BOSTON - Top business leaders from around the state will convene in Springfield Friday to talk about how to create more opportunities for western Massachusetts businesses.
Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce will officially launch the Bay State Business Link Forum Friday morning at Springfield Technical Community College, with an expected 40 participating businesses from around the state.
"Hopefully, we can level the playing field a little bit and even things off a little bit so that when we talk about the commonwealth's economy growing, it's just not going to be about talking about this (Greater Boston) area -- but we're going to truly talk about the commonwealth, meaning the whole state, growing as well," DeLeo said.
Western Massachusetts has often lagged behind Greater Boston economically. According to the most recent Department of Labor figures, unemployment in Boston is 3.9 percent, compared to 6.3 percent in Hampden County. Western Massachusetts start-ups say they often do not have access to capital, as they would in Boston.
DeLeo, in a rare interview in his State House office, said as he travels around the state he hears positive reports of business growth from companies in Boston and Cambridge, which leads to more people spending money at local restaurants and in the local economy.
In Springfield, as in other areas outside of Greater Boston, the story is different.
"When I talk to some citizens, some of the businesses, some of the elected officials in these places, they explain to me that to a certain extent, they're not feeling the same economic bull that this area may be dealing with," DeLeo said.
DeLeo first announced the initiative in a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in early March.
The goal is to find ways for established Boston businesses to connect with start-ups or other companies in western Massachusetts. For example, a Boston business looking for a place to manufacture a product or to buy materials might turn to an existing business in western Massachusetts, rather than to a company in another state or overseas.
DeLeo said he hopes connections made through the program could help businesses on both sides of the state.
"It's not only for the sake of the whole commonwealth but for their own business' sake, because quite frankly, land may be less expensive in Springfield, and to have a business that they're working with much closer than out of state or out of the country obviously makes a lot of good business sense," DeLeo said.
DeLeo said he has already pitched officials at General Electric, which is relocating its global headquarters to Boston, on traveling to Springfield and looking for opportunities to partner with businesses there as GE looks to grow its Massachusetts presence.
Friday's event in Springfield will feature a panel discussion with officials from companies and business development groups, including MassChallenge, Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Project, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, National Grid, TechSpring and Siemens. It will be a chance for education, nonprofit and business groups from around the state to network and discuss ways to better work together.
DeLeo said the point is to kick off a series of meetings between businesses to determine the best ways to build partnerships.
There is currently no state money behind the initiative. DeLeo said he sees government's role as bringing the parties together. But, he said he would "not be adverse" to spending state money if there are recommendations to do so - for example, by investing in a particular industry.
In an economic development bill last year, the state commissioned a study on manufacturing, which is a major industry in western Massachusetts. DeLeo said he is committed to including funding for areas outside of Boston in every transportation and economic development bill.
DeLeo said he is "enthusiastic" about the initiative's ability to grow the western Massachusetts economy by having business leaders determine the best ways to create connections.
He recalled talking to college students in Springfield and the Berkshires who said they will move to Boston or elsewhere after graduation, because there are more opportunities there.
"I just want to change that mindset," DeLeo said.
Read the article from MassLive here.