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Employer Confidence Rebounds in May

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jun 6, 2017 8:29:22 AM

Massachusetts employer confidence resumed its upward trajectory during May as companies expressed renewed optimism about their own business prospects and hiring plans.

BCI.May.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) edged up 0.6 points to 60.8 last month after retreating from a 13-year high in April. The Index has increased in eight of the past nine months and now stands 3.1 points higher than in May 2016.

The May advance was led by strengthening employer confidence in their companies, rather than their overall views of the state and national economies. Manufacturers were particularly bullish, ending May a full 7 points higher than a year earlier.

“We were not surprised to see confidence readings correct slightly in April, and the May results suggest that employers still feel positive about the future,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“In fact, employers seem to have more confidence in their own economic prospects than in the broader economies in which they operate.”

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 constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during May.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, lost 1.2 points to 62.1, leaving it a slim 1.8 points higher than in May 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions shed 2.3 points to 57.2, its second consecutive decline. May marked the 86th 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, rose 0.5 points to 60.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, increased 0.8 points to 61.3. The Future Index was 3.2 points higher than a year ago.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, gained 2.2 points for the month and 3.2 points for the 12-month period to 60.2. The Employment Index rose 2.3 points to 58.5, and the Sales Index was up 1.5 points to 62.

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 are more optimistic – 38 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Sara L. Johnson, Senior Research Director, Global Economics, IHS Markit, and a BEA member, said it is encouraging that employers are looking at their own balance sheets and feeling confident enough to anticipate stepped-up hiring.

“The overall AIM Index continues to move in a range that suggests solid optimism among employers, both in the current time frame and six months into the future. As optimism turns to hiring, the tight labor market is likely to put upward pressure on wages,” Johnson said.

The changing dynamics of the labor market were underscored last week when the government issued a jobs report that reflected a decline in the share of working-age adults who have a job or are in the market for one. Overall participation in the labor force has hovered below 63 percent during the recovery, compared with more than 66 percent before the recession.

For the second time in three months, Western Massachusetts companies were more confident in May than those in the eastern portion of the commonwealth. Western Massachusetts employers posted a 61.2 confidence reading in May versus 60.9 for employers in the western part of the state.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said employers appear to be drawing encouragement from within rather than looking for clues amid the chaotic and often contradictory signals of the overall economy and political debate.

“Employers, like everyone else, are still trying to digest the economic implications of the United States pulling out of the climate-change accord. They are also trying to balance the promise of meaningful federal tax reform with concern about renegotiated trade agreements and Medicaid changes that could blow a $2 billion hole in the state budget,” Lord aid.

“Amid all those factors, the potential acceleration of hiring speaks to the resiliency of Massachusetts employers and the global pre-eminence of their products and services.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Jobs

Governor Baker Addresses AIM Annual Meeting

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 12, 2017 12:19:02 PM

Governor Charlie Baker delivered the keynote address at the 2017 AIM Annual Meeting last week in Boston. The governor reviewed the accomplishments of his administration and ended with a passionate plea for bipartisanship.

Here is his full speech...

Topics: AIM Annual Meeting, Massachusetts economy, Charlie Baker

Business Confidence Retreats After Seven-Month Rally

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 2, 2017 9:46:20 AM

Massachusetts employers hit the pause button on a seven-month rally in business confidence during April, but their outlook remained solidly optimistic in the face of mixed political and economic signals.

BCI.April.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 2.2 points to 60.2 last month, 4.0 points higher than its level of a year earlier. Every constituent element of the confidence index lost ground after reaching a 13-year high during March.

The results came as the Massachusetts economy contracted at a 0.5 percent annual rate during the first quarter and the state unemployment rate rose to 3.6 percent.

“We should not be surprised to see confidence readings correct slightly after advancing six points since September,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“It bears watching to determine whether the broad April decline becomes a trend as we move into the summer.”

Analysts believe the numbers may reflect growing concern among employers about the ability of the Trump Administration to deliver the many pro-growth policies it promised during the campaign.

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.

Employers grew less confident about both the overall economy and their own operations during April.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, lost 0.4 points to 63.3, leaving it 6 points higher than in April 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions shed 2.7 points after gaining ground for the previous sixth months. April marked the 85th 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, declined 1.9 points to 59.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, dropped 2.5 points to 60.5. The future outlook remained 3.2 points higher than a year ago.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 2.6 points to 60.2. The Employment Index fell 2.8 points to 56.2, and the Sales Index declined 2.1 points to 60.5.

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 – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Barry Bluestone, Stearns Trustee Professor of Political Economy at Northeastern University and a BEA member, noted that the Massachusetts economy is running up against tightness in the labor market that makes it difficult for employers to grow.

“The combination of a prolonged economic recovery and the demographics of skilled workers retiring with no one to replace them is creating an impediment to growth for Massachusetts employers. The shortage underscores once again the importance of creating an education and training system that responds to the demands of the economy,” Bluestone said.

The April survey also reversed an unusual result in March when Western Massachusetts companies were more confident than those in the eastern portion of the commonwealth. Eastern Massachusetts employers posted a 61.7 confidence reading in April versus 58 for employers in the western part of the state.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said employer confidence is also facing headwinds from accelerating health-care and health-insurance costs. Massachusetts has exceeded its objective for health-care spending in each of the past two years and employers continue to pay some of the highest costs in the nation.

“The good news is that Massachusetts is beginning to identify some answers. And there appears to be enough common ground and political will on the issue to pursue some solutions,” Lord said.

“New research conducted by the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission suggests that Massachusetts employers, insurers and policymakers could reduce total health-care expenditures anywhere from $279 million per year to $794 million per year, or 0.5 to 1.3 percent, by making several key improvements to the health-care system.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Employer Confidence Rises Again in March

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Apr 4, 2017 8:47:09 AM

Massachusetts employer confidence inched higher during March amid a swirl of contradictory economic and political signals.

BCI.March.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) increased 0.3 points to 62.4 last month, 5.9 points higher than its level of a year earlier and the highest reading since August 2004. The seventh consecutive monthly improvement reflected an increase in the U.S. Index of national business conditions, which has risen 9.1 points during the previous year, and a bullish overall view of current conditions.

The results came as the government announced that the U.S. economy grew in the fourth quarter at a faster pace than previously reported on higher consumer spending. At the same time, the Massachusetts unemployment rate rose to 3.4 percent as employers created jobs at an annual pace of 57,700.

“Massachusetts employers remain broadly confident about both the state and national economies,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Slight declines in the Employment Index, the Manufacturing Index and projections about the economy six months from now perhaps reflect some of the uncertainty about the direction of economic policy in Washington.”

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 March.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, rose 0.5 points to 63.7, leaving it 6.2 points higher than in March 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions gained ground for the sixth consecutive month. Views of the national economy rose one point to 59.9. Still, February marked the 83rd 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, surged 1.9 points to 61.8 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, lost 1.4 points to 63.0. The future outlook was 4.9 points higher than a year ago.

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

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, remained unchanged from February at 62.8. The Employment Index fell 1.4 points to 60.4, but the Sales Index gained 1.1 points to 62.6.

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.

One of the most unusual results of the March survey was that Western Massachusetts companies were more confident (63.6) than those in the eastern portion of the commonwealth (62.2). Confidence outside of the white-hot Boston economy has been increasing steadily for months, but experts say it is too soon to say whether the geographic shift represents a long-term trend or a statistical anomaly.

Paul Bolger, President, Massachusetts Capital Resource Company, and a BEA member, noted that the March confidence survey was taken just as Republican efforts to repeal federal health reform fell apart.

“Employers have anticipated that a Republican Congress and a Republican president would deliver traditional pro-growth measures such as tax reform and infrastructure improvements. The failure of those parties to pass health-reform legislation seems to have created uncertainty about other legislative priorities that matter to employers,” Bolger said.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, echoed the sense of uncertainty that hangs over Massachusetts as federal policymakers in Washington struggle to establish a direction.

“Many growth industries in Massachusetts such as health care, higher education, research and defense, depend upon federal funding and are vulnerable to potential budget reductions,” Lord said.

“Discussion of transitioning Medicaid, the health-insurance program for low-income Americans, to block grants also has significant implications to the health care system that is already straining employers.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers

Fidelity, Bright Horizons, WHOI Honored with 2017 AIM Vision Awards

Posted by Rick Lord on Mar 30, 2017 9:07:00 AM

Three organizations that have transformed Massachusetts by carving out preeminent places in their disciplines – Fidelity Investments, Bright Horizons Family Solutions and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution -  will be honored with 2017 Vision Awards by Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

The largest employer association in Massachusetts will present the Vision Awards at its Annual Meeting on May 5 in Boston. Accepting the awards on behalf of the honorees will be Abigail Johnson, Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of Fidelity Investments; Linda A. Mason, Co-Founder of Bright Horizons; and Mark Abbott, Director and President of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Governor Charles D. Baker will deliver the keynote address.

The Vision Award recognizes companies, organizations and individuals who have made unique contributions to the cause of economic opportunity in Massachusetts. The award reflects AIM’s mission to stand for jobs, economic prosperity, innovation and a government that acknowledges that the private sector has the unique responsibility to create the common wealth for the people of Massachusetts.

“The 4,000 member employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts are delighted to honor three world-renowned organizations that have truly changed the way we live,” said AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord.

“Fidelity Investments became a cornerstone of the financial industry by offering investment services to a broad set of customers from individual investors to advisors and large companies. Bright Horizons is the largest provider of employer-sponsored day care in the United States. And Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution remains both a global leader in ocean science and a key driver of the economy on Cape Cod.”

Johnson1.jpgFidelity Investments is the fourth largest investment firm in the world. With assets under administration of $6.0 trillion, including managed assets of $2.2 trillion as of February 28, 2017, the firm focuses on meeting the unique needs of a diverse set of customers: helping more than 26 million people invest their own life savings, 23,000 businesses manage employee-benefit programs, and providing more than 12,500 financial advisory firms with investment and technology solutions to invest their own clients’ money.

Founded in 1946 by Edward C. Johnson 2d, Fidelity was an early pioneer in the development of mutual funds. Fidelity was also innovator in many other areas throughout its history, including check writing for money market accounts, selling mutual funds over 800 number phone lines, the development of sector funds, the growth of the defined-contribution retirement savings industry, and using online and mobile technology to make investing quicker and easier for millions of customers.

The company has used innovation and an unrelenting focus on customer service to mold itself into a diversified financial services firm that is a leader in personal investing, workplace investing, and tools and services for financial intermediaries. Fidelity is now the nation's No. 1 record keeper of 401(k) retirement savings plans and is also the largest US online brokerage firm, with 17.9 million accounts and $1.7 trillion in client assets.  

Abigail Johnson became chief executive officer in 2014 and assumed the title of Chairman in December 2016. A recent Investor’s Business Daily article on Fidelity’s 2016 financial results praised the company’s ability to change: "Fidelity is profitable, strong, innovative and driven to growth," said Jim Lowell, editor-in-chief of Fidelity Investor, an independent newsletter. "That's not true for many financial services companies."

Mason1.jpgBright Horizons Family Solutions – Watertown-based Bright Horizons has forged a trusted global presence as an indispensable resource for employers and their workers seeking to address an increasingly complex array of work-life issues.

Linda Mason and her husband, Roger Brown, founded Bright Horizons with the goal of providing high quality child care at work sites. Together, they created a company with the mission to nurture each child’s unique qualities and potential, support families through strong partnerships, and collaborate with employers to build family-friendly workplaces.

Bright Horizons today operates more than 1,000 child-care centers in the U.S., the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, India, and Canada. It also works with more than 1,000 employers to provide a complete family of employer solutions, including child care, back-up care for children and adults/elders, and educational advising for employees and their college-bound dependents.

And they do it well. Eighty organizations on Working Mother magazine’s "100 Best Companies" list are Bright Horizons clients. Bright Horizons itself has consistently been named to the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" list by FORTUNE magazine and the Top Places to Work in Massachusetts by The Boston Globe.

Bright Horizons employs 2,100 people in Massachusetts and more than 20,000 worldwide. The company’s revenue jumped 8 percent during 2016 to $1.6 billion, while net income rose 1 percent to $95 million.

The company’s blue-chip client list reads like a who’s-who of global business leaders, from Allstate Insurance, Comcast NBC Universal and Booz Allen Hamilton to Sprint, Target, Discovery Communications, General Mills and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Ms. Mason and Mr. Brown in 1988 also created an independent, nonprofit organization, Horizons for Homeless Children (formerly The Horizons Initiative) dedicated to providing high-quality child care and educational services to homeless children and their families.

Abbott1.jpgWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is the world’s largest, private non-profit oceanographic research institution and a global leader in the study and exploration of the ocean. An unmatched reputation for intellectual discovery under the water has allowed the organization to contribute to its economic surroundings out of the water as well.

Woods Hole scientists and engineers have played a part in discoveries that form the modern understanding of the ocean and how it interacts with other parts of the planet, including human society. WHOI professionals combine access to specialized tools, ships, labs, and underwater vehicles with knowledge of how to explore the ocean to create a detailed understanding of the global ocean system.

The institution, founded in 1930, employs more than 1,000 researchers, engineers, information technology specialists, and crews for ships and underwater vehicles like the Alvin that famously explored the wreck of the Titanic in 1986. A combination of government grants and contracts, foundation and private donations and industry contracts provide the organization with an annual operating budget of $215 million.

Increasingly WHOI is involved in projects that apply the knowledge gained from basic research to societal issues, providing high-quality data and analysis across a range of topics, from climate to biodiversity to resources to natural hazards mitigation. These efforts have given WHOI’s work reach into new and important arenas.

In 2010, the Institution rapidly mobilized researchers from several different disciplines to assist the Coast Guard and other responders during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In response to the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, WHOI mounted another rapid response and mobilization to gather data and water samples quickly to determine the amount of radioactivity released into the ocean. That monitoring effort continues.

Engineers and scientists at WHOI worked for nearly two years to successfully locate, in May 2011, the deep-water wreckage of Air France flight 447, using the WHOI-designed and -built REMUS 6000 autonomous vehicle.

Topics: AIM Annual Meeting, Massachusetts economy, AIM Vision Award

Employer Confidence Hits 13-Year High

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 7, 2017 8:45:12 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers hit a 13-year high during February, fueled by optimism among manufacturers and an increasingly positive view of the national economy.

BCI.February.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 0.7 points to 62.1 last month, seven points higher than its level of a year earlier and the highest reading since August 2004. Driving the increase was the U.S. Index of national business conditions, which has risen 11.5 points during the past year, and the Manufacturing Index, which surged 9.1 points.

The results came amid increasingly mixed economic signals that included a 2.8 percent Massachusetts unemployment rate and a significant slowdown in economic growth both in Massachusetts and nationally during the fourth quarter.

“The increase in confidence was more modest than we have seen in previous months. Employers projected a generally positive view of the economy, but were also taking the measure of potential economic policy changes in Washington,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employers remain more optimistic about the future than about the present - a good indicator of the potential for continued growth and investment both in Massachusetts and nationally.”

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.

Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up during February.
The notable exception was the Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, which declined 0.2 points to 63.2. The state index nevertheless remained 6.8 points higher than in February 2016.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Index of national business conditions gained ground for the fifth consecutive month. Employers appear encouraged by the possibility that Congress and the new administration will pass growth measures that could include tax and regulatory reform.

February marked the 82nd 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 0.5 points to 59.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.1 points to 64.4. The future outlook was 8.5 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since May of 2004.

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

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.9 points to 62.8 while the Employment Index gained two points to 60.4. The Sales Index lost 0.4 points to 62.6.

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.

Michael Tyler, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management, and a BEA member, noted that the traditional confidence gaps between manufacturing companies and non-manufacturers, and between companies located in the eastern and western portions of Massachusetts, have closed in recent months.

“Confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers has risen 9.1 points during the past year and now stands at 61.2 compared to 63.0 for non-manufacturers. And confidence among companies in western and central Massachusetts hit 61.8 in February compared to 62.6 for companies in the eastern part of the state,” Tyler said.

"Those results suggest that the benefits of economic growth are finally spreading from Greater Boston to the entire state. What's more, as the dollar's rise has stabilized, manufacturers are finally sharing the positive view that service sector employers have felt for several years."

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the 2.8 percent unemployment rate in Massachusetts and the commonwealth’s designation last week as the best state in the nation by US News and World Report underscore the fact the Bay State economy remains strong.

At the same time, Lord said, employers face an uncertain mix of policy initiatives in Washington.

“Employers are certainly enthusiastic about lower corporate taxes, streamlined regulation and a meaningful infrastructure program. They are not as enthusiastic about withdrawing from trade agreements and once again having to process major changes in health reform,” he said.

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers

Immigration Chaos Poses Unique Threat to Massachusetts Economy

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 24, 2017 3:15:37 PM

The ongoing chaos surrounding US immigration policy poses a unique threat to the Massachusetts economy in its role as a global center for technology and medical science. Employers should be concerned.

FinancialServicesGraph-1.jpgThe Boston Globe published two compelling articles this week illustrating the vulnerability that knowledge-economy states like Massachusetts face amid potential travel bans, visa limitations and expedited removal proceedings.

The first article detailed how limits on H1B visas for skilled foreign workers hinder the growth of technology and other companies in Massachusetts. The Globe told the story of Brightcove, a high-flying video cloud services company and its fruitless attempts to obtain an H1B visa for a British software engineer who worked for 18 months to create the company’s new media delivery platform.

The H1-B program, as most employers know, is capped at 65,000 visas, with an additional 20,000 available to graduates of US universities with advanced degrees. Employers sought more than 236,000 H1B visas last year, so visas are awarded through a highly competitive lottery run by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Technology companies fear that President Donald Trump, who has called the H1B a “cheap labor program,” may reduce the already strained visa cap.

The issue is an important one for Massachusetts. Brightcove employs 500 people and added 100 new employees last year, according to the Globe, but finds it increasingly difficult to attract skilled people in an economy running at 2.8 percent unemployment.

Brightcove ended up sending its key engineer back to England and creating a five-person product team overseas.

“If you want to go hire someone out of a top engineering school like MIT, by the time you get there, they’ve got five offers from big software companies that are many times larger than us,” Brightcove CEO David Mendels told the newspaper.

The second article reported that Massachusetts’ teaching hospitals are under intense pressure to reject qualified international medical students applying for residencies in the United States because of fears that President Trump’s immigration policies may bar the students from entering the country. Those fears escalated after an Iranian scientist who had obtained a visa to conduct research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital was twice prevented from entering the United States under President Trump’s initial immigration order.

Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, chief executive of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said “hospitals are being given an impossible choice” between hiring the best candidates, regardless of nationality, and ensuring they have residents ready to care for patients in July.

“This has served our country so well,” he said of the system used to funnel foreign medical graduates into the United States, “and it’s a tragedy that it’s being disrupted by uncertainty.”

Massachusetts has a significant stake in the issue not only because health care represents a significant contributor to the economy, but also because a shortage of primary care physicians put upward pressure on health-insurance premiums.

Both articles provide vivid reminders that the global industries upon which the Massachusetts economy is built are particularly sensitive to federal policy changes and budget decisions. And immigration issues will be child’s play compared to the potential fallout of changes to federal health care reform and Medicaid funding.

Should be an interesting spring.

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Donald Trump, Immigration

Massachusetts Exports Rise; Trade Policy Remains Unclear

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Feb 16, 2017 9:16:13 AM

Recently-released year-end 2016 trade statistics tell a positive story for Massachusetts.

Product exports from the commonwealth increased 2 percent last year, outperforming many other US states.  Massachusetts exports totaled nearly $26 Billion in 2016.

international.flagssmall.jpgAt the same time, the relationship with our top three trade partners—Canada, Mexico and China—is likely to change as a result of new trade policies sought by the Trump administration.  What might this mean for Massachusetts companies?

The new president and his executive team have committed to renegotiating long-standing trade relationships and agreements.  First in line is NAFTA—the trilateral North America Free Trade Agreement among the US, Canada and Mexico that took effect 23 years ago.

 Many experts agree that changes to NAFTA are long overdue.  However, there is concern that the Trump administration may abandon NAFTA altogether and pursue separate bilateral agreements—one with Canada and a separate one with Mexico.  This would create significant disruption for many companies with global supply chains across North America. 

The new Trump trade team is not yet installed, which will likely delay negotiations about NAFTA.  Advocates within the manufacturing community, however, are already gathering stories about how individual US companies have grown jobs as a result of business with Canada and Mexico.   Getting this data to Congressional leaders and the new presidential administration will be critical in persuading Trump trade professionals to tweak, and not eliminate, NAFTA. 

Another proposal in play is the border tax.  Imports would be taxed at a rate up to 20 percent.  A complementary plan to reduce the overall US corporate tax rate is being touted as a potential offset.  The border tax would mean that large importers such as Walmart and Target would suffer and likely pass along cost increases to customers, while big exporters—Caterpillar, GE, Boeing - would benefit.  Small companies dependent on components produced in China or Mexico would also be hard hit by an import tax.  As with all tax rate changes, we’ll see winners and losers. 

No China trade announcements have been made since President Trump was inaugurated.  His telephone call last week with China president Xi Jinping was a first step toward repairing the damage caused by Mr. Trump’s earlier denunciation of the US’ long-standing “one China” policy.  Mr. Trump had suggested imposing tariffs of up to 45 percent on imports from China, but that proposal has not yet gained traction.

In a promising development, Mr. Trump last week signaled his support for the US Export-Import Bank, which has been operating for more than a year without a board quorum and unable to approve loans of more than $10 million.  Mr. Trump’s statement represents a departure from his previous skepticism about Ex-Im Bank. The president may make a statement about Ex-Im during his visit to Boeing in South Carolina tomorrow. 

If you are one of the more than 10,000 exporting companies in Massachusetts and you have concerns, praise or questions about proposed federal trade policy, please let AIM know.  We are in regular communication with industry and government leaders and your insights are invaluable as we convey what’s important about trade and growing the Massachusetts economy. 

Topics: International Trade, Massachusetts economy, Donald Trump

Employer Confidence Rises for Fifth Consecutive Month

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 7, 2017 8:42:41 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers rose for the fifth consecutive month during January despite a marked slowdown in economic growth during the fourth quarter of 2016.

BCI.January.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose one point to 61.4 last month, a full 5.6 points higher than a year earlier and the highest reading since December 2004. The confidence increase came during a month when the Massachusetts unemployment rate fell to 2.8 percent and Bay State employers created more than 72,000 new jobs for the year.

At the same time, national economic growth slowed to an annual rate of 1.9 percent during the final three months of 2016, while the Massachusetts economy downshifted to a 0.5 percent growth rate from 3.1 percent during the third quarter.

“The good news is that unemployment in Massachusetts remains well below the national rate of 4.7 percent, but that low jobless rate may also be creating labor-force capacity constraints that are slowing output,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employer confidence seems to be tracking the overall optimism of financial markets that continue to hit record highs. It will be instructive to see how that enthusiasm holds up as Congress and the new administration get down to the business of governing.”

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 Uniformly Higher

All of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up to start 2017.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, rose to 61.8, leaving it 5.2 points ahead of the same time last year.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions inched up 0.1 points to 57.6 - 7.5 points higher than in January 2016. January marked the 81st 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 0.3 points to 59.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.6 points to 63.3. The future outlook was 6.1 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.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose one point to 61.9 while the Employment Index gained 1.2 points to 58.4 and the Sales Index 0.7 points to 62.1.

The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 18 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“One of the elements driving the overall increase in employer confidence is a rapidly brightening outlook among manufacturers,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and a BEA member.

“The AIM Manufacturing Index has risen 8.5 points during the past five months, driven by a positive outlook on sales and hiring. Manufacturing optimism also bodes well for capital investment and research and development going forward.”

Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were more optimistic at 63.0 than those in the western part of the state at 59.0.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the emerging labor-force constraints underscore the importance of maintaining a world-class training and education system in Massachusetts. He noted that in the area of manufacturing, AIM has filed legislation to provide a 50 percent tax credit for eligible expenses for employees who receive certification through the Massachusetts Manufacturing Advancement Center Workforce Innovation Collaborative’ s (MACWIC) Applied Manufacturing Technology Pathway Certification Program.

“As employers find it increasingly difficult to locate appropriately skilled employees, we are reminded that our economic future depends upon the ability of Massachusetts to educate all children and all incumbent workers with the knowledge our companies need to prosper in a complex global economy,” Lord said.

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Business Leaders Share Outlook for 2017

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 23, 2017 10:10:11 AM

What lies ahead for Massachusetts employers as a new administration comes to Washington in 2017? Listen as three distinguished business leaders - Robert Reynolds, President and Chief Executive Officer of Putnam Investments in Boston; Donna Cupelo, region president of Verizon in New England; and Lisa Chamberlain, managing partner of The Chamberlain Group in Great Barrington – share their opinions as part of the AIM Economic Outlook Forum. Moderator is Jeff Brown, Business Editor of WBZ Radio in Boston.

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers, AIM Executive Forum

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