AP NEWS

Making a Great Economy Even Greater

May 24, 2019

Even in Massachusetts, with its enviable 2.9% jobless rate, there’s still room for economic improvement.

That’s because signs of slower growth have appeared. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, after creating 53,200 jobs in the 12 months through February 2018, year over year job growth dropped to 20,300.

And while the state’s overall unemployment rate has dipped below 3%, as of March, that rate in the Greater Fitchburg-Leominster stood at 3.7%.

That’s why communities across the state — especially Gateway cities like Lowell and Fitchburg — continually look for ways to bolster economic development.

The Baker administration, sensitive to the needs of cities and towns throughout the commonwealth, has embarked on a listening tour to determine those economic concerns.

The feedback gathered will become the basis for an economic development plan that the governor will propose to the Legislature later this year.

On Tuesday, a contingent including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy met at Middlesex Community College’s Lowell campus with members of the area business community to discuss economic development.

The topics of discussion included housing affordability, business growth, innovation and startups.

But the most important key to economic growth centers around an ample supply of skilled labor. Companies like Lowell-based Kronos continue to have difficulty finding the skilled workers it requires.

That labor deficit extends to manufacturing, which due to an insufficient number of skilled technical school and community colleges graduates, combined with an aging, obsolete workforce, also has trouble finding talent.

That’s where a technical high schools and community colleges must step up to understand the type of jobs that exist in a 21st century economy and then provide its students — and older workers through retraining programs — with the intellectual tools required to succeed.

Other avenues, like UMass Lowell’s Innovation Hub in the Hamilton Canal District, which provides space for emerging companies and the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center, known as M2D2, represents an unlimited business creation potential that’s already spawned several successful start-ups.

On a more Main Street level, area communities also want to expedite the process of landing a business by simplifying the issuance of permits and other related steps through one department.

As the Devens Enterprise Zone has shown, offering a variety of amenities along with streamlined permitting process will spur that type of economic activity that’s attracted more than 100 companies of all sizes to this self-contained community shared by nearby Ayer, Harvard and Shirley.

Other communities don’t have that incentive luxury.

But the anti-growth elephant in the room during this visit by our Republican governor’s delegation continues to be the shortage and astronomical price of housing in this state.

The Baker administration believes its housing choice legislation would ease that crisis by making it easier to approve a mix of housing developments through Town Meetings or planning boards by a simple majority rather than the two-thirds vote now required.

Other regional meetings will undoubtedly elicit similar concerns and responses. But by its nature, vying for businesses is a competitive enterprise, producing winners and losers.

That’s a fact of life you can’t change through legislation.

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