MassINC launches Gateway Cities Innovation Institute

MassINC, together with founding sponsors, members, fellows, and public officials, today announced the creation of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, a new center dedicated to the revitalization of former manufacturing centers like Springfield, New Bedford and Lowell that have both enormous potential and a disproportionate share of the state’s social and economic challenges. With dedicated resources and a state-wide network, the Institute works to restore these historic cities to their roles as engines of regional economic growth and escalators to the middle class.   

“Gateway Cities are working hard to reinvent themselves amidst a shifting economy that has left them behind,” said Greg Torres, President of MassINC and Publisher of CommonWealth magazine. “The Gateway Cities Innovation Institute provides the focus, resources, and network-building capacity needed to give lift to the transformation these cities are undertaking. We look forward to getting down to work with the impressive and growing list of Institute fellows who have signed on from every sector across the state.”           

Torres was joined at the podium by Nicholas C. Donohue, President and CEO of The Nellie Mae Education Foundation and a founding sponsor of the Institute; Robert Sheridan, President and CEO of SBLI, the sponsor of MassINC’s original research report, Reconnecting Massachusetts Gateway Cities; Gateway City mayors; chairs of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus; Representative Antonio Cabral D-New Bedford and Senator Ben Downing D-Pittsfield; as well as fellows of the new Gateway Cities Innovation Institute.    

“The Gateway Cities Innovation Institute will be a tremendous resource for cities across the Commonwealth,” said Lisa Wong, Mayor of Fitchburg. “As a place for problem-solving, a source of research and data, and an incubator for policy development specific to Gateway Cities, the new Institute marks a turning point in our effort to join forces to combat our common problems and capture our shared opportunities.”  

“As Chair of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, I’m proud of the strides Gateway Cities have made in the past five years with MassINC’s invaluable support,” said Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral. “I look forward to collaborating with the Institute to further advance the education, housing and cultural opportunities in Gateway Cities throughout the Commonwealth.”

The Institute is an extension of a five-year effort to advance a distinct political and economic agenda for midsize mill cities throughout the state that share a similar set of challenges and opportunities. The work began in 2007, when MassINC, together with the Brookings Institution, undertook a major study that identified a deep divide between job growth and prosperity in Greater Boston, and the Gateway Cities. MassINC went on to help leaders from each city coalesce around common policy priorities.

In 2008, MassINC helped orchestrate a formal Compact for Community and Economic Development signed by all 11 Gateway City mayors and managers. Political traction grew from there as the Gateway City networks worked with leadership on Beacon Hill to level the political playing field and advance an economic policy agenda specific to these communities. The Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus; a new Assistant Secretary for Gateway Cities; and the Patrick Administration’s $10 million Gateway Cities Education Agenda are examples of this growing movement.  

 “The Gateway Cities initiative is a national model for how cities with similar profiles can work together to collectively address major policy issues like equitable opportunity for educational achievement to help students succeed in a global economy and vibrant democracy,” said Donohue, President and CEO of The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which will underwrite an initiative within the Institute focused on closing the Gateway Cities education achievement gap.   

MassINC will house and staff the Institute with research and polling, policy development, and civic engagement. Much of the Institute’s work will take place within the cities themselves with the assistance of Gateway City “Fellows,” a cross-city network of community leaders from various sectors including  business, government, academia and the arts who will contribute as subject matter experts for research and forums. The Institute will also be supported by “Members” individuals, institutions, corporations, and foundations that make financial contributions to the Institute.      

“It is truly gratifying to see that the investment we made five years ago on a major research study has led to a community change agenda, and now a formal policy center, dedicated to the revitalization of Gateway Cities,” said Robert Sheridan, President and CEO of SBLI, one of the sponsors of Reconnecting Massachusetts Gateway Cities: Lessons Learned and an agenda for Renewal. 

Benjamin Forman, MassINC Research Director and the Executive Director of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute said the Institute’s work will be focused initially in areas that are both critical and ongoing, such as education, housing, transformative investments, public safety, community health, transportation, and creative placemaking.

Gateway Cities are home to one million residents – 15 percent of the state’s population and 22 percent of the state’s immigrants. They have 21 colleges and universities, yet only 7 percent of the state’s residents with four-year college degrees reside in Gateway Cities. They have 29 hospitals, yet their residents are disproportionately afflicted by chronic medical conditions including asthma, obesity, and depression. Gateway Cities represent 30 percent of the state’s poor, 45 percent of welfare cases, 50 percent of incarcerated youth, and a staggering 71 percent of students attending “chronically underperforming” schools.

About MassINC – MassINC is a nonprofit, independent think tank and publisher of CommonWealth magazine that uses non-partisan research, civic journalism and public forums to stimulate debate and shape public policy. Our mission is to promote a public agenda for the middle class and to help all citizens achieve the American dream.

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