Oliveira works to increase tourism industry for region

July 11, 2023 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — State Sen. Jake Oliveira (D-Ludlow), the vice chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, said one out of every six jobs in Massachusetts is tied to the tourism and creative economy.

Oliveira spoke about building up the tourism sector during a recent episode of “Government Matters” on Focus Springfield.

He noted there have been two recent events that drew people to the region: Hooplandia, conducted at the Eastern States Exposition grounds, and an Ironman competition that ran through Springfield. He explained there is more to economic impact than just the audiences and participants those events attracted.

“People just don’t come for those events. They stay overnight … you’re going to the hotel, you’re going to the casino, you’re indulging in all of the cultural opportunities we have to offer,” he said.

Oliveira has submitted several bills to assist the development of the tourism/creative economy here. He added the committee will bringing legislators from the western part of the state to Western Massachusetts to “see all the array of activities we have to offer.”

Western Massachusetts, as a tourism destination, ranks high, he said. The Pioneer Valley is even ranked higher than the Berkshires, Oliveira added.

He said there are marketing efforts in neighboring states to attract tourists and Oliveira said there have even been efforts in states such as Florida and Texas that are actively hostile to LGBTQ communities to attract tourism to the state.

He added the Healey/Driscoll administration sees tourism as a way to introduce the commonwealth to people who might consider moving here once they see what is offered.

Being connected by Amtrak is an advantage for tourism in the region.

“I don’t think we should be limiting ourselves to neighboring states like Connecticut and New York, but places like Pennsylvania, places like New Jersey, paces like Maryland the D.C. area to come up … we are looking at it at a much more regional way,” he said.

There are 70 bills in this session the committee is considering, he said. Oliveira said that any bill aimed at marketing the commonwealth would be look at through “a Western Massachusetts lens” to ensure regional equity.

Regional equity is of prime concerns to another of committees on which Oliveira is a member, the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. While he noted many of the bills considered by the committee deal with charter changes to improve local government, he said there are others that affect communities such a. bill to improve the funding of public access television stations.

He said in the Senate there have been efforts to better ensure equity. He said a recent bill affecting the funding of Chapter 90, used for road and infrastructure repair on the local level, was one that created a $25 million source of funding for smaller and rural communities to help augment what they receive in Chapter 90.

That bill will be the subject of a conference report and Oliveira is hopeful the House will agree it is needed.

In the Senate budget — the House and Senate have not as yet created a jointly approved state budget — $100 million more was added to the line item that funds regional transit authorities, such as the PVTA, to experiment with free fare programs. He hopes, again, the House agrees.

The budgets from the House and Senate have “significant differences” and Oliveira said a month-long budget for July has been passed to give the Legislature more time to reach consensus.

One of those differences is in the area of tax relief, he explained, another issue that is in conference now.
Another difference Oliveira noted the Senate invested more money into the state’s regional transit authorities, while the House funneled more money to the MBTA, serving greater Boston.

As a supporter of the RTAs, Oliveira has written a bill to help electrify the bus fleets of the RTAs to reduce our carbon footprint from diesel busses.

The senator said he has seen “a lot of movement” with the issue of east-west commuter rail. “West-east rail is right on the cusp,” he said.

Currently legislators are waiting for a report from the Joint Committee on Transportation looking at the structure of the proposed rail service. Oliveira said that report will be out in the next several weeks that will guide the way moving forward. Once the report comes out and a director is selected for the project state and federal funds are be accessed. A major concern is fixing tracks between Palmer and Worcester, which run at slow speeds.

“There are a lot of moving parts but there are some great steps forward that we’ve had,” he said.

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