WESTBOROUGH — Since the 495/MetroWest Partnership formed 10 years ago, communities west of Boston have weathered one of the worst recessions in American history and come out stronger than ever, the group's leaders said Tuesday.
“We’re back in a growth mode,” said Scott Weiss, private sector co-chairman of the 495/MetroWest Partnership, which held its annual conference in Westborough. “We not only survived the recession – we’ve thrived,”
The partnership — a public-private collaboration of businesses, municipalities, and other regional economic stakeholders that encourages sustainable growth — is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Weiss, who is the managing director of commercial development at The Gutierrez Company, said one of the factors in his organization’s success was its diversity in partnering with municipal and state government. “[The goal] of this organization and this approach was to put this region on the map,” Weiss said. “We’ve connected legislators and business and business official, so we could come together and do things we had not been able to do before.”
Membership spans different counties and different congressional districts that “was otherwise lost in the past between Boston and Worcester mindsets,” he said.
Executive Director Paul Matthews said MetroWest’s overall economy is stronger now than before the recession. The region has become more important to the state’s economy as other areas of Massachusetts faltered, he said.
“Obviously, over the last ten years, the economy’s gone through some upheaval, but I think it’s important to remember that this region has had its setbacks, but it’s done phenomenally well in comparison with regions of this state and the country,” said Matthews.
Matthews said that the workforce had a lot to do with MetroWest’s economic health. About 50 percent of residents have college degrees, he said, and 20 percent have a graduate degree or professional equivalency.
“We have a very diversified economy. We have manufacturing companies, we have IT companies,” he said.
“Ten years ago, were companies investing the resources and time in developing software for mobile phones? If you said app development was a major opportunity, most companies would have not even known what that was,” Matthews said.
Weiss also noted that transportation, notably improvements to the Route 9 corridor along the Interstate 90 and Interstate 495 interchanges, the expansion of the Framingham-Worcester MBTA rail line, and with the emergence of the MetroWest Regional Transportation Authority, was key to the region’s growth.
Weiss said the partnership would “continue to push for reasonable funding for our transportation system” that encourages a “reverse commute” between Boston and Metrowest communities “and bridge the last gap between the rail station and employment hub.”
How to bridge that gap, according to Matthews, is a work in progress, and the partnership will be advocating for more funding and resources for regional transit.
“Ten years ago, twenty years ago, a lot of people lived here and in Worcester and commuted to Boston,” Matthews said. “What we’re seeing [today] is a blurring of the lines. It’s no longer about living here and commuting to work in an urban center. Now, there’s a lot of people living in urban centers and commuting to work here.”
“What the region needs is further investment in its infrastructure,” Matthews said. That includes improvements to interchanges along Route 9, improvements to the commuter rail schedule, and increased MWRTA shuttle services.
“I think it’s been very humbling, seeing the region working together,” said Matthews. “You have very small communities with limited resources hosting multinational companies. It’s because both sides recognize the need to work together. This international economy is so competitive, you need to work together to overcome those challenges.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Glenn Trinidade, a Medway Selectman and public sector co-chairman of the 495/MetroWest Partnership.
“It’s the strength in numbers that grabs the attention of the legislature and gives the Metrowest political clout on Beacon Hill,” Trinidade said.