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Baker may consolidate development agencies, aide says

CAMBRIDGE — The state’s new economic development chief Thursday assured Massachusetts biotechnology leaders that the administration of Governor Charlie Baker remains committed to the life sciences industry but is rethinking how state government can best promote it.

“Our job is to show up and question everything before us,” Jay Ash, secretary of housing and economic development, told more than 200 people at the opening of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s annual meeting.

Responding to concerns expressed by some in the industry, Ash acknowledged the state is considering consolidating economic development agencies that offer incentives to emerging companies. But he said it is too soon to conclude that state officials will scrap the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which provides tax breaks, loans, and grants to biotech and medical technology companies that create jobs in the state.


“We’re testing every theory and every law put down in front of us,” Ash said, in an apparent reference to the 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative championed by former governor Deval Patrick.

Ash said there are 19 state agencies engaged in some form of economic development. “We’re asking if 19 is the right number,” Ash told his audience at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. “As we ask that question, we’re going to ask you that question. We’re going to start a dialogue that is going to get us to a good point.”

Praising the work of life sciences center president Susan Windham-Bannister, Ash said, “My job is to find out if that’s the formula for success for the next 10 years.” He said a centralized “uber agency” is one possibility but quickly added, “I don’t think that’s the way to go.”

“If we’re going to make a move on the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, if we’re going to make a move on the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, it’s because we see an opportunity to take advantage of the resources to get a greater return,” Ash said.


Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.