Economic Development Committee holds first public hearing on Sen. Lesser's worker relocation bill

SPRINGFIELD —Senator Eric P. Lesser and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante heard public testimony at Springfield Technical Community College Tuesday in regards to several bills before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, including Sen. Lesser’s Western Massachusetts remote worker relocation program. It was the bill’s first public hearing.

The legislation would reimburse workers up to $10,000 in startup costs if they relocate to one of the state’s four westernmost counties, and are employed by a company located outside of the region.

“Western Mass. has a lot to offer: our quality of life is great, we have a thriving arts community and world-class universities,” Sen. Lesser said. “But we need new and bold ideas to catch our economy up to Metro Boston’s. This program would bring jobs to our area of the state and put money directly into family’s pockets – allowing them to spend as soon as they move into town.”

The pilot program, which is limited to $1 million over three years, is modeled after a similar initiative in Vermont. In a study earlier this year, Nichols College Economics Department Chair Dr. Hans G. Despain calculated the program would generate between $50 million and $150 million in extra economic activity.

In addition to Co-Chairs Sen. Lesser and Rep. Ferrante, Rep. David Biele of Boston, Rep. Donald Wong of the Ninth Essex District, and hometown representatives Carlos Gonzalez and Bud Williams of Springfield attended the hearing as well. They heard testimony from Rep. Paul Mark, Franklin Regional Council of Governments executive director Linda Dunlavy and Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission member Wendy Hudson on behalf of the Rural Policy Advisory Committee. Easthampton mayor Nicole LaChapelle also gave an update on economic development in her city to attendees, which included members of the Greater Springfield and Greater Boston Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

One of the more powerful testimonies came from Granby town selectman Jay Joyce, who explained how his rural community relies on the committee’s economic development initiatives. 

“When you build a house, you must start with the foundation,” Joyce said. “We have contaminated water wells and unusable septic systems. Businesses need water, sewage and broadband infrastructure in order to operate. Economic development, through MassWorks grants and other projects, is the key to addressing the majority of the issues my community faces.” 

Eric Lesser