It didn’t take long for 2016 to become a year of watershed events for the Massachusetts employer community.
The year wasn’t two weeks old when General Electric Company announced plans to move its corporate headquarters and other operations from suburban Connecticut to the heart of Boston’s seaport Innovation District. The stunning GE announcement kicked off a year that eventually saw an iconoclastic real estate developer pull the upset of the century to win the presidency; Massachusetts become one of the first states in the nation to pass a wage-equity law; and the state economy post its lowest unemployment rate since January 2001.
Here are the top 10 Massachusetts business stories of 2017:
- General Electric announces plans to move its corporate headquarters and 800 high-paying jobs to Boston. The move electrified the Bay State economy as GE maintained that Boston was a logical location for a company seeking to marry manufacturing with advanced technology. “Today, GE is a $130 billion high-tech global industrial company, one that is leading the digital transformation of industry. We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt.
- Donald J. Trump is elected President of the United States on a platform of lowering business taxes, repealing federal health-care reform, boosting infrastructure spending and reworking trade agreements. The most unconventional and vitriolic election in US history ended at 3 am on November 9 as Trump rode a populist wave of economic disaffection and upset Democrat Hillary Clinton. Republicans also maintained control of both houses of Congress, raising the probability that the new president will make good on many of his campaign promises.
- Unemployment in Massachusetts drops to a 15-year low of 2.9 percent. The jobless rate ended the year with five consecutive monthly declines as employers created 67,200 jobs from January through November. The largest private sector percentage job gains were in Construction; Professional, Scientific and Business Services; Education and Health Services; and Leisure and Hospitality. Since the rate peaked at 8.8 percent in September 2009, there are now 332,700 more residents employed and 198,700 fewer residents unemployed as the labor force increased by 134,100.
- Massachusetts passes a balanced wage-equity law. Governor Charlie Baker signed a compromise wage-equity measure on August 1 designed to ensure that workers are fairly compensated without regard to gender, and according to the value they bring to the business enterprise. The compromise followed months of negotiations between AIM, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Maura Healey. The legislation explicitly recognizes legitimate market forces such as performance and the competitive landscape for certain skills that cause pay differences among employees.
- Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas puts a last-minute hold on new federal overtime regulations a week before they are due to take effect on December 1. The injunction put Massachusetts employers in the difficult position of either undoing the changes they had made to comply with the regulations or leaving those changes and associated costs in place. The new regulations would have raised the threshold for exemption from overtime to $913.00 per week, or $47,476.00 per year. The rules face an uncertain future under the Trump administration.
- Massachusetts voters legalize recreational marijuana over the objections of employers high-profile elected officials. The vote on the statewide ballot question 6 percent to 46.4 percent. AIM opposed the measure because of its potential to reverse decades of hard-won progress by employers to create safe and drug-free workplaces. AIM maintained that the new law would place employers in the untenable position of determining whether an employee who tests positive for marijuana, used legally under state law, is too impaired to operate a machine or drive a company vehicle safely.
- Health-insurance premium costs accelerate after several years of modest increases. Total health care spending in Massachusetts in 2015 was $57.4 billion, a 4.1 percent increase over 2014 that surpassed the state's official cost growth benchmark of 3.6 percent, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA). Spending on MassHealth was up 4.6 percent, and spending on commercial health insurance and Medicare were both up 5.3 percent last year, according to CHIA. And the net cost of private health insurance was up 12.6 percent in 2015. Prescription drug spending of about $8.1 billion last year (an increase of 10.2 percent over the previous year) was one of the factors driving up health care costs, accounting for about 36 percent of the overall growth last year, CHIA reported.
- The Massachusetts Legislature declines to restrict the use of non-compete agreements as the state Senate rejects a compromise reached between House Speaker Robert DeLeo and the business community. The breakdown of negotiations brought a stunning, if temporary, end to a contentious effort by venture capitalists to do away with current law governing non-competes. The House bill would have limited the duration of non-competes to one year and required employers who did not compensate workers at the time they signed a non-compete to pay 50 percent of the worker’s salary during the non-compete period.
- Lawmakers expand the scope of solar-energy subsidies, effectively imposing an $8 billion tax on electric ratepayers and putting that money into the pockets of solar-energy developers. The bill, passed in March, raised the cap on net metering – the process by which solar developers sell excess electricity back to the power grid – by 60 percent for private projects and 75 percent for public projects. The primary reform contained in the measure would lower the net metering credit to 60 percent of the retail rate, but that reduction would not apply to facilities owned by municipalities and government entities.
- Former Associated Industries of Massachusetts President John Gould dies at 86. Gould, a passionate advocate for business and education who built AIM into the predominant employer association in Massachusetts, passed away in July. He became chief executive of AIM in 1988 and guided its transformation from a manufacturing association to one representing the interests of employers from all sectors of the economy. He also made AIM a pivotal voice on a series of issues ranging from workers compensation reform to taxation to the development of education standards for the commonwealth.