Chamber News

Needham / Newton
January 05, 2021 Likes Comments

Merger means we're losing two high profile local employers

Good morning and happy new year!

It's good to be back.

This week is almost all about the political (and financial) drama in Georgia and on Capitol Hill.
 
(Here's what nearly 200 top business leaders just told Congress.)
 
But it's also worth watching Beacon Hill today as we approach the final day of the legislative year.
 
First and foremost, fingers crossed that conference committees release the long stalled economic development bill and $17 million transportation bond bill before all unfinished business turns into a pumpkin at midnight.
 
The $450 million economic stimulus package includes a much-needed housing choice bill, approved by both houses in July, that would allow majority rule to zoning changes, rather than the onerous two-thirds votes that stymies many good projects now.
 
It also includes relief for small businesses and, in the House version, a restaurant relief fund and cap on those predatory meal delivery app companies like DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, among other measures.
 
Not passing the transportation bill would jeopardize projects ready to begin this spring and summer, Gov. Charlie Baker warned yesterday.
 
No respectable business owner or nonprofit leader could get away with leaving so many critical decisions to the final hour.
 
On Beacon Hill this nonsense is just par for the course.
 
Baker to decide on occupancy limits soon
 
Gov. Charlie Baker said yesterday he’d “probably” have an announcement before the end of this week on whether or not to extend the current 25 percent occupancy limits on businesses beyond Sunday (Jan. 10).
 
But at least one expert is predicting lockdowns are on the horizon to deal with the post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases.
 
Merger means we’re losing two high profile local employers
 
The just-finalized official merger of two the state's largest names in health insurance -- Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care -- will result in the loss of two long time local headquarters.
 
Tufts is currently headquartered in Watertown.
 
Harvard Pilgrim’s HQ is in Wellesley.
 
The-yet-to-be-named merged company is moving to the former Reebok headquarters campus, a 42-acre campus dubbed The Block, in Canton later this year.
 
The Boston Business Journal reported last year that Tufts and San Francisco-based Spear Street Capital agreed to swap Tufts' 600,000-square-foot Watertown headquarters and the similarly sized Harvard Pilgrim HQ campus for the Canton site.
 
According to the report, the plan is to have all employees working at the new site.
 
Don't forget the minimum wage increase
 
A reminder to employers that the minimum wage in Massachusetts increased to $13.50 per hour (from $12.75) on Jan. 1.
 
The minimum base wage for tipped employees is now $5.55 per hour. However, workers who earn tips must be taking home at least $13.50 an hour through hourly wages and tips or employers must pay the difference. (This wasn’t generally a problem pre-COVID but it could be these days as restaurant business has pivoted to take out and delivery.)
 
The rate of premium pay (applicable to many retail employees) for working on Sundays, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Juneteenth is reduced to 1.2 times an employee’s regular rate of pay.
 
Premium pay for working on New Year’s Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day remains at 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate.
 
The changes are part of a multiyear program of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023. Next year, the rate will rise again, to $14.25 and $6.15 for tip workers.
 
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center estimates that the pay bump will affect 420,600 workers statewide. Its analysis also found that 60 percent of the workers affected are women and 40 percent are of color, 45 percent are in food service, 25 percent are in retail, and 89 percent are adults. ( Globe story here.)
 
Christopher Carlozzi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Massachusetts told WBUR that the increases comes at a time of “a high level of anxiety out there from small business owners who are just worried about their doors staying open."
 
He also notes that employers must also begin paying into the state's paid family and medical leave program.
 
Employers also face increased taxes to help make up the $2.4 billion deficit in the state's unemployment insurance trust fund, although the Baker administration has proposed temporarily freezing the employment rate.
 
Biz grants deadline next week
 
Here's another reminder:
Applications are now open for the Baker Administration's $668 million business relief package, administered by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation.
 
Deadline to apply is next Friday Jan. 15.
 
An earlier $51 million program was targeted to businesses that are minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, owned by persons with disabilities or located in Gateway Cities.
 
This new round of grants (up to $75,000) focuses on hard hit industry sectors, not demographics. Sector preferences include restaurants/bars, independent retailers, indoor recreation and entertainment, personal services and event support companies.
 
Businesses that already applied to MGCC’s first small business relief program from October do not need to reapply to the new program. All applications in the existing program are currently being reviewed.
 
Businesses that applied through the first program will be notified of their status by Jan. 18.
 
Wellesley extends free parking
 
The Wellesley Select Board last night approved extending free parking for an additional two months as a way to encourage local commerce.
 
“We are extremely grateful for all the support and understanding the town has provided the merchants especially during these extremely difficult times,” said Demian Wendrow, president of the Wellesley Square Merchants' Association.
 
And in Newton…
 
While Newton’s free parking program also remains in place, the city also has designated 15 curb-side pickup spots to help retailers and restaurants.
 
Your business can still request to have a curb side space near or in front of your store or restaurant.
 
Bank branches coming and going
 
JPMorgan Chase & Co. has confirmed plans to open a new branch at the corner of Central Street and Crest Road in Wellesley Square, the site of the soon to be closed Peet's Coffee.
 
Chase currently has 22 retail branches in Greater Boston, with a goal of reaching 50 locations in the next few years, the Boston Business Journal reports.
 
As of mid-2020, Wellesley was home to 19 branches – representing 13 different banks -- holding $4.4 billion in deposits, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.
 
Greg Ryan at the BBJ also reports that Webster Bank plans to close eight of its 16 branches in Boston and neighboring cities, including its Newton Centre location.
 
Webster will continue to maintain the former Citi Bank branches it took over in Needham, Wellesley, Brookline, Cambridge and Lexington,
 
Kim to lead Foundation for MetroWest
 
Congratulations to Jay Kim who has been selected to lead the Foundation for MetroWest as its new executive director (Read more here).
 
What a great decision!
 
Kim previously oversaw day-to-day operations as the foundation’s chief operating officer. He replaces Judy Salerno, who served as executive director with distinction for 15 years.
 
Salerno has retired from her leadership role, but will continue to work for the foundation in a part-time, as had been planned for several years.
 
Kim is a member of chamber’s Board of Directors and was recently named one of the 50 Most Influential Business Leaders of Color in Greater Boston’s Western Suburbs.
 
One day, we'll look back and be amazed at what so many did
 
Our communities are home to so many astonishing nonprofits that do remarkable work serving local families and neighbors.
 
I leave you this morning with one example: A year end look at how the Needham Community Council pivoted and serve in 2020.

That's all for now. Dine out. Take out. Shop locally. Mask up. And tip generously.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.

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