Mayor Morse Joins Governor Baker to Testify for Economic Development Bill

In a legislative hearing at the state house, Governor Baker presented his economic development bill alongside Mayor Morse, referencing Holyoke as a community that has successfully partnered with the Commonwealth on a variety of economic development initiatives.

Full text is included below:

To: Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emergent Technologies
Re: Remarks by Mayor Alex B. Morse Remarks on H3883

Good afternoon:

Thank you to Governor Baker for inviting me to speak with him today in favor of H3983, and Joint Committee Chairs Donoghue and Wagner for having me with you today. My name is Alex Morse and I am the Mayor of Holyoke, a City hard at work on its redevelopment in the face of decades of urban disinvestment, persistent development challenges and at least a generation of inaccessible opportunities for those in our community that need it the most.

It is an honor to join this distinguished committee and provide a municipal perspective on the Governor’s proposed economic development bill. It’s important to sometimes look beyond narrow programs and funding numbers to see the broader picture of how these tools are used every day to improve our value propositions, increase our economic outputs and bring opportunity for prosperity to all our neighborhoods.

H3983 fortifies the state’s role as a partner to local communities throughout the state, investing in and enabling our local vision and goals for development. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bill’s effort to fund a menu of essential programs that are preparing communities like the City of Holyoke for success.

Since I took office the MassWorks program has provided over $8 million in direct funding for essential infrastructure projects in our downtown. Examples are the rail platform which connects Holyoke to the Vermonter Amtrak train service and additional service in the future, and utility and other public infrastructure improvements in the Lyman Terrace neighborhood. These types of public investments make private investments possible, as public actions enable and incentivize economic opportunities.

Beyond public infrastructure, making sites available and ready for development is so often the bread and butter of our community efforts. The state brownfields cleanup fund is essential to that mission. In Holyoke we’ve been able to use to the greatest extent with a $2 Million state injection at the former Parsons Paper Mill, once the largest in the world. An almost 5-acre site, a fire-torn 350,000 square foot building has languished there for years as a beacon of urban decay. Private redevelopment on sites like these, which dot the landscape of cities throughout Massachusetts, is a non starter without state assistance. The bill’s added funding towards site assembly and other pre-development activities is also a boost to make properties useful and productive again.

But even when sites are made ready, the challenge can be daunting. In Center City Holyoke alone, we have approximately 2 Million vacant square feet of space. Real estate markets that are much weaker than Boston’s require a more patient approach to capital returns, which is why funding the Transformative Development Initiative is so important to the state’s economic success. Through this program’s funding, we’ll be able to aptly target sound, long-term investment opportunities that can bolster further private investments where they’re needed most.

And part of the investment we hope to generate should generate a more diverse portfolio of housing opportunities. Which is why I am so pleased the Governor’s bill makes changes to the Housing Development Incentive Program to make it easier to use. The “Starter Home District” for affordable home ownership should also create a new tool for communities to providing options for those in our own communities that are climbing the socioeconomic ladder to remain as part of the neighborhood.

The bill will also boost the state’s National and International standing in the innovation economy to the benefit of interests throughout the Commonwealth. The Community Innovation Infrastructure Fund in particular would allow us to leverage over $700,000 in federal, state and local funding that’s been dedicated to democratizing innovation at every level through expanding entrepreneurship, co-working spaces and boosting the creative industries.

And perhaps no other investment is likely to pay as much dividends as developing a quality workforce. Not only are local businesses clamoring for qualified candidates, residents in Gateway Cities like Holyoke are poised and ready for training in a variety of high-employment sectors, such as advanced manufacturing, hospitality and life sciences. To that end, the state has recently funded Holyoke Community College with $1.75 Million in workforce development equipment for their new Center for Hospitality and Culinary Excellence, which will house around 200 students. Along with other housing, infrastructure and job creation strategies as supported in this bill, these funds give Holyoke and other communities the ammunition we need to significantly create employment opportunities for our people.

In closing Madam and Mr. Chair, Holyoke has effectively used the myriad of existing programs slated for additional funding and improvements included in H3983, to spur a pipeline of approximately $125 million of private projects over the past few years alone. Hopefully through our experience you are able to see what progress looks like at the local level when these programs are leveraged together to create the type of momentum that has begun to shape Holyoke’s future.

But we’re not done yet. These programs need a shot in the arm so that they can be deployed more aggressively and more widely throughout the Commonwealth. Too many communities are still missing out from reaping the economic prosperity generated in the state. This economic development bill does just that and I urge this Committee to provide it your full support.

My thanks once again to Governor Baker for the invitation to join him on this topic and the Committee for listening.