NORTH ADAMS -- U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal made a visit to North County on Monday, with stops at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, setting the stage for a discussion ranging from American education to the country's energy dependence.
During a tour of the MCLA Center for Science and Innovation site, Neal called the building "a long-term commitment to Northern Berkshire County."
"This will attract more students. It's important to prospective employers as well," he said, praising the $30 million building scheduled to be completed by September.
In addition to the construction site, Neal spoke with MCLA students and also addressed the Williamstown League of Women Voters later in the evening.
During the tour with MCLA President Mary Grant, Neal said the center will be essential in bringing more students into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
"In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the smartest kids in America were attracted to science," he added. "Salaries on Wall St. in the ‘80s and ‘90s were such that the smartest kids went into finance. I think anything we can do to enhance America's competitive position to investing in science and technology is where you want to be.
During a visit with a Professor Robert Bence's Model United Nations class, Neal pointed to public higher education as the way to create a solid workforce.
"Berkshire County, like Hampden County, has lost a lot of manufacturing jobs in the past 50 years," he said.
Neal said Berkshire County should take an integrated approach and focus on fostering education, the arts, agriculture and manufacturing, rather than a single area. He added that focusing on education and manufacturing would be helpful in bringing highly-skilled manufacturing jobs, which require a degree, to the area.
Neal's talk with the students also included changing ideologies in America.
"Fifteen years ago, you couldn't get 50 percent of the American people to acknowledge gay marriage," he said. "Today, 57 percent of people are okay with gay marriage. ...They're going to be the voters for the next 50 years."
During Neal's final stop of the day, the congressman's speech at the Clark Art ranged from Social Security to the need for energy independence.
"I think that everyone in America agrees that sending out sons and daughters overseas to defend oil in the Middle East is a bad idea," he said to a gathering of the Williamstown League of Women Voters. "We're on the verge of an energy revolution if done correctly. It can transform everything to make America energy independent."
Neal also stressed he has been a longtime supporter of an assault weapons ban.
"People ask me how I came to that conclusion," he said. "I say, I was the mayor of [Springfield]. Because of what a concealed handgun does on a Saturday night in a big city, because of raw emotion."
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