The Gateway Cities Journal
Providing opportunities for all
Governor Baker introduced a major economic development package last week. Reading the tea leaves, one conclusion can be drawn for sure: the administration is serious about empowering its leaders to put forward bold ideas. Line by line, the legislation reflects the energy and insight for which Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash is well-regarded. It establishes priorities, funds economic development initiatives at meaningful levels, and revises a slew of programs to make them more effective. But the big question is whether the Governor’s bill,entitled An Act to Provide Opportunities for All, can live up to the ambition reflected in its name.
Answering this critical question requires foresight on whether the bill results in actual spending patterns that serve to reverse longstanding geographic inequities in economic development funding. The fate of the Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) is perhaps the most central pivot point. TDI is a new initiative led by MassDevelopment, the state’s quasi-public economic development arm. TDI works strategically to leverage limited economic development dollars in Gateway Cities that drive regional economies across the Commonwealth. Within these urban centers, TDI targets public investments in districts that have the potential to blossom into anchors for growth. In contrast with past revitalization attempts, TDI is not about one particular employer or building, but rather the combination of activities in the district creating synergies and spurring a virtuous cycle of private investment into the area.
Through this “placemaking” approach, it should be possible to reweave the urban fabric of communities that have been suffering from decades of disinvestment without resorting to costly mega projects. While the $50 million in the legislation is a magnitude or two lower than what it will take to reach all of our urban centers that need reaching, it’s in the right range for now. Stage one of TDI is helping communities map out a strategy for market-driven investments and working with them to assemble parcels of land for redevelopment. The hope is that the legislature will embrace this proposal, that the administration will spend up to the $50 million bond authorization in the coming years, and that this predevelopment work sets the stage for a higher level of state support in the future. The if’s in this scenario are many, but Governor Baker deserves much credit for moving in a promising direction.
The $75 million career and technical education fund is another potential game-changer for Gateway Cities. While economies are weaker outside of Boston, the demand for skilled labor is equally high with so many talented youth picking up and moving elsewhere and far too high a percentage of youth not gaining the skills needed to participate fully in their local economy. Better career and technical education is part of the answer. Massachusetts has built many excellent vocational schools, but these programs only have the capacity to serve a fraction of the students that could benefit from them. Meaningful progress on this challenge will allow more students to gain the skills necessary to fully contribute their talents.
Over time, several other components of the legislation may also foster more geographically-balanced growth, but the biggest uncertainty is the extent to which changes in current law that this bill makes will undermine efforts to ensure that state economic development investments target communities outside of Greater Boston.
Boston once eschewed tax incentives, but the city seems to be increasingly hungry for these limited funds. First there was Liberty Mutual, then Vertex, and now GE. A skeptic might call this the GE bill. Changes to economic development statutes, most notably the Economic Development Incentive Program and I-Cubed, seem intended to make these tax tools work for GE. While most analysts agree that this particular deal is a home run for Massachusetts, and I would tend to agree, changing the general laws to accommodate the GE package makes it far easier for Boston to access these resources in the future. There are real questions about whether tax incentives work in the first place. And while it’s not a perfect comparison, one need only look at the historic rehabilitation tax credit for egregious examples of how state subsidy can find their way into Boston projects even when the need is nonexistent.
More and more often I hear state leaders articulate a powerful need to ensure that future growth is balanced across our entire Commonwealth. Governor Baker’s economic development legislation is an excellent starting point for a conversation about how we can best accomplish this objective. However, we all must remember that whatever gets passed in July is only the beginning. Unity and vigilance will be needed to ensure that this act truly provides opportunities for all.
Housing & Economic Development
Governor Baker unveils a new, 5-year economic development plan. The largest chunk of the $918 million investment is the $500 million reauthorization of the MassWorks program. The plan touches on everything from housing, brownfields, manufacturing and infrastructure, to digital health care and liquor licenses. The plan also features an innovative proposal to boost local craft breweries.
Partners on the Tyler Street Transformative Development Initiative in Pittsfield hold an open house to better identify needs and opportunities to support the revitalization of the Morningside neighborhood. TDI Springfield launches a Hey Whats Goodin Springfield website. The Boston Globe covers the development of a new theater in Chelsea with support from a TDI grant.
Brooks Brothers’ parent company purchases property in Haverhill, keeping 500 jobs in the city.
Veterans Northeast receives approval from Haverhill‘s Zoning Board of Appeals on their plan to convert the former Gerson Furniture building into 44 new units of veteran’s housing.
Jeffrey Walker is appointed as the new executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District.
Worcester Housing Authority’s A Better Life program dramatically increases the number of residents with full-time jobs and/or involved in education or training programs.
The Lawrence Partnership awards two loans to downtown businesses.
A former brownfield industrial property in Taunton becomes the site of affordable housing.
The latest Metro Monitor from Brookings ranks Springfield 2nd among the 100 largest metro areas in economic inclusion based on the largest reduction in relative poverty in the nation (the share of people earning less than half the region’s median wage, which fell).
Aaron Renn interviews Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. Tune in at 7:18 to hear about how New York is investing a billion dollars in the city to make up for 50 years of neglect.
The Thomas Fordham Institute holds a forum today to announce the winners of its ESSA Next Generation Accountability Design Competition. Watch the groups present live at 3:30 pm.
Brockton announces the creation of a Portuguese-English school. Dual-language immersion figures prominently as a strategy to leverage linguistic diversity in the Gateway Cities Education Vision.
Holyoke Public Schools saw an increase in graduation rates in 2015.
Worcester Public Schools saw an increase in graduation rates as well as a decrease in dropout rate in 2015. Worcester teachers receive a bump in ratings in a report by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority announces plans to cover 80 percent of the cost of replacing an 118-year-old elementary school in Springfield.
New Bedford High School joins the short list of schools in the state offering a capstone diploma.
In Providence, students get a voice in the design of two new high schools.
Mayor Bill Carpenter selects eleven new appointees for public boards in Brockton.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini is establishing a Neighborhood Advisory Board. Haverhill receives a state grant to allow for more Police patrols in neighborhoods with significant violence and drug problems.
The City of Fitchburg applies for a $50,000 grant to construct the proposed Waterline Trail that would run from Cleghorn to the planned Wachusett Commuter Rail station.
Local leaders in Fall River urge DCR to make improvements to the underused Heritage State Park and waterfront.
Debate swirls around efforts by Brockton Power to bring a new power plant to the city.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission holds a community meeting to gain local insight as it considers a proposed casino in Brockton.
An agreement reached between Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Steve Wynn puts the odds further in the favor of the proposed Everett casino.Communities & People
For an even better profile of our Gateway City leader of the week, check out NBC News.