Thursday, October 27, 2016

Holyoke Unemployment Rate Falls to 5.4%, Lowest Level in 15 Years

According to statistics released Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, Holyoke’s unemployment rate fell to 5.4%, the lowest level in 15 years, or since December of 2001. The rate fell from 8.1 percent in September 2015, and from over 11% in 2012, when Mayor Morse first took office, even as the size of the labor force has remained stable.

The data comes as encouraging news to officials in Holyoke who have sought to bolster the local economy by aiding business startups and expansions, reutilizing vacant buildings and land, and investing in workforce development. “Economic Development has been a priority since day one, and while progress in the City is clearly visible, it’s better to be validated by the state’s data” said Mayor Alex B. Morse.

Over the last 5 years, the city has seen millions of dollars in projects that have created new job opportunities for residents and expanded the tax base, such as the expansion of Marcotte Ford and Gary Rome Hyundai, the first phase completion of the Ingleside Square development, and the cleanup of the old Parsons Paper to prepare for the expansion of Aegis Energy.

“What’s even more exciting is that there are initiatives coming down the pipeline which will create even more job opportunities in the years ahead” added Morse. One such initiative is Holyoke Community College’s expanded Center for Culinary & Hospitality Excellence, launched in partnership with the City and MGM Springfield. The larger program will train at least 50 Holyoke residents every year for free at their new downtown location, slated to open at “The Cubit” (www.cubitliving.com) in 2017. One of the largest employment industries in Western Massachusetts, the City previously invested in Providence Ministries’ FoodWorks program, obtaining an 85% placement rate for its participants and receiving a National Community Development Association distinction. (http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/10/post_798.html).

The City also continues to work on other partnerships to spur employment such as the SPARK program (www.SPARKholyoke.com). An initiative intended to help local potential entrepreneurs realize their business plans and create hundreds of new jobs over the next decade, the program has thus far launched 31 businesses which have created 46 jobs. “The SPARK Program is helping ‘startups’ identify and overcome common barriers so they can more easily launch their business,” says Chamber of Commerce President Kathy Anderson. “As part of this initiative, a wide collaboration of local organizations is working together to improve the small business ecosystem in our City. We’re quickly becoming well known and respected throughout the State, for these and other long term efforts that are making a difference.”

“While we are very encouraged by the employment trend in Holyoke, we know we need to continue on this path until all residents have the education, training, skills, and overall opportunity to fully participate in our local economy ” commented Mayor Morse. “I would be particularly remiss if I didn’t also recognize the hard work done day in and day out by local organizations such as CareerPoint, the city’s one-stop career center, Holyoke Works and other organizations which provide Workforce Development and Adult Basic Education services. In addition to placing jobseekers into training programs, they ensure that all work readiness, job placement and retention activities are based on what is good for the individual and good for the business partner. This commitment has contributed to a milestone low unemployment rate.”

The news regarding employment figures comes on the heels of recent state and federal reports showing indicating Holyoke is moving in a positive direction. Earlier this year, FBI crime statistics demonstrated that overall crime has decreased 15% over the past 5 years, and 34% over the last 15 years, the lowest level of crime since 2001. Property crimes also decreased 20% over the last year, bringing them to their lowest level since 1997. (http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/02/holyoke_police_release_specifi.html) (http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/09/violent_crime_in_holyoke_drops.html)

Holyoke Public Schools also saw progress over the past year. Recent findings by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education showed progress in English proficiency and math as six of nine district schools showed overall improvement. (http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/09/state_testing_assessment_shows.html)

Concluded Mayor Morse: “Holyoke is becoming a stronger city. Be it the economic indicators, the steep decline in overall and violent crime, or the positive gains in the public schools, one thing is clear - Holyoke is rising. A big thank you to my team, city departments, community organizations, and our partners in the private sector for working with us to move our city forward.”

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