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Report lists steps to make Mass. more competitive

The Patrick administration released a 34-page economic development plan yesterday that proposes dozens of steps to help make the state more competitive, from reducing the cost of energy to beefing up training programs for workers.

The report, by the state Economic Development Planning Council, contains 55 recommendations organized around a few goals: advancing education and workforce development for middle-skill jobs; supporting innovation and entrepreneurship; bolstering regional development through investments in transportation projects and other infrastructure; and making it easier and less costly to do business here.

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For instance, to foster innovation, the report recommends a 20 percent annual increase in state spending on incubators, which provide low-cost office space and other support to young companies.

To help make the state more cost-competitive, the plan proposes pursuing hydroelectric power from large-scale projects (such as those operated by Hydro-Quebec in Canada) to lower electricity rates. Hydropower is typically cheaper than many other sources. For example, Holyoke’s municipal utility, which operates a Connecticut River dam, provides electricity at rates 30 percent below the state average.

The report also proposes that hospitals increase the use of electronic records and adopt new payment systems to control health care costs.

Greg Bialecki, secretary of Housing and Economic Development, said Governor Deval Patrick’s administration is already working on most of the ideas, but wanted to outline them in a single document as away to motivate businesses, nonprofits, and other groups.

“We’re going to get more collaboration if it’s very clear where we are going and what we are trying to do,’’ Bialecki said. “It’s not a course correction.’’

The report is the first under the Economic Development Reorganization Act of 2010, a state law that requires governors to convene a council to produce a comprehensive economic development policy in the first year of each term.

The Economic Development Planning Council has 34 members, including several administration officials, legislators, and others. University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret, former Tufts Medical Center chief executive Ellen Zane, and Citizens Bank regional president Jerry Sargent have seats.

Some watchdogs are skeptical.

“There are some good ideas there, but it’s a question of implementation,’’ said Steve Poftak, director of research for the Pioneer Institute, a Boston nonprofit public policy research group. “Is there a firm timetable and a firm commitment to the hard work that is necessary to get it done?’’

David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, a Boston think tank that supports limited government, said some of the goals in the report are so vague - such as the promise to review existing regulations - that he doubted they would accomplish much.

He added that too many proposals would expand programs, such as incubators and other projects to support small businesses, instead of cutting government and reducing taxes to spur growth. “It’s pretty disappointing,’’ Tuerck said.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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