AMESBURY — In town for the groundbreaking of the new Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority transportation center, Congressman John Tierney took time out yesterday to meet with business owners throughout town, embarking on a listening tour of sorts to find out firsthand how local business owners are faring in this sluggish economy.

Beginning with stops in the morning at Munters Cargocaire on Monroe Street and Shea Concrete, Route 110 and Eastern Lumber on Haverhill Road, Tierney and several staffers capped off the groundbreaking ceremony with a visit to Zac and Ani's Bakery on Main Street, where they picked up some of Brian Bienvenue's signature handmade cinnamon rolls.

They went on from there to visit with the owners of Maggie Sundae on Friend Street, Bertram and Oliver's Booksellers on Main Street, and several other downtown businesses with hopes of finding out whether economic stimulus bills passed by Congress have trickled down to offer relief.

Tierney said he was pleased to hear, in many cases, how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has made a difference for the businesses' bottom lines.

"We talked to a lot of businesses that have benefited from ARRA," Tierney said. "Some have benefited directly, and some have benefited by a ricochet effect. I've been finding that throughout the district."

At Munters and Shea's, as well as Eastern Lumber, business owners have hired up to five new employees either because of orders for services received as a result of an ARRA-funded project in Massachusetts or another state, or because they see signs in their industry that the economy is bouncing back from the brink, Tierney said.

Tierney inquired of business owners whether they've taken advantage, or plan to take advantage, of tax incentives passed by Congress in the past two years that offer credits aimed at easing the sting of earnings losses and attacking unemployment rolls, as in the case of an incentive that relieves employers of Social Security contributions if they hire someone who is currently unemployed.

"If they keep them on for a year, then they get another $1,000 credit," said Tierney, who said he also talked with business owners about some of the new lenient loans for small businesses that have acquired a lot of debt, available through the Small Business Administration.

"I was glad to discover how people understand where we would be without the ARRA," Tierney added.

Aside from being pleased that so many from the transportation center ground-breaking ceremony followed Tierney into the shop to enjoy a pastry, Bienvenue said he was pleased with the effort Tierney and others made to get the transportation center project off the ground.

"I think what they're doing to revitalize the downtown is the biggest thing they can do for me," said Bienvenue, who stands to benefit greatly should the Lower Millyard facing the windows of his downtown storefront be developed as planned. "The more traffic downtown, the better for me."

If he and Chamber of Commerce President Curtis Wollitz could ask for one thing from government and from Tierney as their representative in Washington, it's to keep doing what he's doing to advocate for funds toward that end.

"He's a fantastic asset for us," Wollitz said.

Taking a moment to talk with town officials following the morning's activities, mayoral Chief of Staff Kendra Amaral expressed appreciation for Tierney's taking time to visit with the people of Amesbury.

"It's so wonderful for us to be able to showcase Amesbury and all the things we have happening," she said.

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