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Gov. Baker Focuses On Business And Energy Costs During Berkshire Visit

Jim Levulis

After his swearing-in last week, Governor Charlie Baker and members of his administration launched a statewide “Spotlight on Excellence” tour across Massachusetts. It included stops in the Berkshires.About 100 people gave a warm welcome to Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito at MASS MoCA in North Adams, a city that backed its hometown Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in November’s election.

Democrat John Barrett was mayor of North Adams from 1984 till 2009. He supported Baker’s campaign and kicked off the program during the new governor’s visit. Barrett recalled a conversation with Baker when he was the state’s secretary of administration and finance about using state money to launch MASS MoCA.

“He said to me blah, blah, blah ‘That guy down the hall, Bill Weld, told me I got to make this work,” Barrett recalled. “And I’m going to make it work come hell or high water.’ I can say without reservation governor we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you and getting it done.”

Museum director Joseph Thompson says Governor Baker also helped guide him and the rest of the museum’s administration to its success today.

“Secretary Baker, at that time, had this habit of saying ‘Are you sure people are going to come again?’” Thompson said. “That was a tough question because our original idea was big boxes with art that didn’t move. That question generated two or three fundamental changes. One, the idea of doing temporary exhibitions instead of all fixed exhibitions. So changing the program every single year. Secondly, the introduction of performing arts. Performing arts now take up 50 percent of our emotional and financial bandwidth here and they attract repeat visitation and get headlines all over the place.”

Massachusetts invested $35 million for the museum’s 1999 opening and initial expansion in the 19th century factory. It was a place that employed more than 4,000 people in a city of close to 20,000 in the 1960s before it stopped operating in 1985. Baker says the state needs to identify, celebrate and replicate successes like it across the commonwealth.

“Karyn and I wanted to come here today to spotlight the success that this enterprise, this shared initiative, this public-private partnership, this diversified portfolio of opportunities has brought to this community,” said Baker.

Healthcare remains on the minds of many in northern Berkshire County following the sudden closure of North Adams Regional Hospital in March 2014 and the subsequent loss of more than 500 jobs. Berkshire Medical Center has since purchased the site where it operates a 24-hour satellite emergency facility. Governor Baker says he expects his public health commissioner to spend time making sure BMC has the support it needs to keep that site open.

“My main concern about that whole issue from the beginning was the fact that state government seemed to be so surprised about the closure of North Adams [Regional] Hospital in the first place and the fact that nobody had really figured out what the ‘Plan B’ was,” Baker said. “I think that put tremendous uncertainty and pressure on a region that didn’t need it.”

Community members and the Massachusetts Nurses Association have called for the restoration of a full-service hospital.

Baker also met with business leaders at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield where he said companies are struggling under rising energy costs. Calling the increase a delivery issue, the governor said the state should have expanded its pipeline capacity four years ago. Still he said he doesn’t support Kinder Morgan’s current Northeast pipeline proposal which would mostly run along utility line corridors.

“At this point in time I don’t support it,” Baker said. “But I think we do need to do something to expand our capacity, but I think we should do that along the existing routes.”

Baker has charged state agencies to conduct 100-day performance and procedure reviews. In addition to creating a small business task force, how Massachusetts regulates business will be looked at, according Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash.

“Part of the competitive issue is about regulation and there are plenty of reasons to think that we’re overly regulated here,” Ash said. “We’re going to do a comprehensive review. We’re going to get out and talk to chamber of commerce, small, medium and big businesses. We’ll look at what regulations no longer need to be there and try to streamline things as much as possible.”

Baker added the Berkshires will be well represented on the boards and commissions that oversee the state’s tourism industry.

“We certainly get and understand that if you think about the commonwealth of Mass[chusetts] there are a lot of parts where tourism matters, but there is a little bit of barbell here in the sense that in western Mass and on the Cape in particular it matters most,” said Baker.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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