Running Out of Time and Energy

Here in North Central Massachusetts, local businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. These companies make quality products, provide good jobs, and pay above average wages. In so many ways, we want to support them, because they support our communities.

Yet even as we celebrate all that our business community contributes to the region, we can see a cloud on the horizon. Energy costs are rising quickly at a time when we are already among the five most expensive states to do business in.

Why does New England pay such high energy costs? In part, it’s supply and demand – we have a lot of the latter and too little of the former. Most of our electricity is generated by natural gas-powered facilities, which are cleaner than the oil and coal plants that have closed in recent years. Those retirements are actually the single most significant reason we’ve been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 63% since 1990, even as our electricity usage has gone up. But every year we pay an additional $1 billion because we lack access to enough natural gas – particularly when temperatures drop in the winter.

This past winter, we saw the consequence of inaction. The region’s independent, non-profit grid operator, ISO-New England, had already reported that the looming retirements of older power plants meant the state could soon face rolling blackouts. When temperatures dropped to historic lows the day after Christmas, we turned to burning oil for as much as a third of our electricity and it almost happened. We were just two to three days away from running out of oil as well.

To say that this all has severe economic implications would be a massive understatement. A recent report published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that, absent upgraded energy infrastructure, New England would lose almost 23,000 jobs and $2 billion in state GDP, including a loss of 8,700 jobs and $792 million in state GDP in Massachusetts alone, over a four-year period.

There’s also something fundamentally wrong about a state as forward-looking and proud of its environmental heritage as Massachusetts still using oil and coal to fill its energy gap. In fact, according to a recent study by the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy, we used so much oil in just 13 days during the December/January cold snap—2 million barrels in all—it was as if we added 6.4 million cars to the road or shut down 75% of solar panels in the Commonwealth.

That’s unacceptable. As we move boldly to a renewable energy future, building the wind, solar and hydropower infrastructure we need to power our economy, we should be doing everything in our power to utilize the cleanest possible alternatives.

We’ve already seen some companies leave the state due to the high cost of energy. North Central Massachusetts’ communities are already doing everything they can to attract and keep businesses. They simply can’t stand by as reliability concerns, costs and threats to our environment increase.

The time has come to act. Our families, businesses and communities depend on it.

North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce urges U.S. Senate to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce signed an open letter in conjunction with the National Association of Manufacturers last week, urging the US Senate to approve the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. This legislation, first approved under the Regan administration and reauthorized with bipartisan support twice since then, provides vocational education funding and works to ensure that such training aligns with workforce demands. Unfortunately, the program lapsed in 2016. The House approved its reauthorization last summer but the bill has languished in the Senate since then, stalled in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension Care.

“The need for career and technical education has never been higher” stated Roy Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “As demand for high skilled labor increases, ensuring our students are able to acquire the skills that they will need to be successful in the workforce must be a priority.”

The National Association of Manufacturers’ letter, signed by over four hundred stakeholders, is addressed to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee’s ranking members. It encourages reauthorization and modernization of the Perkins CTE Act, with a focus on aligning the program with employer needs. “As competition for high-skilled labor increases and as the US economy reaches full employment,” it reads “every effort must be made to close the skills gaps that many industries across all sectors face.”

A complete copy of the letter, including a list of signatories, can be found on the Chamber’s website by following this link.

Legislators Work to Enact “Grand Bargain”

A day after negotiators announced a compromise, legislators set about making the agreement law. The so called “Grand Bargain” was drafted by a coalition of business leaders, labor unions, and elected officials in an effort to avert a number of questions slated to appear on November’s ballot.

Specifically, the proposal would institute an annual sales tax holiday and phase out mandated overtime pay for retail workers on Sundays and holidays. It would also raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years and establish a statewide paid medical and family leave program. These items differ from their respective ballot questions in that there would be no reduction in the sales tax, the minimum wage would not be indexed to inflation after reaching $15 an hour, and businesses with less than twenty five employees would not be required to contribute to the paid leave program- though their employees could opt to buy in themselves.

Discussing the compromise at a North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce event the morning after its announcement, Senate President Harriette Chandler stated that “no one was in love with it, but no one hated it and everyone liked it, and that’s the sign of a good deal”. She went on to explain that the bill would go before the General Court that day.

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce echoed the Senate President’s assessment. “While there are aspects of this proposal we are unhappy with, it does represent a fair compromise” stated Chamber President & CEO Roy Nascimento. “Compared with the ballot proposals, this language takes significant steps to protect small businesses while addressing the concerns of activists” Christopher McDermott, the Chamber’s public affairs manager, added. “We simply hope that all parties involved will honor their word and withdraw their ballot initiatives after passage.”

The proposal passed the legislation that night, and currently awaits approval from the Governor prior to implementation.

Related: Chamber Positions on Ballot Questions

NORTH CENTRAL MASSACHUSETTS CHAMBER RECEIVES NATIONAL HONOR

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce has been awarded 4-star Accreditation from the accrediting board of the United States Chamber of Commerce for its sound policies, effective organizational procedures, and positive impact on the community. The announcement was made to an audience of over 300 business and community leaders at the Chamber’s Annual Business Meeting this past Thursday.

Accreditation is the only national program that recognizes chambers for their effective organizational procedures and community involvement. In order to achieve this recognition, a chamber must meet minimum standards in their operations and programs, including areas of governance, government affairs, and technology. This comprehensive self-review took over six  months to complete and required preparation of an extensive application, compilation and review of volumes of materials required by the Accrediting Board and demonstration of competency in nine core areas ranging from finance to facilities.

Of the approximately 7,000 chambers in the United States, only 204 have earned the recognition as an accredited chamber of commerce. These elite institutions represent the top 3% of all chambers in the United States.  In Massachusetts, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber is one of only four chambers to have received accreditation, and is the only chamber in Central Massachusetts.

“Accredited chambers are an essential part of the business community’s efforts to promote economic growth and job creation across the country,” said Raymond P. Towle, IOM, CAE, U.S. Chamber vice president of Federation Relations and Institute for Organization Management.  “This designation recognizes the positive impact these organizations have had within their communities, and it honors their commitment to continuing to serve local businesses.”

“We are incredibly honored to receive this national designation that places us among the best chambers of commerce in the country,” said Roy M. Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “We challenged ourselves to improve our Chamber for the betterment of our members and our region. Receiving this accreditation only motivates us to continue to remain engaged, active and innovative on behalf of our members and communities in North Central Massachusetts.”

The accreditation report noted that the North Central Massachusetts Chamber has demonstrated an excellent track record of operating a successful chamber and achieving desirable results for its members. Several of the Chamber’s programs, events and initiatives were highlighted for special recognition, including the loan programs of its economic development arm and its special forums. The Chamber also received special recognition for its successful efforts in expanding its government affairs and advocacy capabilities for the benefit of its members and region, as well as for its brand standards and guidelines.

The Chamber’s Annual Meeting was held on June 14, 2018 and also included recognition awards and the commencement for the 2018 class of the Chamber’s Community Leadership Institute.

Lawrence NFOR Honored as Chamber’s Ambassador of the Year

Lawrence NFOR, Business Manager at Mount Wachusett Community College, was recognized as the 2017-18 Ambassador of the Year by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce at the Chamber’s 34th Annual Business Meeting on June 14, 2018.

Chamber Ambassadors are valued volunteers to the Chamber. They serve as a public relations branch, as well as assisting the Chamber with communications to new and existing members. Lawrence was voted Ambassador of the Year by his fellow Chamber ambassadors at their recent May meeting.

The Chamber is pleased to recognize Lawrence NFOR for his consistent support and dedication to the Chamber and the community. Lawrence recently received his MBA in Accounting from Fitchburg State University while working full time at MWCC.

“We are so grateful to Lawrence for his unwavering support of the Chamber and our efforts to advance the region,” said Roy Nascimento, president & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “His passion and dedication to community involvement help make North Central Massachusetts a better place to live, work and grow a business.”

As Business Manager at Mount Wachusett Community College, Lawrence has developed important leadership skills which have added to his significant value to the community. Working in the Access & Transition office, Lawrence is responsible for applying and managing Federal, State, and other grants secured by the college. In addition to his involvement with the Chamber, Lawrence is also dedicated to his church, First Baptist Church of Westminster, MA, serving as the Worship Leader. Lawrence just recently wrapped up a trip to Washington D.C. where he was advocating for peace in his homeland of Cameroon by trying to get the House of Representatives to make a public statement and galvanize support- saying no to human rights abuses by the Cameroon government.

We thank Lawrence NFOR for his helpful work and commitment. We look forward to seeing where the future takes him in the Chamber and in the North Central Massachusetts community.

 

North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce Releases Platform Addressing 2018 Ballot Questions

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce issued its platform regarding major questions that will be put before the state’s voters in November of 2018.  The platform was developed to serve as a guide to members and the public, and focuses on those questions which impact the business community directly.

“Between paid leave, taxation, and the minimum wage, there are a number of questions that will have a longstanding impact on business in Massachusetts” explained Christopher McDermott, the Chamber’s Public Affairs Manager. “For that reason, we believe it’s essential to educate our voters and ensure the Chamber plays a part in the discourse.”

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce advocates on behalf of businesses across the region, and the new Ballot Initiative Platform outlines how specific proposals would impact this constituency. It addresses four questions likely to appear on the ballot in November. Respectively, approval of these initiatives would institute paid family and medical leave mandates, impose hospital wide nurse staffing ratios, increase the minimum wage by nearly 40%, and reduce the sales tax while instituting an annual sales tax holiday.

“Our platform is focused on educating the electorate and ensuring that North Central Massachusetts remains a great place to live, work, and grow a business,” said Roy M. Nascimento, President and CEO of the Chamber. “These are complex issues that deserve the type of measured consideration and resolution only the legislature can provide. However, should that not come to pass; we will continue working with our colleagues across the Commonwealth to ensure residents are aware of the effect these proposals would have.”

The platform was approved by the Chamber’s Board at their meeting on June 14th, and can be found on the “Chamber Positions” page of their website at https://www.northcentralmass.com/government-affairs/chamber-positions/.

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

Second Annual Clinton Business Forum

Featuring Deborah Weymouth of UMassMemorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is proud to partner with the Town of Clinton; Clinton Public Schools; and UMassMemorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital to host the Second Annual Clinton Business Forum on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.  The forum will take place this year at the Clinton Campus of UMassMemorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital located at 201 Highland Street in Clinton.  The forum is a great opportunity for local business owners, public officials and community leaders to connect as well as learn more about future happenings in the Town of Clinton, upcoming events, available resources, and how businesses can be more actively involved. A light breakfast will be provided.

Brief welcoming remarks will be delivered by Senate President Harriette L. Chandler; Senator Dean Tran and Representative Harold Naughton. The formal program will feature presentations from guest speakers; Dr. Steven Meyer, Superintendent of Clinton Public Schools; Phil Duffy, Director of the Community and Economic Development Office for the Town of Clinton; Roy Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce; and Deborah Weymouth, President & CEO of UMassMemorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital.

The event is free for any local business owners and professionals, but pre-registration is required. For more information or to register for the Clinton Business Forum visit NorthCentralMass.com/calendar or contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600 ext. 235 or email mmccaffrey@northcentralmass.com.

North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce celebrates accomplishments at Annual Business Meeting and Luncheon

The Annual Meeting and Business Luncheon for the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is scheduled for Thursday, June 14, 2018 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Great Wolf Lodge, 150 Great Wolf Drive, Fitchburg.  Join other business and community leaders and attend the annual meeting to celebrate business people working together for the future of North Central Massachusetts.  The program will include recognition awards and the commencement for the 2018 class of the Chamber’s Community Leadership Institute. This year’s premier sponsor is UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital and supporting sponsors include Apex Properties, Avidia Bank, Elite Construction & Design, Enterprise Bank, Fidelity Bank, Fitchburg State University, Geronimo Properties, Great Wolf Lodge, Leominster Credit Union, Medical Arts Hearing Instruments, Mercadante & Mercadante CPA’s, Mount Wachusett Community College, Rocheleau Tool & Die, Rollstone Bank & Trust, Steel-Fab, Inc, TD Bank, USA Sanlaser, Workers Credit Union, WPKZ and WXLO.

This year’s keynote speaker is Maria Milagros. Maria Milagros is a speaker, an author, storyteller and empowerment life coach. Whether sharing her life experiences and knowledge through impactful talks, workshops, leadership training, life coaching or videos, Maria uses stories to bring encouragement, education and love to empower others to get out of their way and break free from any hindering thoughts or beliefs, so that they can live amazing lives and leave their unique and positive mark on the world. She knows that no matter where you come from, what you’ve been through, or what you have done, love, connection and personal responsibility can change every area of your life. She knows because it has worked for her and she likes to remind others that she is not an exception to the rule.

To register for the Annual Business Meeting and Luncheon, please contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600 ext. 222 or ext. 235 or email chamber@northcentralmass.com or register online at northcentralmass.com/calendar.  The cost is just $42 per person for members and $65 per person for non-members. Supporting sponsorships and tables of ten are also available. Please RSVP by June 8th.

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 rolls, 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.