Town Administrator Steve Ellis joins state council on economic development

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 05-30-2023 2:52 PM

MONTAGUE — Having recently been welcomed into the newly formed Massachusetts Economic Development Planning Council, Town Administrator Steve Ellis is positioned to ensure western Massachusetts is well-represented as the state develops a four-year economic development plan.

The council first convened at the State House on May 5 and its purpose is to gather public input about the state’s economic development needs and opportunities, as well as craft a strategic plan to guide Massachusetts economic development policy over the next four years, according to a statement from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

“From day one, our administration has been committed to making Massachusetts a thriving and great place to live, work, raise a family and do business,” Gov. Maura Healey said in the statement. “We have assembled this council of leaders from across the business community and representing every region of our state to advise us on how to harness our tremendous human talent and assets to create opportunity across the state.” 

Out of the council’s 29 members, all of whom are “leaders from a diversity of backgrounds and regions,” Ellis is the sole representative of Franklin County and one of just two members directly representing a municipality. He serves as chairperson of the council’s rural working group, which he said entails close communication with regional planning agencies, the Rural Policy Advisory Commission and the Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts network.

“To be an effective advocate and make sure our voices are heard in the economic development process and our issues with regard to population decline, underinvestment in our regional economy, regional public transit limitations and so many other areas offer ample opportunity for comment,” Ellis said. “It’s an exciting opportunity, quite frankly.”

Ellis emphasized that a priority of his is to scrutinize the state’s grant process, which typically caters toward communities with a high rate of job creation and capital investment.

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“These criteria put Franklin County at a disadvantage because our land is not as valuable and the opportunities we get are less frequent than in other parts of the state,” he said, arguing that investments should be made in parts of the state that need it most, rather than where investment occurs naturally as part of the ordinary business economy.

Another specific area of concern that Ellis intends to address regards “challenges related to historic industrial mill buildings, particularly those that are not good candidates for redevelopment.”

Ellis explained that after the May 5 meeting, which involved some initial organizing, he attended the council’s Pioneer Valley Regional Session at Springfield College on May 19. This was part of an ongoing series of “Regional Engagement Sessions” intended to field input from community economic development officials; various organizations with a stake in the workforce; health and human service and equity advocates; and both private and public sector participants focused on economic development broadly.

Regional Engagement Sessions have been scheduled for locations around the state through June 20, while sessions in the northeast, MetroWest, central Massachusetts and Berkshires regions will be confirmed and announced at a later date, according to the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. Ellis said the council projects that the next full council meeting will be in early July, during which members will hear feedback from each listening session and deliberate.

“[Economic Development Secretary] Yvonne Hao has gone out of her way to emphasize that we are all going to bring distinct interests to the conversation, but ultimately, the hat we wear is one of Team Massachusetts and I’m optimistic that that approach will guide our process,” Ellis said.

According to the statement, once the economic development plan is complete, the council must submit its plan to the Legislature and the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, as well as hold a public hearing prior to final approval by the governor. According to state law, a new economic development plan must be formulated and signed by the governor within the first year of a new administration. The approved plan will be published in writing and online by Dec. 31.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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