By Rick Sobey
LOWELL -- Legislators sit through countless Beacon Hill hearings every year, listening to testimony about why reforms and extra funding should be approved.
But for many hearings, delegates are stuck in the windowless basement of the Statehouse, far away from seeing the impact of their votes.
On Tuesday, however, representatives were able to see how their votes can impact a region, as they came out for a public hearing at the state-of-the-art UMass Lowell Innovation Hub on Canal Street.
Many legislators said they're impressed with what's been happening at the university and in the city, emphasizing Lowell could be a model for Gateway Cities across the state.
"Just look all around this building," said Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee. "You don't get to see this in a hearing room in Boston. You can see here what an investment will yield.
"This is clearly a community on the move," added Wagner, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which held its first hearing outside the Statehouse on Tuesday at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub. "Whether it's job creation, research and development or startups associated with state dollars, all of it improves the face of the community and improves the region."
In addition, Rep. Aaron Vega said Lowell is leading the way for Gateway Cities. Vega, a Democrat from Holyoke, said the city he represents in Western Massachusetts could take some tips.
"Lowell has done a great job utilizing its old mills, and figuring out how to preserve its history while at the same time moving into the future," Vega said.
Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, is the Senate chairman of the committee, which held a brief public hearing on "Gateway Cities and Regional Development" on Tuesday.
She echoed Wagner, saying it's essential to show fellow legislators the success going on outside the Statehouse, including growth in the Mill City.
"We want to look beyond Boston and Cambridge, to other areas that will bring the commonwealth to a whole new level," Donoghue said. "This gives the committee a view of what's happening here. It helps to see how it's working out here, so it's not just a line item in the budget.
"It's really fascinating what's happening here in the Merrimack Valley," she added. "The potential is tremendous for companies coming here."
Incubator programs at UMass Lowell have helped economic development in the city, according to attendees.
The Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center public-private partnership program, for instance, allows new companies to expand, said UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney.
"Companies can develop their ideas and business plans in the early stages," she said. "They have access to core research facilities, and can partner with the greatest resources we have to offer.
"We've already drawn great companies that cannot afford to be in high-priced cities," Moloney added.
The Boston Globe and Boston Herald are always writing about emerging technologies in Kendall Square and Boston but now Lowell is the place for it, said City Manager Kevin Murphy.
"I'm really excited about how Lowell is attracting emerging technology companies, where it's more affordable," Murphy said.
"It's important to continue to invest in our Gateway Cities, and to continue to attract businesses to more affordable sites like Lowell," he added.