Members of the legal community, elected officials and other
community leaders convened at the University of Massachusetts
School of Law in Dartmouth on Jan. 26.
Leading voices on Massachusetts' Gateway Cities served as featured
forum panelists, including Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford) and
Sen. Benjamin Downing (DPittsfield), chairs of the Gateway Cities
Caucus; Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development
Undersecretary for Business Development Michael Hunter; and MassINC
Research Director Benjamin Forman, among others.
Much of the discussion focused on the New Bedford community, a
designated Gateway City. Common themes were the need for improving
educational attainment in gateway communities and collaboration
among groups with common interests and goals to bring about
MBA President-elect Robert L. Holloway Jr. welcomed to a crowd of
about 60. He also thanked New Bedford attorney Margaret D. Xifaras
and Worcester attorney Francis A. Ford for co-chairing the MBA's
Gateway Cities initiative and moderating the Jan. 26 program.
Massachusetts' Gateway Cities are those mid-sized cities whose
residents are experiencing significantly higher rates of
unemployment and a stalemate in social, economic and civic
innovation. Some examples are Brockton, Fall River, Lawrence, New
Bedford, Pittsfield Springfield and Worcester.
Downing characterized gateway communities by using his hometown of
Pittsfield as an example. The General Electric plant in Pittsfield,
which formerly employed nearly 1,500 area workers, today employs
only 400. Growing up, Downing was told by his elders that
Pittsfield's "best days are behind us." Home to only 45,000
residents today, the town enjoyed a population of 60,000 in the
1980s and 70,000 in the 1970s.
He explained that to address the issues impacting those
communities, "We have a great friend in the Patrick administration.
We now have to make sure we are looking at every policy partner,"
said Downing, who described the lack of private and public
investment in his and other gateway communities as
In contrast to the workforce prospects populating communities
closer to Boston, 20 percent or less of gateway residents over age
25 have a bachelor's degree. The percentage increases to around 40
percent in those communities closer to the city.
Downing and Cabral have led the Gateway Cities Caucus since it was
founded in 2008 with an economic development focus.
Cabral touched upon proposed legislation that would incentivize
businesses to move into and remain in those communities, including
expanding and extending tax credits.
MassINC Research Director Benjamin Forman talked about the
importance of planning and strategy associated with community and
economic development. He pointed to New Bedford as "a great example
of success because they planned."
Former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, who had a hand in the city's
ongoing revitalization, was an audience member at the meeting. Fall
River Mayor William Flanagan also attended.
"I think the story is pretty good," said Forman, who explained
that comparable cities in other regions of the United States are
not faring as well. He said that the high tech trend for businesses
to set up shop near Boston doesn't have to be the only trend.
He said that Massachusetts' gateway communities offer an
"authentic urban fabric" to prospective employers. Unfortunately,
he pointed out, two opposing trends are at work- the rebuilding of
the Gateway Cities and an economic recession.
Michael Hunter, who now serves in the Patrick administration as
the undersecretary for business development, admitted to a bit of
déjà vu. He remarked that before Patrick's team looked at this
issue, the last time it was talked about was by then-governor
Like Forman, Hunter focused his comments on the importance of
municipal strategy and the ability to access state resources and
"A lot of this is not rocket science, but it takes a lot of
focus," he said, stressing that the alignment between business
needs and workforce development is essential.
Kate Fentress from the Women's Fund and the Education Roundtable,
talked about solutions found when reaching out to and educating
women in the gateway communities. "If you educate women, there is a
20 percent increase in the likelihood that their children will go
on to obtain a college degree."
Fentress talked about the importance of community collaboration,
as she has seen its
influence with both the Women's Fund and Education Roundtable.
"That's what makes things happen."
Kate Knowles, executive director of New Bedford's Zeiterion
Performing Arts Center, spoke to the importance of arts in
rehabilitating the culture of the Gateway Cities. "In 12 days, the
arts brought 10,000 people downtown. That activity creates
perception and affects how the community views itself and the
community around it," she said. "There needs to be a conscious
investment to put the arts in the mix as a component in
Jim Mathis, former city councilor and current executive director
of the SMILES mentoring program in New Bedford, reiterated points
made by Fentress and Knowles about finding solutions through
community collaboration. "If New Bedford was going to be better, it
was New Bedford that was going to do it for itself," he said.
Mathis said that the only way to solve these issues is to "pick
something and do it," and he encouraged all in the audience to do
His remarks segued into a question-and answer session with
attendees and panelists.
Following the initial forum in Southeastern Massachusetts, the MBA
expects to hold comparable forums in Central Massachusetts and
other parts of the state in the future.