Senate Targets Economic Development and Job Creation; Approves Key Infrastructure Investments

BOSTON – The Senate yesterday, in its latest effort to stimulate job growth and economic advancement in Massachusetts, passed legislation that will assist small businesses and the manufacturing industry, invest in research and development projects and strengthen and reform workforce development efforts, State Senator Jamie Eldridge announced.

“I strongly believe that the best way to grow our economy and support job creation is to invest in the things businesses need to be successful, including an educated workforce and strong infrastructure, and to make sure our small businesses and community organizations have the access to capital and support they need to grow. By prioritizing workforce development, community investment and small business support, this bill does just that, and I was proud to support it,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge.

In an effort to spark new innovations in the Commonwealth, the bill includes $50 million in funding for the Scientific and Technology Research and Development Matching Grant Fund to support matching grants for research and development projects sponsored by universities and research institutions. All eligible projects must secure $3 for every $1 of state money committed.

According to the National Skills Coalition, middle skills jobs, which require more than high school but less than a four-year degree, make up the largest part of the Massachusetts’ labor market. To address this need, the bill includes $5 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and allows the Fund to spend some of its money on grants that address the gap between skills held by workers and the skills needed by employers.

The legislation also supports ongoing construction projects in the Commonwealth by extending the “permit extension act,” until August 15, 2012. This effort will support projects that have already been issued permits but may have had difficulty obtaining financing during the economic downturn.

To promote economic development, the bill establishes and includes $1 million for a community investment grant program that will support community development corporations and community support organizations. Grants will be based on community investment plans and range from $50,000 to $150,000. The bill also allows local residents and businesses to work with Community Development Corporations to develop high quality, multi-year business plans. The plans that are identified as most effective in meeting local and state-wide goals for community economic development will be awarded up to $150,000 in state tax credits per year for three years, with the purpose of securing up to $300,000 in private investment each year. A percentage of the tax credits will be allocated for rural areas and Gateway Cities.

The legislation supports increased financing for small businesses by shifting the limits on the pension reserve investment management board’s investments in institutions that lend to Massachusetts small businesses from $50 million to $100 million, from a cap of $50 million.

In addition, the Massachusetts Office of Business Development will be required to create a website to provide information on public and private resources available to small businesses and to promote small businesses in Massachusetts. The bill also includes $250,000 in grant funding to the Small Business Association of New England’s layoff aversion program to prevent business closure and employee displacement at manufacturing companies.

Recognizing the importance of the manufacturing industry, the bill establishes a Massachusetts Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program that will provide grants for technical assistance for small and mid-sized manufacturers.

The legislation creates the Energy Conservation Loan Program that will enable MassDevelopment to issue up to $1 billion in triple-A rated bonds to provide low-cost funding for commercial, industrial, retail and mixed-use property owners to make energy efficiency improvements.

The bill also does the following:

  • Requires that the director of workforce development examine and make ongoing assessments of the effectiveness of the grants issued through the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, and requires that each grant recipient submit an annual report;
  • Includes $2 million in funding for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to provide paid internships to technology startups and innovative companies and to establish an entrepreneur and startup venture capital mentoring program;
  • Creates timelines and publication requirements for the four small business loan review boards, which are required to review small business loan denials that applicants believe were unreasonably denied;
  • Equalizes quarterly tax payments for corporations and authorizes a transfer of $200 million to the General Fund from the Stabilization Fund, with a reimbursement requirement by December 31, 2014, to account for cash flow shortfalls as a result of the equalized corporate tax payments;
  • Requires the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development to establish an Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative, which would be responsible for developing and implementing the commonwealth’s manufacturing agenda;
  • The bill requires the transfer of $4 million from one-time tax settlements to the Smart Growth Housing Trust fund to support projects developed through chapter 40R; and
  • Authorizes the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt regulations and issue authorizations for emergency response related to widespread storm damage.

The Senate bill and the House bill, which passed May 23, will go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the governor.

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