By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Marlborough – Although there are challenges to be met, the Metrowest region is primed for success, state officials told attendees at the 495/Metrowest Partnership's annual conference June 1. But critical issues that must be focused on include improving infrastructure, particularly roads, training potential employees in the fields of science, mathematics, technology and engineering (STEM), and ensuring communities work together as a region in order to be competitive with other areas.
The partnership, a consortium of businesses, municipalities and community organizations from ?37 communities, was founded in 2003 as a way to advocate for the regional economy. The annual conference, held at the Marlborough Courtyard by Marriott, featured speeches by several members of Gov. Deval Patrick's cabinet, including Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.
Murray told the audience that the Patrick administration has formed a task force charged with focusing on ways to help keep the state's six military bases from closing. Defense contracts were responsible for $14 billion in revenue state-wide in 2010, he noted.
The state needed to find a way, he said, to increase the number of students who receive STEM degrees – and then provide opportunities to entice those graduates to stay in Massachusetts.
Greg Bialecki, the state's secretary of housing and economic development, one of the conference's keynote speakers, agreed with Murray's point.
Employees with “middle skills” were critical to the region's growth, he said.? But not all jobs require an advanced degree: community colleges and vocational schools play an important part in developing those middle skills, he added.
“And we need to overcome the reputation of Massachusetts not being a good place to do business,” he added.
The recently completed 495/Metrowest Compact Plan, a comprehensive strategic plan for priority development, land preservation and infrastructure improvements in the region, serves as a “good menu for where likely opportunities are,” he said.
Richard Davey, the state's secretary of transportation, was the morning's other keynote speaker.
“We cannot afford our current transportation system,” he said,” nor can we afford the one we want under our current financial system.”
Three years ago, the Patrick administration merged all of the agencies that oversaw different parts of the state's transportation system into one – the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT), Davey said.
The new department is focused on reform, transparency and “trying to be creative and getting things done faster,” he said.
The Accelerated Bridge Program is a key example of that, he noted. The replacement of the Kenneth Burns Bridge, which spans Lake Quinsigamond and connects Shrewsbury and Worcester via Route 9 was part of that program, he added; that project is due to start in a few weeks.
“We also want to make things clearer to our customers,” Davey said, “such as using [variable message sign] boards on the roads to communicate information that is more useful to customers.”
Paul Matthews, the executive director of the 495/Metrowest Partnership, also spoke at the conference. He provided an overview of the work the partnership had done over the past year and the initiatives it is currently focusing on.
The group had worked closely with state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D- Acton, and state Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, on establishing a Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, Matthews said.
The partnership is also working with officials in Bellingham, Franklin and Milford to help those communities strategize on how best to comply with strict new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates regarding phosphorous runoff.
Other issues the partnership is working on, Matthews said, include studies regarding I-495/Route 9 and I-495/I-290 interchange improvements; expansion of the commuter rail on the Worcester-Framingham line; and serving on the Westborough State Hospital Reuse Commission.
For more information on the partnership and the Compact Plan, go to www.495partnership.org.