Karyn Polito and Mike Kennealy: Engaging Berkshires in economic development plans

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BOSTON — Massachusetts' economy is firing on all cylinders.

While the Commonwealth has always been an economic force, recent years have brought unprecedented success. Massachusetts' longstanding strength in education has helped create a vibrant ecosystem for high tech industries, where pioneering companies and world class universities drive innovation and create fulfilling and well-paying jobs.

The Commonwealth's workforce remains among the most skilled in the nation, preparing Bay Staters to sustain the upward trajectory in the jobs of today and tomorrow. With over 190,000 jobs added in the last four years, more people are working in Massachusetts than ever before and unemployment is below three percent for the first time since 2000.

The economy is booming and cutting-edge companies continue to approach the Baker-Polito administration about expanding in the Commonwealth, hoping to share in our abundance of talent and opportunity.

EXTENDING OPPORTUNITIES

However, despite this recent success, our administration recognizes that not all residents have shared in the benefits equally. Since taking office, we have been committed to extending economic opportunities from the Berkshires to the Cape, and we look forward to building on these continued efforts in our second term, beginning with statewide regional economic development engagement sessions that launched last month and continue in the Berkshires on Thursday.

Gov. Charlie Baker often talks about "doing more of what works," and this has been a guiding principle in our efforts to spur development across the Commonwealth. And that includes our signature infrastructure grant program, MassWorks, which has been hard at work across the region for years.

The unique flexibility of this program has allowed our administration to target grants to vital infrastructure repairs, while driving housing and job growth. Since 2015, we have awarded $357 million in MassWorks funding to 176 shovel-ready projects in 129 communities, improved crumbling infrastructure and delivered over 29,000 jobs, 11,000 housing units and 2 million square feet of commercial and retail space.

Just last fall, we announced a $4.9 million MassWorks award to the Town of Lee to support the construction of a new water main between the town's treatment facility and the proposed mixed-use development at Eagle Mill, unlocking $60 million in private investment toward the creation of 80 housing units, along with new retail and community space - a potentially transformative project for the town and Western Massachusetts region.

In order to meet the needs of rural communities, 10 percent of MassWorks' annual funding is awarded to towns with populations of 7,000 or less for essential road and transportation projects. Since 2015, our administration has supported over $11 million to 13 Berkshire communities to help improve safety, accessibility and opportunity throughout the region.

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And with the 2019 MassWorks grant round now open, we look forward to reviewing proposals for high impact projects that will continue to enhance communities of all sizes across the Commonwealth.

While our administration is proud of the work we have done to strengthen and grow our economy, we are also constantly seeking new ideas and input.

In 2015, we kicked off a series of regional listening sessions, where local leaders shared concerns and solutions that were critical to our first economic development plan. We engaged 67 lawmakers, over 100 municipal leaders and 1,000 stakeholders at 14 public sessions across the state, resulting in the `Opportunities for All' plan that laid the groundwork for the progress made during our first term to promote economic growth and equity statewide.

Now in our second term, we will build on that foundation with a new economic development blueprint, guided by a robust and inclusive process.

Gov. Baker recently announced the new Economic Development Planning Council, which will provide input and oversight in the process. The council is made up of leaders from across the state who will lend their expertise, voice and time to the process. This is an accomplished and diverse group of leaders, and we are proud to serve as co-chairs of this council.

MASS MOCA SESSION

We are embarking on in-depth regional engagement sessions to connect with residents, businesses and community leaders on what is working and how we can enhance our partnership in key areas that will support continued local economic growth.

Tomorrow (Thursday) we will be holding the next of those sessions at Mass MoCA in North Adams, and we look forward to collaborating with about 100 residents from throughout the Berkshires who are committing their talent and time to this effort.

The people of Massachusetts have a long, proud history of innovation, and this administration has always believed in empowering communities to lead the way forward with our support. We look forward to meeting and learning from you as we develop an inclusive economic agenda for our second term, and we are eager to roll up our sleeves and continue to partner with local leaders to take our Commonwealth to greater heights.

Session information: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Thursday, June 13, Mass MoCA, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams.

Karyn Polito is lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Mike Kennealy is the secretary of Housing and Economic Development


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