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Opinion

Editorial

On the surface, state Sen. Eric Lesser’s proposal to essentially pay remote workers and teleworkers to relocate to Western Mass. seems like an act of desperation.

And in many ways, it is. For decades now, this region has been touting (if not actively marketing) its many assets, including quality of life and affordable housing, and yet the area remains that proverbial best-kept secret.

Meanwhile, many young people, seeing few intriguing job opportunities developing in the 413, are opting for other area codes, especially those in the Boston area, where they’re finding jobs, but also a sky-high cost of living.

So why not incentivize people to do what Horace Greeley first suggested Americans do a century and a half ago — go west?

Lesser’s proposal is to create a $1 million pilot program that would provide up to $10,000 for people to move to this region, buy equipment for a home office, or rent co-working space. He has told media outlets he was inspired by the story of Boon and Caro Sheridan, who decided that, instead of trying to slug it out in Boston’s challenging rental market, they would relocate to Holyoke and eventually buy a converted church.

So why not incentivize people to do what Horace Greeley first suggested Americans do a century and a half ago — go west?

It’s a nice story, and one that can, indeed, be duplicated. And Lesser’s proposal might help, although, in this day and age, $10,000 isn’t enough to cover any of those three costs listed above, and that figure isn’t likely to turn anyone’s head. Triple it, or make it $50,000, and maybe we’d have something. Maybe.

But the actual dollar amount attached to this program is only part of the story. Lesser is right in his argument that if cities and regions can incentivize companies to move in — GE is a good example — and individual companies can incentivize individuals to work for them (happens all the time), why can’t we incentivize people to move to a region?

We can, but we have to offer them a lot more than covering their moving costs. Indeed, the best incentive to getting people to come to a region — or stay in one, as the case may be — isn’t a check from the state. It’s a much larger check from an employer.

And this is a much more complicated proposition.

While some companies have ‘found’ Western Mass. over the past several decades, most haven’t really bothered to look, opting to locate where they know the workers are — the Route 128 beltway, for example.

What’s needed are incentives for corporations — not merely the likes of Boon and Caro Sheridan — to want to move here. And as we said, that’s a much tougher assignment.

We applaud Sen. Lesser for thinking outside the box and creating a discussion that we need to have. His proposal is worth trying, and it just might incentivize some software designers and other creative professionals who can work at home to make their home here.

But with this proposal, as well as his work to build a high-speed rail line that would link Boston with the western part of the state, Lesser is focused on making this area a better place to live. That’s fine, but what we really need to do is make this more of a place to work, and not just remotely in a home office carved out of an old church or an old paper mill.

Lesser is right when he says incentives work and money spent luring large corporations might better be spent trying to bring people to the four counties west of Worcester.

But if we really want to change the landscape in Western Mass. and stem the tide of outmigration, the only solution is to create more quality job opportunities. Tens of thousands of them.

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