This week's Gateway Cities Leader
Cities are shaped by their citizens. From New Bedford to Pittsfield, passionate young leaders are spearheading innovative efforts to reinvent their communities for a new generation. The Gateway Cities Leaders series profiles their work and introduces their ideas, visions, and aspirations to the wider Gateway City world. Is there a young leader in your city that we should spotlight? Please let us know.
Why did you want to be a part of the Lawrence Partnership?
I’ve been working in community development for a number of years, and I was excited by the Lawrence Partnership’s approach. We’re working across sectors to find innovative solutions to our community’s most pressing issues. The people involved on the board are a huge asset, and they provide more than just lip service about their commitment. They show up. These are all encouraging resources that drew me to this organization and keep me inspired to stay involved.
As someone who moved to Lawrence relatively recently, what did you do to learn about the city?
You can read things all day long, but I did a fair amount of walking around the city and letting my senses take it all in. I talk to people candidly, and I chat with folks who maybe aren’t usually asked how things are. It’s an ongoing process. I feel like I’m just scraping the surface. The city has a lot of layers to it.
Going into the job with the recently-formed partnership, what were the biggest challenges you saw ahead?
Lawrence has been plagued by a poor reputation, which is something the partnership hopes to address. The good news is that the perception of Lawrence and what’s actually happening on the ground are not reflective of each other. When I first arrived, I was really excited to find such a variety of activity on the streets, robustness in the business community, and so many positive stories. Part of the job ahead is bringing those stories to the surface.
How do you approach trying to change that reputation?
First is the unique role that the partnership can play as a catalyst and convener. Lawrence benefits from a strong, professional mayor and state delegation, anchor institutions in health care and in education, and innovative media outlets. We have some of state’s best thought leaders in nonprofits, committed local lenders, and entrepreneurial residents and developers. Through the Lawrence Partnership, all of these leaders can come together to spearhead new initiatives. We’re thinking about what we can do as a collaborative group that no individual or single organization could do alone.
Like so many others, I recognize that the Gateway Cities carry the promise of the future of the economy in Massachusetts. Among all the cities, there’s something special about Lawrence right now. It’s palpable. I didn’t fully realize how much was going on until I started digging in deeper. There’s so much that hasn’t been uncovered yet, and I think the partnership is going to be a great resource in continuing to dig, uncover gems, and add to the solid foundation that exists in Lawrence.
So far, what has been your proudest moment on the job?
One of the things I’m excited to be doing is convening a venture loan fund that’s a collaboration between multiple institutions to offer low-cost loans to startup businesses in Lawrence. Eastern Bank, Enterprise Bank, TD Bank and Merrimack Valley Credit Union have all offered up private capital, and the City is contributing to a loan loss reserve fund to make the loans possible. The loans will be underwritten by a local CDFI, Mill Cities Community Investment. It’s a good tool we can offer to support small business growth in the community. A single bank or the City couldn’t do on its own, but together, we have created this product that can be a real catalyst for development.
The creation of our strategic planning process also really excites me. We’re trying to find a new model of economic development that adds investment without displacing current residents. It’s an approach that addresses the age-old paradigm of growing an economy without creating victims of that growth. Our board understands that the economy is holistic and recognizes the importance of growing and supporting a diverse economy to meet a diversity of needs in the community. It’s easier said than done, but we have a strong foundation to build from.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy a day off in Lawrence?I really appreciate the vibrancy of the culture here. I like being able to speak Spanish and eat some incredible food. I’m also a sucker for these big old brick buildings. I enjoy the historic architecture that you experience walking down Essex Streets or in the mill district. I love spending time in the mills in Lawrence — they are both beautiful and symbolic. I value that Lawrence is an ever-evolving place, and I’m glad that instead of ripping down the mills and removing our past, we’re repurposing them. They are creating jobs for new economy while preserving the stories of success that have taken place in Lawrence generation after generation. I am inspired to come to work each day knowing that I am contributing to another evolution of that success.