New England economy recovering, could use help in education, immigration reform As originally appearing in The Springfield Republican
By Jim Kinney, The Republican
SPRINGFIELD – Massachusetts has the potential to add 8,000 manufacturing jobs a year with an average salary of about $80,000 annually, but only if Washington lawmakers make the right moves first.
James T. Brett, president and CEO of the New England Council, called Wednesday for the Congress to move forward with energy efficiency, the creation of manufacturing “Hubs of Excellence” as well as pass immigration reform legislation pending in the Senate.
President Barack Obama talked about the hubs in his State of the Union speech this winter. Brett said his group is working to bring one to New England.
Brett, a former member of the state House of Representatives, spoke Wednesday to a crowd of about 160 at a luncheon hosted by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield at the Sheraton Springfield . MGM Springfield was the speaker sponsor for the event.
The New England Council lobbies federal policy makers on behalf of New England and its economy. Members include large industries, health-care and educational institutions as well as small businesses, Brett said.
“We have farmers in Vermont and a three-employee manufacturer of costume jewelry in Rhode island.”
The New England Council works with economists who predict economic growth in the region this year.
“I truly believe the worst is over,” he told the crowd.
Immigration reform is important because many high-tech companies find it impossible to fill positions with technical-skilled workers. Instead they rely on H-1B visas to allow foreign-born but highly educated workers to fill those rolls.
“And if they can’t get those people here, they will go elsewhere with elsewhere being overseas,” Brett said.
The pending federal immigration reform legislation allows for more of the H-1B visas while also improving technical education in the United States.
“It will pass the Senate because we have Democrats and Republicans working together,” Brett said. “The real test will be in the House.”
Brett said the new England Council is also supporting energy-saving legislation championed by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. in her partnership with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.