In the 1920s, the New England economy was at a crossroads. Warmer temperatures and cheaper costs were luring many of the region’s companies south, and the textile and shoe manufacturers that had long anchored many communities were closing shop.
In June 1925, a group of New England business leaders and the region’s six governors gathered in Poland Spring, Maine, to develop a strategy to address these problems and promote economic growth. It was at this strategy session deep in the woods of Maine where this group of business and government leaders laid the ground work for what would become the New England Council.
The Poland Springs meeting was followed up by the “New England Conference” in November 1925 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Approximately 800 representatives of agricultural, industrial, and commercial organizations throughout New England attended the conference. After two days discussing the challenges facing the New England economy, the delegates made two decisions. First, they decided to make the New England Conference an annual event, and second, they created a permanent executive body, The New England Council, to give concrete expression to the ideas and purposes developed at the Conference.
The Council grew and thrived in its early years. The 2nd Annual New England Conference, held in Hartford in 1926, attracted some 1,200 participants. In its first year alone, the Council developed the first New England-wide program for improved marketing of farm products, created a New England-wide forestry program, developed a contract clause that provided for the sale of power across state lines, and conducted studies of product merchandising in the region. Much like it still does today, the Council in its early years held meetings with state and federal officials, distinguished academics, and business leaders throughout New England.
Throughout the Great Depression and the war years of the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Council focused its efforts on adapting to the changing economy. In the late 1940’s, the Council conducted a study of the post-war steel shortage that was plaguing the region’s manufacturers. The New England Council launched a six-state scrap metal drive to keep the iron foundries and metal working industries viable. The Council also established a Power Survey Committee to examine resources and needs, resulting in the most complete investigation of New England’s electric power in the region’s history.
By the 1960’s, transportation issues dominated the Council’s agenda. In 1962, the Council embarked on a long-range program focused on the best possible services for receivers and shippers of freight and for the travelling public. As the air travel industry grew throughout the 60’s, the Council won national recognition for its proposal for improved trunk-line service—the regional airport concept.
Energy issues were on the forefront for the Council in the 1970’s. During that decade, the Council supported a variety of energy proposals, including increased coal utilization, improved heating efficiency efforts, and providing tax credits for energy-saving investments. The Council also worked closely with the New England Congressional Caucus to develop the Mandatory Petroleum Act of 1973 to reduce regional energy pricing disparities.
The 1980s saw one of the worst economic recessions in decades, and much of the Council’s work during that time period focused on economic recovery efforts. The New England business community was also galvanized around the severe credit crunch in the 80s, and the Council provided a regional forum to examine the issue
During the 1980s and into the 1990s, there was an increased focus on the role of international trade and the global marketplace. The New England Council was a strong supporter of NAFTA and other trade agreements.
In 2000, the New England Council released its groundbreaking report, The Creative Economy: The Role of Arts and Culture in New England’s Economic Competitiveness, which defined a little known and unrecognized sector of the economy in New England. The study led to the creation, one year later in 2001, of a blueprint for investment in New England’s creative economy, which paved the way for enhanced collaboration among the region’s business, government, and arts community leaders to foster growth in the creative economy.
In the first decade of the 21st century, tremendous advances in technology have shaped much of the New England Council’s agenda. The Council has advocated for funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education to ensure that we have a workforce trained to compete for high-tech jobs, and has also advocated for federal funding and tax credits for research and development.
Over the past several years, as the nation has again suffered from an economic recession, the Council, much like it did during the 1980’s, has focused a great deal of energy on initiatives designed to create jobs and spur economic growth.
As the Council enters its 86th year, it continues to grow and adapt to the ever-changing business climate in New England and throughout the nation. As its founders envisioned when they gathered in Maine in 1925, the New England Council remains the leading voice for the region’s business community on Capitol Hill.
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This fall, The New England Council will launch a new virtual event series called “Inside the Corner Office.”