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SPRINGFIELD — The National Park Service named the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s (PVPC) 501(c)(3) subsidiary, the Pioneer Valley Regional Ventures Center Inc., as one of only 13 awardees nationally to receive a Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant.

The $750,000 grant will allow the state-designated regional planning agency to work with the Ventures Center to develop a subgrant program and select individual projects in rural communities for physical preservation projects that will contribute to economic vitality. It is the first time a Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant has been awarded to a Massachusetts organization.

“From our cities to our rural towns, we know economic development is often spurred when we reinvest in places that reflect the history of community and pay tribute to the people who came before us,” PVPC Executive Director Kimberly Robinson said. “We are grateful to the National Park Service and its Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant program for providing the resources necessary to reactivate historic buildings in rural towns that will create 21st-century opportunities for growth.”

Through the Pioneer Valley Regional Ventures Center, PVPC staff will provide subgrants to competitively selected preservation and rehabilitation projects on National Register-listed anchor historic buildings in 40 communities with fewer than 12,500 residents in Hampden and Hampshire counties and parts of Worcester County. The focus is on properties that are significant to the community and, when rehabilitated, will contribute to local economic development.

Subgrant awards of up to $100,000 will be given to work in compliance with the secretary of the Interior’s standards for the rehabilitation of historic properties to conduct pre-planning; roof repair or replacement; exterior rehabilitation, such as painting, repointing, or historic siding restoration; structural repairs; window and door restoration; and life and safety improvements, including fire suppression and ADA compliance.

Eligible owner-applicants may be private, public, or nonprofit. There will be no match required. Applications will be evaluated based on population, regional distribution, variety of project type, community and economic-development potential, pre-planning to determine project needs, and the capacity of the active, local working group. A preservation restriction will be required on a property that receives funding.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently issued grants to organizations across Massachusetts to assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse contaminated properties.

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) — the state-designated regional planning agency for the 43 cities and towns of Hampden and Hampshire counties — received $500,000 to carry out environmental-assessment and remediation-planning activities for sites in the towns of Ware and South Hadley that have been identified as potentially polluted.

“It is critical to the long-term growth and sustainability of our region that we set the table for private investment in parcels that for too long have sat dormant as the result of contamination associated with our Valley’s legacy industry,” PVPC Executive Director Kimberly Robinson said. “Just as these Hampshire County sites were home to the economic engines of our region’s past, so too can they be again with the help of strategic taxpayer dollar investments, setting them up to host the private enterprises of the future.”

The EPA has granted PVPC four years to complete the program.

These contaminated properties, or so-called brownfields, are often located at the sites of former industrial activity. There are more than 4,000 brownfields sites located throughout the Pioneer Valley, many of which are home to a wide range of chemicals, including heavy metals (such as lead and arsenic), volatile organic compounds, petroleum, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Additionally, many commercial and industrial buildings were constructed with asbestos and other hazardous building materials, and most urban residences contain lead-based paint.

In Ware’s downtown historic district, priority sites for the grants include 16 East Main St. (former Boiler House) and the Millyard Building at 12 East Main St. In South Hadley, priority sites include Gaylord Street (Gaylord Mill) and 85 Main St. (South Hadley Electric Light Department).

The assessment and ultimate cleanup and reuse of brownfields will result in both economic and non-economic benefits to communities throughout the Valley, including stimulating investment from private businesses, greater job opportunities, increasing the local tax base, spurring economic activity and growth, eliminating blight, increasing community pride, creating more open space and recreational opportunities as well as public access to waterfront, and reducing the harmful health effects and potential exposures of residents to contamination.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In August and September, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) conducted a survey of businesses in the region to learn more about remote-work policies. The survey sought to understand trends in current remote-work trends in the region as well as how this has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and what employers’ expectations are for the future of these policies in the next year.

Outreach for the survey was primarily focused on businesses in Hampden and Hampshire counties, but also included Franklin and Berkshire counties. The survey was conducted online. Requests for participation were sent to businesses through local and regional chambers of commerce, municipal leaders, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, MassLive, community-development corporations, and other economic-development committees and organizations throughout the region.

Businesses were asked to have the owner, human resources official, or another manager knowledgeable about remote-work policies fill out the survey. The survey resulted in responses from a total of 98 businesses. Among the key findings:

• Nearly three-quarters of respondents allowed remote work at least once per week.

• Services that require physical labor were less likely to allow remote work. Professional and technical services were more likely to go remote.

• One-quarter of firms did not have a remote-work policy before COVID but have since instituted one.

• Firms with less revenue were less likely to institute a different COVID policy or allow remote work at all, while large firms had more varied policy changes.

• Among firms that allowed remote work, larger firms tended to require at least one day a week at the office.

• Half of firms allowed employees to decide which days to come to work.

• Firms with more employees were more likely to require workers to work the same number of hours.

• Most respondents believed their firm’s remote-work policy would stay the same next year.

• Workers in small (fewer than 15 employees) and very large (more than 1,000 employees) firms were more uncertain about their company’s policy over the next 12 months.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) Chair Walter Gunn announced the completion of a new five-year contract with Executive Director Kimberly Robinson, who has led the PVPC — the state-designated regional planning agency for Hampden and Hampshire counties — since October 2019.

“As the commission’s governing body, we have been impressed with Kim’s remarkable ability to navigate through unprecedented challenges to our operations over her initial tenure,” said Gunn, who represents Longmeadow on the commission. “As we know, our staff now conducts business in a manner vastly different from years past. And yet, by all accounts, the job is getting done day in, day out. Of course, it should not go unsaid that this success is surely a testament to each and every PVPC staff member who has stepped up to ensure Kim’s first years here have advanced the important work with which the agency is tasked in pursuit of a better Valley.”

Robinson came to the PVPC after serving as executive director of the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency in Greater Reno, Nev. for more than seven years. Additionally, she has held leadership positions for Washoe County, also of Greater Reno, as well as the city of Detroit.

“It is a tremendous privilege to lead such a capable team of public servants dedicated to making the 43 communities of Hampden and Hampshire counties more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and prosperous, and I am so pleased to have the opportunity to continue in this important regional role for the next five years,” Robinson said. “Together, we will continue to use smart planning and investments in the realms of transportation, environmental protection, clean energy, housing, community and economic development, and so much more to make life better for each and every resident and visitor of our Valley.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — A new report commissioned by the Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), in consultation with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), has found a nearly 10-to-1 return on investments in passenger rail between New Haven and Worcester via the Hartford-Springfield metro area.

U.S. Reps. Richard Neal (MA-01) and John Larson (CT-01) joined the heads of the two agencies at Union Station ion Springfield on May 6 to announce these findings and renew calls for a strong interstate commuter program along this inland route.

“I have been a staunch advocate for improved rail in Western and Central Massachusetts for decades,” Neal said. “The findings in the report are welcome news and echo what we already know — improved rail along the inland route from Worcester to Springfield [and] south is good for the entire region. Economic growth, jobs, and unparalleled opportunity. It is simply too costly not to act at this moment. I will continue to work with Congressman Larson on the federal level and both the CRCOG and PVPC locally to ensure that rail service, in every direction, is a priority.”

Added Larson “I am proud to have helped secure federal funding for the successful Hartford Line. Now is the time to build on that success. Improving the Hartford Line and expanding it to Worcester would provide reliable service between Boston and New York City. This would have a profound economic impact for the Greater Hartford region, including our neighbors in New Haven and in Springfield and beyond. I look forward to working with Chairman Neal, the Capitol Region Council of Governments, and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to help make this important vision a reality.”

Lyle Wray, executive director of the CRCOG noted that “this new rail-service impact report highlights significant opportunities for the Hartford-Springfield region, which is the 40th-largest in the country. We could gain 20,000 to 40,000 jobs in information technology, finance, and professional services back with improved investment in inter-city rail connectivity. Payback of the investment over 30 years is almost 10 to one.”

PVPC Executive Director Kimberly Robinson added that, “in so many ways, the findings of this study confirm what we have seen with our own eyes for decades here in the Valley — regions connected by rail to the major economic hubs of Boston and New York City are thriving, while underserved communities like ours have lagged behind. We now know what the lack of rail has cost us economically, and this trend cannot continue further into the 21st century. As our nation continues to form into interstate mega-regions, we must ensure Metro Hartford-Springfield’s full access to a new American prosperity. Re-establishing an inland connection between New York and Boston via the Connecticut River Valley is an important step in that direction.”

The improvements, which include finishing the Hartford Line and connecting it to Worcester, would have a transformative effect on regional and state economies, according to the report, which projects that a $6 billion to $9 billion investment in rail now has the potential to result in $47 to $84 billion in new regional GDP over the next 30 years, including $27 billion to $48 billion in wages. An additional $15 to $21 billion of indirect and induced GDP is estimated as well.

This investment would reconstitute a 21st-century version of the prior Inland Route — regular train service from Boston to New York via Worcester, Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven, which the region has now lacked for decades.

The high level of projected benefits would result from the Metro Hartford-Springfield region. Hartford-Springfield lost most of its inter-city rail service in the 1970s, and service all but disappeared around 2004. That was the case until Union Station reopened in Springfield  after undergoing a $100 million renovation in 2017, and the Hartford Line launch in 2018.

While rail use is back on the rise, the prolonged period of low use has left its mark on the line and region. Since 1990, annual job growth in Metro Hartford-Springfield has lagged far behind that of the Northeast Corridor as a whole, representing about 130,000 jobs not created in this region. Slow job growth has been accompanied by an aging housing stock, slow population and wage growth, and widening inequalities of opportunity and income. Metro Hartford-Springfield has fallen structurally behind the rest of the Northeast Corridor.

The report finds that some 20,000 to 40,000 jobs in information technology, finance, and professional services are “missing” from Metro Hartford-Springfield because of the lack of regional and inter-city rail connectivity. These jobs, which have fueled growth elsewhere in the Northeast, are particularly attracted to rail-transit availability. With rail connectivity restored, these jobs can be attracted over time.

Inland Route rail improvements between New Haven and Worcester would serve 16 existing and future rail stations. Recent and planned development in these station areas suggests a strong market for interconnected residential communities, employment centers, and public destinations. Analysis reveals an aggregate station-area potential of about 20 million square feet of commercial development and 30,000 housing units.

The full report can be found by clicking here.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) has successfully secured more than $2.25 million that will benefit communities throughout the region facing challenges related to COVID-19.

Applying and administering these awards on behalf of several lead communities, the PVPC will work regionally to provide funding for businesses through microenterprise assistance programs and provide public services like food assistance, job training, and case-management support services, among others.

Grant funding comes through the Massachusetts Community Development Block Grant COVID-19 program as administrated by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development and appropriated through the federal CARES Act of 2020.

“The CARES Act funding we have secured via the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development will go a long way toward helping stabilize our local communities, their residents, and businesses during these unprecedented times,” PVPC Executive Director Kimberly Robinson said. “In applying for and administering this over $2 million in grants on behalf of our local communities, the PVPC is doing what we do best — adding capacity to local governments to ensure the needs of our Valley are met.”

The awards and geographic areas of impact include:

• $900,000 to Easthampton Regional (Easthampton, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, South Hadley, Southampton, and Westhampton) for microenterprise business assistance;

• $435,000 to Agawam and Southwick for microenterprise assistance and food assistance;

• $100,572 to Chester Regional (Chester, Blandford, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery, and Russell) for food assistance, job training, and case-management support services;

• $430,576 to Ware Regional (Ware, Hardwick, Warren, Agawam, Belchertown, Blandford, Brimfield, Chester, East Longmeadow, Granby, Granville, Hadley, Hampden, Hatfield, Holland, Huntington, Ludlow, Middlefield, Monson, Montgomery, Russell, South Hadley, Southampton, Southwick, Wales, Chesterfield, Palmer, Plainfield, and Westhampton) for domestic-violence victim-safety programs, senior outreach (Ware, Hardwick, Warren, and Belchertown) and virtual adult literacy (Ware, Hardwick, and Warren);

• $250,000 to Spencer for microenterprise assistance and food assistance; and

• $151,200 to Warren for microenterprise assistance.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) received a $195,000 grant from Tufts Health Plan Foundation to convene a Pioneer Valley Age Friendly Collaborative that will engage member communities in planning for an aging population. This is one of 13 new community investments totaling $1.7 million that reflect the foundation’s support of collaborative community efforts and systems change to advance healthy aging.

“We have an opportunity to think differently about how our systems are addressing community needs,” said Nora Moreno Cargie, president of Tufts Health Plan Foundation and vice president for corporate citizenship at Tufts Health Plan. “We are living in unprecedented times. We need to learn from this experience and think about how we can change the conditions that hold problems in place.”

This project, led by PVPC, formalizes an existing effort around age-friendly planning in the region. PVPC will partner with municipal planning departments, councils on aging, healthcare and service providers, community organizations, universities, and residents to create municipal age-friendly action plans that reflect the priorities of the region’s current and future older adults.

“We are excited to expand planning for healthy aging to municipalities throughout the PVPC region,” said Becky Basch, senior planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. “And by bringing together all of the cities and towns that are planning for an aging population, we will create a valuable space for sharing ideas and best practices at the local and regional levels.”