Ash Sheds Light on Economic Plan for Valley, Jokes About Woolworth’s

David Tibbetts, a co-founder and president of the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council, opens the council’s annual meeting in Andover.

Governor Charles D. Baker’s full economic development agenda for the commonwealth won’t be ready until the end of year, but Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash said certain obstacles are already well known.

Speaking before the members of the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council Friday afternoon in Andover, Ash said the lack of “market rate” housing for the middle class, permitting problems at the local level and an replacing an aging workforce remain to be addressed.

“And if we can’t build market rate housing in the places like Fall River, or Holyoke or Springfield or Chicopee, then we are going to fail as a commonwealth. So, we’re working on that as well,” Ash said.

“In some communities—like Chelsea and like Lawrence and all the Gateway Cities—the need to attract market rate housing of any kind is important,” he said. Ask, who formerly served as Chelsea city manager for nearly 15 years, said he visited Haverhill’s Harbor Place site on Merrimack Street, which will contain 80 units of mostly low-income housing. He used the occasion of the visit to make the audience laugh.

“Harbor Place is replacing a Woolworth’s—ready for this senator—a Woolworth’s has been vacant for 54 years. So, I turned to Chairman Dempsey and I said, ‘Brian’—I’ve known Brian Dempsey for many years—‘Brian, if this Woolworth’s was in Chelsea, we would have burned it down 30 years ago,’” he joked.

Hear it for yourself:

Haverhill’s Harbor Place was made possible by consolidating a number of separately owned parcels. Ash said such land “assemblages” are a critical ingredient in local economic development success. He recounted a time when he, as city manager, tried to convince New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft to move the team to a 60-acre Chelsea site, owned by 45 separate entities.

“’Call me when you get the land assembled.’ It was a nice way of saying, ‘are you crazy? Do you think I’m going to spend years and years and years assembling parcels, having all those fights, then needing to deal with the environmental cleanups and worrying about local permitting?’” he quoted Kraft as saying.

Business owners are worried about who will fill jobs once the aging workforce retires, he said. Nodding to Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn and Middlesex Community College President James Mabry, Ash said, parts of the solution are community colleges and vocational schools. He said Baker has named two economic development committees to conduct competitiveness reviews. Other areas of focus, Ash explained, are the state’s 2,250 business regulations, energy costs and taxes.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” he said. The commonwealth will need different approaches for high-growth sectors like life sciences; emerging sectors such as flexible electronics, robotics and photonics; and mature industries.

2 thoughts on “Ash Sheds Light on Economic Plan for Valley, Jokes About Woolworth’s

  1. Do these hacks have any idea how foolish they sound talking about “market place” anything?
    Since when does government at any level EVER let markets determine the outcome of a transaction or situation? With public employee unions, civil service regulations, collective bargaining agreements, etc….there is no such thing as a ‘market’ in literally everything government does.
    What a fool this guy is…….

  2. “Haverhill’s Harbor Place was made possible by consolidating a number of separately owned parcels.” –

    He forgot to add that Rep. Dempsey went tot The Taxpayer trough for tens-of-millions that will go straight to The Fish Family. How was that open and transparent bidding process?

    “we are going to fail as a commonwealth” –

    You already have failed The People of Massachusetts. We have one of the highest income disparities in the country as well as skyrocketing poverty. It’s all good though because the money men keep it there while The People eat their cake.