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Advice for Charlie Baker: Economic development

How can Governor-elect Charlie Baker make Massachusetts more prosperous? Here’s some advice from Globe Opinion writers.

Fund the Life Sciences Center

In 2008, Deval Patrick created the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, committing $1 billion over a decade toward tax credits and capital investments in the state’s biotech and medical device infrastructure. The move put the state at the forefront of these industries and created thousands of jobs: Eight of the world’s 10 largest pharmaceutical firms now do business in the state, according to a 2013 Boston Foundation report. Yet this quasi-public agency’s full potential probably hasn’t even been realized. Its life-sciences investment fund — which pays for most of its programming — has never been fully funded, next year’s budget appropriation is likely to be cut, and the program’s future after 2018 is in doubt. Given its results, this is one economic driver that should expand.



Find the value in unused land

The state owns much more real estate than it needs, including many vacant urban parcels that could be attractive to housing developers. But selling each piece of land takes an act of the Legislature — literally. Baker should propose legislation to make it simpler to sell unneeded state real estate, which would raise money, move property onto local tax rolls, and open more space to redevelopment. Putting government-owned land into productive use is especially important in Boston, where the city and state are big landowners. As part of his economic development platform, Mayor Martin J. Walsh made better use of city-owned land a priority in Boston. It’s an idea that Baker should copy.


Don’t lump all tech firms together

Lots of people on Beacon Hill have gotten the message, at least rhetorically, that promoting the growth of successful tech firms is crucial to the state’s future. But which firms’ advice should Baker be taking? In the past, high tech in Massachusetts meant big, established companies in the ’burbs, and Hopkinton-based data storage giant EMC still exerts considerable influence over state policy. Exhibit A: the Legislature’s halting progress on eliminating noncompete agreements — a move EMC has fiercely opposed, even as some venture capitalists and startup execs argue for a freer movement of workers. At the least, it’s evidence that smaller, newer companies have different interests from mature tech giants, and so do potential blockbuster firms that don’t yet exist.



Build rail to the gateway cities

Because of their cheap commercial real estate, cities like Lowell, Lawrence, and New Bedford could be dream locations for tech startups. But it will be tough to persuade Boston-based entrepreneurs — and the venture capitalists who support them — to make the trip out of the Hub or convince their employees to do the same. Improving commuter rail service is key to changing this mentality. Baker should use this as a rationale to push for South Coast Rail, and to improve the service on the Lowell line from North Station. Better transportation could export some of the energy that currently animates the Seaport District to other parts of the state — and grow the economy in cities that could use the boost.