As Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, my top priority is creating economic opportunity in communities across the commonwealth. My efforts fall into three broad categories: developing a world-class workforce, building the infrastructure upon which Massachusetts’ economy can grow, and supporting businesses and job creation.
Massachusetts has dedicated more than $470 million to economic development in Lowell since 2011. In May 2016, I gave the City Council’s Economic Development Subcommittee an overview of the projects that state dollars have supported, which range from the expansion of Lowell General Hospital to the development of new affordable housing. To see the slides from my presentation, click here.
In July of 2016, the legislature passed an omnibus economic development bill that emerged from my committee. The bill authorizes more than $1 billion in bonding for strategic investments in infrastructure, job creation, workforce development, housing production, and the revitalization of gateway cities. Highlights of the bill include:
- The creation of a tax deduction to match contributions to 529 college savings plans, up to $1,000 for single filers and up to $2,000 for married couples filing jointly.
- $500 million for the MassWorks program, which awards grants to municipalities for infrastructure upgrades that support economic development projects.
- $45 million for the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to encourage redevelopment at contaminated sites.
- $45 million for the Transformative Development Fund, which pursues a variety of strategies to revitalize urban areas.
- $45.9 million for the Workforce Skills Capital Grant Program, which awards grants to career and technical education programs that are aligned with regional economic development goals.
- The creation of the Angel Investor Tax Credit, which will incentivize investments in newly formed startups, with an extra incentive to invest in companies located in gateway cities.
- A $25 million authorization for the Workforce Housing Production Trust Fund, which will leverage profit-sharing to address one of the most pressing issues facing the commonwealth—the creation of workforce housing—in a cost-effective way.
Developing a 21st century workforce
The skills gap is a looming threat to Massachusetts economic health, especially to its innovation economy. In a few years, we will face severe shortages of data scientists, computer programmers, electricians, precision machinists, and other professionals who work in innovative fields. I am proud to serve on the Massachusetts Workforce Development Board and to support a variety of programs that will help the commonwealth close those gaps and keep our economy on track.
The Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund trains the unemployed for jobs in high-demand fields and creates a path to higher incomes for workers whom the 21st century economy has left behind. I back the program because it has been a tremendous success. From 2007 to 2012, 5,600 Massachusetts residents completed a training course supported by the trust fund, and more than 97 percent of them found a job or received a promotion as a result.
Schools like Nashoba Valley Technical High School and Greater Lowell Technical High School prepare their students for exactly the sorts of professions where the state faces shortages, and through strategic partnerships with local employers, community colleges offer programs that can lead directly to jobs in high-demand fields. That’s why I support additional funding for vocational schools, and why I filed a bill, which recently passed the Senate, to expand the Community College Training Incentive Program.
High-quality infrastructure is essential to economic growth: Manufacturers can’t open a new plant on a plot of land contaminated with dangerous chemicals; tech companies can’t open offices in areas without access to high-speed Internet; and developers can’t build new apartments on a property that isn’t connected to the local water utility. I have fought to expand state programs that improve infrastructure and pave the way for growth in communities all around Massachusetts.
The MassWorks program helps municipalities finance infrastructure upgrades that need to be completed before economic development projects can move forward. Lowell recently received a $4.7 million MassWorks grant to support the buildout of the Hamilton Canal District Project, and Westford received $200,000 for the redevelopment of Abbott Mill. I’ve seen the positive impact that MassWorks has had on the First Middlesex District, which is why I continue to support it.
The Brownfield Redevelopment Fund finances the decontamination of properties so that they can be safely redeveloped. The fund has remediated a polluted site in nearly every municipality in the First Middlesex District, but it is especially important to an industrial city like Lowell, where there are dozens of properties that can only be repurposed once they’ve been cleaned up. The Tsongas Center, LeLacheur Park, and Wannalancit Mills are all former brownfield sites. I am a staunch supporter of the Brownfield Redevelopment Fund.
Promoting local business and job creation
I work hard to create conditions that are conducive to economic growth, recognizing that businesses large and small are the ultimate job creators and drivers of the state’s economy. That means state government can best promote economic development by encouraging investment and helping young businesses expand.
The Senate recently passed a bill I sponsored creating the MassMade program, which promotes Massachusetts-based businesses and connects them with consumers who want to buy locally. I’ve heard too many times that a Massachusetts business bought a widget from China, not knowing that a company down the road produced the same exact widget. MassMade will prevent that from happening in the future by marketing local businesses that can’t afford to market themselves.
I also support local businesses through a number of budget line items, including Regional Economic Development Grants, which support local efforts to attract new businesses, and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which assists the commonwealth’s manufacturers with workforce training, management, and business strategies. These kinds of programs are essential to business development in the commonwealth, especially in gateway cities, and they will continue to have my support in the future.