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CEOs for Cities Welcoming Remarks

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Thank you, Paul, for that warm introduction, and especially for your vital partnership in lifting this city and this Commonwealth.

Welcome to Massachusetts, Ladies and Gentleman. A special welcome to our participants from overseas. Thank you for all you do to strengthen America's and the world's cities, and for doing this good work in partnership.

In these hyper-partisan times, the notion of partnership seems almost quaint. The role of government in that equation is up for grabs: Democrats and Republicans treat the question like it's a blood feud. I saw a billboard in Virginia last Saturday that read: "Socialism vs. the Free Market System -- Your Choice November 6th." Good grief!

I'm a Democrat and a capitalist. I've spent most of my professional life in the private sector and respect the role of markets. I don't believe that government can solve every problem in everybody's life, but I do believe that government has role to play in helping people help themselves.

I want to spend a few minutes on how we see that role here in Massachusetts.

When we were hit by the global economic collapse, we cut public programs and thousands of state jobs. But, we also funded schools at the highest level in our history - even when the bottom was falling out of the rest of the state budget. We expanded our investment in innovation and research. We doubled the investment in infrastructure. By the way, the President's much-maligned stimulus bill was critical to each of these.

Why do this during a recession? Because if you really believe in creating opportunity, you don't tell a second grader she has to sit out the second grade until the recession is over. If you really believe in job growth, you don't tell someone with a great idea for a new, transformative company that those jobs can wait until the amorphous market "feels" like hiring again. If you really believe in the American Dream, you don't leave it to chance.

Because of these investments, our unemployment rate is well below the national average, our innovation economy is on fire, our state's economy is growing twice as fast as the national growth rate, and we are first in the nation in student achievement -- in the top five in the world in math and science.

It's silly to believe that government can do it all. But it's equally silly to constrain the contributions government can and should make in building stronger neighborhoods and stronger cities.

Education, innovation, and infrastructure. That's our strategy. Government does not do it all, but in partnership with the business and civic community, that's where we invest time, ideas and money. And it works.

Generations ago, many of our Commonwealth's cities were centers for factories and mills, employing thousands of people producing textiles, shoes and plastics. We call them Gateway Cities because they were gateways to America for immigrants and gateways to the middle class for the poor.

Over the past few decades, with shifts in the economy, these cities changed. Vacant buildings replaced thriving companies. Poverty became concentrated. Sound familiar?

We applied the same strategy of investing in education, innovation and infrastructure in these communities. And slowly but surely we are getting results.

Though our students lead the nation in achievement, we have had a persistent achievement gap for decades. And stuck in that gap are poor children, children who speak English as a second language, or who have special needs. These children live overwhelmingly in our Gateway Cities, revealing a stubborn correlation between childhood zip code and future achievement.

Working with Paul Grogan, and other civic leaders, the business community and the teachers' unions, we developed new rules, tools and supports to close achievement gaps. We are focused on ensuring every child reaches reading proficiency by the third grade; providing students, particularly English Language Learners, with the quality and quantity of education they need to succeed; preparing all students for college and career success; and ensuring every child has the wraparound services he or she needs to be ready to learn when in school.

And it's working. The latest NAEP scores, also known as "America's Report Card," as well as our own state test scores show African American and Hispanic students narrowing the achievement gap in English and Math across all grade levels.

Through a program we call the Economic Development Incentive program, we encourage businesses to relocate to Gateway Cities. Only yesterday, I was up in the Merrimack Valley, the birthplace of America's Industrial Revolution, cutting the ribbon the next phase in the revival of an old mill complex that has grown in 5 years to house 40 small, medium and large businesses and 3500 employees. We estimate that other approved projects in Gateway Cities will create 1,800 more jobs, retain more than 6,000 jobs, and leverage more than $928 million in private investment.

Last year we launched the MassWorks Infrastructure Grant Program, a one-stop shop for municipalities to apply for funding to support public infrastructure improvements. And we have invested millions in urban park projects in Gateway Communities, too, because it encourages private redevelopment and reshapes our cities.

Massachusetts is rebounding stronger than we were before the Great Recession because we are working together, with government an active partner.

There are two distinct views of the role of government on offer this November. That Virginia billboard may exaggerate the differences, but the reality is almost as profound.

One view holds that if we just shrink government, cut taxes and investment, crush unions and wait, all will be well. That view, in my opinion, is self-defeating and has a record of failure as long as our history.

The other view maintains opportunity depends on economic growth, and growth depends on investment. It acknowledges the inescapable role of personal responsibility, hard work, discipline, sacrifice and mental and physical toughness. But investing in education, innovation and infrastructure is essential. When we do that together, it's called government.

I like to tell a story about the Orchard Gardens Elementary School in Boston. Thanks to an infusion of new ideas, tools and money -- by the way, all of it with the help of the President's Race to the Top Initiative -- this once chronically underperforming school is in the midst of a profound transformation. In less than a year, proficiency measures at Orchard Gardens improved 70 percent. The school has gone from one of the worst schools in the district to one of the best in the state.

At the end of my visit last year, the first grade -- led by a veteran teacher -- gathered to recite for me. After a short poem about multicultural tolerance, they recited much of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. When I started to applaud, the teacher said, "not yet." Then she began to ask those 6- and 7-year olds questions: "What does "creed' mean?" "What does "nullification' mean?" "Where is Stone Mountain?" And as the hands shot up to answer her questions, I realized that she had taught the children not just to memorize, but also to comprehend, what they had recited.

There are some nowadays who tell us that those first-graders are on their own -- on their own to deal with their poverty; with ill-prepared young parents, maybe who speak English as a second language; with an under-resourced and all around depressed public school; with neighborhood crime and hopelessness; with no access to nutritious food and no place for their mom to cash a paycheck; with a job market that needs skills they don't have; with no way to pay for college.

But those Orchard Gardens kids should not be left on their own. If we are to be a nation of common cause and common destiny, then we must see those children as our children, yours and mine; and among them are the future scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, laborers, engineers and civic leaders we desperately need. For this country to rise, they must rise -- and we have a common stake in that.

We have a common stake in their equality, so we make the schools work better for all children. We have a common stake in their opportunity, so we make ways for them to get the training and higher education they need to participate in and help shape the innovation economy of tomorrow. We have a common stake in assuring that the systems by which they are measured and held accountable are fair, that the playing field itself is level. We work for good government because good government makes these things possible. We do it because faith in the American Dream still defines what it means to be America.

For all that each of you do, in partnership, to make a better way for children like those from Orchard Gardens, I thank you and welcome you warmly to your conference.

Thank you.

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