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Amazon opens robotics manufacturing facility in Westboro

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Amazon opens robotics manufacturing facility in Westboro

Amazon is expanding its footprint in the Bay State, adding a 350,000-square-foot Westboro outpost that houses corporate offices, research and development labs, and a robotics manufacturing space.

“This new innovation and manufacturing hub, along with its sister site up in North Reading, places Amazon robotics at the epicenter of robotics innovation here in Massachusetts for years to come,” said Scott Dresser, vice president of robotics at Amazon.

The site, once home to drugmaker AstraZeneca, has been open for a few months and was buzzing with activity Thursday afternoon during the official ribbon-cutting for the site, with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy in attendance.

Amazon began introducing robots into its facilities in 2012, and since then, has also added over a million employees to work alongside the more than 350,000 robots.

Though Amazon Robotics has had a North Reading site for about 10 years, which hosts similar roles to the Westboro facility, the new one “is the first in terms of size and scale of operations for Amazon Robotics,” according to an Amazon spokesperson.

The facility will focus on R&D and manufacturing of mobile drive units, which work in fulfillment centers to move products around the floor directly to employees, using artificial intelligence to map their routes.

In fulfillment centers, wheeled blue mobile drive units roll under large inventory storage pods, where they pick up orders and cart them to employees to be packaged and shipped out the door.

At the ribbon-cutting, Dresser of Amazon emphasized the job creation the new site will bring to the Bay State, despite the introduction of robots into the workplace. “We see (a future) where technology and people work together to accomplish really hard, challenging and meaningful problems. That collaboration allows us to focus on being more creative, more innovative and more satisfied in our daily jobs,” he said.

Dresser said the site will create over 200 new advanced manufacturing roles, “hundreds” of robotics, engineering, software development, R&D, and other tech-based roles, and 1,500 statewide seasonal roles in preparation for the holiday shopping rush spread throughout the state.

Polito and Kennealy used the opportunity to tout STEM week in the Bay State, which promotes education opportunities in those fields: science, technology, engineering and math. Polito noted that STEM careers have grown by 18% in the past year alone, and called for increased educational opportunities in STEM internship and mentorship programs.

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Fuel in tap water alarms Pearl Harbor military families

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Fuel in tap water alarms Pearl Harbor military families

HONOLULU — Cheri Burness’ dog was the first to signal something was wrong with their tap water. He stopped drinking it two weeks ago. Then Burness started feeling stomach cramps. Her 12-year-old daughter was nauseous.

“It was just getting worse every day,” said Burness, whose husband is in the Navy.

Cheri Burness via AP

This 2021 photo provided by Cheri Burness shows Burness and her family, including dog Lilikoi, in car in Honolulu. Hundreds of military families living near Pearl Harbor have complained of stomach pain, nausea and other health ailments amid concerns the Navy’s water system may have been contaminated by a fuel leak.(Cheri Burness via AP)

Their family is among hundreds of military families living near Pearl Harbor with similar complaints after the Navy’s water system somehow became contaminated by petroleum.

The problems have afflicted one of the most important Navy bases in the world, home to submarines, ships and the commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region. The issues may even threaten one of Honolulu’s most important aquifers and water sources.

The Navy said Thursday that tests had identified petroleum in its Red Hill well which taps into an aquifer near the base. Rear Adm. Blake Converse, Pacific Fleet deputy commander, told a town hall meeting the Navy took this well offline on Sunday because it was the closest well to affected housing areas.

Converse said the Navy will flush clean water through its distribution system to clear residual petroleum products from the water. The process, followed by testing to make sure it the water meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking standards, could take four to ten days, he said.

The Navy will also investigate how contaminants got into the well and fix it, he said.

The crisis came after the Navy on Nov. 22 said a water and fuel mixture had leaked into a fire suppression system drain line in a tunnel at a massive fuel storage facility 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) inland of Pearl Harbor. The Navy said it removed about 14,000 gallons (53,000 liters) of the mixture, and said the liquid hadn’t leaked into the environment.

The Navy said so far it’s received calls about a fuel odor or physical ailments from 680 homes in Navy housing and 270 in Army housing on the Navy’s water system. The Navy water system serves 93,000 people.

In the days after Thanksgiving, Burness’s daughter felt so sick she didn’t want to eat any leftovers, including potatoes, turnips and carrots that had been boiled in water.

“‘I don’t want you to have to throw out food because I know it’s expensive, but I can’t eat this Mom,’” Burness said her daughter told her.

On Sunday, Burness started seeing comments on social media from military families saying their tap water smelled like fuel. She didn’t smell it, but people told her to turn on her hot water and check. She did and smelled it too.

She told her family not to drink the water and not to wash their hair and face with it. She ordered private water delivery for $120 a month. They family has mostly been eating off of plastic and paper plates and eating out.

On Monday, when she gave her dog some bottled water, he immediately drank a full liter’s worth and then drank two more liters over the next 12 hours.

The Navy has since starting distributing bottled water and said said Marines would set up showers and laundry facilities connected to clean water.

The Army said it would help affected families move into hotels or new homes and the Navy is working on a similar program. The Navy is also setting up dedicated medical clinics.

Burness said her stomach cramps are about 85% better, but not over. Her daughter’s nausea has improved. But they are both now complaining of breathing issues.

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U.S. employers added a sluggish 210,000 jobs in November

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U.S. employers added a sluggish 210,000 jobs in November

WASHINGTON — America’s employers slowed the pace of their hiring in November, adding 210,000 jobs, the lowest monthly gain in nearly a year.

But Friday’s report from the Labor Department also showed that the nation’s unemployment rate tumbled from 4.6% to 4.2% evidence that many more people reported that they had a job. That is a historically low jobless rate though still above the pre-pandemic level of 3.5%.

Overall, the November jobs figures point to a job market and an economic recovery that look resilient though under threat from a spike in inflation, shortages of workers and supplies and the potential impact of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

For months, employers have been struggling with worker shortages because many people who lost jobs in the pandemic have not, for various reasons, returned to the workforce. But last month, more Americans came off the sidelines to look for jobs and were generally hired quickly.

That positive trend suggests that November was a healthier month for job growth than the modest 210,000 gain the government reported Friday in its survey of businesses. The unemployment rate is calculated from a separate survey of households. This survey found that a much larger 1.1 million more people reported that they were employed last month. The results of the two surveys typically match up over the long run but sometimes diverge sharply in a given month, as they did in November.

The survey of households found that the number of unemployed Americans sank in November to 6.9 million, not far above the pre-pandemic number of 5.7 million. And average wages, which have been rising as employers try to attract or keep workers, increased a strong 4.8% from a year ago.

The government’s survey of businesses showed a slowdown last month in hiring at restaurants, bars and hotels, which added just 23,000 jobs, down from 170,000 in October. That could reflect the effects of an uptick in COVID-19 cases last month and a reduction in outdoor dining.

Retailers cut 20,000 jobs, a sign that holiday hiring hasn’t been as strong as in previous years. But transportation and warehousing firms added 50,000 positions, which indicates that online retailers and shippers anticipate healthy online shopping.

The jobs outlook for the coming months has become hazier with the emergence of the omicron variant. Little is definitively known about omicron, and widespread business shutdowns are considered unlikely. Still, omicron could discourage some Americans from traveling, shopping and eating out in the coming months and potentially slow the economy.

For now, though, Americans are spending freely, and the economy is forecast to expand at a 7% annual rate in the final three months of the year, a big rebound from the 2.1% pace in the previous quarter, when the delta variant hobbled growth.

Nearly 600,000 people joined the workforce last month, increasing the proportion of Americans who are either working or looking for work. If that much-anticipated development continues, it could point to stronger job growth ahead.

The proportion of Americans who are in the workforce rose from 61.6% to 61.8%, the first significant increase since April.

Even as the jobless rate has steadily declined this year, the proportion of Americans who are working or looking for work has barely budged. A shortage of job-seekers tends to limit hiring and force companies to pay more to attract and keep employees. Higher pay can help sustain spending and growth. But it can also feed inflation if businesses raise prices to offset their higher labor costs, which they often do.

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MSP Airport gets $12 million from FAA to build fire and rescue aircraft facility

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MSP Airport gets $12 million from FAA to build fire and rescue aircraft facility

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has been awarded a $12 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a facility to house fire and rescue aircraft, officials announced Friday.

The award, which follows a busy wildfire season in Minnesota, will help MSP meet FAA safety requirements and is just the beginning of a larger project to build out an emergency operations center to house airport firefighting, police and 911 dispatch departments, according to a news release issued by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

“Investments in our airports serve as down payments on the long-term economic well-being of our state and country by boosting the tourism industry, creating jobs, and making it possible for people to travel to see family and friends,” Klobuchar said in the news release. “After unprecedented wildfires in our state this summer, constructing a new aircraft rescue and fire fighting station is critical to supporting the airport’s infrastructure and ensuring the safety of all residents and visitors.”

The FAA also awarded more than $200,000 to six airports in northeastern Minnesota, including Duluth and Cloquet.

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