|By G. Michael Dobbs|
AGAWAM Did Governor Deval Patrick tell the area's elected officials what they hoped to hear from him at Outlook 2007 on Friday?
In some ways, yes Patrick told the 1,100 people gathered for the event that he has appointed an ombudsman to help businesses through the development and permitting processes, among his first steps to improve the business climate in Massachusetts.
He also stressed that Springfield, considered to be the economic engine of the region, "will not fail on my watch."
While Patrick may not have addressed as many specific concerns some might have wished, he did offer some details on his first steps to help businesses.
Patrick delivered his first major address in western Massachusetts following his installation as governor at the annual event sponsored by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, Inc. Before the luncheon, Russell Denver, president of the Affiliated Chambers told Reminder Publications that he hoped the Governor would speak on delivering more local aid in order for communities to reduce property taxes.
Denver also said he would like to see Patrick "classify himself as a business governor" who would be dedicated to retaining and promoting businesses already in Massachusetts. Denver added that in the past, some governors have paid more attention to the latest business trends than to retention and growth of existing businesses.
Mayor Richard Cohen of Agawam wanted to hear that there wouldn't be cuts to the funds sent back to communities from the state and that Patrick would be addressing health care costs.
State Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) said he wants to know how Patrick will "sell the west to the east" and how he will encourage businesses to move beyond Boston and Worcester.
After speeches by Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan and Congressman Richard Neal, Patrick told the capacity audience at Chez Josef that Massachusetts is a great state but that "yesterday's greatess will not guarantee tomorrows."
"We need a spirit of active collaboration," he added.
Patrick said he was willing to make politically dangerous moves, such as supporting the controversial wind farm in Nantucket Sound, because he was not governing along the lines of sound bites and election cycles.
Patrick noted Massachusetts is the only state which is losing population and that young well-educated people are leaving because of the high costs of housing and because of the difficulty they have "breaking in."
Patrick said he has spoken to young adults who have complained they have problems even trying to join volunteer efforts in Massachusetts communities.
The result is, Patrick said, the state must recruit and keep the talent it needs to grow.
Patrick said his aim would be to strengthen the state's economy in order to create more jobs that will keep people in the state.
One of Patrick's first steps will be to streamline the permitting processes businesses face in Massachusetts. He noted how insurance companies introduce new products in other states where the approval process is only two months instead of the six months in this state.
"Government must show business they support them," he said.
Patrick said that Massachusetts should become the clean energy technology center for the nation. He emphasized he not only wants to see new technology developed here but also the products manufactured here to provide a variety of jobs.
He said he has the support of House Speaker Savatore Dimasi in establishing legislative actions to support this economic development.
Patrick said that besides streamlining permits, he wants cities and towns to save money by placing municipal employees into the state's health insurance plan. He said the consolidation of many local pension boards could also save money.
He said that he would like to give communities the option to impose moderate taxes on meals and lodgings as a way to increase local revenues.
Patrick said his administration is developing a comprehensive plan for Springfield's renewal, but such re-development "will not come over night."
He noted specifically that the aging parking garage next to the MassMutual Center needs to be addressed, as well as the need for a pool of skilled labor for employers such as Baystate Health Center and Smith & Wesson. He said that Springfield and other communities need more funding for community police efforts as well.
The Finance Control Board should stay in Springfield for another year, Patrick said.
In a press conference after the speech Patrick declined to discuss personnel changes he would make to the Control Board.
"Springfield needs to learn how to stand on its own two feet again," he said.
Patrick also announced the western Massachusetts governor's office will re-open in Springfield by this summer.
"Give me the tools and I will do the job," he asked the audience.