By Jon Bishop

DEVENS -- Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at Monday's Public Policy Forum, held at the Devens Common Center and sponsored by Mount Wachusett Community College and Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., LLC.

But because of the blizzard, her attendance was required elsewhere.

Still, that didn't stop the planned luncheon from happening.

It gave businesses, organizations and other institutions the opportunity to network. And many of them were excited to see what 2015 brings.

"The mood of business has improved," said Melissa Fetterhoff, president and CEO of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce.

For example, more businesses are joining the chamber, she said.

"I feel like businesses are ready to start talking about themselves again," she said.

Ayer-based attorney Tom Gibbons, chairman of the chamber's board of directors, agreed.

"I know it's been a tough economy, but things are coming back," he said.

And Devens has been a big driver of that, he said. MassDevelopment has done a good job talking about opportunities, and did well during the economic downturn. That had a ripple effect throughout the region, he said.

Daniel Asquino, president of Mount Wachusett Community College, said there is "a great deal of optimism."

"Employers are hiring," he said.


Mount Wachusett Community College, which has a satellite campus in Devens, has been working with local businesses to train people in manufacturing, said Julie Crowley, a regional project manager for the college.

Manufacturing, she said, is no longer seen as a menial job; rather, it's a career. To emphasize this, Asquino pointed out that entry-level manufacturing positions often pay $15 to $20 an hour.

Thus it is in this area where Mount Wachusett Community College will see growth, he said. And that's why the school has made a commitment to local businesses to develop a suitable workforce.

Encouraging manufacturing will also help the middle class, Asquino said.

Earlier, Asquino briefly addressed attendees, noting the college will continue to grow as Devens grows.

"We are privileged to play a key role in every single school system" in our district, he said during his remarks.

Sal Perla, president of Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, and another major player in the regional economy, said the hospital had a "very successful year (in 2014)." And he expects more of the same in 2015, he said, noting it has prepared well.

"We believe we're going to have another year" of growth, he said. "We're very excited about 2015."

At the end of the luncheon, Polito, who spoke over speakerphone, apologized for not making the forum but said she would come back later.

The lieutenant governor, according to Fetterhoff, was going to talk about the Baker administration's agenda.

Follow Jon on Twitter and Tout: @JonBishopNP.