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Christopher Geehern

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Senate President Calls for 'Bold Steps'

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 15, 2019 11:20:37 AM

 

Senate President Karen E. Spilka today called for Massachusetts to take “bold steps” to address issues such as transportation, education, health-care costs and economic development in the face of relentless changes to the state economy.

SP.Spilka“The common thread of all the challenges we face is unprecedented change. The success of our Commonwealth will ultimately be measured by how well we navigate and harness the potential of this change,” Spilka told more than 300 business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum on Waltham.

She said Massachusetts finds itself in a unique political moment that will determine the future course of its economy.

“It would be a mistake to waste this moment on incremental changes and small ideas,” she said. “Now is the time to be bold. That said, we have to find a way to reach consensus on our bold ideas.”

Spilka said state leaders must replicate the collaborative model of last year’s “grand bargain,” which brought together employers, advocacy groups and legislators to hammer out a compromise on paid family leave and the minimum wage. She thanked the business community for engaging in those conversations and invited employers to continue to participate in major policy debates.

The Senate President cited the growth of the Metrowest district she represents as an example of the challenges and opportunities facing the Massachusetts economy. Technology and innovation have transformed Metrowest from a Boston bedroom region to the home of major employers like Staples, TJX and Boston Scientific, but that growth has stressed the transportation infrastructure and priced some workers out of the housing market.

She acknowledged that resolving these issues carries a large price tag.

“I firmly believe we must create an economic development and tax framework for the 21st century where innovative technology-driven businesses can develop and thrive here but where we also capture new revenue to continue providing essential services, and fund our vision for our future,” she told the audience.

“So far, we have been addressing these new industries on a piecemeal basis, which only serves to breed confusion for business, government, and consumers. We must work together to find a balance that benefits us all, especially as we will be relying on these industries to continue to fuel our economic success.”

Spilka said the Senate will address health-care costs by looking at the price of prescription drugs and the cost transparency of the medical system. She praised the initiative led by AIM and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation to reduce unnecessary use of emergency rooms.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, AIM Executive Forum, Senate President Karen Spilka

Business Confidence Rebounds in February

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 5, 2019 8:30:00 AM

Business confidence rebounded modestly during February as optimism about the state and national economies outweighed a darkening outlook among Massachusetts manufacturers.

BCI.February.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) gained 0.5 points to 58.2 after dropping in January to its lowest level since October 2016. Confidence remains within optimistic territory but has lost 6.8 points during the past 12 months.

The February increase was driven by a 3.4-point jump in employer views of the state economy and a 3.3-point rise for the national economy. The government announced last week that the US economy grew at a 2.9 percent rate in 2018, matching 2015 as the biggest increase since the end of the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

“Employers remain generally optimistic about a state economy that continues to run at full-employment levels and a US economy that is projected to grow by 2.2 percent this year” 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 erosion of confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers during the past 12 months raises some concern about the long-term sustainability of the recovery.”

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 February.

The 3.4-point increase in the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth left that indicator at 60.8. Confidence in the Massachusetts economy has declined 7.7 points since February 2018.

The U.S. Index measuring employer sentiment about the national economy rose to 56.0, its highest level since November. The reading was still 10.9 points less than a year ago.

Employer views about the future were more optimistic than the present for the first time in 11 months. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.5 points to 57.7 while he Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, increased 1.5 points to 58.7.

Non-manufacturers (61.7) were significantly more confident than manufacturers (53.3). Large companies (62.3) were more optimistic than either medium-sized companies (57.1) or small companies (55.2). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (59.6) continued to be more bullish than those in the west (56.3).

“Employers last month welcomed several developments, including the end of the government shutdown and the Federal Reserve’s decision to pause increases in interest rates,” said Sara L. Johnson, Executive Director, Global Economics, IHS Markit and Vice Chairwoman of the BEA.

“The overall picture of business confidence reflects the economy itself – slowing a bit but still strong overall.”

Mixed Signals

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said the comments provided by employers on the February AIM Business Confidence Index Survey show that many companies remain bullish about 2019, while others remain concerned about issues ranging from gridlock in Washington to the persistent shortage of skilled employees.

“There are plenty of mixed signals 10 years into the economic recovery,” Lord said.

“Massachusetts employers face rising wage costs, rising raw-material costs and the challenge of integrating new public-policy mandates such as an increased minimum wage and paid family and medical leave. It’s the right time in the business cycle for state and federal government to follow the lead of the Federal Reserve and pause the imposition of expensive new initiatives.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Business Confidence Slides Again in January

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 12, 2019 8:30:00 AM

Stabilizing financial markets and continued strong employment were not enough to brighten the outlook of Massachusetts employers during January as business confidence fell for the fifth time in seven months.

BCI.January.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 0.9 points to 57.7, its lowest level since October 2016. Confidence has dropped 6.4 points during the past 12 months.

The retreat was led by a 7.3-point drop in employer views of the Massachusetts economy, and a 2.4-point drop in opinions about the national economy.

Overall confidence remains within optimistic territory, but every element of the AIM Index is now lower than it was a year ago.

A separate survey within the January Business Confidence Index found that while 71 percent of Massachusetts employers have seen some effect from the US government’s imposition of tariffs on goods form China and other nations, only 10 percent of companies characterize the effect as “significant” or a threat to the existence of their business.

The most common consequence of the tariffs has been an increase in raw-material prices, followed by changes to the supply chain, supply interruptions, products affected by retaliatory tariffs and loss of overseas customers.

“The Massachusetts economy grew at 2.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2018 and continues to operate at near full capacity,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“At the same time, employers continue to confront uncertainty surrounding trade policy, demographic constraints on the labor market and the implementation of a sweeping paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts.”

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 January.

The 7.3-point drop in the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth left that indicator at 57.4. Confidence in the Massachusetts economy has declined 11.5 points since January 2018.

The U.S. Index measuring employer sentiment about the national economy dropped 2.4 points to 52.7, a decline of 12.1 points year-over-year. It marked the lowest reading for the U.S. Index since November 2016.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 1.8 points to 58.2. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, remained flat at 57.3 but has declined 9.3 points over 12 months.

Manufacturers (57.8) and non-manufacturers (57.7) were equally confident. There was also little difference in the confidence readings reported by large companies (57.9), medium-sized companies (57.7) and small companies (57.6). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (59.4) were more bullish than those in the west (55.3).

Economist Barry Bluestone, retired Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University and a member of the BEA, suggested that employers face two parallel sets of challenges - uncertainty about political issues such as tariffs and a more fundamental uncertainty about the limits of a full-employment state economy. He noted that wage and salary income growth was strong in the fourth quarter, rising 7.2 percent in Massachusetts on an annualized basis.

“A 3.3 percent unemployment rate, combined with an aging population and slow labor force growth will challenge the ability of Massachusetts employers to expand during 2019 and beyond,” Bluestone said.

Piling On Costs

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said the significant weakening of confidence in the Massachusetts economy also reflects frustration among employers with a cascade of expensive new state mandates, including a two-year MassHealth assessment, an increase in the minimum wage and the impending start of paid family and medical leave.

“We hear frequently from Massachusetts employers who feel under siege from both the sheer expense of these programs and the administrative burden they place on companies, particularly smaller companies,” Lord said.

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

Video Blog | Economic Outlook 2019

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 1, 2019 9:11:06 AM

The AIM Economic Outlook Forum on January 25 looked at creative solutions to the persistent shortage of skilled workers in Massachusetts. Watch as WBZ radio morning news anchor Jeff Brown moderates a discussion with Robin LeClaire, President of Lampin Corporation in Uxbridge; Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta and UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

Topics: Skills Gap, Massachusetts economy, AIM Executive Forum

AIM's John Regan Talks Issues on Comcast Newsmakers

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 31, 2019 12:38:52 PM

John Regan, AIM's Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, recently joined Comcast Newsmakers and host Jenny Johnson for a look at the issues facing employers as the Massachusetts Legislature begins a new, two-year session.

Regan.Comcast.2019

 

 

 

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker

The State of Massachusetts Business 2019

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 29, 2019 10:12:55 AM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts President Richard C. Lord delivered his final State of Massachusetts Business address last Friday before an audience of 300 business leaders in Waltham.

Lord said that at a time when there are more job openings than job seekers in New England and throughout the United States, Massachusetts must summon all its creativity and innovation to solve the structural shortage of qualified workers.

 

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Richard Lord, State of Massachusetts Business Address

Video Blog | Gearing Up to Address the Skills Crisis

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 28, 2019 8:00:00 AM

A key element to addressing the persistent shortage of skilled workers in Massachusetts will be encouraging collaboration among employers, schools, community colleges, universities and training providers to establish a consistent and logical path from learning to employment.

What will those collaborations look like?

They will probably look a lot like one developed last year by AIM member Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston and the Prime Motor Group of Westwood, which operates 70 auto dealerships throughout the US.

Prime had for many years hired graduates of Ben Franklin’s automotive technology program, but last year stepped up its involvement with Prime Scholars, a partnership that provides students both financial aid and the opportunity to get real-world training with one of the region’s largest auto groups.

Topics: Education, Workforce Training, Workforce Shortage

Many Job Openings, Few Job Seekers

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 25, 2019 11:41:10 AM

At a time when there are more job openings than job seekers in New England and throughout the United States, Massachusetts must summon all its creativity and innovation to solve the structural shortage of qualified workers, AIM President Rick Lord and a group of experts said today.

SOMB2019“There are 6.9 million job openings throughout the United States this morning. There are 6.2 million unemployed people throughout the United States looking for work. Closer to home, there are 51,000 more jobs available in the six New England states than people to fill them,” Lord told an audience of 300 employers during his final State of Massachusetts Business Address.

“The good news is that we live in a commonwealth known for creative solutions to seemingly intractable problems. A state that has produced everything from the game of basketball to the microwave oven to Facebook should certainly be a leader in ensuring that all its citizens share in the economic possibilities that lie ahead.”

Lord offered several recommendations to help Massachusetts employers find the people they need to fuel economic growth:

  • Overhauling the work-force development system to ensure that people of all ages are being taught the skills that employers demand.
  • Ensuring that the public schools provide the basic skills that allow students to compete for jobs that were not even envisioned 20 years ago.
  • Supporting and expanding vocational education.
  • Resolving the immigration issue that has restricted the availability of skilled foreign workers in Massachusetts and other education and technology driven economies.
  • Expanding opportunity to the full diversity of the Massachusetts population. Lord noted that the unemployment rate among people of color exceeds 6 percent in Massachusetts and among Latinos is 5.6 percent.
  • Encouraging collaboration among employers, schools, community colleges, universities and training providers to establish a consistent and logical path from learning to employment.

Lord highlighted several examples of such collaborations, including an initiative by Prime Motor Group to provide scholarships and employment opportunities to automotive technology students at the Benjamin Franklin School of Technology in Boston.

Robin LeClaire, President of Lampin Corporation in Uxbridge, said the 35-person manufacturing company is working on multiple fronts to attract and train people to replace a workforce heavily tilted toward 40 and 50-somethings. The company speaks frequently to middle- and high-school students to let them know that manufacturing offers a rewarding career path to young people who don’t wish to attend college or who cannot afford to do so in the traditional manner.

“They don’t know that there are jobs other than those that require going to college,” said LeClaire.

“We tell them that when they come to Lampin, we’ll pay for them to go to college.”

Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Work Force Development Rosalin Acosta said it is “astonishing” that the state economy added 185,000 people during 2018 amid a 3.4 percent unemployment rate. She warned, however, that the future work force – people 19 years of age or under – has virtually flattened.

“Where are we going to get all the people employers need, and how are we going to get the right people with the right skills,” Acosta said.

She told the audience that the Baker Administration is focusing its job-training resources on three key areas - manufacturing, health care and information technology.

University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said the commonwealth’s formidable lineup of colleges and universities are using internships and other experiential learning to ensure that students have the ability to meet the evolving needs of employers.

“Employers now look for employees who are more job ready that when we went to college,” Subbaswamy said.

Topics: Skills Gap, AIM Executive Forum, Workforce Training

Employer Confidence Weakens in December

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 14, 2019 8:30:00 AM

Massachusetts employers gave a big “Bah Humbug” to the year-end economy as business confidence withered in the face of a government shutdown and the largest one-month stock market decline since the Great Depression.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost three points to 58.6 during December, its lowest level since December 2016. Confidence readings have dropped five points during the past 12 months.

BCI.December.2018The retreat was led by an 8.6-point drop in employer views of the national economy, and a 4.7-point drop among manufacturing companies.

Overall confidence remains within optimistic territory, but less comfortably so than earlier in 2018.

“The Massachusetts economy remains strong, with a 3.3 percent growth rate and an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, but employers are increasingly concerned about factors such as financial-market volatility, a dysfunctional national political debate and challenges such as the cost of providing health insurance to employees,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

One employer who participated in the survey summarized the uncertainty: “A tremendous amount of unknowns are ahead.”

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 Lower

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

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth lost 2.4 points to 64.7, leaving it 2.9 points lower than in December 2017.

The 8.6-point decline in the U.S. Index to 55.1 left employer sentiment about the national economy 9.1 points lower than a year earlier. It marked the lowest reading for the U.S. Index since May 2017.

The Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations dropped 1.4 points to 57.8, down 4.3 points year-to-year. The Employment Index gained 1.2 points to 54.4 during the month, leaving it down a modest 2.3 points for the year, while the Sales Index declined 1.6 points in December.

Employers don’t expect to change their outlook anytime soon.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 2.6 points last month to 60.0. But the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, dropped 3.4 points for the month and 7.2 points for the year.

Non-Manufacturers (59.4) were slightly more optimistic than manufacturing companies (57.7), re-establishing a trend that existed for most of 2018. Large companies (60.5) registered higher confidence readings than medium-sized companies (57.3) and small companies (57.7). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (59.8) were more bullish than those in the west (57.0).

Paul Bolger, President of Massachusetts Capital Resource Company and a member of the BEA, suggested that uncertainty about economic factors such as slowing corporate profits, rising interest rates, and trade are overshadowing employer confidence in what remains a fundamentally strong growth pattern.

“Employers are cautiously watching earnings warnings from Apple and other major brands, while hoping that negotiations between the US and China are able to ratchet down the trade war,” Bolger said.

Eye on Health Costs

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said moderating the cost of providing health insurance to employees remains the biggest concern for employers who participated in AIM’s biennial Issues Survey in the fall.

That’s one reason, Lord said, that AIM has called upon the Legislature and Governor Charlie Baker to end immediately the two-year assessment imposed on employers last year to close a financial gap at the state’s MassHealth insurance program for low-income residents.

“The assessment is no longer necessary because employers last year paid tens of millions of dollars more than anticipated under the levy. Businesses are on track to contribute some $519 million by the time the assessment sunsets at the end of this year instead of the $400 million envisioned under the 2017 legislation,” Lord said.

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

Business Confidence Recovers in November

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 11, 2018 7:47:22 AM

Business confidence in Massachusetts recovered slightly during November amid a swirl of contradictory economic indicators ranging from agitated financial markets to international trade tensions to steady but slowing growth in the Bay State.

BCI.November.2018The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) gained 0.6 points to 61.6 in November, ending a three-month slide that brought confidence to its lowest level in more than a year.

The November reading was one point lower than in November 2017 and 2.5 points lower than at the beginning of the year.

Increased optimism about the state and national economies balanced employer concerns about their own operations and hiring plans during November. The reading remained well within optimistic territory, but employers are clearly also seeing risk on the horizon.

“The survey reflects the uncertainty facing employers amid a still-strong state and national economy,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employers are increasingly confident in the economy but less so in the prospects for their own companies and in their own hiring plans. Economic growth remained at a solid 3.3 percent in Massachusetts for the third quarter, but that was a slowdown from earlier in the year. Payroll employment was up for the quarter but weakened in August and September.”

One employer who participated in the survey summarized the uncertainty:

“We are up double digits, but tariffs are negatively impacting our … prices and lead times. Looking forward to more stable times.”

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 rose 2.4 points to 67.1, leaving it 1.9 points higher than in November 2017.

The U.S. Index gained 2.1 points to 63.7, up 1.5 points from a year earlier.

The Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations dropped 0.4 points to 59.2, down 3.1 points year-to-year. The Employment Index slid 3.8 points for the month while the Sales Index was up 2.3 points.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.7 points last month to 62.6 and 0.8 points for the year. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, gained 2.1 points for the month and lost 1.1 points for the year.

Manufacturers (62.4) were slightly more optimistic than non-manufacturing companies (60.8), reversing a trend that has existed for most of 2018. Companies in the eastern part of Massachusetts (64.0) were significantly more bullish than those in the west (58.5).

Large companies (62.3) and medium-sized companies (62.4) registered higher confidence readings than small companies (59.7).

Michael A. Tyler, CFA, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management and a member of the BEA, suggested that the wide swings in employer views of the overall economy and their own prospects may reflect growing discomfort with some emerging trends.

“Employers remain generally optimistic about a Massachusetts economy running at 3.5 percent unemployment and a growth rate of more than 3 percent. At the same time, the slowing housing market, rising interest rates, and continued uncertainty about trade are clearly causing concern,” Tyler said.

Post-Election Economy

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said employers at least have a clearer view of the political landscape now that the 2018 mid-term elections are completed.

“The prospect of divided government in which Democrats will control the US House of Representatives and Republicans the Senate and the White House provides some assurance to employers who do not relish policy lurches to the left or right,” Lord said.

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

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