BOSTON–State Senator Eric Lesser gave his maiden Senate speech yesterday evening, successfully securing passage of a budget amendment to fund the Massachusetts Precision Manufacturing Pilot Program, which provides skills training to unemployed and underemployed adults, including veterans, across Massachusetts.
In his speech, Lesser called the Pioneer Valley “a manufacturing hub for 10 generations,” but said the region has had to reshape its legacy to keep pace with rapid shifts in advanced manufacturing practices and international markets.
“One of the most important challenges we must face is to address the gap between the jobs that are being created in our economy, and the people who are looking for work,” Lesser said. “That’s what this amendment does.”
The budget amendment increases the appropriation by $500,000 to $1,445,000, part of which will be used to fund the continued operation of the program in Hampden County.
“Western Massachusetts has been left out of the red-hot economy in the eastern part of the state,” Lesser said. “But there is a path to reinvest in the middle class–and that’s to marry up our traditional history as a manufacturing center with the intellectual firepower of schools and training centers all across our state.”
Lesser, who is Senate Chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, recently hosted a delegation of Senate members at EASTEC, a convention of over 500 manufacturing companies in the Northeast, at the Big E grounds in West Springfield. He also recently published an op-ed on the widening manufacturing skills gap in Massachusetts, especially in the Pioneer Valley.
Lesser received a standing ovation from the Senate members upon conclusion of his maiden speech. The amendment passed with unanimous support and will be part of the Senate’s FY16 budget.
Mr. President, I rise in support of amendment 328, a manufacturing pilot program. This amendment would allow $1.5 million to train workers—both the underemployed and the unemployed—including many veterans. This is a statewide program that has unique importance in the Greater Springfield area where a training program has been set up and operating for the last year and is already over-enrolled.
Mr. President, just as you do, I come from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, the crossroads of New England, a strategic location in between Albany and Boston, and in between the Vermont border and New York, along the banks of the Connecticut River, where George Washington placed the armory during the Revolutionary War.
Ever since that armory was placed in Springfield, we have been a manufacturing center. We invented the American system of manufacturing—precision parts, components, come from the Pioneer Valley. We have also been one of the great engines of innovation, not only for New England, but for the entire country.
Some of our most iconic companies and products come from the Pioneer Valley. Just a few examples: Duryea Brothers, the very first automobile, manufactured in Springfield; Rolls Royce, American manufacturing was done in Springfield; Indian Motorcycles; Milton Bradley; Westinghouse; American Bosch–all done in Hampden County, in the Lower Pioneer Valley.
This legacy of advanced manufacturing continues in our area. High-tech manufacturing, solar panels, the components of wind turbines, batteries, advanced parts that leverage technology and know-how–all come from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.
Now, this has not only been an engine of great products and innovation—it has been our ticket to the middle class. The average salary in this industry can approach $75,000 a year, with real job security. People can buy homes, they can save for college, they can invest in their future in this industry through these jobs, by making things.
Perhaps most importantly, that proud tradition that goes back to George Washington extends ten generations. Many of the families in our area teach their children the trade—they hand it down from one generation to the next. Most of our manufacturers are small businesses run and operated by families, handed down from father to son, father to daughter, mother to daughter, grandchildren, on and on.
This is also an industry and a style of economy that has allowed the broader community to prosper. We’re the birthplace of basketball. We built six world-class museums. The biggest symphony hall in New England outside of Boston all came to the Springfield area, fueled by the growth and the ingenuity of a middle-class-oriented manufacturing center.
But unfortunately, as the story played out in so many other parts of our Commonwealth and our country, that industry also came under decline. The region fell on hard times, jobs moved overseas. And I would argue that as that industry declined, something else was lost. As we lost the ability to invest in trades, as we lost the ability to invest in a craft, to make things, the middle class suffered as well. And we were left out of the red-hot economy that developed in the eastern part of the state.
But there is a vision for the future. There is a path to reinvest in this industry, and through that to reinvest in the middle class—the bedrock of what so many of us stand for, so many of us fought for and campaigned for.
And that’s to marry up our traditional history as a manufacturing center with the intellectual firepower of our schools and our training centers, and the know-how we have all over this state. Right now in the Pioneer Valley there is a renaissance in the advanced manufacturing field, making sonar equipment, airplane components, wind turbines, all the things that fuel the modern economy, that make Massachusetts a leader for the country, can be made in Western Massachusetts and in the Commonwealth as a whole.
In fact right now, it is projected that over the next 10 years, there will be 44,000 vacancies in the advanced manufacturing field. Let’s think about that—44,000 vacant positions in a field that pays average salaries of around $75,000 a year. Imagine the wasted potential if we don’t take this on. Imagine the families that won’t be able to put a kid through college, buy a home, invest in their futures, if we don’t take this on.
And so I would argue that one of the most fundamental things that we as a body must take up, one of the most important challenges we have to face, is to address this skills gap, is to address the gap between the jobs that are being created in our economy and the people looking for work, not only in Hampden County and in Berkshire County and in Hampshire County and the Pioneer Valley, but in all of Massachusetts as well.
Mr. President, I understand that there are many challenges before us. We have seen over 900 amendments and counting. All the challenges that confront this body. But as was so eloquently stated on the first day of our session, shared prosperity is our goal. And I would argue that so many of the challenges we face–public safety, education, growing poverty–are connected to this fundamental challenge, which is a middle class that is increasingly squeezed, and an economy that increasingly serves the top and forgets the middle.
And so I would just finally close with this: I understand how many demands there are for funds, how many demands there are for costs. It is a tough budget and it’s a tough time. It always is. But we can’t afford not to do this, we can’t afford not to make these decisions, to make these investments. Because here’s the challenge, here’s what we all face as legislators. In an economy where a 19-year-old can become a billionaire by inventing an iPhone app, how do we create an economy that works for everybody else? How do we create an economy that continues to give equal opportunity, that continues to allow people to pass it down to the next generation?
We have to restore balance. We have to invest in our middle class.
Now, Amendment 328 is a modest proposal. It’s $1.5 million in a $39 billion budget. But it is nonetheless a proposal. And although it’s incremental, although it might not seem like a lot, for the hundreds of people that will benefit from this training, it is a lot, it’s the world to them, it’s the world to their families. So I humbly ask in my first address before you that you consider amendment 328. Mr. President, and through you to the members, I ask for your support of this amendment.
Because although it’s just a start, it is a start, and we know what the path is to shared prosperity—the path is investing in our middle class. And that can only happen if we give people the skills and the education to make it on their own.
I thank the Chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee for her support and her counseling through this process. I thank the President and I thank my colleagues for welcoming me to the Senate.
I humbly ask for a recording of the yeas and nays.
[Members and guests stood and applauded the Senator’s maiden speech. The time was 5:27 p.m.]
The budget proposed by the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee includes a new program that would allow the state to bulk purchase the anti-overdose drug Narcan, then sell it to cities and towns.
The idea for the bulk purchasing originated in Longmeadow, with a bill filed by State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow.
Lesser said he hopes the program, if it becomes law, can save municipalities money by allowing the state to use its market power to negotiate lower drug prices. But he also believes it has broader implications for other prescription drugs. “It opens the door to applying a bulk purchasing program to a broader array of drugs, if they have public health applications,” Lesser said.
The Senate Ways and Means budget provides $100,000 to administer the bulk purchasing program.
Narcan, the brand name for the drug naloxone, reverses opioid overdoses. It is somewhat unique because municipal government employees like police, emergency medical technicians and firefighters are among the primary buyers of the drug, in addition to doctors, hospitals and treatment centers. As Massachusetts and other states have grown more aware of the opioid epidemic and of Narcan’s usefulness in combating overdoses, demand for the drug has skyrocketed and prices have increased.
But there have also recently been news reports about unusually expensive drugs, like the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, that strain the budgets of private and public insurers. Lesser pointed to hepatitis C drugs as another potential application of a bulk purchasing program. Bulk purchasing of drugs more generally is something Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has worked on previously.
Rosenberg pointed to Washington and Oregon as states that have successfully implemented bulk purchasing programs for drugs.
“We want to set up a system in Massachusetts, starting in this budget, asking all state agencies to aggregate demand,” Rosenberg said. “We think we can get a better deal.”
The Senate Ways and Means budget also provides $1 million to continue a pilot program that trains and purchases Narcan for bystanders and first responders in 24 cities and towns, one of several steps senators are taking to deal with drug addiction. It directs state agencies, including Medicaid, to look into possibilities for bulk purchasing other prescription drugs. (Gov. Charlie Baker also suggested bulk purchasing in his budget, but for durable medical equipment, not drugs.)
The budget passed by the House does not go as far as the Senate in looking at other drugs, but it would instruct the Department of Public Health to study the feasibility of bulk purchasing Narcan.
As opioid overdose numbers rise, state lawmakers and officials have put renewed attention on opioid addiction over the last couple of years, with several task forces being formed to address the problem.
Lesser said he learned last year while campaigning about the breadth of opioid addiction. He recalled a woman telling him that her adult child was prescribed painkillers after a motorcycle accident, then died a year later of a heroin overdose.
“It wasn’t until then that it really hit me just how human this his, how many families it’s impacting,” Lesser said.
Lesser filed just four bills this term, his first term in office, including the one to set up bulk purchasing of Narcan.
The Senate Ways and Means budget now goes to the full Senate. Once it passes, the House and Senate versions will be reconciled by a team of House and Senate negotiators, before being passed again by both bodies and sent to Baker.
MassDevelopment and the Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corporation (BEDIC) announce that demolition will commence at the Belchertown State School this coming week. Associated Building Wreckers of Springfield started the project in March and have almost finished the necessary asbestos abatement, which must be complete prior to starting demolition. Demolition of several buildings and tunnels, including the School’s hospital building, will open up Pad 1 for the planned assisted living facility.
“We are entering an exciting new chapter in the Belchertown community,” said Sen. Eric P. Lesser. “The demolition and clean-up of the site is an important step in the redevelopment of the State School property, which will serve as an engine of economic growth for the town and broader region.”
“Our objectives and goals since the inception of this project have always been to promote this Belchertown site,” said Rep. Thomas Petrolati (7th Hampden District). “The release of the $4 million from the bond funds for this cleanup is a positive step in promoting private and economic development.”
“This exciting news will provide development opportunities on a significant portion of the former Belchertown State School and position the Town’s EDIC and MassDevelopment well for additional economic growth at this location,” said Gary Brougham, Belchertown Town Administrator.
Pad 1 is the site where Grantham Group LLC, a Boston-based assisted living developer, plans to build an 83-unit complex (more than 40 of which will be affordable). The project will support 65 construction jobs and create 40 permanent positions. Last week, the Grantham Group applied to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for a Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) allocation. The allocation is crucial for the project to progress. Local, tangible support is needed as part of a competitive application, and the Belchertown Community Preservation Committee has recommended an appropriation of $218,000 from the Belchertown CPA Affordable Housing Reserve toward the project. MassDevelopment, BEDIC, and the Grantham Group LLC will seek voter approval of the recommended appropriation at Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 11.
“The Belchertown EDIC is very pleased with the agreements moving the Grantham Assisted Living Facility forward and see this as the start of the final clearing of the remaining campus for development,” said Jonathan Spiegel, member of the Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corporation. “We expect the Assisted Living Facility to provide good jobs and additional tax revenue for the town and be the core of a future ‘continuum of care’ area within the campus.”
“We are excited to see the clean-up work underway as our assisted living community will be the first private investment to occur on the campus and represents the first concrete step in terms of catalyzing further development of the former institution.” said Grantham Group’s Managing Director, Walter Ohanian. “Thank you to the BEDIC and MassDevelopment for choosing us as partners for this project.”
In 2014, then-Governor Patrick ordered the release of $4 million in bond funds toward clean-up at the former State School campus. MassDevelopment executed a contract with the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and has programmed funds for demolition of additional buildings in the southern portion of the campus. In addition to supporting the development on Pad 1, the planned second phase of demolition will open up more development parcels for senior independent living, office space, and other businesses. The Business Neighborhood Zoning District, approved by voters in December 2014, is intended to result in a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood that encourages opportunities for businesses and residences in Belchertown.
“Cleaning up the southern portion of the Belchertown State School campus will encourage private investment and promote economic activity throughout the site,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones. “This site benefits from support at both the local and state levels, and we look forward to the work ahead.”
MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth. During FY2014, MassDevelopment financed or managed 314 projects generating investment of more than $2.9 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are projected to create more than 6,300 jobs and build or rehabilitate more than 1,600 residential units.
State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) met with Israeli Consul General to New England Yehuda Yaakov during a formal session of the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday, April 30 in commemoration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, honoring the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948.
“It was an honor to welcome Consul General Yaakov to the Statehouse and to celebrate the close ties between Massachusetts and Israel,” Lesser said. “There are more than 200 Israeli companies currently operating in Massachusetts, generating billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs.”
During the Consul General’s visit to the Senate Chamber, Senator Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell) presented Yaakov with a Senate Resolution from a number of senators, including Lesser, highlighting the important economic relationship the Commonwealth has forged with the nation of Israel and encouraging the continued growth of this special partnership.
Lesser noted that El Al Israel Airlines will introduce regular non-stop flights between Tel Aviv and Boston beginning in June, which he said is one of many opportunities for economic development with Israel in the Commonwealth and Western Massachusetts in particular. As Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, Lesser has defended the need for robust tourism funding from the state to encourage the expansion of international marketing partnerships with Massachusetts and countries such as Israel.
Yaakov’s visit marks the third time the Israeli Consul General has visited the State House. Following an introduction by Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), Yaakov addressed the Senate about the relationship between Israel and the United States and the strong cultural ties and friendship between the Jewish communities of Boston and Israel.
The Consul General of Israel is the official representative of the State of Israel to New England and serves as the liaison between the residents of New England and the State of Israel. Yaakov has been a member of Israel’s Foreign Service since 1989.
Sen. Eric Lesser Appointed Senate Chair of Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus
BOSTON–Senator Eric Lesser announced today that he is the new Senate Chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, which aims to inform, implement, and evaluate state policies to support the competitiveness of Massachusetts manufacturers.
“Precision manufacturing is an important economic driver for the residents of Western Massachusetts,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “With Senator Lesser’s leadership of the Joint Caucus on Manufacturing, we will continue working to close the skills gap to fill these good paying jobs in our region.”
“The strength of our economy is intricately tied to the manufacturing sector,” said Senator Lesser, who published an op-ed on MassLive.com last week on advanced manufacturing in Massachusetts.
“Now is the time to develop 21st Century strategies for fostering its growth and expansion, especially in Western Massachusetts, where manufacturing has been a backbone of our economy for over two centuries,” he added.
“The manufacturing sector is driving economic growth across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), Chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “Senator Lesser will do a terrific job highlighting opportunities for continued collaboration with this important industry and help us find ways to prepare our workforce for these in-demand jobs.”
“I welcome Senator Lesser as Senate Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus,” said Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford), who serves as House Chair of the Manufacturing Caucus. “The Caucus is a valuable tool in linking legislators with manufacturing businesses in their districts, providing resources to those businesses, and advocating public policy and budgetary priorities that solve problems hampering businesses and advance manufacturing growth across Massachusetts. I look forward to Senator Lesser bringing his energy and leadership to the Caucus.”
Manufacturing in Massachusetts encompasses nearly 7,700 companies and generates $43 billion in annual revenue. 54% percent of all manufacturing jobs in Hampden and Hampshire Counties are in advanced manufacturing, but more than 44,000 advanced manufacturing job vacancies are expected to go unfilled in Massachusetts by 2015, according to a new report by the New England Council.
Eric Lesser likened it to being equipment manager for the 2004 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox.
That’s how he chose to describe his time as “ground logistics coordinator” for then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign for the presidency. “Basically, my job was to keep track of all the luggage and all the equipment as we crisscrossed the country,” he explained. “I had to keep track of all the loose ends and make sure everything went smoothly.”
Obama, Lesser, and the rest of the campaign team visited 47 states and logged 200,000 miles that year. Since then, he hasn’t traveled nearly as much, but he’s certainly covered a lot of territory, figuratively speaking.
Indeed, after forging a relationship with Obama’s eventual senior advisor, David Axelrod, during the campaign, Lesser went to work for him in the White House, occupying a desk just a few feet from the Oval Office during a critical, intense time in the nation’s history, one defined by the Great Recession and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He would later become director of Strategic Planning for the White House Council of Economic Advisors before enrolling in Harvard Law School in 2011. As he pursued that degree, he became a father (daughter Rose is now 21 months old), was hired as a technical consultant to the HBO series Veep — “they’ll e-mail me scripts, and I’ll make sure everything sounds good and is realistic” — and eventually decided to pursue public service on another level.
Indeed, in the spring of 2014, he announced his intentions to seek the state Senate seat being vacated by Gail Candaras, and in November he triumphed in a hard-fought election, becoming the youngest of the state’s 40 senators.
Today, Lesser is focusing his efforts on the issues that dominated his campaign, the battle against opioid abuse — he’s been named to the Senate committee addressing that issue and has written several pieces of legislation to confront the problem — and economic development, especially efforts to revitalize the region’s manufacturing sector and retain young talent.
“Western Mass. can be a place where young people can grow and prosper, and where young families can stay,” he said. “We can do that if we focus on those areas where we have traditional strength, like high-tech manufacturing. There’s a reason why the Armory was here, and American Bosch, and Indian Motocycle; let’s build on that history.”
— George O’Brien
This winter, I brought several of my colleagues on a tour of a state-of-the-art facility filled with computerized modeling software and high-tech instruments. There, I chatted with workers who were locally trained in cutting-edge technology. They spoke with pride about their ability to provide a good life for their families. We weren’t in Boston, but in Chicopee, where an advanced manufacturing company called Hoppe Technologies has been operating for over 74 years.
The Pioneer Valley has been a manufacturing hub for over two centuries, starting with the Springfield Armory. But our region is at risk of losing its competitive edge because of difficulty attracting, developing, and retaining a high-quality workforce.
The precision manufacturing industry, which makes components for things like jet engines, semiconductors and electronics, is flourishing here in Western Mass., representing more than half of all manufacturing jobs in Hampden and Hampshire Counties.
But there’s a big problem: over the next 10 years, more than 44,000 jobs in this industry will go unfilled in Massachusetts, due to a lack of qualified workers. This presents a lot of wasted potential and a major threat to our economic well-being, especially since the average salary in this industry can approach $75,000.
To bridge this gap, we must help our schools and training programs prepare enough workers to fill the local, high-paying jobs available in this cutting-edge field.
Fortunately, we don’t have to look far for examples of great training programs. Chicopee Comprehensive High School’s machine tool technology program has seen great success. The Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, where I recently visited, is working on innovative programs to improve technical training for local high school students. And the Smith & Wesson Applications Center at STCC, which I toured shortly after its opening, received a large grant this year to fund new degree programs in device manufacturing.
In the State Senate, I’m working with my colleagues on several policies to close the skills gap. One priority is continued funding of the Workforce Development Grant Program, which includes a precision manufacturing pilot program here in Hampden County. I’ve also co-sponsored legislation to create a state-level “new market tax credit” that would stimulate private sector investment, growth and job creation in low-income communities. Finally, to attract more high-tech, high-growth businesses, I authored legislation to offer incentives for investors who target their funds at entrepreneurs located in cities like Chicopee, Springfield and other locations outside Greater Boston.
The Pioneer Valley has a proud history of manufacturing. Let’s build on what we do well and ensure our middle class stays vibrant for generations to come. Preparing our local residents for careers in high-growth fields like precision manufacturing is one of the best ways to do that, which is why I will continue to champion it in the legislature.
Eric Lesser is State Senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District.
Sen. Lesser co-sponsors bill to close offshore corporate tax loophole
BOSTON–In support of small businesses in his district and around the Commonwealth, Sen. Lesserhas supported a bill that could recover more than $79 million in annual tax revenue by closing an offshore corporate tax loophole.
The bill, SD1699/H2477, requires multinational corporations to report profits deposited oversees as domestic taxable income.
“Small businesses–not multinational corporations–are the bedrock of the Western Massachusetts economy,” Lesser said.”Closing the offshore tax loophole reflects this reality, and has bipartisan support for a good reason.”
The average small business is paying $4000 in state and federal taxes to replace revenue lost due to corporate offshore tax havens, according to the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG).
1st Hampden-Hampshire District to Receive $8.3 Million in Ch. 90 Road Funding
EAST LONGMEADOW–The nine cities and towns in the First Hampden and Hampshire district are slated to receive more than $8.3 million in Ch. 90 road repair funds, state Senator Eric Lesser announced today.
“After the Legislature’s vote to approve statewide Chapter 90 road funding, I’m excited to announce the amounts allocated to each community in the First Hampden and Hampshire district,” Lesser said.
The allocations are as follows: