MSBA approves LHS Plan, Project One Step Closer

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On April 10th, the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts School Building Authority officially approved Lowell High School‘s budget and scope and committed $210 million in state funds towards the project.

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Mayor William Samaras, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, State Senator Edward Kennedy, and school committee members Dominik Lay and Robert Hoey were in attendance for the board meeting at MSBA’s headquarters in Boston.

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State Senators Ed Kennedy of Lowell and Diana DiZoglio of Methuen look at the agenda.  DiZoglio attended to show support for the Pentucket School in her district but also expressed support for the Lowell High School project as well

 

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Last month, LHS project team members hosted a public forum at the Lowell Senior Center to present updates on the project including some of the latest renderings of the new building and campus in the heart of Lowell’s downtown.

 

 

Celebrating the Greatest Quarter Back of All Time!

This week, the eyes of the Commonwealth were all focused on celebrating a milestone achievement in Massachusetts.

Hundreds of children took time out from school to take part in the historic event.

I may be a bit biased, but I strongly feel those in attendance all got a very unique opportunity to see the greatest quarter back of all time!

That’s Quarter Back.

As in the Back of a Quarter.

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All due respect to Tom Brady and the six-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, this post is not about Tuesday’s parade, or Sunday’s victory, or even the season-long journey to get there.

This post is about the culmination of a ten year plus effort to put Lowell National Historical Park on the back of a U.S. quarter as part of the America The Beautiful coin series.  Years of behind the scenes work all led the the celebration that took place at the Lowell Quarter Launch and Coin Exchange on Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.

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A crowd of thousands, including 1500 school age children took part in the coin-launch event which like the coin design itself celebrated the historic and modern day contributions of women in the Mill City.

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Speakers included Lowell National Historical Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, Retired Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Community Teamwork Executive Director Karen Frederick, Coalition for a Better Acre Executive Director, Yun-Ju Choi, and UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.

These distinguished women also welcomed guests from the National Park Service and United States Mint including Rosalyn Fennell, Deputy Regional Director of NPS’s Northeast Region and Marc Landry, Acting Associate Director of the Numismatic and Bullion Directorate at the U.S. Mint.

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Always a Lowell Connection: The Mint’s Marc Landry’s grandfather was born in the Mill City

Mayor William Samaras, Vice Mayor Vesna Nuon, and State Senator Edward Kennedy were also in attendance.

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The event featured musical performances by the Lowell High School Band and Choir, a historical look back at the design process by students from Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School, and the debut of a new video dramatization of 19th century mill life in Lowell set to the music of “Mills on the Merrimack,” all leading to the presentation of the Lowell Quarter and the traditional coin pour.

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Following the speaking program, guests were invited to exchange cash for rolls of Lowell Quarters in ten dollar increments (up to $100 per person).  Children under the age of 18 also received a free quarter for attending the event and there were commemorative coin sets also available for purchase.  Area banks will have Lowell quarters in stock for exchange while supplies last.

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Mayor Samaras waits for his turn to pick up a set of Lowell quarters

For a full-detailed write up of the morning’s event, be sure to check out this great post by Jen Myers in the First Middlesex News section on Senator Kennedy’s new website.

For those who were lucky enough to be there to witness it, the Lowell Quarter launch truly was a historic event in the City of Lowell–one that attendees won’t soon forget.

It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

Patriots championship parades tend to happen quite more frequently.

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Lowell leads the way on STEM Education

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On Thursday, January 24th, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito visited Lowell High School to announce and celebrate the awarding of $1.2 million in grant funding from the state, One8 Foundation, and Mass STEM Hub in support of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education.  The awards included $50,000 to the Lowell Public Schools for the addition of biomedical science classes at Lowell High.

The morning’s events began in the Peter S. Stamas Library where the Lt. Governor got to visit with some of the approximately 100 students who take part in the hands-on engineering classes at Lowell High School which are already available due to the district’s collaborative partnership with Project Lead the Way.

Founded in 1997, Project Lead The Way is an American nonprofit organization that develops STEM curricula for use by US elementary, middle and high schools.

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The delegation of partners then made their way to Lowell High’s Little Theater for a brief speaking program where the grants were officially announced.

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Andreina Parisi-Amon

“Growing up in a family of engineers, I was fortunate enough to have role models to show me that I did belong in STEM,” said Mass STEM Hub’s Andreina Parisi-Amon,   “As I began my career as a biomedical engineer and educator, I encountered firsthand the reality of how many students don’t get that opportunity to spark their interest and imagine the impact that they can have by pursuing STEM.”

 

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Senator Kennedy

“Being able to offer these kinds of courses in our public schools greatly expands opportunities for students, exposing them to careers they may never have considered and keeping them engaged and excited about learning,” said State Senator Ed Kennedy, who was in attendance for the event,  “I am excited to see what the future brings for these programs and students.”

 

In the last two years, more than $2 million has been awarded to 74 schools across the Commonwealth to expand computer science, biomedical science, and engineering education for students in grades K-12.

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Lowell City Council Endorses Education PROMISE Act

On January 22nd, the Lowell City Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting a resolution in support of Massachusetts Senate Docket 101, An Act providing rightful opportunities and meaningful investment for successful and equitable education, also known as the Education PROMISE Act.  The resolution was drafted as a result of a motion filed by Mayor William Samaras during the January 15th City Council Meeting–the mayor also filed a similar motion in the Lowell School Committee the following night.

The Education Promise Act is the latest version of an effort to reform the way the public education is funded in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The Massachusetts “foundation budget” was established in 1993 as part of an overarching education reform package with the goal of ensuring that all school districts could provide their students with a quality education.

Despite the admirable goals of the 1993 act, advocates hold that the funding formula has underestimated key needs for education spending in areas such as the cost of ELL (English Language Learners), Special Education costs, and health care costs for school employees.

In 2015, a special bipartisan commission of education funding experts reviewed the foundation budget and found that the original formula did not provide the proper resources needed to close achievement gaps for low-income students and English language learners.  The Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) also determined that increases in health care and special education costs had far surpassed projections built into the foundation budget.

The commission ultimately found that under the current formula, school budgets across Massachusetts were being shortchanged by over $1 billion annually.

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Then Mayor Bill Martin and Headmaster William Samaras at the 2007 LHS Graduation

As a lifelong educator, Mayor Samaras has seen the impact of this issue firsthand, both as the headmaster of Lowell High School and later as a city councilor and mayor.  “In 1993, the Education Reform Act actually funded school departments like Lowell and enabled us to develop programs to meet the needs of our students,” the Mayor noted during the January 16th School Committee Meeting. “But I think everybody sitting here knows that we just do not have the money necessary to handle some of the issues that we have to deal with today,”

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Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston

The Education PROMISE Act was filed by Senator Sonia-Chang Diaz of Boston and currently has over 25 co-sponsors in the legislature including Lowell’s State Senator Edward Kennedy. This bill looks to put into law the recommendations of the 2015 commission. The 2019 legislation is an updated version of a bill which passed in the State Senate last session but could not be reconciled with the education reform package which passed the House of Representatives.  The Lowell City Council also expressed support for the legislation at that time.

“This critical legislation would modernize the state’s outdated and inadequate public education funding formula,” Senator Kennedy noted on his facebook page,  “Failure to act on this issue will jeopardize the quality of education of every student in Massachusetts, and it will be my priority in the State Senate to ensure that the much needed reform outlined in the PROMISE Act becomes law”

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Massachusetts State Senate Chamber

With the council and school committee both signalling their support for the legislation, Lowell elected officials will now turn to advocacy both within the area and on Beacon Hill in hopes of seeing the measure adopted during this upcoming session.

CBA STEPs Up with 2019 Urban Agenda Grant

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Julia Gavin, Jen Myers, Kerry Regan Jenness, Sako Long, Yun-Ju Choi, James Ostis

It’s a good thing that the Coalition for a Better Acre recently acquired its own van.

There was certainly a full van-load of people who wanted to make the trip from Lowell to Fitchburg on Thursday January 17th to celebrate the news of CBA being awarded  $75,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as part of the 2019 cycle of the Urban Agenda grant program.

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In addition to CBA staff and board members, representatives of the offices of Mayor William Samaras and State Senator Ed Kennedy were also in attendance for the ceremony.

An initiative of Governor Charlie Baker’s administration overseen by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Urban Agenda program offers flexible grant funding for local partnerships to implement projects and programming that are based on creative collaborative work models with the goal of urban communities achieving economic progress. Projects and programming leverage existing economic assets to respond to and deliver on defined economic development and quality of life goals.

CBA’s grant application for the 2019 funding cycle was to support an expansion of its ongoing STEP program.

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STEP Students on Tour

STEP (Supported Training Education Program) is a five-week workforce training program serving low-income individuals, immigrants, and refugees with a high school diploma or equivalent. Participants work on basic skills like verbal and written communication, active listening, and teamwork as well as complex skills like conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking.

STEP also addresses barriers to employment. Graduates are guaranteed job placement at a medical device manufacturing company in Devens, receive financial education and coaching, free shared transportation to and from work for a year, and 18 months of case management and wrap-around services.

Since the program’s launch in January 2017, 49 people have graduated from STEP–85 percent of whom continue working full-time.  The Acre News Blog has more about the program including several great write-ups on recent STEP program graduates.

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Yun-Ju Choi

The Urban Agenda grant award will allow CBA to implement an expansion of the existing program called “STEP UP.”  This new social enterprise addition to the existing training program adds a nonprofit staffing agency component, expanding the list of manufacturing companies reached by CBA, while generating revenue to make the program self-sustaining. The program will also protect low-income individuals, immigrants and employers from predatory staffing agencies, and strengthen the impact of CBA and its partners in Working Cities Lowell.

The businesses CBA serves will pay training and placement fees, making the enterprise self-sustaining.  As noted in the CBA press release about the grant, this program will focus on the manufacturing field, which remains the 5th largest employer in Massachusetts. The sector employs over 250,000 workers, according to a 2015 report from Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based policy think tank. Yet the sector is also greying; the average highly-skilled manufacturing worker in the state is in their 50s.

“We are very grateful to the Commonwealth for this award, which will support the ongoing good work done by our workforce development staff as they prepare residents for a better future,” said CBA Executive Director Yun-Ju Choi. “Additionally, the companies who employ these workers will be strengthened by having well-trained, well-supported employees on staff.”

The STEP Program had previously received $50,000 in Urban Agenda funding last year.

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Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Sako Long, Shaun McCarthy, Julia Gavin, former Secretary of EOHED Jay Ash at the 2018 Urban Agenda award ceremony in Revere

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Juan Vega

The 2019 Urban Agenda Award Ceremony was held at Fitchburg State University’s IdeaLab.  Speakers included Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale, Fitchburg State University President Dr. Richard S. Lapidus and local community and business leaders.  Representing EOHED was Assistant Secretary for Communities & Programs Juan Vega.

“When we empower local leaders and projects that thoughtfully address the unique issues facing our urban centers, we have an outsized impact on the lives of residents,” Lt. Governor Karyn Polito noted in a statement, “The Urban Agenda Grant Program relies on the strong partnerships between local government, non-profits and the business community that are critical to fostering economic success and building stronger neighborhoods in every region in Massachusetts.”

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Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito

In addition to Lowell and the CBA, 8 other organizations received Urban Agenda funding for a total of $500,0000.  Lowell’s $75,000 was tied with Lawrence and Springfield for the largest grant awards.

The other eight communities to receive funding were:

Barnstable – $10,000 for the Cape Cod Culinary Incubator to establish a food service education program for at risk youth. The program will develop skills for young people with an interest in food service professions and ultimately bolster the workforce in an area with a major tourism economy.

Boston, Back Bay – $25,000 for the African Bridge Network to provide orientation for skilled immigrants who have recently arrived in Boston. Working with the Mayor’s Office for Immigration Advancement, African Bridge will hold quarterly workshops at the Boston Public Library and set up information centers at branch libraries to provide career counseling and related support for recently arriving job seekers.

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CBA representatives open the acceptance letter with the $75000 award

Boston, Roxbury – $50,000 for English for New Bostonians to offer support for immigrant entrepreneurs that speak English as a second language. ENB will provide English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) small-business intermediaries that will help small business owners with marketing, customer service, finance and technological skills.

Chelsea – $65,000 for the Chelsea 500, which engages the city, businesses, and non-profits to create a workforce pipeline so that 500 or more residents can gain the skills necessary to apply for positions at Encore Boston Harbor, with a goal of at least 200 of them gaining employment. Although initial efforts are focused on the casino, the long term goal is to sustain workforce development that will extend to other businesses.

Fitchburg – $60,000 for Fitchburg State University’s Activate Fitchburg initiative. The funding will support programs at FSU’s ideaLab, which will provide resources for creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, creating a business development pipeline and ultimately revitalizing the downtown area.

Lawrence – $75,000 for Lawrence Community Works’ Working Family Initiative. The Initiative will advance infrastructure to support public and nonprofit service providers and develop targeted training programs to build employer-workforce pipelines.

Springfield – $75,000 for the Economic Development Council of Western Mass’ Springfield Works and Head Start to launch a Whole Family Approach to Jobs initiative. This will be the first two-generation pilot and will include early education and workforce development components. Overcoming the family challenges posed by poverty will act as a catalyst to the region’s economic growth.

Worcester – $65,000 for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Launching Diverse Food Entrepreneurs program. The program builds on existing partnerships created through the Regional Food Hub project, but Launching Diverse Food Entrepreneurs will add targeted, in-depth support to urban food entrepreneurs. Supports will include ServSafe training, access to a commercial kitchen, business plan development and seed money.

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A Collaborative Corridor

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With so many recent tales of innovation and entrepreneurship success stories, there certainly is a lot happening along Route 3.

And since 2012, the Middlesex 3 Coalition has been a key contributor to that activity in the City of Lowell and our neighboring towns of Bedford, Billerica, Burlington, Chelmsford, Lexington, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough and Westford.  The coalition communities share a common goal of fostering economic development, job growth and retention, diversification of  the tax base and enhancement of quality of life.  Members include stakeholders in local government, business, finance, education and development who have  combined resources to promote the competitive advantages of the region and advance the economic vitality of the corridor.

mayorThe Middlesex 3 Coalition held their first “What’s Happening in Middlesex 3” meeting of 2019 at UMass Lowell’s Innovation Hub on Thursday, January 10th.  These monthly events provide a chance for the membership of Middlesex 3 to learn about updates on the goings on in each of the nine member communities.

Mayor William Samaras was on hand to both welcome guests to the city as well as tout the recent advancements in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District, noting that 110 Canal St was now officially 100 percent occupied, that Winn Development was progressing on their mixed use buildings–the first new private new construction in the district, the installation of the signature bridge that will allow for travel between both sides of the canal, and of course the continuing construction of the massive Lowell Judicial Center.

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While economic development is sometimes looked at as a competition among municipalities, the truth is each city and town still has to exist within a larger regional ecosystem.  The collaborative approach taken by Middlesex 3 helps ensure that communities and cross-community stakeholders work as partners in developing the entire Route 3 corridor.

“In Lowell we know that public-private partnerships are a most important part of our success” the Mayor noted during his remarks, “By us working together, we will all be stronger and have a better future.”

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Middlesex 3’s executive director, Stephanie Cronin provided the guests with a brief overview of the organization.

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UMass Lowell’s Vice Provost for Innovation and Workforce Development, Steve Tello and Associate Vice Chancellor, Industry Partnerships & Economic Development Arlene Parquette discussed new initiatives for corporate partnerships with the university, including a tour of the medical device incubator M2D2, the technology accelerator in the Innovation Hub, and the new Fabric Discovery Center, a collaborative research center for development and testing of smart materials.

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Guests also heard a presentation on Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) by Lianna Kushi, the executive director of EforAll’s Lowell-Lawrence location.  Founded in 2011 as the Merrimack Valley Sandbox, EforAll is a non-profit organization who is accelerating economic and social impact through entrepreneurship in mid-sized cities.  As noted on this blog, several EforAll graduates have opened new businesses in Lowell in recent years.  Mayor Samaras is scheduled to visit EforAll later this month.

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The M3 coalition recently hosted a similar event at Middlesex Community College’s new Donahue Academic Arts Center back in October, which was attended by Lowell City Council Vice Chairman, Vesna Nuon.  The October meeting featured updates on important transportation and infrastructure projects ongoing in the City of Lowell.

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What’s Happening in Middlesex 3/October 2018 w/ Vice Chair Vesna Nuon

m3kickoffThe Middlesex 3 Coalition was launched in October 2012 as a new type of nonprofit organization supported by the Massachusetts Office of Housing and Economic Development that would bring together a wide range of stakeholders including municipal leaders, colleges and universities, as well as real-estate professionals and nonprofit organizations.

Originally consisting of five communities (Burlington, Bedford, Billerica, Chelmsford and Lowell), the group has now expanded along the highway as far north as Tyngsborough and south as Lexington.  Former City Manager Bernie Lynch was one of the founding board members of the group and continues to support the effort as a sponsor and emeritus board member.

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Bernie Lynch at Middlesex 3 (Photo Credit: Jen Myers)

The wide range of projects that Middlesex 3 has undertaken have included efforts to improve infrastructure, obtain grants, streamline permitting, identify available parcels for development and advocate for economic development legislation.  The group has also hosted roundtable and panel discussions on important regional public policy topics including the North South Rail Link.  The 2013 Small Business Resource Fair hosted by Middlesex 3 at CrossPoint was featured in the original Room 50 blog.

In 2016, the City of Lowell and seven other Middlesex 3 communities entered into a community compact with the Baker Administration to look into transportation issues along the corridor.

The core values of Middlesex 3 are:

  • Regional collaboration to benefit the communities
  • Commitment to quality of life, education, employment opportunities and diversity for our residents
  • Sustainability
  • Commitment to education
  • Thought leadership
  • Alignment of business goals with community goals
  • Receptivity and customer service

With a focus on regionalization, transportation, and economic development, Middlesex 3’s mission truly aligns with many of the priorities that Mayor Samaras has sought to champion during his term in office.   To learn more about the Middlesex 3 Coalition be sure to check out www.middlesex3.com/ 

Senator Kennedy

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Congratulations to former Mayor and current Lowell City Councilor, Edward J. Kennedy, on adding another impressive title to his resume: State Senator for the First Middlesex District.

After winning election to the office last November, Senator Kennedy was sworn in with his colleagues from all around the Commonwealth at the start of 191st session of the Massachusetts General Court.

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Ed Kennedy and his family with Senate President Karen E. Spilka of Ashland

The State Senate also returned to a fully renovated Senate chamber after spending the bulk of the previous session meeting in the Gardner Auditorium.

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First Middlesex District

Kennedy replaces another former Lowell Mayor and current City Manager Eileen Donoghue who had represented Lowell and the other five communities of the district (Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell, Tyngsborough, and Westford) from January 2011 until her appointment as Lowell City Manager in April.

You’ll still see Councilor Kennedy in action on this blog as he intends to continue to serve on the Lowell City Council for the time being until all of the votes on the Lowell High School project are completed.  To follow Senator Kennedy’s work on Beacon Hill check out his office’s official facebook page, www.facebook.com/senatoredkennedy/

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UPDATE (2/5/19): Senator Kennedy has launched an official website at www.senatoredkennedy.com

Discovering New Fabrics in the HCID

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The innovative birthplace of the American Textile Industrial Revolution in the 19th century will be once again at the national forefront of innovation in Textiles in the 21st century.

At least that is the hope of the overflowing capacity crowd that gathered at 110 Canal Street in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District on July 11th for the dedication of the new UMass Lowell Fabric Discovery Center.

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Among the guests assembled were Governor Charlie Baker, UMass President Marty Meehan, UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, former Mayor Ed Kennedy, and Mayor William Samaras.

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mayorfabric“The Hamilton Canal Innovation District is a most fitting location for this important institution.  Lowell’s textile mills served as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution,” Mayor Samaras noted during his remarks. “Now, nearly 200 years later, this center shows that both the City of Lowell and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts truly do remain at the forefront of innovation in fabrics and manufacturing.”

The UMass Lowell Fabric Discovery Center (FDC) is home to the first and only site in the nation that integrates discoveries from three Manufacturing USA Innovation Institutes.  The goals of the FDC are to drive innovation in functional fabrics, boost economic competitiveness and create more high paying jobs in the region.

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Available to startups, small businesses and large companies, the 28,000 square foot, two and a half floor research center located in the heart of the Hamilton Canal Innovation District.  That building at 110 Canal Street is now 100 percent occupied with M2D2 and UML Innovation Hub being the other two tenants in the building–a most important milestone in the decades long Hamilton Canal District project.

Following the speaking program, Mayor Samaras went on a tour of the new center.