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MWDN Op Ed: Reform will keep and grow businesses in Massachusetts

February 21, 2010

By Senator Karen Spilka, Guest Columnist
The MetroWest Daily News

As Massachusetts struggles to pull through a global economic collapse, we are better poised than other states to recover quickly. The state is filled with resources, including a well-educated work force and the highest per capita venture capital investment in the nation.

As the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, I have often heard from business people that, for companies who want to do business here, it can be incredibly difficult to know where to start. The existing “alphabet soup” of economic development agencies, quasi-public and private organizations in this state presents a complex and often hard to navigate system.

Without a coordinated effort to help companies stay, grow and locate here, we may miss opportunities to create good jobs for our residents quickly. That’s why, working with Senate President Therese Murray, I have filed a bill designed to shake up and reform the existing system of economic development bureaucracy.

An Act to Promote Economic Development Throughout the Commonwealth, which will be heard this Tuesday at the State House, is designed to create a more business-friendly and stable economic environment in Massachusetts. It increases accountability, oversight and efficiency, while decreasing the cost of doing business, especially for small businesses.

The cornerstone of this bill is the creation of a “one-stop shop” for businesses seeking to stay, expand or locate here. In a public/private partnership model that has worked well in other states, the existing Massachusetts Office of Business Development (MOBD) will contract with regionally-based economic development organizations.

These private organizations will act as the primary contact for businesses seeking assistance from the state and will provide regional expertise, while MOBD will provide information on programs available through the state. For businesses, this streamlined approach means one point of contact, and an increased ability to access the state’s resources.

Further streamlining of the state’s approach to economic development is accomplished through the elimination of a number of redundant and out-of-date state agencies, saving taxpayers estimated millions each year, while the functions of other organizations are consolidated to get rid of unnecessary duplication.

The most sweeping changes involve merging those organizations tasked with marketing the state for the purposes of tourism, international trade and business development into the newly-created Massachusetts Marketing Partnership. I am proud to say that I fought for – and achieved – the inclusion of the creation of a brand new MetroWest Tourism and Visitors Bureau in this bill. This important accomplishment means that we will keep the many tourism dollars generated in MetroWest here in MetroWest.

I have often heard that companies crave consistency, but our approach to economic development has for too long changed with each new administration. This bill will codify into statute for the first time that each governor will be required to publish a written economic development policy in the first year he or she is elected.

To facilitate better oversight, communication and coordination, the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development will be directly responsible for the state agencies and authorities engaged in economic development and business assistance. All state and quasi-public agencies in this area will be required many for the first time to produce annual reports and publish audited financial statements. State authorities will also be prohibited from using state funds to pay for registered lobbyists.

To boost small businesses, a brand new program of credit support will allow a larger number of them to gain access to working capital so that they can grow even in times of tight credit, while the establishment of a program of direct expertise in finance and management will assist new ventures in getting off the ground. Up to $50 million of the state’s pension fund will be directed to support lending to fast growing small businesses, keeping Massachusetts money invested in Massachusetts companies.

Another initiative to help small businesses requires economic impact statements detailing the cost of proposed new regulations from administrative agencies prior to adopting them. Incorporating a separate plan of mine, access to small claims court will be increased by raising the limit on filings from $2,000 to $7,000.

This innovative Senate bill is part of a broader plan by state leaders to address job creation and reform the way we do business in Massachusetts. We have already lowered the business tax rate, from 9.5 to 8.75 percent, effective January 1, 2010. The Senate, working together with the Governor and the House, will tackle the cost of health care for small businesses, lower the cost of unemployment insurance, and create tax incentives for small businesses. I believe we have a strong, responsible package for addressing the economic challenges we face.

Taxpayers who invest in the Commonwealth expect a solid return. I believe they deserve nothing less.

State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, represents the 2nd Middlesex-Norfolk district.

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