Need health insurance for your small business?

Health Insurance

Need health insurance for your small business? The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce remains committed to helping our members to access the best health insurance plans available and to make sure that your health insurance needs are met. As always, we are just a phone call or email or visit to our office away from being able to help you decide what health insurance plan best meets your needs. Contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600 ext. 227 for information on available plans and to receive a quote.

Tourism Update

The Chamber’s tourism arm, Visit North Central Massachusetts (VNCM), has developed its annual marketing plan to promote the region. As a result of the pandemic, VNCM plans to strategically shift its marketing resources in FY2021 to focus on helping our regional economy recover quickly and effectively from the disruption. The restaurants, retailers, hoteliers, farms and attractions that comprise our local visitor industry have been among the hardest hit by the disruption caused by this health crisis and will take the longest to recover. Marketing strategies in FY2021 will focus on Shop/Eat/Stay/Explore Local promotional efforts that encourage companies and residents to support local businesses during the recovery.  Marketing efforts will also target the regional drive market within a 250-mile radius, including key markets like Boston, Southern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island highlighting our advantages and safety.  Data and research from our economic development planning process suggests that we are well positioned to potentially benefit from the new environment and changing consumer demands, given our rural character, affordability and agricultural heritage. The plan was approved by the Board of Directors and submitted to the Mass Office of Travel and Tourism as part of our annual tourism grant submission. We also presented it to members during the Summer to gather input. It was well received by both MOTT and our members, however we are still waiting on state tourism funding in the state budget.

 

As part of this marketing/recovery plan, we focused our efforts in Q1 with updating our VisitNorthCentral.com website and social media platforms for the “new normal” including developing new locally focused content, developing new messaging, optimizing our site for new searches and utilizing digital and social media channels to promote, connect and engage with consumers. Messaging and themes have been centered around re-opening and supporting our businesses. “When it Matters Most” is being utilized as an overarching theme. It is important that our target audience understands why “spending local” is now more important than ever. Member-focused contests and promotions have also been utilized to drive engagement with messaging focused on the attributes of the region that appeal most to visitors, such as our safety as rural region and abundance of family-oriented activities. As we move into the traditionally busy Fall season and Q2, we plan to ramp up our paid digital advertising to promote the region and local businesses. We plan to focus primarily on digital media for now as it provides the greatest flexibility and allows us to adapt quickly if needed.  As we move into the Spring, we will start to leverage some print advertising. Our media buys will be dependent on the final receipt of our grant funding from the state.

 

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, VNCM’s participation in several travel shows were cancelled including the Discover New England Summit in Maine, the Dream Destinations Showcase in Western Mass, and a major bridal expo in September.  We will resume these business development activities that play an important role in promoting the region to groups once it is safe to do so.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Claims Can Now Be Filed

Claimants are now able to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

They can do so by applying at: www.mass.gov/pua

PUA is a program open to the following individuals:

  • Self-employed individuals, including gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors
  • Those seeking part-time employment
  • Claimants that have an insufficient work history to qualify for benefits
  • And claimants that have been laid off from churches and religious institutions and are not eligible for benefits under state law

As PUA is a separate program from regular unemployment insurance, they ask that you send constituent inquiries to Jennifer Lavin at PUAconstituentservices@detma.org

The DUA constituent service team (like Mavis Smith, for example) does not have access to the PUA platform, so they will not be able to help you with these claims. If you have policy questions please do not hesitate to reach out to Jessica.muradian@mass.gov.

SBA To Provide Small Businesses Impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) Up to $2 Million in Disaster Assistance Loans

WASHINGTON – SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza issued the following statement today in response to the President’s address to the nation: 

“The President took bold, decisive action to make our 30 million small businesses more resilient to Coronavirus-related economic disruptions. Small businesses are vital economic engines in every community and state, and they have helped make our economy the strongest in the world. Our Agency will work directly with state Governors to provide targeted, low-interest disaster recovery loans to small businesses that have been severely impacted by the situation. Additionally, the SBA continues to assist small businesses with counseling and navigating their own preparedness plans through our network of 68 District Offices and numerous Resource Partners located around the country. The SBA will continue to provide every small business with the most effective and customer-focused response possible during these times of uncertainty.” 

Process for Accessing SBA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Disaster Relief Lending

  • The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Upon a request received from a state’s or territory’s Governor, SBA will issue under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration.
  • Any such Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance declaration issued by the SBA makes loans available to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations in designated areas of a state or territory to help alleviate economic injury caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance will coordinate with the state’s or territory’s Governor to submit the request for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance. 
  • Once a declaration is made for designated areas within a state, the information on the application process for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance will be made available to all affected communities.
  • SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. 
  • These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%. 
  • SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay. 
  • SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans are just one piece of the expanded focus of the federal government’s coordinated response, and the SBA is strongly committed to providing the most effective and customer-focused response possible.

For additional information, please contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center. Call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

State Council formed to Investigate Merged Market & Small Business Premiums

Last Fall, Governor Charlie Baker established the Merged Market Advisory Council in an effort to examine the individual and small group insurance market, or “merged market,” and underlying trends that have driven insurance costs up for small and mid-size employers. This group is comprised of 13 appointed members and chaired by Gary Anderson, the Commissioner of Insurance. Its membership includes various experts with knowledge of the insurance industry, including actuaries, brokers, insurance carriers and representatives from employers and the small business community.

The creation of this market can be traced to the Commonwealth’s enactment of RomneyCare in 2006. The reforms included merging the “non-group” risk pool, comprised of individuals, with the “small group” risk pool, comprised of small business with 50 or less employees (including the self-employed). This was intended to reduce premiums for those in the non-group market- which faced elevated costs due to a higher utilization on services – by spreading the risk over a larger population. The Chamber and many business groups were opposed at the time, fearing that rates would increase for small businesses. Vermont is the only other state where the individual and small group risk pools were merged into a single merged market.

While it is true that the merged market has led to premium reductions for individuals, it has also resulted in dramatic increases for small businesses and their employees. According to the Center for Insurance Information and Analysis, Massachusetts has amongst the highest small business health care premiums in the country. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to the Chamber or our members who have struggled with increasing premiums for years.

The Governor’s Merged Market Advisory Council is expected to make recommendations to the Baker Administration, which may include separating the merged groups as a way to reduce costs for small businesses. Some have argued that since passage of the national Affordable Care Act, the merged market is no longer necessary due to the incentives and subsidies provided to individuals.

The Advisory Council has scheduled a series of sessions where the public may share their input and concerns. The closest session to North Central Massachusetts is scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 2020 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Room S-1-123 at UMass Medical Center, 55 Lake Avenue North in Worcester. The Chamber will be in attendance and encourages its members to participate and share any concerns they have as well. If you are unable to attend, please consider submitting written comments to the Merged Market Advisory Council via email at mergedmarket@mass.gov.

For more information, please feel free to contact Christopher McDermott, Public Affairs Manager at 978.353.7600 ext. 224 or via email at cmcdermott@northcentralmass.com

Visit North Central Massachusetts Participating in SkiMass Collaboration

 

Visit North Central Massachusetts is proud to participate in a #SkiMass collaboration in partnership with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, The Massachusetts Ski Resort Association, The Berkshires and Franklin County. This is in an effort to bring more ski and snowboarding travelers to North Central Massachusetts and support our partners at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area.

A mix of targeted digital media on Facebook and Instagram platforms are set in place to target key markets in Greater Boston, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut.

 

For more information on North Central Massachusetts, please go to:

www.VisitNorthCentral.com 

2020 Legislative Briefing

On January 10th, the Chamber hosted a legislative briefing with the region’s state house delegation to discuss our budget and policy priorities for the coming year. The presentation touched on economic development priorities, including tourism, manufacturing, education, workforce development and transportation infrastructure.

Thank you to the North Central Massachusetts Delegation for helping secure a $100,000 grant in the FY19 budget to help our efforts to develop a comprehensive economic development plan for the region. Special thanks to Senator Dean Tran for sponsoring the item in the budget.

Mill No. 3 Oils and Vinegars Now Being Sold at the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center

For decades, Mill No. 3 Farmstand in Fitchburg, MA has been serving locals from all over North Central Massachusetts. Originally starting as a farm stand in 1996, the   business has grown to include a deli, beer & wine, groceries, flowers, coffee, pastries and the list goes on. Recently, Mill No. 3 has started to offer 50 varieties of Olive Oils & Vinegar- we’re excited to announce that Mill No. 3 oils and vinegars are now being sold at the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center.

The Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center features a popular gift shop that carries many local products including jams, jellies, honey, maple syrup, fudge, chocolates, sparkling cider, donuts and that local icon of American kitsch – the pink plastic flamingo!  Visitors to the center can also find a wide selection of books highlighting the history of the region, plus good-quality logo merchandise and souvenir items.  

The Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center, considered by many the gateway to North Central Massachusetts, opened in 1996 as a way to welcome people traveling through the region and give them a place to stop, stretch their legs, and learn more about the twenty-seven communities in North Central Massachusetts and what they have to offer for visitors and families.  Over 165,000 people walk through the visitor center doors every year. 

The Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center is located at 1000 Rte. 2 Westbound, between exit 34 & 35, in Lancaster, MA.  It is open 361 days a year.  Normal business hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Members with locally produced products that are interested in having them offered at the center should contact Diane Burnette, Visitor Center Manager, at 978.534.230