Chief executives of gateway cities form alliance to advance new urban agenda

United in their desire for economic renewal, the chief executives of 11 Massachusetts cities today signed a proclamation forming an Alliance to address the challenges and opportunities inherent in their aging economies. Named “the Gateways Compact for Community and Economic Development,” the partnership is aimed at drawing investment to communities outside of Boston while providing benefits such as housing, infrastructure and workers to all of Massachusetts.

“For cities like these, which share a common industrial past and a desire to make new economic connections, the Gateways Compact offers a shared vision for sustainable economic development,” said Ed Lambert of UMass Dartmouth’s Urban Initiative which, together with MassINC, sponsored the event at the Old State House in Boston. Signing the compact were Mayors and Chief Executives from Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester.

Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, who attended the signing ceremony, praised the Gateways Compact, saying that the shared circumstances of these cities and their potential for renewal requires a collaborative and concentrated effort.

“Govenor Patrick and I enthusiastically recognize the Gateways City Compact and the value that these communities have to our overall economy. The action items that the group has identified today are important to the Patrick administration and we look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration in the form of increased investment, more jobs, and a better quality of life across the board.”

The partnership on local economic revitalization stems from recommendations outlined in last year’s MassINC/Brookings Institution report “Reconnecting Massachusetts Gateway Cities: Lessons learned and an agenda for Renewal” which studied the economic status and potential of 11 traditional mill communities outside of Greater Boston. Named the “Gateway Cities” for their historic role in attracting foreign workers, these communities were found to suffer significant job and investment losses from the decline in manufacturing over the last three decades while gaining little traction in Massachusetts’ thriving but limited “knowledge economy.”

According to MassINC’s report, since 1970, the 11 Gateway Cities studied lost more than 11,000 jobs or 3 percent of their job base, while Greater Boston’s gain of 467,000 jobs reflected a growth of 51 percent. Gateway Cities are home to 30 percent of all Massachusetts residents living under the poverty line, even though they account for only 15 percent of the state’s population. Education attainment levels remain low with just 16.5 percent of Gateway city residents possessing a four-year college degree.

The report’s recommendations also offered a promising challenge to these urban areas and the state to use these economic conditions as advantages, recognizing that Gateway cities offer potential assets in terms of middle class housing, infrastructure to pursue smart growth, and a growing, diverse work force. The report recommended seeking partnerships, like the one with the UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative, and with each other, to bring numbers, focus and momentum to their efforts.

Through the Alliance, Gateway leaders hope to combine strategies in areas such as education, real estate investment, work force development, and transportation that bring industry and residents back into these communities. In addition to creating a formal structure that collaborates regularly, the compact includes (among others) the following initiatives:

  • Work with the Governor, the Legislature and state officials for a new comprehensive urban economic development vision for Massachusetts;
  • Provide the Commonwealth with innovative strategies to address the state’s housing, infrastructure, environmental and labor force challenges;
  • Market the many opportunities in the Gateway cities for economic growth;
  • Share and embrace best practices in areas such as public safety, education and work force development, economic development and city management.

“It is both unprecedented and incredibly pragmatic for these leaders to be coming together with a common agenda for economic reconnection,” said John Schneider, Executive Vice President of MassINC. “By combining strategies and experiences on issues that are so consistent among these communities, the potential for real results in this area becomes that much greater.”

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