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Regional Teamwork Called Key to Economic Growth

Stephanie Cronin, of the Middlesex 3 Coalition, talks with Jay Ash, state housing and economic development secretary, during a roundtable forum at Middlesex Community College in Lowell on Thursday. Lowell Sun photoby Bob Whitaker
Stephanie Cronin, of the Middlesex 3 Coalition, talks with Jay Ash, state housing and economic development secretary, during a roundtable forum at Middlesex Community College in Lowell on Thursday. SUN / BOB WHITAKER

06/26/2015
Lowell Sun
By Grant Welker

LOWELL -- Area municipal, business and educational leaders provided the state's housing and economic development secretary with input on the state's development plan at one of six such sessions held statewide Thursday.

Secretary Jay Ash, who attended the full two-hour session at Middlesex Community College, will use suggestions at the meetings to shape economic development priorities on subjects including innovation, competitiveness, regulations, housing, and workforce development.

"We're going to do great things together," said Ash, who was appointed earlier this year after serving for years as Chelsea city manager.

Officials gathered into smaller groups to talk about common concerns and suggestions. They told Ash of a need to improve transportation to attract workers from Boston, for example, and to work together to draw businesses from outside the area.

"We're not looking at individual towns because it's really about the greater good of all the communities, of Massachusetts," said Jodi Ross, the Westford town manager.

To help with retaining and developing talent, they suggested directing businesses to workforce investment boards, career centers and colleges. To improve housing, they recommended allowing for easier access to home for first-time buyers, decreasing minimum housing lot sizes, loosening regulations and marketing to empty-nesters.

Many start-ups have a hard time making long-term or full-time commitments to space, said Steven Tello, UMass Lowell's associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development. The region should be branded as a single area, like Silicon Valley is, instead of having a mindset that regions or towns within Massachusetts should be competing with one another, he said.

Officials said the state and municipal leaders need to work together to find the right approaches for spurring development.

City Manager Kevin Murphy thanked the state's business officials for help in offering tax credits in drawing businesses. This year, Lowell has attracted Markley Group, which has committed $200 million in building a cloud computing center at the former Prince factory, and Metrigraphics, a small-component manufacturer that moved from Wilmington.