State House News Service Weekly Roundup: A Strained Partnership

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Matt Murphy

 

For years, with both Democrats and Republicans in the corner office, the leadership of the Legislature has basically been able to do what it wants.

Speakers and Senate presidents – always Democrats – have controlled enough votes to set the agenda, override vetoes and ignore or compromise with the governor as they see fit. The difference between then and now? They didn’t always talk about it.

Increasingly, however, House and Senate lawmakers are not only frustrated with Gov. Charlie Baker over the things they can’t control, but they’re willing to say it publicly. Lawmakers have been clashing with Baker and his administration on everything from the distribution of vaccines to climate legislation and the return to in-person learning for thousands of young students (though Baker has largely gotten his way on schools).

This week there was more tension over the administration’s urgent request made in February to quickly authorize $400 million in borrowing for the construction of a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and the administration’s plans for billions in discretionary federal relief funding from the “American Rescue Plan.”

“I don’t want to feel like the red-headed stepchild as a member of the Legislature and being left out of this, and I’m sure my colleagues don’t want to feel [that way] about it. And I don’t think we’re going to anymore, hopefully,” said Rep. John Barrett, a former mayor who has been in the executive’s shoes.

Barrett’s commentary was directed at Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan at an oversight hearing where legislators were demanding to play more of a role in how the federal relief funding gets spent.

Heffernan wouldn’t say, exactly, whether Baker plans to file a budget bill proposing how to spend the relief money, but that’s one way the governor could give back a bit of agency to the Legislature.

Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka also came out jointly to say that they would insist municipal employees, including teachers, can take advantage of a proposed COVID-19 paid leave program that is still under negotiation.

The governor supports the creation of the new leave program, but Baker returned the bill last week with several amendments, including one supported by the Massachusetts Municipal Association to eliminate a mandate on cities and towns to offer their workers up to a week of paid-time off to recover from COVID-19, care for a family member or to get vaccinated.

The program, as recommended by Baker, would cover most other employers and state government, but the administration said municipal workforces tend to be “highly unionized” with strong leave benefits already in place.

Speaking of taking time during work hours to get vaccinated, Gov. Baker rolled up his right sleeve on Tuesday and got a dose of Pfizer at the Hynes Convention Center.

“I’m happy to report I feel good,” the 64-year-old said the next day from Revere, where he was touring a different vaccination clinic.

Massachusetts passed a milestone this week with more than 1.5 million people fully vaccinated with either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. By the end of the week, the total was actually up above 1.6 million.

But the spread of new variants continues to compete with the vaccine for control of the pandemic’s trajectory, and the number of communities in the high-risk category climbed by 22 this week to 77.

With so many people vaccinated and the general, healthy public a little over a week away from becoming eligible, Baker got asked about the concept of vaccine passes – a digital tool that New York launched and other states are considering to make business reopenings easier.

Madison Square Garden is among the early adopters, but Baker said, “No, no, no,” about plans for something similar in Massachusetts. It wasn’t a no, never. But more of a no, not now.

“I want to vaccinate people. Let’s get people vaccinated,” Baker said. “I think having a conversation about creating a barrier before people have even had an opportunity to be eligible to be vaccinated, let’s focus on getting people vaccinated.”

More than half of the 1.5 million residents who preregistered for a vaccine have been contacted already with a chance to book an appointment, but for the 700,000 people still waiting more locations are being added to the system.

Baker said that two regional collaboratives with vaccine sites in Northampton, Amherst and Marshfield were being added this week to the preregistration system that already connects people with seven mass vaccination sites, and more regional sites would be added this month.

With all the focus on the pandemic and figuring how to get shots in people’s arms, it’s easy to forget sometimes that next year is a gubernatorial election year and under different circumstances Baker might be getting asked daily about his plans.

Harvard professor and political theorist Danielle Allen seems to be inching closer to a run as she announced a beefed up staff with Liberty Square Group and media consultant Josh Wolf among those climbing on board. Wolf ran Steve Grossman’s 2014 campaign for governor.

Meanwhile, declared Democratic candidate Ben Downing overcame some technical glitches to roll out his climate agenda, which includes Massachusetts becoming a 100 percent clean energy state by 2040, or 10 years earlier than Baker and the Legislature set the goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

The jockeying comes as the Democratic Governors Association took an interest this week in Baker’s underwhelming fundraising in March, and really for the whole first quarter, suggesting the incumbent with enduring but diminished popularity may be vulnerable.

Baker raised just $25,456 in March and $102,687 over the first three months of the year, but Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito was more active on the fundraising front and most people assume that if he does decide to run Baker will be able to crank up the money operation quickly.

“The governor and lieutenant governor are focused on managing the pandemic response, not electoral politics,” Baker’s campaign committee spokesman Jim Conroy said.

Next week attention will also turn to managing the state’s finances when the House is expected to release its version of the fiscal 2022 budget. This week’s continuation of strong tax collections in March gave budget writers more reasons to be optimistic about the future.

One additional expense the Legislature will have to plan for, however, is added expenses in the MassHealth program. Over the past year, the MassHealth caseload has increased to more than 2 million individuals, and President Joe Biden’s decision to extend the COVID-19 emergency through 2021 means the state can’t comb its rolls and kick out people who might no longer be eligible.

Secretary Marylou Sudders told the Ways and Means Committees this week that MassHealth’s budget – already the largest slice of the overall pie – might end up being $1.4 billion higher than in the governor’s budget. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, however, predicted the increased expenses will be more than offset by the enhanced reimbursements the feds are making for Medicaid.

There will undoubtedly be more budgetary surprises in the months to come as the coronavirus and economy continue down their unpredictable paths, but Boston Mayor Kim Janey caught very few people, if anyone, off guard this week when she announced that she would, in fact, seek the job on a more permanent basis.

Janey entering the mayoral contest boosts the field to six serious contenders for City Hall, and the Roxbury resident used perhaps her biggest advantage in the race – the fact that people call her mayor right now – to get out into the city and sell an agenda that included using federal stimulus funding to make buses free in Boston.

Many state and local officials have warned about using relief funding for services that won’t be affordable once the federal aid dries up, but Janey said she was eyeing a pilot to start.

“I understand that there are challenges which is why I hope — at the state level as well as the city level — I am looking at that federal money and I hope our state partners are as well,” she said.

Moving migraines: How to avoid headaches while relocating your business

Planning on relocating your business?

Whether you’re relocating your business to our region from another county or state, or you’re simply setting up shop in a different location in our community, moving your business can been downright stressful.

Here’s our top tips for avoiding headaches when moving your business:

Start Planning Early

While it might seem obvious, many ‘hiccups’ that happen during a business relocation can be easily prevented by planning well in advance.

If you’re company is relatively tech-savvy, consider using a cloud-based project planning tool such as Wrike or Zoho to identify everything you need to do to prepare for your move, delegate tasks, and track progress towards moving day.

Remember to list out all the suppliers you use, including utility companies, telecommunications, and even your coffee delivery service – they’ll all need to be contacted well in advance to ensure your services are transferred to your new address so you won’t be left without internet service, heat, or insurance coverage after you move.

Tell Your Clients, Suppliers, and Prospects

Unless your business is entirely online, it’s important to communicate your moving plans with your clients, customers, and suppliers using all your regular communication channels.

For example, if your business is active on social media, be sure to post updates both before, and after your moving day, and add a prominent banner to your website with the same info. Include a flyer with your new address along with any regular mail-outs (such as monthly invoices), post signage at your current location, and update your phone message to remind callers that you’ll be moving.

If you have a bricks-and-mortar location, try to make arrangements to leave information with your new address posted at the office, store, or shop you’re moving from for at least a few months, otherwise, clients may find you missing and mistakenly assume you’ve closed up permanently.

Hire Professional Movers

If your business assets consist of more than just a few laptop computers, hiring a professional moving company to do the heavy lifting is well worth the investment.

Not only will the right moving company take the worry out of moving your physical assets, but having dedicated movers means you won’t be asking your staff to take on the job of lifting and loading boxes, desks, and other big items.

Inform Government Agencies

Keep local, state, and federal agencies such as the IRS appraised as to your location, and your planned move to avoid major headaches and legal expenses.

If you’re moving within the same state you won’t need to change your IRS employer ID number, but you will need to update your address with the feds. You may also need to contact the Secretary of State and the State Department of Revenue, and any permits and business licenses need to be changed at the County offices.

Inspect Everything

Make arrangements to inspect your new location long before the movers arrive – that way you’ll have the chance to identify any deficiencies that could interfere with your operations. If you’re ending a lease, complete a walk-through with the property manager to identify any damage that needs to be repaired, and be sure to get the damage reports in writing.

Good better best: Pricing your products and service to emphasize value

Three-tiered pricing for products often means small-medium-large, but in services it means good-better-best. Find out how these service businesses use tiered pricing to benefit both buyer and seller.

These days, good-better-best pricing is everywhere. When purchasing an airplane ticket, for example, passengers can buy the default coach ticket (good), pay for some extra leg-room by upgrading to “premium economy(link is external)” (better) or pay through the nose and buy a business class seat (best). With all three tickets, the basic service is the same―aerial transportation from point A to point B. But the amenities (or the degree of discomfort suffered, for the cynical among us) vary.

Along similar lines, in bars, alcoholic drinks are priced low as rail drinks(link is external)when the customer does not ask for any branded alcohol (good), higher as call drinks(link is external)when a specific brand is requested (better), or highest as top shelf(link is external) drinks for premium liquor brands (best). An Acura TLX vehicle comes in three versions: the base model has a 2.4 liter engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission (starting at $31,695; good); the mid-version has a 3.5 V-6 liter engine, and a 9-speed automatic transmission (starting at $35,320; better), while the high-end version is 3.5 V-6, 9-speed automatic with all-wheel drive (starting at $41,576; best). As these examples illustrate, when using a good-better-best pricing approach (also known in the trade as “tiered pricing”), the marketer sells several different versions of the same product to consumers at different price points and corresponding quality levels.

For decades, marketers have packaged and offered different products to different customer segments. See the Chevrolet ads from the mid-1950s. No one would mistake the hoity-toity target customers of the 1955 Bel Air convertible with the blue-collar family that would find the 1956 Handyman station wagon to be appealing.

But this way of designing and pricing products based on customer segment differences is changing. With the good-better-best pricing approach, marketers now systematically offer different product versions to pretty much the same customers based on how much they want to shell out on a given purchase occasion. For instance, someone flying for work may buy a business class airline ticket because her company is paying for it; but on another occasion, she may fly in coach when shelling out of her own pocket.

We have written many times before in our blogs and newsletters that customers are not all equal. They have different needs, they value product attributes differently, and they have varying levels of price sensitivity. In order to address these multiple customer segments, it is common to have multiple variations of a product or service offering – a Good, Better, Best product lineup. Beyond just creating multiple offerings, your pricing strategy needs to include getting the relative positioning right. Your profitability depends on it.

There is no perfect number of alternatives or options to offer customers, but how many you will offer is an important question to answer. If you do not offer enough options, you run the risk of missing some customer segments by not specifically addressing them. Conversely, if you offer too many options, it is easy for customers to be overwhelmed with the complexity and not make any choice. To determine your best number of offers in your product lineup, consider the ease with which customers can assess the differences, the number of competitive offerings that exist, the range of values perceived by customers, and your capability in managing the range of products or services.

In addition to determining how many products to offer within a lineup, it is also important to determine how the price of each product or service will relate to the others. Multiple studies have shown that when faced with three or more options, customers tend to choose the middle option more frequently than the highest or lowest priced offer. Customers often avoid picking the least expensive offer because they don’t want to feel like a cheapskate. And they often avoid the most expensive option, because they really aren’t extravagant and do not need whatever additional benefits the highest options offer. So they go with the middle.

Thinking about this behavioral tendency can help you execute a stronger pricing strategy. If your goal is to maximize your profitability over time, you will need price points that attract customers at multiple levels of value. But what if you find that your results are skewed in that a large percentage of customers are picking either the most expensive or least expensive option? In that case, the prices of your product offerings are probably not aligned with their relative levels of value.

Employer Confidence Widespread Heading Into Spring

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Michael P. Norton

 

[Associated Industries of Massachusetts]

Business confidence in Massachusetts surged to an outright enthusiastic level in March, buoyed by COVID-19 vaccination progress and the final passage of a $1.9 trillion federal spending law.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts’ monthly confidence index shot up by 4.5 points last month, capping a gain of 11.6 points since December. At 60.9 on a scale of 0 to 100, the index now rests comfortably in positive territory heading into the spring, marking a complete reversal from a year ago.

While the state’s unemployment rate remains elevated at 7.1 percent, employers in recent months have continued to add jobs and appear more bullish about economic and vaccination prospects than they are bearish about the ongoing uptick in virus cases, according to the survey of about 140 employers.

AIM’s employer confidence index in March 2020 took its largest monthly tumble in its 30-year history. Since then, it has risen by nearly 21 points and the business trade group pointed to more recent good news — Friday’s report that U.S. employers added 916,000 jobs during March, nearly double February’s gain.

In a statement, AIM President John Regan said the business group was also encouraged that Democratic legislative leaders are not pursuing tax increases this year and recently agreed with Gov. Charlie Baker to a new law reducing the size of unemployment insurance taxes stemming from last year’s historic job losses.

The latest confidence index reading caps a wild swing and puts the index within 8 points of surpassing its all-time high of 68.5, which was hit twice in 1997-98. The index sank to its all-time low not during the pandemic, but in February 2009 as part of the Great Recession.

Michael Goodman, a public policy professor at UMass Dartmouth, said the rising employer confidence also reflects the warmer weather that’s approaching and the loosening of pandemic-related travel and business restrictions “notwithstanding some of the troubling signs of rising infection rates.”

While employers are encouraged that drags on the economy seem to be receding, Goodman identified as risks “anything that might interfere with the rollout of vaccinations” and/or the emergence of coronavirus variants that might be resistant to existing vaccines.

AIM’s Future Index, which measures economic projections six months from now, last month reached its highest level since May 2018 at 64.8, up 3.8 points from February.

Employer optimism may be moderated due to the recent Johnson & Johnson vaccine manufacturing problem and the resumption of COVID-19 lockdowns in European countries, according to Nada Sanders, a supply chain management professor at Northeastern University and member of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisers.

“There are areas of the supply chain that were woefully unprepared for COVID-19,” Sanders said. “Retailers and suppliers, for example, built a supply chain system that was too complex, in which the slightest crack down the line created a large ripple effect. Companies are now addressing those weaknesses but the events of the past week, including the backup of the Suez Canal, may give employers pause.”

State officials plan to release March jobs and unemployment rate data on Friday, April 16. Also on next week’s calendar: the likely release of a House Ways and Means Committee rewrite of Gov. Charlie Baker’s $45.6 billion fiscal 2022 budget. Baker’s budget called for a slight drop in overall state spending.

Governor Baker signed legislation providing relief to Massachusetts employers and employees

Governor Baker signed legislation (“An Act financing a program for improvements to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and providing relief to employers and workers in the Commonwealth”) that provides relief for employers and employees across the Commonwealth.

This bill will freeze the unemployment insurance (UI) experience rate schedule for employers in 2021 and 2022 and thereby prevent a more significant tax schedule increase. The bill also ensures that loans forgiven as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advances, are excluded from taxable income for individual taxpayers. Please note this applies only to the 2020 taxable year. The bill also requires that employers provide a week of paid sick leave to employees that have become ill with COVID, are caring for a family member that has become ill with COVID, is receiving an immunization, or has to isolate due to COVID exposure, or is caring for a family member in quarantine. The Governor did propose two clarifying amendments on this topic for consideration by the legislature. Please find the bill text here.

State House News Service Weekly Roundup: One Step Forward, Two Steps …

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Matt Murphy

 

If Massachusetts used to run on Dunkin’, it now runs on Pfizer, and Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

The state’s long-term prognosis remains inextricably wrapped up in the ability of state and federal government, pharmacies and health care providers to administer as many shots as possible as fast as possible.

But even as vaccine supply grows and the number of Massachusetts residents fully vaccinated eclipsed 1.37 million this week, the coronavirus appears to be catching up in the arms race against the vaccine and a lot is riding on who wins out.

“Right now I’m scared,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, describing her sense of “impending doom” about the rise in cases in states like Michigan and New York and, yes, Massachusetts.

Walensky’s emotional plea for vigilance came the day before she came back to Massachusetts, where she lived and worked before joining the Biden administration, to tour the new FEMA-supported mass vaccination site at the Hynes Convention Center. The Hynes site replaced Fenway Park, where baseball returned on Friday, and FEMA’s involvement means there will be enough vaccine to administer 7,000 doses a day at the Back Bay center, up from the 1,000 shots a day the state was doing alone.

The state next week will use some of the additional FEMA supply to deploy mobile vaccination units in Chelsea, Revere, Boston, New Bedford and Fall River.

But even Baker acknowledged this week that the positive trends that led him to open up venues like Fenway for limited spectators were going in the wrong direction.

The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases detected daily was up 29 percent on March 30 from March 8 to 1,888, schools reported their highest ever weekly caseload of 1,045, and the number of communities in the high risk category increased for the third straight week to 55. Almost half of the new cases were recorded in residents under 30, many of whom have to wait a few more weeks to become vaccine eligible.

“I think it’s fair to say that no one can let their guard down with respect to this virus,” Baker said.

The good news is that the administration is expecting a major influx of Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week – more than 100,000 doses – and does not believe the mixup at the Baltimore manufacturing facility that spoiled 15 million doses will impact that delivery.

Baker has gotten beaten up by legislative Democrats in recent weeks for his handling of the pandemic, and in particular the vaccine rollout, but Walensky was unwilling to second guess the Republican, at least to his face, and most Massachusetts residents, according to a new poll, are willing to cut him some slack.

The newest Boston Globe/Suffolk poll found that 71 percent of residents approved of the governor’s handling of the pandemic. He got lower numbers for his vaccine effort – 58 percent approved – but 67 percent said they support the job Baker is doing overall.

So as the first fundraising quarter came to a close this week, Baker, the polling suggests, remains in the catbird seat should he choose to seek a third term.

Ben Downing, so far the most prominent Democrat in the 2022 race for governor, reported raising $227,712 in the eight weeks since he entered the race on Feb. 8. This week he picked the issue of colleges withholding transcripts from students for unpaid bills to go after Baker for underfunding higher education.

Another potential gubernatorial contender in 2022 also had college students on her mind this week.  Attorney General Maura Healey hosted U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley to help call on President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt for federal student borrowers.

Biden’s chief of staff told POLITICO the president was undecided on what to do with respect to student debt, despite Biden previously saying he thought Congress, not the White House, should act. “Well that’s great,” Pressley said in response.

The next generation of student borrowers also found out this week that they won’t have to pass the MCAS exam in order to graduate in 2022 under a plan put forward by Education Commissioner Jeff Riley that would scale back the state’s standardized testing program during the pandemic. It didn’t go far enough for the Massachusetts Teachers Association and other critics who would like to see MCAS postponed completely this spring until next year.

While Biden waits for more legal guidance on his authority to address student debt, his administration – including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh – was busy rolling out and beginning to sell a more than $2 trillion infrastructure package.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch said that given the clout of the Massachusetts delegation and the seats it holds on the Transportation Committee, a package that large could be a feeding frenzy for Massachusetts road, bridge and rail projects.

Any infrastructure funding would come in addition to billions of dollars on its way from the “American Rescue Plan,” which lawmakers began to pick apart this week. The House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight held its first oversight hearing this week where Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said details about how state and local governments can spend the money will come by early May.

That committee will be back at it next week with Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan expected to testify.

But with the exeception of hearings like this, the process of committees reviewing the thousands of bills filed by lawmakers on Beacon Hill this year has been slow to start, with most pieces of legislation still waiting to be assigned.

In contrast, the Legislature has picked up its oversight game.

There have been stimulus oversight hearings and two explorations of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The special oversight committee probing the early pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is seeking to extend its investigation and has invited former Veterans’ Services Secretary Francisco Urena to testify next week.

And now the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities says it will hold an oversight hearing into a troubling report from Child Advocate Maria Mossaides that found the Department of Children and Families missed the signs of abuse and neglect that led to the Oct. death of 14-year-old David Almond in Fall River.

That’s not to say the Legislature has been completely dormant, and House and Senate leaders may want to act quickly on Baker’s proposed amendments to a COVID-19 sick leave program that the governor returned at the same time he signed a tax relief bill for businesses and those who were unemployed over the past year. The new law offers tax breaks on unemployment benefits and limits rate increases on employers for unemployment insurance, but Baker recommended a few modifications to the sick leave program before he’s ready to sign off on that too.

“Providing paid sick leave is crucial to protecting our workforce and preventing the further spread of COVID-19. The House and the Senate will continue to prioritize this issue and will work together to review the amendments and return the bill back to the Governor’s desk,” two spokespeople for Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka said in a statement.

While it’s not a legislative oversight committee, the new Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission will have oversight of police officers around the state, and the law enforcement community learned this week who will sit in those nine seats.

Former Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle was tapped by Baker to chair the commission, and Baker and Healey filled in the remaining seats in accordance with the landmark reform law passed in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.

Incidentally, the commission took shape the same week that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went on trial for Floyd’s murder.

Third COVID-19 Business Impact Survey

In an effort to gain an accurate assessment of COVID-19’s ongoing impact to businesses in North Central Massachusetts, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is conducting this new survey. This is the third in a series of surveys conducted since the onset of the pandemic to capture fresh data and evaluate the impact of the pandemic over time. The first two surveys were very helpful to our response to the pandemic. The Chamber is partnering with the MassHire North Central Massachusetts Workforce Board, Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, NewVue Communities and many of the cities and towns in the region on the distribution of this survey.  Please take a moment to complete the survey. The survey is estimated to take between six to ten minutes to complete. All information will be reported in general terms and individual business information will remain confidential.

Please feel free to contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600 or via email at chamber@northcentralmass.com with any questions or concerns.


Thank you in advance for your participation.

Survey Partners

Thank you to the following communities and organizations for helping to distribute the survey to businesses and organizations:

City of Gardner                       Town of Harvard

City of Fitchburg                     Town of Westminster

City of Leominster                  Town of Lancaster

Town of Clinton                       Town of Barre

Devens Community                Orange Community

Pepperell Community            Town of Winchendon

Town of Athol                          Town of Townsend

Town of Ayer                            Making Opportunities Count

Town of Lunenburg                Center for Women & Enterprise

Enterprise Bank                      Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority

Reimagine North of Main     Town of Ashby

Town of Templeton

How To Get Your Mindset Right When Everything Feels Wrong

You want to grow your local business and treat your employees and customers right. But sometimes it’s hard to keep your mind focused on what you know you should be doing. We understand how easy it is to fall into doubt, worry, or even mental paralysis, especially when everything around you feels wrong somehow.

But we believe in you and in your business. That’s why we’ve put together this list of tips to help you keep your mindset in the right place and stay focused on the things that matter most right now. Take a look.

  1. Give Yourself a Break

If your mental intake is focused on doom, gloom, and uncertainty, your mindset isn’t going to be a healthy one. Instead, give yourself permission to step away from current news, and open your mind to healthier input. That might be anything from funny YouTube videos to a chapter of a novel you’ve been meaning to read for years. You’ll return to your tasks with a healthier mindset and renewed energy.

  1. Focus on Helping Others

Thinking about others and what they need is a sure-fire way to get your mindset right. Whether it’s overtipping your food delivery person with a kind note, checking in with the cleaning staff at your business to make sure they’re okay, or driving by a child’s house to wave them a happy birthday, you’ll feel stronger when you express generosity and thoughtfulness to others.

  1. Take Good Care of Your Body

It’s easy to think of your mind as something separate from your body, but times of crisis make it clear how very interconnected they are. Stop every hour to spend 30 seconds breathing deeply. Even if you can’t go to the gym, take a walk or do some light exercises at home. While a little comfort food is understandable, don’t neglect the veggies and fruits that give you the vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy. And allow yourself to go to bed a bit earlier or sleep in a bit later to help boost your immune system as well as your mindset.

  1. Write Things Down

Some people use lists to stay in control of their world — and it’s also a good way to keep your mind focused. More broadly, it can also be helpful to write down how you’re feeling in a time when everything feels a bit off. Write down the best and worst-case scenarios to keep your mind from spinning in circles, or start a journal to chronicle what you’re going through. Often the act of writing something down on paper (or on a screen) can help you purge the associated feelings and get your mind back in gear.

When you adjust your mindset by focusing outward rather than on what seems wrong, you improve not only your own sense of focus but also your relationships with those around you. Bypassing the negative messages that sometimes seem to assault your mind to focus on the positive instead can help you face whatever comes next with hope and determination.

Cautious Optimism About the Future, Despite the Uncertainty Ahead

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on a national, statewide and local scale, some economic forecasters say there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking at the 9th annual Economic Forecast sponsored by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Bo Zhao, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said he is hopeful that continued public health measures, and a robust vaccine rollout will help spur an economic revitalization.

“Despite high uncertainty ahead, there are several reasons for cautious optimism about the medium-term economic outlook, including effective vaccines, favorable financial conditions, rising asset prices and a resilient housing market,’’ Zhao said.

Simon Anderson, an international futurist speaker, highlighted segments of the economy that he thinks will see significant growth post-pandemic, including local experiences and products like outdoor recreation, farms, restaurants, and breweries, all of which could be a boon for North Central Massachusetts.

“People are going to want to go to the apple orchards, get some freshly made cider, pick some apples, go to a craft brewery, just be with some friends in person, go to a restaurant, shop at a local store in their neighborhood,’’ Anderson said. “I think this is going to drive up demand for local experience, which is going to be just great for small businesses.’’

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That demand cannot come soon enough for local business hit hardest by the pandemic. Zhao said in Greater Worcester, only trade/transportation/utilities maintained a similar level of employment during the pandemic.

Leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, movies and hotels, had the largest one-year drop in job loss among all sectors at 24.5 percent. He said those types of jobs cannot be done remotely and were most impacted by government restrictions.

But there are positive signs, Anderson said, such as the number of applications for new restaurants.

According to the National Restaurant Association, COVID forced the closure of 110,000 eateries, representing 1 in 6 establishments in the United States. But in just the first two months of 2021, 50,000 new applications for food establishments were submitted for new restaurants, Anderson said.

“Those new businesses will be so much more adaptive and ready for challenges because of what they’ve seen and been through,’’ Anderson said.

This year’s Economic Forecast, held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, is held annually to give the community and business leaders a look into the economic future of the region. Video of the webinar is available for replay on the chamber’s website.

Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Roy Nascimento welcomed attendees to the webinar, which he said is traditionally one of the signature business events of the year.

As March 2021 marked the one-year point of the pandemic, Nascimento said it remains critically important for the business community to stay informed and connected.

Since the start of the pandemic, the chamber has held over 100 online programs designed to inform, educate and connect members.

Friday’s webinar was intended to provide insight into the economy and what post-COVID life will look like. Lauren Howe, principal and owner of empHowered PR LLC in Leominster, served as master of ceremonies, introducing the speakers and reading questions from attendees submitted online.

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Anderson highlighted segments of the economy that could see significant growth post-pandemic. One of his key “Emerging Opportunities’’ focused on how businesses could capitalize on the shift to remote to build their business and benefit consumers.

Telehealth, Anderson said, has been a true success story for patients and doctors alike.

“You have a lot of people now that can access their health care via zoom, via Facetime or online,’’ he said. “That’s a really incredibly positive trend because a lot of people have transportation challenges and mobility challenges and miss appointments for their doctor because they can’t get there.’’

Anderson said the shift to telehealth and also remote education would have taken a lot longer if it wasn’t forced.

“It was very difficult in the beginning, but I think we will see a lot of positive outcomes going forward,’’ he said.

Anderson said e-commerce has been another bright spot that will continue to grow. In 2020, there was a 45 percent increase in e-commerce compared to the traditional 15 percent spike.

Retailers have adapted through curbside and delivery, allowing them to expand their customer base.

“Even though we were hit so hard with this pandemic with a lot of small businesses especially, I truly believe we are going to come back a lot stronger,’’ Anderson said.

And with more people working from home and traveling less, there will be more demand for local experiences and products, Anderson said. Another benefit of people working from home is that local businesses will be able to cast a wider net for employees who may not want to commute or move to the region.

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Other emerging opportunities, according to Anderson, are the electrification of transportation; advancements in automation; and blockchain tech and digital currency.

According to Zhao, another positive has been the housing market.

He said historically low interest rates, a strong stock market and low supply created an upward pressure in the market.

The Chamber will be holding its annual Real Estate Summit on May 18 this year. This event, a collaboration between the Chamber and the North Central Massachusetts Association of Realtors, will provide an in-depth look at the real estate market in the region.

All in all, after a decline in 2020, the U.S. economy is expected to have a strong recovery in 2021, Zhao said. Unemployment projections also show positive trends, he said, however they could still remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

He is also hopeful that the recovery from this crisis will be faster than previous downturns because it has been driven by a public health crisis and not economic triggers.

“People should feel cautiously optimistic, but we have to keep in mind that this is a brand-new virus and there is still a lot of uncertainty,’’ Zhao said.

To learn more about the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, please visit www.NorthCentralMass.com or contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600.

 

State House News Service Weekly Roundup: Blood in the Water

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Matt Murphy

 

The Democratic sharks are circling, sensing vulnerability in a Republican governor with few teammates to protect his flank. But even if Gov. Charlie Baker looks like easy prey to some in a state like Massachusetts, Democrats on Beacon Hill are unpracticed hunters.

“We know he’s a RINO anyway,” joked Sen. Nick Collins during his resurrection of the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast last Sunday, alluding to the fact that Baker is actually more popular with Democratic voters than Republicans.

Collins brought back the breakfast after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus at a time when his own political ambitions for City Hall, still shrouded in mystery, were ripe for roasting. And while it may have been even less clear if the attempts at jokes landed in the virtual realm, the live-streamed, green-themed breakfast jump-started a week during which good-natured ribbing would quickly give way to intentional and, at times, pointed jabs.

The Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management held its second oversight hearing on Tuesday with a clear objective — challenge Baker’s decision not to rely more on local boards of health for vaccination distribution.

Even as Massachusetts has climbed the state rankings for shots administered, the choice to administer many of those shots at mass vaccination sites instead of through local clinics and municipal public health infrastructure is the hill some in the legislature have chosen to plant their flag.

Democrats accused him of throwing out the playbook right before the big game, and spending millions on private-run facilities when that money could have been used to scale up locally-run clinics.

Baker stood his ground, suggesting he is acting off the same script being used by the BIden administration and pointing out how privately operated mass vaccination sites aren’t even the largest distributors of vaccines in Massachusetts. Hospitals are.

The governor said local disaster plans weren’t developed to deliver a vaccine of limited quantity with very specific cold-storage requirements and a short shelf life. And he and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said that while some local health agencies, like the ones invited to testify, may have been equipped to administer COVID-19 shots, hundreds of other boards of health were not and made that clear when they didn’t raise their hands to help vaccinate their own first responders or the 75+ population.

The defense didn’t sit well with Baker’s critics on the committee: “What we’re getting from you is, ‘You’re all wrong, we’re doing great, please, we don’t want to hear it anymore.’ And I find that hard to take,” said an exasperated Sen. Cindy Friedman.

For much of the hour, lawmakers monologued and Baker scribbled notes off screen. Some shots landed and others missed the mark, like when Baker had to explain that he didn’t control how many doses go to retail pharmacies.

And at the end of a long day, it was unclear if any progress had been made: “The stark differences between the testimony received demands that we dig deeper and understand better why decades of public investment in emergency preparedness have been shelved in favor of another approach, hastily constructed during a global pandemic,” Driscoll and Comerford said in a post-hearing statement.

While the theme of the hearing was to dunk on mass vaccination sites, the idea of a federally supported site, and the thousands of extra does that come with it, was one that seemed to hold some interest for Democrats.

Rep. William Driscoll appeared very curious to know when exactly the state had applied for one of these FEMA run sites, which was announced in February when the delegation sent a letter of support to the Biden administration.

On Friday, the White House and Baker announced that the newest state-run mass vaccination site at the Hynes Convention Center would be supported with an additional 6,000 doses a day from the federal government, raising the daily capacity of the site to 7,000.

The FEMA sponsorship of the Hynes was one of several good-news announcements about supply this week that also brought word of 40,000 additional doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The J&J increase prompted Baker to launch a locally-supported vaccination program to reach homebound residents.

Everyone agrees the faster the vaccine arrives and gets put into arms, the sooner the state can emerge from the year-long pandemic. That’s why Baker’s hiring of McKinsey & Co. to write a report about the “future-of-work” has generated so much interest.

But Attorney General Maura Healey’s interest in the report this week had nothing to do with her curiosity to learn what the global consulting firm recommends. Healey, who is being watched like a hawk for hints at her political future, went after Baker for hiring McKinsey after her office and others around the country reached a settlement with the firm last month for $573 million over its role in helping Purdue Pharma “turbocharge” opioid sales to turn a profit.

The “future-of-work” contract is one of many the firm holds with the state, and Healey called it “outrageous” that Massachusetts would continue to give them business. One of her opening salvos in the 2022 gubernatorial campaign? Maybe. But even a visit by the attorney general to a picket line in Worcester these days is cause for speculation.

Before Boston voters even get to 2022, they will have to choose a new mayor in the fall and it won’t be Marty Walsh … Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Wheeling his suitcase through Logan Airport and clutching a cup of Doughboy Donuts coffee, Walsh left Boston for Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, the morning after the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination to lead the Labor Department. He officially resigned as mayor at 9 p.m. on March 22, handing the reins of the city over to Kim Janey, the former City Council president who became the first woman and Black resident of Boston to be able to call themselves mayor.

Whether Janey will seek extend her historic elevation as mayor beyond the next eight months remains to be seen, but given the current field it would appear the long-running hold on the office by Irish and Italian men will soon be broken.

Janey takes over a city where the school department was granted a waiver by Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to delay its return to in-person learning for K-8 students until April 26. Boston was one of at least 60 districts given a reprieve from the April 5 deadline to bring elementary students back to the classroom.

House Speaker Ron Mariano told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that the waiver process was important because ultimately it should be the local districts deciding when it’s safe to return to school.

The speaker has largely sided with the teachers’ unions in their dispute with Baker over classroom safety. But overall, Mariano said the governor has worked “very effectively” with the Legislature through the pandemic, and used his executive powers “extremely well” apart from some well documented “hiccups” with the vaccine rollout.

Baker even put his name this week on a game-changing climate bill that will put Massachusetts on the path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 after working with lawmakers to make small but important adjustments.

The new climate law also directs another massive 2,400-megawatt procurement of offshore wind power. And that was actually what Mariano wanted to talk to the GBCC about.

The speaker announced that the forthcoming House budget proposal would direct $10 million through the Clean Energy Center to train workers for careers in offshore wind, and he promised to pursue a “large-scale” bonding effort to secure the South Coast’s position as the regional hub of the offshore wind industry.

Mariano also said he wasn’t in any rush to return to debate over raising taxes to pay for transportation, at least not until the pandemic aftershocks subside and leaders can take stock of the MBTA and its new needs.

Besides, he said, there’s $1 billion coming to Massachusetts from the “American Rescue Plan” for public transit and $4.5 billion more in direct aid for state government that changes the calculations.

Walsh’s Dorchester successor in the House, Rep. Dan Hunt, will lead a hearing next week to dive into the pot of gold that is the latest stimulus package, and already Baker has committed $100 million to Chelsea, Everett, Randolph and Methuen where leaders have said federal funding formulas shortchanged those hard-hit cities because of their size.

House and Senate leaders have said they want to exert more control over how this newest round of stimulus gets spent, but Mariano said he agrees that those communities should be supported, and believes there may be more cities and towns deserving.

With unemployment ticking down to 7.1 percent, the House and Senate also agreed that workers unemployed over the last year are deserving of a new tax deduction on their first $10,200 in unemployment benefits.

The more expensive Senate version of the tax break was part of a bill that will limit the hit to businesses of unemployment insurance rate hikes this year and extend additional COVID-19 sick leave to Massachusetts workers.

The legislation was enacted Thursday, along with a piece of the joint rules setting up committees like the Joint Bonding Committee so that a $400 million borrowing bill to rebuild the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home can be advanced.

And while there were few objections to substance, Sen. Diana DiZoglio and Sen. John Keenan again had a few concerns with process.

“State House News knew before the members of this body knew what we were going to be doing,” said a miffed Sen. DiZoglio.