State bill to fund development project in Charlemont

State bill to fund development project in Charlemont

Original Article

 


Staff Writer

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a sweeping economic development bill, boosting support for startups and entrepreneurs, and authorizing targeted investments in projects including a proposed Mohawk Trail shared workspace in East Charlemont.

The economic development bill, which also would funds worker retraining, authorizes $75 million in competitive grants for technical education and workforce training programs and $200 million in bonds to the MassWorks Infrastructure Program to support thousands of jobs in economic development and community revitalization projects, according to Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

“This legislation will nurture and support economic growth … across western Mass.,” said Hinds. “It makes key investments in infrastructure, maintains the Commonwealth’s economic strength and encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Hinds sponsored and shepherded $12 million in targeted amendments as part of the bill, including $1.5 million to advance a proposed Eight-Town Economic Development Center. The two-story center, an initiative of Rural Commonwealth proposed for East Charlemont’s Hall Tavern Farm, would convert the farm’s 1920s dairy barn into a 50,000 square-foot shared space for offices, meeting rooms, lodging and other functions.

Spokesmen for Rural Commonwealth could not be reached on deadline. But the $2 million project was described by the nonprofit advocacy organization last fall this way:

“We have surveyed innovation centers in several states. While this concept is popular, and has many uses, the sparsity of population in West County calls for a multi-use facility. Rather than just an innovation center, West County needs a large, flexible space for innovation; gatherings of business people; and new tools for production, marketing, and distribution. Rather than be tied down to a single concept, West County needs a space that can change with the times and meet future needs.”

Adjacent to a custom lumber mill, the proposed center’s other uses could include training facilities, display areas and retail space for local artisan products, demonstration of wood products and eventually a food production facility.

In a provision sponsored by Hinds, the Senate bill also authorizes town-owned broadband networks to provide internet services to neighboring communities. Originally included in the Governor’s economic development bill but removed by the House of Representatives, this would enable municipal broadband networks that received a grant from the state — including Ashfield, Charlemont, Heath and Rowe in Hinds’s district — to expand their broadband service into neighboring towns.

“This is a common sense technical change that provides another tool in our toolbox to ensure universal broadband access across Western Mass,” said Hinds. “If a town-owned broadband network has both the will and the ability to offer its services to a neighboring community, I see no reason to restrict that partnership.”

The Senate measure needs to be reconciled with a House version that included $125 million in earmarks, including a $1 million for construction of an anaerobic digester at the Greenfield Wastewater Treatment Plant and $3 million to promote facilities that produce responsibly harvested wood products for building construction in Massachusetts gateway cities.

Hinds said that because there is no time left in the legislative session to have a conference committee to work out an consensus measure to send on for the governor’s approval, that agreement will have to be worked out more informally.