Boston Fed president visits Western Mass. for first-hand look at economic challenges, opportunities
Cross-sector teams discuss efforts to support families, small businesses
Local leaders in Holyoke, Mass., joined Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Susan M. Collins Thursday for a walking tour of the city’s downtown and a first-hand look at the region’s problems and potential.
City councilmember Tessa Murphy-Romboletti paused at the corner of Cabot and High streets and gestured to a series of boarded-up store fronts.
“There’s so much potential in this one block,” Murphy-Romboletti, who leads the nonprofit EforAll’s Pioneer Valley team, told Collins. “We need more housing, grocery stores, a gym.”
Aaron Vega, Holyoke’s director of economic development and planning, said there’s “whole blocks" that can be turned into housing. But as construction costs rise, the city needs public funding to make it happen, he said.
Collins’ visit to Western Massachusetts was the sixth stop on her tour to hear from community members and leaders in each New England state. Since taking over as Boston Fed president and CEO in July, she’s also visited Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. The Boston Fed serves the Federal Reserve’s First District, which comprises all six New England states, excluding Connecticut’s Fairfield County.
“One of the most important (parts of my job) is spending time talking with people who are directly engaged in different aspects of the economy and listening to their experiences,” she said. “What are the challenges, the opportunities, and what have we learned?”
Working Cities Challenge team focuses on supporting families, students
Collins met with Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt Thursday morning. Then, she joined Springfield WORKS for a roundtable discussion on local economic issues. Springfield WORKS is a workforce development effort that began through the Boston Fed’s Working Cities Challenge, part of the Working Places initiative. The effort supports local collaboration to strengthen the economies of New England’s rural towns, regions, and smaller cities.
Addressing the cliff effect is one of the Springfield team’s key focuses, said initiative director Anne Kandilis. The cliff effect occurs when a small wage increase pushes a household slightly above the maximum income limits of a public benefit they depend on. That can cause them to lose the benefit and significantly hurt their financial stability, Kandilis said.
“About 25% of families in the U.S. experience the cliff effect,” she said. “In (Massachusetts) Gateway Cities, it’s about one out of three families.”
The team helped create new state legislation that put $1 million toward a pilot program focused on helping 100 families across Massachusetts overcome the cliff effect.
Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal noted a shift in institutions of higher education that sees them taking a more active role in supporting students’ basic needs, including food, housing, transportation, and child care.
“We’ve tried to look at some of the dynamics that we know will help create stability, so students can focus on academics,” she said.
Local leaders discuss supporting small business, housing
A series of listening sessions organized by the Western Mass Economic Development Council laid bare the challenges small businessowners are facing. The council is a Working Cities Challenge partner.
Xiomara DeLobato, the council’s vice president and chief of staff, said businesses across Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties are struggling to access financing and capital and build trust with community members and larger entities.
She added some of the largest institutions and employers in the state are working as part of the council’s Anchor Collaborative to connect with local businesses and prepare them to take on large contracts.
“It’s preparing them to be the best and most competitive vendors in this area,” she said.
Collins attended an economic development meeting with Holyoke leaders, where Mayor Joshua A. Garcia emphasized the need for strategic and intentional outreach in the highly diverse city, which he said is about 54% Latino.
Ultimately, city leaders said they’re aiming to expand housing opportunities in the city for all income levels and provide more options within existing neighborhoods for residents who are climbing the economic ladder. City council member Juan Anderson-Burgos said Holyoke’s recent Pride celebration attracted visitors from as far away as Canada and New York.
“They came from all around, and to me that says a lot,” he said. “I see that we’re heading in the right direction, we just need help.”
Learn more about the Working Places initiative on bostonfed.org.