Juliette Kayyem, a Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor, was in Pittsfield Friday, making the latest stop on her Gateway Cities’ tour.
The stop marked Kayyem’s ninth visit to the 26 communities designated as Gateway Cities, meaning they have a population greater than 35,000 with median household incomes and higher education achievement rates below the state average. Kayyem says as governor, she can take steps to encourage economic development in these communities.
“It is really about education, workforce development and community colleges,” Kayyem said. “Filling the gap between what our students are learning and the jobs that are coming here and staying here. That’s the only way we will get businesses to come here and stay here and the only way we will have our citizens employed.”
The former homeland security advisor to President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick says she will use local aid to invest in broadband, infrastructure and transportation, things she calls the backbone of the state.
“I’m committed to regional transportation authorities,” the Democrat said. “I’m committed to linking areas out here [Western Massachusetts], not necessarily back to Boston, but to other states like New York and Connecticut. Wherever there is going to be economic strength that is going to drive the engines of these communities.”
Kayyem says she is committed to increasing unrestricted local aid above the $920 million proposed by Governor Patrick for fiscal 2015, without creating budgetary restrictions because of it. Lawmakers in the House and the Senate approved raising the level to $945 million this week. While in Pittsfield, Kayyem got a lesson on the William Stanley Business Park. The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, or PEDA, is tasked with the redevelopment of 52 acres of the former General Electric site. Cory Thurston is executive director. He says government can help with more than just money by getting kids excited early on about careers that need newly skilled workers.
“There is a wonderful opportunity for the educational departments and the economic development groups to get together at the state level to incentivize a new concept so that there is continuity in the process,” Thurston said. “So after we teach them, we need to show them and then we need to trend them into manufacturing for example.”
The park is a brownfield site, common to many Gateway Cities. PEDA received nearly $175,000 from the state in the early 2000s to assess and reclaim its soil and neighboring Silver Lake after GE left in the 1990s. Today, Thurston says the EPA will even allow swimming in the lake. Businesses like Mountain One Financial have opened on the site, while the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center has earmarked $6.5 million for a life-science incubator next door. Thurston says the feasibility study for that will be completed in April. Evenly split, PEDA and the city are offering a $2 million incentive to the company chosen to construct MBTA rail cars to build them at the park.
Kayyem joins four other Democrats in the race; Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Treasurer Steve Grossman, bio-tech executive Joe Avellone and former Medicare and Medicaid administrator Don Berwick. With reports having Kayyem third behind Grossman and then Coakley during the party’s caucuses, Kayyem says she sees opportunity because about half of the voters are undecided.
“The Democratic Party is open to a new voice and open to voices that they may not be familiar with,” said Kayyem.