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SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER UPDATES

Message from the president

January 7, 2020
Today, the Baker-Polito Administration announced some sobering news as a result of the rise in COVID-19 cases associated with the holidays which have created a tremendous strain on our healthcare system. Hospitals have been escalated to Tier 4 status, the highest level of concern, signifying less than 20% of available inpatient bed capacity. Hospitals are also required to cease all non-essential elective invasive procedures, such as orthopedic procedures and dermatology.
Additionally, the 25% capacity restrictions which took effect December 26 will remain in place. All other rules, restrictions and guidance as well as sector-specific protocols also remain in place including the Stay-At-Home advisory, the Travel Order, and the revised #MaskUpMA order.
All outdoor gatherings, whether at event venues, in public settings, or at private residences, will remain capped at 25 people with all indoor gatherings at 10.
These restrictions were set to expire January 10 and will now be in place through at least another two weeks to January 24.
While this is sad news and these continued restrictions significantly challenge our business community, our economy, and our recovery, this should come as no surprise to those following the data.
The Legislature yesterday did, however, provide a glimmer of hope as it ended its legislative session passing an economic development bill will infuse $626.5 million into economic development, job creation and support for our struggling small businesses and a $16.5 billion transportation bond bill which will allow the state to borrow money for our much needed infrastructure projects including local roads and bridges, East-West Rail, and more.
While we are pleased to see these important bills move forward, we were disappointed to see that the legalization of sports wagering was not included. We believe this is a significant untapped new revenue source and could help avoid adding new taxes to the business community and further eroding the state’s competitiveness. We thank conference committee chair Representative Aaron Michlewitz for the House support of this issue during the conference committee process, but wish we could have had the support of the Senate and its conference committee chair Senator Eric Lesser. We hope that this issue will be resolved during this legislative session.
The Governor now has 10 days to act on both of these pieces of legislation.
Sadly, the legislation introduced by Governor Baker which would provide relief from the unprecedented increase in unemployment insurance premiums scheduled to kick in this year did not make it through the process in time. We are hopeful that this will be one of the first bills the new Legislature will enact this session. Especially given the news of today, our business community, our workers, and our economy need it.
As we weather yet another two weeks of restrictions, we must remember our frontline workers, especially those in our hospitals, who have tirelessly been at bedside throughout this. Please help them, our business community, our residents, our entire Commonwealth, and our recovery by following the state guidance.
Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
January 5, 2020
Yesterday, the Governor announced that the state will begin vaccinating our first responders. First responders are the third priority group within Phase 1 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan and signals our continued progress and hope in fighting the pandemic.
The state has also launched a new interactive dashboard which tracks data on cases, testing, hospitalizations, city and town specific metrics, and more.
Today marks the end of the legislative session. Any piece of legislation which does not get enacted by midnight tonight effectively “dies” and no further action may be taken unless the bill is refiled in the coming session and the legislative process begins anew.
There are currently several pieces of legislation your Chamber is following as we count down the waning hours of the session. A climate change bill was released from its conference committee and now sits on the Governor’s desk. While we are supportive of many aspects of the bill in fighting climate change, the bill would create a new building code requiring “net zero building” – a term which was not defined in the bill nor any requirements to be met outlined. We are incredibly concerned, given its lack of clarity. We believe this will not only cause a slowing – if not an outright stoppage – of any construction but it will have a devastating impact on the economic development of our region. This game changing language will cripple our ability to move forward in our economic recovery. Your Chamber has been very active on this piece of legislation, has lent your voice with the Administration, and will continue to work on this issue until the very end of the session.
We still await reports from other conference committees, including transportation and economic development. We hope that the Legislature sees its way to releasing legislation which will create jobs, provide small business relief, create new revenue for the Commonwealth through sports wagering, and lower the unemployment insurance burden of our business community.
As we enter a new session tomorrow and new legislation is filed, your Chamber will begin work on developing its legislative agenda – the roadmap for our advocacy efforts this year. In order to ensure we are meeting your needs, we ask that you take 5 minutes to complete our annual members survey to better understand your concerns so that we can best advocate on your behalf. The survey will be available through January 12.
As a reminder to all retail businesses and residents in the city of Springfield, the plastic bag ordinance took effect January 1. This ordinance requires that bags distributed by retailers be recyclable paper bags, reusable bags, or compostable and marine-degradable plastic bags. Single-use disposable plastic bags are no longer permitted. The ordinance does not apply to bags used within stores to contain loose products or to wrap produce, frozen foods, meat, or fish. Laundry and dry cleaner bags, as well as newspaper bags, are also exempt from the ordinance. Due to the pandemic and with thanks to the support of the Mayor and the City Council, the City will refrain from implementing any fines associated with enforcement of the ban until further notice. We appreciate their understanding of the hardships our small business community is facing.
As we continue along our vaccination journey, we recognize we still have a long ways to go for full recovery but, in this new year, we are grateful for all the signs of hope. Stay safe and stay well.
Nancy Creed
President
December 29, 2020
The Administration has released the guidelines for the $668 million small business grant program that was announced last week and which will be administered by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation. Massachusetts-based and located for-profit businesses can receive up to $75,000 or up to 3 months of operating expenses to be used for payroll, benefit costs, mortgage interest, rent, utilities and interest on other debt obligations. Expenses can be considered since March 10, 2020, given that it does not exceed 3 months of operating expenses.
The program is designed to provide support to the hardest hit small businesses that have an exceptional need of cash relief. Businesses that are not showing an operating loss due to thepandemic, those that have access to other sources of relief, those have that have been able to continue to operate without significant financial distress, larger companies that are better positioned to weather the economic downturn or those that have adequate available reserves are discouraged to apply to ensure the limited funds get to the most severely impacted businesses.
Businesses that applied for the previous round of funding do not need to re-apply and will be reviewed for this new program. It is anticipated that these businesses will receive funding as long as they meet the preferences of the new program as noted below.
The new funding program will open for applications at noon on December 31. Preference will be given to businesses that are minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, owned by persons with disabilities or businesses located in Gateway Cities. Preference will also be given to:
  • Restaurants, bars, caterers, and food trucks that collect and remit meals tax
  • Indoor entertainment establishments such as movie theaters, comedy clubs, performing arts venues/organizations
  • Indoor recreation businesses such as arcades, bowling centers, pool/billiard halls, escape rooms, trampoline parks, roller-skating rinks
  • Indoor spectator sports venues
  • Gyms, fitness centers, athletic clubs, exercise centers, health clubs and fitness instructions centers such as aerobic, dance, yoga, karate studios
  • Sports facilities such as tennis clubs, racquetball clubs, hockey rinks, swimming facilities
  • Personal services such as nail salons, barber shops, etc.
  • Independent pharmacies
  • Event support companies where the primary source (more than 50%) of revenue is event-related such as photography studios, videography studios, florists, limo services, event planning companies, event rentals, performers, convention and trade show organizations
  • Independent retailers with brick and mortar locations that collect and remit sales tax
Applications must be completed online and applicants will be required to provide documentation which may include a Certificate of Good Standing from the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office, complete copies of their 2019 Federal Business Tax Return and 2019 Federal Personal Tax Returns for each business owner with 20% or greater ownership, a copy of the license to operate and/or DBA certificate, and more.
Applications will remain open through January 15 with notifications of award status in February.
In addition to this new funding, a new round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) should open after the first of the year as a result of the signing of the new federal stimulus package by President Trump. The PPP is a forgivable loan program designed to incent small businesses to keep workers on the payroll. Businesses that previously applied may re-apply for a second loan. Thestimulus package also expands the eligibility criteria for businesses for an initial application and broadens the eligibility for forgivable expenses, in addition to a number of other financial supports.
On the legislative front, your Chamber provided testimony to the state Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development in support of legislation filed by Governor Baker which would freeze the Unemployment Insurance experience rate for two years. Without such relief, employers would see a nearly 60% increase per employee in the premiums they pay. If ever there was a time for such a freeze, we believe that now is that time and we urge our Legislature to act and pass this legislation.
As we count down the days until 2021 and move into a new year, please continue to stay safe and stay well and know that your Chamber will be here for you every step of the way.
Nancy Creed
President
December 23, 2020
This afternoon, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a $668 million small business relief fund which will provide grant funding up to $75,000 or three months’ worth of operating expenses such as payroll, rent, and utilities. The program will be administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC). Applicants who have previously applied for funding through the MGCC need not apply again.
Eligible applicants include restaurants, bars, caterers, indoor recreation and entertainment businesses, gyms and fitness centers, event support businesses such as photographers and videographers, personal care services businesses such as salons and barber shops, as well as retailers. Eligible applicants must have a physical location in the Commonwealth and must be able to document a loss of income at as much as or higher than the grant request as a result of the pandemic.
More details will be posted on the MGCC website early next week.
While we were all disappointed in yesterday’s announcement with new capacity restrictions,today’s announcement does provide our small business community with some holiday cheer today.
I will continue to keep you informed through the holiday season. In the meantime, stay safe, #MaskUpMA, and #LoveMyLocalMA.
I wish you peace and joy this holiday season and much prosperity in the coming year.
Nancy Creed
December 23, 2020
As we close out 2020, we look back on the year –and what a year it was! We had murder hornets, a dust bowl, deadly wildfires, the deaths of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Kobe Bryant, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. And, of course, the pandemic – bringing a newfound level of sorrow, grief, economic hardship, and challenge.
But we also saw creativity, grit, determination, and commitment. I am incredibly proud of our Chamber and how we stood shoulder to shoulder with our members to overcome these challenges together. Within 3 days of the state setting up a Command Center, we set up our own to provide you with information and resources to help you navigate the pandemic. We initiated an ongoing campaign to proactively communicate with you – making over 1500 check-in calls and sending more than 100 email alerts.
We connected thousands of people through our virtual events, matched more than 1.5 million pieces of PPE with the people that needed it, and created opportunities to showcase and promote our members.
We provided one-on-one counseling, technical assistance, and helped to secure grants so our businesses could continue to survive. We launched our website in Spanish so that everyone had access to our resources, and we saved members nearly $2,000 through our re-opening guides and materials.
We participated in every single press conference held by the Administration, represented your interests in over 15 statewide legislative meetings, successfully advocated on COVID-related legislation, and was the only chamber in the region to lend your voice to the reopening process.
And that was just our pandemic work.
To keep the regions’ leadership and talet pipelines primed and ready, we graduated the 40th class of our Leadership Institute program. To begin building skills even sooner, we were an early adopter on the statewide Coalition on Early Childhood Education, and we joined employer organizations across the Commonwealth to form the Massachusetts Businesses Coalition on Skills to develop policy solutions for filling skills gaps.
We successfully negotiated no increase in the tax rate for the Springfield business community for the coming year. We took the first steps to develop a business coaching and mentoring program for our minority businesses to assist with their continued growth and success. Our advoacy efforts led the Administration to avoid new broad-based taxes in the state budget and to create the Broadband Equity Commission, affirming a commitment to creating an equitable and accessible telecommunications infrastructure for students. And so much more.
Looking back on 2020, we are still here because you are still here. Thank you for your creativity, grit, determination, and commitment. It is not a cliché to say we have been in this together.
We have been here for you since the start and we will be here for you through our recovery. We wish you a safe and healthy new year and, like you, look forward to the growth that 2021 will bring.
Stay safe, stay well,
Nancy Creed
President
December 22, 2020
As a result of our hospitals being challenged by a near 82% occupancy of acute beds – and with an impending surge following the holiday season - the Administration has announced that, effective this Saturday, December 26 capacity limits for most industries will be reduced to 25%, and indoor and outdoor gatherings including event gatherings will be reduced to 25 people outdoors and 10 people indoors. These restrictions are anticipated to last at least until January 10, 2021.
Industries impacted by the capacity reductions include restaurants; close contact personal services; theatres and outdoor performance venues capped at a maximum of 50 people and indoor performance venues remaining closed; casinos; office spaces; places of worship; retail businesses; flight and driving schools; indoor golf facilities; libraries; lodging common areas; arcades and other indoor and outdoor recreation businesses; fitness centers and health clubs; museums, cultural, and historical facilities and vehicle guided tours; and common areas in facilities subject to the EEA-issued rules. Where there is no licensed or permitted capacity allowance on record and for any enclosed space within a larger facility, occupancy will be limited to no more than 5 people per 1,000 square feet.
Workers and staff for restaurants, close contact personal services, places of worship, and retailers such as grocery stores will not count towards the new capacity limits. The 25% capacity for restaurants will apply separately to outdoor and indoor capacity. All sector-specific protocols for Phase 3, Step 1 remain in place, as does the state Travel Order, Stay-At Home Advisory, and mask guidance.
The gathering restrictions cover gatherings at private homes, event venues, and public spaces.
As well, the Department of Public Health has paused all non-essential inpatient invasive procedures unless postponement would cause a high risk or a significant decline to the patient’s health. Future non-essential procedures should not be scheduled until future notice.
As we wait for the President to sign the latest federal stimulus package, we are getting a clearer picture of the details. The full bill text has been released and we have been able to obtain a summary of the information relative to the Small Business Section which covers the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the second draw loans; the expanded eligibility guidelines for a PPP; the “shuttered venue operators” grant program to support our hardest hit live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, museum operators, motion picture theatres; and more. As additional information comes online, we will certainly be at the forefront of sharing that with you.
While this latest stimulus package is a beacon of hope on our path to economic recovery, today’s restrictions are incredibly sad news for our business community given the challenges they have and continue to face. Each of us must do our part so that this temporary measure remains just that – temporary.
In support of our business community and the efforts they are making to survive these difficult times and keep their employees working so they can support their families, I urge you to #MaskUpMA, stay at home, avoid travel, properly sanitize, celebrate differently this year. We can each make a difference today in the outcomes of tomorrow.
Stay safe and well.
Nancy Creed
President
December 21, 2020
Over the weekend, Congress reached a deal on a new $900 billion federal stimulus package. While the final language has not yet been released, the package would provide a new round of stimulus checks to most adults; additional federal unemployment benefits; financial aid for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and the purchase and distribution of the vaccine; funding for schools and colleges; support for hospitals treating COVID-19 patients; a new round of the small business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP); grant support for small businesses, including financial assistance for event venues, cultural institutions and independent movie theatres; employer tax credits for paid sick leave; transportation funding, and more. The package is also expected to allow businesses that received a PPP loan to deduct expenses related to the loan. It is anticipated a vote to be taken today by both the House and Senate and then sent to the President for signature. While this is welcome news, the Chamber was disappointed to see that funding was not included for our struggling cities and our Commonwealth, and we will continue to push for that support in the new year.
Support did come today for our small businesses as the Baker-Polito Administration announced that more than 1,100 small businesses will be notified today of their successful application for grants administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC). 100% of the recipients were minority, women, veteran, LGBTQ, or disability-owned. We were pleased to serve as a technical assistant to help our regional small businesses apply for these grants. An additional $17.5 million in funding was passed through the state’s recent supplemental budget. Applicants who had applied through the MGCC previously but did not receive funding during the first round will be automatically eligible.
The Administration also opened an additional $390,000 in funding through the MassDevelopment Resurgent Places program. This funding will help community partners prepare public space and commercial districts to assist with the communities’ economic recovery efforts. Eligible projects may include outdoor seating spaces, sidewalk retail venues, partitions to support social distancing, and more.
And just before the weekend, Governor Baker introduced legislation which will provide additional relief to our employers on their unemployment insurance costs. As a result of a projected $5 billion deficit in the Trust Fund by the end of 2021 due to the deluge of unemployment claims, come January the UI statute would trigger an automatic change to the unemployment insurance rate employers pay. The rate would shift from the current Schedule E rate of approximately $540 per employee to a Schedule G rate of approximately $866 per employee – an increase of nearly 60%.
The legislation, if passed, would freeze the experience rate at the current Schedule E rate for two years, limiting the per employee cost to approximately $635 in 2021 and $665 in 2022. The legislation would also enable the state to bond the remaining deficit and allow the Trust Fund to be rebuilt overtime. Because federal law prohibits payments on the borrowed funds to be repaid through the Trust Fund, the legislation calls for a separate surcharge on contributory employers to assist in the interest payments due next fall. The surcharge would be waived if the interest is waived through future federal stimulus negotiations.
We have been voicing our grave concern to the legislative delegation about the potential for such a catastrophic increase if a rate freeze is not implemented, and we will continue to voice this concern as the legislation makes its way through the process.
A special shout out to José Delgado who will assume the role of director for the Governor’s western Massachusetts office. In his role with MGM Springfield, José served on the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Legislative Steering Committee. We are pleased to see a Springfield native take the lead in the regional office and pleased to have a friend at the helm.
On a more personal note, I know the sadness of seeing a non-COVID loved one needing to be admitted to the hospital and not having the ability for in-person visits to assuage the anxiety, fear and loneliness associated with hospitalization. As we head into the holidays, I encourage you to heed the health guidance this holiday season: celebrate only with those that live in your household, #MaskUpMA at all times, socially distance, and properly sanitize so that our hospitals do not continue to be overwhelmed and all patients can recover with the support of their family. And don’t forget to #LoveMyLocalMA for your last-minute holiday shopping needs.
Stay safe and well.
Nancy Creed
President

A Brief Pause for In-Person Programming

All around us, our region is taking action to minimize the spread of COVID-19. In congruence with the guidance of Governor Baker as well as the actions of other chambers and organizations, the Springfield Regional Chamber will pause in-person programming until May 1, at which point we will determine next steps.

We intend to reschedule our current events, including Fire & Ice, the Mayors' Forum and our Beacon Hill Summit, when it is safe to do so. Just like you, we are taking this situation seriously and day-by-day.

BUSINESS DOESN'T STOP... AND NEITHER DO WE

Business hasn't stopped, and your Chamber hasn't either. Our legislative advocacy work in Boston continues. Board and Committee meetings will continue virtually. And our staff will continue to work, be it in the office or from home, to serve our members during this challenging time.

A NEW STRATEGY

New developments call for a new strategy. To that end, we're refocusing some of our resources to support digital member and community engagement.

Be on the lookout for webinars, our regular newsletters, as well as exciting member stories and engagement opportunities on our social platforms. We will continue to build community and support commerce, even "from home.”

REFUNDS

We will be processing refunds for anyone who has already purchased admission to events previously scheduled in the near future: Multi-Chamber Speed Networking Breakfast, Mayor's Forum 2020, Fire & Ice, Beacon Hill Summit 2020.

Thank you for your patience and support, and please reach out to us with questions or concerns.