Economic development event talks strategy, priorities for North Quabbin region

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, speaks at an economic development forum, “Building Blocks for Community Development,” Friday at the Orange Innovation Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, speaks at an economic development forum, “Building Blocks for Community Development,” Friday at the Orange Innovation Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • People gather for an economic development forum, “Building Blocks for Community Development,” Friday at the Orange Innovation Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/5/2019 2:01:03 AM
Modified: 10/5/2019 2:00:51 AM

ORANGE — There’s a lot that’s positive about the North Quabbin region.

That was the main message at an event at the Orange Innovation Center Friday, “Building Blocks for Community Development,” hosted by the center, Quabbin Harvest Food Co-op and LaunchSpace.

The event was a forum with state Sens. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, and state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, who focused on positive things happening in the region, as well as reasons for optimism.

A number of topics were covered — education, transportation, farming, eco-tourism — and attendees were given the chance to ask questions and tour LaunchSpace, a new makerspace at the Orange Innovation Center that looks to begin offering skills training and business start-up help next year.

“We have a lot of success stories,” Whipps said. Indeed, one of the event’s hosts, Quabbin Harvest, started off at the Orange Innovation Center before outgrowing the small space and moving into a location downtown.

Part of the good news was that the state’s new education bill increases funding for special education and for rural schools. Rural schools, like Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, face higher costs than urban schools in areas like transportation. Mahar also received more than $200,000 in rural state aid this week, Gobi announced.

Comerford said the education funding reform bill, which will phase-in funding changes over seven years, “isn’t perfect,” but is a good start and will improve funding levels. Gobi recognized that towns in the area often struggle financially, but that having less of that fiscal burden be education will free up money for other areas, like public safety.

“The more we can do to sure up the education part of things, the more money that’s going to be available for other areas,” Gobi said.

As for areas that need investment, the legislators frequently mentioned public transportation. But promoting and using the area’s natural beauty is a potential strategy for economic development in the North Quabbin region, they said.

According to Gobi, a proposed bill looks to create a sub-group within the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation that specifically deals with eco-tourism.

And Boston, Comerford said, should partner with Western Massachusetts in developing the region and focusing on eco-tourism. Too often do the state’s resources go disproportionately to eastern Massachusetts, she said.

“We have the Quabbin Reservoir, our trees breathe for Boston, our farms grow Boston’s food,” she said.

“I cringe whenever I hear about the problems in the region,” said Bobby Curley, president of the North Quabbin Trails Association. “Our natural resources in this area are spectacular.”

Whipps agreed, recounting a story about telling someone looking for places to hike about the North Quabbin Trail Association — that person is now a member of the hiking organization, which has been active in promoting more than 250 miles of trail leading from the North Quabbin to New Hampshire, known as the Quabbin-Monadnock Trail.

“When you’re even 5 miles out of the region, let people know where you’re from and what you’re proud about in the community,” Whipps said. “Don’t mind your own business when it comes to your own community. ... We have to do a little less b****ing and a little more cheerleading.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.




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