AIMBlog_Logo_Resized

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

Video Blog | Newburyport Apparel Company Maintains Global Outlook

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Nov 26, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Bennett & Co., winner of a 2018 AIM Global Trade Award, is one of the leading designers and manufacturers for women’s intimate apparel, sleepwear and lingerie worldwide. Offices located in Newburyport are home to all of Bennett & Co.’s design, research and development efforts. Founder and CEO Jacalyn Bennett owns her manufacturing facility in Guangzhou, China, from which completed products are sent around the world on behalf of Bennett’s brand-name retail clients. Bennett & Co.’s 60,000 products and styles are produced with a minimal environmental footprint.

Topics: International Trade, AIM International Business Council, Massachusetts employers

Video Blog | John Hancock Maintains Global View

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Nov 19, 2018 8:00:00 AM

John Hancock, winner of a 2018 AIM Global Trade Award, is both a major Massachusetts employer and an ambassador for the commonwealth globally.

Owned by Canadian multinational insurance company Manulife, John Hancock offers a broad range of financial products to individuals and corporations.  Equally important, as the lead sponsor of the Boston Marathon, John Hancock plays a major role in bringing global elite athletes and the world’s attention to Massachusetts each April. 

Topics: International Trade, AIM International Business Council, Massachusetts employers

Video Blog | Universal Plastics Brings Global Growth Back Home

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Nov 13, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Universal Plastics of Holyoke, winner of the 2018 Associated Industries of Massachusetts Global Trade Award,  manufactures custom thermoformed plastic parts and manages global supply chains for some of its aerospace and medical customers.  Universal Plastics is also “re-shoring,” or bringing back some production from overseas.  The company has five manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and 300 employees in Massachusetts. Watch their story, below.

 

Topics: International Trade, Massachusetts Manufacturing, Massachusetts employers

Business Confidence Drops to 17-Month Low

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 6, 2018 8:04:29 AM

Business confidence in Massachusetts declined to its lowest level in 17 months during October as the uncertainties that roiled global financial markets seeped into employer outlooks.

BCI.October.2018The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 1.6 points to 61.0 last month, the fourth decline in the last five months.

The reading remains well within optimistic territory, but the BCI now sits 1.7 points lower than its level of a year ago and at its lowest point since May 2017.

Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design, said the October decline is noteworthy because of large declines in employer confidence in their own operations, and among manufacturers.

“Fears about slowing growth, trade wars and rising interest rates buffeted financial markets this month, and some of those same fears, combined with an increasingly acrimonious mid-term election, affected employers as well,” Torto said

“The good news is that the fundamentals of the economy remain strong. MassBenchmarks reports that the Massachusetts economy grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate during the third quarter and the national economy added 250,000 jobs last month.”

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 almost all lower during October.

The one exception was the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, which rose 0.2 points to 64.7. Confidence in the state economy has declined 0.4 points since October 2017.

The U.S. Index lost 2.0 points to 61.6, leaving it 0.9 points lower than a year ago.

The Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations dropped 2.0 points to 59.6, down 2.4 points year-to-year. The Employment Index lost 0.3 points during October while the Sales Index tumbled 3.1 points to 57.4.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 1.0 point last month to 63.3 and 0.3 points for the year. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, lost 2.1 points for the month and 3.2 points for the year.

Non-manufacturers (61.7) were slightly more optimistic that manufacturing companies (60.3). Companies in the eastern part of Massachusetts (61.7) were more bullish than those in the west (60.3).

Medium-sized companies (62.1) registered higher confidence readings than either large companies (59.5) or small companies (60.6), an unusual result since large companies typically show the most optimism on the BCI.

Katherine A. Kiel, Professor of Economics at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and a member of the BEA, suggested that large companies may be particularly concerned about the ratcheting up of trade tensions between the United States, China and other trading partners.

“Employers responding to the survey are expressing fears about the potential effects of rising tariffs both on the price of raw materials and their ability to expand overseas markets,” Kiel said.
Intersection of Politics, Economy

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, agreed that international trade friction and uncertainty about the duration and scope of new tariffs are clouding employer views of an otherwise solid economy.

“Concerns about trade and tariffs are likely to influence employer decisions as we move toward the end of 2018 and into the New Year. Hopefully, the results of the mid-term elections today will shed some light on the direction of trade policy moving forward.”

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

Congratulations to Top Women-Led Companies

Posted by Rick Lord on Oct 26, 2018 10:54:10 AM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts congratulates 19 member employers who made the 2018 Top 100 Women-Led Businesses list released today by The Commonwealth Institute and The Boston Globe.

The companies range from financial services giant Fidelity Investments to Babson College. Three of the companies are led by members of the AIM Board of Directors – Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries of Boston, Joanne Hilferty, President and CEO; Onyx Paper of South Lee, Pat Begrowicz, President; and Sensata Technologies of Attleboro, Martha Sullivan, President and CEO.

“The companies on this list represent the best of the Massachusetts business community,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“The women who own or run these companies have not just shattered glass ceilings but built their businesses in a manner that creates economic opportunity for all Massachusetts residents.”

AIM members on the list are:

  • Babson College, Kerry Healey, President
  • Children's Hospital, Sandra Fenwick, President & COO
  • Catholic Charities of Boston, Debbie Rambo, President
  • Comcast (Greater Boston), Tracy Pitcher, SVP Greater Boston
  • Current, Powered by GE, Maryrose Sylvester, President & CEO
  • D'Youville Life & Wellness, Naomi Prendergast, President
  • ET&L Corp, Jennie Colosi, President & Treasurer
  • Eastern Insurance, Hope Aldrich, President & CEO
  • Elaine Construction, Lisa Wexler, President
  • Fidelity Investments, Abigail Johnson, President & CEO
  • Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Mary Moscato, President
  • Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, Amy Schectman, President & CEO
  • Massachusetts Medical Society, Lois Dehls Cornell, Executive Vice President
  • MassDevelopment, Lauren Liss, President & CEO
  • Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, Joanne Hilferty, President & CEO
  • New England Baptist Hospital, Trish Hannon (David Passafaro)
  • Onyx Paper, Patricia Begrowicz, President
  • Sensata Technologies, Martha Sullivan, President & CEO
  • Umass Lowell, Jacquie Moloney, Chancellor

The honorees were announced this morning at The Commonwealth Institute/Boston Globe Top 100 Women-Led Businesses breakfast at the Boston Marriott Copley hotel.

AIM.TopBusinesses2018

AIM staff members congratulate association Treasurer Joanne Hilferty (third from left), President and CEO of Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries in Boston, on being named among the Top Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts by The Commonwealth Institute and The Boston Globe. Staff members include, left to right, Kathleen Worthington, Katie Holahan, Ms. Hilferty, Kristen Rupert, Celia Grant, Beth Yohai and Debbie Carroll.

Topics: Massachusetts employers, Women-Owned Business

Berkshire Award Winners Discuss Business Success

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 19, 2018 4:49:01 PM

Three Berkshire County employers who will be honored with Next Century and Sustainability Awards next Thursday by Associated Industries of Massachusetts, sat down recently on the John Krol Show to discuss business success.

The program, sponsored by AIM-member Berkshire Money Management, featured Canyon Ranch in Lenox, B&B Micro Manufacturing of North Adams and Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing of Pittsfield.

Watch the video and then join us in Pittsfield on Thursday as we honor these forward-thinking companies. There is no charge to attend, but pre-registration is required.

 

Register for the Berkshire Employer Celebration

Topics: Massachusetts employers, AIM Next Century Award, AIM Sustainability Award

Employer Training Drives Growth in Educational Technology

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 26, 2018 1:30:00 PM

The educational technology sector in Massachusetts, which already employs some 25,000 people, continues to grow in large part because of burgeoning interest by employers in providing training to employees, according to a new report from an industry accelerator.

StateofWorkforceThe State of Work Force Edtech, published by LearnLaunch in Boston, reports that investors are pouring tens of millions of dollars into Massachusetts educational technology companies such as CareAcademy and Authess. But while the industry grew initially by developing software and services for colleges and universities, the action is now around worker training.

“We found that close to $3 billion has been invested in last three years in whole set of new players providing either functional training or 21st century skills or marketplace skills,” says Eileen Rudden, co-founder of LearnLaunch.

“It addresses the whole system of how companies are finding and growing employees in a tight labor market in Massachusetts.”

The report, funded by the Lumina Foundation, finds that workforce educational technology companies in the United States attracted $2.9 billion in funding between 2015 and this year, with half of that money going into companies developing solutions to train workers, rather than to educational institutions. The potential market is immense in a world where experts believe that technology disruption may displace as many as 800 million jobs worldwide.

The global market for corporate learning alone is expected to reach $31 billion by 2020.

“To keep pace with innovation, modern corporations are expanding their learning and development programs. On-demand training is essential to corporations operating in dynamic and compliance-driven markets. In addition, businesses are increasing the use of online functional training programs as middle-skill talent becomes scarcer,” the report concludes.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which provides management and human-resources education for hundreds of employers, is part of the trend. The association has for many years offered online training courses in collaboration with MindEdge Inc. of Waltham.

“The persistent challenge of finding skilled employees is placing a premium on training as a means of improving productivity and reacting to market opportunities,” says Gary MacDonald, Executive Vice President of AIM HR Solutions.

The LearnLaunch Accelerator provides educational technology startup companies with access to capital, mentors, knowledge and work space. The organization has nurtured more than 45 companies.

Rudden said educational technology startups are still selling to colleges and universities, where 25 percent of graduate degrees are earned online, as well as to so-called “informal” education settings such as coding boot camps. Some companies such as New York-based Trilogy Education Services are combining those markets by establishing partnerships to deliver training boot camps within universities.

Investment in the Massachusetts Edtech sector has been steady:

  • Panorama Education raised a $16 million B round led by Emerson Collective
  • Ellevation Education raised a $10 million B round led by Reach Capital
  • Better Lesson raised a $10 million B round led by Owl Ventures
  • Tinkergarten - $5.4 million Series A led by Owl Ventures
  • DataCamp - $4 million Seed 4 funding led by Arthur Ventures
  • College Vine raised $3.1 million a round from Morningside Technology Ventures
  • AdmitHub raised $2.9 million led by Reach Capital
  • Pragya Systems - $1.67 million of Series 1 and 2 Seed funding from undisclosed investors
  • KinderLab Robotics - $1 million raised of Seed funding from Brain Robotics Capital
  • Chalk Talk - $2 million from undisclosed investors.
  • CareAcademy - $1.93 million Seed led by Rethink Education, Lumina Foundation and Techstars

Topics: Technology, Workforce Training, Massachusetts employers

Twelve Companies Honored with 2018 AIM Next Century Awards

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 4, 2018 8:30:00 AM

NextCentury2018

A world-renowned wellness resort in the Berkshires, a Southbridge manufacturer that has made cutlery since James Monroe was president, and a clean-technology incubator that has launched more than 170 companies are among 12 organizations and individuals that will receive Next Century awards from Associated Industries of Massachusetts at a series of regional celebrations in September, October and November.

Next 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 2018 Next Century awards will go to Greentown Labs of Somerville; Cityscapes of Boston; 99 Degrees Custom of Lawrence; Gem Group Inc. of Lawrence; Lancaster Packaging of Hudson; Dexter Russell Inc. of Southbridge; Six Flags New England of Agawam; United Personnel of Springfield; Canyon Rach of Lenox; B & B Micro Manufacturing of North Adams; Accurounds of Avon; and Sensata Technologies of Attleboro.

“AIM created the Next Century Award to honor the accomplishments of companies and individuals creating a new era of economic opportunity for the people of Massachusetts. These remarkable people and institutions - world leaders in their fields – inspire the rest of us by exemplifying the intelligence, hard work and dedication to success that has built our commonwealth,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

Award winners will be honored at AIM regional celebrations in Boston on September 27, Lawrence on October 4, Worcester on October 11, Holyoke on October 18, Pittsfield on October 25, and Easton on November 1. 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.

Greentown Labs | September 27 | 100 High Street Amenity Center | Boston

Somerville-based Greentown Labs is the largest hardware-focused, cleantech incubator in the country, providing 100,000 square feet of prototyping lab and office space to entrepreneurs building products to address society’s biggest environmental challenges.

Greentown Labs was born in 2011 when five entrepreneurs - Jason Hanna of Coincident, Sam White and Sorin Grama of Promethean Power Systems, Jeremy Pitts of Oscomp Systems and Adam Rein of Altaeros Energies - were looking for affordable space to keep building prototypes after they graduated from MIT. The organization has since nurtured more than 170 startup companies that have together created 1,200 jobs and raised more than $350 million in funding.

The organization currently houses 90 companies that are building and commercializing solutions for renewable-power generation, sustainable transportation, energy efficiency, battery storage, industrial- waste recycling, and water conservation. In late 2017, Greentown Labs expanded its campus within the Union Square neighborhood of Somerville and added 58,000 square feet of coworking, prototyping lab, chemistry lab, and event space.

Among the companies to grow out of Greentown are Bevi, Accion Systems, NBD Nano, RightHand Robotics, Open Water Power, and Piaggio Fast Forward. 

Greentown Labs also maintains a Manufacturing Initiative that allows startups to establish working relationships with manufacturers throughout the commonwealth. The Manufacturing Initiative has facilitated nearly 800 connections between startups and manufacturers leading to more than 75 contracts.

Cityscapes| September 27 | 100 High Street Amenity Center | Boston

“I transform people’s lives with the power of plants.”

Janice Goodman, founder and CEO of the interior-scape company Cityscapes, has built a thriving business by bringing the outdoors inside at glass-and-steel office structures throughout Boston.

Forget the single plant in the corner of your office – Goodman and her 70 employees believe the business is about biophilia, the concept developed by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson identifying the innate human and emotional connection to nature. Cityscapes has made that connection everywhere from the Wintergarden at the Prudential Center to the renovated atrium at 100 Federal Street, where the company installed two “living walls” of plants.

Cityscapes blossomed in 1992 from a retail flower business called Fleurtacious that Goodman operated in Copley Square. Cityscapes provides design consultation, weekly guaranteed plant maintenance, flowering plant programs, seasonal displays and exterior landscape services for property management companies, office buildings, corporations and hotels throughout the greater Boston area.

Cityscapes uses live plants in areas where nature is sparse. Goodman says the process is especially important today amid a worldwide building boom of office towers.

“Traditionally, with urban expansion, many natural open spaces are lost, but designing with nature in mind will benefit us all in the end,” she says.

“Today’s built environments can and quite often do cause stress. Biophilic design is a solution to this issue, decreasing negative effects on people and nature alike, while facilitating the connection between the two.”

Goodman is a professional speaker and registered instructor for the American Institute of Architects Continuing Education system; and for BOMI, Building Owners Managers Institute, offering educational credits and programs to architectural and commercial property professionals.

Cityscapes is heavily invested in supporting community organizations. The company donates plant material and holiday decorations to local charities and non-profit organizations such as the Brookview House, Friends of the Elderly, The Home for Little Wanderers, The Pine Street Inn, The American Cancer Society, Hope in Bloom, Rosie’s Place, and the Veterans Hospitals throughout Boston.

Goodman and her staff also invite children from local day-care centers to the greenhouse, so they can learn about plants and how they help the environment.  Cityscapes has provided jobs for people with disabilities for more than 18 years.

99 Degrees Custom | October 4 | The Riverwalk, Lawrence

“Apparel, meet your future.”

99 Degrees Custom of Lawrence is seeking to create nothing less than a second industrial revolution in a city that was a cradle of the first.

The company launched in 2013 with a vision of melding technology, design, just-in-time manufacturing and socially conscious management into a new model for the apparel industry. Thirty-four-year-old founder and CEO Brenna Nan Schneider calls her vision “inclusive innovation.”

99 Degrees Custom fills specialty orders for activewear – everything from oven mitts to running jackets.   Applications include military, medical, and consumer markets. The company offers full development services, sample making, small-batch manufacturing, and production.

Customers include start-ups and established brands like New Balance. Schneider has grown by helping apparel companies complement their forecast-based global supply chain with demand-driven domestic production. That allows the companies to keep inventory in stock, reduce mark-downs, and eliminate sold out styles, colors, and sizes.

“By combining a smart and responsive supply chain model with wearable technology integration, we envision a bright future for US apparel manufacturing and jobs,” the company says.

99 Degrees Custom is known for lean process, a team committed to continuous improvement, and production lines engineered for agility. It works “on the cutting edge of sew-free and wearable technology integration as well as on-demand and mass customization manufacturing.”

Schneider’s long-term plan is to become a major apparel manufacturer with 1,000 jobs that allow employees to support themselves and their families.

“You have families working fulltime jobs living in poverty and more jobs that are being created that place people in poverty,” says Schneider.  “So how do we change that?”

Schneider starts by paying her workers above the minimum wage.   She has also created a culture in which learning is a priority.   Speed and quality are important, but what she wants most from her employees is to continuously learn – technical skills and executive ones, like solving problems.

99 Degrees Custom has garnered numerous awards, including the 2017 Massachusetts Legislative Caucus Manufacturing Award, the MIT Inclusive Innovation Prize and The Boston Globe’s Game Changers list.

The Gem Group | October 4 | The Riverwalk | Lawrence

The Gem Group is a multi-award winning, industry leader selling primarily into the promotional products market.

Going to market under the line name, Gemline, they are one of the Promotional industry’s largest suppliers as ranked by the Advertising Specialty Institute. Gemline is headquartered in Lawrence, Massachusetts and has a technical center in Southern China.

The company is run by Jonathan Isaacson, who bought the company from family members in 1994. Gem moved to Lawrence in 1997 and has experienced significant growth since they arrived in the Merrimack Valley. They currently employ almost 400 people in the Lawrence facility

Known for their on-trend, high quality merchandise, their product line consists of a wide range of bags, business accessories, gifts, stationary, and electronics. Beyond the Gemline brand of products, they also have exclusive brand partnerships with high-quality consumer brands such as Moleskine, Samsonite, American Tourister, Hartmann, Igloo, Brookstone, and Zebra. They recently added food gifts to their assortment.

Key to Gemline’s success is their focus on “Pride in People and Pride in Product”. This is the foundation of their continuous improvement program, called the Gem Performance System (GPS), which is based on the principals of Lean Manufacturing.

The core of the GPS system revolves around developing great people, who in turn develop the exceptional products and services that drive corporate growth. Each associate in the company is expected to participate in the GPS activity, which is seen both as a cultural framework as well as a vehicle for continuous improvement.

For example, the company asks each associate to implement at least 50 ideas for improvement within their span of control. Since the program has been implemented, the company has harvested more than 35,000 individual ideas to improve performance.

The engagement of the associates at Gem with the GPS system begins from day one. New associates are trained in core values such as trust, integrity, and humility. They are encouraged to seek personal development through a framework Gem describes as “respect for people”. This system is supported with continual investment in the development of their people, teaching them to make problems visible, and to create solutions with a data driven methodology that seeks to get to a root cause.

Beyond the obvious benefits around quality, cost, and delivery, this system has led to Gem being seen as an employer of choice, with the better ability to recruit and retain talented individuals.

Equally important, Gem is exceedingly proud that, with a corporate focus on training and development, many managers have come up through the ranks. A number started at entry level positions, some entering with no degrees, few skills, and limited English language ability.

Gem recognizes that, in many cases, this was indicative of an opportunity gap rather than a talent gap. So, with Gem’s focus on training and development, and through the hard work and abilities of these individuals, many have risen to become exceptional managers with broad responsibility.

Outside of Gem, and in keeping with their corporate values around engagement, Gem is a proud partner with the local community. Gem works with local organizations that provide advancement opportunities for the many talented individuals in the community, who might only require an opportunity to help realize their potential.

Gem believes that it is a corporate obligation to be a part of the community. And, by being an active participant in community development, they not only make a better community, but they also make a better place for their associates to live. This ultimately will help the company itself to better realize its full potential.

Dexter-Russell Inc.| October 11 | Mechanics Hall | Worcester

The oldest and largest maker of professional cutlery in the United States celebrates 200 years in business in 2018, an extraordinary accomplishment that underscores the adaptability and foresight of manufacturers who continue to thrive in Massachusetts.

Dexter-Russell Inc. employs more than 200 people at its plant in Southbridge just west of Worcester. The company manufacturers about 2,400 different products, from steak knives to pizza cutters, many of which end up in restaurants or meat and seafood processing plants. Many New England fisherman prefer a Dexter knife to cut their stripers, fluke or tuna.

Efficiency and automation are the reasons that the company has been able to prosper during a period when many manufacturers have not, according to President and CEO Alan Peppel, a longtime member of the AIM Board of Directors.

“We have always believed in continuous improvement, and now are overlaying more aggressive lean manufacturing concepts. In addition, we have always reinvested back into the business using the most advanced machinery in the world to make our products world class in quality and efficiency,” Peppel says.

Dexter-Russell, Inc. is successor to two venerable American cutlery manufacturers: The Harrington Cutlery Company and the John Russell Cutlery Company.

Henry Harrington, a New England craftsman and inventor, established the first cutlery company in the United States on June 18, 1818 in Southbridge. Harrington manufactured surgical equipment and shoe knives.

He introduced the Dexter trade name in 1884. Named after Henry Harrington’s son, the Dexter line of fine kitchen and table cutlery soon gained a reputation for quality in America's homes and restaurants.

Another New Englander, John Russell, founded his Green River Works on March 1, 1834. After having made his fortune in the cotton industry, Russell, at age 37, turned his energies to the manufacturing of quality cutlery. He built his water powered factory on the banks of the Green River near Greenfield.

On May 1, 1933, the Harrington Cutlery Company and the John Russell Cutlery Company merged, bringing together the two most respected names in cutlery. The new company, Russell Harrington Cutlery Company, offered a broad range of quality cutlery products from the famous knives that "won the west" to innovative cutlery for the professional and industrial markets.

After an ownership change in 1968, the company changed its name to Dexter-Russell, Inc. in 2001 to reflect its long history of product brand identity.

Just as John Russell paid generous wages in the nineteenth century to attract skilled craftsmen from Europe, Dexter-Russell today competes for talent with pay and benefits such as a profit-sharing plan that is available to all employees. It was one of the first profit-sharing plans created in the country at the time.

The program gives workers the opportunity to contribute up to 5 percent percent of their earnings into their 401-K retirement fund each year. When combined with the company’s match and separate contribution based on profitability, an employee can save 20 percent of earnings annually into their own retirement account. More than 90 percent of employees participate.

Another element of the company’s success and longevity, according to Peppel, is its practice of being close to the customer and listening to customer needs. The company is often able to identify a need, then engineer and manufacture a knife, turner, or other product and have it delivered in less time than it would take to make and ship the product from overseas.

“Our success is evaluated every day: how well do we meet our customers’ needs; and as a manufacturer, how well do we improve our products and our manufacturing processes to improve quality and efficiency,” Peppel says.

Lancaster Packaging | October 11 | Mechanics Hall | Worcester

Marianne Lancaster has built the Hudson-based supply management and wholesale packaging distribution firm she started straight out of college 29 years ago into a national company with 18 employees operating out of two buildings.

It’s a small-business success story forged against challenges ranging from the 2008 recession to competition from large national players to the unique financial and operational issues that confront minority women business owners. She has persevered not only by growing her own company but also by becoming a respected voice helping fellow minority entrepreneurs access the resources they need.

Lancaster Packaging can source industrial packaging, often with military specifications, from multiple suppliers with which it has built relationships over the years. The company also keeps a supply of packaging in its Hudson warehouse to help clients who need it quickly. Certain sizes and types of packaging built to military specs can take time to order from a custom shop - having it available in Lancaster's warehouse allows a quick drop shipment.

Faced with increasing competition in the packaging space from logistics and trucking companies, and after losing her biggest customer in 2005 (a bank that was bought out by a larger bank), Lancaster was forced to reinvent her business model.

She launched a procurement services division in 2008 that focused her services on unique items companies purchase once but likely won't again. That allows procurement managers to focus on their core purchasing, while outsourcing smaller bits to Lancaster.

"This is stuff that comes up that's unexpected that they may never buy from that supplier again," she told the Worcester Business Journal. "(Procurement managers) don't want to deal with a $20 flashlight someone needs in Alabama. That's what we do."

The bulk of her customers are in the aerospace industry, including BAE Systems and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. Engineering teams are often the ones purchasing one-off items.

Lancaster credits the procurement division with most of the company's revenue growth over the past few years. It’s the sort of growth that lands Lancaster Packaging regularly among the Boston Globe’s Top 100 women-led companies.

Lancaster has used her own business success to address the broader issues facing women and people of color seeking to build companies. In 2013, she testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which held a hearing on how to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem for minority women.

Lancaster told the committee that lack of financing initially inhibited the development of her company, a story consistent with studies showing that minority-owned firms have a disproportionate challenge in accessing capital. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, minority-owned firms are less likely to receive loans, more likely to be denied loans, and pay higher-than-average interest rates.

Ultimately, according to Lancaster, success is built upon relationships.

“The key to our success has been the development of amazing, trusting and collaborative relationships between both our customers and suppliers.”

Six Flags New England | October 18 | Wistariahurst Museum | Holyoke

The economic footprint of Six Flags New England is every bit as imposing as the Superman roller coaster that marks the largest amusement park in New England along the banks of the Connecticut River.

Six Flags, which began to operate the former Riverside Park in 1998, has spent millions of dollars over two decades to expand its lineup of 100 rides, shows and attractions, along with the largest water park in the Northeast. The company is the region’s largest seasonal employer, hiring more than 3,000 people each year during a nine-month season that stretches from the spring through the summer to the holidays.

The 235-acre park is also a lynchpin of the tourism economy both for western Massachusetts and the entire commonwealth. The organization’s 13 roller coasters draw thousands of visitors to the region and provide national media exposure for Massachusetts as a destination.

The property is one of 20 across the United States, Canada and Mexico operated by Six Flags, a $1.4 billion-a-year enterprise that is the nation’s largest owner of regional amusement parks. More than 30 million people visit a Six Flags park each year.

Capital investments at Six Flags during the past six years include vertigo-inducing rides such as Harley Quinn Spinsanity, the Joker 4D Free Fly Coaster, Wicked Cyclone and New England Sky Screamer. In between the thrills, Six Flags welcomes visitors with entertainment figures ranging from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to Batman and Wonder Woman.

Six Flags maintains a similarly high profile in the western Massachusetts community.  The company supports more than 3,000 non-profit organizations ranging from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Red Cross to the March of Dimes and Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield. The support includes cash donations, ticket donations and on-site charity events.

United Personnel | October 18 | Wistariahurst Museum | Holyoke

At a time when finding qualified employees remains a defining challenge for Massachusetts companies, United Personnel of Springfield connects more than 700 people each day to good jobs throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut.

It’s been that way for 35 years since Mary Ellen Scott and her late husband, Jay Canavan, started the company with the goal providing employment opportunities to match the skills and aspirations of a range of western Massachusetts residents.  The company has thrived during the intervening decades by deftly weaving itself into the fabric of a western Massachusetts economy that operates uniquely on personal contact and trust.

United Personnel and its staff of 40 people provide clients with everything from temporary and contract workers to direct-hire employees in areas ranging from administrative and professional to information technology, light manufacturing, medical, dental and hospitality. The business puts the company on the front lines of complex and rapidly changing employment issues such as diversity, work-force development and education to meet ever-changing skill demands and the need to bring new participants into the work force.

Headquartered in downtown Springfield, United Personnel offers staffing support services throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. The company operates additional offices in Northampton, Pittsfield and Chelmsford, along with Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut.

United Personnel is now led by Tricia Canavan, Mary Ellen and Jay’s daughter, along with a committed team of managers and staff. Canavan serves as a member of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts Board of Directors, in addition to serving on the boards of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, the Springfield Public Forum, the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, Springfield Business Leaders for Education and the Massachusetts Workforce Development Board.

The company regularly appears on the Boston Globe list of Top 100 Women-Led Business in Massachusetts and this year received Inavero Best of Staffing awards for both client satisfaction and talent satisfaction.

"With a tight labor market and growing economy, finding the right recruiting partners is critical to success," said Inavero CEO Eric Gregg. "Best of Staffing winners provide consistently remarkable service to their clients and job candidates, and I couldn't be prouder to feature United Personnel as true leader in the industry."

The company underscored its ties to the Pioneer Valley two years ago when it opened new offices in Springfield in the historic Stearns Building, which dates to 1912. The offices face a corner of Steiger Park, once the site of the Steiger’s Department Store, and are across Bridge Street from the Springfield Innovation Center at 270-280 Bridge Street

The company marked its new headquarters and ongoing commitment to work-force development and education by creating a scholarship fund in the company's name that will help deserving students from the Gateway Cities of the Pioneer Valley continue their educations. The fund will be administered by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Canyon Ranch Lenox | October 25 | Hotel on North | Pittsfield

Canyon Ranch Lenox, which rose from the ruins of the 19th-century Bellefontaine Mansion in 1989, has firmly established itself -and the Berkshires - as one of the top wellness destinations in the world.

It has also established itself as a centerpiece of the Berkshire County economy, attracting nearly 45,000 guests annually and employing about 560 people.

The resort encompasses nearly 120 acres, with the historic, stately 1897 Bellefontaine as the centerpiece. The structure was once as a private home, a seminary and a boarding school, but was empty and gutted by fire when Canyon Ranch Founders Mel and Enid Zuckerman and Jerry Cohen spent $10 million to restore the building as the East Coast presence of the company they started in Tucson, Arizona in 1979.

Canyon Ranch offers a lengthy selection of treatments that range from deep tissue massage to Ayurvedic treatments and detoxifying seaweed wraps. Board certified physicians are on staff to provide evidence-based prevention, science-based precision, and high-touch personalization as part of integrative medical solutions. The facility also offers diagnostic laboratory testing.

The Lenox resort is part of a sprawling wellness enterprise that includes the original flagship in Tucson, the world’s largest day spa at The Venetian® & The Palazzo® hotels in Las Vegas, and 22 Canyon Ranch at Sea wellness facilities on Cunard Cruise Line, Oceania® Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises®, and Celebrity Cruises®. The company is now owned by John Goff, Chairman of Canyon Ranch, and is headquartered in Ft. Worth, Texas. Helmed by former auto executive Susan Docherty as its chief executive, Canyon Ranch is committed to the Lenox property and has recently accelerated its investments there.

Two years ago, the brand embarked upon a multi-million-dollar renovation of its dining room and guest rooms. The company also constructed 19 luxury condominiums called the Residences at Bellefontaine, providing owners a world-class wellness at their doorstep. The residential project is valued at $20 million to $22 million and contributes around $300,000 a year in property taxes to the Town of Lenox.

It’s a project that fits into a global “wellness real estate” market estimated at $134 billion by the Global Wellness Institute, with a pipeline of more than 740 projects worldwide.

Docherty told The Berkshire Eagle last year: "Canyon Ranch is a very wise sanctuary. We're trying to impart wisdom in whatever way guests seek it, so they can have a transformative experience."

B&B Micro Manufacturing | October 25 | Hotel on North | Pittsfield

Tiny houses are making a big impact on the Berkshire County economy.

B&B Micro Manufacturing – founded in 2016 by Hoosac Valley High classmates Chris St. Cyr, Mitch Bresett and Jason Koperniak – now employs 42 people in the Windsor Mill in North Adams making the kind of tiny houses that have become a staple of Home & Garden Television. B&B makes mostly contracted units for a vacation rental company, but also does custom tiny houses and its own designs.

North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright told iBerkshires recently that the company's growth has been a bright spot in reviving the city's manufacturing base, an integral part of its creative economy. 

"You can say that there's going to be 100 new jobs when a hotel is being built and people here will say, 'OK'," he said. "Now you have 42 on the payroll since April in manufacturing and that, here, strikes a very cool chord."

Tiny homes, usually 500 or fewer square feet and capable of being moved on a trailer, have become enormously popular during the past decade among individuals and families looking to save money, simplify their lives and adopt an environmentally sustainable life. The market has been buoyed by television shows and tony home villages sprouting up around the country.

Tiny houses cost between $30,000 and $75,000 and can be built quickly. All units are built to Recreational Vehicle Industry Association standards.

St. Cyr, Bresett and Koperniak all grew up in Adams but came to the business from different directions. St. Cyr graduated from Williams College and worked for a hedge fund; Koperniak graduated from Bowdoin College and worked in the financial sector; and Bresett learned the home-building trade from his father, who founded B&B as a traditional home-building business. 

The B&B Micro Manufacturing partners see the next step as creating modular units for families or small custom homes. These could be an affordable housing solution for young people or empty-nesters, especially in expensive housing markets like eastern Massachusetts.  The company is newly certified as a modular manufacturer in the state of Massachusetts.  

"If we can take a $70,000 unit and put in the Boston area on a tract of land that may not support a large home — east of 495, housing is an issue," Koperniak told iBerkshires.

"We're trying to be that architecturally chic niche where you can have something very nice in a small size, at an affordable price point, and relatively fast."

Sensata Technologies | November 1 | Easton Country Club | Easton

The name Sensata comes from the Latin word sensate, which means “those gifted with sense.” It’s an appropriate name for century-old, $3.5 billion global company that engineers critical sensing systems embedded within automobiles, heavy vehicles and off road equipment, industrial and telecommunications equipment, and commercial and military airplanes.

Sensata designs and manufactures sensing, electrical protection, control and power management systems with operations and business centers in 12 countries globally.  The company’s products improve safety, efficiency, emissions and comfort for millions of people every day in transportation, appliance, aircraft, and industrial applications.

“We focus on solving the world’s need for a cleaner, more efficient, electrified and connected world,” says CEO Martha Sullivan, a member of the AIM Board of Directors.

With a US base in Attleboro, Sensata employs more than 1,000 people in Massachusetts.

A key priority remains developing and attracting engineering talent in a competitive global marketplace.

“We have a compelling vision and purpose and technologies that are vital to changes underway in the industrial landscape. This attracts talent and has served us well,” Sullivan says.

“Retaining our talent is just as important as attracting them,” Sullivan says. “We have built a culture that is based on a set of core values that helps define who we are as an organization; these values are built on teamwork and interdependency – we call it One Sensata – they are built on integrity, striving for excellence, bringing passion to the solutions and systems that we create and offering flexibility to our teams. This is how we are winning for our customers and for our teams.”

Winning for Sensata means being a world leader and early innovator in mission-critical sensor-rich solutions and electrical protection, helping engineers accomplish tasks as varied as:

  • Enabling electrification in cars, trucks and industrial equipment;
  • Lowering  emissions;
  • Improving industrial equipment efficiency;
  • Preventing electrical fires; and
  • Enabling smart and connected products.

The company sells 47,000 unique products and ships more than 1.1 billion units annually. Much of its market growth has come in China, which now represents 15 percent of company revenues.

AccuRounds | November 1 | Easton Country Club | Easton

AccuRounds and its CEO, Michael Tamasi, have become symbols of the new generation of hyper-efficient, advanced manufacturing companies driving the Massachusetts economy.

Founded in 1976, Avon-based AccuRounds is a contract manufacturer that machines and assembles precision turned components for the medical, defense, aerospace, semiconductor, robotics and emerging-technology markets. The company makes everything from the metal shafts used in the flu-vaccine manufacturing process to the top spires on all the "Freedom Trail" signs in Boston.

The company employs 80 people in its 45,000-square-foot facility on Bodwell Street.

AccuRounds was a manufacturing pioneer in 1995 when it embarked on a quest to implement lean manufacturing. These techniques were applied throughout the organization, and in 2006, AccuRounds won the Shingo Prize Northeast Silver Medallion, the first contract metalworking company in North America to do so.

The company later reorganized into value streams utilizing a comprehensive lean management system that has dramatically increased speed to market. It is a pattern that traces the transformation of manufacturing in Massachusetts from high-volume commodity goods made on vast assembly lines to complex, engineered parts made by highly-skilled workers.

Recently, AccuRounds has introduced automation, robotics, machine monitoring, big data and 3D printing to its production floor.  These new technologies are the future of manufacturing.  The team has embraced them as part of their continuous-learning culture.

CEO Tamasi has become an evangelist for the value of manufacturing in creating economic opportunity for the people of Massachusetts. He currently co-chairs the Massachusetts Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative, a state initiative to enhance the competitiveness of Massachusetts Manufacturers, and also chairs Business Leaders United, a group led by the National Skills Coalition in Washington, DC.

Tamasi went to the White House four years ago as one of only two small-business CEOs to participate in a high-level conference with former President Barack Obama on dealing with long-term unemployment. He has spent significant time addressing the persistent shortage of skilled manufacturing workers that threatens to slow the growth of the state economy.

“There is a renaissance in manufacturing taking place in this country. We have a golden opportunity to capitalize on it and grow our economy, but we need people to be trained and skilled,” he told Fox News after the White House conference.

“We need critical thinkers and problem solvers. We need people who want to improve, and most importantly, we need people with a positive attitude.”

Topics: Massachusetts employers, AIM Next Century Award, Massachusetts economy

Subscribe to our blog

Posts by popularity

Browse by Tag