By Madeline Hughes / Eagle Tribune / March 6, 2020
LAWRENCE — Merrimack Valley businesses met with state senators Friday at Salvatore’s at the Riverwalk to discuss how the legislators are helping economic development in the area.
“The big issue with growth is talent, and you need to have people who want to work here,” said state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover.
Finegold and state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, were talking with local business leaders at the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual state Senate breakfast forum about increasing access to reliable public transportation, affordable housing and the money needed to build businesses and grow them.
DiZoglio focused on small businesses. She has proposed legislation that creates a network connecting Massachusetts businesses shopping for supplies and services with other local businesses providing those goods and services. Her hope is the MassMakers Act creates a larger opportunity to shop local.
“This bill is the culmination of a year’s worth of dialogue with entrepreneurs, business owners and business and community leaders,” she said, “They have told us what they need — increased connectivity, streamlined regulation and service delivery, access to knowledge and opportunity, and empowerment to succeed. This bill is a big step in the right direction regarding these topics.”
The bill seeks to expand Small Business Saturday to a whole weekend, create an office of Mass Main Streets to help with local economic development, a mentoring program for young professionals and create programs to help diversify small business ownership, DiZoglio explained.
When asked about helping advance education in the trades, DiZoglio said she wants to expand mentoring programs to help create the next generation of employers from students who are pursuing an education in the trades at area technical schools.
“What’s happening is they are learning these trades, but they are not necessarily learning how to take that and parlay it into being someone who can be an employer using the skill set they are learning,” DiZoglio said. “They are learning how to become an employee, and that’s great. We need to do that and make sure they get these skill sets and get trained in the trades. But they are not learning how to take that training and parlay it into their own business.”
Finegold talked about expanding housing and transportation opportunities in the Merrimack Valley to attract talent for businesses.
He would like to expand public transportation by getting double tracking on the commuter rail, because then young people would have the opportunity to live in Boston and work in the valley. He added creating more housing will help lead to more affordable housing in the region, which currently has high rental prices.
Finegold also reported he is working with the governor and secretary of public health to address issues with reimbursement at Lawrence General Hospital. Currently the hospital isn’t getting adequate reimbursement from the state’s MassHealth program, nor is it getting equal reimbursement from private insurance companies who pay more to Boston hospitals for the same procedures.
With the hospital being the largest employer in the area, Finegold said addressing those issues and getting adequate funding is a priority to help the surrounding community thrive.
While talking about health, Finegold also suggested business leaders prepare for the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
He said his own law firm employees are being asked to work from home one morning next week to test their remote system. He encouraged others to do similar preparation.
The Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce is hosting its own event on March 20 called “The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know for You, Your Employees and Your Family” at the LANAM Club in Andover to help its members.