The Massachusetts State Senate organized eight days throughout the winter to host Commonwealth Conversations across the state, comprised of roundtables, forums and town hall-style meetings to hear from residents and stakeholders–gathering input on policy and budget priorities.
These forums are part of an effort to make government even more accessible and responsive to constituents. I co-hosted one of these forums with Senator Bruce Tarr at a small business in North Andover where our focus was on “Challenges and Opportunities in the Small Business Community.” Senate President Stan Rosenberg, along with almost a third of the State Senate took part in the visit to North Andover.
As the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses, I brought my colleagues in the Senate to North Andover to speak directly with small business owners and town decision-makers, on how the State Senate can help attract, support and grow small businesses.
This discussion was an excellent opportunity for small business owners to detail their experiences, ask questions and offer suggestions. The long-term goal is to apply what we learn from these conversations to our work at the State House over the two-year session.
This Commonwealth Conversation took place in a former North Andover mill, which is now filled with many different businesses and is an excellent example of the adaptive reuse of a mill building. Senators heard about a number of small business-related topics, including the challenge of cities and towns in the same state competing to attract and keep small businesses.
Other concerns voiced by small businesses included the collection of the meal tax as an administrative burden, and the challenges they face in order to stay competitive because of our close proximity to New Hampshire. Attendees also voiced interest in more access to capital and opportunities for micro lending for start-up businesses.
The stop in North Andover was the fifth Commonwealth Conversation of that day, which included earlier stops in Burlington, Melrose, Lynn, and Danvers, concluding with a town hall-style public forum in Lawrence. At the public forum, over 250 people came to testify, express positions on the issues of most importance to them and present ideas. This was a valuable opportunity to bring my colleagues to the district so that they too can hear from constituents in the Merrimack Valley and hear about the challenges small business owners face as we consider policy and budget priorities.
I also attended the Commonwealth Conversations tour, which took place in the South Eastern region of the state, hosted by Senators Rodrigues, Pacheco, Montigny, and Timilty. We toured businesses, schools, and municipalities and also visited Fall River’s Stanley Street Treatment and Resource (SSTAR) to hold a hearing on the substance abuse epidemic. As a member of the Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction, I am eager to build upon the progress made in the last legislative session to address this serious and deadly health crisis.
Commonwealth Conversations was a productive initiative, which helped Senators better understand colleagues’ district and informed our understanding of shared priorities statewide.
Senator O’Connor Ives can be contacted at: KATHLEEN.OCONNORIVES@MASENATE.GOV