Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary tours local small businesses

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Housing and Economic Development Secretary Michael Kennealy said communities should not be “tapping the brakes” on rezoning and construction projects now that the administration’s long-sought zoning reforms are in law. (Screenshot)

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP/Mass.gov) – The Baker Administration’s small business and downtown conversation tour made a stop in western Massachusetts Tuesday.

Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy took part in a series of roundtable discussions in Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton, and Chicopee. Discussions focused on Massachusetts’ reopening, and jumpstarting the state’s economic recovery through federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“They were looking at how [we got] through the pandemic and how we see the future after the pandemic and some of the ways in which the state has helped out, as well as the feds.” Kerry Dietz – Dietz & Co Architects Inc.

The tour made stops at several establishments, where business owners discussed the biggest challenges they’ve faced over the past year and a half.

While Massachusetts is known as a global leader in industries such as life sciences and the innovation economy, research conducted by the US Small Business Administration found that prior to the pandemic, more than 45 percent of the entire Commonwealth’s workforce was employed by a small business. 

“COVID-19 created unprecedented economic pressure on the small business community across Massachusetts,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy.  “As we continue taking steps to put the effects of this virus behind us, our proposal to direct $2.9 billion to existing, proven programs will accelerate the Commonwealth’s economic recovery with a focus on equity and sustainability.”

In June, the Baker-Polito Administration filed a plan to put $2.9 billion of Commonwealth’s direct federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to use immediately through existing, proven programs to support key recovery priorities including housing and homeownership, economic development and local downtowns, job training and workforce development, health care, and infrastructure.  The proposal expressly targets support for lower-wage workers and communities of color.

Included in the Administration’s plan is $450 million for economic development.  Of that total, $100 million will be allocated specifically for downtown development to concentrate economic growth activities, resources, and investments within local neighborhood areas in municipalities disproportionally impacted by COVID; $250 million will support investments and regional collaboration aimed at invigorating downtowns and main streets throughout Massachusetts; and, $100 million will be designated for efforts to  support cultural facilities and tourism assets throughout Massachusetts. 

During the pandemic, the Administration established the largest state-sponsored business relief program in the nation that distributed approximately $705 million in direct financial assistance to over 15,000 small businesses throughout the Commonwealth.  That program, which was administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, awarded grants based on a combination factors including demographic priorities, businesses operating in the sectors most heavily impacted by the pandemic, and in Gateway Cities, to ensure funding was distributed equitably throughout Massachusetts.  Over the course of the program, 43 percent of grants were awarded to minority-owned businesses, and 46 percent of grants went to women-owned businesses.

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