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Competition Moderates Clean-Energy Costs for Ratepayers

Posted by Bob Rio on Jan 16, 2018 8:30:00 AM

Clean energy in Massachusetts is finally subject to the laws of economics. That’s good news for both businesses and residents throughout the commonwealth who pay some of the highest electric rates in nation.

Hydro.jpgThe current competitive bidding process being conducted by Massachusetts utilities for large scale hydropower, onshore and offshore wind, and solar will not lower the price of electricity – at least not in the next few years. But ratepayers will at least be assured their money is being spent wisely.

Governor Charlie Baker signed two energy bills in 2016 that swept away the sweetheart deals and overly generous subsidies that characterized the clean-energy business prior to that time. The bills required purchases of clean energy to be competitive and transparent. The results are already evident, even before the contracts are signed.

In April 2017, as part of the first requirement for the utilities to purchase clean energy (primarily large hydropower from Canada and onshore wind) a request for proposals was sent to developers.

Suppliers responded with nearly 50 proposals, far more that the total cumulative amount allowed in the legislation. Some names you might recognize – Hydroquebec, for instance, has been sending power to Massachusetts for decades. But others may not be as familiar – Emera, Nalcor, TDI, Nextera, and Avangrid – some partnering with utilities National Grid and Eversource - all vying to serve Massachusetts consumers.

The clean energy process even attracted a bid from New England-based Deepwater Wind, which submitted a small offshore wind proposal, even though the larger competitive solicitation for offshore wind was not due until this month, separate from the initial clean energy bidding process.

While prices haven’t been disclosed yet (the analysis is based on a complex evaluation of bids and is confidential until a winning bidder is selected following by a public process at the Department of Public Utilities process), the fact that so many developers “sharpened their pencil” is a good start.

Bids under the clean-energy program are scheduled to be awarded around January 25. Bids for the separate offshore wind program will be selected on April 23..

Competition will have a particularly dramatic effect on solar energy.

Although some small solar projects were bid as part of the clean energy proposals, the vast amount of solar installations are currently subsidized through a different program that has been around for several years. It has become not only expensive – $500 million dollars per year, but also overly generous as the cost of solar installations has dropped more than 50 percent due to lower market prices.

Most states went to a competitive framework years ago – and saw significantly lower prices, but Massachusetts program is just starting. Bids for new solar projects were due in December. Those bids will establish a baseline process for solar power for the next several years. Based on the experience of other states, the prices should drop by more than half.

And that’s not all. In both the offshore wind and solar programs, future projects must be lower than the current prices, all but guaranteeing that the state has bent the price curve for these installations.

It’s an ambitious move. And in the aftermath of the Cape Wind debacle, some Massachusetts ratepayers may find it hard to believe that clean energy and offshore wind farms could be competitively priced and developed cost-effectively.

But that is what is happening. And the diversity of projects was no surprise to AIM – early supporters of bringing competition to clean energy.

The debate about whether the commonwealth will pursue clean energy is over. So is the debate about the value of competition to Massachusetts electric customers.

Topics: Electricity, Energy, Solar Subsidies

AIM Weighs In On Key Employment-Law Issues

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jan 12, 2018 12:48:37 PM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts weighed in yesterday on 73 bills pending before a key legislative committee considering employment-law issues ranging from independent contractors to the use of non-compete agreements.

State House 2015.jpgThe association delivered  a letter to members of the Joint Labor & Workforce Development Committee as the panel approaches a February 7 deadline to report out bills with either a positive or negative recommendation. AIM supports 29 bills now before the committee and opposes 44.

Among the measures that employers support are bills streamlining the complex definition of an independent contractor and compromise limitations on non-compete agreements that recognize the fact that employers often compensate workers for signing such agreements.

AIM opposes bills that would establish paid family and medical leave, increase the minimum wage, and impose vicarious liability for wage violations on any company that hires subcontractors. AIM also opposes legislation (S.1013) that would create civil liability and define workplace bullying.

“The February 7 deadline for Beacon Hill committees to report out bills under the Legislature’s Joint Rule 10 signals the start of a critical period for employers and the issues that affect them,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

“There will be a flurry of activity between now and the end of the two-year legislative session on July 31. Employers need to pay close attention since important bills often move quickly during this period.”

The independent contractor issue revolves around an overly restrictive statute that leaves Massachusetts on the sidelines of one of the fastest developing sectors of the economy.

One out of every three American workers, from software engineers and researchers to graphic designers, freelance journalists and nannies, today works independently outside the bounds of traditional 9-to-5 employment. The trend includes the so-called sharing economy that provides apps allowing individuals to exchange goods and services ranging from rides to housecleaning.

But Massachusetts' share of that job growth is threatened by a state law that imposes a confusing and complex three-factor test to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor.

On non-compete agreements, AIM has fought relentlessly for several years on behalf the vast majority of Massachusetts employers who wish to preserve the use of non-competes to protect intellectual property. The association supports a compromise that would limit non-competes to one year and give employees the opportunity to consult a lawyer when signing a non-compete, but not require companies that compensate employees at the time they sign non-competes to pay them again during the restricted period.

AIM also supports a group of measures intended to address discrimination and harassment in the workplace. One bill would allow employers to ask previous employers questions about an applicant’s work history (H.1046), while a second would encourage employers to engage in voluntary training regarding non-discrimination (H.1037/H.1047) and third would rewrite a highly confusing and problematic statute that makes adding disciplinary matters to a personnel record difficult (H.1049/S.1044).

The paid family and medical leave and minimum wage initiatives opposed by employers mirror similar measures headed to the statewide ballot in November. A third ballot question would create a constitutional amendment imposing a 4 percentage-point surtax on incomes of more than $1 million for thousands of subchapter-S and other pass-through business in Massachusetts.

AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord and four other prominent business leaders are challenging the proposed tax amendment in court.

Please contact me at bmacdougall@aimnet.org for more information on any of these issues.

Topics: Independent Contractor Law, Massachusetts Legislature, Employment Law, Non-Compete Agreements

Employer Confidence Closes 2017 at 18-Year High

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 9, 2018 8:51:27 AM

Surging optimism about the state and national economies left Massachusetts employers with their highest level of confidence in 18 years as 2017 drew to a close.

BCI.December.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose one point to 63.6 during December, its highest level since November 2000. The BCI gained 3.2 points during a year in which employer confidence levels remained comfortably within the optimistic range.

Every element of the overall index increased during 2017 except for the Employment Index, which dropped half a point. Analysts believe low unemployment and demographic shifts are impeding the ability of employers to find the workers they need.

“Massachusetts employers maintained a uniformly positive outlook throughout 2017 and passage of the federal tax bill only added to that optimism,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“At the same time, the 12-month decline in the Employment Index reminds us that the persistent shortage of skilled workers has reached an inflection point for the Massachusetts economy. Massachusetts companies have postponed expansions, declined to bid for contracts or outsourced work because they simply can’t find people.”

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

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly higher during December.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, surged 2.4 points to 67.6, leaving it 5.8 points better than a year earlier.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions continued a yearlong rally by gaining 2 points to 64.2. December marked the 94th 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, decreased 0.7 points to 62.7 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.7 points to 64.5. The Current Index gained 3.6 points and the Future Index 2.8 points during 2017.

Operational Views

The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, declined 0.2 points to 62.1.

The Employment Index rose slightly to 56.7, but still ended the year 0.5 points below the 57.2 posted in December 2016.

Manufacturing companies (64.3) continued to be more optimistic than non-manufacturers (62.6). Another unusual result was that employers in western Massachusetts (64.6) posted higher confidence readings than those in the eastern portion of the commonwealth (62.7).

“Employer attitudes largely reflect a national economy that grew at its fastest pace in three years during the third quarter on the strength of business spending on equipment. The headline is that unemployment is down and the financial markets are up,” said Michael A. Tyler, CFA, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management, and a BEA member.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said employers received an early Christmas present from a federal tax bill that reduced corporate rates from 35 percent to 21 percent and reduced rates for pass-through entities such as subchapter S corporations as well.

“The tax bill produced short-term benefits, ranging from companies like Comcast and Citizens Financial providing bonuses to employees to the utility Eversource reducing electric rates in Massachusetts,” Lord said.

“At the same time, employers are cautious about the effect that other provisions – including limitations on the deduction for state and local taxes – will have on the overall Massachusetts economy.”

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

Tax Reform to Reduce Electric Rates

Posted by Bob Rio on Jan 3, 2018 6:22:15 PM

Federal tax reform may soon generate a $56 million windfall for Eversource electric ratepayers in Massachusetts.

Electriclinessmall.jpgEversource disclosed in a filing with the Department of Public Utilities today that the reduction in federal corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent will allow the company to reverse the rate increase approved for NSTAR customers in November and to reduce the amount of increase for customers of Western Massachusetts Electric Company.

NSTAR customers will now see a $35.4 million decrease in base rates instead of a $12.2 million increase. Western Massachusetts Electric customers will see their rate increase shrink from $24.8 million to $16.5 million.

Eversource indicated that it may seek additional rate reductions next January after calculating excess deferred taxes.

“Great news for Massachusetts employers struggling to manage the high cost of electricity,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“Tax reform created a tremendous opportunity to provide rate relief to customers and Eversource deserves credit for moving rapidly to realize that opportunity."

Attorney General Maura Healey filed a motion with the DPU on December 20 seeking larger rate reductions. Eversource says its agrees with the need to reduce rates, but calculates the numbers differently. Utility regulators will now determine the final figures to be implemented on February 1.

AIM urges the DPU to approve the rate reductions for Eversource and to review the rates of other utilities in the wake of the changes in federal tax law.

Topics: Massachusetts employers, Energy, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities

Summing Up, Looking Ahead: Challenges Await Employers

Posted by Rick Lord on Jan 2, 2018 8:30:00 AM

The first half of the 2017-2018 legislative session in Massachusetts was dominated by the issue of health-care costs and the role employers should play in helping to close a budget gap in the state Medicaid program.

Exterior.jpgBut larger battles await during 2018 as progressive activists seek to place three questions on the Massachusetts election ballot that would together impede economic growth for a generation. The initiatives would impose an 80 percent surtax on incomes more than $1 million for pass-through businesses, establish a $1.3 billion-per-year paid leave program and increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts worked successfully during 2017 on a range of issues confronting its member employers from every sector of the economy.

The most important achievement was a compromise that transformed a proposed $700 million annual health-care surtax into a two-year, $200 million assessment to close the budget shortfall in the commonwealth’s health-insurance program for low-income people. The assessment increased the Employer Medical Assistance Contribution (EMAC) in a manner that will fall most heavily on companies where employees use MassHealth instead of an employer health plan.

The levy will be partially offset by a two-year Unemployment Insurance rate adjustment that will save employers $335 million over two years versus current rates. AIM was disappointed that lawmakers passed the assessment without making structural reforms to the MassHealth program.

“We believe, however, that the Legislature is committed to resolving the financial problems at MassHealth and employers look forward to working with lawmakers toward that goal in 2018,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

AIM also played a key role in hammering out compromise legislation to extend employment protection to pregnant workers in Massachusetts.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to make reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant employees — more frequent or longer breaks, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, a modified work schedule, or seating for those whose jobs require extended standing.  AIM opposed early versions of the bill because of concern among employers that the legislation provided an applicant or employee with unlimited power to reject multiple and reasonable offers of accommodation by an employer. The compromise bill addresses that concern.

There was no such compromise in August when the Baker Administration introduced regulations that set specific limits on sources of greenhouse gases, the emissions linked to climate change. State officials indicate that the regulations could increase costs to electric ratepayers by as much as 2 percent. The new rules aim to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, as required by state law.

The regulations, however, were ultimately unnecessary. The administration could have chosen to work with the Legislature to change the Global Warming Solutions Act to allow alternative ways for the electricity sector to meet these obligations.  The administration instead turned a blind eye to the corrosive impacts that high electric rates are having on struggling Massachusetts companies.

The three potential 2018 ballot questions would represent an unprecedented potential policy crisis for Massachusetts:

  • The constitutional tax amendment would raise from 5.1 percent to 9.1 percent the levy on income of more than $1 million per year, including income generated by subchapter S-corporations, LLPs, LLCs, partnerships, and other pass-through entities. The $1.9 billion tax increase would be paid by roughly 19,500 filers, 80 percent of whom are anticipated to file with some business income.
  • The paid leave question would mandate 16 weeks of paid family leave and 26 weeks of paid medical leave for employees for a total projected cost of $1.3 billion.
  • The minimum wage question would raise the wage from the current $11 per hour in annual $1 per-hour annual increments starting in 2019 until it reaches $15 an hour in 2022. That amounts to a projected increase of 36 percent.

Supporters of the paid-leave and minimum wage questions filed the requisite number of signatures last month to move a step closer to the ballot. Massachusetts lawmakers now have until the end of April to consider and pass the initiatives. Any initiatives that are not adopted must gather and file an additional 10,792 signatures by July 3 to make the 2018 ballot.

The income surtax constitutional amendment qualified for the ballot in 2016. In October, I joined four other prominent business leaders in filing a suit challenging the validity of the proposal, asserting that the amendment is riddled with constitutional flaws and would make the new tax essentially permanent and unchangeable. 

“It is impossible to overstate the potential threat that these three ballot questions pose for Massachusetts employers.  The advocates supporting the questions are well funded and are prepared to spend millions of dollars to get their message across to voters,” Regan said.

The ballot battle will take place just as employers begin to comply with the new Massachusetts Pay Equity Law on July 1, 2018. The law prohibits employers from discriminating based on gender in the payment of wages and other compensation for “comparable” work. Many employers are already undertaking the internal wage studies that provide a safe harbor from litigation under the statute.

Beacon Hill lawmakers will conclude the second year of their two-year session on July 31. The end of formal sessions will kick off an election season that will see Governor Charlie Baker, US Senator Elizabeth Warren and other prominent office holders face re-election challenges.

 

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Massachusetts employers, Charlie Baker

The Top 10 Massachusetts Business Stories of 2017

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 27, 2017 11:13:10 AM

A generational reset of the nation’s tax code, a controversial employer assessment to fund health insurance for poor people, and upheaval surrounding workplace sexual misconduct head the list of the top business stories in Massachusetts for 2017.

Tax.jpgIt was a year in which forces originating outside the borders of the commonwealth heavily influenced the fortunes of employers and political leaders here. Issues ranging from the political maelstrom in Washington, DC, and a strengthening economy to the #metoo movement and Amazon’s search for a second corporate headquarters all filtered into a complex mix that formed the Massachusetts business climate.

The tax law passed by Congress and signed by President Trump just before Christmas reduced the corporate excise tax from 35 to 21 percent and also dropped rates for pass-through businesses that pay at the personal level. Still, Bay State employers worried about adding $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit and new limitations on deductions for state and local taxes that will primarily affect high-cost states like Massachusetts.

Taxes in Massachusetts could be going in the opposite direction next year as advocates spent 2017 pushing a constitutional amendment that would increase the tax from 5 to 9 percent on income more than $1 million. AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord joined four other prominent business leaders during October in filing a lawsuit challenging the validity of the proposed amendment.

“The proposal would lead to a radical decentralization of fiscal policy away from the Legislature and set the stage for future initiatives from a range of interest groups proposing constitutional amendments segregating funds for their preferred causes, or raising tax rates on some groups and lowering taxes on others," Lord said.

Here are the top 10 Massachusetts business stories for 2017:

  1. President Donald Trump signs a tax bill that reduces levies on corporations and pass-through businesses but increases the federal debt and trims popular deductions.

    In addition to lowering the corporate tax to 21 percent, the law will cut the burden on owners, partners and shareholders of S-corporations, LLCs and partnerships through a 20 percent deduction. On the personal side, it lowers many individual income tax rates, doubles the standard deduction, eliminates personal exemptions, narrows the alternative minimum tax, lowers the cap on mortgage interest deductions and caps deductions for state and local taxes at $10,000.

  2. Massachusetts lawmakers impose a $200 million assessment on employers to close a funding gap in the MassHealth insurance program for low-income people.

    The Baker Administration initially proposed a $2,000-per-worker fee for businesses that did not cover at least 80 percent of their workers and share at least 60 percent of the premium cost. The governor and business community eventually negotiated a compromise that placed the heaviest assessments on companies with workers that use Mass Health insurance while outlining structural changes to the Mass Health program. The Legislature approved the assessment without the structural changes, but included rate relief on unemployment insurance premiums.

  3. Employers grapple with the implications of the #metoo movement highlighting sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces ranging from film studios to television networks to restaurants and hotels.

    Employers scrambled to review their policies on sexual harassment – and their enforcement of those policies - as millions of women around the world shared stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the wake of accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The tidal wave washed over high-profile figures from news hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer to celebrity chefs like Mario Batali to classical music conductors like former Boston Symphony Orchestra Maestro James Levine. AIM urged employers to take seriously all employee claims of sexual misconduct on the job and to investigate those claims scrupulously.

  4. Twenty-six Massachusetts communities and regions submit bids to host the $5 billion “second headquarters” development of e-commerce behemoth Amazon.

    The project offers the promise of some 50,000 jobs in the information technology space that is a strength of the Massachusetts economy. Boston submitted a 218-page proposal to site the campus at the current Suffolk Downs property, while New Hampshire gratuitously threw shade on the city as a traffic choked, overly expensive nightmare. Worcester upped the ante by offering $500 million worth of incentives. Amazon said it received 238 proposals in all from throughout North America. The company is expected to narrow that field in 2018.

  5. Activists begin the process of placing on the 2018 statewide ballot the three potential questions that would represent an unprecedented public-policy crisis for Massachusetts employers.

    The proposals include the income surtax constitutional amendment, a mandate that employers provide 16 weeks of paid family leave and 26 weeks of paid medical leave for employees, and an increase in the state the state minimum wage from $11 per hour to $15 per hour.

  6. Employers and advocates hammer out compromise legislation to extend employment protection to pregnant workers in Massachusetts.

    The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to make reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant employees — more frequent or longer breaks, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, or seating for those whose jobs require extended standing. AIM opposed early versions of the bill during the 2015-2016 legislative session because of concern that the legislation provided an applicant or employee with unlimited power to reject multiple and reasonable offers of accommodation by an employer. The compromise bill addressed that concern and others.

  7. A strong employment market and long-term demographic shifts exacerbate the challenge of finding skilled employees, but wage growth remains muted.

    The good news is that the Massachusetts economy continued in full-employment mode during 2017 and the jobless rate dropped to 3.6 percent in November. But experts warn that those numbers threaten to derail the ability of employers to find the workers they need to grow at a time when large number of baby boomers prepare to leave the work force. “The concern is that Massachusetts could become a victim of its own success,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors. Still, wage growth is expected to remain slow during 2018 – the AIM Human Resource Practices Survey published in December shows that employers plan to provide average wage increases of 2.66 percent during 2018, down from 2.75 percent this year.

  8. Employer confidence reaches a 17-year high and remains strong throughout 2017.

    Massachusetts employers remained optimistic as the national economy surged and manufacturers, in particular, grew bullish about their own business prospects. The AIM Business Confidence Index began 2017 at a healthy 61.4 and moved in a narrow range before hitting a high of 62.7 in October. The AIM Index 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.

  9. The Baker Administration issues new regulations that set specific limits on sources of greenhouse gasses in a move that could increase already high employer electric rates by as much as 2 percent.

    The new rules aim to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, as required by state law. AIM was extremely disappointed with the regulations. The electric-rate increases generated by the proposed rules, when combined with other pending cost increases, could raise the electric bills of Massachusetts employers some 10 percent in the next year alone. AIM maintains that the regulations are ultimately unnecessary - the administration could have chosen to work with the legislature to change the Global Warming Solutions Act to allow for alternative ways for the electricity sector to meet these obligations.

  10. AIM member CVS Health proposes to acquire insurance company Aetna for $69 billion.

    The merger of one of the nation’s largest retail pharmacy companies with one of its dominant insurers under the shadow of a potential incursion by Amazon underscores the breathtaking changes sweeping through the American health-care and economic systems. With their merged data about people’s health and vast reach, the two companies assert that they can make real change in a health-care landscape that nearly everyone agrees is too convoluted, inefficient and expensive.

 

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Massachusetts economy, Taxes

A Positive First Step for Manufacturing Education

Posted by Katie Holahan on Dec 18, 2017 8:30:00 AM

The Baker Administration last week took a first step toward addressing the shortage of skilled workers in Massachusetts by unveiling a program that allows residents interested in advanced manufacturing careers to take classes at local vocation schools.

manufacturing.jpgThe Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program will train adults at 10 Massachusetts vocational schools during the evenings and on week-ends, when equipment would typically not be in use.

Adults who complete the manufacturing training will be eligible for college credit when enrolling at partnering colleges and universities. The certificate they earn during evening classes at the high schools will be worth a specific number of college credits that can be applied toward an associates’ degree.

A planning team, made up of vocational school, public and private higher education officials and workforce and industry partners, will work on curriculum, align credential agreements, and develop internships and hiring opportunities.

“The program provides another opportunity for students to pursue an affordable education in advanced manufacturing to learn a skill set and find a good paying job in this growing industry,” said Governor Baker. “This unique program leverages state and federal resources and offers much needed flexibility to give people better career options and a path toward a college degree.”

Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said the initiative address one of the most pressing impediments to growth faced by employers.

“The AIM Blueprint for the Next Century economic growth plan identifies the shortage of skilled workers as a real issue across manufacturing and many other industries. The Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program will give people valuable skills using resources that already exist,” Lord said.

Participating schools include:

  • Assabet Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Marlborough
  • Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical High School in Taunton
  • Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River
  • Essex Agricultural and Technical High School in Danvers
  • Greater Lawrence Technical High School in Andover
  • Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School in New Bedford
  • Minuteman Regional Technical Vocational High School in Lexington
  • Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford
  • Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton
  • Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School in Haverhill

Students will enroll in vocational classes in September, with expected enrollment in the first year to be between 200 to 300 students. 

While the first year of the program will be focused on advanced manufacturing, state and local education officials plan to eventually expand the strategy into other fields, such as HVAC, auto technicians, and electrical professions. 

Topics: Skills Gap, Manufacturing, Massachusetts Manufacturing

Employer Confidence Flat; Labor Shortage Remains a Concern

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 5, 2017 9:20:02 AM

Employer confidence in Massachusetts remained essentially unchanged during November as companies apparently began to bump up against a persistent shortage of qualified workers.

BCI.November.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 0.1 points off its 2017 high to 62.6, still 4.5 points better than in November 2016. The slight decline reflected a drop in confidence among non-manufacturing companies and a year-over-year decline in the index that measures employer hiring plans.

Analysts on the AIM Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) believe that Massachusetts may be suffering from too much of a good thing – a 3.7 percent unemployment rate that threatens to derail the ability of employers to find the workers they need to grow at a time when large number of baby boomers prepare to leave the work force.

“The concern is that Massachusetts could become a victim of its own success,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employers feel optimistic about the state economy, the national economy and their own growth prospects, but they worry where the computer programmers, machinists and accountants needed to fuel that growth are going to come from and where they are going to live.”

Wage growth, however, remains muted. The AIM HR Practices Survey released yesterday shows that Massachusetts employers project average wage increases of 2.66 percent for 2018, down from 2.75 percent this year.

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

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

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 0.1 points to 65.2, leaving it 5.4 points better than a year earlier.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions lost 0.3 points to 62.2, pausing after a yearlong rally. October marked the 92nd 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, decreased 0.2 points to 63.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, edged down 0.1 points. The Current Index has risen 6.5 points and the Future Index 2.6 points during the past year.
Operational Views

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.3 points to 62.3. The most significant operational result, however, came in the Employment Index, which lost 1.2 points and ended the month 0.8 points below its level of a year ago. Another unusual result was that manufacturing companies were more optimistic than non-manufacturing companies.

“The movement of the overall Business Confidence Index was small as the economy continued to grow and add jobs at a healthy pace. But the weakness in the Employment Index suggests that the expansion may finally be bumping into a pervasive shortage of skilled workers across multiple industries,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross, and a BEA member.

Political Fireworks

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said employers remain upbeat despite uncertainty surrounding the federal and state political landscape.

“The tax bill passed last week by the US Senate contains a significant reduction in both corporate rates and rates for pass-through businesses, two provisions that are widely popular among employers. At the same time, employers are concerned about provisions that could become problematic for Massachusetts, including limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes, and loss of the federal research-and-development credit,” Lord said.

“All this is taking place as activists continue to work to place three questions on the 2018 Massachusetts election ballot that would together impede economic growth for a generation: a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million, an expansive and bureaucratic paid family leave program and an increase in the minimum wage.”

Topics: Skills Gap, AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Survey Shows Wage Growth Slowing in 2018

Posted by Russ Sullivan on Dec 4, 2017 8:00:00 AM

It seems that Massachusetts employers embody all the ambivalence and contradictions that have marked the longest economic recovery since the Second World War.

Image.jpgOn the one hand, the 205 employers who participated in the 2018 AIM HR Practices Survey predict lower salary increases, less hiring, and higher health-care costs for 2018 than this year.

On the other hand, employer confidence in the state economy stands at a 13-year high, the state economy grew at a brisk 5.9 percent pace in the third quarter and unemployment throughout the commonwealth has dropped to 3.7 percent.

The year 2018 promises to be an interesting one.

Participants in the AIM survey project a 2.66 percent increase in salaries in 2018, down from a 2.75 percent increase in 2017. Non-manufacturing companies are fueling the overall decrease, with an expected increase of just 2.43 percent. Manufacturing companies held steady at 2.70 percent, slightly down from the 2.71percent increase within this sector in 2017.

Survey participants also project a decrease in recruitment activity in 2018. Last year, 44 percent of participants projected that recruitment activity would increase over the previous year. This year, only 33 percent of participants project an increase in recruitment activity.

These lower projections for salary budgets and recruitment activity come at a time of increased confidence in the economy, as measured by AIM’s Business Confidence Index. In October 2017, the index reached 62.7, its highest level in 2017 and an increase of 6.5 points since the October 2016 recording of 56.2.

“The acceleration of the Massachusetts economy in the third quarter provided additional fuel to an already solid sense of confidence among employers as we head for 2018,” said Raymond G. Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors and a lecturer at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

Health-care costs continue to rise for Massachusetts employers. Survey participants report increases in the annual renewal rates for health plans. The average annual premium increase is 7.84 percent, with higher percentage increases reported for HMOs and consumer-driven health plans. Average premium increases in 2016 were 6.1 percent.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicate that Massachusetts, at 30 percent above the national average, is the second highest spending state for health care. Per-capita personal health-care spending in Massachusetts increased more than 12 percent in five years—from $9,417 in 2009 to $10,559 in 2014.

In response to the escalation of health-care costs, more employers (42 percent) are limiting the number of health-plan options available to employees to just one.

In addition, more employers are offering high-deductible health plans. For the second year in a row, there has been a 33 percent increase in the number of companies that provide high-deductible health plans as the only health plan option for employees. Although only 16 percent of all survey participants offer a high-deductible health plan as the only plan option, these employers represent 38 percent of participants that offer only one plan.

Massachusetts employers will have an additional health-care cost come 2018. Companies will pay an additional $180 million over two years as part of an assessment designed to close a budget deficit with the state Masshealth program for low-income people. Companies with employees currently using MassHealth will shoulder the bulk of the new assessment.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts legislature is currently developing legislation that Beacon Hill leaders say will address the overall cost of health care.

Survey participants also commented on their preparations for compliance with the Massachusetts Pay Equity Act. This law, which takes effect on July 1, 2018, creates a potential liability for employers who pay different rates to men and women who perform comparable work. Employers who perform a self-evaluation to identify and remove gender-based pay inequities can maintain an affirmative defense to employee claims under the act. However, successfully performing a self-evaluation requires an investment in time and resources to build a compliant compensation process.

Despite the impending July 1, 2018 deadline for completing a self-evaluation and implementing remedial actions to secure the affirmative defense, only 19 percent of survey respondents state that they have completed the self-evaluation. Even fewer participants (12 percent) state that they have taken remedial actions.

Completing self-evaluations may be further complicated by a lack of pay-equity-compliant job descriptions. Fifty-seven percent of participants state that their job descriptions are either out of date or nonexistent. An additional 8 percent state that while they have updated their job descriptions for pay equity compliance, they do not have job descriptions for all positions.

The act also affects employee recruitment through its prohibition on asking applicants to disclose their current salary or their salary history. While employers acknowledge that this fundamentally changes the recruitment process, 17 percent of participants state that they do not currently have a plan to comply with this requirement, and another 38 percent plan to wait until July to remove requests for salary information from their applications.

Survey participants see a strong 2018 for their companies, with 82 percent rating their business conditions as either excellent or good. Addressing pay equity, employee recruitment, limited salary budgets, and increased health-care costs will stretch the capacity of most HR departments as they try to stay ahead of the economic recovery. Employers are encouraged to integrate their compensation, benefits, and recruitment strategies into a pay-equity-compliant value proposition that establishes them as an employer of choice in 2018 and beyond.

Topics: Compensation, Human Resources, wages

Would You Buy Your Own Business?

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 30, 2017 8:30:00 AM

Editor’s Note – The following article was written by Rudi Scheiber-Kurtz, CEO of Next Stage Solutions in Burlington, and Gregory R. Rush, Partner & Co-Founder of Dunn Rush & Co. of Boston. They will lead a webinar for AIM and the Exit Planning Exchange New England called “Would You Buy Your Business?” on Wednesday, Dec 6 at noon.

Would you buy your business?

Two_Women.jpgA provocative question indeed, knowing that most business owners will not be able to sell their companies when they’re ready.

It’s discouraging when a business owner realizes that she or he will not get the multiple needed to create a comfortable retirement. According to a recent Forbes article “many owners probably won’t be able to sell their businesses when they’re ready, because they are not taking the critical steps.”

How do you fare in building value for your business, whether in growth mode or ready to sell in the next few years?  Have you done a benchmark assessment to understand where you stand today? What strategic plans have your drawn up for the next three years to achieve sustainable growth?

The December 6 webinar will allow us to take you through the “why” and “how” of building value for your business.  The first part will review benchmarks from a buyers’ perspective and why it is important to focus on these pieces.   The second part will give the “how” tools with seven modules so you can systematically create value over time.

The stakes could not be higher: Getting your business into a scaling and growth mode and increasing the valuation of your business will determine whether you can fund your retirement.

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.  Understanding what a buyer thinks of your business will help you to improve the way in which you address market demands.  Taking you out of working in the business to working on the business will transition you from manager to leader, an important next stage for your business.

Yogi Berra’s famous quote “When you get to the fork in the road, take it” is a great thought, however, if you get to the fork and get stuck, you may not have any option about which road to take.

This webinar will be a first step to understanding the perspective of a buyer and what you need to focus on over the next few years.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts is presenting the webinar because many of the association’s 4,000 member employers are small or family-owned companies that struggle with transition strategies.

“Sure, AIM counts plenty of internationally recognized corporations as members, but the association has always had a core membership of small to medium-sized employers who often never have the opportunity to see their businesses the way a potential buyer does,” said AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord.

The one-hour webinar will provide plenty of time for your questions. 

Register for the Webinar

 

Topics: Massachusetts employers, Management

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