BOSTON HERALD: Study touts job potential of ‘smart’ infrastructure
As originally appearing in The Boston Herald

By Ira Kantor

New England has the potential to create 27,000 new and sustainable jobs for every $1 billion the region invests in “smart” infrastructure, according to a report released today by Deloitte Consulting and the New England Council.

A “smart” infrastructure includes transportation systems, diversified energy sources, access to high-speed Internet, as well as a skilled work force and financing necessary for economic development to use new strategies and technologies that work better and cost less for the region, the report indicates.

In order for New England to build a proper 21st century infrastructure, the report offers the following eight recommendations:

• Creating new laws that authorize and support public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects within the region.

• Creating a regional infrastructure bank to address financing needs for interstate investments.

• Assessing New England traffic patterns, and implementing a consumption-based pricing solution to relieve congestion on critical roadways.

• Offering incentives to airlines — including marketing support, waived fees and low-priced terminal leases — to add international flights from Boston to such emerging markets as India and China.

• Working with the Federal Aviation Administration to become an early adopter of next-generation technologies, which will help reduce costs and delays for flights in and out of the Boston metroplex.

• Developing a plan to repair and upgrade the region’s energy transmission infrastructure, with goals of reducing costs to consumers and increasing or maintaining reliability.

• Maintaining existing power plants which, despite criticism, are a source of lower-cost power and help to maintain fuel diversity.

• Developing a framework connecting companies with community colleges and vocational schools to develop training programs that meet labor market needs and foster internships and full-time jobs.

New England could attract new businesses to the region by investing in an infrastructure that could support industry clusters throughout the region, the report said.

New England’s access to high-speed Internet is also crucial to its economic success, given the region’s broadband infrastructure is “a competitive advantage,” the report said.

“The networking of industry clusters requires a strong communications system that links companies to each other and to knowledge hubs,” the report said. “As New England states seek to attract new businesses to the region, broadband capabilities could be marketed as a key differentiator.”

Yet to take better advantage of “home-shoring” and regional network economics, New England needs to provide energy at a reasonable price to customers. Five New England states are currently on a top 10 list of states with the most expensive electricity prices, with Massachusetts at number four — 14.53 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“As the region develops a future energy plan, fuel diversity is important to reduce system risk and improve reliability,” the report said, adding the region’s electricity transmission system is “outdated and not designed to handle current, let alone future, demand, which has already increased 28 percent since 2000 and is expected to go up.”

The report encourages New England to build out a natural gas transmission system to capture the benefits of lower-cost energy and meet the needs of the region.

Deloitte said a recent survey ranked “a highly skilled and educated” work force No. 1 among manufacturing in criteria for site selection, with “quality of physical infrastructure” ranking fifth. By linking “learnings with earnings,” New England “could become a highly attractive choice for new businesses and overall economic growth,” the report said.

Along with the region’s gross domestic product spiking by nearly $9 billion over five years if the report’s recommendations are put into practice, the region could expect to see higher property values, increased workforce productivity, and a reduced dependence on energy currently transported long distances, the report said.

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