debate on behalf of the large number of Americans who clearly feel restive, uneasy and suspicious of institutions like government and business.    

“Let us resolve to talk with each other, not at each other. Let us resolve to speak in full sentences, not 140-character missives that reduce to two dimensions the complex issues with which we must wrestle,” Lord said just hours before Donald J. Trump took the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States.

“Let us seek bipartisan consensus rather than intractable fiscal cliffs and government by inaction. Let us make hope and hard work our watchwords and not allow cynicism to leave undone the important work of business and government.”

Lord warned that conservative administrations in Washington often prompt progressives in Massachusetts to make the commonwealth an example of big government, higher taxes, inefficient regulation and fiscal instability. Employers are already on the defensive, he said, having barely held off scores of expensive social-engineering bills ranging from a ban on non-compete agreements to the creation of a state-run pension system for private-sector workers.

The first step for business, according to Mr. Lord, is to articulate a positive agenda for economic growth. He noted that AIM is attempting to do that through its Blueprint for the Next Century, which makes four primary recommendations to create economic growth and opportunity for the people of Massachusetts:

  • Government and business must develop the best system in the world for educating and training workers with the skills to allow Massachusetts companies to succeed in the global economy.
  • Massachusetts must create a uniformly competitive economic structure, including an efficient transportation infrastructure, across all industries, geographic regions and populations.
  • Establish a world-class state regulatory system that meets the highest standards for efficiency, predictability, transparency, and responsiveness.
  • Massachusetts must find a way to moderate the substantial burden that health care and energy costs place on business growth.

A panel of business leaders responded to Lord’s speech and underscored the sense of uncertainty surrounding the transfer of power in Washington.

Robert Reynolds, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Putnam Investments, expressed optimism that the new Trump Administration and Republican Congress will accelerate economic growth and move away from the monetary approach that has dominated US economic policy.

“They already have so-called shovel ready plans,” on taxes, replacement of federal health reform and other issues, Reynolds said.

Donna Cupelo, New England Regional President of Verizon, said that a national technology sector that did not strongly support Trump is now “getting its boots back on” to address issues such as infrastructure, taxes and work-force development.

Lisa Chamberlain, Managing Partner of The Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington, said the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical-device companies is good news for her company’s customers, but repeal also creates uncertainty for small employers like herself.

“The instability of the present moment brings me some concerns and it concerns some of my neighbors,” she said.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts economy, Donald Trump

Proposal to Revive Fair-Share Assessment Raises Concerns

Posted by Katie Holahan on Jan 17, 2017 8:17:07 AM

The 4,000 member employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) believe that the Baker Administration’s proposal to impose a $2,000-per-employee tax on some employers is an unfair way to close a deficit in MassHealth.

health_care.jpgThe proposal would force employers to foot the bill for a problem they did not create. The $600 million shortfall at Masshealth, which provides health insurance to 1.9 million low-income Massachusetts residents, is attributable solely to problems arising from the federal Affordable Care Act, a law that may well be repealed by the time Massachusetts solves its Medicaid problems 

AIM acknowledges that the ACA-generated deficit at MassHealth is not the creation or responsibility of the Baker Administration.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made access to health insurance an entitlement based on expanded income eligibility.  Under the Massachusetts health care reform law of 2006, employees who were offered employer-sponsored health insurance were ineligible for MassHealth.  The ACA reversed that policy and allowed employees to decline employer coverage and still seek insurance through MassHealth.

The change created a migration of newly-eligible individuals from their employer-sponsored insurance to MassHealth, substantially increasing the commonwealth’s financial burden.  ACA made it an economically rational choice for eligible residents.

As MassHealth enrollment grows, the commonwealth experiences the reality that employers have faced for years - the high cost of health care coverage in this state threatens the underpinnings of the state economy.  This challenging moment underscores the fact that policymakers have concentrated too heavily on access issues instead of controlling the cost of health insurance, and now face a renewed imperative to lower costs for everyone in Massachusetts.

State House News Service reports that the administration plan would impose a $2,000 fee for all full-time workers - defined as someone who works 35 hours or more - upon businesses that don't cover at least 80 percent of their workers and share at least 60 percent of the premium cost with employees.

The employer assessment, which would bring an estimated $300 million into state coffers, represents a revival of the so-called fair share contribution plan that was a linchpin of the 2006 universal health care law in Massachusetts before it was repealed to make way for the federal Affordable Care Act. The state employer mandate was repealed in 2013 as lawmakers and former Gov. Deval Patrick worked to bring Massachusetts into compliance with the ACA.

There are positive elements to the administration’s proposal as well. AIM supports a freeze on new mandated health-insurance benefits and a cap on provider rates.

AIM recognizes that the administration’s proposal is the opening bid in what will be a protracted debate. We look forward to productive discussions with the administration and the Legislature to find a solution that does not wreak irreparable harm on the Massachusetts economy.

Topics: Health Care Reform, Health Care Costs, Health Insurance

Trump Policies on International Trade Take Shape

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Jan 5, 2017 11:27:58 AM

President-Elect Donald Trump’s international trade leadership team is now complete. 

international.flagssmall.jpgRobert Lighthizer was announced this week as US Trade Representative.  Lighthizer joins incoming Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, new National Trade Council head Peter Navarro, and Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, as Trump’s picks to set and execute US trade policy.

 What might we expect from this team?  What are the issues to watch in 2017?

NAFTA.  The North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada is widely expected to be renegotiated.  An update of NAFTA is welcomed by many trade experts.  NAFTA came into force in 1994, before the rise of the Internet.  Because of the breadth, depth, complexity, and influence of technology on trade today, new rules are needed.  Mexico and Canada have signaled a willingness to modernize the treaty—under certain conditions.  Scrapping NAFTA altogether, which Trump previously championed, would threaten millions of US jobs.

China.  Trump speaks frequently about China’s currency manipulation, steel-dumping and aggressive trade practices.  His trade appointees are likely to stand tough on China—and this toughness may serve the US well.  However, a proposal to hit some China imports with significant tariffs is meeting resistance. AIM has heard from Massachusetts manufacturers concerned that components they source from China may become prohibitively expensive.

Russia.  The US levied trade sanctions on Russia in March 2014, after the Crimea incursion.  Many European countries did the same.  Given Trump’s frequent praise of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his desire to strengthen ties with Russia, might US sanctions be lifted?  Complicating the US-Russia relationship is Russia’s ongoing cyberwarfare against the US, which appears to have affected the recent US presidential election.   Trump’s Secretary of State designee Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, is known to have business ties with Russia.  More will be learned during confirmation hearings.

Brexit.  The 2016 vote by citizens of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union surprised the world.  New UK Prime Minister Theresa May is overseeing “Brexit” and has proposed March 2017 as the start date for the two-year process.  However, the recent requirement for a Parliamentary vote to approve Brexit and the appointment of a new UK ambassador to the EU have muddied the Brexit waters.  The UK is searching worldwide for hundreds of trade negotiators needed to lead trade talks with the EU.  Although US President-elect Trump has signaled interest in negotiating a bilateral trade agreement with the UK, that country cannot negotiate any new trade agreements while it is still part of the EU.  So any US-UK agreement would have to wait until 2019 or 2020.  In the meantime, US and UK diplomats are working to continue and grow the US-UK trade relationship.

Key Europe Elections.  The Brexit vote was the first step in the resurgence of populism in Europe.  Concerns about immigration and terrorism have driven European voters to rebuff convention and vote for change.  Italy’s recent vote was a win for populism and resulted in the resignation of the Italian Prime Minister.  France is holding its presidential election in May.  Current president Francois Hollande will not seek re-election.  Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon beat ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy in the primary to become the conservative nominee for president.  Marine Le Pen, leader of the Far Right National Front, is her party’s nominee.  A Socialist Party nominee will be selected this month.  In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel will run for a fourth term in the Fall 2017 elections.  She has been Chancellor for 11 years and she leads the Christian Democrats Union party.  The EU-US trade relationship is the largest trade relationship in the world, so any changes in leadership in the key EU countries will affect US commerce.   

Other issues to watch:

The US Export-Import Bank lacks a quorum and cannot approve loans of more than $10 million.  Will the new administration break the logjam?  Cuba is now welcoming US commercial cruise lines and airlines.  JetBlue—Massport’s largest carrier—hopes to be approved for future non-stop flights between Logan Airport and Havana—but only if the further opening of the Cuba market continues under a new US presidential administration.

Israel is not a significant trade partner for Massachusetts, but there’s a strong Massachusetts-Israel talent pipeline and Israeli-founded companies represent thousands of jobs in the Bay State.  Will the recent UN vote on Israeli settlements affect that relationship?  Will the Trump administration’s pick for US Ambassador to Israel move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is considered to be on life support, as President-elect Trump has promised to withdraw from this 12-country pact.  Key concerns on abandoning TPP are the US relationship with its long-time trading partner Japan, the rising influence of China in the Pacific region, and the likelihood that many Asian countries will now sign on to the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Trade Agreement, or R-CEP, which will lower trade barriers in the region but will not benefit the US.

Other US Free Trade Agreements.  The US now has 14 FTA’s covering 20 countries.   Will the Trump trade team renegotiate these?

It’s going to be an interesting year for trade.

Topics: International Trade, Manufacturing, Donald Trump

Raising Minimum Wage Would Boost Costs for Majority of Employers

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 3, 2017 7:55:31 AM

Three-quarters of Massachusetts employers would face increases in their compensation costs if state lawmakers pass a $15 per hour minimum wage, according to two recent surveys by Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

TeenJobsCrop.jpgAnd those compensation increases would be enough to force some companies to postpone hiring or consider leaving the commonwealth altogether.

Both the monthly survey question attached to the AIM Business Confidence Index in December and the annual AIM HR Practices Survey, also taken a December, found that 13 percent of companies employed people at the former $10 per hour Massachusetts minimum wage, while another 24 percent employed people at between $10 and $15 per hour and would have to raise those wages if the minimum moved to $15.

Thirty-four percent of companies employed people at slightly more than $15 and would have to increase pay for some of those employees to deal with wage compression. Thirty-seven percent of companies said they pay much more than $15 per hour and will not be affected by a minimum-wage increase.

The Massachusetts minimum wage rose by $1 to $11 per hour on January 1, the final step in a three-year increase.

“While we are empathetic with the challenges facing lower wage staff, it is also the case that we will employ fewer hourly employees at higher minimum wages. Each dollar increase costs our company $1.5 million per year,” wrote one employer on the Business Confidence Survey.

Another commented: “This would be too much for the small business community to absorb. You'll lose many small businesses. The Massachusetts legislature should concentrate on cutting costs and make Massachusetts a more affordable place to live.”

AIM believes that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, while emotionally appealing and politically expedient, is an ineffective way to address income inequality.

Raising the minimum wage, in fact, represents a fundamental distraction from addressing the real economic impediments that prevent all Massachusetts citizens from sharing in the state’s prosperity. These are the same impediments, ironically, that contribute to the persistent skills shortage that threatens innovation and economic growth in Massachusetts.

Workers are ultimately compensated according to the skills, education, work ethic and value they bring to the enterprise.

Minimum-wage increases impose an arbitrary standard of value on entry-level jobs, disproportionately burdening small businesses while creating no long-term improvement in living standards for people at the lower end of the wage scale. The issue in an economy with a staggering 3.3 percent unemployment rate is not how to raise the wage but instead how to raise the economic value of each employee.

Consider a sandwich shop in Cambridge serving food to employees of companies such as Google, Biogen, or Novartis that have made Massachusetts a global center for information technology, biosciences, research and development. Many of the engineers, software designers, researchers and professional services workers who come to the restaurant for lunch make six-figure incomes from companies locked in a pitched battle for talent that will determine their success or failure in the global markets.

Given the degree to which those highly compensated employees are bidding up housing and other prices in Massachusetts, increasing the minimum wage for the restaurant workers represents a dead-end and pyrrhic victory that keeps them outside the economic mainstream.

The task instead should be to pave the way for those restaurant employees to cross the street and join the high-value economy, which will once and for all allow them to support their families and achieve financial stability.

How does that happen? Start by improving the ability of our educational system to teach all students; reduce the long waiting lists for vocational schools; make community colleges accountable for graduating students with the skills needed in the marketplace; create more high-tech software coding academies; and promote other efficient structures to provide people with the skills to succeed in the areas of fastest economic growth.

Those tasks are far more complex than raising the minimum wage but ultimately more effective. The alternative is not attractive.

“If we move to minimum wage of $15 per hour in Massachusetts, we would immediately terminate many unskilled positions and use temps.  That would allow us to better eliminate labor in the slower seasons.  Note that our competition is located outside Mass and would end up with a significant competitive advantage,” said one employer in the survey.

 

Topics: Compensation, Minimum Wage, Massachusetts Legislature

Business Confidence Hits 12-Year High

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 3, 2017 7:30:00 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers hit its highest level in 12 years during December amid the prospect of growth initiatives from the new administration in Washington and a continued strong state economy.

BCI.December.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 2.3 points to 60.4 last month, a full 5.1 points higher than its level in December 2015 and the highest reading since December 2004. It marked the fourth consecutive monthly increase in sentiment among employers in a commonwealth where the unemployment rate recently fell to 2.9 percent.

The November and December BCI readings mirror the post-election rally in U.S. financial markets, which have risen five percent as President-Elect Donald Trump prepares to work with a Republican Congress on business-friendly issues as tax reductions, regulatory reform and infrastructure spending. The AIM survey showed a 5.5-point jump in confidence in the national economy last month, leaving that indicator at its highest level since 2007.

“Massachusetts employers are taking the president-elect at his word that he will prioritize economic growth at the national level, especially if he is able to work with Congressional Democrats on a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“But employer enthusiasm is also based upon a solid economic expansion during 2016 that most analysts believe will continue in a methodical manner though the first half of 2017.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators Mostly Higher

Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in December.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 2 points to 61.8, leaving it 5.5 points ahead of the same time last year.

The increase in the U.S. Index of national business conditions put that figure 7.5 points higher than its level of a year ago, but still short of the Massachusetts index. It marked the 80th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.2 points to 59.1 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.5 points to 61.7. The future outlook was 5.5 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015.

Operational Views Strengthen

The sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations also strengthened considerably.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.4 points to 60.9 while the Sales Index increased 3.2 points to 61.4. The Employment Index was the only indicator to lose ground, falling 0.2 points to 57.2.

The AIM survey found that nearly 38 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“One of the most positive results of the December survey is that business confidence is strengthening uniformly across almost every sector of the economy,” said Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Winer Economic Consulting and a BEA member.

“Employers both large and small, manufacturers and non-manufacturers, from the Pioneer Valley to Great Boston are more optimistic about their prospects than at any time since prior to the Great Recession.”

The BCI Manufacturing Index jumped 0.6 points during the month and 2.6 points for the year. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 63.3 compared to 56.7 for manufacturing companies.

Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were slightly more optimistic at 61.4 than those in the western part of the state at 57.6.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said employers appear to be encouraged by the prospect that President-Elect Donald Trump and a Republican Congress will be able to pass their tax and regulatory agenda.

At the same time, Lord said, there remains uncertainty about a possible repeal of federal health Care reform and the future of international trade agreements that are critical to Massachusetts companies.

“The only certainty appears to be uncertainty for the next six months,” Lord said.

“The key will be to ensure that any tax reductions and regulatory reforms made on the national level are not obviated by state measures intended to make Massachusetts a progressive ‘model’ for the rest of the country.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Donald Trump

Trade Mission Cements Economic Ties with Israel

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Dec 22, 2016 11:03:34 AM

Editor's note - Kristen Rupert, Executive Director of the AIM International Business Council, traveled to Israel earlier this month as part of Governor Charlie Baker's trade mission.

Governor Charlie Baker’s recent trade mission to Israel took place at a propitious time for US-Israel relations.

Gov.Baker.Israel.jpgThe first two (of an order of 50) F-35 fighter jets were delivered by the US to Israel while the Massachusetts trade delegation was participating in meetings in Tel Aviv.  These state-of-the-art, manufactured-in-the-US, stealth aircraft were flown from the US to an Israeli airbase in the Negev where they were greeted by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, and a large crowd of US and Israeli military personnel.

Against this backdrop of goodwill between the US and Israel, Massachusetts executives spent four days in panel discussions, informational briefings and networking sessions with Israeli counterparts in the digital health and cybersecurity sectors.  A few examples:

Two panels on cybersecurity, featuring chief security, tech and information officers from Harvard, the Federal Reserve, Raytheon, IBM, Akamai and Beth Israel Deaconess, addressed the challenges of staying ahead of the “bad guys.”  Lessons learned: think of cybersecurity as an investment and not a cost for your company, continue to add security features for log-ins and data access, and communicate regularly to employees—nearly all of whom carry a mobile device—about the critical importance of protecting company and personal data.

On research and innovation, Governor Baker and Israel’s Chief Scientist spoke at a half-day session, convened by GE, about complementary strengths in Massachusetts and Israel.  Both leaders spoke about the value of collaboration among government, private industry, and universities.  Massachusetts is historically strong in technology and our defense legacy is helping us grow a cybersecurity ecosystem.  Israel spends more per capita on research and development than any country in the world and the government funds start-ups in all industries at all stages.  Both Israel and Massachusetts have strong talent pools from which to hire—yet both are struggling with the need for additional skilled workers.

Governor Baker stressed the “powerful possibilities” of collaboration between the Bay State and Israel.  Strong ties already exist.  Many Israeli doctors and health-care researchers trained or practiced in Massachusetts.  More than 200 Israeli-founded companies are thriving in the Boston area.  Thrice-weekly non-stop flights between Boston and Tel Aviv already carry university professors, students on internships, private industry leaders, medical professionals and government officials.

Several Memoranda of Understanding focused on cybersecurity and technology were signed by Massachusetts government officials and their Israeli counterparts during the trip.  Now back home, trade mission delegates are already talking about how to launch and nurture additional collaborations and encourage Israeli start-ups to come to Boston.

Governor Baker said it best when he invited company founders to consider Massachusetts “your home away from home.”  Certainly the recent trade mission reinforced the strong desire by Israelis and Bay Staters to work even more closely together over the next few years.    

Topics: International Trade, AIM International Business Council, Charlie Baker

GE Tops 2017 Massachusetts Business Stories

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 21, 2016 10:40:03 AM

It didn’t take long for 2016 to become a year of watershed events for the Massachusetts employer community.

GE.Boston.jpgThe year wasn’t two weeks old when General Electric Company announced plans to move its corporate headquarters and other operations from suburban Connecticut to the heart of Boston’s seaport Innovation District. The stunning GE announcement kicked off a year that eventually saw an iconoclastic real estate developer pull the upset of the century to win the presidency; Massachusetts become one of the first states in the nation to pass a wage-equity law; and the state economy post its lowest unemployment rate since January 2001.

Here are the top 10 Massachusetts business stories of 2017:

  1. General Electric announces plans to move its corporate headquarters and 800 high-paying jobs to Boston. The move electrified the Bay State economy as GE maintained that Boston was a logical location for a company seeking to marry manufacturing with advanced technology. “Today, GE is a $130 billion high-tech global industrial company, one that is leading the digital transformation of industry. We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt.

  2. Donald J. Trump is elected President of the United States on a platform of lowering business taxes, repealing federal health-care reform, boosting infrastructure spending and reworking trade agreements. The most unconventional and vitriolic election in US history ended at 3 am on November 9 as Trump rode a populist wave of economic disaffection and upset Democrat Hillary Clinton. Republicans also maintained control of both houses of Congress, raising the probability that the new president will make good on many of his campaign promises.

  3. Unemployment in Massachusetts drops to a 15-year low of 2.9 percent. The jobless rate ended the year with five consecutive monthly declines as employers created 67,200 jobs from January through November. The largest private sector percentage job gains were in Construction; Professional, Scientific and Business Services; Education and Health Services; and Leisure and Hospitality. Since the rate peaked at 8.8 percent in September 2009, there are now 332,700 more residents employed and 198,700 fewer residents unemployed as the labor force increased by 134,100.

  4. Massachusetts passes a balanced wage-equity law. Governor Charlie Baker signed a compromise wage-equity measure on August 1 designed to ensure that workers are fairly compensated without regard to gender, and according to the value they bring to the business enterprise. The compromise followed months of negotiations between AIM, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Maura Healey. The legislation explicitly recognizes legitimate market forces such as performance and the competitive landscape for certain skills that cause pay differences among employees.
     
  5. Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas puts a last-minute hold on new federal overtime regulations a week before they are due to take effect on December 1. The injunction put Massachusetts employers in the difficult position of either undoing the changes they had made to comply with the regulations or leaving those changes and associated costs in place. The new regulations would have raised the threshold for exemption from overtime to $913.00 per week, or $47,476.00 per year. The rules face an uncertain future under the Trump administration.

  6. Massachusetts voters legalize recreational marijuana over the objections of employers high-profile elected officials. The vote on the statewide ballot question 6 percent to 46.4 percent. AIM opposed the measure because of its potential to reverse decades of hard-won progress by employers to create safe and drug-free workplaces. AIM maintained that the new law would place employers in the untenable position of determining whether an employee who tests positive for marijuana, used legally under state law, is too impaired to operate a machine or drive a company vehicle safely.

  7. Health-insurance premium costs accelerate after several years of modest increases. Total health care spending in Massachusetts in 2015 was $57.4 billion, a 4.1 percent increase over 2014 that surpassed the state's official cost growth benchmark of 3.6 percent, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA). Spending on MassHealth was up 4.6 percent, and spending on commercial health insurance and Medicare were both up 5.3 percent last year, according to CHIA. And the net cost of private health insurance was up 12.6 percent in 2015. Prescription drug spending of about $8.1 billion last year (an increase of 10.2 percent over the previous year)  was one of the factors driving up health care costs, accounting for about 36 percent of the overall growth last year, CHIA reported.

  8. The Massachusetts Legislature declines to restrict the use of non-compete agreements as the state Senate rejects a compromise reached between House Speaker Robert DeLeo and the business community. The breakdown of negotiations brought a stunning, if temporary, end to a contentious effort by venture capitalists to do away with current law governing non-competes. The House bill would have limited the duration of non-competes to one year and required employers who did not compensate workers at the time they signed a non-compete to pay 50 percent of the worker’s salary during the non-compete period.

  9. Lawmakers expand the scope of solar-energy subsidies, effectively imposing an $8 billion tax on electric ratepayers and putting that money into the pockets of solar-energy developers. The bill, passed in March, raised the cap on net metering – the process by which solar developers sell excess electricity back to the power grid – by 60 percent for private projects and 75 percent for public projects. The primary reform contained in the measure would lower the net metering credit to 60 percent of the retail rate, but that reduction would not apply to facilities owned by municipalities and government entities.

  10. Former Associated Industries of Massachusetts President John Gould dies at 86. Gould, a passionate advocate for business and education who built AIM into the predominant employer association in Massachusetts, passed away in July. He became chief executive of AIM in 1988 and guided its transformation from a manufacturing association to one representing the interests of employers from all sectors of the economy. He also made AIM a pivotal voice on a series of issues ranging from workers compensation reform to taxation to the development of education standards for the commonwealth.

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers, Top 10

Governor Pitches Massachusetts to Israeli Entrepreneurs

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Dec 12, 2016 9:06:18 AM

Governor Charlie Baker and Massachusetts business leaders are using their current trade mission to Israel to broaden the already close economic ties between that nation and the commonwealth in key areas such as cybersecurity and digital health.

Baker in Israel.jpgBaker, reflecting on the common values and strengths shared by the Bay State and Israel—technology, innovation, intellectual intensity—is encouraging Israelis to think of Massachusetts as their “home away from home.” 

Nearly a dozen AIM member companies, including Raytheon, Eversource, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard, IBM, GE, UMass, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Goodwin, Sanofi and Cyberark, are participating in the economic development mission to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Today, several dozen Israeli entrepreneurs planning to expand into the US in the next 24 months indicated strong interest in selecting Massachusetts as the destination for their young firms.  Their demonstration of enthusiasm occurred at the US-Israel Growth Summit at Tel Aviv University, which was sponsored by Raytheon and attracted nearly 300 Israeli business leaders.   To encourage the Israelis to choose the Bay State over Silicon Valley or New York City, a panel of four Massachusetts-based Israeli-founded company executives, including AIM member CyberArk CEO Udi Mokady, shared why they moved their businesses to Boston. 

Why is Boston so attractive to Israeli entrepreneurs?  Talent, customer access, a strong tech ecosystem, research capabilities, reasonable time difference between Boston and Israel, and cultural fit.  In fact, more than 200 Israeli-founded businesses can be found in Massachusetts today, with more than 9,000 direct employees and more than $9 billion in direct economic impact.  The number of Israelis living in and around Boston exceeds 200,000.

Massachusetts executives also have a lot to learn from Israeli counterparts, especially in the areas of cybersecurity and digital health.  Yesterday’s agenda included a visit to Israel cybersecurity firm Team8, comprised of former officials of Israel’s elite military unit known as 8200.  The company’s CEO/co-founder emphasized that the best way to approach cybersecurity challenges is to understand the psychology of the people behind the malware and attacks. 

Meetings between and among Massachusetts and Israeli government and industry leaders this week have been productive. Discussions are underway about possible collaborations, partnerships, student exchange programs, internships and investments that will benefit Israeli and Massachusetts companies.

One such collaboration was announced today when Massachusetts and an Israeli company formally agreed to work together on cybersecurity research, training and academic exchanges. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Israeli non-profit private organization CyberSpark signed a memorandum of understanding, pledging that the organizations would collaborate on research focused on healthcare technology cybersecurity and practical training in cybersecurity for American and Israeli students.

Topics: International Trade, Charlie Baker

Employer Confidence Surges

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 6, 2016 9:18:57 AM

Employer confidence in Massachusetts surged during November amid a post-election economic rally that saw financial markets rise to record levels and the state unemployment rate drop to 3.3 percent.

BCI.November.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 1.9 points to 58.1 last month, 1.2 points higher than its level in November 2015. The third consecutive monthly increase in employer sentiment reflected across-the-board bullishness about the state and federal economies, along with a strong recovery of confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers.

U.S. financial markets rose three percent to record highs in the weeks following the unexpected election of Donald J. Trump as president. In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the news was even better as the jobless rate fell to its lowest level since April 2001.

“Employers and investors alike put aside their initial concerns about a Trump presidency and decided that the president-elect would prioritize conventional economic growth measures such as infrastructure investment and tax cuts,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“How long will that confidence last? It may depend upon President Trump’s commitment to following through on issues that employers are less likely to support, such as setting aside the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement and dismantling federal health-care reform.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

All of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in November.
The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 1.9 points to 59.8, leaving it a healthy 1.5 points ahead of the same time last year. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.8 points to move into optimistic territory for the first time since July.

Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 79 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.9 points to 56.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 2.9 points to 59.2. The future outlook was 1.2 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015.

The sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations also strengthened considerably.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.6 points to 59.5, while the Employment Index moved up 2 points to 57.4 and the Sales Index gained 2.7 points.

The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“The most encouraging element of the November BCI is the degree to which employers are translating their overall optimism about the economy into optimism about their own plans for sales growth and hiring,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University and a BEA member.

He noted that manufacturing companies are driving much of the overall rise in business confidence after several years of concern about weakness in overseas export markets in Europe and Asia.

“Optimistic manufacturers are good for the Massachusetts economy,” Clayton-Matthews said.

The BCI Manufacturing Index jumped 2.6 points during the month and 4.1 points for the year. Still, the overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 60.1 compared to 56.1 for manufacturing companies.
Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were slightly more optimistic at 59.2 than those in the western part of the state at 57.4.

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the surprise election of a president with no record in public office upon which to make judgments will make 2017 an uncertain time for Massachusetts employers and the state economy.

“Will President Trump and the Republican Congress succeed in reducing corporate taxes? Will they keep their promise to simplify the regulatory structure? What will the potential scrapping of health-care reform mean to Massachusetts? And will the new president follow through on his intent to end or renegotiate trade agreements important to employers? That’s a lot of uncertainty,” Lord said.

“The good news is that Massachusetts remains one of the strongest state economies in the nation thanks to years of sound fiscal management and attention by elected officials to the needs of employers. We have every expectation that Governor Baker and the Legislature will follow the same course in 2017-2018.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Donald Trump

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