By Bonnie Adams Government Editor
Region – The annual Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast is a highly anticipated event each year for the group's members.
This year participants had to wait a bit longer as the wintry weather caused the meeting to be postponed twice. But when the event was finally held at the Doubletree Hotel in Westborough Feb. 10, the nearly 200 members present listened intently as a panel of seven legislators spoke on a variety of subjects. Discussions focused on topics such as local aid, unemployment insurance and the need for state government to help all types of businesses, not just niche ones.
Mark Donahue, a director with Fletcher, Tilton & Whipple, P.C. and Corridor Nine's chair-elect, served as moderator for the panel discussion.
Regarding the issue of local aid, State Rep. Harold Naughton, D – Clinton, noted that the House and Senate were “separate, yet equal” and as such, did not always have the same priorities. At times, the groups were also at odds with Gov. Deval Patrick.
Every year, it appeared the state's spending went up, State Rep. Steven Levy, R-Marlborough, said, including employee expenses, such as pensions.
“We need to look at 401Ks versus defined benefit plans,” he added.
A particular target of many of the legislators” comments was the beleaguered Marlboroughbased company Evergreen Solar, which recently announced it was closing shop in Devens, eliminating 800 jobs, in spite of a $58 million influx of state aid from the commonwealth.
“It's nice to be supportive of these incubating industries, but we are not paying attention to our core industries, like manufacturing and healthcare,” Naughton said.
It was important, he added, that the state continue to provide assistance to companies in the “new industries,” such as Evergreen Solar, but that “claw backs” also be part of any such deals.
State Rep. Matt Beaton, R-Shrewsbury, said the notion of picking specific companies or industries is a flawed approach to economic development.
State Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, also commented on economic development.
“The key is incentives that attract and retain businesses, especially small businesses,” Chandler said. “We need to exercise more caution and have more standards.”
State Senator Michael Moore, D-Millbury, agreed.
“We give many students a great education [in Massachusetts]; that's our core,” he said, ” Do we then want them to go elsewhere [to work]?”
“One of the other problems we have is small businesses have trouble getting money,” Chandler said.
She added that she would like to see legislators work with banks so small businesses would have an easier time getting funding.
State Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, said it was critical for communities to have resources such as water and wastewater facilities in place, in order to attract new companies, particularly those in the emerging biotech field. In the 1970s the federal government was responsible for water costs; that is of course, no longer true, she said.
State Rep. George Peterson Jr., R-Grafton, said that when he started a business 20 years ago, he was surprised about all of the paperwork and permits that were required but that it was much worse now.
“We need to make [infrastructure] investments across the board, in order to make us competitive with countries like China,” he added.
“I don's know how any business can open now or stay open,” Peterson said, drawing applause from the audience.
The event's main sponsor was Commerce Bank. The Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce assists businesses along Routes 9 and 495 with its core towns being Westborough, Northborough, Southborough, Shrewsbury and Grafton.