Byline: Brian Lee
Regions such as MetroWest and Blackstone River Valley are defined by geography and natural resources, respectively.
However, a stretch of 13 towns west and south of Worcester have come together to be identified by civic collaboration.
Led by the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, the 13 towns from Boylston to Southbridge are engaged in an ongoing study to create a regional framework for priorities in economic development, preservation and infrastructure.
More than 75 people from the towns attended an energized session Tuesday at the Publick House in Sturbridge to discuss the initiative, called the Central Thirteen Prioritization Project. Another session will be held in November. CMRPC's deadline to wrap up the study is Dec. 31.
"You can hear the messaging from the state that regionalization must be embraced," said Alexandra McNitt, executive director of the Central Mass. South Chamber of Commerce.
To that end, Ms. McNitt's chamber spent the last three years fostering a roundtable across all of its communities to look for opportunities where, as a region, they can work together toward economic development, she said.
CMRPC will help interpret the information from the towns and help identify common themes, such as a stated desire to preserve farmland. Thus far, Ms. Kolias said, 28 preservation areas have been identified as either working farms or on farmland soil.
Another preliminary common theme is a desire to revitalize downtowns. In addition, communities such as Boylston, Oxford and Dudley expressed a need for both water and sewer infrastructure to encourage and facilitate development, Ms. Kolias said.
Holden and Spencer identified limited sewer capacity as a significant infrastructure investment and a constraint to development. Sturbridge identified public water infrastructure expansion along Route 15 as a priority infrastructure investment to encourage development, she said.
The towns also discussed taking advantage of existing transportation corridors such as Interstate 395 and Route 9 to focus economic development, and preserving various trails, she said.
State Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, applauded CMRPC for taking on the project and leading the discussion to help the region move forward.
Mr. Moore suggested that Dudley, Oxford, Southbridge and Webster would be served by trying to define a shared economic development strategy - given they are gateway communities that border Connecticut.