Gov. Maura Healey speaks to students, faculty and visitors at Western New England University on March 12.
Reminder Publishing photo by Laura Mason

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Maura Healey visited Western New England University on March 12 as part of her Mass Leads Road Show, emphasizing the importance of investing in Massachusetts and highlighting the bill’s support of robotics and advanced manufacturing.

The visit began with a tour of two robotics and manufacturing classrooms at the university where Healey watched machinery demonstrations and spoke with WNE students and faculty about their programs. Also in attendance was Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao, WNE President Robert Johnson, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler, and Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Lauren Jones.

One demonstration was of a robotic welding cell, or a preprogrammed set of robotic arms that can weld autonomously. The cell was part of a senior design project and was set up to simulate the welding process, WNE senior Kathryn Bentz said during the demonstration.

The robotic welding cell can weld 48 inches in 20 minutes, which is faster than human capabilities, Bentz told Reminder Publishing. Bentz is part of the team of students who developed the cell for their manufacturing processing class.

Following the tours, Healey briefly spoke to students, faculty and visitors at the university, describing the impact of the Mass Leads Act and her goals in Western Massachusetts moving forward.

“[The Mass Leads Act is] designed to keep us a global leader in certain sectors that we already own … and it’s also designed to make sure that we’re growing in new sectors where we think we have tremendous, tremendous opportunity,” she stated.

Healey explained that through the economic development agency MassTech Collaborative, her administration was able to provide funding that helped enable Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems students at WNE to purchase and utilize the machines demonstrated earlier in the day. This occurred through a $1.1 million grant used to support projects involving robotics and advanced welding at WNE and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“So, our plan for the next decade … is to make sure that we are growing these kinds of great programs. We want to take them to a new and transformative level,” Healey emphasized. “That’s what this economic development bill, Mass Leads Act, does.”

Filed on March 1, the Mass Leads Act is a bill that provides targeted financial support to the state’s economy in areas such as climatetech, tourism and artificial intelligence. The plan specifically benefits robotics and manufacturing through $99 million given toward manufacturing grants and $95 million toward enabling higher education institutions to work with MassTech Collaborative. The bill also provides $25 million for a Robotics Investment Program and $75 million for a Massachusetts TechHub program to support investments in technology, according to the Executive Office of Economic Development.

“Do you know that just last year Massachusetts was only second to California in venture capital investments in robotics? We were second in the entire country in DC funding for robotics. People know this is a place to come and we want to use that and grow that, amplify that … we’re already a leader but we know there’s so much more we can do,” Healey said.

She highlighted that the state has received $3 billion in federal funding since her administration began pushing for funds, which she emphasized were important for growing the state’s dominance in different sectors as well as helping residents find employment.

Peerless Precision President Kristin Carlson and AccuRounds CEO Michael Tamasi were also in attendance at the speaking engagement. Additionally, Hao, Johnson and Sarno spoke briefly at the engagement, each echoing the importance of businesses and the state working collaboratively. Hao emphasized that she “especially believe[s] in ‘Team Western Massachusetts.’”

Healey’s visit to Western New England University was the second stop on her Mass Leads Road Show, which began in Worcester at Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives on March 7.

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