State Expecting Elevated Tax Revenues To Hold

Source: State House News Service
Author: Colin A. Young

1.6 Percent Growth Expected, 4.1 Percent When Surtax Included

The Healey administration and legislative budget managers agreed Monday to build their upcoming state budget plans on the assumptions that they will have $40.41 billion in general state tax revenue to spend in the budget year that begins July 1 and an additional $1 billion in revenue from the state’s new high-earner surtax that can be put towards education or transportation.

The fiscal year 2024 consensus revenue agreement announced Monday would represent 1.6 percent growth over the latest estimate for fiscal year 2023 tax revenue, or 4.1 percent growth when adding the $1 billion in projected revenue from the surtax on income greater than $1 million to the equation. The surtax revenue, by law, is supposed to only be spent on education and transportation initiatives.

“The Fiscal Year 2024 consensus revenue forecast lays the groundwork for a fiscally responsible FY24 spending plan that supports core services for residents and makes meaningful and sustainable progress in addressing the varied needs and issues facing the Commonwealth,” Administration and Finance Secretary Matthew Gorzkowicz, who agreed to the growth figure with Ways and Means Committee chairs Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Michael Rodrigues, said. “More importantly, the additional surtax revenue will allow for significant new investments in transportation and education that will make the Commonwealth more competitive, affordable, and equitable.”

Gov. Maura Healey is expected to file her first annual budget proposal by March 1. The House and Senate will redraft Healey’s spending blueprint and debate their own versions, likely in April and May. Fiscal year 2024 begins on July 1, but Massachusetts has rarely had its full-year budget in place by that date in recent years.

“I think really important and exciting news on the consensus revenue and what is an atypical year in terms of how these things are put together. So we’re really pleased to be able to announce that today,” Healey said Monday afternoon.

The governor referred back to the consensus revenue accord later in the same press conference Monday when asked about the future of Chapter 62F, the state tax revenue cap law that House lawmakers in particular have said they want to see changed.

“I don’t know what the future looks like,” she said. “I know that right now we’re really pleased to be out with the consensus revenue number. We’ll be having some discussions about upcoming budget and priorities and the like, and a lot of work to sort through in the immediate,” Healey said.

Rodrigues said the revenue accord “provides a strong foundation for the Legislature and the Healey-Driscoll administration to develop a forward looking FY24 budget plan that upholds fiscal responsibility and meets the critical needs of our communities.” Michlewitz said it “will allow the Legislature and the Healey-Driscoll administration to collectively construct a reasonable and appropriate budget for the upcoming fiscal year.”

“By basing the budget on a judicious consensus revenue figure, the Commonwealth will be able to make the necessary investments that our constituents deserve, while at the same time enhancing the state’s fiscal health,” Michlewitz said.

The $40.41 billion revenue estimate that Gorzkowicz, Michlewitz and Rodrigues agreed to Monday, a day ahead of their deadline, is largely in keeping with the testimony they heard from economic and budget experts at a hearing last week.

The Department of Revenue forecasted fiscal year 2024 state tax revenue within a range of $39.838 billion to $41.017 billion, the Mass. Taxpayers Foundation projected that fiscal year 2024 state revenues will come in at $40.06 billion, and the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University estimated that fiscal year 2024 state tax revenue will land at $40.2 billion.

While the official estimate of 1.6 percent growth is well below what Beacon Hill officials have projected in each of the last at least six years, it means that state revenues are expected to stay at their significantly elevated levels.

The consensus revenue growth estimates were for 3.5 percent in fiscal 2022 and 2.7 percent in fiscal 2023, but over those two years state tax revenues actually surged more than 15 percent and more than 20 percent, respectively. The fiscal year 2024 revenue estimate of $40.41 billion is more than $10 billion above the estimate that Michlewitz, Rodrigues and the Baker administration originally agreed to for fiscal year 2022 ($30.12 billion) in January 2021.

The state budget, which totals $52.7 billion for fiscal 2023, is supplemented by substantial federal revenues along with non-tax revenues like fees. The fiscal year 2023 bottom line represented an increase of $5.1 billion or 10.7 percent over the $47.6 billion annual budget passed for fiscal 2022.

Gorzkowicz, Michlewitz and Rodrigues also confirmed Monday the amounts of money that will be transferred to various entities that have over the years secured themselves dedicated budget carve-outs. The MBTA will get $1.463 billion ($138 million more than in the current year), the Massachusetts School Building Authority will get $1.303 billion (an increase of $138 million), and $27 million will flow to the Workforce Training Fund.

There will also be a $4.105 billion transfer to the state pension fund — an increase of $361 million over the fiscal 2023 contribution — which is expected to keep Massachusetts on track to fully fund its pension liability by 2036.

Gorzkowicz also announced Monday that he was upgrading the current year’s revenue estimate by $151 million or about 0.4 percent, from $39.618 billion to $39.768 billion. The three top state budget officials said that $100 million of fiscal year 2023 revenue was earmarked Monday for use to “fully pay down” pension liabilities stemming from a 2015 early retirement incentive program that otherwise would not have been paid off until fiscal year 2027. That decision was announced as one made by “the secretary and chairs.”

Through the first half of fiscal 2023, DOR has collected $17.789 billion, which is $56 million or 0.3 percent less than what was collected to the same period of fiscal 2022, but still $1.087 billion or 6.5 percent more had been expected during that time period.

“However, a significant portion of the above-benchmark performance is due to lower than expected credits claimed by [pass-through entity] members, which we do expect to reverse in the second half of this fiscal year,” Revenue Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder said last week.

Gorzkowicz, Michlewitz and Rodrigues also agreed Monday to a 3.6 percent rate of potential gross state product growth for calendar year 2023. That figure is used to set up a health care cost growth benchmark under the 2012 cost containment law.

Mass. Housing Market Finished Year In Cooling Zone

Source: State House News Service
Author: Colin A. Young

Home Sales Fell Nearly 16 Percent Compared To 2021

After two years of double-digit increases in home sale prices and inventory that couldn’t keep up with demand, signs of a correction in the Massachusetts housing market were apparent in the final 2022 statistics, analysts at The Warren Group said Tuesday.

“The Massachusetts single-family market finally hit that wall we’ve all been anticipating,” Tim Warren, CEO of The Warren Group, said. “For the last few years, housing market activity has been so hot that inventory was unable to keep up — and our numbers reflect that. Add in economic uncertainties and the fact that mortgage rates are nearly double what they were a year ago, and you have the making for a cooling housing market.”

The industry watchers’ latest report paints a picture of the issues that Gov. Maura Healey’s proposed secretary of housing will have to contend with if or when that office is created. Healey declared high housing costs “unacceptable for our people, our businesses and our state’s future” in her inaugural address and said she would establish a new Cabinet secretary specific to housing within her first 100 days in office.

In 2022, there were 52,397 single-family home sales in Massachusetts — a 15.9 percent decrease compared to 2021. And at the same time, the median single-family home price increased 7.8 percent in 2022 to $550,000. Compared to the end of 2020, home sales are down 15.3 percent while the median sale price is up 23 percent.

The 3,838 single-family home sales in Massachusetts in December 2022 represented a decline of 31.7 percent from a year earlier while the median sale price of $510,000 set a new all-time high for the final month of the calendar year. Despite that, The Warren Group said, “year-over-year increases have been shrinking for the past three months.”

Tim Warren noted that home prices are still rising but that the increases are getting slimmer, “and they’re even getting close to none.” He said homes in Massachusetts cost more than buyers are willing to spend, inventory is drying up and rising mortgage rates make a purchase even more costly.

“People who were considering a home purchase have backed off, and instead of offering to purchase above the asking price, they are either on the sidelines or driving a hard bargain as bidding wars have become a thing of the past,” he said on The Warren Group’s monthly podcast. He added, “Talk of inflation and a possible recession this year have made consumers cautious and they have have curbed their enthusiasm for a new home.”

Further eroding buyers’ fervor is the talk of a looming recession and resulting job losses in 2023 as the Federal Reserve Bank appears poised to continue ratcheting up interest rates, Warren said.

“Given this scenario, I think the downward trend will continue throughout 2023 for the Massachusetts real estate market. Fewer listings will mean fewer sales and high mortgage rates will exert downward pressure on prices. Probably not all but some of the months of 2023 will see lower median price then in the same month in 2022,” he said. “In the stock market, prices declined by nearly 20 percent in 2022. We won’t see that deep correction in the local real estate market, but I expect we’ll see some price declines. And those who are confident in their jobs and their finances will find some bargains as the market slows.”

Harvard University professor Kenneth Rogoff put a number on his expectation for housing market declines in coming years, telling Bloomberg Television on Tuesday that he expects about a 10 percent drop over the next few years.

“There’s still a lot of downward adjustment in the housing markets globally, not just in the United States,” he said.

By April 15, the governor has said she will file legislation to create a standalone secretary of housing, splitting it off from the current Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. Healey made housing a major platform of her gubernatorial campaign last year and the issue was among the first policy areas she addressed in her Jan. 5 inaugural speech.

“The cost of housing is out of control for too many because we simply don’t have enough of it,” Healey said. “If we want Massachusetts to be a home for all, we need to build more places to live and we need to make sure those homes are within reach.”

Healey’s bifurcation of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development is likely to happen under the authority of Article 87 of the state Constitution. Under Article 87, executive branch reorganizations require a legislative hearing within 30 days of filing, a committee vote within 10 days of the hearing, and must receive an up-or-down vote from the Legislature, without amendment, within 60 days or the action takes effect. The Legislature allowed a handful of Article 87 reorganizations to take effect without votes under the Baker administration.

After Review, House To Swear In Scarsdale

Source: State House News Service
Author: Chris Lisinski

Panel: Election “Missteps Had No Impact On The Integrity Or The Final Outcome”

A special House committee concluded with bipartisan support that Margaret Scarsdale of Pepperell should be seated as the winner of a narrowly contested recount in the First Middlesex District, rejecting her Republican opponent’s contention that irregularities left the result in doubt.

After convening a hearing Friday to examine the challenge filed by Townsend Republican Andrew Shepherd, the three-member panel on Tuesday evening concluded there was not enough evidence to warrant tossing out the certified election results that gave Scarsdale a seven-vote win. The committee left open its review of a contested recount in another district.

The full House then adopted the committee’s report in part on an unrecorded voice vote at 7:30 p.m., clearing the way for Scarsdale to be inaugurated for the two-year lawmaking term that began Jan. 4.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Ron Mariano told the News Service that Scarsdale will be sworn in Wednesday morning in Gov. Maura Healey’s office alongside Reps.-elect Erika Uyterhoeven and Patricia Haddad, who were absent on Jan. 4, the original inauguration day.

Democrat Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham, Democrat Rep. Daniel Ryan of Charlestown and House Minority Leader Brad Jones all signed the report indicating their support for naming Scarsdale, a Democrat, the winner.

They wrote that Shepherd “failed to provide any corroborating evidence to support his claims that the irregularities that occurred in Pepperell, Groton, Dunstable and Lunenburg caused harm beyond pure speculation.”

“He has not met his burden of proof in this matter,” the lawmakers said.

Shepherd said Tuesday evening that he called Scarsdale to congratulate her and wish her well “as her success will be our district’s success.”

“Our committee is disappointed by the decision of the committee, but we are grateful the committee was willing to listen as we presented significant errors that came about during this election cycle,” he said in a statement. “We hope these issues raised about the process will lead to the strengthening of our voting system. I’m excited to continue my advocacy in our community and work with our new State Representative Margaret Scarsdale.”

In a statement, Scarsdale said she is “deeply grateful to Speaker Mariano for his steady leadership and to the committee members and their staff for their expeditious review and their attention to this critical process.”

“I am eager and ready to get down to business serving the hard-working people of the First Middlesex District,” she said. “I am excited to continue to advocate for our communities as a seated member of the House of Representatives, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to deliver real results for my district this session.”

Although they agreed that the issues Shepherd highlighted do not warrant nullifying the election results, lawmakers said the debate revealed there may be flaws in the state’s voting systems — which now feature widespread mail-in voting and expanded early voting following recent reforms — that need attention.

“The evidence presented to the Special Committee suggests that in one community there may have been instances where incorrect ballots were sent to qualified voters. In another community, it appears possible that fifty test ballots were inadvertently included during the recount with actual ballots cast,” the panel wrote. “In another community, it appears uncast ballots were included in the blanks tally as a simple way of accounting for those uncast ballots. While these missteps had no impact on the integrity or the final outcome of the election, similar missteps in the future, if occurring on a larger scale, could affect future elections.”

“In each of the instances outlined, the ballots in question do not impact the integrity or the outcome of the election in the First Middlesex District,” they added. “These missteps, while benign in the election for State Representative in the First Middlesex District, do highlight the need for continued close review of current regulations, training, policies and practices of elections in the Commonwealth.”

The special committee has not yet reached a decision on how to handle the other contested recount, where Democrat Kristin Kassner of Hamilton emerged with a one-vote win over Republican Rep. Lenny Mirra of Georgetown after trailing by 10 votes in the original certified results.

Mariano announced the night before the inauguration that the House would “temporarily delay” swearing in Kassner and Scarsdale and task a special committee with reviewing the legal challenges Mirra and Shepherd had filed.

The panel hosted all four candidates for a pair of hearings on Friday, where both Republicans argued that “human error” created substantial problems in the recounts and both Democrats defended the outcomes.

Shepherd and his attorney, former state representative and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, alleged that local clerks made several missteps such as failing to reject mail-in ballots where envelope signatures did not match registration cards and mailing ballots listing the wrong state representative race to some First Middlesex District voters.

The first-time Republican candidate from Townsend told lawmakers he did not believe “there were any conspiracies nor nefarious intent.”

“I simply believe that there was human error under the smallest of margins that has materially affected the outcome of this race,” he said on Friday.

The north central Massachusetts where Scarsdale won has been without representation in the House for nearly a year following the departure of former Republican Rep. Sheila Harrington, who resigned to take a job in the judicial branch.

Mirra continues to represent the Second Essex District on a holdover basis, and Kassner remains in limbo. The Governor’s Council certified both recounts on Dec. 14, but courts have ruled that the House itself has final jurisdiction over seating new members.

North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation approves financing to MK Dance Center

Funding to support expansion of dance studio in Leominster

The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC), the economic development arm of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, recently approved a $100,000 loan to MK Dance Center, Inc., located at Gateway Center, 435 Lancaster Street in Leominster.

The loan will be utilized to finance the build out and renovation costs at the dance studio’s new location to offer classes for dancers aged two through adult. The center employs two full-time employees and six part-time dance instructors.

Owners Kelly (Charpentier) Pelkey and Moriah Kelly-Hildreth opened MK Dance Center in 2013 and recently relocated to Gateway Center. The dance center offers Ballet, Tap, Jazz Contemporary, Hip-Hop, Break Dancing and more.

Pelkey and Kelly-Hildreth are childhood friends who met while dancing at a local studio. Pelkey studied ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and contemporary, and has received national recognition as a soloist and group member. She began assisting with classes as a teenager and went on to lead ballet, top and jazz classes. Pelkey attended Fitchburg State University and graduated with a degree in Human Services. Prior to owning MK Dance Center, she worked as a Licensed Social Worker.  Kelly-Hildreth has been teaching dance for 20 years, focusing on ballet, tap and jazz. After leading the Dance Department at Riverside Theatre Works in Hyde Park, she choreographed for vocal groups and children’s theater, and taught musical theater classes during summers at The Boston Ballet School. A graduate of the Dance Teachers Club of Boston’s Teachers Training School, she completed four years of Dance Masters of America’s Teachers Training School and is currently an Associate of the program.

“We have both loved to dance from an early age, and this funding affords us the opportunity to bring our passion of dance to more youth and the young at heart in our community,” said Pelkey. Added Kelly-Hildreth, “With the support of the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, we can build out our new space and create the dance studio of our dreams.”

As a microloan lender, NCMDC can provide loans to small businesses up to $250,000 for working capital, real estate, equipment, inventory, expansion and working with our banking partners to provide gap financing for the final piece of a project.

For more information about the NCMDC loan programs, please call 978.353.7607 or visit NorthCentralMass.com or ChooseNorthCentral.com.

Red Apple Farm provide an authentic, New England, family farm experience year-round

When Al Rose speaks about Red Apple Farm it is easy to see his passion for his business, his family, his apples, his home and his life.  Rose’s enthusiasm is infectious and is easily translated to all aspects of Red Apple Farm’s operation.

Founded in 1912, Rose has carried on the multi-generational farm and converted it into one of North Central Massachusett’s best-known businesses and tourism attractions.  With more than 100 full and part-time employees, Red Apple has expanded from its family farm and farm store in Phillipston to Wachusett Mountain – where it operates the unique Bullock Lodge Cider House and The Core in the Main Base Lodge.  If that wasn’t enough, Rose has taken Red Apple Farm to Boston – where is operates the largest storefront in the popular Boston Public Market.

Rose’s business philosophy is simple.  “We provide an authentic, New England, family farm experience year-round,” he said when asked what separates Red Apple Farm from its competition.  It’s that authentic New England experience that Rose feels is most special about doing business in North Central Massachusetts.

“It reflects who and what we are and closely aligned to our mission,” he said.  “North Central Massachusetts is New England at its core, from the people who live and work here, to the communities and natural and historical landscapes.”

Rose has also perfected the art of collaboration, teaming with businesses like the Gardner Ale House and Wachusett Mountain Ski Area to expand his business.  With Gardner Ale House, he created his Brew Barn and Cidery at the Farm and started brewing his own hard cider.  With Wachusett Mountain, he helped reopen the historical Bullock Lodge where he serves fresh cider donuts and hot cider to hundreds of skiers and snowboarders each winter.

It’s that local collaboration which Rose credits in helping his business and others work through the COVID pandemic the past couple years.

“Intrinsically people value local and keeping it local,” he said. “We are fortunate to be in area that is considered by many folks, whether they live in Central Mass or in Boston, to be there backyard! Those are connections that seemed to strengthen during the pandemic and moments of economic uncertainty.”

Rose says his customers’ “ever-changing needs and wants” are Red Apple Farm’s strongest influence.  He has learned how to adapt along the way, noting that “particularly the intangible needs (like safety and being grounded during Covid)” were so important.

Rose looks at his employees as part of his family.  In describing Red Apple’s workplace culture, he said “we call our employees ‘farm-ily!”  He looks for qualities in his employees that share his same business values.

“We look for employees who focus on adding value, cultivate authenticity, and celebrate community,” he said.  Rose added that Red Apple Farm is “100% in” on supporting the community.  “It’s who we are,” he proudly noted.

One look at Red Apple Farm’s website clearly shows the farm’s great heritage, history and authenticity:

“Red Apple Farm is a fourth-generation family farm,” the website proudly claims. “Red Apple Farm is truly a place to connect the past and today!  Our farmhouse and barn were built in the mid-1700’s. The encompassing stonewalls and stately maple trees represent the icons of days gone by and a labor of love that is still found today in the farm’s breath-taking atmosphere and true sense-of-place.”

“Situated right off scenic Route 2 in the heart of North Central Massachusetts, the orchard boasts views of Wachusett Mountain and sprawling fields outlined by untouched forests. Every year our fruit is grown using Integrated Pest Management with conscious thought to people and the environment. Visit the farm, pick your own fruit, stop in to the Country Store for locally produced specialty foods, and don’t leave without trying our famous cider donuts and homemade fudge.”

Rose combines several factors to successfully promote Red Apple Farm.

“Employee training, making decisions that build and enhance our brand, customary loyalty program and communication, and paid advertisement (i.e. social media, newspaper, radio, etc),” he said.  With all that, Rose notes “word of mouth by a raving customer!” is by far the most successful method of promotion.

 

Scholarships Available through the North Central Massachusetts Chamber Foundation

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber Foundation is pleased to announce that applications for its 2023 Scholarship program are now being accepted. Each year, the Chamber Foundation distributes approximately 25 scholarships to local high-achieving high school students in North Central Massachusetts.

Students interested in applying for a 2023 scholarship through the North Central Massachusetts Chamber Foundation should contact their high school guidance department to submit an application. Deadline for applications is Wednesday, March 1, 2023. A limited number of scholarship applicants are submitted by each school in the Chamber’s service area each year and then reviewed by a committee of Chamber members.

Since the establishment of its scholarship program, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber Foundation has awarded over a million dollars in scholarships. Many of these awards are made possible through contributions from members of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. Scholarships endowed through the Chamber Foundation are often named in honor of prominent members of the North Central Massachusetts business community whose philanthropy and commitment to the community have helped shape North Central Massachusetts.

The Chamber’s Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization focused on assisting in the betterment of the region through charitable activities. Funds raised by the Foundation are utilized primarily for education/workforce development initiatives and charitable activities in North Central Massachusetts, including scholarships to eligible applicants pursuing education and grants to support economic and community development projects.

For more information on the North Central Massachusetts Chamber Foundation’s scholarship program or a list of the named scholarships, please visit northcentralmass.com or call 978.353.7600 ext. 222.

North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce Releases 2023 Public Policy Agenda

Agenda to serve as blueprint to support strong business climate for the region

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce unveiled its Public Policy Agenda for the new fiscal year outlining the Chamber’s legislative priorities on issues important to businesses and the advancement of North Central Massachusetts. It was reviewed and approved by the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee and the Board of Directors.

As the Chamber advocates on behalf of businesses across the region, the agenda will serve as a blueprint outlining a platform which builds upon the area’s competitive advantages. The agenda is focused around six priority areas: economic competitiveness, small business, manufacturing, education, transportation, and real estate.

“Our Public Policy Agenda is focused on supporting a strong business climate while encouraging an already engaged business community to participate in the efforts of important, pro-business policy issues,” said Roy Nascimento, President and CEO, North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “As we recently learned in our Workforce Development Study, the collaboration of business, government and community leaders is critical to ensure North Central Massachusetts remains a great place to live, work and grow a business, and this agenda is an important roadmap to push those efforts forward.”

“We have experienced successful advocacy efforts over the past several years, and our 2023 agenda builds off of that success,” said Travis Condon, Public Affairs Manager, North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “As we continue to advance the issues that matter most to our members in North Central, we look forward to engaging with elected officials to be another voice to help our local businesses be as successful as possible.”

For more information or to view the Chamber’s Public Policy Agenda, please visit www.northcentralmass.com or contact Travis Condon, Public Affairs Manager at 978.353.7600 ext. 224.

North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation approves financing for Salt and Light Café

Funding to purchase real estate for business operations in Groton

The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC), the economic development arm of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, recently approved a $206,000 loan to Salt and Light Café to provide funding toward the purchase of property at 159 Main Street in Groton, where the business operates. This loan was in partnership with Main Street Bank and ensures employment of 3 full-time and 3 part-time jobs in the community.

The cafe was opened in 2015 by owners Josiah and Linda Coleman, who also operate Coleman Catering. Josiah serves as Executive Chef, and Linda oversees the operations for both the catering company and the café.

Located in downtown Groton, the café uses only fresh ingredients and provides a relaxing environment for guests to relax and linger while enjoying bold, eclectic dishes that fuels and inspires those served. “When we opened Salt and Light, we wanted to create an environment where customers feel welcomed as our friends,” said Josiah Coleman. “Through the support of the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, in partnership with Main Street Bank, we can cement our roots in downtown Groton as a place to enjoy savory cuisine with family and friends.”

In addition to providing food, the café also boasts a small retail boutique area with items for sale from local makers, artists, farms and businesses.

As a microloan lender, NCMDC can provide loans to small businesses up to $250,000 for working capital, real estate, equipment, inventory, expansion and working with our banking partners to provide gap financing for the final piece of a project.

For more information about the NCMDC loan programs, please call 978.353.7607 or visit NorthCentralMass.com or ChooseNorthCentral.com.

Fresh food, cold beer, a friendly staff and a great location are the main ingredients in the success of the Gardner Ale House & Moon Hill Brewing Company

Fresh food, cold beer, a friendly staff and a great location are the main ingredients in the success of the Gardner Ale House, according to owner Rick Walton.

When asked what separates the Gardner Ale House from the competition, he noted “Our food is prepared fresh, not frozen or processed and we make our own beer. Our staff is super friendly and our location in downtown Gardner feels like the center of action – a Main St. kind of feel.”

Founded in 2006, Walton’s popular establishment at 74 Parker St. in Gardner now employs 85 people and is a thriving part of downtown Gardner.  He feels one of the most special aspects of doing business in North Central Massachusetts is that customers don’t have to deal with large crowds or noises of the city.

“Our modest size city is just right for our restaurant and the people in the area; some coming from a bit far away,” he said. “North Central MA is just more laid back. COVID didn’t hit us as hard as it hit the cities because of our lower population density and more spread out living situations.”

Walton noted the Ale House is very involved in many community activities.

“We pretty much involve ourselves in anything going on in the city (Gardner IS a city, by the way.),” he said.  “And the city and it’s organizations come to us for beer, food, donations of gift cards, senior center activities. We pretty much do it all. And we put on the biggest party for the city called Oktoberfest & the Chair Luge. So much fun! The list goes on…”

While COVID may not have hit the Ale House as hard as other establishments, Walton still said it forced them to change how they operate the business.

“Customers are harder to come by so we have to become even more attractive than we already are,” he said. “That means more consistency with food and service. It means tightening our belts, reducing waste even more – getting the most out of every dollar. It means making it easier to get food for takeout. We need to be like the chains with takeout!”

Walton added they are improving lighting, music, furniture. “The whole vibe is nicer,” he said.  “We were forced to take our already excellent restaurant and brewery and make it even better! And it is working, but it is a slow climb. The future looks bright because we are so much better than ever before.”

He also noted the Ale House’s staff is a very important part of why they are even better.  “Everybody in the company is important and listened to. Condescending to another employee just doesn’t happen and is not allowed. We aren’t too serious: The culture is to respect each other, work hard and enjoy your job. We can’t be 100% in this, but we try. It might sound dreamy, but we believe you shouldn’t be in a job you don’t like. So, our culture puts employees first. In that way, customers get the best possible service and experience.”

When he is hiring staff, Walton looks for “honesty, a good work ethic and a willingness to learn.”  “If you can be like that, he said, “we’ll teach you the rest!”

Word of mouth is a critical way for The Ale House” to promote itself.

“We promote ourselves through our community involvement, through Word of Mouth, heavy use of social media and through collaborations like the Brew Barn and Cidery at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston,” Walton added.  “I think Word of Mouth builds our customer base reliably, but social media gets the word out to that base and that is critical.  We also have a rewards program and a newsletter in which I am allowed to be a bit silly.”

Walton said he listens to everyone for ideas.  “We casually take in the competition to see how they do things,” he noted. “We aren’t too proud to borrow! A very big influence is each other. So many people in this company have left their mark on us with ideas, methods and best practices.”

He concluded the biggest influence of The Ale House is the guests’ input.  “Guest feedback is largely positive,” Walton noted, “which gives us the impetus to continue along our way and negative feedback is critical to improving our way forward.”

 

January Edition of Good Morning North Central Features Diana DiZoglio, State Auditor Elect for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Christine Abrams, CEO of Commonwealth Corporation

The next edition of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce’s popular Good Morning North Central breakfast program is scheduled for Thursday, January 12, 2023, from 6:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and will take place at Great Wolf Lodge, 150 Great Wolf Drive, Fitchburg, MA. The January edition is sponsored by Resource Management, Inc.

The Good Morning North Central breakfast series is the Chamber’s longest running program. The breakfast series started in 1984 and has evolved into a high-profile, fast-paced and educational morning program geared towards executives, senior managers, professionals and business owners from throughout North Central Massachusetts. Over the years, speakers have included governors, senators, prominent business and civic leaders, authors and celebrities.

The featured speakers for the month of January are Diana DiZoglio, State Auditor Elect for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Christine Abrams, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Corporation.

Diana DiZoglio was elected as the new State Auditor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in November, 2022 and will begin serving in this role on January 18, 2023. The Massachusetts State Auditor is a statewide elected office responsible for conducting audits, investigations, and studies to promote accountability and transparency of how tax dollars are spent, improve performance, and make government run better. A student of Massachusetts public schools, Diana attended Middlesex Community College and later Wellesley College. After serving in the Legislature as an aide, as Chief of Staff for the 12,000-member Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, and years of work for local nonprofits and community organizations, Diana won her first race for public office in 2012. Diana served three terms as State Representative for the 14th Essex District. In 2018, she was elected to the State Senate for the 1st Essex District, serving two terms, and in 2022 was elected to be the next Massachusetts State Auditor.

Christine Abrams was selected as the President & CEO of Commonwealth Corporation in April, 2020. Commonwealth Corporation (CommCorp) is the quasi-public agency that is responsible for administering and delivering a wide range of publicly and privately funded workforce programs. She has more than thirty years of progressive financial and organizational leadership experience with Fortune 100 companies, startups, and non-profit organizations. Previously, Christine was Senior Director of Sales, Americas, and Australia for Instant Services at IGT. In this role, she helped build key partnerships and worked collaboratively with manufacturing, operations, R&D, finance and IGT corporate to achieve profit and market share goals significantly outpacing the industry averages. Prior to that, Christine served as the SVP of Sales and Marketing Chelsea based Signature Bread and as Director of Sales at General Mills Inc where she was named a Women of Influence in the Consumer Foods Industry. Christine was elected by her peers as the Chair of the Northeast Network of Executive Women. She served on the board for the Garden of Peace and was recently elected to the Garden’s Advisory Committee and served as Vice President of DOVE’s Board of Directors.

The cost to attend the event is just $30 for Chamber members/$45 non-members and includes breakfast. Pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, please contact Kathleen Deal at 978.353.7600 ext. 235, kdeal@northcentralmass.com or register online.