The North Central Mass Chamber is pleased to welcome ENE Systems of Canton as a new member in January

The North Central Mass Chamber is pleased to welcome ENE Systems of Canton (www.ENEsystems.com) as a new member in January.

For the past 60 years, ENE has been helping businesses large and small, municipalities, and schools reduce the operating and energy costs of their facilities. Energy efficiency upgrades can improve occupant comfort and productivity, as well as increasing property value through renovation. ENE will perform an on-site assessment and recommend specific projects for consideration, depending on priorities and budget. As a full-service contractor, ENE will engage and manage the contractors you choose to work on your facility, but can also assist with financing projects, writing grants, applying for tax credits and more.

ENE is a full-service energy contractor and installer for National Grid utilities. Sample clients include Lawrence Schools, Lowell High School, Haverhill City Hall and Boston Public Schools, as well as retail, hotels, assisted living, and healthcare facilities.

Regional Market Manager Eric Sandberg describes ENE Systems as “the Mass Save for businesses”, referring to the popular state-subsidized energy efficiency program for Massachusetts homeowners. For more information, please contact Eric at esandberg@eeiservices.com or on (603) 581-3311

Attention North Central Chamber Members

Attention North Central Chamber Members

Overtime regulations not going into effect on December 1st


What happened?

Over the last several months, businesses in North Central Massachusetts have been preparing to comply with new overtime rules set to go in effect on December 1, 2016. But last week, a federal judge blocked the new regulations, pausing businesses from having to comply with the law. In short, there are currently no changes to overtime laws.
Many employers have been actively taking steps to change personnel policies surrounding overtime pay, employee classification, and even the way employees perform their job duties. But with this latest decision, those changes may not have been necessary as existing overtime regulations are still in place.

What does this mean?

The federal judge’s injunction to this law gives merit to the existing court cases that have challenged the Department of Labor’s new overtime regulations. Basically, the federal judge believed that the lawsuits challenging the new regulations were legitimate cases that should be heard before any regulations are put in place.
This means that the salary threshold for overtime exemption is still $23,660 and not $47,476.

This decision is not permanent and court decisions could provide a variety of impacts and outcomes for overtime rules.

What to do next?

If you have already made changes to employee classifications and salary, it may be best to not make any more changes. It may be difficult to take back decisions you have made about an employee’s status and job duties. You should consider your own unique situations and the relative costs to making changes to your personnel policies.

If you have not yet made decisions or implemented changes regarding classification of employees, it may be best to hold off on making any changes and see how the litigation works out. You may want to have a plan in place to move forward in the future in the event that the federal judge’s decision is reversed. You should consult an employment attorney or CPA for guidance.

Need more information?

Keep an eye out for more information from the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. If you need assistance, please reach out to Patrick Lawlor, public affairs manager, by phone at 978.353.7600 ext. 224 or by email 

RFP QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

RFP QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

 

Question: Is there a specific committee charged with overseeing the project or will one be created prior to the project’s start?

Answer: In the past, we have had a steering committee comprised of high level decision makers in the region that participated in the process. So, yes we would envision creating a steering group of volunteer leaders organized to help provide leadership and input into the process. However, I would envision that most of the project oversight would be staff driven.

 

Question: Will there be staff assigned to the project by the sponsor organizations and if so, what will their role be?

Answer: Yes, we would envision that the professional staff would be engaged in the project in various capacities (i.e. providing oversight, guidance and support).

 

Question: What is the desired start date for the contract?

Answer: Our timeline is to select a consultant and execute a contract by February 1, 2017. We would like to start the project immediately after the contract is executed.

 

Question: Is there a desired completion date?

Answer: Based on our initial timeline, we had planned that this project would take 4-5 months once a consultant is selected and the contract executed. However, we have some flexibility and can adjust if deemed necessary. We do not want the project to be rushed and want the consultant to deliver the best quality product. However, the project should not take more than 10-12 months maximum. I should also note that we have some deadlines imposed on us by some of our grant funding sources that are supporting this project which may require the consultant to provide us with formal progress reports to satisfy their requirements.

 

Question: Given the holiday season, can you tell me when you are considering holding interviews?

Answer: We anticipate that the selection committee will review the proposals in early January and potentially select 2-3 finalists to invite in for interviews and presentations. We would hope to have the selection process completed by the end of February.

 

Question:  The amount and type of “input’ is an important question with this many cities/towns involved. Do you have any further thoughts on that component ?

Answer: This is a critical piece of the project. I would envision that whomever we select would be experienced in hosting and facilitating “visioning” sessions (as well as other techniques) to gather input from various stakeholders and build consensus around a collective economic development strategy. However, we do not expect that the consultant we select to engage with the elected leadership in each and every community that we represent on an individual basis. We can provide guidance on major stakeholders that should be included in the process.

 

Question: We are quite experienced in creating a comprehensive community assessment to give you a clear picture of all the demographic and economic data and a meaningful analysis. Will you want to include research on comparison regions from the Northeast or around the country?

 Answer: The data piece is another critical part of the project. If you believe that a comparison with other regions will be helpful, then you should include it in your proposal.

 

Question: One of our major concerns is the data availability given the many cities/towns to be included.  Is the region represented by the Montachusett RPC and its 22 communities a good source for data ?  Does it cover almost all of your region ?

Answer: Yes, the Montachusett RPC represents most of our core communities and is a good source of data. However, we expect that the consultant we select should also have access to other sources of data.

 

Question: Is there any flexibility with the budget?

Answer: The $100,000 is our total budget for the project. We have no flexibility there. You should make sure to document if anything is excluded in your final proposal.

 

Question: How many firms have been invited to respond to the RFP? I don’t see that it’s publicly posted, is that right?

Answer: Currently, there are ten consulting firms that we invited to respond to the RFP.

 

Question:  Do you have a cut-off date for questions, and will you be sharing Q&A with all prospective bidders?

Answer: We don’t have a set cut-off date for questions. However, I would recommend submitting any questions well in advance of the deadline as possible.  We may not respond to the questions immediately and you want to leave yourself enough time to prepare your proposal and submit by the deadline.

Sharing the Q&A will depend on the number of questions we receive and if we deem them relevant and helpful for the preparation of the proposals. In such a case, we might compile and share the questions and our responses to the questions with all of the bidders.

 

Question: It appears that submission by email is acceptable and hard copies are not required. Is that accurate?

 

Answer: Yes, email submission is fine. But, I would recommend that you confirm receipt.

 

Need a Last Minute Gift?

Need a Last Minute Gift? We want to remind folks this Holiday Season that the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center is a great place to shop for local products. The Johnny Appleseed Visitors; Center carries jams, jellies, honey, maple syrup, fudge, chocolates, sparkling cider and that local icon of American kitsch – the plastic flamingo!  He comes in 5 different colors and makes a great Yankee swap gift.  You will also find a wide selection of books highlighting the history of the region, plus good-quality logo merchandise and souvenir items for your stockings.  The visitors’ center also offers a holiday gift wrapping service for only $2 per item. The Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center is open daily, except for Christmas. Normal business hours are 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except for Christmas Eve.  The visitors’ center closes at 3:00 p.m. on December 24th. All proceeds support the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association.

The Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center is located at 1000 Rte. 2 Westbound, between exit 34 & 35, in Lancaster, MA. For more information, please call 978-534-2829 or visit www.appleseed.org.

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce welcomed Help For Our Community

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce welcomed Help For Our Community as a new member in November.

Help For Our Community is a Fitchburg-based non-profit organization that serves the homeless and other disadvantaged populations in 14 North Central Mass communities with a variety of emergency-based programs.

2016 will be the 16th year that HFOC has been cooking and delivering hot meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas days, anticipating the demand for more than 750 meals this holiday season.  Throughout the year, HFOC also gathers supplies for school back-packs for foster children, kits of necessities for homeless families, and a monthly diaper pantry for struggling moms.  The Fitchburg, Leominster, and Gardner fire departments rely on HFOC when a family may be in need in the event of a house fire.  They are called in to gather information on the individuals to help provide clothing, toiletries, gift cards for grocery stores, and small household items.  All of the resources come from community members who are able to secure items and pass them along through HFOC’s efforts.

People in need may not know where to turn, and HFOC is able to direct them to services in place, in order to maximize the impact of other local organizations such as Meals on Wheels, the VA, and senior centers.  But HFOC is often asked to “fill the gaps” in existing programs.  Many people have come to rely on their work, so HFOC is constantly in need of volunteers, financial support, and donations of important supplies.

While HFOC hopes to open a donation center in future, monetary donations can be made at Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) branches at 350 John Fitch Highway in Fitchburg or 1123 Central Street in Leominster.  To donate food or other goods, please call director Tami Arguelles on (978) 846-6426.  More information is available on their Facebook page.

Tourism Industry Continues to Thrive in North Central

By, Suzanne Farias Chair of the Board Johnny Appleseed Trail Association

As the third largest industry in Massachusetts, it’s no doubt that tourism has a major impact on the economy.  In North Central Massachusetts, tourism has had a profound economic impact – and throughout the last year, tourism related revenue has continued to grow.

Tourism can be looked at in many different lights: family vacations, sports and recreation, corporate travel, group tours– all things we actively see here in North Central. These travelers spend money at gas stations, restaurants, shops and stay overnight at our local hotels. Local room tax revenue is a valuable resource for municipalities. Over the last few years, North Central Massachusetts has seen tremendous growth in room tax revenue – validating that North Central Massachusetts is growing as a popular destination.

Communities use the room tax revenue to help fund parts of their budget, as well as re-investing those dollars in tourism marketing. The Johnny Appleseed Trail Association – an affiliate of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce – is a state recognized regional tourism council. Through investments by business owners, regional attractions and local and state government, the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association works to aggressively promote and market North Central Massachusetts as a tourism destination.

The addition of Great Wolf Lodge has been a boon to Fitchburg. The hotel, water park and conference spaces are an asset to Fitchburg’s growth and economic development. With that hotel online, room tax revenue spiked for Fitchburg in fiscal year 2015 to $937,000. That growth continued in fiscal year 2016, with an 8% increase bringing revenue to over one million dollars. Fitchburg continues to lead the region’s tourism economy with the help of Great Wolf.

In Leominster, room tax revenue growth is more aggressive than ever before. By maintaining a competitive environment for lodging and conference space, Leominster saw an unprecedented 27.5% growth in tourism revenue for fiscal year 2016. Gardner has also seen steady growth in their room tax revenue – climbing 12.4% over the previous year.

The tourism industry is not only alive and well in North Central Massachusetts – it’s thriving. In order to continue that growth, we need to continue to work regionally and collaboratively to promote North Central Massachusetts, continue investments in tourism marketing, and maintain competitive tax rates that attract travelers of all kind.

 Suzanne Farias is the general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton in Leominster and serves as the Chair of the Board for the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association.

Member Spotlight: J.U.M.P.

JUMP – or “Just Understand My Potential” is youth outdoor educational organization that connects youth with the outdoors and teaches skills that can not only be used in nature – but in life.

Founded by Bill Spacciapoli – an avid outdoorsman – in 2010, JUMP uses mountain skills such as hiking and backpacking as an outlet for kids ages 11 and above to enjoy and appreciate nature, while teaching valuable life skills like accountability and cooperation.

JUMP counselors have led more than 400 participants on 50 trips in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and in central Massachusetts, including Fall and Spring day hikes to give kids a taste of the program; Summer weekend trips and short winter programs with an annual cross-country ski day at Windblown Cross-Country Ski Area in New Ipswich, New Hampshire.

Training sessions help participants learn and practice mountain skills in comfortable surroundings close to home, so there are no consequences to getting things wrong the first time -or the first few times.

While founded as a non-profit serving disadvantaged populations, growth plans include offering fee-based programs for schools and similar groups.  Partners and donors include the Appalachian Mountain Club and Chamber members such as the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg & Leominster and Rollstone Bank & Trust.

“We teach hiking and backpacking as ‘cooperative sports.’ That means that we cultivate fitness, skills, understandings, and values, just as those who coach competitive sports do. But mountain travel is not a game. The object is not to defeat some identically motivated opponent, but to thrive in an exciting and demanding environment. The rewards are adventure, accomplishment, great memories,

the joy of high places” said Bill Spacciapoli.

JUMP seeks Chamber members well-networked in the community to join their advisory board; help with specific functions such as marketing, bookkeeping, and social media; and of course volunteer leaders to manage a group of kids for a day hike.  To volunteer or donate, please call Bill on (978) 621-7286, or email director@jumpinc.org.

Reserve Your Spot in the Official Guide to North Central Massachusetts

An ad in the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Guide is the best marketing decision you will make all year. This publication is the only one reaching visitors and long-time community members on a year-round basis. The publication is distributed at over 350 locations across Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Canada. Work is underway now for the Spring edition. Contact Diane Burnette via email at burnette@appleseed.org or call 978-534-2829 to reserve your spot today. Space is limited.

Chamber Welcomes Fitchburg State University Intern:

daveinternThe North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is pleased to welcome David Ginisi as an intern at the Chamber’s headquarters this semester. Ginisi is currently a senior at the Fitchburg State University majoring in communications with a concentration in professional communications.  His interest in public relations and marketing drew him to the Chamber for his internship.

David is a native of Worcester and graduated from Holy Name High School.  He is a member of the dean’s list at Fitchburg State University and also volunteers at Special Olympics.  As part of his internship, David is learning a variety of aspects of the Chamber and its affiliates. He has been gaining hands on learning experience by assisting with drafting press releases, helping to organize special events and supporting the launch of the Chamber’s new Gift Local Initiative.

“We are excited to welcome David as part of our team this semester,” said Roy M. Nascimento, President & CEO of the Chamber.  “He is a bright and ambitious student who will benefit from his time working with our members and supporting the advancement of North Central Massachusetts. I have no doubt that he will make a positive contribution to our organization.”

David was connected to the Chamber through Fitchburg State University’s Internship program, which allows students to explore a career field and gain relevant work experience, apply academic learning to real world situations, and build critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and professional skills. Please contact the Chamber at 978-353-7600 ext. 244 for more information.

TOURISM INTEREST SOARS AS FESTIVAL GOERS HEAD TO WACHUSETT MOUNTAIN

Wachusett Mountain kicked off their Fall festival season with four of their biggest festivals, Farm Fresh Fest, Kidsfest, BBQfest and Applefest. We were able to exhibit at three of the major events, Kidsfest, BBQfest and Applefest in these past few weeks. While attendees spent their weekends enjoying the sights, sounds, beauty and pageantry of these events, we were able to tap into those joyous feelings and passed on wealth of information on the regional attractions that are featured in North Central Mass.  All three festivals were the perfect way for families to spend quality time together all while supporting our local small business vendors and learning about the region’s ideal areas to visit with their families.

The 26th Annual Kidsfest was the getaway that all kids dream about. It was two full days of music, food, and family fun. Live shows, walk-around entertainment, magic shows, clowns, and Mount Wachusett’s scenic summit SkyRide were at the epicenter of this eventful weekend. Parents got to enjoy great food and product sampling by our local small business vendors.

The 7th Annual BBQfest featured some of the area’s best BBQ vendors. Highlights of this year’s event include the Oysterfest, which featured oysters on the half shell, clam chowder and shrimp, along with an oyster shucking competition. The People’s Choice Awards featured Chili on Saturday and Pulled Pork on Sunday. Then the ever-famous Farmers’ Market and Craft Fair (including more than 75 vendors), and Beer Tent were present throughout the weekend.  Dozens of small business vendors were in attendance and gained great notoriety from the public.

The 33rd Annual Applefest, one of the region’s most popular festivals, featured over 75 Craft Fair & Farmers’ Market Booths, family entertainment, scenic foliage skyrides to the Summit, mountainside barbecue, pony rides, clowns, wall climbing, jugglers and magicians for the kids. Applefest also featured an Oktoberfest Celebration complete with authentic German cuisine, a multitude of tasty beers in the Beer Garden and live music and entertainment.

Hundreds of families living outside our region are now looking forward to what North Central has to offer from here on out. Attendees left these weekend events, happy, tired, full and in many cases excited to seek out new places of adventure and fun here in North Central Massachusetts.