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Ten Companies, Individuals  to be Honored with AIM Next Century Awards

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 7, 2017 2:02:18 PM

A sprawling Berkshire County factory turned world-renowned arts center, a company that has changed the way people interact with sound and a life-science equipment company that just built a $115 million campus in Burlington are among 10 organizations and individuals that will receive Next Century awards from Associated Industries of Massachusetts at a series of regional celebrations in September and October.

Combination.jpgNext Century awards honor employers, community organizations and individuals who have made unique contributions to the Massachusetts economy and the well-being of the people who live here.

AIM announced today that 2017 Next Century awards will go to TechSpring, the Baystate Health technology innovation center in Springfield; fastener manufacturer OMG Inc. of Agawam; biopharmaceutical company AbbVie of Worcester; Table Talk Pies of Worcester; MilliporeSigma of Burlington; state Senator Joan B. Lovely of Salem; Bose Corporation of Framingham; the National Lumber Family of Companies in Mansfield; home furnishings designer Annie Selke Cos. of Pittsfield; and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams.

“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 at the Wood Museum of Springfield History on September 28; Mechanics Hall in Worcester on October 5; the Riverwalk Complex in Lawrence on October 12; CBS Scene in Foxboro on October 19; and the Hotel on North in Pittsfield 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 and location of the celebration when each will receive the award.

TechSpring at Baystate Health | September 28 | Wood Museum of Springfield History

TechSpring, a health-care technology innovation center launched in 2014 by the regional medical services company Baystate Health, provides technology companies access to a live health system to test and validate digital-health solutions.

Funded initially with a $5.5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, TechSpring calls itself a "collision space" where innovators in the health-care technology field can work with Baystate Health, gaining access to its data and to its expertise in return for developing technologies that help improve people's health.

The vision, according to the organization, is “to create a vibrant innovation community with companies of all sizes, entrepreneurs, developers and non-profits, interacting informally and formally to create change in healthcare through technology development, assessment and deployment.”

It’s a project that has attracted high-profile strategic partners ranging from IBM and Dell to health-care companies like Premier Inc., Cerner, Careport Health and Medecision.

TechSpring operates four distinct programs:

  • TechSpring Projects: A pathway and process for technology companies to validate their health solutions in a real-life health-care context.
  • TechSpring Insights: A community of healthcare professionals, leaders and patients who provide feedback and insight.
  • Flexible work and event space for individuals or teams working in health care or technology.
  • Informatics Innovation Platform to facilitate interoperability and analytics development.

Among the companies and projects that have worked with TechSpring are Boston-based Careport Health, which developed a tool that helps hospitals establish collaborative relationships with their post-acute provider network to increase the quality, transparency and efficiency of patient care transitions. This spring, Careport was acquired by AllScripts, a leading health-care technology company.

Another success story has been Praxify, an India based start-up working with Baystate doctors on technology that lets them update paperwork from the bedside while conversing with the patient. Praxify was recently acquired by Athenahealth for $63 million.

In addition to the continued strong innovation collaboration with Cerner, TechSpring in April announced a partnership with InterSystems HealthShare® interoperability platform and J2 Interactive.  This allows technology leaders to have access to a living lab to accelerate their innovations.

Baystate Health is a $2.5 billion health system with more than 12,000 employees serving 800,000 patients in Western Massachusetts.

OMG Inc. | September 28 | Wood Museum of Springfield History

It is perhaps appropriate that one of the nation’s foremost manufacturers of fasteners has become a lynchpin of the Western Massachusetts economy.

Thirty-six-year-old OMG Inc. of Agawam has grown to $280 million in sales. Originally known as Olympic Fasteners, the company makes screws, washer plates, vents, metal edges, adhesives and construction equipment for commercial flat roofs like those over factories and big-box retailers. OMG Roofing is the market leader in Roof fastening.

OMG also makes FastenMaster, a line of screws for residential construction. The company sells FastenMaster at lumber yards and home centers around the country.  

Altogether, OMG manufactures a billion screws a year.

And the company is expanding its manufacturing presence in Massachusetts. OMG recently completed a $15 million expansion to add heat-treating equipment to its manufacturing operation on Bowles Road. That facility in Agawam also house warehousing, administrative offices, product development and even a wind tunnel for testing roof assemblies.

The Agawam plant has about 400 employees out of the company's total of 560. Other plants are in Addison, Illinois, with about 50 employees; Asheville, North Carolina, with 50; Charlotte, North Carolina, with 15; and Rockford, Minnesota, where there are 10 to 15 employees. There also are warehouses across the country, as well as in Canada, China and in the Netherlands.

OMG is owned by Handy & Harman Ltd., a publicly traded company whose other businesses range from meat cutting, precious metals to power supplies.

But the measure of OMG’s economic influence goes beyond the number of people it employs and the compensation the company pays as it works to attract skilled people in a tight labor market.  OMG offers a benefits package that includes paid time off coming in the door, a company match on 401k contributions, a wellness program with both financial and physical fitness elements, tuition reimbursement, health, life and disability insurances.

The company also works to align its business activities with positive social values. Company employees are members of a shelter team with the American Red Cross and volunteer in various instances, most recently when OMG employees volunteered to coordinate local support for victims of Hurricane Harvey. OMG also maintains an employee-staffed Charitable Giving and Community Relations Committee, which promotes community giving and engagement activities throughout the year. OMG is a strong supporter of the American Red Cross, the Jimmy Fund and several other local causes.     

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AbbVie | October 5, Mechanics Hall, Worcester | 4:30-6:30 pm

AbbVie’s large research and manufacturing facility in Worcester is perched on a hillside above the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and the UMass Medical School in what’s known as a hub of biotechnology, academic research and manufacturing.

A global pharmaceutical company, AbbVie employs around 29,000 people in 70 countries. The 450,000-square-foot AbbVie Worcester facility employs approximately 900 employees who primarily focus on immunology drug research, protein engineering, and small-batch manufacturing of biotech drugs for clinical trials.

Fifty miles to the east, AbbVie also operates its Foundational Neuroscience Center in Cambridge where approximately 50 scientists focus on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies.

In addition to their scientific passion to come up with new approaches to addressing today’s health issues, AbbVie employees have forged a strong presence in the community with the company’s worldwide Week of Possibilities program. This June almost 100 Abbvie employees spent a day rebuilding the science lab at Worcester East Middle School, assembling furniture, organizing new books and setting up new technology.

“Our employees look forward to volunteering every year,” said Lisa Olson, AbbVie vice president of immunology research, who is based in the AbbVie Worcester office. “We know the love of science starts early and giving students the right tools to foster that love is one small way we can give back to our community.”

Table Talk Pies | October 5, Mechanics Hall, Worcester | 4:30-6:30 pm

Some businesses are so ingrained in the culture of a city that it is difficult to imagine one without the other.

Table Talk Pies has been inextricably bound to the economic history of Worcester since 1924, when Greek immigrants Theodore Tonna and Angelo Cotsidas founded what would become an iconic baked goods brand for generations of New Englanders. It’s a relationship that appeared to be over when the company struggled in the 1980s but one that is now assured as Table Talk settles into a modern manufacturing facility in the South Worcester Industrial Park.

In 2016, the business posted nearly $100 million in sales, with 300 full-time and seasonal employees.

“My only regret is that my father and grandfather can’t be here to witness this great day,” Table Talk Pies owner Harry Kokkinis, who represents the third generation of his family to run the company, told the Worcester Telegram and Gazette at the groundbreaking for the new building.

“Not only are we able to build the type of building that Table Talk needs to expand, but it’s also in the place we want to be. ... Worcester is so important to us, it has given us so much.”

Table Talk invested between $3.5 and $4 million in the new assembly lines and more than $5 million was spent on the building. The company also opened its first retail store in 20 years in January, decorated with old photos that tell the story of the company and the city that nurtured it.

It’s an extraordinary tale of rebirth for a family-owned company that almost didn’t make it to the third generation. After being sold in 1965 to Beechnut, the company changed hands several times before closing in 1984. In 1986, the Kokkinis family reopened Table Talk, focusing on selling snack pies to grocers and convenience stores. 

It’s been a growth story ever since as customers were again able to savor the company’s trademark 4-inch and 8-inch pies. The new one-story, open manufacturing facility be significantly more efficient than the maze of old buildings on Washington Street that housed the company for most of its history.

The relationship between Table Talk and Worcester extends to community involvement as well. The company focuses its activities on programs that address hunger, including St. John’s Food Pantry and the Worcester County Food Bank.

Senator Joan B. Lovely, D-Salem | October 12, The Riverwalk, Lawrence | 4:30-6:30 pm

At a time when compromise and collaboration are increasingly rare in American politics, Senator Joan Lovely of Salem this year brokered a landmark agreement between the business community and women’s advocates that led to passage of a consensus Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA).

Associated Industries of Massachusetts credited Senator Lovely with developing a bill that created on-the-job protections for pregnant workers while giving employers the flexibility to run their businesses. Governor Charlie Baker signed the PWFA on July 27.

“It is easy to confuse opposition to a draft of a bill with opposition to the issue itself. AIM is always willing to work with those seeking honest and effective compromise. That is exactly what happened with this legislation,” said AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord.

Senator Lovely, the Assistant Majority Whip, is now in her third term as state senator representing Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Salem and Topsfield. She has served in the Massachusetts Senate since January 2013.

After raising a family in Salem with her husband, Senator Lovely went back to school to earn degrees from Salem State University and the Massachusetts School of Law. She served for 15 years on the Salem City Council, during which time she served as City Council president, acting mayor, and was the Council liaison to the Council on Aging and Commission on Disabilities.

In addition to her duties as Assistant Majority Whip, Senator Lovely serves as assistant vice chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and as vice-chair of two committees - the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities; and the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, which she chaired in her second term, overseeing the commonwealth’s first Public Records reform in over 30 years.

Outside of her committee work, Senator Lovely is the Senate Chair of the Ellen Story Commission on Postpartum Depression, and is a member of the Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Options. She is also a member of the Massachusetts Legislative Aviation Caucus, Boating Caucus, and Gateway Cities Caucus.

MilliporeSigma | October 12, The Riverwalk, Lawrence | 4:30-6:30 pm

MilliporeSigma, the life science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is preparing to move into a new $115 million Life Science Center in Burlington that will serve as a major hub for its North American life science business.  It’s a singular vote of confidence for the Massachusetts economy and one that underscores the degree to which the commonwealth benefits from the global knowledge economy.

The 350,000-square-foot facility will include both the company’s M Lab™ Collaboration Center and North America’s only End-to-End Biodevelopment Center. The campus will also house a customer service and call center, labs and offices. It will be home to nearly 1,000 employees consolidated from several buildings in Billerica. The life-science business employs about 750 other people in Massachusetts who will remain at their current sites in Bedford and Danvers.

The company says its purpose “is to solve the toughest problems in life science by collaborating with the global scientific community – and through that, we aim to accelerate access to health for people everywhere.” 

MilliporeSigma is a leading, global supplier of product and services for both research and applied laboratory applications, as well as for formulating, purifying, manufacturing, and quality-assuring drug therapies of biological and chemical origin. Its offering ranges from antibodies to multiplexed assay kits, instruments and software, as well as lab productivity chemicals. With a broad portfolio of 300,000 products, 65 manufacturing facilities worldwide, and an industry-leading eCommerce platform, MilliporeSigma serves more than a million customers in 66 countries.

It’s a business that runs on research and innovation –  Approximately 1,500 people work in various R&D functions around the world. More than 2,100 products were launched in 2016, alone.

Bose Corporation | October 19, CBS Scene, Foxboro | 4:30-6:30 pm

Bose Corporation was founded in 1964 by Dr. Amar G. Bose, then a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Today, the company is driven by its founding principles, investing in long-term research with one fundamental goal: to develop new technologies with real customer benefits.

Bose innovations have spanned decades and industries, creating and transforming categories in audio and beyond.  From the company’s Wi-Fi home entertainment systems, Bluetooth speakers, wireless noise cancelling and audio headphones, to automotive sound systems and  professional solutions, and  Bose has changed the way people listen to music.

Bose Corporation is privately held.  The company’s spirit of invention, passion for excellence, and commitment to extraordinary experiences can be found around the world -- everywhere Bose does business.

 

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The National Lumber Family of Companies | October 19, CBS Scene, Foxboro | 4:30-6:30 pm

National Lumber Company has been providing quality building materials and services to builders across New England since 1934. Now known as the National Lumber Family of Companies with almost 700 employees, they have at least 200 employees who have been with the company for more than 10 years.

Both the owners and the employees engage in philanthropic activities in support of the communities they serve. The team includes trained professionals with experience in all aspects of building, who listen to customers and use their expertise to provide innovative solutions.

The organization encompasses nine lumberyards, six Kitchen Views cabinetry design showrooms, thirteen Benjamin Moore paint showrooms, the Reliable Truss and Components state-of-the-art truss and wall panel manufacturing facility, Pro Insulators installed insulation, and a modern millwork facility with custom workshop specializing in historic moulding replication. They provide products and solutions focusing on the success of their customers.

Family owned and operated since their grandfather founded the company in Roxbury, the company is now owned by brother and sister co-CEOs Steven Kaitz and Margie Kaitz Seligman. With the leadership of company president Manny Pina, National Lumber continues to innovate and grow to meet the needs of builders, contractors and remodelers.

In addition, homeowners can feel confident that whatever project they present, the knowledge they receive from the National Lumber team will help them do it right the first time.

National Lumber has consistently led the industry, from opening locations in strategic areas, to being involved in the development of truck-mounted forklifts. In the 1980s while competitors struggled and closed, belt-tightening and wise planning prepared the company for future growth.

They built an exemplary staff of outside sales and service personnel, created an inside sales support staff, and embraced developing computer and communication technologies, which still help them to work smarter, to be able to react quickly to an ever-changing industry. Keeping customers’ projects moving on schedule is important for everyone.

One comprehensive example of their continuing innovative solutions for builders is their exclusive RAPID FRAME® package of engineered floor systems. Their $1,000,000 investment in specialized equipment, means components arrive on the jobsite cut to within a 16th of an inch, with glue already applied to speed subfloor installation. Like a Lego kit, the instructions are included with all the pieces needed and ready to assemble. Contractors no longer require saws or glue guns. Plus, with no cutting required on the jobsite there is vastly reduced waste. Fewer labor hours speed up construction, making RAPID FRAME® superior to traditional framing.

Builders who work with National Lumber feel that they are part of their team, and have a measurable competitive edge by using cost-reducing construction techniques that improve building quality at the same time. In conjunction with roof trusses and wall panels manufactured to specifications and delivered to jobsites, builders complete their projects more profitably and on-time.

As the largest independent building materials dealer in New England, the National Lumber Family of Companies provides competitive wages and strong benefits for hundreds of families, who share in the success of the company. The entire National Lumber team supports the building industry, which is so vital to the economy of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art | October 26, Hotel on North, Pittsfield | 4:30-6:30 pm

The transformation of a vast complex of empty 19th-century mill buildings in downtown North Adams into the largest center of contemporary and performing art in the country at once symbolizes the change, resilience and hope that drive the Massachusetts economy.

North Adams confronted an economic cataclysm in 1985 when Sprague Electronics, which once employed 4,137 people on a site that makes up one-third of the downtown business district, closed its doors. Still an editorial in the North Adams Transcript was prescient when it wrote, “There is every reason to believe that a miracle is well on the way in these hills.”

Call it a miracle or something else, but the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art last year attracted 165,000 visitors and generated $22 million for the local economy. Those numbers are expected to increase this year now that the museum has opened a monumental new facility known as Building 6, adding 130,000 square feet of exhibition and performance space.

The new addition is being inaugurated with long-term installations by the artists Jenny Holzer, Laurie Anderson and most notably the air-and-space luminary James Turrell.

MASS MoCA exhibits art by both well-known and emerging artists, focusing on large-scale, immersive installations that would be impossible to realize in conventional museums. The museum also presents more than 75 performances year-round, including contemporary dance, alternative cabaret, world music dance parties, indie-rock, progressive bluegrass, outdoor silent films with live music, documentaries, and avant-garde theater.

The organization describes its role in expansive terms:

“If conventional museums are protective boxes, MASS MoCA strives instead to be a dynamic open platform—a welcoming environment that encourages free exchange between the making of art and its enjoyment by the public, between the visual and performing arts, and between our extraordinary historic factory campus and the patrons, workers, and tenants who once again inhabit it. That is, we strive to make the whole cloth of art-making, presentation, and participation by the public a seamless continuum… invigorating, enjoyable, and inclusive. We want you to feel at home here, whether it’s your 100th visit to a contemporary art museum or your first.”

MASS MoCA now employs 65 full-time people in a site that hosted manufacturing from the Revolutionary War until through mid-1980s. The facility was used during the late 1700s by small-scale manufacturers of everything from shoes to hats to milling machines, and then became the Arnold Print Works for 80 years before evolving into the headquarters of Sprague in 1942.

The idea of using the empty factory complex for cultural purposes develop amid conversations in the 1908s between then-North Adams Mayor John Barrett III and Thomas Krens, a former director of the Williams College Museum of Art, who eventually become director of the Guggenheim in New York. The transformation was eventually overseen by Joseph C. Thompson, who became MASS MoCA’s founding director and has been there since.

Annie Selke Cos.| October 26, Hotel on North, Pittsfield | 4:30-6:30 pm

Annie Selke Cos. may be the best-kept economic secret in Massachusetts.

The visionary designer has created what she calls a “spirited, design-driven family of companies” in the Berkshires through which she develops functional products for the home under the eponymous Annie Selke brand. She sells those products through brands such as Pine Cone Hill bedding, Dash & Albert rugs, Luxe, Fresh American and Annie Selke Outlet.

It’s an enterprise that employs 150 people in Pittsfield and spans multiple sectors of the economy, from retail to ecommerce to manufacturing and now hospitality. The company recently celebrated the opening of 33 Main, a “luxury lodging destination” in Lenox that showcases Selke’s home-furnishing designs.

"In an age where traditional brick-and-mortar retail is changing dramatically," Selke told The Berkshire Eagle, "it's about creating a brand-immersion experience like this where people can sleep in the sheets, use the pillows and rugs."

Selke’s designs have been featured in hundreds of magazines, blog and social posts, and TV segments, and she is a popular speaker at design conferences and events. In 2011, Clarkson Potter released her first book, Fresh American Spaces, which encourages individual self-expression through decorating. She is also the founder of the informative and irreverent blog Fresh American Style, which offers tips on decorating, shopping, travel, how-to projects and more.

The Stockbridge native created her business in 1994 on an industrial sewing machine on the dining room table of her home in Richmond. She grew and moved four more times before buying the 175,000-square-foot mill that houses Annie Selke Companies and its 6,400 products today.

The company sells those products to 4,300 wholesale and design customers in 15 countries. Among them are giant corporations such as Wayfair and Neiman Marcus as well as small independent shops like Hudson Interior Designs in Boston.

Annie Selke Cos. attributes much of its success to a work force it says is creative, collaborative and responsible. The company maintains a strong commitment to support the overall well-being of employees through professional and personal development and to “honor the balance between work and home life.”

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$15 Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave Approved for Ballot

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 6, 2017 2:46:50 PM

Attorney General Maura Healey today certified proposals for mandated paid family leave and a $15 per-hour minimum wage for inclusion on the 2018 statewide ballot questions.

Votingsmall.jpgThe two initiative petitions were among 21 potential ballot questions certified by the attorney general. Also approved were petitions to reduce the sales tax and re-establish an annual sales-tax holiday. Of concern to the business community were petitions to raise the annual percentage of renewable energy use in Massachusetts and mandate nurse-staffing ratios by statute.

The decisions mean that the 2018 ballot may contain three major proposals of concern to business – the paid leave and minimum wage petitions, and a constitutional amendment that would establish a 4 percent surtax on incomes of more than $1 million.

“The employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts are deeply disappointed with the decision to certify the paid-leave and minimum-wage increase questions. The paid-leave petition would create a new $1.3 billion benefit program that could increase by 40 percent every year,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“Employers will review the attorney general’s certification before deciding on the next step.”

The paid-leave proposal would allow covered workers to take up to 16 weeks of family leave or 26 weeks of medical leave. Workers could take family leave to care for a child after the child’s birth, adoption, or placement in foster care; to care for a seriously ill family member; or to address needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service.

Workers taking family or medical leave would receive 90 percent of their average weekly earnings, up to $1,000 per week. Beginning January 1, 2021, the weekly cap on benefits could be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index published by the United States Department of Labor for the Boston metropolitan area.

The proposed law would create a trust fund into which employers would pay 0.63 percent of each employee’s annual wages, up to half of which could be deducted from employee wages. Beginning October 1, 2021, the contribution rate would be reviewed and adjusted annually to ensure funding of at least 140 percent of the amounts paid out during the previous year.

AIM estimates that the likely cost per week per employee to fund the program will exceed $520 per employee yearly, more than the average $508 per employee that companies now pay for the $1.3 billion Massachusetts Unemployment Insurance program.

The minimum wage proposal would boost the commonwealth’s base wage from the current $11 per hour to $12 in 2019; $13 in 2020; $14 in 2021; and $15 in 2022. The proposed law would also raise the minimum cash wage that must be paid to tipped employees, which was $3.75 per hour as of January 1, 2017, to $5.05 in 2019; $6.35 in 2020; $7.64 in 2021; and $9 in 2022.

Topics: Minimum Wage, Massachusetts economy, Mandated Paid Leave, Paid Family Leave

Employer Confidence Dips; Overall View Remains Optimistic

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 5, 2017 7:30:00 AM

Massachusetts employer confidence edged lower for the second consecutive month during August, but remained comfortably in optimistic territory.

BCI.August.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) shed 0.3 points to 61.2 last month, leaving it 7.1 points higher than a year ago. The Index has been essentially flat since April and now stands 0.2 points lower than at the beginning of 2017.

Last month’s slip reflected offsetting trends in employer attitudes about conditions inside and outside their walls. Employers grew less bullish about their own companies during the month, but showed growing optimism about the national economy and about prospects for manufacturers.

“Employer confidence continues to move in a narrow range defined by broad optimism about both the state and national economies,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The steady level of confidence readings above the 60 mark reflect a state economy that grew at a 4 percent annual rate during the second quarter while maintaining a steady level of employment growth.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

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

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, remained unchanged at 63.2, still 6.3 points higher than in August 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.3 points to 60.2 amid strong signs of job expansion nationally. The US Index has risen 10.6 points during the past year, more than any other element of the overall Business Confidence Index.

Still, August marked the 89th 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, edged up 0.1 points points to 61.3 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, dropped 0.6 points to 61.2. The Future Index ended the month 6.3 points higher than a year ago.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 1.3 points to 60.9. The employment Index surged 2.3 points to 58.0 after losing ground during July.

Executives at manufacturing companies and those at non-manufacturing enterprises maintained almost identical confidence readings – 61.1 for manufacturers, 61.3 for non-manufacturers. The AIM Manufacturing Index has surged 9.9 points during the past year.

“Manufacturers in Massachusetts remain optimistic even though national economic signals for that sector remain mixed. The Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index was strong August, but the IHS Markit US Manufacturing PMI showed manufacturing expanding at its slowest pace since June 2016,” said Edward H. Pendergast, Managing Director of Dunn Rush & Co. in Boston and a BEA member.

Confidence was also remarkably consistent across all geographic regions of the commonwealth. Eastern Massachusetts companies posted a 61.3 reading during August versus 61.1 for companies in western Massachusetts.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, noted that a significant number of employers who responded to the August survey expressed frustration with the new $200 million health-insurance surcharge and the proliferation of complex and expensive employment laws.

“Amid a generally strong economy, employers feel under siege from a government and an electorate that seem willing to impose crushing financial burdens on job creators in the name of social progress,” Lord said.

“Employers are telling us that additional measures that may be headed to the statewide ballot – paid family leave, a $15 minimum wage and a punitive surtax on incomes of more than $1 million – may force them to relocate.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Two Bills Advance Efforts to Address Skills Shortage

Posted by Katie Holahan on Aug 14, 2017 7:30:00 AM

AIM’s Blueprint for the Next Century long-term economic plan for Massachusetts identifies the shortage of qualified workers as the central impediment to the future of the Bay State economy. Worker shortage cross almost every industry, from manufacturers in the Pioneer Valley to software companies in Boston’s Innovation District to research and engineering firms on the North Shore.

ManufacturingWorkerSmall.jpgThe 4,000 member employers of AIM believe there are three key steps to addressing the problem:

  1. Identify opportunities to restructure state work-force training programs to anticipate both near and long-term work-force growth;
  2. Diversify the types of relevant training and education available to students statewide; and,
  3. Allow the public education system the flexibility and adaptability to respond to the needs of the local and regional work force, so graduates enjoy greater economic opportunity.

Two bills recently released from the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will help Massachusetts achieve the first goal.

The bills, Senate 2109 and House 3804, filed by the late Senator Ken Donnelly and Representative Kenneth Gordon, respectively, would allow a transfer of up to $1.1 million, or 5 percent, of funds from the Workforce Training Fund to the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (WCTF) to be used for sector-based job training for non-incumbent workers. The Workforce Training Fund generates revenues via employer assessments, and is normally used to improve the skills of workers who are already on the job.

AIM advocated successfully for a pay-for-performance funding structure in the proposed grant program. Half of the grant funds in the program will be tied to job placement and retention outcomes. The money won’t be released until workers are trained and in their new, full-time jobs for two months. Such discipline and measurement will allow the state to connect the available workforce with employers so that all regions and industries have similar opportunities for success.

Training both incumbent workers and new workers will create the type of flexibility needed to respond to a changing economy while meeting clear job growth objectives.  As the commonwealth works to modernize and streamline its work-force development system, AIM will continue to advocate for such requirements in any similar pieces of workforce legislation.

The creation of a job and a person’s ability to do that job weave together every important aspect of social and economic stability: the desire for a better life; the ability to support a family; the confidence to start a business; and the need to support efficient government management of services like education, health care, and public safety.

New Greenhouse Regulations Will Drive Up Costs for Employers

Posted by Bob Rio on Aug 11, 2017 11:29:19 AM

The Baker Administration will today introduce new 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.

Electriclinessmall.jpgThe new rules aim to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, as required by state law.

Robert Rio, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM, issued the following statement:

“The 4,000 member employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts are extremely disappointed with the Baker administration’s new electricity sector regulations. The administration openly admits that these rules will increase Massachusetts electric rates that are already among the highest in the nation.

“The increases produced 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.

“These 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.  Instead, the administration has turned a blind eye to the corrosive impacts that high electric rates are having on struggling Massachusetts companies.

“The cost increases produced will harm consumers as well through higher rents, taxes and other costs of doing business.   

“AIM supports clean energy and is a leader in working with the administration to transition the power sector to cleaner sources.  These regulations are a setback to that effort."

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Environment, Energy

Governor to Sign Employer Assessment

Posted by Katie Holahan on Aug 2, 2017 7:43:35 AM

Governor Charlie Baker said last night that he intends to sign legislation imposing a $200 million MassHealth assessment on employers. The governor also reaffirmed his commiment to work with lawmakers to make long-term structural reforms to the state’s health-insurance program for low-income people.

“While this is certainly not the outcome we hoped for, we recognize that the governor’s decision is carefully considered and designed to achieve the ultimate, long-term goal of substantive MassHealth reform,” said Rick Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“We are encouraged by the repeated statements of commitment by both Senate and House leadership that reform of the MassHealth system is as high a priority for them as it is for the employer community.

“In 2006, employers joined with doctors, hospitals, patient advocates, and lawmakers to forge a health-reform law that required everyone to share the responsibility for improving access to health care. Right now, employers are faced with a policy levying a new tax on businesses without any corresponding cost-efficiencies implemented in the public health-care system. We anticipate a continued dialogue as we work to affect meaningful, sustainable, long-term MassHealth reform.

“We are willing – in fact, we must – join together once again with a renewed focus to ensure the commitments of the employer community are not made in vain,” Lord said.

Topics: Massachusetts state budget, Health Care Costs, Employer Health Assessment

Business Confidence Weakens Slightly in July

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Aug 1, 2017 9:19:07 AM

Massachusetts employer confidence meandered through the first full month of the summer, edging down during July but remaining well within optimistic territory.

BCI.July.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) shed 0.3 points to 61.5 last month, leaving it 6.4 points higher than a year ago. The Index has gained ground in five of seven months so far in 2017.

The July slip was led by the Employment Index, which dropped 2.4 points from June. Experts on the AIM Board of Economic Advisors believe the slide reflects employers’ inability to hire skilled workers amid a tight labor market rather than a hiring slowdown caused by economic factors.

“Confidence levels at or above 60 signal continued strong confidence among employers in the direction of the state and national economies,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The labor shortage is a serious issue. We hear anecdotes from companies in multiple industries that are turning away business or postponing expansions because they can’t find tech specialists, manufacturing workers or electricians to take the new jobs.”

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 July.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, lost a point to 63.2, still six points higher than in July 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 0.5 points to 57.9 despite lingering uncertainty about federal health-care and economic policy. July marked the 88th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, declined 0.7 points to 61.2 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, edged up 0.1 point to 61.8. The Future Index ended the month seven points higher than a year ago.

Operational Views

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.2 points to 62.2, up 6.3 points during the 12-month period. And though the employment Index dropped to 55.7 the Sales index rose for the third consecutive month, gaining 1.5 points to 64.1.

The AIM survey found that 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months are similar – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Winer Economic Consulting, said workers with the type of skills needed by employers in growing industries remain in short supply, even though Massachusetts has posted significant increases to its labor force so far in 2017.

“Employers report that it is increasingly hard to fill jobs. Job vacancies now significantly exceed new hiring. And yet, wage growth in the state has been near zero when adjusted for inflation,” Winer said.

Eastern Massachusetts companies were more confident in June than those in the western portion of the commonwealth. Eastern Massachusetts employers posted a 61.5 confidence reading in June versus 60.5 for employers in the west.

Manufacturing companies remained optimistic about the economy with the 59.6 confidence reading, but not as optimistic as employers outside the manufacturing sector, who posted a 63.6 result.

Massachusetts Backlash?

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, noted that employer confidence in the Massachusetts economy has stalled as the state legislature has taken several troubling votes, including one last week to force employers to close a $200 million gap in MassHealth with no long-term reforms to the program.

“Employers are thus left not only to struggle with the rising cost of providing health insurance to their own employees, but to bail out an unsustainable public insurance program as well,” Lord said.

“There are consequences to raising the cost of doing business and declining confidence is a red flag for what may come next.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Paul Ryan Visits New Balance; Says Tax Reform Coming This Year

Posted by Rick Lord on Jul 28, 2017 8:16:29 AM

For a man who carries the weight of the nation’s economy, budget and health-care systems on his back, US House Speaker Paul Ryan projects the approachable air of a neighbor who shows up at your door to lend you his hedge clippers.

Paul Ryan.jpgI joined other business leaders last Thursday afternoon meeting with Speaker Ryan during an event hosted by New Balance in Lawrence. Unfailingly gracious and remarkably relaxed, the speaker toured the only major foot-ware company that manufactures product in the United States to talk about the potential of tax reform to accelerate economic growth.

The rancorous Washington political debate followed the speaker to Massachusetts as labor unions and other protesters accused Ryan of being a “traitor” and of endangering people’s health with his political agenda. But inside the plant, humming with opportunity and economic activity, people of differing political stripes, Republicans and Democrats alike, left behind the public noise and engaged in a thoughtful discussion about how to encourage companies like New Balance to put people to work.

In other words, it was an event that more closely approximated the bipartisan, collaborative tenor of Massachusetts politics than anything that usually happens on the banks of the Potomac. Not everyone agreed on what tax reform should look like (AIM members are themselves far from unanimous about their approach to taxes) but everyone agreed that the system needs an overhaul.

The final contours of the Republican tax proposal are still being hammered out among the House, Senate and White House negotiators. But most observers expect the plan to reduce taxes on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to somewhere between 20 and 25 percent, consolidate tax brackets, reduce deductions and simplify the tax-filing process.

Ryan said that Republicans remain far more united on tax reform than on repealing health-care reform.

“We’re going to get this done in 2017,” he told reporters.

“Obviously, we’ve seen in the Senate there are a difference of opinions on how to do health care reform. We are so much more unified on tax reform, on what it looks like, and how to do it, and the need to do it.”

New Balance, a longtime AIM member, employs more than 1,700 Massachusetts residents who use intelligence, lean manufacturing and efficiency to make running shoes in a state where manufacturing  is always a challenge. The company also developed the $500 million Boston Landing project in Brighton, a 1.45 million-square-foot campus that includes a new company headquarters, state-of-the-art athletic complex, hotel, restaurants, retail space and parking.

My comments to Speaker Ryan noted that New Balance and other manufacturing companies struggle to grow and provide jobs because the cost of doing business remains higher in the United States than in many countries abroad. Those costs are particularly onerous here in Massachusetts, where employers pay more for energy, health care and other necessities than anywhere else in the country.

I told the speaker that AIM is working with Governor Charlie Baker and the Legislature to address the health-care and energy cost issues, but that both are complex, structural problems that demand long-term solutions. Federal tax reform, on the other hand, offers a unique opportunity to improve the business climate in a relatively rapid time frame.

It will also be important to help small businesses during the tax-reform process. Both President Trump and the US House appear ready to lower taxes on subchapter S corporations and other pass-through entities, just as those companies face the prospect of seeing their state tax burden increased under an ill-conceived “millionaires tax” on next year’s ballot.

We all understand the potential challenges of tax reductions on a federal deficit that reached $523.1 billion during the first nine months of the current budget year. We all understand the need to debate spending priorities, especially in a state like Massachusetts where economically important industries such as health care, defense and higher education depend upon federal funding.

But the fact remains that employers like New Balance pay federal taxes that are almost a third higher than competitors in other countries.

“Today, places like this, this is more the exception than the rule,” Speaker Ryan told the media at New Balance.

“That’s our problem. Companies are not flocking to the United States, companies are fleeing this country and taking their good jobs with them. They’re not storing up their profits and their capital here, they’re keeping them offshore.”

Topics: U.S. House of Representatives, Taxes

Legislature Levies Medicaid Assessment Minus Reforms

Posted by Katie Holahan on Jul 26, 2017 4:53:35 PM

The Massachusetts Legislature today levied a $200 million tax on employers to cover a shortfall in the MassHealth program without making long-term structural changes needed to solve the problem.

StateHouse-resized-600.pngThe House of Representatives and Senate took the action despite pleas yesterday from the Baker Administration and the business community to consider the assessment and the long-term reforms as a package. AIM believes the financial problems at MassHealth, which provides health insurance to 1.9 million residents, will become more severe without significant reforms.

The assessment would increase the Employer Medical Assistance Contribution (EMAC) and fall most heavily on companies where employees use MassHealth instead of an employer health plan. The assessment would be partially offset by a two-year Unemployment Insurance rate adjustment that would save employers $335 million over two years versus current rates.

“The 4,000 employer members of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) are deeply disappointed that the Legislature has again decided to impose an assessment on employers without reforming the MassHealth program and reining in the crippling cost of health insurance,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

“We note that the Legislature has pledged to pursue MassHealth reforms at a later date. We look forward to working with them on those reforms.”

The Legislature initially passed the reform-free assessment on July 7 as part of the budget for Fiscal Year 2018. Governor Charlie Baker returned that section of the budget to the Legislature 10 days later and asked lawmakers to pass the full package of reforms designed to place MassHealth on a firm financial footing.

The proposed reforms include:

  • Restructuring MassHealth coverage for non-disabled adults to look like commercial insurance coverage;
  • Moving 140,000 people with incomes more than the federal poverty level out of MassHealth and into ConnectorCare;
  • Shifting 230,000 MassHealth members from standard MassHealth coverage, which includes coverage for long-term care, into CarePlus, which does not;
  • Requiring the commonwealth to petition the federal government to re-establish the prohibition against employees who are offered employer-sponsored insurance from seeking coverage through MassHealth.

It is uncertain whether the governor will sign the newest version of the assessment.

“Employers are thus left not only to struggle with the rising cost of providing health insurance to their own employees, but to bail out an unsustainable public insurance program as well,” Regan said.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Health Insurance, Employer Health Assessment

AIM Calls for Long-Term Cost Changes to MassHealth

Posted by Rick Lord on Jul 25, 2017 2:19:20 PM

Editor's note - Associated Industries of Massachusetts President Richard C. Lord submitted the following testimony today to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Ways & Means and Joint Committee on Health Care Financing urging lawmakers to approve long-term structural changes to the state Medicaid program. AIM's Katie Holahan (above) delivered the same message in testimony before the committees.

On behalf of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and its 4,000 employer-members statewide, thank you for your continued engagement with the employer community on the difficult issues before you today. We are pleased that both committees have so promptly scheduled this hearing and the second hearing scheduled for this afternoon. 

AIM supports the language contained in Governor Baker’s amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, returned to you within Attachment F.  The amendment contains a complex agreement that was developed after months of intensive negotiations between the Baker Administration and the business community. We believe the comprehensive plan moderates the proposed employer assessment by coupling it with meaningful structural reforms to the public health insurance system and rate relief within the Unemployment Insurance system.   

It is vital to maintain all aspects of this package so we will not find ourselves addressing an even larger MassHealth budget deficit in two years than the one we confront today. 

AIM likewise supports language authorizing the Baker Administration to seek a federal waiver allowing Massachusetts to return to policies implemented within the 2006 Health Care Reform law, and to expand the scope of practice for certain health-care providers to facilitate lower-cost care. 

The 2006 reform law made employees who were offered employer-sponsored health insurance ineligible for MassHealth.  The intent was to balance the requirement that employers do their “fair share” in offering health insurance with concerns about the financial burden on the MassHealth system.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) reversed that policy and allowed income-eligible employees to decline employer coverage and seek insurance through MassHealth.  

The change created a migration of newly-eligible individuals from their employer-sponsored insurance to MassHealth, substantially increasing the commonwealth’s financial burden.  The ACA made public health insurance an economically rational choice for eligible residents in a state known for its expensive health-care system.   

As MassHealth enrollment grows, the commonwealth experiences the reality that employers have faced for years: the high cost of health-care coverage in this state threatens the underpinnings of our economy.  Policymakers who have concentrated almost exclusively on access and coverage now face a renewed imperative to lower the cost of health insurance for everyone in Massachusetts. 

AIM member employers are proud to lead the nation in providing health care coverage to their employees. Sixty-five percent of Bay State companies offer health insurance coverage to their workers, compared with 56 percent of employers nationwide. A full 100 percent of Massachusetts employers with 200 or more employees offer coverage.1 

The 4,000 member employers of AIM provide health insurance to the majority of residents in the commonwealth. 

But providing that coverage has financial consequences. 

According to the most recent data available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS), Massachusetts was the second highest-spending state for health care in 2014, 30 percent more than the national average. Personal health-care spending in Massachusetts, per capita, has increased more than 12 percent in five years – from $9,417 in 2009 to $10,559 in 2014. Cost growth like this is unsustainable and has accelerated in the face of attempts by both employers and the commonwealth to contain it. 

Businesses, in fact, have almost nothing to show in the way of cost savings and efficiencies five years after Massachusetts’ major push toward health care cost containment. 

The commonwealth has exceeded the 3.6 percent health spending growth benchmark in two of the past three measurement periods. Total Health Care Expenditures (THCE) grew by 4.2 percent from 2013 to 2014, and by 4.1 percent from 2014 to 2015. 2 

These cost increases are occurring in an industry in which experts agree that at least a third of all care is unnecessary – delivered in the wrong setting; marked by a lack of coordination; provided with an inadequate emphasis on prevention; harmed by medical errors; burdened with rules and fraud; or just plain excessive.  

Now, the employer assessment means that business is expected to shoulder the escalating costs of the public healthcare system, as well.  More importantly, they are being asked to close the MassHealth deficit absent any of the  long-term structural reforms needed to solve the underlying financial problems with the program. 

Eleven years ago, employers joined with doctors, hospitals, patient advocates and lawmakers to forge a health-reform law that required all parties to share the responsibility for improving access to health care. The employer community calls for that same sense of shared responsibility now to solve the MassHealth shortfall. 

Thank you for considering AIM’s views and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need any further information.  

Topics: Massachusetts state budget, Controlling Health Care Costs, Employer Health Assessment

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