Plan Ahead to Attract Development

By Gregory Bialecki
Letter to the Editor of the New Bedford Standard-Times

(Mr. Bialecki is undersecretary for business development at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.)
For businesses looking to locate or expand in Massachusetts, getting the state and local permits needed to do business has been a major challenge for many years. We need to address this issue front and center in order to grow our economy and create jobs. We can fix this problem, without sacrificing the character of our communities or the quality of our environment, by planning ahead for new growth and development.
We have developed a bad habit in Massachusetts, at both the state and local levels of government, of not planning ahead for new growth. Instead, we wait for and react to private proposals for commercial and residential development, using our permitting processes to debate and decide the important questions of where and how new development should occur. This is a losing proposition for all concerned.
Reacting to individual development proposals is not a constructive way for our communities and our commonwealth to shape and guide a vision of what we want to be. Waiting to discuss these important questions until after the permitting process for a particular project has begun makes it extremely unlikely that permits will be issued in a timely and predictable manner.
Under Gov. Deval Patrick’s recently announced Growth Districts Initiative, we are starting the process of breaking these bad habits by highlighting some great examples of where our local communities are thoughtfully planning ahead and pledging to focus our state efforts and resources on making those plans become a reality.
Within these districts, all of which have been identified locally as promising locations for new growth, we will work closely with communities and property owners to make districts “development ready” with respect to local and state permitting, site preparation, infrastructure improvements and marketing.
New Bedford has been a leader in local efforts to improve our business climate, and so it was fitting for the Patrick-Murray administration to designate the Hicks-Logan-Sawyer district as one of the commonwealth’s first growth districts. It is a great model of how to plan ahead, with careful thought being given to every aspect of getting sites within the district ready for new development, from proper zoning to brownfield remediation to infrastructure.
We are now in the process of announcing 15 other districts around the state that will demonstrate that planning ahead is the right approach for all kinds of new development, whether urban or suburban, commercial, residential or mixed-use.
There is a lot that the commonwealth can and will do to support growth within these new districts. The state grant for roadway and traffic signal improvements announced by Gov. Patrick last week, in support of the redevelopment of Fairhaven Mills, is just one example of this kind of assistance. Importantly, it represents the first step in a continuing commitment by the state to collaborate with the city and with local businesses to create jobs and revitalize the community in this area.
We believe that each of these growth districts will, with our support, become regional hubs of economic activity, creating new employment opportunities both for the communities in which they are located and for neighboring communities as well.
Of equal importance, we believe that these growth districts will be a critical first step in shaking our bad habits toward new growth and development.
By planning ahead, Massachusetts communities will take a responsible, sustainable step toward propelling the commonwealth’s economy through the next century.
June 29, 2008
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