James T. Brett is president and chief executive of The New England Council. John Hailer is CEO of Natixis Global Asset Management and Chairman of the New England Council
The New England states are steeped in history, rich with natural beauty and resources, and each defined by unique characteristics and demographics.
The engines of each state’s economy are equally unique.
Traverse the back roads of Vermont to find a burgeoning economy of artisan foods, organic products and craft breweries. Visit General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works on one day – and a wild blueberry field the next – to appreciate the cultural range between two of Maine’s most important industries.
In Hartford, Connecticut we think insurance. In Groton, it’s submarines. Rhode Island, meanwhile, projects that by 2016 job opportunities in chemical manufacturing, financial services and health care will be among the leaders in employment growth.
Year-round tourism is now New Hampshire’s leading industry – though its favorable tax structure and other benefits are at the heart of an active and aggressive campaign to attract new business.
And of course Massachusetts, anchored by education and healthcare, continues to be a leader in promoting the “knowledge economy” by leveraging assets such as the UMass Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property – a critical engine for turning the inventions and discoveries of UMass researchers into commercially viable products.
In West Springfield, the Scuderi Group has developed one of the most significant advancements in automotive technology in more than a century with its high efficiency, split-cycle internal combustion engine.
And what better place to do it? The Springfield-Hartford metro area is home to more than two million people, top ranked colleges and universities, and some of the most innovative businesses in the state. But Springfield’s cost of living is a third less than Boston – the same, in fact, as Raleigh, NC, the epicenter of that state’s high tech, life sciences, and financial services expansion. Massachusetts companies should take note.
Indeed, throughout New England there is much to be proud of in the individual characteristics and economic traits that contribute to an enviable quality of life.
But harnessing the strong appeal of each state to create a more cohesive regional approach to economic development is something that still needs to happen.
The decade-old Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership in the past was one example of cross-state efforts to attract and retain businesses. And Team New England, also established in 2000, was spearheaded by Northeast Utilities to help attract businesses to the region as a whole.
But we need to do more. We need a bold, cooperative effort to build a regional economic development zone throughout New England – one collective economic engine. All New England states should have more consistent policies on taxes, workforce education and development, environmental standards and transportation. And we need to agree as a region what types of industries we need to attract to maintain an acceptable, sustainable quality of life.
At the New England Council, we’ve begun to have these discussions both with our members and with the New England Congressional delegation. If the members of the European Union can find the common incentives to build an economic powerhouse, why can’t it happen in New England? Oftentimes, the only thing that separates a successful and unsuccessful endeavor is leadership and the right moment in time.
One way to jumpstart the process: Convene a New England Regional Economic Summit. Each of the six states could appoint a small delegation led by their respective top economic development officers for a two-day series of policy discussion and priority setting. The goal when it’s done: A real agenda of initiatives (A joint marketing campaign? A uniform tax incentive? A regional bid for federal funding?) with common support from the delegations, and therefore a real chance at more formal ratification at the state level.
Now is the right moment to implement a unified New England economic zone. All of the New England states are facing the same challenges – limited budgets, declining tax revenues, shrinking labor pools, unemployment, a decline in traditional manufacturing jobs and an increasing need for well-paying jobs. This – coupled with shrinking state resources available to focus on economic development – makes the need for cooperation more critical than ever.
We have a unique opportunity before us to band together as a region and successfully meet the challenges over the coming years. Let’s pool our regional state resources and focus on the strong industries and values across the New England region. Let’s harness the value and appeal inherent to each New England state and lay out an economic development blueprint for the future.