It's opening day (and not just for baseball)

It’s Opening Day! It’s April Fools Day! It’s even National Burrito Day.
And today marks the long-awaited debut of Newton Al Fresco 2.0, the City of Newton’s enhanced outdoor dining program.
Al Fresco 2.0 features three primary components:
  • Expanded on-street dining for restaurants: Many restaurants will offer expanding outdoor dining in parklets in front of their establishments and, in some cases, adjacent storefronts.
  • Communal dining: In partnership with Newton Community Pride, painted bistro tables, umbrellas, solar lighting and other artistic elements are being set up across the city where everyone is invited to enjoy their takeout from the restaurants of their choice. Locations are being set up in Newton Centre, Nonantum, Newton Highlands, Newtonville, West Newton and Upper Falls.
  • Union Street - diningExpanded dining on Union Street: Inspired by last summer’s set up at Moody Street in Waltham and other locations, one lane of Union (where Newton Centre T stop is) will be closed to allow expanded on-street dining areas with a few special expanded dining areas for restaurants and communal dining. 
The chamber is grateful to Mayor Fuller and her team as well as our Ward 6 City Councilors for working with the chamber’s Newton-Needham Dining Collaborative on this expanded outdoor program.
Too bad both the Red Sox and outdoor dining may be washed out today. Still, there's always burritos and a practical joke or two.
Needham recognized for leadership role
While we’re thrilled to see expanded outdoor dining in Newton, GBH Radio reminds us, that in Needham and some other communities, it never went away.
Needham took a lead statewide in keeping restaurants afloat in the pandemic, says reporter Mary Blake.
Select Board member Marianne Cooley and her husband have been eating outside at town restaurants all year.
"We may be crazier than most," she confessed. "My husband grew up in Europe, and Europeans eat outside. He says we can bundle up and we'll be fine."
Biden's infrastructure plan could have a lot for us
President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan could be a significant boost for our region.
Yes, we're talking about fixing road, funding complete streets, electrified trains, high speed rail -- maybe even ditching that stop gap plan for the elevated part of the Mass Pike in Allston and fixing it correctly.
Fixing transportation addresses many other needs too: attracting and retaining workers, our housing shortage, curtailing green house gas, combatting inequality, and much more.
James Aloisi puts it in perspective for CommonWealth
And east-west rail too?
Imagine a high speed train racing from US House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal's house in Springfield to Congressman Jake Auchincloss' place in Newtonville (and, sure, we'll let it continue onto Boston).
If you like that idea, you'll love knowing that Neal and Auchincloss both sit on the House Transportation Committee (along with Rep. Seth Moulton, also from Massachusetts), perhaps giving that long-deliberated, transformative, project its best chance ever. (MassLive)
Wellesley, Newton eligible for infrastructure grants
The state just added Wellesley to its list of 78 communities designated as a Housing Choice community, a designation that makes the town eligible for grants including for transportation, streets and other capital needs.
In addition, Newton’s designation as a housing choice community was extended.
The designation recognizes communities that have made substantial progress toward housing development goals and the implementation of housing best practices to encourage sustainable development.
“We are grateful to the 78 communities that have earned Housing Choice Community designations and their ongoing commitment to building new housing and their promotion of best practices,” Gov. Charlie Baker said yesterday.
Wellesley group forms to address hate and bias
A group of volunteers in Wellesley have developed a non-partisan, community-based initiative to support residents, employees and employers who feel victimized by racism and bias.
The Wellesley Freedom Team was established in response to alleged incidents of racism and bias that are not defined as hate crimes, and therefore, cannot be addressed under the law. The Freedom Team aims to provide a confidential and respectful space to air concerns and to help develop actionable next steps.
The team plans to respond with urgency whenever members become aware of individuals who experience threats, harassment, or violence related to race, color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, or class.
The program was inspired by a similar one in Natick.
The Freedom Team hotline is 339-216-0124 or email. Residents or employees who fear for their safety should call 911. Swellesley Report has more
Chamber joins group to advocate for aid job creation
Our chamber is joining chambers and business associations across the state to advocate for policies that develop workforce skills.
The Massachusetts Business Coalition on Skills goal is to ensure every resident can acquire the skills needed to thrive in their careers and every employer can find the talent they need to be successful.
There are two sides to the skills gap. Both can drag job and economic growth.
On the employer side, it is difficult to find qualified talent: A 2019 survey by coalition member Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education found that 73 percent of Massachusetts employers found it “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to find people with the right skills to fill open positions. For workers, new skills are the springboard to job opportunities and growth.
We’re grateful to Jim Rooney and the Boston Chamber for taking the lead in this initiative. Fellow members include Mass. Taxpayers Foundation, Amplify Latinx, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and Kendall Square Association.
Group also forms to advocate for fintech
The state’s financial services technology industry will also soon have a nonprofit advocating on its behalf, similar to how the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council boosts the state’s life sciences sector, reports Greg Ryan at the BBJ.
Newton dad gets an earful
I received more thoughtful (seriously) emails yesterday regarding Tuesday’s newsletter headline “Newton mom tells it like it is (and she's scared).”
Some feel it was sexist for me to identify CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky as a “mom” in my headline, noting that I’d never do that to a man.
Others, felt it was entirely appropriate for Walensky’s home town chamber to call attention to a role she no doubt cherishes, in spite of her prestigious career.
More than one thing can be true at the same time.
But isn’t the real problem that men don’t typically self-identify as dads when talking about public policy?
Walensky did. She's said in her video statement she was speaking as a wife, mother and daughter.
The more I think about it, the more I think the bigger problem is with us men for not framing policy as parents, not calling attention to the women who do.
Swampscott dad to open vaccines to 55-plus
Individuals 55-plus and those with one underlying health condition will get their shot at getting the shot starting Monday, as the next of phase of the Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine plan begins.
All residents over 16 will be eligible on Patriots Day, April 19.
Many front-line workers – including in the food, retail and transportation sectors – are currently eligible.
If you have workers, especially those who struggle with English or have uncertain status, MA Covid Vaccination Help is a volunteer-led, nonprofit group focused on increasing vaccine access equity by helping underserved populations.
They have over 400 volunteers who speak 15 different languages, and work to schedule appointments specific to each requestor’s location, timing and accessibility needs. They've scheduled almost 10,000 vaccination appointments since launching less than a month ago. Their services can be requested through their online form or: 1 (888)-4321-VAX. To volunteer sign up here.
In addition, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts recently pledged $1 million to fund Lyft rides to and from vaccine clinics for underserved communities. 
And here's that link to Boston Magazine's Insiders Guide to getting a vaccine.
That’s a lot of ticky tacky
Here’s a stat that shouldn’t surprise anyone: Americans consumed more corrugated cardboard boxes than ever last year.
US producers in 2020 churned out nearly 407 billion square feet of corrugated product, enough to cover Massachusetts, Rhode Island and then some.
Stay-at-home orders and stimulus checks, of course, fueled a banner year for e-commerce and subsequently a run on shipping boxes, notes the Wall Street Journal.  
Want to do your small part to slow the trend? Here's our Find It Local directory.
Ok, enjoy the game...or a burrito. Or both. See you tomorrow.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
Your chamber is here when you need us.
P.S. Yesterday we announced we're moving our golf tournament to Wellesley Country Club. Within a few hours, we filled half the field! If you want in, click here to register.

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