Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao speaks Monday, May 20, 2024 at a State House event celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Photo by Sam Doran | State House News Service

Two Democrats who have a chance to stamp their mark on Gov. Maura Healey’s $3.5 billion plan to reinvigorate the state’s business climate want the benefits to stretch beyond the Boston metropolitan area.

Both chairs of the state legislature’s Bonding Committee, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Lowell and Rep. Mike Finn of West Springfield, pressed administration officials Monday for funding proposed in the bill to flow northward, southward and westward outside the urban core.

Kennedy said he believes the life sciences industry is “almost maxed out” in Boston and Cambridge, which developed into major hubs thanks in large part to more than a decade of state investments that Healey’s bill aims to continue.

“But there is space in places like Lowell, and I’m sure in other Gateway Cities – you know, Brockton and Worcester come to mind,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure there are others where they would welcome life science industries coming to them. I think anything that we can do to try to promote that would be a good thing for the entire commonwealth.”

Healey’s economic development secretary, Yvonne Hao, replied that while Boston and Cambridge lead the pack for the life sciences industry, Worcester also has a major footprint that is more significant than much larger cities like Dallas.

“Not only is it Worcester, but we have lots of life sciences companies that are building manufacturing in Marlborough and Westboro and Bedford, all across the state,” she said. “So the model here is, we want to help ensure that we take all of the incredible patents and things out of our labs, but then as we scale them, make sure that we grow all of this across all of our region.”

Healey’s bill would reauthorize the state’s life sciences initiative with $1 billion for another decade. The program launched under Gov. Deval Patrick and was then extended by Gov. Charlie Baker, with state funds helping the industry grow into a Massachusetts cornerstone.

Another feature in Healey’s economic development package is a similar $1 billion, 10-year investment in climate technology, an industry that Healey wants to help flourish in Massachusetts.

Finn told administration officials that Kennedy’s question “opened up a door that I think is important for me to talk about,” and recalled discussing the bill with his staff during their commute from western Massachusetts to Beacon Hill.

“This bill seems to have quite a bit of economic opportunities for this part of the state, and I say that because I’m from the other part of the state,” Finn said.

After observing that western Massachusetts has a “significantly higher” unemployment rate than the statewide average, Finn asked: “Within these authorizations, within the bold proposals that you all are putting forward, what can you offer to a representative from the western part of the state who’s concerned about the economic opportunity not existing in his district?”

Hao replied that Massachusetts has the highest income per capita of any state, which “we should be proud of,” and also the third-most income inequality of any state, which is “not something we should be proud of.”

The income gap between eastern and western Massachusetts, she said, in some cases reaches as high as $50,000.

The governor’s economic development bill would bridge that chasm by focusing its investments “where they’re going to have the biggest impact,” Hao said. She detailed one idea in the bill to support “tech hubs” outside of Boston, such as by deploying state funding to encourage research and development on quantum technologies in Springfield.

“We can’t be successful if Boston and Cambridge are not successful. We need to ensure that they continue to be strong,” she said. “But we cannot be successful if only Boston and Cambridge are successful. We need every region to rise with this rising tide.”

The wide-ranging legislation (H.4459) reaches across many other sectors, too. Bond authorizations represent about $2.8 billion of the bill’s bottom line, about $1.75 billion of which would renew existing bond authorizations, according to Hao.

The rest of the bill includes about $750 million in “specific, targeted tax law changes that provide incentives to help companies stay here,” Hao said.

“We are living in interesting times. The world is getting complicated, the pace of technology change is increasing and accelerating, and many other states are trying to catch up,” Hao said. “This is not the time for us to coast. We have so many strengths in our state – we have wicked awesome legislators, we have such smart people, we have people who care deeply about our community. This is the time for us to make the right investments that we know are going to pay off.”

The Legislature’s Economic Development Committee advanced a redraft of the bill last week, nearly three months after Healey filed it.

Kennedy expects his panel to move much more quickly.

“We’ll be sending this off to Ways and Means by the end of this week,” he said.

State Lawmakers Say Cambridge ‘Maxed Out,’ Want Biotech Aid for Gateway Cities

by State House News Service time to read: 3 min