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The way state representative Barry Finegold sees it, the North Shore economy can only go one way. The Massachusetts State Representative discusses the current state of the economy on the North Shore and the bright future for all of us ahead.

Barry Finegold at the Andover Fire Department

In my early twenties, i was willing, if not eager, to take risks. I maxed out credit cards so I could run for public office. I started a law firm with nothing but my degree and my partner. I bought my first piece of real estate because I always liked playing Monopoly, and I approached a gorgeous redhead in a crowded bar because I knew I had a hunch about this one. I took risks partly because I was young and partly because the economy of the times allowed me to.

Times have changed. I’ll admit, the current state of our economy makes me a little anxious. I’m a small business owner and husband to a small business owner. I’m a property owner and a dad who’s already thinking about how to pay for college for my two girls who haven’t even hit elementary school.

Our economy has changed and the evidence is crystal clear on the North Shore. But transition is a powerful force and the evolution is often painful as jobs move from one sector to another. We’ve been here before. Where the fishing in Gloucester and manufacturing industries in Lynn once dominated, we now see bio and high-tech firms, life science, and alternative energy research facilities sprouting along our coastal communities. Further inland, Andover’s Smith and Nephew continues to grow where corporate giant Lucent once reigned supreme, and upon entering the North Shore from the south, Nuvera Fuel Cells is poised to try on the shoes of the late Wang and Digital.

The way I see it, our national economy is in the midst of a transition more than it is on a decline. And while the kinks that are inherent in change are causing some pressure in the

Commonwealth and across the nation as a whole, I steadfastly remain optimistic. Tax revenues and unemployment levels will be challenged in the coming months in our region, but will not be nearly as damaging as they are in places like Michigan and the manufacturing Midwest. Massachusetts is hard at work to find ways to alleviate the effects of the downturn by investing long-term in job growth. But most of all, we’ve got our feet dipped in several different pools. Our interests here in the Commonwealth are diversified and that’s a good thing. In fact, our state earned top honors in the Beacon Hill Institute’s Eighth Annual Competitiveness Report, which measures all states’ abilities to attract and retain businesses while maintaining a high standard of living for all residents. The report, released in mid-November 2008, found that Massachusetts ranked first in the percentage of the population with health insurance, the ratio of physicians per 100,000 residents, the percentage of students proficient in math, patents per 100,000 residents, and science and engineering graduate students per 100,000 residents. The report also points to Massachusetts’ high total of grants from the National Institute of Health and prominent high-tech workforce as reasons Massachusetts moved from second to first in this survey.

As a property owner of both residential and commercial real estate, I’ve been sweating jelly beans with the rest you. However, when I walk around Newburyport, for example, I can’t help but marvel at what developer Steve Karp has bought and the transformations he’s already begun to initiate in the town. Some of the best real estate deals he made that actually positioned him to continue to buy today, were struck during our last economic downturn. Where there is change, there is often opportunity, and on the North Shore, we have the ingenuity to realize both. Karp recently spoke to a group of commercial real estate brokers and one great line rang true. “Many of you have told me that you wished you would have bought what I did in the early ’90s,” he said. “Well, here’s your chance.”

There are ways in which we can help ourselves, as well, especially when it comes energy. As a nation, we cannot continue to consume 21 million barrels of crude oil per day. With the atmospheric rise in gas prices during the summer of 2008 and the heightened focus on the environment and global warming, hybrid vehicles are becoming less of a novelty and more of a necessity. In order to keep up, US-based automakers have a choice to make: offer a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle or risk obscurity. The Finegold family now drives one hybrid car and we’re in the market for another. It is important that we lead by example here on the North Shore and ride out the aches and pains of transitioning into the green technology of tomorrow. Companies like All-Pro Solar and Olympic Engineering of Haverhill, as well as Powerhouse Enterprises of Lawrence and many other green technology companies in our region, are helping to ease this transition and helping us to become a region of job growth for years to come.

Besides the lawyer, businessman, and family hats, there is one more that I wear. I am a State Representative. In turn, each day as I balance meeting payroll at the law firm, shuffling the kids to and from activities, and being sufficiently present for my wife, who keeps us all together, I’m also working to help balance the Commonwealth’s past with what I deem to be a very exciting future. In the Legislature, we have taken steps to guard against downturns and stabilize our economy. The Commonwealth had built up a balance of $2.25 billion in the stabilization fund, which is over a half-billion more than the state had when we entered the last economic downturn. In 2006, the Legislature passed an economic stimulus package designed to make investments to promote job creation, economic stability, and competitiveness in the state’s economy, and we took steps to help cities and towns save money by allowing municipalities to join state’s group insurance commission and enter the state’s pension system. On October 3, 2008, Business Week Magazine’s “States with the Worst Budget Shortfalls” listed twenty states. Massachusetts was not one of them. While we may not have seen the worst of this economic downturn, precautionary measures like those above will help to ensure both a softer economic blow and a swift recovery for our state.

Like many of you, my 401(k) has slipped down to what feels like a 201(k). Those old credit cards from my youth are finally paid off, but my family has cut back on some of our extras and I’m cooking dinner a lot more. While we may have changed the way we do things in the Finegold household, I can’t help but ask myself, “When it’s for the betterment of the economy, the environment, and the future for my kids, what’s so wrong with change?” So, now as I fill up at the pump, I remember the transitions that I’ve bounced back from, that our country and our state have bounced back from. I remember even before I honed my business chops and entered public service, what it was like to be a kid in the ’70s, waiting in the back of my parents’ Plymouth Duster, wondering if we’d ever make it to the front of the gas line. A few decades later, I can say that after taking a few risks, we did make it. We lived to work another day and the sun rose again. And in a few decades more, that same sun might just power my daughter’s first car, on her way to work on the North Shore. -Barry Finegold