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Pioneer Valley Project

A congregation's partnership with Pioneer Valley Project, whose aim it is to empower low-income and working-class communities to participate in the economic development of the region at every level, from new enterprise ventures to job retention during plant closings, to city and regional policy making. The central goal within this mission is to revitalize the manufacturing sector of the economy to generate good jobs at decent wages.

Sinai Temple
1100 Dickinson St
Springfield, MA 01108
413.736.3619
413.736.9329
www.sinai-temple.org

Target Groups: Adults

The Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts has been hard hit by recent economic changes, suffering from a shift from longtime well-paid, secure manufacturing jobs to low-paid, insecure service jobs. Manufacturing employment in Western Massachusetts declined by 34 percent during the 1980's. Cuts in defense spending have exacerbated the steady erosion of the region's economic base, since over half of all metalworking firms rely on the military for their primary market. Springfield, the urban center of the valley, has a poverty rate of 18 percent, compared with seven percent for the state. One in three residents of Springfield and Holyoke is African American or Latino, many of whom are very low-income. Half the communities in Springfield and Holyoke have poverty rates above 25 percent. These neighbourhoods are the targets of the Pioneer Valley Project (PVP) efforts. In addition to these substantive problems, the PVP addresses the elitist, top-down decision-making process that has excluded low-income, minority residents from the formation of economic development strategies.

The mission of Pioneer Valley Project is to empower low-income and working-class communities to participate in the economic development of the region at every level, from new enterprise ventures to job retention during plant closings, to city and regional policy making. The central goal within this mission is to revitalize the manufacturing sector of the economy to generate good jobs at decent wages.

To accomplish this, Pioneer Valley Project is bringing together the religious, community development, neighbourhood, union, small business institutions, and racial/ethnic segments of the low-income neighbourhoods. The list of groups that participated in the initial discussions held by the Campaign for Human Development provides testimony to the willingness of Jewish congregations, the Catholic Church, Episcopalians, Muslims, labour councils, and the African American and Latino communities to become collaborative partners.

Over the last six months, Pioneer Valley Project has formed a Sponsoring Committee of representatives from the Catholic and Episcopalian Dioceses, the Western Area Office of the United Church of Christ, the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, Temple Sinai (a Reform synagogue), Springfield Pastors Council (African American clergy) and the Pioneer Valley Labour Council. Representatives from 17 other institutions were recruited for the committee this summer, including a United Methodist, Congregational Presbyterian, Catholic and Baptist Churches, a Mosque, a Church of God, and an International Brotherhood Electrical Workers union local chapter.

Pioneer Valley Project is exploring appropriate ways to promote job retention and formational the local level using examples of what has been done effectively in similar areas, such as early warning systems to recognize plant shutdowns, finding local buyers for retiring shop owners, campaigns to maintain plants at risk of being uprooted, neighborhood-serving business development, providing technical assistance to small business, negotiating with banks to making financing available to local enterprise, advanced planning for long-term public investment, and ultimately, worker-owned and controlled businesses. Pioneer Valley Project also plans to raise enough funds to hire one full-time and one part-time organizer for a year-long organizing drive starting May 1996 that will lead up to the founding convention in Spring 1997.