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The other innovation trail

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Jess Bidgood
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via Flickr
A sign outside a Worcester mechanic asks drivers to think locally, with their wallets.

Once you leave urban Boston and its cluster of high tech businesses behind, Massachusetts is full of struggling former company towns, where the main attraction has left the stage. The state is trying to recoup a major budget shortfall, and a lot of people are looking for work. Sound familiar? 

To track down how western Massachusetts is regaining lost ground, Boston public radio station WBUR hit the road, traveling across the state on Route 9.  The route goes from downtown Boston all the way to the western edge of the state, and a team of reporters stopped in cities and towns along the way.

We try to refrain from ‘look at this awesome experiment in public media’ posts but the results of this one are worth checking out.  Here’s what they found.

Worcester is looking to biotech. Pittsfield is looking to the arts. It’s not clear yet whether either city will be able to leverage those industries to turn their economies around. But Andrew Phelps, who ran online operations for the Route 9 project pointed us to the series’ stop in Ware, ‘The town that can’t be licked.’

“People were still optimistic,” Phelps says. “In all of these towns varying levels of heartbreak and difficulties, but every story we told had this uptick of optimism.”

In Ware, the WBUR team talked with laid off factory worker, Mike McCarthy, and the man who laid him off. That story was a “roller coaster of depression and optimism,” advises Phelps. “You should listen to that one."