MassChallenge CEO John Harthorne.
Haverhill city councilors give kudos and aired concerns about a plan by council President John A. Michitson and others to launch a pilot center to “establish Haverhill as a manufacturing center for the innovation economy.”
Following a presentation from Michitson during Tuesday night’s meeting, councilors voted unanimously, by consensus, to request Mayor James J. Fiorentini meet with John Harthorne, CEO of business startup accelerator MassChallenge, Boston, to “explore opportunities.” This includes Michitson’s proposal to bring a MassChallenge satellite innovation center downtown. The motion for the mayor’s intervention was made by council Vice-President Robert H. Scatamacchia and seconded by councilor Melinda Barrett. Michitson told councilors the plan is also being provided to the Greater Haverhill Foundation to be incorporated into their economic development planning. He also said in addition to an innovation center to complement a UMass Lowell satellite campus at Harbor Place, the downtown needs to become what he called a “cool place” to attract younger workers.
“What we’re finding out is that to attract young workers we have to make the downtown ‘cool.’ A very ‘cool’ place. My kids don’t even like me saying that, it’s just not right for their father to say that. And we’ll need to link the downtown to business parks. The other thing we need to work on, as part of this, is to catalog all the workforce training capabilities that we have at all levels in Haverhill. So now UMass Lowell is extending our workforce training capabilities right here in Haverhill, along with Northern Essex, Whittier Vo-Tech and even Haverhill High School,” Michitson said.
Councilor Colin F. LePage was among those complimenting Michitson for his leadership on the proposal. He said recent meetings on economic development demonstrated Michitson has worked hard on the plan which is “not something, unfortunately, can happen overnight.”
“You’ve been laying the groundwork and working hard with everyone and, hopefully, I believe it’s coming to fruition as I saw meeting with the other folks up in Ward Hill and then down here, at Pentucket Bank. Again I applaud you and I am wholeheartedly agreeing with having the mayor meet with those folks. I think we are really at the crux of things happening, as far as businesses go in bringing them back to Haverhill so they can help support all the other endeavors we have in the city,” LePage said.
Councilor William H. Ryan noted the mayor’s team, including Economic Development Director William Pillsbury Jr., have “bent over backwards” on attracting new jobs to the city with tax credits and other incentives. However, he raised concern local businesses which become bigger would be lured away, even outside the country.
“All is for naught when you’ve got all of the law favoring companies to go out of the country with the jobs, to go to Mexico and to go to China and to go to India, or what have you, to make these products. I’d like to see the city send a very strong message to the congressional delegation to ‘get off the pot’ down there in Washington and start to turn around the jobs leaving this country by the millions. And we’re in very difficult trouble because our youth can’t find jobs unless you want to work in fast food, or in a Walmart or Target,” Ryan said.
One approach calls for local partnerships with research and development arms of startup businesses in the Boston-Cambridge area as well as along the route 128 corridor, leading to manufacturing jobs in several key areas of the city. They include undeveloped or underutilized areas of business/industrial parks on upper Hilldale Avenue, as well as Computer Drive and Research Drive off route 97. Other “example opportunities” include developing a startup/small business center incubator in the Burgess building on Essex Street.