Alex Morse: 23-Year-Old Mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts Tackles Job Creation

Alex Morse, a recent college graduate, is in charge of a town with one of the nation’s worst unemployment rates. But he has plans to change that.

Maybe it is because so many college graduates are having trouble even finding a job these days that 23-year-old Alex Morse started applying for his during his senior year at Brown University. Whatever the reason, the urban studies major is living his dream: Since January, he has been the mayor of Holyoke, Mass., home to just under 40,000 residents. “I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to my hometown,” he says.

Known as the “Paper City of the World” for the paper mills that once drove the local economy, Holyoke today is facing one of the worst unemployment rates in the country. With 11 percent of its residents out of work, Morse’s primary focus is jobs. To that end, he plans to use the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center being built in the city as leverage to attract tech companies and startups. He also plans to play up another town asset: cheap electricity. Holyoke has a rich supply of water and, therefore, an abundance of hydroelectric power.

Morse, who is openly gay, won the office last November with 53 percent of the vote. In addition to jobs, he says he’ll focus on education, public safety and civic pride. “To see the excitement and the hope here in the city is really encouraging for me,” he says. “We have the support and backing of the community behind us, and that’s the most important thing to have.”

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.