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Small business big deal in rural Mass.


The kind of transformation that 82year-old Sandri Companies has been making — installing solar collectors and high-efficiency wood-pellet boilers as well as just petroleum products — may point the way as the state tries to develop “a more explicit economic development strategy,” a group of business and community leaders was told Friday.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship” is among the five areas a new Economic Development Planning Council is working on, state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialecki told the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce at its monthly gathering.

Bialecki pointed to the Sandri example, which company spokeswoman Kirsten Wedegartner had just explained to the 100 or so Chamber members gathered at the breakfast session. The Greenfield-based family business made headlines last year when it received federal stimulus funding to develop a renewable energy division and install wood-pellet boilers at Greenfield Community College, Stoneleigh-Burnham, Linden Hill schools and the Greenfield Fire Department.

The company has also been selling solar heating equipment and pur­chased Deerfield Valley Heating and Cooling and installs geothermal heat systems and photovoltaic systems. “When the governor has had an innovation agenda at the heart of his economic development strategy for the last four years and intends to continue to do that, there are some people, it causes people to think the focus is on Boston and Cambridge and the Greater Boston area. … One of the things about these innovation industries is that they’re actually creating jobs around the state. Clean energy has been a terrific cluster and growth opportunity in western Massachusetts,” said Bialecki.

He pointed to the state’s first “onshore wind farm,” dedicated last week, a 15-megawatt project with 10 turbines at Brodie Mountain in Hancock and Lanesborough.

Entrepreneurship is key in a state that relies heavily on small business, said Bialecki. In Franklin County, 87 percent of businesses have fewer than 20 employees, according to the Franklin County Community Development Corp. He stressed the importance of strengthening the ability of small businesses to be created and prosper, through technical assistance and policies that avoid cookie-cutter approaches.

“Some of that stuff involves money and funding,” said Bialecki, like the $25 million the state is investing toward a $100-million-plus Holyoke super-computing center. “But in a world where money is tight,” he added, pointing to the CDC’s award Thursday to People’s Pint owners Alden Booth and Lissa Greenough, “some of it simply involves celebrating entrepreneurship and recognizing it.”

The state strategy also includes trying to market and exploit the competitive advantages of all regions of the state — including that there are different cost realities in various parts of the state. When Liberty Mutual wanted to build a call center, he said, Gov. Deval Patrick pointed to significantly lower costs in siting such a facility in western Massachusetts than near the financial-services company’s Back Bay headquarters, instead of moving it outside Massachusetts. The result is a 300-person call center in Springfield, at the nexus of high-speed telecommunication lines.

“The states that really have a great reputation for doing business seem to have created a real consensus about who they are and what they’re trying to do as a state,” Bialecki told the group, “and brand and market themselves as having a certain business climate that a business that wants to locate there, or wants to grow there can count and rely on.”

Other keys to the state’s strategy include improving education and workforce training programs to enhance “middle- skill jobs,” and improving the climate for small businesses in the state — with a smallbusiness impact statement now required for state agencies as they begin to develop new regulations.

Last but not least, the effort is focused on finding ways for Massachusetts to stay competitive in the critical areas of housing, health-care and energy costs.

“Unfortunately, in the world of health care, an 8 or 10 percent increase is considered a modest increase in prices these days, and that just continues to be way out of line,” Bialecki said.

Patrick has proposed legislation to switch from a “fee-forservice” health care model to a collaborative “global payment” approach in which providers would get an annual budget to handle each patient’s care.

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