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State's economy 'fixable, not destroyed'

Date: 3/23/2010

March 24, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

GREATER SPRINGFIELD -- The worst of the economic recession is over and the skies are beginning to clear in the Pioneer Valley, according to analysts at Gov. Deval Patrick's Regional Economic Summit at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on Friday.

More than 100 Western Mass. politicians, educators, businessmen and public policy leaders gathered at the university to discuss the current economy, its affect on the Commonwealth and the Valley and strategized ways to weather the storm until sun shines bright again.

"[It's] fixable, not destroyed," Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, said of the economy. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

Brennan told those at the summit the "key threats" to economic recovery in the Valley are modest population growth, an aging workforce, uneven quality of education in public schools, deteriorating infrastructure and the "never-ending struggle to gain regional visibility in Boston."

"This region doesn't have a lot of confidence," he said. "How we fare, has everything to do with confidence."

Patrick was far more upbeat when addressing the attendees midway through the summit. He noted his administration's multi-pronged approach to help boost the economy including emphasis on collaboration and investments in the Commonwealth's leading industries, infrastructure improvement and additional affordable housing units.

"We've invested more money than ever before and reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges by 10 percent," Patrick added.

He said he believes collaboration between and investment in life sciences, innovation industries, information technology and healthcare will lead Massachusetts out of the recession.

"When businesses were more robust, [a lack of] skilled labor was a barrier to our region's precision machining business growth," Eric Hagopian, president of Hoppe Tool in Chicopee, said. "With the collaboration and support of Governor Patrick and Lt. Gov. Murray, along with the Western Mass. EDC, our companies were successful at development and deployment of a winning strategy to train hundreds of both incumbent and next generation workers in the precision machining field. This filled out immediate need for more workers.

"These Regional Economic Summits are the seeds that must be planted to grow business in our area and throughout the Commonwealth," he added.

Patrick noted on Feb. 10 he filed legislation to help small businesses hire workers and reduce overhead with tax credits and methods of reducing the cost of healthcare.

Larry Litton, president of Six Flags New England in Agawam, said he's hopeful the summit will pave the way for new collaboration between industries and those in the Valley toward a more prosperous future as quickly as possible.

Brennan noted more work must be done in order to help those in the Valley gain employment as there are almost 40,000 still out of work and a poverty rate of 14 percent in urban areas as of January.

"I'm optimistic but I know we have a tremendous amount of work left to do," Patrick said.

Additional information about upcoming summits across the state may be located online at