AIMBlog_Logo_Resized

State Readies New Rules on Background Checks

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Apr 13, 2017 10:55:07 AM

Editor’s note:  The following blog was written by Jean M. Wilson, Barry J. Miller, and Alison Silveira of Seyfarth Shaw, which is a member of AIM’s HR-Labor and Employment Law Committee. 

The Massachusetts legislature passed sweeping reform in May 2012 to the commonwealth’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) law, which regulates the ability of employers to conduct criminal background checks.

ScalesofJusticeVerySmall.jpgNow, prompted by Governor Charlie Baker’s regulatory reform initiative, the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) has new rules for the CORI law.  Several of these changes will require employers to alter their approach to criminal history checks:

  1. Who is an Employee? The regulations expand the definition of employee to include not only traditional employees and volunteers, but also contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and special state, county or municipal employees. DCJIS has, in effect, broadened the definition of employee well beyond its traditional meaning, and in a manner that is at odds with the definition of this term under other state and federal laws, leading to possible uncertainty for employers

  2. What is CORI? The prior regulations did not define “Criminal Offender Record Information,” beyond a list of examples of information included or excluded from the system.   The regulations now define CORI, but the definition leaves uncertainty as to what information, outside of that specifically provided by DCJIS, is inlcuded.  The regulations also now specifically exclude from the definition of CORI information related to criminal proceedings that were initiated against an individual before the individual turned 18, unless the individual is adjudicated as an adult.  Prior to the revisions, this threshold was 17.

  3. “Need to Know” List and New iCORI Agency Agreement - The revised regulations require employers to enter into an iCORI Agency Agreement prior to obtaining and/or renewing electronic access to the iCORI system. The iCORI Agency Agreement will, at a minimum, include the employer’s representation that:  (1) it will comply with the CORI laws and regulations; (2) it will maintain an up-to-date “need to know” list of staff that the employer has authorized to request, receive or review CORI information and to provide all staff on the “need to know” list with all CORI training materials; (3) it will only request the level of CORI access authorized under statute or by the DCJIS; and (4) it will be liable for any violations of the CORI law or regulations, and that individual users of the employer’s iCORI account may also be liable for violations of the CORI law or regulations.  The DCJIS has not yet issued the iCORI Agency Agreement. 

  4. CORI Acknowledgment Forms - DCJIS has made several changes to the regulations that affect the collection, use and destruction of CORI Acknowledgment Forms.

  5. Storing CORI in the Cloud - DCJIS now permits employers to store CORI using cloud storage methods.  DCJIS requires employers using cloud storage to have a written agreement with the provider and that the storage method provide for encryption and password protection.

  6. Additional Information for Pre-Adverse Action Notices - Employers who contemplate adverse action against an employee because of information in a CORI report obtained through DCJIS are currently required to provide the subject of that report with certain information, including identifying the information in the report that is the basis for potential adverse action. 

  7. Obtaining CORI from Background Screening Companies: The regulations continue to allow background screening companies to obtain CORI on behalf of employers, but maintain the restrictions on the storage of this information that led many background screening companies to cease providing CORI.  Specifically, the regulations continue to prohibit background screening companies from electronically or physically storing CORI results, unless the background screening company is authorized by the employer to act as the decision maker. 

Employers should work with their legal counsel and background check providers to ensure that their procedures and forms comply with these new changes. 

Massachusetts businesses should also be aware that there are legislative proposals regarding Criminal Justice reform and other specific proposals that would impact Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) laws. 

Want to learn more about the new CORI regulations or the pending legislation? Please contact Brad MacDougall, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.  Based on interest, AIM may host a webinar to provide members with greater information.

Topics: Employment Law, Massachusetts employers, CORI

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

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

'Day Without a Woman' Poses Issues for Employers

Posted by Tom Jones on Feb 28, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Political activists are calling for women to stay home from work on March 8 as part of “A Day Without A Woman” general strike.

Womens March.jpgThe “one-day demonstration of economic solidarity” comes three weeks after a similar “Day Without Immigrants” caused thousands of people to remain out of work or to close their small businesses to protest Trump Administration policies on immigration. Some employers supported the walkout but at least 100 employees around the country who took part in the job action were fired.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has taken no position on A Day Without a Woman, but since these strikes are expected to continue, the association believes it should help employers prepare to respond.

There are more questions than answers at this point, so our suggestion to employers is to proceed cautiously in dealing with employees who participate in the strike.

Issues to consider include:

  • Do employees have a legally protected right to skip work to protest or to support a political cause? If not, may an employer discipline employees who participate?
  • Are these employees on strike as defined under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), making it concerted - and thus legally protected - activity?
  • Does disciplinary action against immigrant employees equate to national-origin discrimination under federal and state law?
  • What, if anything, can an employer do to prevent employees from walking out?
  • How far may an employer go in monitoring employee political activities on/off the job?
  • May an employer terminate an employee for social media posts or for joining political groups?
  • Are there different rules for management versus non-management employees?
  • May employee use Paid Time Off or earned sick time to participate in the protest?
  • What constitutes reasonable advance notice for employees seeking to use Paid Time Off, vacation time or sick time?

The ability of employers to respond to workers who miss work to join political protests revolves largely around interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The act extends legal protections to non-union employees joining together to achieve a common end. So employers covered by the NLRA (i.e. nearly all employers in the U.S.) who take disciplinary action against employees for participating in a demonstration may expose themselves to a legal challenge.

The impact of losing an unfair labor practice case can be far reaching and expensive. It can also, in the extreme, result in a union being awarded representation even in the absence of an election.

Although disciplining an employee who doesn’t work a scheduled shift may be appropriate, employers need to make certain that it is consistent with company policies and practices and not impacted by the politics of the issue.

“The answer is somewhat murky,” says Charlotte Garden, an associate professor at the Seattle University School of Law in The Atlantic Magazine.

“The National Labor Relations Act protects workers’ rights to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid or protection, and the scope of what falls under that umbrella is quite broad. So it is likely that some forms of worker protest about the likely effects of Trump Administration policies on immigrant workers would be protected. But that protection would not necessarily include every tactic that workers might use.”

 

Are your hands completely tied? No.

Employers still have the right to enforce their existing attendance and notification policies. If someone fails to appear for work and does not to comply with the attendance policy, employers may take appropriate disciplinary action. Just be sure to avoid any possible action that may be construed as disparate treatment against one or more employees based on their legally protected status.

Employers should carefully review their attendance policy and determine if it achieves its intended purposes. Also, does the management team currently enforce the attendance policy as written? If not, it may be time to update and correct the practice and make sure all employees are aware of the policy. 

Please contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277 if you have questions.

 

Topics: Employment Law, Massachusetts employers, Donald Trump

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

GE Tops 2017 Massachusetts Business Stories

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

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

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

Here are the top 10 Massachusetts business stories of 2017:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers, Top 10

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

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

Which Issues Matter to You? Take the AIM Issues Survey

Posted by John Regan on Sep 26, 2016 7:30:00 AM

The two major candidates for president will debate tonight. Will they address issues that matter to employers?

statehouse.jpgThe Massachusetts Legislature will kick off its 2017-2018 session in January. Will lawmakers identify the public-policy challenges that most concern Massachusetts employers as they seek to grow, create jobs and generate economic opportunity?

Employers have an important role to play in the debate over how to improve the Massachusetts economy. How can you ensure that your opinions and good ideas are heard? Start by participating in the biennial Issues Survey from Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

The commonwealth’s largest and most powerful employer association wants to hear from you so it can accurately represent the interests of employers both large and small before Massachusetts state government. Which issues pose a threat to your business? What steps could Massachusetts take to improve the business climate? How can Massachusetts assure its global competitiveness in a world in which economic growth is becoming ever more concentrated?

AIM will use responses from the Issues Survey to construct a pro-growth Legislative Agenda for the 2017-2018 Beacon Hill session. Legislators rely upon the AIM Legislative Agenda to identify the issues of importance to the Massachusetts employer community.

All responses will remain confidential.

Why participate? As AIM’s Chairman Dan Kenary remarked at this year’s Annual Meeting:

“The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s maxim that ‘all politics is local’ has never been truer that it is today. And if all politics is local, the employer community represents a sleeping giant with enormous potential to drive sound public policy from the bottom up.  Call it entrepreneurial populism - those of us who risk everything to employ our neighbors in Boston, Worcester, Springfield or more than 348 other communities in Massachusetts must tell our stories to the representatives, senators and member of Congress in whose districts we operate.”

We stand at a singular moment in the history of Massachusetts as the forces of political moderation struggle to hold back furious attacks from progressive insurgents who see business and employers as the problem rather than a force for good. The ability of employers to ensure economic stability and continued opportunity rests entirely on their willingness of individuals to add their voices to the public debate.

AIM will publish its Legislative Agenda in January, immediately after President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord delivers his annual State of Massachusetts Business address.

AIM represents the interests of 4,000 companies from every sector of the economy.

Take the Issues Survey

 

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Massachusetts employers

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

Subscribe to our blog

Browse by Tag