By Jon Bishop

AYER — The Ayer Cultural Council has awarded $5,100 to various organizations throughout the region, according to a press release from the group.

Sheila Schwabe, the chairwoman, said that one of the criteria in selecting the 15 organizations is that they either had to be near Ayer or affordable in price. That way, the maximum number of people in the community could benefit. Each organization sent in an application requesting a certain amount of money, and in some places, like the Ayer Library, aren’t getting funding from anywhere else — and so they take that into consideration.

“In a lot of cases, if we don’t fund the program, the program won’t go on,” she said. “In most cases, we were able to fund the full amount request.”

She said that the organizations they’ve worked with are a mix of new and old.

Grant-giving is important, she said, because, when budgets are tight, “the first things that get cut are the arts.” And arts and culture are important, because exposure to them “makes us well-rounded people.”

Amy Leonard, the children’s librarian at the Ayer Library, said that “it’s nice that they support the community through the library.”

“They were very generous to us, and we appreciate the support,” she added.

The library received $640 for the summer reading “Every Hero has a Story” project.

“We’re very excited,” said Samantha Benoit, the young adult librarian.

Another local organization, the Harvard-based Fruitlands Museum, received $300 to fund its Open Gates Initiative, which was its centennial celebration.

“This is the second year that they have funded Open Gates Initiative,” said Suzanne Smith, director of development at Fruitlands. Last year, on the museum’s 100th birthday, they had a free admission day, which they will be doing again this June.

“Cultural councils support organizations that benefit their town, and even though we’re in Harvard, we still have quite a few people who come here from Ayer,” she said.

Other organizations that received grant money include ArtsNashoba ($250), the Fitchburg Art Museum ($200), and the Nashoba Valley Chorale ($350).

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The recovery in the housing market is driving a turnaround in the labor market as well.

The better-than-expected February jobs report got a big lift from 48,000 new jobs in the construction industry. Builders have added 151,000 jobs over the last five months, the sector’s best hiring surge since the 2006 housing bubble.

The employment numbers reiterate what other housing reports have found: Home prices are up, as are home sales. Near record low mortgage rates and a drop inforeclosures have created a much better market for builders. In January, they filed for the greatest number of building permits since 2008.

“Our members are hiring so much that they’re starting to get worried about finding enough labor out there,” said Paul Emrath, economist with the National Association of Home Builders. “Most are talking about adding people.”

Related: Housing to drive economic growth (finally!)

He said his group’s forecast is that residential construction hiring in 2013 will be about five times the pace of last year.

Employment levels in construction are still very low compared to not just the housing boom years but also to employment even before the bubble started to inflate. The industry would have to add about 1 million workers overall to return to levels seen in early 2003.

Related: Housing recovery gains strength

“We are coming from a very, very low trough,” said Emrath. So many workers left the field during the downturn, that it’s become more difficult to find skilled construction workers, he said.

The jobs report also showed a pick-up in real estate hiring, as that sector added 13,400 over the last three months, the best three-month rush of hiring in the sector in seven years. Building supply stores also added 4,300 workers in February, making it one of the hottest retail segments to add workers. To top of page


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Currently home values nationwide hover around $149,300, and this week we’re looking at homes priced above that. Here’s a rundown of what you can get for $350,000 across the country.


1119 Salisbury Dr, Cincinnati OH
For sale: $350,000

This Cincinnati house for sale is filled with Depression-era charm: stone exterior, gabled peaks and mature landscaping. The 3-bed, 2.5-bath home measures 1,870 square feet.

Hartford, CT

43 Fern St, Hartford CT
For sale: $349,900

How about a colorful Victorian for $350,000? This brightly-hued Hartford home for sale has 5 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and nearly 3,000 square feet of living space.

Fort Worth, TX

1604 Elizabeth Blvd, Fort Worth TX
For sale: $350,000

Red tile and a white-washed stucco exterior make this historic Fort Worth home stand out. The 2,866-square-foot house has 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and a full, finished basement.

Sioux Falls, SD

7508 W President St, Sioux Falls SD
For sale: $349,900

At 3,557 square feet, this Sioux Falls home is quite a bit of bang for your buck! The 5-bed, 4-bath home was built in 2006 and has hardwood floors, upgraded carpet and granite countertops in the kitchen.


5824 N Manton Ave, Chicago IL
For sale: $349,900

This octagon bungalow in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago just got a price cut of $30,000. The 1,707-square-foot home has 4 bedrooms and 3 baths and plenty of updates, including a newer roof, furnace and range.