Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker talked about his administration’s efforts on economic development in a speech to more than 700 business and government leaders in Springfield today. The Republican governor heard an appeal for regional equity from Democratic Congressman Richard Neal.
Baker highlighted a $950 million economic development bill that is pending in the legislature, explaining it would provide grants for local housing, street, sidewalk and other infrastructure projects that produce jobs. There is also money for brownfields clean-up and to have sites pre-prepared for future industrial development, which he said are in short supply outside Greater Boston.
" We don't have as many what I would call ' spec-ready sites' with the phone lines and T-1 lines in place for someone looking to make a significant investment to do so," said Baker
The package also includes $75 million for vocational training to address the so-called “skills gap” that leaves many job openings in precision manufacturing, healthcare and other fields unfilled.
" There are a lot of high-skilled, good-paying jobs that are going unfilled right now across our Commonwealth while at the same time there are a lot of people out there looking to make a life and a living," said Baker.
Baker gave the keynote address at the Springfield Regional Chamber’s annual Outlook luncheon. The event drew mayors and other elected officials from throughout the region as well as business leaders. The local chamber of commerce uses the annual event to highlight its legislative agenda on Beacon Hill and Washington, D.C.
Congressman Neal, speaking just before Baker, said more needs to be done to close the economic gap between Greater Boston, which is booming, and the rest of the state.
" We are all thrilled with GE coming to Boston, but there is another economy across the rest of the state," said Neal.
Neal was loudly applauded when he called for western Massachusetts to rally around a big project to expand passenger rail service from Boston through the Berkshires.
Speaking with reporters later, Baker said he believed the move of General Electric’s corporate headquarters to Boston will, in time, produce a spin-off that will benefit the entire state.
" I think the possibilities of their impact spreading far beyond the greater Boston area are quite high," said Baker. " We are certainly going to encourage them to take advantage of all Massachusetts has to offer."
Baker, in his speech, also talked about his administration’s work over the last year to combat opioid abuse. Four major pieces of legislation have passed dealing with prevention and treatment, but the death rate from opioids is still roughly four per day. Baker said despite all of the attention being paid to the epidemic there is still a tremendous stigma around the issue.
"It is incredibly important that you all talk about it, so that people who are close to you, and I guarantee there are many,who are dealing with their own private hell, feel like they have an opportunity to discuss it more publicly," said Baker.
Baker and Neal both decried the current state of national politics. Neal said the political discourse is not helpful to business. Baker said he hoped his administration would be noted for its strength, but also its decency.