Are you ready for hypergrowth?

“This is going to be a fairly optimistic talk.”
 
That’s how Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, began his presentation to our chamber yesterday.
 
“It’s been a little while since I’ve given a really optimistic talk,” he continued. “And I think it’s wonderful that we are this stage of the pandemic where we're seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”
 
I'd like to think he was in such a good mood because he was talking to our members. But basically Rosengren echoed the forecast we heard Sunday from Fed Chair Jerome Powell Sunday on 60 Minutes: Our economy is about to enter a period of hypergrowth.
 
Rosengren credited the positive benefits to vaccinations and the federal stimulus package. He was even optimistic that inflation can be kept in check at about two percent for the rest of the year, but wary of a tightening labor market.
 
Don't pop the cork yet. Rosengren also warned that many businesses and households are still experiencing significant economic distress, particularly sectors, such as hospitality, where social distancing is difficult, especially impacting many lower-wage and Black and Hispanic workers.
 
Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic too, although the latest reports suggests they're finally returning to the workforce at a rate similar to men, he said.
 
Rosengren also cautioned that COVID variants, or failures to keep up with vaccines both in the US and globally, could change everything.
 
Still “we should see a really robust recovery,” he said.
 
Just when you thought it was safe to open your UI bill 
 
Those gasps you may have heard coming from business and nonprofit operators might be because they just opened their Q1 unemployment insurance tax bills.
 
Despite just signed legislation that we all thought would freeze the UI rate for two years to avoid a 60% increase, our bills went up anyway (yes, including the chamber's).
 
Turns out the bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed, appropriately enough, on April Fool's Day, didn’t address what’s known as a solvency assessment, a surcharge applied to unemployment that’s normally used to cover the costs for employers who go out of business explains the Globe’s Jon Chesto
 
This year, it also applies to any layoffs due to COVID since under the CARES Act, individual employers were not held financially responsible for layoffs caused by the pandemic, adds Greg Ryan at the BBJ.
 
As a result of this double whammy, the year’s solvency assessment which was 0.58% in 2020, is now 9.23%. 
 
For many businesses that could mean an extra $1,000 per worker -- or about 16 times more per worker than last year -- at a time when businesses owners are just struggling to get back up on their feet.
 
On Friday our chamber joined 20 business groups across Massachusetts asking state and federal lawmakers “to share the responsibility of the state’s current UI Trust Fund debt crisis." Read our letter here.
 
Better news for health insurance
 
Here’s some better news: Two-thirds of Massachusetts residents insured through the state’s Health Connector will see their premiums decrease starting next month.
 
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said yesterday that more people are likely to qualify for "zero- or low-dollar health coverage" because of the federal spending package known as the American Rescue Plan, reports Katie Lannan at State House News.
 
Health Connector Executive Director Louis Gutierrez said passage of that legislation makes this "the best time ever to obtain health insurance in Massachusetts."
 
Gutierrez said current members will receive updated premium information this month and next.
 
The Connector's extended open enrollment period runs through July 23.
 
 
Tomorrow: What you need to know about returning to the office
 
We have a great panel lined up for tomorrow (Weds. at 11 a.m.) about what changes are occurring to office space as companies and landlords prepare for the return to the office. Our panel includes:
  • Mike Wilcox, SVP Leasing at Bulfinch Companies, will provide nsight on leasing and building improvement trends.
  • Liz Von Goeler, Principal/Chair of External Relations at Sasaki will discuss how companies are designing their post-pandemic workplace.
  • Dinesh Wadhwani, CEO of ThinkLite, will share new technologies and trends in the growing “healthy buildings” sector and increased focus on air quality monitoring. 
 
Eastern won’t abandon cannabis retailers  
 
Here’s an interesting sidebar to last week’s big Century Bank and Eastern Bank merger story.
 
Once the two institutions merge at the end of the year, Eastern plans to continue Century’s marijuana-banking business.
 
Century was the first Massachusetts bank to accept deposits from marijuana-linked businesses and is still one of the only. Century CEO Barry Sloane tells Greg Ryan at the BBJ he's glad Eastern CEO Bob Rivers agreed to continue what Century started.
 
“I’m happy to hear that because these are good customers of ours. We want them to be well taken care of,” Sloane said.
 
City Council to discuss life sciences at Riverside
 
The Newton City Council will hold the first of at least three Land Use Committee public hearings tonight (7 p.m. via Zoom) on a proposal to add two life sciences buildings to the Riverside Station project on Grove Street. Logon information is here.
 
The proposal keeps the project at relatively the same size but replaces a proposed hotel and some office, retail and residential space with the two buildings which would be built in partnership with Alexandria Real Estate. 
 
If you missed it last week, be sure to read the Globe story about how the project could play a big role in making our region a destination for the life sciences sector and a similar article on the topic from Bisnow.
 
The Planning Department update is here and here’s a memo from the law department indicating that the state’s now housing choice law will allow this change to pass on a majority vote.
 
Watertown gets its Roche Bros
 
The 24,000-square-foot Roche Bros opened this weekend at Arsenal Yards, the first Watertown location for the locally grocery chain.
 
Features include a “Chop Shop” with smoothies, cut fruit and vegetables, artisanal cheeses and charcuterie fixings, prepared foods, made-to-order sandwiches and a flatbread pizza bar, as well as a café serving espresso drinks. Catherine Carlock at the BBJ provides this look
 
‘Welcome Back’ campaign launched
 
Finally, today, if you spent any time visiting local stores or restaurants this weekend I hope you saw one of these bright green “Welcome Back” signs in windows. 
 
It’s the beginning of our spring shop local campaign, designed to welcome folks back into our businesses and to thank customers --- old and new --- for supporting local.
 
You can pick up your free 11x17 sign at any Village Bank branch in Newton (click here for locations) or at the Needham Staples Connect (163 Highland Ave in Needham; turn left and head to the Print and Marketing Center) during Staples' normal business hours.
 
As you hang up your sign, take a photo and post it on your social feeds (be sure to tag us @nnchamber so we can share it).
 
We’ve also created graphics that you may use and adapt for your own content. Download a 'welcome back' graphic here or 'thanks for supporting local' graphic here.
 
More details on the campaign to follow…but for now, let’s get those signs up everywhere!
 
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.

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