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NY And MA Congressmen See I-90 Corridor As STEM Hotbed

Jim Levulis

Congressmen from western Massachusetts and eastern New York are encouraging the neighboring areas to continue developing the science, engineering and technology industries across state lines.Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts’ 1st District invited his fellow Democrat Paul Tonko of New York into the western part of the commonwealth for a STEM forum Friday. The acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The day involved panel discussions featuring industry and education leaders from the Interstate 90 corridor, which runs across the middle of New York and Massachusetts. Congressman Neal says the federal government has and should continue to fill gaps left by the private sector, such as research funding.

“We have to convince people that still the best social program is a job,” Neal said. “If people have a job they make the right decisions in their own lives. That’s a very important consideration. So there has to be some promise of an economic system that continues to grow so that they might be rewarded in that system for making the right decisions and determinations.”

Neal says that system can be today’s STEM industries. Congressman Tonko says the two regions have built upon a pioneer manufacturing spirit along I-90, but now the region needs to understand how advanced manufacturing differs from the old ways.

“We have to make certain that innovation economy is filtered with policy from the government that understands small and medium-sized business needs,” Tonko said. “We need regulation that is collaborated so that we’re not asking the same things over and over. And that’s its predictable. I think people will support regulation if it’s sound regulation. We need to make certain we invest in research.”

Speaking about the growth of Global Foundries and the Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in New York’s Capital Region, Tonko insists human infrastructure needs to keep up with the industry skill sets. He has crafted legislation currently in committee called the Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers Act to invoke STEM into K-12 education.

“It will remove the barriers of traditional math and science education and allow for a direct connection for training in the engineering disciplines and curriculum,” Tonko said. “If we don’t introduced the concepts, the joy, the mystery and the magic of engineering to the very young mind before you know it they’re going to be patterned into something else.”

Representatives from General Dynamics in Pittsfield say the company plans to hire some 200 engineers in the next several years, many of whom come from RPI, Western New England University and the UMass system. Meanwhile, Nuclea Biotechnologies partners with Berkshire Community College, MCLA and even Capeless Elementary School offering programs and internships.

To help create a pipeline of STEM workers, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center provides funding to small and medium-sized companies helping to create 2,000 internships over the past six years. Specific to western Massachusetts, the Center awarded nearly $10 million for the Berkshire Innovation Center at a former General Electric facility in Pittsfield. The city is hopeful for a 2016 opening.

Robert Coughlin is the CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. He previously served as a Massachusetts state representative and in Governor Deval Patrick’s administration. As opposed to the dominant research and development area near Cambridge, Massachusetts, which feeds off of Harvard and MIT, Coughlin says this portion of the I-90 corridor has different advantages.

“As this industry continues to grow in Massachusetts and we move it further down the business cycle away from R and D and towards manufacturing and commercializing these products you do it in a part of the state that has more land, pre-permitted shovel ready sites and where land and access to energy, water, sewer is more economically feasible,” Coughlin said. “That’s what this area has.”

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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