Column: Advancing Massachusetts’ economic development

Ryan McBride/Staff photoLt. Gov. Karyn Polito speaks during an economic development roundtable at Salem State University.

Massachusetts’ economy is firing on all cylinders.

While the commonwealth has always been an economic force, recent years have brought unprecedented success. Massachusetts’ longstanding strength in education has helped create a vibrant ecosystem for high-tech industries, where pioneering companies and world-class universities drive innovation and create fulfilling and well-paying jobs.

The commonwealth’s workforce remains among the most skilled in the nation, preparing Bay Staters to sustain the upward trajectory in the jobs of today and tomorrow. With more than 190,000 jobs added in the last four years, more people are working in Massachusetts than ever before and unemployment has remained under 4 percent for more than 36 months.

The economy is booming and cutting-edge companies continue to approach the Baker-Polito administration about expanding in the commonwealth, hoping to share in our abundance of talent and opportunity.

However, despite this recent success, our administration recognizes that not all residents have shared in the benefits equally. Since taking office, we have been committed to extending economic opportunities from the Berkshires to the Cape, and we look forward to building on these continued efforts in our second term, beginning with statewide regional economic development engagement sessions that kicked off earlier this month in Salem.

Gov. Charlie Baker often talks about “doing more of what works,” and this has been a guiding principle in our efforts to spur development across the commonwealth.

One of these tools is the aptly named MassWorks program, which awards grants to municipalities for infrastructure projects that support housing and job growth. The program’s flexibility, reliance on collaboration with local leaders, and effectiveness in combining vital improvements with stimulating development exemplify our efforts to get the most out of government.

The flexibility of tools like MassWorks have allowed our administration to respond promptly to strategic regional opportunities.

On Cape Ann, local leaders and residents were in need of state assistance with dredging projects critical to expanding the maritime economy. In 2017, we leveraged the MassWorks program to fund a pilot dredging project in Manchester. A $500,000 MassWorks grant helped unlock $1 million in local funding to support the town’s working harbor, which includes two marinas that bring in more than $6 million retail value of lobsters each year, employ approximately 75 people and provide moorings for more than 1,000 boats in the harbor. More than 20,000 cubic yards of harbor sediment were removed to restore the depth of the harbor areas to a minimum of eight feet below the average low tide.

When we returned to cut the ribbon on the project, we announced the 2018 Navigational Dredging Pilot Program, which again leveraged MassWorks dollars to offer $4 million in grants to 10 projects in 11 communities. The experience from these pilots, plus the input of more than 200 stakeholders participating in listening sessions up and down our coastline, helped shape the Massachusetts Dredging Program, which was established through the Economic Development Bill signed by Gov. Baker in August 2018.

Since our administration took office in 2015, MassWorks has awarded $357 million to 176 shovel-ready projects in 129 communities, improved crumbling infrastructure and delivered over 29,000 jobs, 11,000 housing units and 2 million square feet of commercial and retail space.

And with the 2019 MassWorks grant round now open, we look forward to reviewing proposals for high impact projects that will continue to transform communities across the Commonwealth.

While our administration is proud of the work we have done to strengthen and grow our economy, we are also constantly seeking new ideas and input.

In 2015, we kicked off a series of regional listening sessions, where local leaders shared concerns and solutions that were critical to our first economic development plan. We engaged 67 lawmakers, more than 100 municipal leaders and 1,000 stakeholders at 14 public sessions across the state, resulting in the ‘Opportunities For All’ plan that established the blueprint for progress made during our first term to promote economic growth and equity statewide.

Now in our second term, we will build on that foundation with a new economic development blueprint, guided by a robust and inclusive planning process.

Gov. Baker recently announced the new Economic Development Planning Council, which will provide critical input and oversight in the process. The council is made up of leaders from across the state who will lend their expertise, voice, and time to the process. This is an accomplished and diverse group of leaders, and we are proud to serve as co-chairs of this council.

We are embarking on in-depth regional engagement sessions to connect with residents, businesses, and community leaders on what is working and how we can enhance our partnership in key areas that will support continued local economic growth.

Earlier this month, we held the first of those sessions in Salem in collaboration with about 100 people from throughout the Northeast region who committed their talent and time to this effort.

The people of Massachusetts have a long, proud history of innovation, and this administration has always believed in empowering communities to lead the way forward with our support. We look forward to meeting and learning from you as we develop an inclusive economic agenda for our second term, and we are eager to roll up our sleeves and continue to partner with local leaders to take our Commonwealth to greater heights.

Karyn Polito is lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Mike Kennealy is the secretary of Housing and Economic Development.