Roy M. Nascimento believes a regional approach can pave the way for economic growth in Fitchburg, Leominster and the towns surrounding those two cities.
Nascimento, the new president of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, is no stranger to working in economically struggling communities. He previously led the Attleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and served as vice president at the Metro South Chamber of Commerce in Brockton. Before he began his new job last month, he was president and CEO of the chamber for the New Bedford area, where the unemployment rate – 7.4 percent in December – is higher than for the Fitchburg-Leominster area (6.2 percent).
Nascimento espouses a collaborative approach, with businesses and other organizations in the area working together for the common good.
"A rising tide lifts all boats," he said. "I think it is all about regionalism, education, (and) business … to enhance our economy."
Asked how his experience in economically challenged areas will help him in his present position, Nascimento said Brockton and New Bedford are similar. "They have some of the same challenges. There is a lot of manufacturing in (each) area," he said, although each city "has a different business culture."
But Fitchburg and Leominster have entirely different needs, said Anthony Mercadante, the chamber's treasurer. That adds complexity to Nascimento's new role.
"Despite the fact that we are one chamber, Fitchburg and Leominster are very different," Mercadante said. "Fitchburg needs grant money downtown … Leominster has great access with Route 190 and Route 2."
It didn't take long for the chamber's new leader to get out of the office and meet key players in the region. In his first week on the job, he did "a lot of listening," meeting with mayors Lisa Wong of Fitchburg and Dean Mazzarella of Leominster.
That's part of the reason the chamber turned to Nascimento in its effort to find a successor for the retiring David McKeehan, the chamber's first president since its founding in 1984.
"I am excited to have him, mainly because of what he has done with membership" in his first few days on the job, Mercadante said. "He goes out and meets with individual businesses. He is very active."
Robert Antonucci, outgoing president of Fitchburg State University, and a chamber member, agreed: "I think he is a dynamic individual who is collaborative and one that will take the chamber into the next decade."
Part of the regional approach that has been a theme of recent chamber meetings is, as Nascimento noted, "to connect businesses to schools to provide the local businesses with employees. A lot of internship and career opportunities."
Not only is Fitchburg State one of the chamber's largest members, some students gain work experience through internships at the chamber's office on South Street in Fitchburg.
"We are not as successful without the chamber and the chamber is not as successful without us," Antonucci said.
The objective of regionalism is to unify and integrate the chamber with local businesses and every other aspect of life in North Central Massachusetts, not just Fitchburg and Leominster.
Chamber members have suggested that the state should provide more resources to economically struggling areas in the region, especially Fitchburg.
But Nascimento believes the region has a couple of things going well now. "We have a high concentration of manufacturing jobs and they pay well," he said. And "tourism is a growing industry for us."
He and the rest of the North Central Massachusetts business community hope some of that rubs off on other sectors of the region's economy.