BOSTON– State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that on Tuesday the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation, by a vote of 37-1, to promote economic development and provide incentives to create jobs and stimulate the Commonwealth’s economy. The bill makes targeted investments in the state’s economic drivers including innovation and Big Data, workforce development, tourism and marketing.
“This bill combines investments in emerging industries like advanced manufacturing and Big Data with support for a strong, educated workforce to maintain the Commonwealth’s competitive environment,”said Downing. “We are outlining a path to success for our residents by equipping them with the tools and resources necessary to capitalize on our state’s existing and developing industries. Through this bill, we are not only supporting economic development across the state, but also making great strides in our efforts to promote ourselves as leaders in the world economy.”
During the debate the Senate considered more than 200 amendments. Downing, who serves as the Senate chair of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, secured adoption of his amendment to carve-out $50 million in the state’s existing Infrastructure Investment Incentive Program (I-Cubed) for transformative redevelopment in Gateway Cities. I-cubed, which was created by the Legislature in 2006, is funded with $250 million in order to support significant new public infrastructure improvements necessary to support major new private development.
Gateway Cities are midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies around the state, like Pittsfield in Berkshire County; there are 26 Gateway Cities in the Commonwealth. The Senate’s bill outlines investments to help promote job creation and economic growth in these underserved or struggling communities. It includes $10 million for the Gateway Cities Transformative Development Fund to revitalize and support residential, commercial, industrial and institutional development and financial assistance to promote collaborative workspaces.
The Senate also adopted Downing’s amendment to provide $50,000 to the Berkshire Theatre Group to help complete renovations to the warehouse space adjacent to the Colonial Theatre in downtown Pittsfield. Created in 2010 by the merger of the Berkshire Theatre Festival and The Colonial Theatre, The Berkshire Theatre Group will use this space to establish a meeting and convention center.
Innovation and Big Data are crucial to supporting job growth in the Commonwealth. The bill includes $100,000 for the Chief Information Officer in the Division of Information Technology to establish an online business portal, which provides a step-by-step guide to starting a business in Massachusetts and the tools needed to complete this process.
The bill also establishes the Big Data Innovation and Workforce Fund through the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech) to bring together academic institutions, industry and public sector organizations to make recommendations on how to educate and prepare a workforce for careers in Big Data. It further outlines $2 million for the operation of the John Adams Institute within MassTech and $1 million for the program to identify and promote regional e-health technology clusters.
To help students prepare for higher education after high school, the bill includes $750,000 for the Early College High School Initiative to allow students to enroll in college credit courses. It also requires the Department of Higher Education to assess stackable credentials programs offered at public higher education institutions in the Commonwealth to connect students with local businesses.
In addition, the bill allocates $1.5 million for the Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation, currently doing business as the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, to develop and establish computer science education in public schools across the state and $2 million for the Massachusetts Technology Park Collaborative with $1 million directed to establishing an entrepreneurship and startup mentoring program in consultation with the Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation.
The bill establishes the Innovation Commercialization Seed Fund to provide opportunities to test business ideas in the marketplace. The fund will work as a competitive grant program for researchers and students at the University of Massachusetts and other public and private research universities in Massachusetts.
To assist individuals from other countries who want to continue working in Massachusetts, the bill establishes a 3-year entrepreneur-in-residence pilot program at the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) and the Innovation Hub at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Venture Development Center (VDC) at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. The program will allow individuals to start and grow new businesses here in the Commonwealth.
Many of the fastest-growing jobs in the Commonwealth are middle-skill jobs, which require more than a high school education but less than a 4-year college program. The bill includes $10 million for the Advanced Manufacturing and Information Technology Workforce Training Trust Fund and sets a goal of training 4,000 workers in four years. To further address this need, $2 million is allocated for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and $150,000 for an employment training program for unemployed young adults with disabilities.
The bill updates the research and development tax credit for businesses. Additionally, it creates an alternative simplified credit as another option to encourage research and development in Massachusetts.
The Senate reformed the rules around employment non-competition agreements to provide reasonable protections for employees regarding duration of employment and geographical location, include notice and disclosure requirements, and preserve legitimate business interests. In addition, a noncompete provision cannot be enforced against an employee who is non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act, such as hairdressers, camp counselors and daycare workers.
The bill expands upon the Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) that was established by the Legislature in 2012 to allow businesses to submit proposals to be certified as an expansion, enhanced expansion, manufacturing retention, or a local tax increment financing only project. This economic development bill provides municipalities with greater flexibility to enter into special tax assessments such as tax increment financing.
The bill also removes the statutory limitations on the number of liquor licenses a local liquor authority can issue and places the authority in the hands of the municipalities, an idea recently endorsed by Governor Patrick and local officials.
To support tourism and marketing efforts, the bill includes $5 million for the Massachusetts office of Travel and Tourism to establish an International Tourism Marketing Campaign and replaces the current Massachusetts Tourism Fund Formula with a new formula at the recommendation of the Tourism Formula Commission, carrying an effective date of July 1, 2016. To support the Commonwealth’s fishing industry, the bill creates a seafood marketing program and establishes a Massachusetts Seafood Marketing Program Fund within the Division of Marine Fisheries to go towards the Commonwealth’s fishing and seafood industry.
The bill also does the following to promote economic development across the state:
Includes $10 million for the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund;
Increases the Housing Development Incentive Program’s annual cap from $5 million to $10 million through December 31, 2018 and eliminates the 50 unit cap on housing units;
Establishes a Financial Services Advisory Council within the Office of Housing and Economic Development and authorizes the Council to exchange ideas and develop strategies for business and government to work together to strengthen the Commonwealth’s financial services industry;
Requires the Massachusetts e-Health Institute to promote and support the formation of regional health information technology clusters;
Requires the Commonwealth to adopt the Uniform Trade Secrets Act to further protect business intellectual property;
Creates a 2014 sales tax holiday for the days of August 9 – 10; and
Expands the Infrastructure Investment Incentive program by increasing the amount of total allowable program spending from $325 million to $600 million and raising the number of allowed projects in any municipality from 3 to 8.
The Senate bill and the House of Representatives economic development bill, passed June 11th, will now go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the Governor.