Baker’s economic development plan designed to create ‘opportunities for all’

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Gov. Charlie Baker has rolled out major energy, opioid and charter school proposals and now the administration has a draft economic development plan on the table that aims to attract and retain highly-skilled workers, strengthen the state’s competitive business clusters, and produce middle-market housing, especially near public transit.

State law requires each new administration to publish an economic development plan and implementation strategy within the administration’s first year. Baker’s team says its “Opportunities for All” plan, which will be the basis for legislative initiatives, was assembled after “thousands of conversations” with business groups and economic experts, meetings with 67 legislators, more than a dozen listening sessions, and feedback gathered during visits to 110 cities and towns this year.

“The plan seeks to enable economic prosperity for all the Commonwealth’s citizens, economic vitality for the Commonwealth’s communities and regions, and economic growth for its businesses,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash wrote in his introduction to the 59-page plan, which appears mindful that economic growth has long lagged outside the state’s Greater Boston area.

Ash plans to sit down with members of the Legislature’s Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee Monday morning to discuss the plan, which is dated Nov. 12 and is open for public comment through Dec. 3.

The plan, which favors generalities over specific proposals, identifies seven policy priority and implementation focus areas: preparing communities for success, fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, advancing key clusters and industries, creating a balanced regulatory and business cost environment, expanding workforce development and talent retention, adopting housing policies that support economic growth, and improving transportation access.

The administration draped its plan around a comment Baker made in his January inaugural address when he identified impediments to economic growth in Massachusetts. “There’s no single initiative that can start and sustain a job creating economy. But there is clear evidence that we’re too complex, too expensive, and too slow to move and make decisions. On this we must do better,” Baker said.

During their listening sessions, administration officials heard a long list of complaints. They included site readiness and infrastructure concerns, a lack of capacity in local governments, the volume and complexity of business and land use regulations, limited affordable housing stock, uncompetitive business costs, employers struggling to find and retain skilled workers, businesses challenged in accessing early-stage capital, and economic troubles in communities outside the Boston core.

The plan calls for state partnerships with cities and towns, without the state dictating solutions, “to build strong, nimble, development-ready communities and regions.”

“All 351 communities of the Commonwealth matter,” the plan says. “And each has its own economic priorities. The state will partner with each community and region to leverage their unique assets in ways that are consistent with their own growth plans and opportunities. Efforts will support high-growth, established and emerging communities. The Commonwealth will remain focused on Gateway Cities, and will expand programming to recognize the importance of Gateway Cities as regional sources of stability and growth. The Commonwealth will renew its focus on regional development opportunities. An Urban Agenda will also be pursued, along with efforts to advance suburban and rural interests.”

Calling small businesses and startups “the backbone of the Massachusetts economy,” the plan outlines the state’s economic strengths and weaknesses and in general terms describes ways to build on the strengths and address the weaknesses.

Hoping to reduce unnecessary business costs and attract investment, the Baker administration is in the midst of a government-wide review of government regulations and the plan says reforming regulations “will create a first-in-class business environment.” The plan says that reforming regulatory barriers to job creation and economic growth “will take place on an ongoing, continuous basis.”

Full plan:

— Written by Michael P. Norton

Copyright State House News Service