As part of an effort to help struggling cities outside of Boston, several Massachusetts legislators toured Holyoke Monday.
Holyoke is considered one of the state’s “Gateway Cities.” That refers to mid-sized urban areas with lower than average income and education levels. Other Gateway Cities include Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, and Pittsfield. The tour was meant to highlight some of the ongoing developments in Holyoke, including the city’s public library, which is currently undergoing renovation, the future site of a passenger rail platform, and a transportation center completed in 2010.
Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield, who was on the tour, says he is interested in learning how state programs can be tailored to meet the needs of these communities.
“We have at the state level a much better poverty rate than the national level, a much better employment rate than the national level, but when you look in our Gateway Cities, oftentimes our numbers are worse than national averages. We need more help, not less, and we need it to be targeted,” said Downing, “and we need to be held to high standards, and we’re ready to do that.”
Holyoke State Rep. Aaron Vega, who hosted the event, says eventually he would like to see less of a need for state aid.
“Not being so reliant on the state would be great, but we need to build our tax base, we need to deal with our double-digit unemployment here in Western Mass., and particularly here in Holyoke,” said Vega. “So I think that highlighting what’s working in Holyoke will hopefully help the state make incentive programs that will help push us to a place where we’re more sustainable.”
Vega says lawmakers will hold similar tours in Lowell and Fall River – also considered Gateway Cities – later this year.