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Transformative Growth For Our Gateway Cities

January 29, 2017 : Banker & Tradesman, by Anne Gatling Haynes

New Program Supports Small Business Growth

When the Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) launched in 2014, MassDevelopment set out to sow the seeds for economic revitalization in the commonwealth’s Gateway Cities. In the two years since, the agency has worked hand-in-hand with the Baker-Polito Administration, Gateway City elected officials and other partners to cultivate the right growing conditions for this much-needed development.

As the program enters 2017, we look forward to watching these urban centers continue to blossom thanks in part to a new tool that is the fruit of these labors: the TDI Local Small Business Development grant program.

MassDevelopment is launching this program on a solid TDI foundation of $5 million total investment in the Gateway Cities. This groundwork includes $1.3 million in technical assistance, 105 events across the commonwealth and feedback from more than 1,000 stakeholders, 60 TDI partners and 40 agencies. The first year of TDI taught the agency about the needs of Gateway City businesses, residents and property owners, soil-tilling that formed a strong, healthy base for the program. TDI’s second year focused on cultivating growth: the program invested $95,000 in placemaking projects to restore vibrancy and engage the public; expanded its TDI fellows program to three additional cities; and invested in strategic real estate like Springfield’s Stearns Square.

The TDI Local Small Business Development program will strengthen the social, physical and economic fabric of the 10 TDI Districts by promoting the visibility and accessibility of their small businesses, easing the way for new ventures to launch and existing establishments to thrive. The program addresses what staff learned through TDI technical assistance work: not enough tools exist to support nascent businesses in TDI Districts. According to a report from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, small businesses form the backbone of an urban economy and create more than half of all jobs in many major cities. This report and our experience demonstrate a real need to tend to these small businesses.

Promoting Visibility Of TDI Districts

With these grants, MassDevelopment will support pilot and existing programs within select TDI Districts to cultivate a strong small business environment. Program elements include “Local Lift,” which will reinforce storefront improvement programs; “Lease it Local,” which supports startup entrepreneurs and helps connect small businesses to financing resources; and “Find it Local,” a tool that supports marketing, wayfinding and other improvements to promote visibility of a district.

TDI Districts must submit a proposal by Feb. 24 that outlines how a project would employ one or more of these tools to improve the physical, social and economic health of its small business district. Grants will range from $10,000 to $75,000, and successful proposals will demonstrate community engagement, public and private investment through matching funds, and a measurable impact that will lead to increased activity in the TDI District. To learn more about the program, email MassDevelopment at

TDI has long been a testing ground for MassDevelopment to identify and pilot new tools that will catalyze development statewide. Similar pilot programs in Gateway Cities like the TDI Cowork and Placemaking grant programs later expanded statewide as the Collaborative Workspace Program and Commonwealth Places. MassDevelopment’s hope is to do the same with the TDI Local Small Business Development program. We want cities and towns across the commonwealth to reap the rewards these tools can offer and support economic vibrancy in their own communities.

Henry David Thoreau said, “I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” In the hands of the commonwealth’s Gateway Cities, the seeds of economic development have a chance to surprise us all. We look forward to the wonders ahead.
Anne Gatling Haynes is director of transformative development for MassDevelopment.