State senator wants to pay people to move to western Massachusetts

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(WWLP) – State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) wants to pay people up to $10,000 to move to western Massachusetts. 

The proposed bill would provide a financial incentive to those who relocate to western Massachusetts and work remotely for companies outside the area, in big cities like Boston or New York City.

22News digital reporter Monica Ricci sat down with Lesser to see what this proposed bill is all about.

WEB EXTRA: Q&A

You want to pay people to move to western Massachusetts, where did you come up with that idea?

So we saw Vermont pass this law last year, it just took effect this January, and that was really one of the things that got me thinking about this idea. And then it donned on me, the state without batting an eyelash pays tens of millions of dollars in incentives to huge companies to locate in the Boston area. The GE deal alone they paid more than $150,000 per worker. That seems unfair when we have programs that could directly give the money right to the worker to come to western Mass., to build homes here, to pay taxes here, to raise their families here, to contribute to our local economy.

So where is that money coming from?

It’ll come from the same place where our road money comes from, where our train money comes from, the same place where the incentives for GE come from, which is from the state budget. This is short money, Monica, and is actually going to be really transformative if correctly implemented. You know, we know in western Mass. the economy has been unbalanced for a long time. There is a vacuuming happening of wealth, of jobs, of opportunity out of our western Massachusetts communities, out of our small communities, our small towns, and our gateway cities and its hyperconcentrating in places like New York City and Boston, that’s not sustainable, we need young families coming, we need new businesses opening, we need people coming and raising new families here in western Mass and contributing to our local economy.

What would you say to the people who already live here and are like, ‘Hey wait, where’s my money I already live here!’

It’s a fair point, I already live here too, and I’ve grown up here, and my family has been here for a long time, so I’m totally sympathetic with where they’re coming from. What I would say is, this is going to help us. This is self-interested for people who already live here in western Mass., because again, look at where the trend line is, if our school population continues to go down, that hurts the kids that are left behind in the school district. If our economy continues to lag behind the economy in eastern Mass., that hurts families who are already here. 

If the house nextdoor to you is abandoned or is vacant, or is not on the tax rolls, that makes your tax burden even higher. So, what we need to do is we need to bring in new families, we need to bring in new investment that’s going to grow the economy and help everyone. And the other thing that I would just point out about this is that it’s only $10,000 over two years. That’s a lot of money that will help incentivize people to move here, but if someone moves to western Mass., buys a house here and starts paying property taxes every year after that initial incentive, they’re going to pay that money back many times over, over the course of their career and over the course of their life.

So the $10,000 is not all at once?

It’s up to $5,000 in year one, up to $5,000 in year two, and it would be used for relocation expenses. So the ideal scenario here to think about is if there is like a person working in Boston, who’s sick of the grind, you know they’re sick of the traffic, they’re sick of the high costs, and they work in maybe computer programming or they work in graphic design, something that doesn’t require them to be physically there, they can work through their laptop, come move to western Mass., come move to Springfield or Holyoke or Chicopee. You could buy a great house for a fraction of the cost of a house in the Boston area and you can work remotely. You can work in a coffee shop, you could work at a coworking space, you could work from home, and we’ll give you that incentive.
If you think about it, think about all the economic opportunity that catalyzes. That family will move here, they’re going to buy a house here, they’re going to shop in our local stores, they’re going to eat in our local restaurants, they’re going to support our local businesses.

Are you just targeting remote workers?

Yeah. This bill in particular is about remote workers because this is a huge untapped resource for us. Companies from around the world are trying to promote remote working. In this new 21st century economy, so much is done by computers anyway that you really can work remotely. You think about the quality of telecommunication software now, the quality of video conferencing equipment, you know anybody with Facetime can now communicate with people face-to-face all around the world, so there’s a huge trend on this globally, nationally, we want to make sure western Massachusetts is part of that. We have a perfect opportunity to do that because we have a great location. We’re right in between New York City and Boston. We’re a great place to live, really high quality of life, fairly low costs, a lot of open space, you could have a great quality of life here, you can go to our local restaurants, you can go hike in Mount Tom and you can still stay connected to the big city jobs in Boston or in New York. And by the way, we’re close enough especially with increased rail service investments and better public transportation, you can easily get to Boston or to New York maybe a day a week or a couple days a month to do those face to face meetings when you need to.  

Someone who might be interested in this may be thinking, ‘Oh, this sounds too good to be true, what’s the catch?’ Is there a catch?

I mean there isn’t a catch. The catch is that this is a new way of thinking. It’s a new idea. It’s something that has been tested in a handful of other places. We appreciate, and I appreciate that it’s a new idea, which is why we capped the total amount. It’s a pilot program– no more than $1 million spread out over three years. It’s a $41 billion budget, again, it’s $10,000 a worker, which is a fraction of what the GE deal was in Boston, which was $150,000 per worker. So I think this is very surgical, it’s a test pilot over three years, let’s see if it works. If we get good feedback we can expand it. If it’s not such good feedback we cant try something else. 

And what about people who may be thinking about leaving western Massachusetts? If they lived here already and wanted to take a remote job would they be eligible?

That’s definitley something we could explore. That’s not the way that it is currently written, but yeah if someone is thinking of a job in Boston for example, and if we can convince them to stay here and work remotely, for their Boston job that’s certainly a potential. Again, this is one part of sort of a constellation of issues we need to address. We know what the trend line is in western Mass. and quite frankly, policy makers, Beacon Hill, have ignored the issues here in western Mass. for far too long. We have been seeing a decline in population, we have been seeing our workforce age, we have been seeing companies leave for far too long. We need to think creatively and boldy we need to think big to reverse that trend. Remote working is part of it. East-West Rail is a part of it. North-South rail to New York City a big part of it. Investing in our schools, and our communities to build safe, healthy neighborhoods is part of it as well. If we can get families to come here from New York City, from Boston, raise their families here, live in our communities, and work remotely and still make those big salaries– to me that seems like a big win.

Have you been in touch with officials in Vermont to see how it’s going?

I have a lot of friends that serve in government there. It’s a brand new program there, their legislature got it done last summer, it came into effect January 1. They have similar challenges in Vermont that we have in western Massachusetts, which is a lot of industry leaving and a lot of their younger workers leaving. 

Everywhere I go, whenever I’m out in the community, at the super market, and get talking to people, people come up to me who say their kids, themselves, they want to stay here they want to stay in western Mass., but they feel like they can’t because they feel like we’re not producing enough jobs so remote working is a way to build off our strengths– we’re a great place to live, we’ve got great open space and we’re close to a lot of fast growing economic centers. 

To read the full bill, click here.

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