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Christopher Geehern

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Speaker Outlines Objective to Create 'Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs'

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 7, 2016 7:54:11 AM

The formal portion of the 2015-2016 session of the Massachusetts Legislature produced landmark laws governing energy, economic development and pay equity. House Speaker Robert DeLeo recently sat down with AIM Executive Vice President John Regan to talk about the sesssion and what the results will mean for employers.

Topics: Massachusetts Politics, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts House of Representatives

Business Confidence Rises for Second Consecutive Month

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 1, 2016 8:58:33 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers rose for a second consecutive month during October, bolstered by a surprising improvement in the outlook among manufacturers and the continued strong performance of the state economy.

BCI.October.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 0.3 points to 56.2 last month, 0.6 points higher than in October 2015. The increase was driven by a 2.6-point jump in the manufacturing index, which has lagged overall confidence readings for the past 18 months as companies struggled with economic weakness in Europe, China and other key export markets.

The increase came as the Massachusetts unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, its lowest rate since the dot-com boom of 2001.

“Local unemployment rates dropped in 22 of 24 labor market areas throughout Massachusetts during September, which is consistent with gains in the AIM Employment Index over both the month and year,” said Sara Johnson, Senior Research Director, Global Economics, IHS Global Insight and a member of the AIM Board of Economic Advisors (BEA).

“Both sets of numbers indicate that Massachusetts economy continues to perform well. State employment is growing faster than at the national level.”

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 Mixed  

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

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 0.9 points to 57.9, leaving it a healthy 3.8 points ahead of the same time last year. The U.S. Index of national business conditions remained unchanged at 49.2, 1.7 points lower than its level of October 2015.

Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 78 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased slightly to 56 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.3 points to 56.3. The future view is virtually the same as it was a year ago.

Operational Views Strengthen

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

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.2 points to 57.9, while the Employment Index surged 0.9 points to 55.4. The Sales Index lost ground, however, falling 1.2 points during October and 3.9 points during the previous 12 months.

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 – 38 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Despite the rise in the Manufacturing Index, non-manufacturing companies still maintain a significantly brighter outlook than manufacturers. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 59.3 compared to 53.5 for manufacturing companies.  

“The yearlong weakening of the Sales Index presents some concerns in an otherwise upbeat report since sales ultimate drive employment growth,” said Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University, a BEA member.

 

“In the longer term, concerns remain about the changing demographic structure of the state population, as relatively few young people enter and a large group of older workers leave (or are poised to leave) the workforce.”

The Economy and the Election

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the economic recovery appears to be benefitting the entire commonwealth, not just the metropolitan Boston area.

“It’s great to see unemployment falling in areas outside the Boston-Cambridge technology belt, which has been enjoying explosive economic growth since the onset of the recovery,” Lord said.

“One of the key tenets of AIM’s Blueprint for the Next Century economic plan for Massachusetts is that lawmakers must make public policy that allows economic opportunity to flourish in all areas of the commonwealth, from Boston to the Berkshires. We look forward to bring that perspective to the Legislature when it begins its new session in January.”

Employers Back More Charter Schools

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 11, 2016 7:30:00 AM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts member-employers favor by a two-to-one margin expanding the number of charter schools in the commonwealth, according to an AIM survey released this morning.

Education.jpgQuestion Two on the November 8 statewide ballot will ask voters whether to lift the current cap on charter schools. AIM supports raising the cap and has endorsed a “yes” vote on Question Two.

Sixty-eight percent of 107 employers who responded to a special question on the September AIM Business Confidence Index Survey said the state needs more charter schools. Thirty-two percent believe Massachusetts should not permit the creation of more charters.

Current law allows no more than 120 charter schools to operate in Massachusetts and seventy eight charters are now active. About 40,000 students, or a little more than 4 percent of Massachusetts elementary and secondary students, attend charter schools. The Education Department estimates that another 34,000 students are on waiting lists.

A "Yes" vote on Question 2 would give the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year. Priority would be given to charters that open in lower-performing districts.

Employers who support Question Two cite strong academic performance at charters, the value of competition and the ability of charters to innovate as reasons to lift the cap.

“Schools that have less government involvement, less union involvement and greater competition clearly have a better chance of achieving excellence than an entity run by the government,” one employer commented.

Opponents of charter expansion express concern about the potential siphoning of financial support for existing public schools.

“This is the time to invest and fund more to public education than to take money away,” said another employer.

Katherine Holahan, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM, said employer support for charters reflects persistent concern about the shortage of workers with the skills needed for the global knowledge economy.

“Employers are accustomed to innovation. They value it in all areas of business, so it’s only logical that that extends to the education of Massachusetts’ future work force,” Holahan said.

“Charter schools can provide the innovative educational opportunities that encourage students interested in diverse fields of study. As our members face increasing challenges to finding qualified workers, they are looking to a variety of sources to find capable, qualified employees at all skill levels.”

Employers also seem swayed by the statistics about charter-school performance. In Boston, for example, the average yearly academic growth for charter-school students was more than four times that of their traditional school peers in reading. In math, the academic growth was more than six times greater.

Topics: Massachusetts employers, Education

Employer Confidence Rebounds in September

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 4, 2016 9:17:07 AM

Business confidence broke a three-month slide during September as Massachusetts employers, particularly in the service sector, discovered newfound optimism in their own business operations.

BCI.September.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 1.8 points to 55.9 last month, the same level recorded 12 months earlier. The increase was driven by a 3.1-point surge in the Company Index, which reflects overall business conditions at employer companies, and similar jumps in readings based on employment and sales.

The uptick came as the Federal Reserve continued to suggest that the economy is strong enough to raise interest rates before the end of the year.

“Employers remain ambivalent about both the U.S. and national economies ahead of the presidential election, but companies clearly have regained a sense of buoyancy about their own futures,” said Michael A. Tyler, CFA, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management and a member of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA).

“Large increases in the sales and employment indexes bode well for a Massachusetts economy that already enjoys a 3.9 percent unemployment rate.”

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 Mixed

The sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were mixed during September.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, shed 0.3 points during the month, but gained 2.3 points over the year to 57.0. The U.S. Index of national business conditions remained slightly pessimistic, dropping 0.4 points to 49.2, 1.4 points lower than its level of a year ago.

Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 77 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.3 points to 55.7 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.1 points to 56.0. The future view is a point higher than it was in September 2015.

Operational Views Strengthen

The 3.1-point increase in the Company Index reflected a surge of 3.8 points in the Sales Index to 58.1 and a 1.9-point jump in the Employment Index to 54.5. 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 – 38 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Non-manufacturing companies maintain a significantly brighter outlook than manufacturers. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 61.1 compared to 50.9 for manufacturing companies.

“The uptick in employer assessments of their own prospects comes as welcome news following three consecutive months of declines. At the same time, manufacturers continue to struggle with economic weakness in key export markets,” said Paul Bolger, President, Massachusetts Capital Resource Company and a BEA member.

The Economy and the Election

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the 2016 presidential election has become a referendum on the degree to which the economic recovery is benefitting middle-income Americans.

“Peter Canellos, Executive Editor of Politico, told the AIM Executive Forum on September 16 that the legacy of the 2016 campaign will be an ongoing debate about the economic future of blue-collar, middle-class workers who have not felt the benefits of the recovery. It is incumbent upon all of us to create an economic that encourages the development of jobs across all sectors to train people effectively for those jobs,” Lord said.

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Beacon Hill Debrief: How Did Employers Do?

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 29, 2016 2:45:43 PM

AIM Executive Vice President John Regan recently discussed the 2015-2016 Beacon Hill legislative session and what it meant for employers on Comcast Newsmakers.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts employers

Politico Editor: 2016 Election Highlights Blue-Collar Concerns

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 16, 2016 2:18:05 PM

Donald Trump has more social-media followers than the number of votes normally needed to be elected president of the United States.


It’s a statistic that Peter Canellos, Managing Editor of Politico, says helps to explain why the media coverage of the 2016 presidential election, and the election itself, is different from any other in history.

“These changes are themselves a major factor in the 2016 presidential campaign,” Canellos told more than 250 business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum this morning.

“We can’t establish the political dialog, as we did in the past, but we cannot ignore it.”

Recalling his work covering the 2002 presidential race when he was often the only reporter present when Bill Clinton and other candidates spoke, Canellos said that every word a candidate says today is recorded on a dozen iPhones, often held by representatives of the opposing campaigns, and posted online before any formal media outlet can post the story.

“Even if a news organization tries to exercise restraint, or tries to make decision about the news, the conversation is already galloping ahead without them,” said Canellos, who spent 26 years at the The Boston Globe before moving to Politico.

He acknowledged that many people were uncomfortable with the degree of control that “media mandarins” from The New York Times and other establishment publications once exerted over the narrative of presidential campaigns. The new reality of social media, he said, has recast the role of reporters to one of monitoring the veracity of campaign statements, tracking the connection between money and politics and looking at some of the issues “that candidates seek to avoid.”

Canellos believes the two major political parties will survive an election with two relatively unpopular nominees, but that each will change significantly.

“If you look at the history of the country the two parties’ positions have shifted dramatically. Who would have thought that the Democrats would be the party of Wall Street now? And the migration of working- class blue-collar voters to the Republican party seems to have accelerated strongly with the Trump nomination.”

The Democrats, according to Canellos, will have to sort out whether their future lies with the insurgent wing represented by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, or the establishment block led by Hillary Clinton.

“On the Republican side there will be quite an identity crisis. Even if Trump is elected, there will be questions within the Republican party about who they should be and what they should be,” he said.

Canellos said that early predictions that Democrats would regain control of the U.S. Senate appear to have been premature. Control of the Senate is now “a 50-50 proposition” as senators such as John McCain who trailed badly in the polls during the summer appear to be making up ground.

He believes the long-term legacy of the 2016 presidential election will be a sustained debate over the plight of middle-class workers, especially in traditional manufacturing areas now struggling to find new ways to grow.

“Trump has played   a role in putting that constituency front and center...Even some of the Democratic proposals like free college tuition and retraining through community colleges are responding to that constituency."

Topics: Economy, AIM Executive Forum, Policy

AIM Honors 11 Companies, Individuals with Next Century Awards

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 12, 2016 7:53:29 AM

Eleven companies and individuals who have made unique contributions to the Massachusetts economy have been named recipients of the annual Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Next Century Award to be presented at a series of regional celebrations in September and October.

The honorees range from a startup accelerator in Springfield to one of the commonwealth’s most passionate advocates for manufacturing to a company you would never believe is one of the largest government contractors in the nation.

AIM announced today that 2016 Next Century Awards will go to Unistress Corporation of Pittsfield, The Chamberlain Group of Great Barrington, Valley Venture Mentors of Springfield, Smith & Wesson of Springfield, Hanover Insurance company of Worcester, retiring Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Project President Jack Healy, MACOM of Lowell, Potpourri Group Inc. of Billerica, Analog Devices of Norwood, Coins n’ Things of Bridgewater and State Representative Patricia Haddad of Somerset.

“AIM created the Next Century Award to honor the accomplishments of companies and individuals creating a new era of economic opportunity for the people of Massachusetts. These remarkable people and institutions - world leaders in their fields – inspire the rest of us by exemplifying the intelligence, hard work and dedication to success that has built our commonwealth,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

Award winners will be honored at AIM regional celebrations in Pittsfield on September 20; the Hanover Theatre in Worcester on October 17; the Wood Museum of Springfield History on October 20; Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on October 24; and the Riverwalk Complex in Lawrence on October 26. Each event will run from 4:30-6:30 and is free to AIM members.

Here are summaries of each recipient, along with the date, location and registration link for the celebration when each will receive the award.

Unistress Corporation, Pittsfield | September 20, Interprint Inc., Pittsfield | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Unistress3.jpgThe future of Unistress Corporation is every bit as expansive as the sprawling New NY Bridge being built across the Hudson River with the company’s massive precast concrete deck panels.

Pittsfield-based Unistress, the state's only manufacturer of large precast/prestressed concrete structures, is working on the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge as part of a $70 million contract that is the largest in the company’s 48-year history. The project prompted Unistress to invest more than $6 million to expand its facilities on Cheshire Road and hire more than 150 new workers to bring its total work force to more than 500 people.

Manufacturing the deck of a bridge that will handle eight traffic lanes, four breakdown lanes, a bicycle and pedestrian path, state-of-the-art traffic monitoring systems and accommodations for either light rail or commuter rail is nothing new for a company that worked extensively on the Big Dig project in Boston. Unistress has also worked on parking garages, railway stations, and stadiums, including the new Yankee Stadium.

The $100 million-a-year company has completed more than 500 precast structures throughout the Northeast and has won numerous awards for excellence from its peers. The Unistress plant has been certified for more than 45 years under the Precast/Prestressed Concrete (PCI) Plant Certification Program.

Unistress is part of a family of construction companies that dates back to the nadir of the Depression in 1936. Italian immigrant Basilio Petricca struck out on his own and improbably won the opportunity to rebuild seven bridges over the Hoosac River that had been destroyed by a hurricane. Though he had never before built a bridge and used his pickup track as an office, Petricca got the job done and made the bridges passable again. 

“We don’t do a lot of cookie-cutter jobs. Construction managers who work with us know we can get even the most complex jobs done for them. They don’t ask us if we can do it—they ask when we can get it done,” said Perri Petricca, the current Unistress Chief Executive and the grandson of Basilio.

The Chamberlain Group, Great Barrington | September 20, Interprint Inc., Pittsfield | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

How does a group of high-end visual effects professionals working in movies and television end up improving the quality of medical care for millions of people?

Chamberlain.jpgIf you’re The Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington, you use your visual effects wizardry to make mimetic organs for surgical and interventional training.

Chamberlain’s life-like organs are used in the sophisticated simulation labs that medical schools, hospitals and medical device makers employ to train surgeons. The company’s mission is to “bring practice to the practice of medicine.”

The Chamberlain Group’s products are sold to more than 150 medical-device manufacturers and teaching institutions in 50 countries, including Russia and India, Asia and the Middle East, and in virtually all 50 states domestically. Their client list includes Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Cleveland Clinic, Lahey Clinic, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic, and NASA.

Berkshire Business Quarterly magazine said, “The Chamberlain Group’s design ingenuity has been a breakthrough for the medical community. Models look, weigh, and feel just like real living tissue and provide a better training device than a cadaver, animal, or lesser-realized product would.”

Eric and Lisa Chamberlain launched The Chamberlain Group in 1999 after working for New York design firms that made miniature models and special visual effects for films ranging from Gandhi, Tootsie, and The Big Chill to Ghostbusters, Predator and Woody Allen’s Zelig. Medical schools and device manufacturers were beginning to move away from cadavers and animals in their training programs and the Chamberlains saw opportunity in the burgeoning simulation business.

It was a textbook case of nimble entrepreneurs adapting skills from one industry to a seemingly unrelated one. The result is a thriving enterprise with 23 employees working in an 8,500-square-foot design and manufacturing facility.

“When we began our work in anatomy in the late 90’s, there was no such thing as a ‘simulation industry.’ Without an institutional or disciplinary bias, with no set formula to follow, we have entertained all possibilities. We have held to the high standards of our visual effects work to inform our product development:  be excellent, try anything, stay nimble,” Lisa Chamberlain says.

The company earlier this year earned the 2016 Exporter of the Year designation for Massachusetts and New England by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Jack Healy | October 17, Hanover Theatre, Worcester | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

No one has done more to reinvigorate manufacturing in Massachusetts than John (Jack) Healy, who retired recently after guiding the Worcester-based Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) for 17 years.

Healy had already logged a full career as a manufacturing executive at companies like LEGO and Presmet when he became founding Director of Operations for both MassMEP and the MAC in 1999. He quickly energized both organizations and set them about helping hundreds of small and medium-sized manufacturers implement growth opportunities through advanced manufacturing and management practices.

MassMEP has worked with 1,800 manufacturers since its inception, providing these companies with consulting, business and management advice through its professional project managers. The organization has also created job-training programs, established skill standards and associated testing, and advocated for manufacturing needs to policymakers. Healy geared these services primarily to the small manufacturing companies that have come to dominate the Massachusetts economy during the past three decades.

But Healy’s most enduring legacy will come from his efforts to address the critical shortage of workers with the skills needed by manufacturers to compete globally.  His accomplishments include the creation of an award-winning Mobile Outreach Skills Training (M.O.S.T) Program, which trains and recruits future workers with little or no prior manufacturing experience for entry level production jobs; and a comprehensive machinist training curriculum that extends from basic skills through bachelor’s degrees.

Those efforts have had particular resonance in Worcester and central Massachusetts, where manufacturing constitutes about $6.4 billion worth of economic activity. Manufacturing represents 19.9 percent of the private sector's gross domestic product in the central region compared to 12 percent statewide.

“If we lost manufacturing in the metropolitan Worcester area, we would be in tough shape," Healy told the Worcester Business Journal.

Congressman James McGovern of Worcester notes that Healy has played a key role in the ``Manufacturing Our Future'' effort in Massachusetts, which has served as a catalyst for developments like Worcester's Gateway Park.

MassMEP has received numerous awards under Healy’s leadership, including a 2011 Workforce Training Partnership of the Year Award from the Workforce Solutions Group, the 2011 John Gould Education & Workforce Development Award from AIM and the 2010 Group Innovator of the Year from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Hanover Insurance Group, Worcester | October 17, Hanover Theatre, Worcester | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

The Hanover Insurance Group has a more than 160-year history in Worcester, but with a new chief executive at the helm and record results for its most recent year, the $5 billion company has its focus firmly forward.

The Hanover is the holding company for several property and casualty insurance companies, and one of the oldest continuous businesses in the United States still operating within its original industry. The company provides a wide range of property and casualty products and services to individuals, families, and businesses, and distributes its products through a select group of independent agents and brokers.

Together with its agents, the company offers specialized coverages for small and mid-sized businesses, as well as insurance protection for homes, automobiles, and other personal items. In addition, through its international member company, Chaucer, The Hanover also underwrites business at Lloyd's of London in several major insurance and reinsurance classes, including marine, property and energy.

The company has been successfully transformed over the past decade, from a predominantly regional insurer into a global property and casualty insurance player, writing business across the United States and in approximately 175 other countries. The Hanover currently employs approximately 1,900 people in Massachusetts – the vast majority in Worcester – and about 4,800 people in total.

The Hanover also has earned a reputation as a concerned and active corporate citizen, helping to create positive and lasting change in Greater Worcester and in the communities where its employees live and work. The company works with its many community partners to address a range of needs, placing a special emphasis on youth and education, donating millions of dollars each year to the United Way and to a host of non-profit organizations.

The breadth of The Hanover’s community involvement is underscored by the fact that it will accept its award in the renovated downtown theater to which it committed $2 million in 2006, as part of an initiative to stimulate economic development.

The Hanover launched a new chapter in its corporate history on May 16 when it named former Aetna executive Joseph M. Zubretsky as its new president and chief executive officer. Zubretsky succeeded longtime CEO Frederick H. Eppinger.

Zubretsky joined The Hanover after almost nine years at Aetna, where he served in a number of key senior executive positions, most recently as chief executive officer at Healthagen Holdings, a group of healthcare services and information technology companies.

Smith & Wesson, Springfield | October 20, Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Smith & Wesson has been a cornerstone of the Pioneer Valley manufacturing economy since Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson began to produce the Model 1 revolver in Springfield in 1856. The company’s storied history traces an arc from the old west to the Imperial Army of the Russian Tsar to outfitting thousands of laws enforcement officers in the United States and abroad.

But beyond its own success, Smith & Wesson has been a crucible of technology and skills that have fueled the development of a metal machining hub in western Massachusetts that now serves industries from aerospace to medical devices.

Smith & Wesson Corp. today is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of firearms. The company is expected to generate more than $900 million in annual sales in its current fiscal year.  It also employs more than 1,700 people, most at its sprawling manufacturing plant on Roosevelt Avenue.

Smith & Wesson has delivered tremendous organic and inorganic growth in firearms, and in 2010 moved 225 new jobs to Springfield as a result of its earlier acquisition of Thompson/Center Arms in New Hampshire.

In addition to growing its historical and sizeable firearms business, Smith & Wesson has recently expanded beyond firearms.  It acquired accessories maker Battenfeld Technologies in 2014, and in August of this year added Taylor Brands to its list of acquisitions.  Taylor is a designer and distributor of high-quality knives and specialty tools.

Then Smith & Wesson purchased a leader in laser sighting products, Crimson Trace.  Smith & Wesson paid $180 million in cash for both the Crimson Trace and Taylor acquisitions. 

In addition to Smith & Wesson’s rich legacy of supporting philanthropic efforts in the community throughout the decades, the company has more recently taken a visible role in addressing the critical shortage of trained machinists that is affecting all areas of Massachusetts. The Smith & Wesson Technology Applications Center was created at Springfield Technical Community College to host STCC’s manufacturing and engineering technology programs, which prepare students for jobs in modern, computerized precision-machine shops.  It’s is just one of many programs that the company has supported to help deliver economic growth.

Among Smith & Wesson’s best known products over the years have been the .38 Military & Police Revolver, now known as the Model 10, a firearm that has been used extensively by police forces and has been in continuous production since 1899; the Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver made famous by Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry movies; and the popular M&P line of polymer pistols and rifles.

Smith & Wesson Corp. is the main operating subsidiary of the publicly traded Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation.

Valley Venture Mentors, Springfield | October 20, Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield |4:30-6:30 p.m.

Valley Venture Mentors is creating an entrepreneurial renaissance in a region replete with business success stories, from the first-ever gasoline powered motorcar and to the invention of the game of basketball.

VVM opened for business as a small, grassroots nonprofit in 2011 and has since grown to a community with more than a thousand mentors who have guided more than a hundred startups, from app developers to fair-trade wedding dress retailers. In 2015 those startups generated more than $10 million in revenue and investment and 222 jobs. 

In May, Valley Venture Mentors awarded $252,000 in funding to 12 companies in its second annual startup accelerator competition. The awards ranged from $6,000 to $50,000, with judges allocating the money following a four month long process of boot camps and pitching sessions.

Harder to measure is the amount of time and money that entrepreneurs didn’t waste thanks to the VVM community’s collective knowledge. Mentors are business executives from healthcare, energy, social services, engineering, finance, and other sectors; nonprofit board members; teachers, investors, lawyers, designers and developers.

Says one mentor: “I came to pay forward the help given to me when I was starting out. Next thing I know, I am learning almost as much as the startup I was helping.”

The organization believes that there is no better way to create transformational economic growth than to train, support, and invest in business startups. VVM is focusing some of that training and support this year on manufacturing by launching the nation’s first manufacturing accelerator in partnership with the Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program administered by MassDevelopment, the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, and AIM.

The Manufacturing Accelerator brings small and medium-sized enterprises together with potential customers to discover new ways to do business. The accelerator’s intensive training program helps manufacturers learn the needs of potential buyers, validate the ability to deliver on those needs and how to communicate capabilities.

Coins N’ Things, Bridgewater | October 24, Gillette Stadium, Putnam Club | Foxboro | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Drive past the modest headquarters of CNT, Inc in Bridgewater and there is nothing to suggest that you’ve stumbled upon one of the nation’s largest government contractors. Even the quaint company name, maintained from its roots as a retail store for coin collectors, carries no hint of the scope and breadth of the operation.

CNT, a privately held, family-controlled business, is in fact the largest wholesale vendor of gold in the United States. In fiscal year 2011, the company became the U.S. federal government's largest supplier of precious metals, with government gold sales that accounted for about half of the $3.8 billion in contracts to supply silver and gold to the United States Mint during the year. CNT ranked number 39 on the list of the top 100 contractors of the U.S. federal government for that same fiscal year, with $1.89 billion in obligations from the government, all from the Treasury Department. That made the company the single largest contractor to the Treasury Department.

Founded in 1974 by Louis Oliari and his son, Mark, Coins N’ Things, Inc. (dba CNT) began as a retail shop dealing with coins, jewelry, stamps, and other ‘things.’ In the mid-1980s Mark grew the company into a precious metals wholesaler. Since that time, we have grown into the largest privately owned company in the precious metals industry. Currently, CNT is one of the largest precious metals wholesalers worldwide dealing with major governments and large retailers.

In 2002, the United States Mint approved CNT to become one of 11 businesses worldwide authorized to buy American Eagle silver bullion coins for distribution; at that time, qualifications for that authorization included a substantial retail customer base and net worth of at least $5 million. In 2009, CNT was authorized by the United States Mint to become an authorized distributor for the American Eagle gold, platinum, and palladium products; qualifications for this authorization included a net worth of at least $50 million. In 2010 the business obtained approval to sell gold to the U.S. federal government.

The business has about 70 employees, including Mark Oliari, his wife Patty, and their three children. Today, the CNT family of companies has grown to include, CNT Depository, Inc., CNT Lending, Inc., and Bay Precious Metals.

Analog Devices, Norwood | October 24, Gillette Stadium, Putnam Club | Foxboro | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

It may be the understatement of the year to say that Norwood-based Analog Devices is on a roll.

In the past four months, Norwood-based semiconductor company agreed to acquire competitor Linear Technology Corp. for about $14.8 billion, quadrupled its sales to Apple amid the ramp-up to the iPhone 7, announced a 6.4 percent increase in its quarterly profit, then paid $42 million for the Cyber Security Solutions (CSS) business of Sypris Electronics LLC., in Tampa, Florida.

Not bad for a 51-year-old company that already leads the worldwide data converter market with a 48.5 percent share.

Analog Devices manufactures analog, mixed-signal and digital signal processing (DSP) integrated circuits (ICs) used in electronic equipment. These technologies are used to convert, condition and process real-world phenomena, such as light, sound, temperature, motion, and pressure into electrical signals. The company services industries ranging from communications, computer, industrial and instrumentation to military/aerospace, automotive, and consumer electronics.

In a business defined by innovation, Analog invests 19 percent of its $3.4 billion in annual revenue on research and development. The company employs 2,500 people at Massachusetts facilities in Norwood, Wilmington and Chelmsford, and more than 9,500 people worldwide. It maintains manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts, Ireland and The Philippines, and 30 design centers worldwide.

Analog was founded by MIT graduates, Ray Stata and Matthew Lorber in 1965. The same year, the company released its first product, the model 101 op amp, a hockey-puck sized module used in test and measurement equipment. Analog became a publicly traded company in 1969 and by 1996 reported more than $1 billion in revenue.

Analog’s acquisition of Linear Technology is viewed as a blockbuster as  chipmakers add scale amid record industry consolidation.

“The combination of Analog Devices and Linear Technology brings together two of the strongest business and technology franchises in the semiconductor industry,” said Vincent Roche, President and Chief Executive Officer of Analog Devices. “Our shared focus on engineering excellence and our highly complementary portfolios of industry-leading products will enable us to solve our customers’ biggest and most complex challenges at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds.”

Hon. Patricia Haddad | October 24, Gillette Stadium, Putnam Club | Foxboro | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

When Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo needed someone to conduct difficult negotiations with the business community this summer over a proposed wage-equity bill, he called upon Rep. Patricia A. Haddad.

Through weeks of negotiations on perhaps the most important legislation of the year, Haddad worked with Associated Industries of Massachusetts and other employer representatives to craft a bill that ensures that workers will be fairly compensated without regard to gender but instead according to the value they bring to the business enterprise.

The compromise legislation passed both House and Senate and Governor Charlie Baker signed the nation’s first wage equity law measure into law on August 1.

“Rep. Haddad was determined, respectful and insightful as she held together the negotiations and secured the support of the business community,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for AIM.

Haddad represents the people of Dighton, Somerset, Swansea and Taunton, and serves as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives. 

A member of the House since 2000, she has served on a variety of committees including Human Services and Elder Affairs, Health Care, Medicaid, Natural Resources and Agriculture, Rules, Ethics and Ways and Means. Haddad served two terms as Chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education and prior to her recent appointment as Speaker Pro Tem, was Assistant Majority Whip.

Haddad is deeply involved in the economy of her region and of the commonwealth.  She has worked closely with AIM on issues of electricity policy and on labor law, and is the only member of the Legislature to be honored with the AIM Next Century Award for 2016.

The new pay-equity law promotes salary transparency, limits upfront questions to job candidates about salary history, and encourages companies to conduct reviews to detect pay disparities.  It explicitly recognizes legitimate market forces such as performance and the competitive landscape for certain skills that cause pay differences among employees.

Potpourri Group, North Billerica | October 26, Riverwalk Complex, Lawrence | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Potpourri Group earlier this year moved into a state-of-the-art, 450,000-square-foot facility in Littleton that will increase the company’s employment roles to 400 people during the business pre-holiday season.

Potpourri’s CEO, Jonathan Fleischmann is committed to his team and to Massachusetts. He notes, “Our new facility has been a ‘long time coming,’ with the company weathering the recession, completing several acquisitions, and conducting national location studies prior to receiving board approval to move forward.”

“The Potpourri management team is excited to be remaining in Massachusetts and finding a new home in Littleton in particular, retaining the ‘institutional knowledge of its great work force’ and in gaining the capacity needed to continue on our growth strategy,” Fleischmann said.

The company has even purchased vans so workers who lived near the former facility in Whitinsville would have an easy way to reach the new building.

“After several years of operating beyond capacity in Whitinsville, we’re finally graduating to a new level of scale and productivity,” said Fleishmann, who serves on the AIM Board of Directors. “We’re very proud to be achieving this by not only retaining, but adding jobs here in the commonwealth.”

Potpourri is a national, multi-channel, direct-to-consumer company headquartered in North Billerica. Founded in 1963, Potpourri started as a single brand and has expanded to 15 brands through organic growth and acquisitions. The company today is among the leading multi-channel direct-to-consumer companies in America, and offers thousands of products in the areas of home décor, apparel, jewelry, gifts, toys, travel, and pet accessories.

The company distributes close to 250 million catalogs and ships more than five million packages annually.

Potpourri is leasing the Littleton facility from Braintree-based capital partners Condyne & Affiliates. Condyne has invested approximately $35 million in the building and Potpourri has so far invested close to $9 million in capital expenditures. Builders broker ground in April 2015 and completed construction in February.

MACOM, Lowell | October 26 | Riverwalk Complex, Lawrence | 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Think of MACOM as the roadbed for the information superhighway. The publicly held company – which makes semiconductors, components and subassemblies for analog RF, microwave, millimeter-wave and photonic applications – has become a global leader by satisfying society’s insatiable appetite for information.

That success translates into 400 jobs at the company headquarters in Lowell and 1,200 jobs globally.

The company’s technology increases the speed and coverage of the mobile Internet and enables fiber optic networks to carry previously unimaginable volumes of traffic to businesses, homes and datacenters. MACOM technology also enables next-generation radars for air traffic control and weather forecasting, as well as mission success on the modern networked battlefield

Headquartered in Lowell, MACOM has been a technology bellwether for Massachusetts since its founding as Microwave Associates in a Boston loft in 1950. MACOM today is certified to the ISO9001 international quality standard and ISO14001 environmental management standard. MACOM has multiple design centers, along with manufacturing, assembly and test, and operational facilities throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

MACOM has thrived in recent years by moving away from commodity markets for chips that go into appliances and automobiles and ramping up research and development to focus on higher-complexity products.

The company divides its revenue into three categories: Networks comprises 65 percent of sales and includes wired broadband, cellular infrastructure, and fiber optics. Aerospace and Defense, mainly radar and communication, is approximately 20 percent of sales.

In the defense sector, the company's fabrication plants are located in the U.S. and certified as a "trusted foundry" by the Department of Defense. The rest is composed of "multi-market," a catch-all for everything from industrial and scientific measurement to even medical, such as CAT scanners.

MACOM has also replaced low-margin products with more specialized high-margin products. The changes have boosted the company’s gross margin by five percentage points since 2011. Sales have also increased at double-digit growth rates.

Growth drivers on the horizon include the continued build-out of cellular and high-speed networks, including fiber optic networks where MACOM is increasingly building expertise, most notably with its recent acquisition of FiBest Limited, a Japanese supplier of optic sub-assemblies.

MACOM’s growth has created dividends for the communities in which it operates. The company attempts to align its core business values with initiatives that support the enhancement and revitalization of communities by providing needed infrastructure and access to programs for hunger relief, education, community development and military/veterans initiatives.

All of the regional award celebrations are free and open to AIM members, but registration is required.

Register | Pittsfield

Register | Worcester

Register | Springfield

Register | Foxboro

Register | Lawrence

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts employers

AIM Leaders Appointed to Three Key Commissions

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 7, 2016 12:06:17 PM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts and several of its member companies have been appointed to represent employers on three key state commissions looking at health-care costs, financial best practices and the future of manufacturing.

Lord.short.jpgRichard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer, was among 23 people named yesterday to a special commission studying the variation in prices among Massachusetts hospitals and health-care providers. The commission was established as part of a deal to avoid a ballot question that would have reduced health insurance payments to the state’s largest hospital network, Partners HealthCare, and given some of that money to lower-paid competitors.

Reports by the attorney general’s office and the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission have blamed rising health-insurance premiums in part on the fact that some academic teaching hospitals charge significantly more money for medical procedures than community hospitals with no better outcomes. Massachusetts residents obtain medical care at high-cost teaching hospitals far more frequently that people in other states.

Lord has been deeply involved in efforts to address the high cost of health care for more than a decade. He currently serves on the Health Policy Commission and was a charter board member of the Massachusetts Health Care Connector Authority. He was appointed to the special commission on price disparity by House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading.

“Massachusetts is home to world-renowned hospitals and doctors, but we also know that up to one-third of all medical care is delivered inefficiently. I look forward to working with members of the commission to ensure that our unparalleled medical system is also affordable for employers and workers,” Lord said.

Others named to the special commission include AIM members Howard Grant, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lahey Health System; Deb Devaux, Chief Operating Officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts; Lynn Nicholas, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Massachusetts Hospital Association; and Lora Pellegrini, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.

By statute, the commission will also include the secretaries for administration and finance and health and human services, the attorney general, and the executive director of the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) under the co-leadership of the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing Senator James Welch and House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing Representative Jeffrey Sanchez.

Holahan.jpgMeanwhile, Katherine Holahan, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM, was named to a three-year term as a member of the State Finance and Governance Board.

The board works to further transparency, accountability and best practices among state entities relative to investments, borrowing, or other financial transactions involving public funds. 

The panel is required to review any derivative financial product relative to transactions entered into by state entities, including any quasi-public entity, independent authority, or any state entity that is authorized to manage or oversee public funds. Examples of these entities are: the Massachusetts Port Authority; the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority; and the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The final appointment was Brian Gilmore, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, who was named to another term as a member of the Massachusetts Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative (AMC).

Gilmore.jpgMade up of leaders from industry, academia and government, the AMC implements and evaluates state policies to support the competitiveness of Massachusetts manufacturers. Gilmore leads AIM’s manufacturing initiatives and has worked on policy and projects that allow manufacturing companies to be efficient, competitive and attractive paces to work for skilled employees.

The AMC addresses issues through five working groups: (1) Promoting Manufacturing; (2) Workforce & Education; (3) Technical Assistance & Innovation; (4) Cost of Doing Business; and (5) Access to Capital. The AMC also works in parallel with President Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership and with seven other states through the National Governors Association Center of Best Practices Policy Academy on Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation.

 

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Health Care Costs, Manufacturing

Business Confidence Falls for Third Consecutive Month

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 6, 2016 8:59:22 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers fell for a third consecutive month during August as companies remained uncertain about the vigor and durability of the economic recovery.

BCI.August.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) declined one point to 54.1 last month, leaving it three full points lower than in August 2015. The confidence reading remained above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook, but optimism dimmed sharply on current economic conditions and employers’ outlook on their own companies.

The employer confidence readings are consistent with a recent weakening of consumer confidence in Massachusetts. The Mass Insight Consumer Confidence Index slid 10 points during the third quarter.

“The national and state economies continue to improve, but without the kind of momentum we have seen in previous recoveries. So employers remain confident overall, but circumspect,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“One potential red flag is the degree to which employer confidence in their own companies has weakened during the past several months.”

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.

The sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were mixed during August.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, rose 0.1 points during the month and 0.6 points over the year to 57.3. The U.S. Index of national business conditions, in contrast, dropped 0.7 points into pessimistic territory at 49.6 – 1.1 points lower than its level of a year ago.

Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 76 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, plunged 1.9 points to 53.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.1 points to 54.89

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations were also mixed.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 1.3 points to 54.6, while the Sales Index lost 1.3 points to 54.3. The Employment Index managed a 0.1-point increase to 52.6.

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.

“Employer assessments of their own prospects and of current conditions have declined 4.8 points during the past 12 months and that is cause for some concern. The good news is that while employers' beliefs about future conditions are also declining, they are more bullish about future conditions than present ones,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross, and a BEA member.

Non-manufacturing companies continued to enjoy a significantly brighter outlook at 57.4 than manufacturing employers, who posted an overall confidence level of 51.2. One surprising development was that confidence levels that normally run higher in Great Boston than in the rest of the commonwealth were the same statewide during August at 54.3.

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, called upon the two major presidential candidates to address the fragile nature of the economic recovery and offer specific plans for long-term economic expansion.

“The August Business Confidence Index is really a statement that employers are seeking leadership from the state and federal governments on issues like trade, taxes and economic growth,” Lord said.

“The election of the president and members of Congress is about the economic future of the nation and the ability of employers to create jobs and opportunity for people who need them.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Business Owners, Managers Talk about Their First Summer Jobs

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Aug 3, 2016 11:56:53 AM

They may be running the most successful companies in Massachusetts today, but many senior executives at AIM-member businesses began their work lives with summer jobs delivering newspapers, working clam shacks on the Cape or picking vegetables.

Caddy.jpgAIM asked business owners and managers participating in the monthly Business Confidence Index what they did for their first summer jobs.  The responses underscored the fact that everyone pays his or her dues when entering the work force, whether working on farms, in gas stations or at summer camps.

“Paper boy at age 11, janitor at age 14, construction at 15, marine mechanic at 17, engineer at 22, global manager of sustainable operations at 28,” responded one manager who believes the experiences of his early summer jobs prepared him well for later career challenges.

“I loved it and it gave me great experience dealing with people, cash handling and generally just being required to think on my feet and make responsible decisions,” said another participant whose first summer job was working in the Snack Shack at the Orchards Golf Course in South Hadley.

Golf courses were a common source of summer employment, whether in lawn maintenance, caddying or food service. Other popular jobs were landscaping, construction, restaurants, commercial fishing and babysitting.

Many people fondly recalled working at iconic locations around the state.

“Serving Ice Cream at the Rt. 1 Saugus (Dinosaur) Mini-Golf and Ice Cream,” recalled one survey participant.

The list of summer jobs also provides reminders of how much things have changed, and continue to change, in the regional economy.

“Pumping gas at a full-service gas station.”

“Stocking shelves at First National stores.”

“Flipping burgers at Hardees.”

“Boat yard worker at 85 cents per hour.”

Indeed, there is no shortage of nostalgia about summer jobs.

“I use to mow lawns outside an office building and always told myself that someday I wanted to work inside the building. Now that I work inside an office building, there are plenty of days I look outside at the young people mowing the lawn in the beautiful sunny weather and wish I could be back outside the building,” one participant wrote.

Topics: Massachusetts employers, Jobs

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