Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr. was Berkshire County's Massachusetts State Senator from January 1997 through January 2007 -- for 10 consecutive years or one decade. At the end of his political tenure "respresenting" Berkshire County, the following is his terrible public record on Economic Development.
"Bump looks to address job losses in Berkshires"
By: Karen Honikel
(Capital News 9 out of Albany, NY covering the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts)
Governor Deval Patrick's new Executive Director of Workforce Development isn't wasting any time getting down to business.
Former State Representative Suzanne Bump is working to introduce herself to the local business communities and let them know she will make sure the Berkshires are not forgotten on Beacon Hill. She says a major concern right now is addressing the loss of jobs in the Berkshires.
Currently the Berkshires have the highest rate of job loss in Massachusetts. Bump says this can be changed with the right policies in place. She says she will be meeting with the Governor once a week to work on bringing skilled workers and higher paying jobs into the area.
Bump says a key part to local job growth and development will be finding a way to keep the younger workers in the Berkshires.
Anointed Middle Berkshire Registrar of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo, II, swears in Good Old Boy Jimmy Ruberto for his third term as Pittsfield's Mayor in Early-January 2008.
"Report: Pittsfield jobless rate up"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Friday, October 31, 2008
PITTSFIELD — The unemployment rate in the metropolitan Pittsfield area has increased almost a full percentage point over the last 12 months, according to the latest state figures.
The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said the rate rose from 4 percent in September 2007 to 4.9 percent last month.
That growth included a jump of half a percentage point in just one month, skipping from 4.4 percent to 4.9 percent from August to September.
Gains 'here and there'
Linnea Walsh, the director of communications for the Department of Workforce Development, said the end of the tourist season in the Berkshires has contributed to the most recent figures, adding that there have been some modest employment gains "here and there."
Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said she is not surprised that the unemployment rate has gone up because companies are facing tough economic times.
Restructuring and reorganizing
"Many companies in Berkshire County have hiring freezes, which are causing an increase in people collecting unemployment insurance," she said. "A lot of companies are restructuring and reorganizing to make sure that they have their most critical workers to thrive. It's bad, but not as bad as it could be."
The unemployment rates in the North Adams and Great Barrington metropolitan areas have also increased over the past 12 months. In the North Adams area, which includes Adams, Clarksburg, Florida, Monroe, and Williamstown, the unemployment rate rose from 5.2 percent to 5.7 percent between September 2007 and last month.
In the Great Barrington area, which includes 13 South County towns, the unemployment rate increased from 3.2 percent to 3.8 percent in the 12 months that ended in September.
To cope with the ebbing economic tide, the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board has set up a "rapid response" strategy, offering free, confidential layoff aversion and tax incentive programs to help firms prevent layoffs and company closings.
The Pittsfield metropolitan area includes 14 communities located mostly in Central Berkshire. In Pittsfield, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in September, with 1,230 of the city's 22,844-member labor force out of work.
'Result of difficult times'
According to Boulger, the county's labor force also decreased slightly during the 12 months that ended in September.
"That's a result of the difficult economic times," she said. "Usually, the labor force is growing."
Pittsfield's unemployment rate is slightly higher than the state September average of 5.3 percent, but far below the national average, which was unchanged at 6.1 percent last month. Adams (6.6 percent), Hinsdale and North Adams ( both at 6.3 percent), have unemployment rates that are higher than the national average, according to the September statistics.
"North Adams traditionally has been higher than the state average," Boulger said. "I think it's due to the small concentration of companies in North Berkshire. You have the hospital and two colleges, but the other companies are smaller manufacturers or nonprofits involved with the creative economy. When funding begins to dwindle, their funding is impacted more than the other ones."
A loss of wealth
The state's 2008 unemployment rate has averaged 4.8 percent through September, higher than the 4.5 percent rate recorded for the same time period in 2007, reflecting the impact of the national economic slowdown.
Michael Supranowicz, the president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said the fall of the stock market has created a loss of wealth.
"The number of older people (in the Berkshires) is much higher than in the rest of the state, not just retired people, an older market," Supranowicz said. "When you tighten your belts, there's less money, and less of a marketplace."
'We're in the in-between mode'
According to Supranowicz, fewer county residents are employed in the travel and tourism industry.
"Part of that is because we're in the in-between mode between summer and winter," he said. "Jiminy Peak isn't open yet. So people who move from one tourism job to another are unemployed right now. But part of it is the tightening of the belt."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224.
From: "Senator Ben Downing"
Subject: Senator Downing's Press Pass: Week of November 1- 7, 2008
Date: Friday, November 7, 2008 4:22 PM
Save the Date: “State of the Economy in the Berkshires”
When: Thursday, November 13th at 8:00 a.m.
Where: Susan B. Anthony Center - Berkshire Community College
This public forum will provide Berkshire County businesses and residents with information about local financial institutions and the services they are providing during this national financial challenge. Discussions will also provide a view of what is happening on the state level with budget cuts, etc. and how it will affect the Berkshires. Please come ready to learn how our elected officials and local financial institutions are working to develop and apply solutions so strongly needed during these tough economic times. There will be a question and answer period following panel discussion. Panelists include Senator Downing, Representative Speranzo, William Dunleavy of Legacy Banks (Presenting Sponsor for this Event), and Abu Selimuddin, Professor of Business and Chair of the Business Dept., Berkshire Community College. We look forward to seeing you there.
"Unemployment lines lengthen: Face of joblessness"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, December 10, 2008
PITTSFIELD — Unemployment has no one face.
At BerkshireWorks, the unemployed arrive to file claims in dress shoes, in jeans, in suits and in work boots. They are your younger sibling's age. Your father or mother's age. They speak different languages and come in every color.
"They come from everywhere — from banks to lumber yards — you name it. It's a statewide situation," said Melanie Gelaznik, manager of program operations at BerkshireWorks.
More are coming to the One-Stop Career Center on North Street, one of 37 centers in Massachusetts that have at least one representative from the Division of Unemployment Assistance taking and helping with unemployment claims.
The BerkshireWorks office doesn't open until 8:30 a.m. Lately, early-morning lines have formed at the door.
"They're here before we are," Gelaznik said.
Mark Gigante was one of them. He showed up at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday and got in line.
"We waited in the hall until they opened," said Gigante, who until recently was employed as an insurance adjuster.
By 10 a.m., he was still in queue.
"I don't mind the wait," said one woman, who asked that her name not be published. "I just want to know what's going to happen with me."
Last week, 638 people used a service at BerkshireWorks. Of that total, 274 people, or 43 percent, were there to file unemployment claims.
David Nash, a Disabled Veterans Outreach Program specialist based in North Adams, said 360 people filed for unemployment benefits last week, up 50 to 60 percent from the week before.
He said the intake rate is typically 20 claims a day, but 96 claims were taken on Monday of last week.
Seventy-five claims were taken this past Monday, the same day The Associated Press reported that employers cut the jobs of 533,000 U.S. workers in November — the worst monthly drop in 34 years.
Because of this, Congress passed an expansion of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Effected on Nov. 23, it provides up to seven additional weeks of unemployment benefits on top of the 13 weeks approved this summer. The standard duration is 30 weeks.
Since the extension, Gelaznik said BerkshireWorks and other career centers have been "overloaded" with claims. This has resulted in longer waits for claims filed both on-site and via telephone.
"We had one woman who waited 200 minutes on the phone last week. People are getting frustrated, obviously," Gelaznik said.
She said she participates in regular conference calls with other agencies across the state to come up with strategies to better manage the influx.
On Dec. 2, Suzanne Bump, the Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development in the state, announced that the statewide TeleClaim Centers have extended their hours of operation from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., through the end of the year.
"We recognize that individuals are facing long wait times on our phone lines, and we are working hard, through increased staffing and extended hours, to decrease the wait times," Bump said in a press release for the Division of Unemployment Assistance.
At the Pittsfield BerkshireWorks location, Gelaznik said that they've added two phone lines and hired a second full-time unemployment claims intake specialist.
This month, while people are waiting, she said a representative from the Berkshire Community Action Council will be on site to help people who fill out fuel assistance applications.
"We're trying to do other things so they can get more done while they wait. We also think safety, which does become a concern in a tense environment," Gelaznik said.
"People are very unhappy, especially because it's the holiday time," she added. "When you do see people waiting, it's not a good image for Berkshire County."
Eagle staff reporter Scott Stafford contributed to this story.
Sabic Innovative Plastics, seen above, recently restructured that will result in roughly 40 layoffs in Pittsfield operations. Berkshire County jobless numbers are due out Tuesday (12/23/2008). (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"County's jobless numbers out Tuesday"
Berkshire Eagle staff report
Monday, December 22, 2008
PITTSFIELD — The state released its jobless rate last week, and specific numbers for Berkshire County are due out Tuesday.
Tuesday's numbers will not reflect this month's layoffs at two major Berkshire County employers — KB Toys, which recently shed more than 100 people, and Sabic IP, which recently let go of 40 workers — since the data will reflect the unemployment rate for the month of November. Those losses will be reflected in the December jobless rates due out next month.
The unemployment rate will give a picture of the health of the labor market in Berkshire County, broken down into the three primary markets of Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington.
However, the jobless rate will give a picture of how the local workforce was faring heading into the holiday shopping season.
Last week, the state released its figures and the results continued to tumble. The number of people who filed for unemployment rose in November to its highest level since August 2003.
The unemployment rate in November rose to 5.9 percent — up from 5.5 percent in October, according to Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development figures. A year ago in November, the state's jobless rate was 4.3 percent. Massachusetts remains below the national level of 6.7 percent.
Meanwhile, statewide job losses in November totaled 8,000, meaning that Massachusetts has lost 19,000 jobs since August. At 3,275,200 positions, jobs are down 10,700 from one year ago.
In November, the biggest job losses were reported in the professional, scientific, and business services sectors.
Labor force estimates for Massachusetts, developed using the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics model, are based on information on Massachusetts' residents' employment and unemployment status collected through a small monthly sample survey of households.
The state's unemployment rate averaged 5.0 percent for the first 11 months of 2008.
Former KB Toys buyer Len Patnode offers his resume to representatives of Home Depot Friday at a job fair held at Jae's Spice in Pittsfield for the laid-off employees of the company. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff).
"Job fair helps former KB employees"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, January 10, 2009
PITTSFIELD — The amounts of time these employees had spent at KB Toys ranged from 37 years to three months. They have either lost or will be losing their jobs.
Their employment situation is the reason these workers gathered on the second floor of Jae's Spice restaurant on North Street on Friday afternoon to attend the second job fair held by KB Toys since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 12.
According to company officials, 80 current and former employees had indicated they would attend Friday's gathering, up from the 65 who attended the first company-sponsored job fair on Dec. 23. Depending on the interest, a third job fair may take place.
"We owe it to our employees to do everything we can to help them find another position," said Gerry Murray, KB's vice president of Human Resources.
According to Murray, approximately half of the company's 225 full-time employees who work at KB Toys headquarters at 100 West St. are still on the job. KB began laying off employees the day it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month, and has laid off a few employees each week since then. It has begun going-out-of-business sales at its stores nationwide, including at two stores in Berkshire County.
The gradual layoffs will continue until May when all of the KB employees who work at headquarters are gone, he said.
Murray said each KB employee was given a termination date when the company filed for bankruptcy protection, and that workers are being released when their duties have been completed. Twelve additional KB employees, including 34-year-old Cristina Duhamel of Pittsfield, were let go on Friday.
"I don't think it's really hit me," said Duhamel, who had worked for seven years at KB in merchandise planning.
"In the morning, I said, 'I'm ready to go.' But when I was leaving and was told I'm not coming back, it was bittersweet."
Nineteen companies were on hand at Friday's job fair, while 18 had attended the first event last month. Murray said that KB is interested in getting the word out that it has an "experienced, skilled, dedicated group of people" who would be an asset to any business. A few additional firms that didn't send representatives on Friday provided brochures with company information.
Aaron Beatty, 32, of Becket, worked for KB Toys for 8 1/2 years. He was laid off right before Christmas. Beatty said he's gotten a few inquiries from other companies.
"I worked in marketing and advertising, and I know a lot of local organizations have a need for marketing and advertising, so there's a couple of possibilities," he said.
Married with two children, Beatty has family in the Berkshires, but came to Pittsfield from the Ithaca, N.Y., area to work for KB.
"I'm very fortunate that my wife has a good job," Beatty said.
Michael Kelly, 30, of Albany, N.Y., had only worked at KB for three months before he was laid off three weeks ago.
"It was surprising," he said, "to put it nicely."
Originally from New Jersey, where he had worked as a business planner, Kelly said he took a job as a store planner at KB because his wife, a speech pathologist, wanted to move to Albany. He's looking for a job in the retail industry.
Duhamel said she plans to attend nursing school.
"It's a good opportunity to do what I always wanted to do," she said.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
"Berkshire unemployment rises"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, January 28, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County's unemployment rate rose from 5.2 percent in November to 6.7 percent in December, and is now higher than the state rate of 6.5 percent, according to figures released today by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
The leisure and hospitality sector was among the heaviest hit in the Berkshires, the report said, while manufacturing, informational services, and professional services remained unchanged from 12 months ago. Financial and educational/health sectors saw slight increases.
"Berkshire County unemployment rate soars"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, January 28, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County's unemployment rate reached its highest level in 13 years in December, jumping to 6.7 percent from 5.2 percent in one month.
The county is now outpacing the state, whose jobless rate was 6.5 percent last month, according to data released on Tuesday by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The state's seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in November.
Last month's unemployment rate is the county's highest since it hit 6.3 percent in 1995, said Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
Rate is significant
Boulger referred to the increase in the county's December unemployment rate as significant, but said it wasn't unexpected considering the current economic climate.
"We're not immune to what's happening in the nation," she said.
Nor is the rest of Massachusetts.
The unemployment rates were higher in 21 of the state's 22 metropolitan areas, including Pittsfield, in December. Only Amherst experienced a slight drop.
Unemployment in the Pittsfield metropolitan area jumped from 5.1 percent in November to 6.6 percent last month. In the North Adams area, it rose from 6.4 percent to 8 percent. In Great Barrington, the jobless rate increased from 4.3 percent to 5.9 percent.
The numbers represent a sharp spike from a year earlier, when the jobless rate was 3.8 percent in Pittsfield, 5.3 percent in North Adams and 3.2 percent in Great Barrington.
Losses in leisure
In the leisure and hospitality industry, the number of employed in the Pittsfield metropolitan area dropped half a percentage point, from 4.8 percent to 4.3 percent from November to December as people appeared to cut back on social activities.
"People are tightening their belts," Boulger said. "They're not going out as much as they used to, or they're not visiting friends."
In the goods producing sector — which includes all non-manufactured items — the number of employed dropped from 5 percent in November to 4.9 percent in December. Sector-by-sector numbers for the North Adams and Great Barrington areas were not available.
Boulger said the goods producing sector was affected by the layoffs at KB Toys, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December with the intention of liquidating the entire 86-year-old toy company, which maintains its corporate headquarters in Pittsfield.
"That's going to continue to go up unless local companies hire more people," Boulger said.
As of last week, slightly less than 100 of the 225 full-time employees at KB's headquarters were still on the job. KB is expected to have 90 employees remaining at its headquarters at the beginning of February, 30 by the start of March, and just 12 by April.
The number of employed in Pittsfield's manufacturing sector was 3.4 percent in December, which is the same level it has been since September. According to Boulger, employment manufacturing levels are down in most regions of the state.
"There's a steady flow of products underway," Boulger said, referring to the steadiness in the Berkshire manufacturing figures.
"They've also invested in training," she said. "Other than that, I don't know (why). I'm surprised to see that it wasn't down."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
Berkshire County, Massachusetts
"Berkshire unemployment rate hits 8.3%"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, March 11, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County's unemployment rate soared in January, jumping to 8.3 percent, the highest level since 1993.
The county's unemployment rate jumped 1.6 percentage points from December, when it was 6.7 percent, according to figures released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. December's unemployment rate had increased 1.5 percent from November, when it was 5.2 percent. January's numbers are not seasonally adjusted.
Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said the new number is reminiscent of General Electric's departure from Pittsfield in the early 1990s, when thousands were thrown out of work. Unemployment rose to more than 10 percent before settling back to 8.6 percent in 1993.
January's increase marked the second straight month that the county's unemployment rate is higher than the state's, which jumped from 6.5 percent in December to 8.1 percent in January, while the national unemployment rate jumped from 7.2 percent to 7.6 percent.
In January 2008, the state unemployment rate was 4.6 percent versus 4.9 percent nationally. The number of county workers who were unemployed jumped from 3,884 to 6,035 in 12 months.
Unemployment in the Berkshires reached 10.7 percent in 1991 when GE completed the five-year shutdown of its transformer plant, and 10.9 percent in 1992 when the industrial giant sold its aerospace division to Martin Marietta. The rate was 8.6 percent in 1993.
Although the economic recession is the main culprit in the current spike in the county's unemployment rate, Boulger said she didn't know how much higher the rate can go.
"I wish I did, but I don't have that crystal ball," she said. "I'm hoping that with the manufacturing industry actually adding jobs in January, it will stop the spiral trend."
"But it's a guessing game," she added. "I'm optimistic that we're going through the toughest part. I hope it won't go as low as it did in the early 1990s."
David M. Rooney, the president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation, had not seen the latest numbers on Tuesday but said he believes the increase in the county's unemployment rate reflects the full impact of Pittsfield-based KB Toys' decision to close its operations. KB filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last December with the intent of liquidating the company.
The county's labor force increased over the last 12 months, from 71,857 workers in January 2008 to 72,338 in January 2009.
"Maybe fewer people are retiring, that's one of my guesses," Boulger said. "They're staying in the workforce longer."
The number of county residents employed in the manufacturing sector rose slightly from 3.2 percent to 3.3 percent between December and January.
The number of county residents in the service producing and private services sectors also dropped almost a percentage point, according to Boulger. She believes that KB Toys is included in the private services sector.
Among the county's metropolitan and labor market areas, unemployment is highest in North Adams, where it jumped from 7.8 percent in December to 9.6 percent. The unemployment rate in the North Adams area, which also includes part of Vermont, was 6.7 percent in January 2008.
In the Pittsfield area, the unemployment rate increased from 6.5 percent to 8.2 percent between December and January, while it rose from 5.8 percent to 7.6 percent in the Great Barrington area. The unemployment rate was 5.1 percent in the Pittsfield area and 4.8 percent in Great Barrington in January 2008, respectively.
In the city of Pittsfield, the unemployment rate rose from 6.7 percent to 8.5 percent between December and January, while it jumped from 9.0 percent to 10.7 percent in the city of North Adams.
The national unemployment rate is 8.1 percent.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6224.
Here's a look at Berkshire County's unemployment rates in the early 1990s, when General Electric was shutting down, and the latest monthly statistic from January:
1991: 10.7 percent.
1992: 10.9 percent
1993: 8.6 percent
January: 8.3 percent
"Berkshire employers to hold local career fair"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, April 9, 2009
PITTSFIELD — With Berkshire County's unemployment rate higher than both the state and national average, several companies are offering their services to those looking for work.
The 2009 Berkshire Career Fair, sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, occur today at Berkshire Hills Country Club at 500 Benedict Road from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
A total of 36 companies are participating in this year's event, down from 60 last year, said Christina L. Barrett, the chamber's director of marketing and communications. The chamber first held the event in 2006, and several of this year's companies also participated two years ago.
"I think a lot of it has to do with businesses probably being in the midst of a hiring freeze," Barrett said. "There may have open positions, but maybe at this point (they are) trying to do more with less. It's another indication of the tough economic times that we're dealing with."
Health care companies, cosmetics firms, educational institutions, nonprofits, banks, and manufacturing businesses such as LTI Smart Glass and Interprint will be among the participants.
Ten companies have the word Berkshire in their titles, including The Berkshire Eagle, which is a co-sponsor.
"The best thing that a job seeker can do is come prepared to have an interview on the spot," Barrett said. "Have an updated résumé on hand with several copies."
Attendees should also come appropriately dressed. "A shirt and tie would be helpful," Barrett said. "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
If you go ...
What: 2009 Berkshire Career Fair
Where: Berkshire Hills Country Club, 500 Benedict Road, Pittsfield
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., today (4/9/2009)
"Berkshire County jobless rate stays steady"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, April 22, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Despite significant layoffs at Crane & Co. last month, Berkshire County's March unemployment rate remained at 8.6 percent, the same level it was in February.
It's the first time since October, when Berkshire unemployment was at 4.9 percent, that the rate has not climbed.
But last month's local unemployment rate is still higher than the state (8.2 percent) and national (8.5 percent) averages. The figures released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office for Labor and Workforce Development are known as "preliminary unemployment rates" because they are not seasonally adjusted.
The state's seasonally adjusted March unemployment rate, which takes into account hiring trends in seasonal businesses, is 7.8 percent. The seasonally adjusted national rate is 8.5 percent. The state rate is seasonally adjusted each month; local rates are adjusted on an annual basis, according to Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
Beset by a worldwide drop-off in demand for personalized stationary, Crane & Co. eliminated 70 hourly and salaried jobs in its stationary division on March 17. There were also expected to be significant layoffs among the remaining employees at KB Toys' corporate headquarters in Pittsfield last month.
"I looked at all the unemployment totals and nothing's jumping out at me," said Boulger when asked why those layoffs did not affect the county's unemployment rate.
"Maybe companies are feeling better about the economy, and maybe they've lifted hiring freezes," she said. "They could have absorbed 50 to 70 folks."
The county's labor force decreased by 188 workers from February to March, while the amount of people employed dropped by 317. Boulger said the drop in those numbers could be from people leaving the area.
The number of Berkshire residents who are unemployed, which has increased by 2,740 workers since last October, including 1,454 from December through February, remained virtually the same between February and March. The total dropped from 6,205 employees to 6,204 — a difference of just one worker.
According to Boulger, the number of unemployed includes the total number of county residents who are out of work, not just the ones receiving unemployment benefits.
But some of the unemployed may have also taken temporary jobs to make ends meet, numbers that are not included in the state's statistics, she said.
"Really, it's kind of anyone's guess," Boulger said, referring to the minuscule drop in the county's unemployed. "There's a feeling right now that the economy might have changed a little bit.
"It's still up 3.3 percent from what it was a year ago," she added, referring to the county's March 2008 jobless rate of 5.3 percent. "It's still way too high."
Among Berkshire County's three labor markets, unemployment remained at 7.5 percent and 9.7 percent in Great Barrington and North Adams, respectively. The rate increased slightly, from 8.6 percent to 8.7 percent, in Pittsfield. Across the state, the March unemployment rates were lower in 10 labor market areas, and unchanged in seven others.
Employment in five local job sectors, including leisure and hospitality, dropped only one-tenth of a percentage point in March. The number of employed in the county's manufacturing sector remained at 3.2 percent, down from 3.5 percent in March 2008.
The $54.2 million in federal stimulus funds intended to help bolster the state's unemployment trust fund includes more than $873,000 for Berkshire County job training programs and other labor resources, Boulger said.
County residents who are currently receiving unemployment benefits will be able to receive an additional $25 per week through funds supplied by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, she said. The local funding is retroactive to Feb. 22. The U.S. Labor Department announced that the state had qualified for the $54.2 million in federal stimulus funds on Monday.
April 22, 2009
Re: Pittsfield's misdirected local economy
It is really WRONG that Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said the drop in "those numbers" could be from people leaving the area. "Those numbers" referred to the fact that Berkshire County's labor force decreased by 188 workers from February to March, while the amount of people employed dropped by 317.
In economics, there are two sides to a coin. When one is Ms Boulger, the upside of the economic coin is "the people" because in a communal setting, it is the people that are the greatest resource to the local economy. Without customers -- or people who are both willing and able to invest in Pittsfield -- then you are left with substandard community resources such as homes, apartments, public schools, roads and public works, police and fire, and an insolvent financial system. The more people in a local economy, the greater the economy of scale, which means more efficient services are provided. NOTHING could be WORSE for Pittsfield than people leaving the area due to job loss and excessive unemployment figures. The outcome of this exodus will lead to higher taxes for diminished services -- or an inefficient system of government! I do NOT understand why Mayors and their staffs marginalize the people for the short-term benefits of special interests. It is like burning down your home to cook the steak roast instead of cooking it in the oven.
- Jonathan Melle
"Sabic loses $260M: The parent of Sabic Innovative Plastics attributes its losses to buying GE Plastics."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, April 24, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Sabic Basic Industries Corp., the parent company of Sabic Innovative Plastics, continues to struggle financially and is blaming its purchase of GE Plastics for some of its troubles.
Following a rough fourth quarter last year, Sabic announced a net loss of 974 million riyals, roughly $260 million, during the first quarter of 2009, according to a statement posted on the company's Web site. The first quarter ended on March 31.
Sabic cited a "goodwill writedown" of 1.2 billion riyals on its 2007 purchase of Pittsfield-based GE Plastics as contributing to the first quarter loss. A goodwill writedown is the amount that a business pays to acquire another firm over its fair market value.
Sabic Innovative Plastics, formed in 2007 when the firm purchased General Electric's Plastics unit for $11.6 billion, maintains its world headquarters in Pittsfield. Sabic Plastics spokeswoman Jodi Kennedy referred all questions regarding earnings to the company's headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Othman Al-Humaidi, Sabic's General Manager for Corporate Communications, did not respond to an e-mail message on Thursday seeking comment.
In January, the Middle East's largest registered company reported a 95 percent drop in net profits during the fourth quarter of 2008 as compared to the same time period the year before. Sabic's net profit during last year's fourth quarter was 311 million riyals as compared to 6.87 billion in 2007.
In the statement, Sabic attributed this year's first quarter loss to a continued decline in the prices for most petrochemical products and metals, which combined to leave the company less profitable than it had been during the first quarter of 2008.
"The financial and economic crisis that hit the world's major economies and the credit crunch have led to difficulties for customers accessing credit facilities from banks and financial institutions," said Sabic Vice Chairman and CEO Mohammed al Mady in a written statement.
"This has contributed to the decline in demand for petrochemical products and metals, in particular engineering plastics, which have been impacted by the recession in the automotive, construction, and electronic industries," he said. "These developments accelerated the pace of decline in the prices of petrochemical products and metals, adversely impacting the performance of global companies, including Sabic."
Material from the Associated Press is included in this report.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6224
"Census: on the clock", By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, May 17, 2009
The digital clock — complete with audio — tells the big picture. An annoying tick, tick, tick, tick. At one point Saturday evening, it was 319 days, 15 hours, 40 minutes, 52 seconds until Census Day 2010.
Then 51 seconds, 50 seconds, 49 seconds ...
The clock, which sits in the right-hand corner of a page on the U.S. Census Bureau's Web site at www.census.gov, is a constant reminder of the proximity — and importance — of April 1, 2010.
Census forms will be mailed or delivered to every household in the United States in February and March. The forms are due back to the bureau before April 1.
With their black bags and hand-held computers, workers from the Census Bureau are in the final stages of creating a database of each address in Berkshire County.
Census data are used to distribute Congressional seats to states, make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute $300 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.
"Our representation in Congress is in jeopardy if every citizen is not counted," said state Rep. Denis Guyer, D-Dalton. "We could potentially have less representation for Western Massachusetts ... at a critical time in tough budget years, when getting every dollar from Washington counts."
Massachusetts, whose population in the 2000 census was 6,349,097, has remained steady with 10 U.S. representatives since 1980. Yet if numbers statewide drop significantly from 2000, the Commonwealth might lose representation.
Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, estimates that a statewide decrease of 70,000 residents would guarantee a one-seat loss in Congress.
Although the Census Bureau estimates a 148,854 increase (2.3 percent) in the Massachusetts population between 2000 and 2008, Karns said he thinks a one-seat loss still could happen.
Other states — such as Arizona and Nevada — have experienced population booms since 2000, far outpacing the Bay State. Because the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned based on population, these states will gain seats, while those states that lost ground or didn't gain fast enough will lose seats.
Berkshire County is projected to have a 4.1 percent decrease in population — from 134,953 in 2000 to 129,500 in 2008. That would leave the county vulnerable if lawmakers are forced to redraw Congressional districts.
Some officials worry the 1st Congressional District — in which Berkshire County resides — would be merged with some or all of the 2nd District, potentially lumping the Berkshires with larger urban centers such as Springfield and Chicopee. That would mean a loss in influence for the sparsely populated Berkshires and an increase in competition for federal funds and attention.
"We'd go from being one of three pretty much equal areas (with Fitchburg and Holyoke in the 1st District) to being clearly a secondary area within a differently configured district," Karns said. "We could all the sudden become a tertiary (region)."
The census also is used to determine funding for state and federal grants.
"There's an issue with having children being accounted for when it comes to funding for education," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox. "There were students in the classroom, but (parents) failed to respond to their census (forms)."
Community development grants also would be in jeopardy, Karns said. Those grants fund items such as downtown improvements, business-park plans and economic revitalizations.
Karns said Pittsfield receives more than $2 million in such grants, and a rise in population could increase these funds. A decrease in population would have the opposite effect.
"Some grants are run by population brackets — if you're not within the population brackets, you don't get anything," Guyer said. "If you're just short by 100 or 1,000 people, if you just miss the line, you could be leaving a lot of money on the table."
Brooke Mead, program director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center, said the 2000 census counted 5,000 to 7,000 immigrants in the county, but she estimates that 11,000 to 15,000 currently live here.
Karns said this missing demographic could prove a "very small increase" to Berkshire County's population, rather than a decline.
"Psychologically, to national marketing firms and economic development types, they are less likely to invest in a region that shows population loss," he said. "One of our critical labor-force weaknesses is that we have fewer working-age people than might be the norm, and if you have a more accurate count of the working-age population, it does have an impact."
Said Mead: "I think the message we want to get out to our entire community is that the census is safe, the census is free, the census is necessary. It doesn't put anybody at risk whatsoever for anything, and it is totally necessary, especially for vulnerable populations because we have to get money for services, and sometimes that money is based on census numbers."
Guyer added that an untapped resource was the number of second-home owners who regularly travel to the Berkshires.
"Some populations go up 50 percent in the summer," he said. "Imagine what could happen if we could get some of them to become residents for the census."
Karns discussed the other side of homeowners — Berkshire County snowbirds who leave for more temperate zones during February and March, when the census forms are delivered, as well as college students, who despite spending much of their time in the Berkshires think they are supposed to file their forms in their hometown.
"They get the form at their second home in Florida and they're thinking that they're supposed to fill it out where they are now," Karns said. "But they are supposed to file for their primary home, where they live six months plus a day more a year — so that the five-month resident of Florida with a home in Pittsfield is supposed to be filling out the form as a resident of Pittsfield."
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"Berkshire unemployment rate drops"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, May 26, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County's unemployment rate dropped almost a percentage point to 7.8 percent in April, the first decrease in the area's monthly jobless rate since October, according to figures released this morning by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
The county's jobless rate in March was 8.6 percent, the same level as in February.
The state's unemployment rate dropped from 8.2 percent to 7.8 percent in April. This is the first time Berkshire County's unemployment rate has not been higher than the state average since last November.
Unemployment in the Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington areas also decreased in April.
The figures are not seasonally adjusted.
"Berkshire County: Unemployment rate slows"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, May 27, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County's unemployment rate fell by nearly a point to 7.8 percent in April, the first decrease in the area's monthly jobless level in seven months.
The decrease was a welcome development, but it comes with an asterisk: A drop in the state's unemployment rate is typical this time of the year, according to Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
"This is when construction is picking up, and college students are getting job opportunities, so it's a transitional time," Boulger said.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that it's heading in the right direction," Boulger said. "I'm glad to see that there are less than 6,000 people unemployed. But it doesn't mean that we're completely out of the recession or the hard economic times yet. I hope the unemployment rate goes down. But I can't predict six months or a year from now."
The so-called seasonally unadjusted figures were released Tuesday by the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Affected by the global economic recession that led to the closing of national toy retailer KB Toys of Pittsfield beginning in December, Berkshire County's unemployment rate rose steadily from 5 percent last October to 8.6 percent in February. But the rate appeared to stabilize when it remained at 8.6 percent in March.
For the first time in six months, Berkshire County's unemployment rate is not higher than the state's figure. The Massachusetts rate was also 7.8 percent in April, a slight decrease from 8.2 percent in March.
The county's total labor force dropped by 363 workers to 71,408 employees in April. The number of employed county residents, which dropped by more than 300 between February and March, rose by 232 in April to 65,814, the second highest total of 2009.
Boulger said the drop in the county's total labor force could mean that people are either leaving the area or have decided to retire.
"I'm concerned that we're losing people in the labor force, but there's more people in the labor force than last year," she said.
The number of unemployed county residents dropped by 595 people in April to 5,594, the first time since January that it has been below the 6,000 mark. Only 3,134 county residents were unemployed in April 2008, when the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent.
"We actually have more people in the labor force, more people employed, and more people unemployed than a year ago," Boulger said.
Unemployment in the Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington labor market areas also dropped in April. The biggest decrease occurred in Great Barrington where unemployment fell more than a percentage point from 7.5 percent to 6.4 percent.
In the North Adams area, unemployment dropped from 9.6 percent to 9 percent in April. The jobless rate in the Pittsfield area went from 8.7 percent to 8 percent.
In the city of North Adams, the unemployment rate fell from 10.4 percent to 9.5 percent in April, the first time this year it has been below 10 percent. In the city of Pittsfield, unemployment dropped from 8.9 percent to 8.2 percent.
The unemployment rates for all of the state's labor market areas were lower in April than they were in March. The biggest unadjusted job gains were reported in Barnstable County, the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area, and in Springfield.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6224.
Berkshire Health Systems, facing a decline in patient visits, told employees on Wednesday it will cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions.
"Berkshire Health Systems shedding jobs"
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, June 18, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Confronted with a major drop in reimbursements and a decline in patient visits, Berkshire Health Systems on Wednesday told employees it will cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions.
The nonprofit company said 46 of the cuts will come from Berkshire Medical Center, and 19 will come from the ranks of management. In total, 79 full- and part-time employees will lose their jobs effective July 3, more than 2 percent of Berkshire Health's roughly 3,000 employees. Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington was not affected by the reductions.
"Even when we have good years, the health industry in Massachusetts operates on pretty thin margins," said David Phelps, president of Berkshire Health Systems. "In a good year, we operate on a 2 percent margin, so it doesn't take a lot to go from being reasonably successful to having problems."
In the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, Berkshire Health had an $8.5 million surplus on revenues of $387 million -- a 2.2 percent margin. But Phelps said cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, which combined represent about 70 percent of the company's patient population, have drained $3 million from the bottom line this year.
At the same time, patient volume is declining as people hard hit by the recession have avoided elective surgery and non-emergency care, further sapping revenue. Diagnostic care -- like CT scans and MRIs -- has been particularly hard hit, officials said.
Consequently, several radiology technicians are among those being let go, along with clerical staff and the cuts from management.
Arthur Milano, Berkshire Health's vice president of human resources, said hourly employees will receive a severance package equal to three weeks of pay plus another day's pay for every year of service, along with a flat, after-tax payment of $1,000. All will be able to continue their health insurance for nine months at a cost of 35 percent of the premium.
Salaried employees, meanwhile, will be given eight weeks of severance, along with the other benefits, which reflects the expectation that they will have a harder time finding jobs with equivalent salaries, Milano said. All those being laid off will be provided free career counseling by a consultant, which will set up a help center at BMC's Hillcrest Campus.
The layoffs are a troubling sign from the county's biggest employer, which had been trying to weather the economic downturn without cutting staff. It has not filled an estimated 40 positions, hoping attrition would be a sufficient to pare payroll.
But as the state and federal governments have cut Medicaid and Medicare in the face of dwindling tax revenue, Berkshire Medical Center has suffered, Phelps said, while Fairview Hospital has been protected by its special designation as a critical access facility, which entitles it to higher payments from these public insurance programs.
Phelps said the problems at BMC were aggravated by the state's health care reform, which has done great work to insure more patients but has enrolled them in programs that pay Medicaid-like rates. In the end, that is not enough to cover the cost of care, he said.
"Health care is so complex that, when you do these reform efforts, there are always unintended consequences," he said.
No nurses or doctors were laid off yesterday, but the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents nurses at BMC, said the cuts will nonetheless have an impact on its members.
"We are waiting to see what these layoffs are," said Charles Rasmussen, an MNA spokesman. "Any layoffs that come in patient care areas are going to have a direct effect on patient safety and on the practice and work life of nurses. You can't subtract people from the team and not have everyone else on the team stretched out more."
Asked whether these reductions will be sufficient for Berkshire Health Systems to meet its numbers, Phelps said much of that will depend on the final version of the state budget and on President Barack Obama's efforts at health reform.
"It is hard to predict how we are going to be reimbursed for the care that we provide," he said. "At some point, the services that we offer and the way that we manage here has to match up to what purchasers are able to pay."
"Second drop in Berkshire County jobless rate"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, June 24, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- After steady monthly increases between November and March, Berkshire County's unemployment rate has dropped for the second straight month.
The local unemployment rate dipped to 7.6 percent in May, a slight decrease from the 7.8 percent registered in April, according to seasonally unadjusted figures that were released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
But May's figure is a full percentage point lower than March, when Berkshire County's unemployment rate topped out at 8.6 percent.
"It's another good month," said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
"It's a small drop because more people have entered the labor force," Boulger said. "A lot of companies that had persistent job openings feel more confident in the market and have filled those job vacancies."
This is the first month since last November that the Berkshire County unemployment rate is lower than the state average. The state rate increased from 7.8 percent in April to 8 percent last month. In April, the county's unemployment rate was the same as the state's. The national unemployment rate is 9.4 percent.
According to the state figures, the Berkshire County labor force has increased by 546 people since May 2008, when unemployment was 4.6 percent.
"That's a positive trend," Boulger said.
Among the sectors that experienced increases in May were leisure and hospitality, private services and health care, she said. Berkshire Health Systems announced last week that it would cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions, but those numbers won't affect the unemployment rate until June's figures are released next month.
The number of employed in Berkshire County increased by 1,058 workers to 66,497 between April and May, while the number of unemployed dropped by 57 workers to 5,507. The county's labor force grew from 829 workers to 72,004 between April and last month.
Boulger said the number of people accessing unemployment services at the Berkshire Works Career Center, which is overseen by the regional employment board, has begun to decrease.
"BerkshireWorks is not seeing large lines of people coming through its doors," Boulger said. "There's still a steady flow of job seekers, but not like it was in December, January and February."
Boulger said she's "cautiously optimistic" about the local unemployment rate after two consecutive decreases, but added there are still signs of trouble.
"We hear from companies all the time that are struggling," she said. "I'm always surprised when the numbers come out. I'm glad that we're not in double digits."
In the Pittsfield labor market area, the number of employed rose by 144 between April and May as unemployment dropped slightly from 7.9 to 7.8 percent. Pittsfield along with the Barnstable, Haverhill-Andover-Amesbury, and Springfield areas recorded the largest percentage increases in jobs over the month.
The unemployment rate in North Adams dipped from 8.9 to 8.8 percent, while in Great Barrington it went from 6.4 percent to 6.1 percent. The number of employed has increased by at least 100 workers in all three areas since May 2008.
"Those are pretty significant numbers," Boulger said. "Maybe some of the people who were laid off at KB Toys are starting to find positions."
Statewide, the unemployment rates were lower in seven labor markets. The rates remain unchanged in the Haverhill-North Andover-Amesbury and New Bedford markets, but were higher in the 13 other areas.
State Unemployment Rate (Seasonally Adjusted)
Massachusetts Jobs (Seasonally Adjusted)
"Pittsfield Job Rate Ticks Up in June"
iBerkshires.com - Tuesday, July 21, 2009
BOSTON — The Pittsfield labor area is one of six in the state that saw job growth during June, likely due to seasonal employment needs.
The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the Barnstable, Tisbury and Nantucket labor areas recorded lower unemployment rates in June than in May reflecting seasonal declines in unemployment.
Job growth occurred in six of the commonwealth's 12 areas for which unadjusted job estimates were published; jobs were unchanged in three other areas. The Barnstable labor area saw the largest over-the-month percentage increase in jobs. Along with Pittsfield, Framingham, Haverhill-North Andover-Amesbury, Boston-Quincy-Cambridge and Worcester areas also recorded over-the-month increases in jobs.
The Pittsfield region, which includes Becket, Cheshire, Dalton, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Lenox, New Ashford, Peru, Richmond, Savoy, Washington and Windsor, saw its nonfarm job rate rise less than a 1,000, from 35,400 in May to 36,100 in June, after hovering between 35,000 and 35,500 for months. Still, the Pittsfield area is down more than 1,000 jobs from a year ago.
Statewide, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate increased from 8 percent in May to 8.7 percent in June, still below the national average of 9.5 percent in June. A year ago, the unemployment rates were 5.1 percent for Massachusetts and 5.6 percent nationwide.
The unadjusted unemployment rates and jobs estimates for the labor markets may show different levels and trends than the statewide seasonally adjusted estimates. The statewide seasonally adjusted June 2009 unemployment rate released last week increased from 8.2 percent in May to 8.6 percent in June. Statewide, the seasonally adjusted jobs estimate for June showed job losses over the month and losses over the year.
The July 2009 unemployment rate, labor force data and survey of jobs for Massachusetts will be released on August 20; local unemployment statistics will be released on Aug. 25. Detailed labor market information is available at www.mass.gov/lmi.
Related link: www.mass.gov/?pageID=elwdhomepage&L=1&L0=Home&sid=Elwd
"County jobless rate sees increase"
By Angel Roy, New Engand Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, 7/22/2009
PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire County unemployment rate experienced its biggest increase since December last month when it jumped half a percentage point to 8.1 percent.
It was the first jump in county unemployment since February, when the rate increased from 8.3 to 8.6 percent. The unemployment rate remained at 8.6 percent in March, then declined significantly in April and slightly in May.
In December, layoffs precipitated by KB Toys’ decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just before Christmas caused the local unemployment rate to jump from 5.5 to 6.6 percent.
While Berkshire County’s unemployment rate has gone up, it is still lower than the state (8.6 percent) and national (9.5 percent) rates, both of which rose slightly in June.
The number of unemployed in Berkshire County increased in June from 5,484 to 5,992, according to the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The figures are not seasonally adjusted.
The increase occurred because a number of area companies, including Berkshire Health Systems, initiated layoffs last month, said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. Berkshire Health Systems cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions in June.
"Those numbers are reflected in this data," Boulger said.
"Although the rate is up for the month of June, there are actually more people working and more jobs in June than in May so that is good, positive news," Boulger said.
Boulger said that she had been surprised that the rate in the county did not rise during April and May.
"I am hearing from a lot of companies that there is not a lot of confidence in the economy right now," Boulger said, adding that the lack of confidence has resulted in open positions going unfilled.
The BerkshireWorks Career Center on North Street [Pittsfield] has seen a 20 percent increase in job seekers from May to June due to the rise in the local unemployment rate.
"I am not going to say that people are not finding jobs because they are," said Michael Herrick, the career center’s director. "There are just not many jobs available because more people are looking."
Since May, the number of those employed in Berkshire County has grown from 66,378 workers to 68,167. The Berkshire County labor force has also increased from 71,862 workers to 74,159.
Employment in education and health care was the only one of seven employment sectors in Berkshire County that decreased in June. Employment in that job sector dropped by 1/10th of a percentage point, which Boulger said may have been a result of last month’s layoffs.
With the summer season now in full swing, Boulger said she hopes people will come to the Berkshires because the economy led them to take vacations closer to home. An increase in summer visitors will help keep local venues thriving she said.
"In Berkshire County the summer is when a lot of companies have jobs available to employ a greater number of people in leisure, hospitality and recreation," Boulger said. "Those types of industries do well in the Berkshires during the summer."
She’s not sure if Berkshire County’s unemployment rate could reach double digits
"I do not have a crystal ball," Boulger said. "We are trying to do anything possible to make sure that employers have the workers they need and that jobseekers have the skills they need to enter employment.
"I hope by using that combination we will not see double digit unemployment rates," she said.
Herrick doesn’t expect to see a decrease at the BerkshireWorks Career Center soon.
"There are still more and more people being laid off," Herrick said. "More people than are being re-employed."
Unemployment in the Pittsfield metropolitan statistical area increased from 7.8 percent to 8.3 percent in June, and jumped from 8.8 to 9.5 percent in North Adams. The Great Barrington labor market area experienced a slight increase from 6.0 to 6.3 percent.
"65 jobs to be slashed at Berkshire Health Systems: The layoffs at BHS mark the second time in three months that it will cut its workforce, which affects union and non-union workers."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, September 1, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire Health Systems, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, will cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions next month as it continues to contend with the economy and deepening, significant cuts in federal and state health care reimbursements.
Monday's announcement was the second time in three months that Berkshire Health Systems, one of the county's largest employers, said it would cut its workforce: It also shed the equivalent of 65 full-time positions in June. That cut, which took effect July 3, included 46 employees at Berkshire Medical Center and 19 management positions.
The latest workforce reduction will include union and non-union positions within Berkshire Health Systems and Berkshire Medical Center, but a more thorough breakdown of the affected employees was not given in the company's statement released Monday afternoon. The nonprofit company declined to comment beyond what was included in its statement, said spokesman Michael Leary.
The unionized employees will be officially notified under the terms of their collective bargaining agreements. All of the affected employees will receive notifications this month, and the reductions will take place in early October.
After that, Berkshire Health Systems will have the equivalent of more than 2,600 full-time equivalent workers. Combined, the two rounds of staff cuts represent less than 5 percent of the company's workforce.
The affected employees will receive severance pay, benefit continuation, career counseling, resume preparation, interviewing skills and job networking.
The latest cuts "will in no way" affect BMC's commitment or ability to deliver the highest quality of care and patient safety, according to the statement. Citing a comprehensive range of services and dedicated providers, BMC "remains well-positioned to weather the deteriorating economic climate of health care," the statement said.
At the time of the employee reduction earlier this summer, Berkshire Health Systems had hoped that financial challenges facing all hospitals across the country would begin to stabilize.
"That stabilization has not materialized," according to the statement.
Despite numerous successful programs that have helped BHS and BMC reduce costs in many areas, the hospital is experiencing a continuing decline in revenue and, as is the case with most hospitals, severe financial uncertainty in the future, according to the statement.
Medicare and Medicaid account for more than 70 percent of the patient volume for BMC and BHS, and those reimbursement ratios do not cover the cost of care, according to BHS. Dramatic shortfalls in state revenue in 2008-2009 required Gov. Deval L. Patrick to make emergency cuts in state payments for health care services, including the elimination of $3 million in payments to BMC. In 2010, the reduction in federal and state reimbursements to BMC and BHS physician practices could exceed $15 million, according to BHS.
Besides the significant government shortfalls, BHS said many patients that face challenging economic circumstances have postponed or decided against elective non-emergency care, which has lowered the patient volume at BMC.
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"Berkshire County jobless rate rises"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Following two months of small declines over the summer, Berkshire County's unemployment rate rose by just over half a percentage point in September.
The jump from 7.8 percent in August to 8.4 percent last month is the biggest increase in the local jobless rate since June, when unemployment rose three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.1 percent, according to figures released Tuesday by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Local unemployment this year is at its highest level since March, when it was 8.6 percent. But the county rate did remain under the state average for the fifth straight month. State unemployment rose from 8.9 percent to 9.3 percent in September.
Tuesday's figures are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short-term employment, such as seasonal construction jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
In September, the county's labor force dropped by 3,049 workers to 71,746, while the number of employed experienced an almost identical decline, falling by 3,190 employees to 65,751.
The number of unemployed, however, increased last month by 141 workers to 5,995, which is the exact same number as July.
Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board, said there is always a slight increase in the county's unemployment rate in September.
Boulger said last month's increase is due more to national and statewide economic factors than they are to any local issues.
"We're talking a 0.6 [percentage-point] jump," she said. "There's always a little bit of a jump [following the summer months] but not that much. I think that Berkshire County is feeling some of the impacts from around the state and the nation."
"I don't think there will be too many dips when the numbers are seasonally adjusted," Boulger said.
Berkshire Health Systems, the county's largest employer, announced in September that it would cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions, the nonprofit company's second significant work force reduction in three months.
Those job cuts weren't expected to take effect until the beginning of this month. But Boulger said they may have been a factor in Pittsfield's unemployment rate jumping half a percentage point to 9.2 percent last month, the city's highest level of the year.
"The numbers might be a reflection of that," Boulger said. "People laid off from other companies who had temporary positions may have lost those jobs as well."
On the plus side, Boulger said the employment rate in the county's travel and tourism industry has increased by two-tenths of a percentage point from September 2008, while the level of employment in the education and health care, financial services, information technology and transportation/personal care sectors has remained stable over the last 12 months. The county's unemployment rate was 5 percent in September 2008.
In the county's three labor markets, unemployment in the Pittsfield area, which includes 14 mostly Central Berkshire municipalities, increased seven-tenths of a percentage point to 8.7 percent in September. The jobless rate in the North Adams labor market increased from 9.1 to 9.5 percent, while unemployment in Great Barrington rose from 6 percent to 6.4 percent.
"They seem to be pretty consistent with the other labor markets [around the state] as well," Boulger said, referring to those increases.
Unemployment in the city of North Adams increased by six-tenths of a percentage point to 9.7 percent last month.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6224.
"Berkshire County jobless rate falls to 7.7%"
By Tony Dobrowolski, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, 11/25/2009
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County’s unemployment rate fell by more than half a percentage point to 7.7 percent in October, following a similar increase the month before.
The drop from 8.3 percent in September represents the biggest decrease in the local jobless rate since before the recession hit last fall, and it is the county’s lowest rate since May when it was also 7.7 percent. The local unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in August before it jumped by half a percentage point last month.
The county rate, however, remained under the state unemployment rate for the sixth straight month. Unemployment in Massachusetts dropped from 9.3 percent to 8.4 percent in October, the first monthly decline since June 2007. The national unemployment rate is 9.5 percent.
The figures that were released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short term employment such as seasonal construction jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
"It’s good news," said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, referring to the decrease in October’s unemployment rate. "But it’s still a little high."
She compared last month’s figure to October 2008 when the county’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent.
Because the state figures include seasonal employment, Boulger said the spike in September could be attributed to students leaving summer jobs to go back to school, and second-home owners leaving the county.
"I think spiking is part of the natural cycle of the economy," she said. "There are peaks and valleys, highs and lows. Because the numbers are comparable to what’s going on in the state, I wouldn’t say it’s due to anything out of the ordinary.
"I’m not an economist," Boulger said. "But based on the training that we have with the numbers, it’s normal."
Berkshire County’s labor force declined for the third straight month in October, although the decrease of 635 workers to 71,267 was the smallest during that time span. The number of employed dropped by 44 workers to 65,782, while the number of unemployed decreased by 491 to 5,485 workers.
Boulger attributed the decrease in the number of unemployed workers to people who have either found work, or have stopped receiving unemployment benefits.
"I know people like to say that the recession is ending, but there’s still 5,500 people looking for work in this region," she said.
Unemployment also declined in 20 of the state’s 22 labor market areas, including the North Adams area, where unemployment fell from 9.5 to 8.8 percent. In Pittsfield, which represents central Berkshire, unemployment dropped from 8.6 to 8 percent, while the jobless rate in the Great Barrington labor market dropped from 6.4 to 5.8 percent.
The labor force in both North Adams and Great Barrington has increased slightly since October 2008, while it has decreased by 20 workers in Pittsfield.
In the city of North Adams, where unemployment was above 10 percent between January and March, the jobless rate dropped slightly from 9.8 to 9.6 percent in October. In the city of Pittsfield, unemployment dropped from 9.1 to 8.6 percent in October. September’s unemployment rate was Pittsfield’s highest of the year.
"More still seek work: Unemployment numbers rise slightly in the area as people struggle to find jobs."
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 23, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Pounding the pavement looking for work is never easy -- but imagine hitting the streets with a busted knee.
That's the reality for Bobby Jones of Pittsfield. After slipping on ice and re-injuring a knee fracture earlier this year, the 42-year-old former waitperson has spent the past nine months living at the Barton's Crossing homeless shelter in Pittsfield.
Tuesday, Jones pushed through arthritis and joint swelling to walk from Tyler Street all the way to Merrill Road, filling out 15 applications for work. It took bumping into a friend in the middle of his frigid journey to convince Jones to finally try meeting with a counselor at the local branch of the Department of Transitional Assistance.
"It's really hard to find a job -- believe me, I'm not lazy," Jones said. "As a man, it's so important for me to work -- who wants to collect money for free? I'd rather just work ... all my life, I've worked."
As Berkshire County's unemployment rate increased slightly in November -- moving from 7.7 to 7.9 percent over the last month -- Jones could easily be seen as a statistic. But his story, his frustrations, and his anxiety are not unique, and are shared by 5,657 unemployed workers throughout Berkshire County.
"I'm not surprised that [unemployment rates] went up slightly," said Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. "There's going to be fluctuation in the employment rate as people come off the unemployment insurance rolls, and the seasonality of the holiday shopping season brings some employment opportunities as well."
According to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, unemployment in-creased by four-tenths of a percentage point in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and by half a percentage point in North Adams.
Researcher Rena Kottcamp of the Division of Unemployment Assistance explained that while the county's leisure and hospitality industry lost 200 jobs, the county's total labor force grew by 386 people, tied into slight gains within the trade, transportation, and utilities industry, as well as education and health care.
"There really is a growth in opportunities right now," Boulger said, noting some slight growth in the education and health care industries. "With the green jobs sector, the creative economy sector, and retail, there's always openings because people are retiring."
That said, Boulger warned against putting the job search on hold during the holidays.
"This time of the year is a good opportunity to be networking and to get résumés cleaned up and out there," Boulger said. "There are a lot of companies who start their fiscal year in January, and who are looking to ramp up their work force."
Yet many looking for those opportunities have felt more discouraged than ever.
Nick Daniels, 21, of Pittsfield, spent Tuesday trying to help his girlfriend, Heather Martin, 18, find work. With Martin having no method of transportation to leave the county, she has found her options even more limited.
"We've been looking two or three months ... there's no help, we fill out applications, nothing ever happens," said Daniels, who currently works as a server at a restaurant, after "calling every mechanic's shop in Berkshire County" in vain for work. "There's just nothing -- nothing out there."
Victoria Vaughn, 54, of Pittsfield, said that her troubles were twofold, as both she and her 19-year-old son had been looking for work for months without success.
"My son, he's been looking, and he's just totally discouraged," Vaughn said. "I am trying to see if he wants to enlist in the military, to give him some training and education."
Vaughn, who has worked as a medical assistant, in retail, and as a machine operator for a family-owned plastics company, said that the sheer number of candidates was overwhelming to the point where she was hospitalized for diverticulitis, an inflammatory disease of the large intestine.
"Job hunting and acquiring [a job] has always been competitive," she said. "Now it's way beyond that -- I don't know what to do. Even if you have the best clothes, or the best presentation ... it's impossible. Just absolutely impossible."
For Bobby Jones, he said that the real issues of the recession have been obscured by the charts and figures. "I've just been thinking -- this really is the story here. Isn't every person not just a number, not just worth attention and love, but consideration?" Jones said, just before his interview with DTA. "I mean, morally, this is just degrading. I can't even believe I'm here. ... I'm just trying to keep my head above water."
"Jobless at Christmas"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, December 24, 2009
Being unemployed is obviously a financial hardship, but it can be psychologically devastating as well, gnawing away at a person's self-worth even if their employment status is no fault of their own. All of the hardships of joblessness are magnified during the holiday season, and this is what 5,657 Berkshire residents confront on this day before Christmas.
The Berkshire County unemployment rate crept from 7.7 percent to 7.9 percent in November as the local economy, mirroring that of the state and national economies, remained sluggish. There are signs that hiring may begin to increase as businesses gain confidence that the worst of the recession is over, but America didn't get into this dilemma overnight and getting out will not be easy.
The Wall Street collapse of a year ago brought on by greedy and irresponsible business tactics and a federal government that utterly failed in its oversight responsibilities set off shock waves that are still reverberating across America. President Obama's bailout and stimulus package, for all of its structural faults, prevented a slide into another Great Depression, and bailed out businesses have been repaying taxpayers. Without regulatory reform, however -- and the same corporations that triggered this collapse are fighting it along with their allies in a staggeringly irresponsible Republican Party -- another collapse is as inevitable as another winter.
Unemployment always lags when a nation struggles out of a recession, and this one is no exception. Congress will fight over a second stimulus package in the new year, but there are limits to what can be accomplished in a country that has sent much of its manufacturing bases overseas in pursuit of cheap wages and benefits. An America that doesn't build enough anymore must move aggressively into the promising green jobs market ahead of its international competitors.
Locally, the Department of Transitional Assistance is among the agencies available to help the unemployed. The Berkshires' two public colleges have been fine-tuning programs to prepare students young and old for the job market and public and private efforts are underway to draw new businesses and help current businesses expand. Building a job market is a difficult process, and one that in the Berkshires never really ends.
Berkshire jobs 2010
"Berkshire County Unemployment: Job outlook uncertain"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 3, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's unemployment rate hit a 16-year high in 2009. Several major employers instituted layoffs. National retailer KB Toys went out of business. It wasn't a great year for the local job market.
Will 2010 be any different? The economic recession that began in the fall of 2008 has lingered longer than expected, but there are some encouraging signs nationally. In its 2010 Job Forecast, CareerBuilder.com, the country's largest online job site, states that 20 percent of employers nationwide plan to increase their number of full-time, permanent employees this year. That's an increase from 14 percent last year.
Heather Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Em-ployment Board, said she's optimistic about the local employment situation, but expects 2010 to be another difficult year.
"I think it's going to a tough year, a tight year," Boulger said. "But I'm cautiously optimistic, as many employers are."
It takes longer for Berkshire County to get into a recession then other areas of the state, and longer to come out of it, she said.
"I don't know how long it will take to come out of the total unemployment cycle," Boulger said. "I hope we stay under a double-digit unemployment rate.
"As long as consumer confidence will increase, Berkshire County should be OK in 2010," she said.
Fueled by the initial layoffs at KB Toys, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2008, the county's unemployment rate jumped from 6.6 to 8.3 percent last January, the county's highest mark since 1993. It topped out at 8.6 percent in February, then dropped gradually to 7.7 percent in May. But the unemployment rate rose again, hitting 8.3 percent in September, before it dropped to 7.9 percent in November. The local figures for December won't be released until late January.
Boulger said she expects there will be spikes in the local unemployment rate again in 2010. But how the local unemployment rate fares between December and January could determine the direction it takes for the rest of the year, she added. The fiscal year for most companies ends during this time period, Boulger said, which is also when the holiday season comes to an end. A lot of temporary workers get laid off in January.
"If the jump is not as high as it was last year," Boulger said, referring to the 11 2 percent increase in the county's unemployment rate between Decem-ber 2008 and January 2009, "the economic outlook may be more optimistic."
"Most of the national surveys that I've read say that many companies are going to hire during the first quarter," she added.
According to CareerBuilder's 2010 forecast, 21 percent of the employers surveyed in the Northeast said that they plan to add full-time workers this year. The only region with a higher percentage is the West with 24 percent. The online site surveyed more than 2,700 hiring managers and human resource professionals across the country.
"I'm sure it will have an impact on Berkshire County," Boulger said, referring to CareerBuilder's findings. "Usually, when you do surveys like that you don't do it by communities, you do it by the state."
However, Boulger said local companies tend to be affected by the national numbers. "It's definitely encouraging," she said.
When asked to assess the prospects for different sectors of the local job market this year, Boulger said, "manufacturing has been taking a beating for the last one or two years. Even if a small company opened [here], it would be huge in Berkshire County."
She said the retail and travel and tourism sectors will improve when consumer confidence goes up.
"When people feel better, they tend to spend more," Boulger said.
Berkshire Health Systems, the county's largest employer, cut the equivalent of 130 full-time positions last year in two separate job actions. But Boulger said there is still room for growth in the local health care field.
"Even though Berkshire Health Systems laid off people, long-term care has openings, and it continues to expand," she said.
Boulger said she tells people looking for work in the health care field to keep their options open. If someone believes they are ideally suited for one position, such as a registered nurse, there are several related occupations they can choose from, she said.
Will there be major layoffs in the county again in 2010? Boul-ger said that's hard to predict.
"It's a difficult question to answer," she said. "The reason is a lot of companies don't release their forecasts until February. I haven't seen any signs that it's happening. Usually, you hear rumors that companies are going to downsize or close."
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"Berkshire County jobless rate rises: County unemployment rate of 8.8 percent is the highest since 1992, when it reached 10.9."
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, January 27, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's unemployment rate jumped a full percentage point in December to 8.8 percent -- the county's highest level since the early 1990s, according to the executive director of the Regional Employment Board.
It is the biggest increase in the local jobless rate since unemployment jumped from 6.6 percent to 8.3 percent in January 2009, the month after national toy retailer KB Toys of Pittsfield announced that it was going out of business. Last month's unemployment rate is also the county's highest since it reached 8.6 percent last February and March.
Unemployment in the Berkshires reached 10.7 percent in 1991 when General Electric completed the five-year shutdown of its transformer plant, and 10.9 percent in 1992 when the industrial giant sold its aerospace division to Martin Marietta. It also hit 8.6 percent in 1993.
The increase in the county's unemployment rate in December corresponds to a similar jump in the state rate, which went from 8.3 percent to 9.1 percent last month.
The numbers released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short term employment, such as seasonal construction jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
The national unemployment rate increased slightly in December from 9.4 percent to 9.7 percent.
Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said the increase in the local rate mirrors the jump in the state rate.
"I'm not surprised when it keeps going up," she said. "Until employers feel more comfortable about the economy to hire more people, the rate will continue to go up.
"We're still below the state, which is a good thing," she added.
The local labor force dropped by 218 workers in December to 71,686, following an increase of 664 workers in November. The number of employed dropped by 776 workers to 65,395, while the number of unemployed increased by 658 workers to 6,291. Fluctuations in the number of employed, and unemployed from month-to-month are normal, Boulger said.
There is nothing significant in the numbers that points to such a large increase in the local unemployment rate, she added.
"It's just the ripples of the economy that we're in," Boulger said.
Despite the significant jump in the local rate, the Pittsfield labor market area was one of only three of the 22 such entities across the state where the number of jobs increased in December. The labor force increased by 51 workers, but the unemployment rate for the Pittsfield area jumped from 8.0 to 8.9 percent in December.
Unemployment in the Great Barrington labor market area increased from 6.2 percent to 7.1 percent last month, while the rate in the North Adams area went from 9.2 percent to 10.1 percent.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6224.
A look at the numbers
The unemployment rates for Berkshire County's three labor market areas for December 2009, and the state's performance during the same time. The other rates reflect the previous month and the year prior. Dec. ‘09 Nov. ‘09 Dec. ‘09
Pittsfield 8.9% 8.0% 6.5%
Great Barrington 7.1 6.2 5.8
North Adams 10.2 9.1 7.8
Massachusetts 9.1 8.3 6.5
Source: Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development
"Jobless rate now at 10.4%: Unemployment in Berkshire County is at its highest level since the early 1990s."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 11, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Not since General Electric was downsizing its Pittsfield operation in the early 1990s has Berkshire County's unemployment rate been this high.
The county's jobless rate soared to 10.4 percent in January -- the first time it has hit double figures in 17 years. The highest local jobless rate in the last 20 years was 12.8 percent in February 1992.
Berkshire County's annual unemployment rate reached 10.9 percent in 1991 when General Electric completed the five-year shutdown of its transformer plant, and 10.7 percent in 1992 when the corporate giant sold its aerospace division to Martin Marietta.
This most recent increase comes after Berkshire unemployment jumped a full percentage point in December to 8.8 percent, and it marks the peak level of joblessness since the recession began to affect the county's jobless rate in late 2008.
The county's rate is the same as the state's in January. The national unemployment rate is 9.7 percent.
‘It's not good news'
January's numbers, released Thursday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short-term employment, such as seasonal construction jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
The figures tend to drop when the state releases the seasonally adjusted numbers, but those decreases are normally less than a percentage point, according to Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
"It's not good news," Boulger said, referring to the January increase.
A challenging market
The number of unemployed in the Berkshires increased by 1,300 workers to 7,514 in January. Boulger said there are six unemployed people in the Berkshires for each job opening.
Fluctuations in the local employment rate typically occur between December and January as seasonal employment ends, and the first quarter of the financial year begins, Boulger said. As an example, the state's unadjusted unemployment rate jumped from 6.4 percent to 9.1 percent between December 2008 and January 2009.
But Boulger characterized this year's local increase as "par for the course in this economy."
"I really just think it's part of the economic cycle that we're in," she said.
"I'm hoping that it will improve and go below the 10 percent rate" in February, Boulger said. "It depends on the confidence level of the consumer and the confidence level of the companies."
The county's labor force rose by 366 workers to 72,555 in January. The increase in the labor force means that people are either returning to this area from elsewhere, or may be re-entering the work force after raising a family, Boulger said.
She said 1,140 more people began collecting unemployment benefits in Berkshire County between December and January, which brought the total number to 1,600 in the 12-month period that ended two months ago.
"We don't look at the rate as much as we look at the number of unemployed people," she said. "For me, it's real-life bodies."
Across the state, January's unemployment rates were higher both over the month and during 2009 in all 22 labor market areas, which include Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington.
In the Pittsfield area, the unemployment rate jumped from 8.9 to 10.3 percent in January, while the rate in North Adams increased from 10.3 to 11.7 percent. But the greatest increase came in Great Barrington where unemployment jumped almost two percentage points, from 7.2 to 9 percent.
"Berkshire County jobless rate dips slightly"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 31, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's unemployment rate dropped slightly in February, but remained in double-digit territory for the second straight month.
Local unemployment dipped to 10.1 percent last month, a drop of three-tenths of a percentage point from January's rate of 10.4 percent, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. January's jobless rate was the county's highest in 17 years.
This is the first time that Berkshire unemployment has remained in double figures over consecutive months since January, February and March of 1993.
"We're glad that it's going down," said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. "But it's still nowhere near where we want it to be."
The county's unemployment rate is also slightly higher than February's state jobless rate of 10 percent. It's the first time Berkshire unemployment has been higher than the state's since March 2009. February's national unemployment rate is 10.4 percent.
The local numbers that the state released on Tuesday are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short-term employment such as seasonal construction and retail jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
Boulger said February's unemployment rate was still subject to some of the seasonal fluctuations that normally create a spike in the percentage of jobless every January. But she said there are still six job-seekers in Berkshire County for every available position, which is "pretty consistent across the state as well."
"I personally was expecting a large increase in January," Boulger said. "I'm glad to see it came down slightly in February."
She continued, "Next month if it drops we're in a good trend. February is a good sign, but we'll just have to keep on monitoring this."
The number of unemployed in Berkshire County dropped by 161 workers in February to 7,351.
"It could be that they're not collecting unemployment insurance, or that they've found employment, or that they've given up completely trying to find a job," she said.
However, the local labor force increased by 290 workers to 72,773 employees, while the number of employed rose by 589 workers to 65,422.
"It's always a good sign when the labor force increases because it means more people are coming back to the area, or people who have had families are coming back to the workforce, like college students or stay-at-home moms," Boulger said. "The number of employed is a good trend for the first quarter of the financial year because some companies begin their fiscal year in January."
Statewide, unemployment decreased in 20 of the 22 labor market areas, including Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington. The rate dropped by a tenth of a percentage point in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and by more than half a percentage point in North Adams -- from 11.8 percent to 11.1 percent.
"I think it's pretty consistent with the rest of the numbers," said Boulger, comparing the drop in unemployment in the county's three labor market areas to the decreases in the rest of the state. "Great Barrington and North Adams get hit pretty hard when a company closes, but that hasn't been the case yet."
"Berkshire County shows jobs growth: The unemployment rate in the Berkshires dips below 10% for the first time since December."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 21, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- After two months in double-digit territory, Berkshire County's unemployment rate dropped to 9.6 percent in March, a half-percentage point lower than the month before.
Still, the county's jobless rate remains higher than all of 2009, which peaked at 8.8 percent in December, and above the state's rate for the second straight month. State unemployment dropped from 10 to 9.3 percent in March.
The figures, issued Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, are not seasonally adjusted. That means they take into account short-term employment, such as seasonal construction or retail jobs, and positions in the travel and tourism industry.
Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said she hopes the local rate will continue to drop. But she also pointed out that March's rate is still a full percentage point higher than the 8.6 percent registered in March 2009.
"I hope that it continues to go down," she said. "In January and February, the rate usually bumps up a little bit."
Berkshire unemployment hit a 17-year high at 10.4 percent in January, then dropped slightly to 10 percent in February.
Boulger attributed March's decrease to a drop in the number of county residents who are collecting unemployment insurance, which fell by 345 workers to 6,998. It's the second straight month that number has declined, following three consecutive months of growth.
The number of employed in the Berkshires increased by 298 workers in March to 65,998. The county's labor force, the number of people who are eligible to work, dropped by 47 workers to 72,604.
"I think the career fair that we hosted a couple of weeks ago might have started to gear a couple of companies up and given them the confidence to hire people," Boulger said. "I think there is a greater confidence in the economy than existed six or seven weeks ago. It seems like employers are beginning to fill those positions that they held off on in October or November."
As an example, Boulger pointed to an increase in the number of employed people in the Pittsfield labor market, which jumped by 337 workers to 35,086 in March. Typically, one sees an increase of 50 to 70 a month, she said.
"Either a company is hiring or Pittsfield residents really hit the pavement in a strong job search and found employment," Boulger said. " It's a good sign that the Pittsfield job market is getting stronger."
As a result, unemployment in the Pittsfield market, which consists of Central Berkshire County, dropped from 10.2 to 9.8 percent in March.
Monthly job gains in Berkshire County were recorded in the retail and wholesale trade categories of the transportation and utilities sector; in financial activities; and in leisure and hospitality, mostly in the accommodations, food and recreation categories, she said.
At the BerkshireWorks Career Center, executive director Michael Herrick said job postings increased about 10 percent in March. Visits to BerkshireWorks' career centers in North Adams and Pittsfield have also dropped to about 160 per day, he said.
"We were seeing about 1,000 people a week," Herrick said. "Now we're seeing 800 to 850 a week. It began to drop in March."
Unemployment statewide dropped in all 22 of the state's labor markets, including Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington. However, unemployment in the North Adams area remained in double digits, as it dropped from 11.2 percent in February to 10.4 percent in March.
"I think there may have been some companies that downsized or closed and that might have had an impact," Boulger said, referring to the North Adams numbers. "But there were still 79 more people employed in March than in February."
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"Berkshire Health Systems announces layoffs"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 5, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire Health Systems, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, announced today that 124 full- and part-time employees -- or 3.7 percent of the workforce -- have received layoff notices.
The across-the-board staff reductions will begin Sept. 10 and include 20 registered nurses nursing with the rest affecting technical, administrative and support services, said BHS officials. The reduction represents 94 full-time equivalent positions.
Berkshire Health Systems employs approximately 2,700 people, and it is Berkshire County's largest employer.
The company offered severance packages and says it will help those people launch job searches.
In a statement, the hospital said the reasons for this year's layoffs remain the same as last year's: Declining patient volume and a continued drop in health insurance reimbursements.
"Since October of 2009, BMC has experienced a loss of $11 million in patient revenue that is directly related to the reduction in patient volume," the company's statement said. "Inpatient discharges alone have declined by over 7 percent in the past two years."
BMC is part of a national trend in which fewer people are seeking hospital care.
Company officials cited a March 2009 survey by The American Hospital Association which found that between 55 and 60 percent of the nation's 1,100 community hospitals had a moderate or significant decrease in elective surgeries and admissions.
Berkshire Health Systems says people are delaying or simply avoiding health care due to increased health insurance deductibles and co-payments.
The health care company has found many employers have switched from commercial insurance plans to much cheaper state-sponsored programs. While the business owners are saving money, government backed health insurance typically reimburse hospitals and physicians at a lower rate than private plans for the same medical services.
"Census shows decline in county population"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 16, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- The local population has continued to decline, but those who live in the Berkshires are better educated then they were a decade ago, according to information released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Berkshire County's population dropped by more than 5,600 to 129,288 residents between 2000 and 2009, according to the American Community Survey. Pittsfield accounted for almost 2,800 of those departures: There were 45,793 city residents in 2000 compared with 43,000 last year.
If the local population figures from the 2010 U.S. Census mirror the numbers in the American Community Survey, it could prove costly for the Berkshires, said Mark Maloy, demographics specialist for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
"We're probably going to get a smaller piece of the pie as most government programs dole out money based on population," Maloy said.
Federal officials are scheduled to release national and individual state information gathered from the official 2010 Census on Tuesday. The county, city and town data will be released in February.
While the numbers in the American Community Survey indicate that the county's population has declined, they also show that it hasn't aged. The number of county and Pittsfield residents age 65 and older remained at 18 percent, according to the survey data. Meanwhile, those age 18 and younger held steady at roughly 20 percent.
The American Community Survey data is based on information that was compiled from about 1 of every 10 U.S. citizens between 2005 and 2009. The U.S. Census counts everyone living in the United States every 10 years.
The survey did provide good news for local education and the future of the county's work force because the percentage of high school and college graduates has increased in the past decade.
Nearly 90 percent of county and city residents age 25 and older has earned a high school diploma, an increase of 4.5 percentage points in the county and 5 percentage points in Pittsfield since 2000. The number of county residents in that age group with a bachelor's degree increased by 4 percentage points to 30 percent. In Pittsfield, 26 percent of city residents in that age group has a bachelor's degree, an increase of 5.5 percentage points.
The city figures coincide with the Pittsfield School Department's effort to keep school-age children in the classroom, according to Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.
"We began our improved dropout prevention in 2005-06, so it's good to see we've moved the needle," Eberwein said. "We've also worked hard to recapture those who leave and let them know the importance of getting a high school diploma."
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From big businesses like Pittsfield Public Schools to one-person operations like Lenox artist Scott Harrington county businesses are finding ways to survive. (Ben Garver)
"County's largest employers part of a diverse economy"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 27, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- The large manufacturing companies that used to employ the majority of the Berkshires' workforce have faded away.
These days, the county's major employers include hospitals, a public school system, a defense contractor, nonprofits and a health resort, according to a list compiled by The Eagle from Berkshire Chamber of Commerce figures and company statements.
The Berkshires also are home to a variety of small businesses -- several with five or fewer employees.
In this year's Berkshire Business Outlook -- inside today's newspaper and at www.berkshireeagle.com/business -- The Eagle profiles the county's 10 largest employers, plus five smaller businesses from a variety of fields.
Many of the employers have different needs and challenges, but those who follow the local economy say this economic diversification has put the county on the right track.
"It's a very interesting mix," said Williams College economics professor Stephen C. Sheppard, referring to the top 10 list, which starts with Berkshire Health Systems (BHS). "That's a good thing and a promising sign for us. There's always a danger when a community has all of its eggs in one basket."
The transition from a handful of major employers to a more diverse base isn't unique to a largely rural area such as the Berkshires, Sheppard said.
"You do see that in other places, not just here," he said. "It's more successful in other places. But the fact that we're developing a diverse economy is a sign that we are recovering, that we're making progress. I think we want to continue to move in that direction."
An economist outside of the Berkshires, however, said there are pros and cons to economic diversity.
"It says that there are a lot of boats instead of one big ship," said Robert Nakosteen from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "But it also means that there's no one big boat driving the region forward."
The county's two largest employers are Pittsfield-based BHS, with 3,400 employees, and Williamstown's Williams College, with 2,300. One of the country's premier liberal arts colleges, Williams is North County's largest employer.
Representatives of both organizations say they take their responsibility as the county's top employers seriously. BHS has been No. 1 since General Electric began downsizing its power transformer division some 20 years ago.
(GE decreased its workforce further when it sold its plastics division to Sabic Innovative Plastics in 2007, but the company still maintains a presence in Pittsfield. A GE spokeswoman said that for security reasons the company doesn't reveal the number of employees it has at any single location.)
"We know that we are the largest employer in Berkshire County, and we're careful how we deal with our employees," said Arthur Milano, BHS' vice president of human resources. "We've done an enormous amount of training over the years. We partner with local educational institutions because they are our future workforce."
Williams' role as an employer has grown as the county's economic landscape has changed.
"Historically, we were a much smaller player in terms of employment because we were much smaller and there were larger entities located here," college spokesman James Kolesar said. "The larger employers have gotten smaller while we have grown. We are aware of that responsibility."
The switch to a more diverse economy doesn't mean that large and small Berkshires employers don't face challenges, however. The local unemployment rate jumped more than a percentage point in January, to 9.2 percent, and the shortage of a skilled workforce in this area means employers often have to look elsewhere when they have positions to fill.
"It just seems like there's always a gap between people looking for jobs and the job openings that people have," said Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
With the Berkshires so rural, transportation also is an issue for major employers, although Sheppard said he believes increased access to broadband technology should help alleviate that problem.
Transportation and technology aren't problems in Pittsfield, where the public school system is the county's third-largest employer. But Nakosteen said public schools are especially susceptible to the current economic conditions because they rely heavily on state and federal aid.
"The only large sectors of the economy that are shedding jobs are state and local governments," he said.
Also susceptible to economic changes are the travel and leisure sector, a major component of a Berkshires economy that relies heavily on culture and tourism.
Canyon Ranch in Lenox and Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock are two of the county's 10 largest employers, but Canyon had to lay off 42 employees after the recession hit three years ago.
Businesses in that field rely heavily on consumer spending, and things can change rapidly when economic conditions shift.
"It's mixed bag for those companies who depend on discretionary spending from households," Nakosteen said.
Faring well amid the tough times is General Dynamics, one of four Berkshire entities with more than 1,000 employees. GD announced in December that it had received a new contract from the U.S. Navy to build 10 Littoral Combat Ships and planned to add 500 new workers over the next five years.
"This is an unabashed good thing for the Berkshires," Nakosteen said. "Not only will it provide 500 pretty strong jobs in the Berkshires; there's the multiplier effect. It will benefit everything up there: retail, entertainment, restaurants, Jiminy Peak -- everything that households spend money on."
The multiplier effect also helps small businesses because more spending means more money in circulation.
Steve Fogel, program director for Berkshire Enterprises, which develops and assists small businesses, said difficulties in obtaining credit in the current economy have made life problematic for those who own smaller firms.
But he said conditions now are conducive to growing small businesses.
"A lot of companies have gone out of business, and their customers need to be served," Fogel said.
Keith E. Girouard, the regional senior business adviser of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center in Pittsfield, said the down economy has left a lot of people unemployed and willing to start small businesses.
Like Sheppard, Girouard said he's confident that financial diversity is the right path for the Berkshires.
"It's going to become more diversified," he said. "That really plays to Berkshire County's strengths. We're known for innovation and opportunity."
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The Big 10
Companies with the greatest number of employees in Berkshire County:
1. Berkshire Health Systems
2. Williams College
3. Pittsfield Public Schools
4. General Dynamics
5. Jiminy Peak
6. Crane & Co.
7. Northern Berkshire Healthcare
8. Berkshire County Arc
9. Brien Center
10. Canyon Ranch
Sources: Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and company statements
"Incomes lagging in Berkshires"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 13, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- Personal income in Berkshire County is at the same level it was in 2008, and workers’ earnings actually have dropped when inflation is factored in, according to federal Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics.
"People now have about the same amount of money as they had in 2008, but it buys fewer goods and services," said Paul Bachman, the director of research for the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Berkshire County’s personal income rose 1.4 percent last year, but it was the smallest increase when compared with other areas in Massachusetts.
While that increase made up for a 1.3 percent decline in 2009, it remains at pre-recession levels. When adjusted for inflation, incomes have dropped since 2008, according to Bachman.
Elsewhere in the state, income growth was stronger in 2010. It ranged from an increase of 2 percent on Cape Cod to 3.4 percent in the Worcester area. In the U.S., personal income increased an average of 3 percent.
Berkshire County’s greatest growth in personal income came in the form of government subsidies, such as Medicare, Social Security and unemployment compensation. Government subsidies increased by $65 million.
Overall, net earnings -- which include the wages, salaries and benefits of workers in the county -- grew by just $14 million last year.
The county was the only area in the state where the increase in subsidies was higher than the rise in net earnings.
"What it means is that growth in personal income in Pittsfield is more dependent on government subsidies and payments," Bachman said. "That means that in the private sector income growth is still quite weak in Pittsfield."
The county’s total personal income was $5.616 billion in 2010 -- up from $5.53 billion in 2009, according to the federal government. It was $5.6 billion in 2008, according to the BEA.
The base of the economy in the Pittsfield area is more reliant on manufacturing, where growth is hampered by the high electricity rates in Western Massachusetts, Bachman said.
The data were released this week by the federal government.
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Less money to go around ...
Data released this week by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics show that personal income rose in 2010 by Š
3.4 percent in the Worcester area
3.1 percent in the Boston area.
2.7 percent in the areas of New Bedford and Fall River
2.2 percent in the Springfield area.
2 percent on Cape Cod.
1.4 percent in Berkshire County.
"Pittsfield labor market grows 5.4%"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 24, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield labor market had the highest rate of job growth in Massachusetts during the last 12 months, according to state figures released Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Berkshire County's overall unemployment rate improved slightly in July.
"We've had a good summer," said Albert A. Ingegni III, the chairman of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. "As crazy as it seems, good weather helps the economy around here. There's a little bump associated with that.
"The major companies, to my knowledge, are not laying anybody off," he said. "They're either hiring or maintaining, and that helps a lot, too."
Job growth -- the number of new hires -- in the Pittsfield area is up 5.4 percent for the past year, according to the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Over the year, the Pittsfield area labor market added more jobs than any of the 12 regions in Massachusetts, as measured by the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The second highest increase was 3.7 percent in Worcester, followed by a 2.7 percent rise in New Bedford.
In raw numbers, jobs in the Pittsfield area grew by 2,000 to 39,000 since July 2010. All but 800 of those positions were created between June and July of this year.
Following a small increase in June, the Berkshire County unemployment rate dropped in July and remains under the state's jobless rate for the third straight month.
Unemployment in the Berkshires dropped from 7.3 percent in June to 7.1 percent last month. State unemployment remained unchanged at 7.8 percent. The national unemployment rate is 9.3 percent.
After starting the year at 9.2 percent, Berkshire unemployment is now at its lowest level in more than 12 months and has been at or below 7.6 percent since April.
The figures that were released on Tuesday are not seasonally adjusted, which means that they take into account short-term employment such as seasonal construction jobs and positions in the travel and tourism industry.
Although the employment gains in the Berkshires appear to be mostly seasonal, Ingegni said the state's seasonally adjusted figures indicate that 200 of the 1,000 positions created last month -- and 300 of the 2,000 jobs created over the last 12 months -- have been reported in non-farm-related industries. Besides the travel and leisure sectors, Ingegni said increases have been reported in education and health services, and in the job sector that includes General Dynamics.
Unemployment in the Pittsfield and Great Barrington work force areas dropped slightly in July, while it remained at 8.8 percent in North Adams.
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At a glance
Here's a look at Berkshire County's monthly unemployment rates since March 2010. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.
July: 7.1 percent
December 2010: 8.1
November 2010: 8.1
October 2010: 7.2
September 2010: 7.6
August 2010: 7.7
July 2010: 8.5
June 2010: 8.4
May 2010: 8.6
April 2010: 9.1
March 2010: 9.3
Source: Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development
- Jonathan Melle
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- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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