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Governor focused on making 'communities count'

Date: 7/7/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Deval Patrick doesn't know if the state has hit its economic bottom, but he did share at a press conference on Tuesday that 4,900 jobs were added in Massachusetts last month.

Patrick, at Emerson Wright Park in the city's South End neighborhood to announce his "Communities Count" initiative, said the economic advisors with whom he regularly meets believes the state's economy will see an upturn in the fourth quarter of this year. He added the experts believe the Commonwealth's recovery may be more gradual than other parts of the country.

Knowing that an economic turnaround won't happen overnight, Patrick said that his administration is focusing on "wise investments" that aren't all "glamorous or dramatic that are going to assure a strong foundation for economic growth going forward."

Patrick, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Mayor Domenic Sarno were among the officials at the announcement. Prior to the press conference, Patrick toured a home on Wendell Place that was undergoing insulation installation as part of the weatherization services offered to qualified families by Springfield Partners for Community Action (SPCA).

Springfield is the first city in the state to qualify for the "Communities Count" initiative, which should spread to other municipalities that have developed comprehensive development plans.

The initiative will leverage $6 million in state and federal dollars to be used to address job creation, neighborhood stabilization and offer resources for businesses.

In Springfield, $1 million of that fund will be used to buy, rehabilitate and redevelop foreclosed and vacant properties in the South End.

Over the next three years, the state will allocate, in conjunction with federal, local and private funds, almost $5 million to provide weatherization upgrades to 500 low-income homeowners.

Patrick also announced that Springfield has been designated a Gateway Cities Park Program City, which will allow the city additional funding for environmental cleanup, planning and construction of park facilities.

"Communities Count" will also fund two youth work programs. SPCA and YouthBuild will create a youth energy conservation/efficiency employment program in the South End, while the Boston-based youth development organization Roca will partner with Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe to provide self-sufficiency training for high-risk young people in the South End.

Two upcoming events are also part of the overall initiative. There will be a foreclosure help workshop on July 23 at the Chestnut Middle School to assist people facing foreclosure. There will also be a workshop for small businesses in Springfield, although the date has not yet been set for it.

"Our best days are ahead of us if we can lean on each other and invest in each other," Patrick said.