Kennedy Op/Ed: 4th District, from Fall River to Newton, sets a strong standard
Most folks out there probably don’t feel a particularly close association with their Congressional District. Your alma mater, yes. The company you work for, most likely. Your home town, absolutely. But I would be surprised if many of you count ‘proud member of the 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts’ among the defining factors in your personal or professional life.
For me, it’s a little different. As someone whose job it is to represent places as diverse as Milford, Norton, and Fall River – who literally has ‘4th Congressional District of Massachusetts’ stamped at the end of his name – what has most defined my first year in office is the surprisingly cohesive and collective story of the communities I represent.
As we enter 2014, the story of this district is set in a state that has undergone transformational economic shifts over the last half century, reinventing itself around innovation industries like advanced manufacturing, clean tech, life sciences and health care.
In many ways, this is a very good thing. These industries account for almost 40 percent of employment in Massachusetts. New sectors are springing up everywhere and bringing new jobs with them: Big Data’s employment grew by 21 percent from 2007 to 2010 and robotics was hiring at almost the same pace.
However, much of this recent growth has been concentrated in a few select areas: Kendall Square, the Boston Seaport, the Route 128 Corridor. While those regions can and should and will be essential parts of the Commonwealth’s 21st century economy, sustainable growth requires more than a nexus of growth – it requires a network of growth.
And that’s where the 4th District comes in. From Mansfield to Medway to Raynham and beyond – we are the first step in growing that network and expanding the opportunities of an innovation economy outside the Greater Boston Area and into every corner of the state.
This isn’t news to those of you hard at work in our communities. Whether it’s the future life sciences center at Myles Standish in Taunton, the new bio park in Fall River, the cluster of precision manufacturers in Franklin or the proposed N2 Innovation Corridor between Needham and Newton: the cities and towns in this district have not shied away from the bold thinking, careful planning, and tough decision-making that economic leadership requires.
At the federal level, I believe my job is to support your efforts any way I can. Last year I was proud to introduce the Revitalize Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI) with a Republican colleague from New York, Congressman Tom Reed.
With the growth of innovation industries, American manufacturing is coming back. In 2011 alone, the sector brought in nearly $26 billion in export profits to Massachusetts. Luckily for the 4th District, manufacturing is in our blood, from the jewelry-makers in Attleboro, silversmiths in Taunton, textile makers in Fall River and the straw hat factories of Franklin.
But the challenge that faces us right now – the challenge I see every day in our district – is how to adapt the infrastructure and expertise that drove those historic industries to the brand-new sectors driving growth today. RAMI helps by creating a network of regional manufacturing institutes across the country that would bring government, business and academia together under one roof to address a specific, advanced manufacturing challenge of critical importance to the local economy.
This bill is closely linked to another top priority of mine in Washington: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and workforce training. Today there are 160,000 job openings open in Massachusetts at a time when nearly 250,000 people are unemployed because they don’t have the skills these jobs require.
At the end of the day, our efforts to incubate new industries, attract business and promote innovation in the 4th District, our Commonwealth and our country won’t matter if we don’t have the human capital required to support a modern economy.
Once again, the work here in our back yard is paving the way. Bristol Community College has developed a clean energy curriculum crafted directly from employment standards set by local industry. The Innovation Lab at Newton North is teaching students how to build everything from wind turbines to sustainable fabrics. Tri-County Vocational School has partnered with data storage giant EMC in Franklin to create pathways to employment directly after high school.
The efforts across the 4th District set a national standard for quality, accessibility, and cooperation. What works in Wellesley won’t always work in Wrentham, but regional economies are as integrated as they are interdependent, relying on a shared workforce, shared resources, shared infrastructure and shared industry. So what happens in Somerset matters in Brookline, even if the two places can feel a world away.
Moving forward, it is these continued partnerships between federal, state, and local stakeholders that will put this region at the forefront of our state’s innovation economy; to be not just passengers of growth, but drivers.
The State of the 4th Congressional District is pioneering and proud. May 2014 be our best year yet.