Employer Medical Assistance Contributions

Over the last decade, a seemingly mundane topic has come to dominate the political debate. At the state and the federal levels, healthcare and the method by which it is funded have grown into contentious issues capable of eliciting heated discussion. This is especially true in Massachusetts, a state which struggles with ever rising medical costs despite serving as home to some of the nation’s leading hospitals. Just this past April, the state’s House of Representatives included a $16 billion allocation to MassHealth in their state budget proposal. Compared to the budget as a whole, that amounts to forty one percent of all proposed spending by the Commonwealth.

Recognizing this challenge, Governor Baker attempted to encourage enrollment in private insurance programs. Last year, he proposed a two pronged approach. The Administration would address a growing deficit in the state insurance system by temporarily increasing the employer medical assistance contribution (EMAC) businesses pay on a quarterly basis. At the same time, it would have instituted reforms removing any individual with access to private insurance from MassHealth’s roles, slowing the program’s growth. While businesses agreed to this compromise with the understanding that steps were being taken to address the underlying problem, the Legislature eliminated the proposed changes to MassHealth and left employers with no such assurances.

As though this were not bad enough, many business owners were shocked in April when they received their first quarterly “contribution”. The new EMAC appraisal established two tiers of assessment. The first increased the existing annual EMAC charge from $51 per employee to $77, an additional cost of fifty one percent! However, if an employee is identified as a MassHealth member, the second tier is applied. This sets the charge for such employees at five percent of their wage up to $15,000, setting annual charges as high as $750 an employee! Moreover, these taxes apply to businesses with as few as six employees, and include both seasonal and part time workers when calculating the charge.

Employers have been frustrated further by the fact that they were never made aware of which employees, if any, were enrolled with MassHealth. This prevented them from offering those individuals insurance or at least setting aside funds for a charge they could have otherwise anticipated. At this Chamber, one member reported receiving a bill for $6,000 the first quarter. As a restauranteur with tight margins and limited ability to provide his employees healthcare, this individual estimates his assessment to amount to $20,000 by the year’s end.

The Governor initiated this program with the intention of bridging a $260 million gap in MassHealth’s budget over two years. As of this month, the Commonwealth appears likely to achieve this goal early. If this occurs, we hope he will follow through on his promise to end this costly experiment and return the EMAC to its original levels. In the meantime, steps should be taken to mitigate the program’s impact on small businesses. For a small retailer or eatery dependent upon part time labor, an unexpected expense of $750 can have a devastating impact. If nothing else, the Administration can take a more active approach in notifying businesses of what their contribution is likely to be and informing them of which employees are in need of health insurance.

Any businesses impacted by this assessment should consider reaching out to their local legislators. A directory of the region’s state senators and representatives can be found at the Chamber’s website by clicking here. We ask that you share your experience and any questions you may have with us as well. Please call Christopher McDermott, the Chamber’s Public Affairs Manager, at (978) 353-7600 ext. 224 or email him at cmcdermott@northcentralmass.com to do so. We are keenly aware of this program’s impact on local business and want to be sure that your voice is heard.

Burnette and Myers Recognized with Service Awards

Diane Burnette, manager of the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center and Matt Myers, marketing and communications manager were recently honored by the Massachusetts Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (MACCE) with distinguished service awards.

Burnette was recognized for twenty years of service in the chamber of commerce industry and Myers was recognized for five years of service.

The Massachusetts Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (MACCE) recognized its 2018 Service Awards at its Annual Meeting held on April 6, 2018 in Worcester, MA.  MACCE Service Awards recognize and promote chamber professionals in Massachusetts who have achieved significant years of service in the chamber industry.

Myers started working at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in 2013 as a marketing intern while completing his communications degree from Fitchburg State University and was subsequently hired as marketing coordinator for the Chamber’s tourism arm, the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association. He was promoted to marketing and communication manager in 2016. He is responsible for managing the marketing initiatives for the Chamber and its affiliate organizations.

A lifelong resident of Fitchburg, Burnette started with the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in 1998 as an administrative assistant and worked her way up to the manager of the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center.  She is responsible for managing the day to day operations and overseeing staff at the visitor center on Route 2 in Lancaster, MA.

“Diane and Matt are important contributors to the success of the Chamber,” said Roy M. Nascimento, president & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “This recognition is well deserved and a testament to their professionalism and dedication to our members and communities in North Central Massachusetts.”

 

Chamber Welcomes University of Tampa Intern

The North Central Chamber of Massachusetts is welcoming Lindsey Sutela this summer for an internship.

Lindsey is a resident of Westminster, Massachusetts and Class of 2016 graduate of Oakmont Regional High School. She moved to Tampa to start her college career in the fall of 2016 as a student at the University of Tampa in the Sykes College of Business. At the University of Tampa, Lindsey is enrolled in the Honors Program and a member of several clubs including the American Marketing Association. She is also set to be the Marketing Chair of DECA when the new club is formed in the fall. She has consistently been a Dean’s List recipient at the University. Now a junior, Lindsey is working towards receiving a degree in Marketing in the spring of 2020.

As a Marketing major, Lindsey is excited to learn about event coordinating and marketing, and gain real-life working experience at the Chamber this summer. She is also very interested to learn about the many resources and opportunities that the Chamber has to offer for local businesses and the community. This will allow her to gain working experience while also allowing her to learn more about the businesses in her community.

“We are excited to welcome Lindsey as part of our team for the next few weeks,” said Roy M. Nascimento, President & CEO of the Chamber.  “We are lucky to have students from across the country joining us and supporting the advancement of North Central Massachusetts.

Experience North Central at Mill No. 3

Program provides unique opportunity to experience local business while networking

The next edition of the Experience North Central series is scheduled for Thursday, May 3, 2018 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and will feature one of the area’s newest, unique additions: a balsamic vinegar and olive oil bar at Mill No. 3. Earlier this year, Mill No. 3, located at 85 Westminster Street in Fitchburg, became the only venue locally to host a balsamic vinegar and olive oil bar featuring more than 50 varieties!

Experience North Central is a popular new experiential networking series launched by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association last fall. Each session of the Experience North Central series offers a non-traditional networking opportunity with a fun, experiential learning twist.   Guests at the May event will learn about balsamic vinegar and olive oil while taste testing and pairing different varieties. Attendees will be able to experience foods and wine from Mill No. 3 while enjoying the quaint atmosphere of the shop, garden center and view from the seating area outside.

In 1996, Mill No. 3 began as a mobile stand selling corn and tomatoes on a heavily wooded lot where the waterfall was not visible due to the dense brush. Today, Mill No. 3 Farmstand is blessed with a steady clientele of friends, family, neighbors and passersby, an enormous opportunity for future growth, and the motivation of a job well done. The business has grown to include a deli, beer & wine, groceries, flowers, coffee, pastries and also now offers 50 varieties of Olive Oils & Vinegar.

“It is important to inform the local community on all of the great things happening in North Central Massachusetts,” said Roy Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association. “This is a great opportunity to showcase a local small business right in our backyard while providing an opportunity for people to connect and engage.”

The cost of the event is $15 for Chamber and JATA members and $25 for non-members. For registration, please visit www.northcentralmass.com or contact Maria McCaffrey at 978.353.7604 x. 235 or mmccaffrey@northcentralmass.com

Business and Community Leaders Meet with Keolis to Discuss the Fitchburg Line

On Wednesday April 4, 2018, Mayor Stephen L. DiNatale of the City of Fitchburg and representatives from the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association (JATA) traveled on the Fitchburg commuter rail line into Boston to highlight the importance of the MBTA rail service to North Central Massachusetts.  Gerald Francis, president and Linda Dillon, director of customer experience from Keolis accompanied the delegation from downtown Fitchburg into North Station. The ride provided ample time to discuss the positives and negatives about the line as it currently stands, as well as opportunities for future partnerships.

“It was important for the city to have met with Keolis to discuss the commuter rail and its impact on Fitchburg” said Mayor DiNatale. “Fitchburg is fortunate to have two stops on the line. With the investment and updates Keolis is making to their infrastructure, it is imperative to build these relationships so we can continue our work promoting our city throughout the Commonwealth.”

Infrastructure, reverse commuting, social media outreach, commute length, connecting with local businesses, and future partnerships were all topics discussed while being able to experience the train first hand. The discussion also focused on efficiency and the customer experience, including using social media to communicate any delays beforehand to riders. The MBTA’s Fitchburg line has recently been receiving updates all along the track that has made it one of the most efficient tracks; however the construction has affected commuters by creating occasional delays in service.

“The Ski Train” has been an effective partnership over the past few years promoting ski season at Wachusett Mountain to those in Greater Boston. During the winter months on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the MBTA runs special trains on the Fitchburg Line that are equipped with ski and snowboard racks, making the commute to the slopes easy and comfortable. Boston has the highest skier per capita for any major city in the US, which makes promotions of the Ski Train as well as skiing overall a great market. Attracting university students from the city to enjoy the amenities of the region for all four seasons was also a main topic of discussion.

“Tourism is important to the future of North Central Massachusetts and plays an increasingly important role in our local economy” said Roy Nascimento, president & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association. “Many visitors are coming from Boston and the commuter rail provides us greater access to individuals who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make it to our region and experience our unique destinations.”

As traffic around Greater Boston continues to grow, and millennials are becoming more reliant on public transportation, commuter rail provides the possibility of being a key driver in the continued growth of North Central Massachusetts.

The trip and discussions with Keolis leadership were organized by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, Johnny Appleseed Trail Association and the Office of the Mayor of Fitchburg in an effort to facilitate partnerships and explore ways to better improve the Fitchburg Rail Line for the benefit of residents and businesses.

STARTING OR EXPANDING A SMALL BUSINESS 101 SEMINAR SCHEDULED FOR MAY

The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation and Avidia Bank are holding two business workshops on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 aimed at assisting potential and existing entrepreneurs.

These free workshops are approximately two and a half hours each and are being held in partnership with the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, SCORE and NewVue Communities.  Both workshops will be held at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce office, 860 South Street, Fitchburg, MA.

Session I: Fundamentals in Planning, Preparing, and Financing Your Business will run from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and will focus on evaluating and understanding the fundamentals of owning one’s own business.  Information on how to get started, where and how to get financing and the loan application process will be presented.  Registration begins at 8:00. Continental breakfast will be provided for all participants.  Presented by Bob Aspell, SCORE

Session II: Understanding the Purpose of Financial Statements and How They Can Help Determine the Health of Your Business will run from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and will focus on understanding a balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement.  The workshop will also explain how a small business owner can anticipate financial needs in order to operate his/her business more efficiently.  Registration begins at 11:30. Lunch will be provided for all participants. Presented by Bob Aspell, SCORE

North Central Massachusetts Development Corp Grants a Micro-Loan to Small Business in Worcester

The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC) recently granted a $20,000 micro-loan to Lauren and Zack Rohacik, owners of Steel Strength and Nutrition.   Steel Strength and Nutrition is a retail supplement store located at 458 Park Avenue in Worcester.  This business provides its customers affordable, high quality vitamins and minerals, herbal supplements, clean sports nutrition, meal replacements, and a limited selection of sports apparel and weight lifting equipment.  Zachary and Lauren have spent their entire adult lives as fitness enthusiasts, and competitive power lifters as well as coaches and sponsors of youth organizations, church groups and gyms.

This loan will assist with the purchase of inventory, as well as marketing and other costs associated with starting the new business. The loan was a referral from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Clark University.  SBDC also assisted Lauren and Zack with a business plan and financial package.

As a microloan lender, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation can provide loans to small businesses up to $150,000 for working capital, equipment, inventory, expansion and can work with our banking partners to provide gap financing for the final piece of a project

North Central Massachusetts Development Corp Grants an Express Loan to Small Business in Acton

The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC) recently granted a $5,000 Express Loan to Jennifer Morales, owner of Genesis Coaching and Consulting located in Acton.  Genesis is a coaching and consulting private practice for educational, career, and wellness goals with a special focus on those living with a mental illness, their family member, and first generation college students.   Dr. Jennifer Morazes has been coaching and mentoring students for 20 years and recently opened her own business which is located at 282 Central Street, Acton, MA.  This loan will assist with the purchase with start-up costs associated with starting this new business. The loan was a referral from Commerce Bank.   For more information visit www.genesistimetobegin.com.

As a microloan lender, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC) can provide loans to start up and emerging small businesses up to $150,000 for working capital, equipment, inventory, expansion and can work with our banking partners to provide gap financing for the final piece of a projectNCMDCs Express Loan program is a $5,000 microloan that offers a quick and easy turnaround for access to capital.  Express Loan clients must have been in business for a minimum of one year.

North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation Approved as SBA Community Advantage Lender

The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC) has been designated as a “SBA Community Advantage Lender,” according to an announcement made today by Robert H. Nelson, Massachusetts District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration.  New England SBA Regional Administrator Wendell Davis and SBA MA District Director Nelson co-presented the designation to NCMDC President Roy Nascimento at a special event in Fitchburg.

US Representatives Nikki Tsongas and James McGovern; Massachusetts Asst. Secretary of Business Development and Trade Nam Pham; Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale; and numerous other business and community leaders also participated in the special event.

Established in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the Community Advantage Lender Program seeks to extend credit to small businesses in underserved communities. It accomplishes this by seeking out lenders with experience working with clients who fit this description and ensuring their loans. The SBA provides guarantees of 85% for loans up to $150,000 and 75% for loans above that and up to $250,000.

To qualify as participants, applicants to the program are required to fit at least one of four criteria. Among these are recognition by the US Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and certification as an SBA approved microlender. Beyond that, participants are required to direct 60% of their Community Advantage backed loans to “underserved markets”. These include neighborhoods identified by the census as boasting a median income at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI), businesses who primarily employ individuals from low to moderate income (LMI) households or census tracts, new businesses established within the last two years, and businesses qualified to participate in the SBA’s Veterans Advantage Program.

Already a SBA certified microlender and federally recognized Community Development Financial Institution, the NCMDC provides gap financing and serves as a lender of last resort for small businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Central Massachusetts. In doing so, it has lent out roughly $6 million since its inception in 1996, leveraged an additional $21 million in private funds, and created nearly a thousand jobs. During a recent review of its portfolio, roughly half of its existing loans were found to be located in low to moderate income census tracts. “We are very excited and honored to have been selected as an SBA approved Community Advantage Lender,” said Roy M. Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce and the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation.  “This new partnership with the SBA will go a long way in helping to support local small businesses and the economic growth of the region.”

“The power of the Community Advantage Program is that it allows mission-based lenders like North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation — the ability to better meet the financing needs of the region’s small business that grow and thrive beyond traditional microfinance levels,” said Bob Nelson, SBA Massachusetts District Director.  “This new status will allow NCMDC to leverage the guarantee of the Small Business Administration, which is typically 75% – 85% of the loan, up to $250,000 — to help more promising small businesses obtain the right amount of capital they need to start, grow and build vibrant business districts.”

Among those speaking at Thursdays event were the region’s two US representatives. Congratulating the NCMDC for their designation, Rep. Tsongas stated that “So much American innovation occurs within small businesses and the federal government must play a deliberate role in supporting small business growth.” She went on to point out that “Partnerships between federal agencies and local organizations like the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation are how the federal government can be a strategic partner.”

Rep. McGovern likewise stated that “Keeping our economy strong starts with smart investments in local small businesses. North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation is playing a vital role in helping small businesses in our region get the support they need to succeed. Their work with small businesses in underserved communities is helping to break down barriers and open more doors for entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. I am proud to support NCMDC and look forward to seeing all the ways they help to expand opportunity and grow our economy for years to come.”

Under this program, loans made by the NCMDC can be used for working capital, leasehold improvements, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures and refinancing of business credit card debt. Eligible businesses include manufacturing, retail, wholesale and service businesses usually having five employees or less at the time of application and meeting the definition of small business. The interest rates are flexible, but generally close to the current fixed market rate.

Johnny Appleseed Trail Association hosting Annual Tourism Update Breakfast

Forum to bring together tourism related businesses and organizations in the region

The Johnny Appleseed Trail Association (JATA) and the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce are pleased to announce the third annual Tourism Update Breakfast being held on Friday, March 23, 2018 at Chocksett Inn, 59 Laurelwood wood Road, Sterling MA. This exciting and fast paced breakfast event features industry experts who will share their professional insights on marketing North Central Massachusetts. The 2018 breakfast program is sponsored by the Chocksett Inn of Sterling, MA.

Lisa Strout, Director of the Massachusetts Film Office, will discuss the film industry in Massachusetts and its direct impact on North Central Massachusetts as the industry continues to grow. The MA Film Office is the state agency dedicated to promoting the Commonwealth as a premier location for commercial, film and television production. Lisa Strout has been at the helm of the Massachusetts Film Office since June of 2011, and has overseen over 50 major film and television productions throughout the state during her tenure. Lisa was formerly the director of the New Mexico Film Office for nearly a decade, during its production boom. She has 33 years of experience in the film industry, including 20 years as a location manager in New England, New York, California, New Mexico, Texas, and Italy. Films include: Mystic Pizza, Falling Down, Dante’s Peak, Room with a View and Thirteen Days. In addition, she managed the New York City offices of Merchant Ivory Productions for two years.

Tony D’Agostino, has been with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism for more than ten years as the Director of Research. In that time, D’Agostino’s main projects have been related to studying the volume of tourists, visitors and the economic impact of tourism spending in Massachusetts. These reports support the marketing initiatives and activities of the sixteen regional tourism councils across the Commonwealth.  Mr. D’Agostino’s presentation will highlight

visitor trends, top visitor markets and the impact of tourism for the state and region.

“Tourism is important to the future of North Central Massachusetts and plays an increasingly important role in our local economy” said Roy Nascimento, president of the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association. “We organize this annual program as a way to bring tourism related stakeholders in the region together to share best practices, learn new trends in the industry and to take advantage of new opportunities to better market local businesses and the region to visitors.”

The Tourism Update Breakfast is open to all community members and will run from 7:30 am to 9:30 am. The cost is just $20 for JATA and North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce members/$30 for non-members and includes a breakfast buffet. Registration can be done online at www.northcentralmass.com. Pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, please contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600 ext. 235 or visit www.northcentralmass.com.