GUEST OPINION: SouthCoast is on the verge of the breakthrough
Our time has come. The South Coast economy — for decades a poor sister to the robust Boston economic juggernaut — is getting ready to emerge onto center stage.
The cynics among us will dismiss this prediction as “déjà vu all over again” (thank you Yogi), but this time it’s truly different. Having been an observer and participant in regional economic revitalization efforts since the 1970s, I have endured more than my fair share of empty promises and economic disappointments.
In 1982, I traveled with legislators, local officials, K-16 educators and citizens to the promised land (Silicon Valley) with the “Golden Connection” entourage to bring the next Apple, Microsoft or Dysan Corporation to our shores. I remember how in 1988, this region advocated aggressively to have the Microelectronic Center located in southeastern Massachusetts to enable growth of the “high tech” sector. Together we have lobbied governors and state officials for the next project that will prove to be “the one.” We have prepared grants and plans to make our region as hospitable as possible to new business.
Despite the collective hard work of so many people over decades, the Fall River and New Bedford metro areas still lag behind the state in all of the key indicators of economic prosperity. Regional unemployment rates have remained stubbornly above state averages and the income gap is still unacceptably wide.
So why am I optimistic now? What is different? Why is the South Coast poised to succeed today when so many prior efforts have gone for naught?
The difference is basic: We now have a vision and a complimentary approach for what the SouthCoast can become. That is the main difference. The tired sales pitch of “come to our region because we have empty mills, loyal labor, lower costs and great beaches” is yesterday’s news. That approach only perpetuated our weaknesses.
The new vision is being advanced through the hard work of the SouthCoast Development Partnership, UMass, city and town officials, legislators, private sector partners, SRPEDD, and many more.
We have gotten ahead of the curve. We have figured out what the growth industries will be and are preparing to embrace them — and for them to embrace us. Renewable energy, biotechnology, medical devices, marine sciences — these are the industries that will lead us forward and that align so well with the research strengths and academic programs at our educational institutions. We are doing more than giving lip service to these prospects. We are actively preparing for them and setting the stage for their development.
There is no question that these are premier growth industries, and there is no
question that the South Coast can offer the amenities and the educated workforce that they need. We are developing a competitive advantage that will ensure success.