WORKFORCE STUDY: In partnership with Fitchburg State University, the Chamber has commissioned the UMass Donahue Institute to conduct a study to assess and recommend ways to enhance the labor pool in the region. Specifically, we will be looking for strategies to recruit populations in the region that may not be currently participating fully in the labor market, including people with criminal backgrounds, the disabled, mature older populations, women, immigrants and veterans. The study is funded from a state grant that we collaborated on with the university.
EDUCATION COMPACT: The Chamber Foundation was awarded $150,000 in funding through an earmark in the ARPA budget passed by the legislature recently. The funding will be used to help support the North Central Massachusetts Education Compact initiative. The compact, comprised of leaders in education, business and workforce development, was established in late 2019 to help facilitate partnerships around the shared goals of improving college and career pathways for students. Special thanks to Senator Cronin and the other members of the delegation for their efforts to secure these funds for the region.
MINI-GRANTS: The Chamber’s economic development arm, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation, was able to provide 14 grants totaling $60,000 to local small businesses. This was a one-time grant initiative launched in partnership with New Vue Communities and funded through a grant from the Massachusetts Office of Business Development to support vulnerable small businesses impacted by COVID-19 with their recovery and growth. The grants ranged between $500 – $5,000 for professional services including accounting/bookkeeping support, marketing and social media support, website upgrades, legal services and signage
EQUITABLE CREDENTIAL ATTAINMENT COHORT: A North Central Massachusetts team comprised of the Chamber, Mount Wachusett Community College and the Spanish American Center have been accepted in the Equitable Credential Attainment Cohort offered through the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). The ACCE Foundation, in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges, is sponsoring this 18-month program to support communities in building partnerships that allow more workers, and particularly BIPOC workers, to gain the credentials or degrees they need to secure well-paid jobs with career advancement opportunities. Our team will receive technical assistance and subgrant funding to help work together to drive the growth of credentialing and degree programs that place workers in well-paid jobs. We were one of seven teams selected from throughout the country to participate in this competitive program.
JOBS BOARD: Over 1,000 jobs are currently listed on our WorkNorthCentral.com online jobs board and over 7,500 jobs have been posted since we launched the online resource. Several new
optional features have been added since the introduction of the jobs board to improve the functionality, including a “Quick Apply” feature that allows employers to collect applications directly through the jobs board; an auto acceptance/rejection notification; and a follow-up survey to the employers to determine if they have filled the position. The jobs board continues to be one of the most visited sections of our website.
CHAMBER BUILDING: The Chamber has invested in some improvements to the Chamber’s headquarters in Fitchburg. These include some repairs to the interior, repaving the entry road and implementing some technology upgrades in the conference room to allow for hybrid or virtual meetings. In the Fall, the Chamber also had some heating tape added to the roof to prevent ice dams and invested in some landscaping to improve the appearance of the Chamber grounds from the road. The parking lot is scheduled to be resealed in the Spring.
GIFT LOCAL: The Chamber is currently exploring revamping the Gift Local gift card program to make it easier to redeem for both the merchants and the gift card recipients. We are looking for a new provider that will enable participating merchants to redeem the cards via the credit card network versus a separate platform or integrating it with a POS system.
AUDITS: The Chamber and its affiliates the Chamber Foundation, Visit North Central Massachusetts and the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation each completed their fiscal years and underwent their annual independent audits. The audits were completed on time and with no findings reported
HEALTH INSURANCE: Open Enrollment is upon us once again. Preparations are being made to provide participating members with new rates, benefit changes, plan discontinuations and their available options. Members interested in health insurance through the Chamber should contact our office for quotes.
ENERGY SAVINGS: From its inception in August 2014 through December 2021 the solar field on Pleasant St. has produced 10,215,626 kWh of Net Metering Credits to the manufacturers participating in the program. Total value of these credits is $2,217,053 and the collective savings to participants totals $1,884,495.
DIGITAL MARKETING: Traffic in FY2021 averaged approximately 11,955 unique page views each month to our two main websites – NorthCentralMass.com and VisitNorthCentral.com – excluding our other websites. That represents a 4% increase over the prior year, and traffic for FY2022 is currently running 33% over the same time period in FY2021. Our social media platforms have also grown to boast over 21,000 total followers. In CY2021 our social media platforms garnered an average of over 217,000 impressions monthly and a total of over 2.4 million impressions for the year. That represents a 20% increase over the prior year.
NEW LOANS: The Chamber’s economic development arm – the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation – has closed seven micro-loans for a total of $333,500 since October 1, 2020. The loans were made to a mix of existing and start-up businesses and ranged from $6,000 to $150,000. There are another three loans totaling $325,000 that have been approved but haven’t closed yet. We are also excited to share that the U.S. Small Business Administration recognized the Development Corporation in December for its success in providing micro-loans.
ELECT NORTH CENTRAL COALITION: The Chamber has reconvened the Elect North Central Coalition to explore organizing debates and other initiatives to engage candidates for statewide office. There are a number of important elections occurring this November, including for Governor; Lt. Governor; Attorney General; and State Auditor. The Elect North Central Coalition was formed in 2018 and is comprised of the major community institutions and media in North Central Massachusetts. The Coalition’s mission is to make the democratic process accessible and assure that local and regional issues are examined and addressed by candidates running for statewide and federal offices.
MEMBER DISCOUNTS: We have recently revamped our member discounts page on the website. We are hoping to increase the use of the member to member discount program among members. If you would like to offer a member discount, please contact Lauren Goulet, Operations Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE: During the last quarter, our team provided over 350 hours of direct technical assistance to small businesses. Most of that was delivered via phone and ZOOM and focused on providing clients with information on the SBA Cares Act payments as well as continued updates on resources available, including PPP, EIDL, ADVANCE, grants and Restaurant Revitalization Fund through the SBA.