When I grew up in a crowded corner of East Boston, Suffolk Downs radiated electricity and excitement. Everyone knew the major race days. Customers at Carlo’s Market on Bennington Street buzzed with talk about fast horses. Many spent entire days, if not whole weekends, at the track.
The track was about more than recreation. It was about jobs. In East Boston, Winthrop and Revere, Suffolk Downs employed residents in maintenance, horse care and concessions. It’s no secret that my father worked for many years as the maître d’ hotel at the Turf Club at Suffolk Downs. For awhile, he held another main job, overseeing the dining room at the Statler Hilton in the Back Bay. By the time I was an adult, he worked at the Turf Club full-time.
Throughout his work life, Suffolk Downs provided a much-needed infusion of money, a sense of community, and even an element of glamour.
To a son of East Boston and someone who has represented Revere for more than two decades, the Amazon RFP reads like it was crafted with Suffolk Downs in mind. The location borders Logan International Airport — nearer to the airport than even some of the satellite parking locations. It boasts two MBTA stations as well as proximity to state highways. In addition, with more than 160 contiguous acres, Suffolk Downs can accommodate the size of the campus Amazon is seeking.
Beyond the specific geography of the Suffolk Downs site, I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to connect the East Boston-Revere coastal corridor to Kendall Square, deemed “the most innovative square mile on the planet.” If Amazon chooses Suffolk Downs, where our neighbors once gathered in support of one of the most popular sports in the nation, they will now gather to pioneer and innovate.
While I’ve remained the defender of the blue-collar worker throughout my speakership, we’ve encouraged a shift in what those jobs look like. The House has sought to make the innovation economy accessible to individuals of all educational and class lines. Earlier this year, I participated in a panel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on “Building Skills for an Inclusive Economy” with Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The focus was “middle skill workers.”
I took the opportunity to pitch the House’s idea that community colleges, such as Bunker Hill Community College and North Shore Community College, play a key role in helping innovation companies build a strong workforce. To my surprise, Schmidt agreed and said “diversity and inclusion are really good business.”
One reason Massachusetts’s community colleges are well positioned to support worker training for Amazon and other tech companies is that we dedicated funding these worthy institutions as part of our gaming legislation. That means that middle skills innovation workers are currently being prepared at community colleges with funds created by gaming, the successor to the industry that made Suffolk Downs hum for so many years.
Should Amazon come to Suffolk Downs, they will find community college students who have participated in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Starter Academy, an initiative that expands STEM curriculum in community colleges. Recognizing the immense, yet untapped, impact community college graduates can have on the economy, STEM Starter Academies also create career pathways and help match students with innovation companies in need of their distinct skills.
In Massachusetts, we believe that public-private partnerships can be a powerful tool. We look forward to Amazon taking advantage of programs that encourage the brilliant graduates of our four-year colleges and universities to stay in Massachusetts. For example, the Intern Partnership simultaneously supports students and growing businesses by matching stipends for interns at innovation companies. Amazon will also find that, through MassCAN, we’re leveraging the expertise of the business community to establish widespread K-12 computer science in public schools.
Over the decades, the economy of Massachusetts has morphed, changed and grown. So has the physical landscape of our communities. Throughout that time, we have taken extraordinary steps to cultivate an agile talent pipeline and dynamic economy. We stand ready. In that spirit, we embrace Amazon and the future.
Robert A. DeLeo is the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He has represented Winthrop and a portion of Revere since 1991.This piece previously ran in WGBHNEWS.