Healey life-sci, climate tech plans will span 10 years

Gov. Maura Healey speaks during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce forum at Westin Copley Place on Tuesday. 

Gov. Maura Healey speaks during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce forum at Westin Copley Place on Tuesday.  Alison Kuznitz/SHNS

By Alison Kuznitz

State House News Service

Published: 02-28-2024 3:25 PM

BOSTON — Gov. Maura Healey will recommend reauthorizing the state’s life sciences initiative for another decade in a sprawling economic development bill she plans to file this week, she told hundreds of business leaders Tuesday morning.

The bill will also fund a 10-year climate tech initiative, Healey said during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce forum. Healey said the goal is “to make Massachusetts the global innovation lab for the clean energy revolution.”

Focusing on the bill’s benefits, Healey did not put a cost on either initiative or the total package, which is expected to seek billions of dollars in borrowing as the state grapples with slowing revenue collections. The life sciences initiative began in 2008 under former Gov. Deval Patrick with a $1 billion investment over a 10-year period.

Healey plans to offer her major proposal as she enters her 15th month in office and it will land before a Legislature that has just five months remaining in 2024 to complete formal session business, like consideration of the bond bill and scores of other bills.

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Chamber CEO Jim Rooney indicated he wasn’t worried about the timeline for lawmakers to tackle the bill.

“It’s always nice to give them more time, but I’m not going to criticize the timing,” Rooney told the News Service. “The Legislature is very familiar with dealing with economic development bills. It’s not their first rodeo, so my assumption is that leadership in both branches and the committees associated with this have thought about it on their own, so they knew it was coming.”

The bill would fund an Applied AI Hub for $100 million and invest in other programs to spur economic growth, including MassWorks infrastructure grants, the Rural Development Fund and the Seaport Economic Council. The bill will also seek funds for robotics and advanced manufacturing, to grow tourism, and to leverage the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, Healey said.

Massachusetts is home to 18 of the 20 largest life sciences companies in the world, the governor said. Healey, addressing nearly 700 business and civic leaders, vowed that Massachusetts would chase the other two companies without naming them.

The two companies are Gilead Sciences and Viatris, according to a MassBio spokesperson and the list of top businesses published by Drug Discovery & Development.

Healey said the life science initiative would fund new drug discoveries, collaboration across the “health care and innovation ecosystem,” health equity initiatives, and career pathways for students and workers from underrepresented backgrounds.

Asked by Rooney whether the initiative would focus on biomanufacturing as regions of the state beyond Greater Boston grow their life sciences presence, Healey said, “Oh bigtime.” Healey said Worcester is the 15th-largest life sciences hub in the country.

“It’s just growing leaps and bounds,” said Healey. “When you to talk to folks, they want proximity of manufacturing with research, and we’ve got space, we’ve got capacity, and that’s something that we’re really looking to support and incent that makes us, that distinguishes us from other places in the country, thereby making us more attractive for people to come and do business.”

Rooney told the News Service he wouldn’t be surprised if the investment in the life sciences initiative was around $500 million. The climate tech initiative could involve an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, but Rooney said Massachusetts would see a strong return on investment and become “the envy of every state.”

“On the biomanufacturing side, where that’s a relatively new dimension of our strategy that needs some investment, I could see some dollars, meaningful dollars focused over there,” Rooney said as he noted aggressive competition among other states.

Business leaders had expected to see a natural growth of biomanufacturing hubs around Massachusetts, but Rooney said that hasn’t come to fruition.

“We really need to get our strategy together on the biomanufacturing side,” he said. “I would love to see in the life sciences bill a component that is specifically targeted toward an aggressive play for biomanufacturing.”

Beyond life sciences, Healey said the commonwealth’s next “big play” is ensuring Massachusetts become a global hub of climate tech through public-private partnerships.

“As we’re sitting here enjoying this lovely breakfast with one another, just within miles of here, we have people who are working on fusion energy, on carbon-free cement for the building industry, on batteries for EVs, on solar, on offshore wind,” Healey said at the forum, held at the Westin Copley Place. “That stuff’s happening right here, folks. In Massachusetts, we’re going to solve climate change through innovation.”

Broadly outlining her climate tech initiative, Healey spoke about leveraging research already underway at universities, providing resources to startups so they can stay and grow here, and expanding manufacturing and workforce development partnerships.

Although other states have led on developing artificial intelligence, Healey said she wants Massachusetts to “own” applied AI.

“We can make AI a job-creator here in Massachusetts, not a job-destroyer,” Healey said. “And we can make sure that Massachusetts businesses, consumers and workers are leading and benefiting from this technology.”

The governor’s package is based on an economic development plan, released by the administration in December, that outlines Massachusetts’ strategy to become a leader in climate tech and tourism, while also boosting its competitive lead in sectors like life sciences and health care, advanced manufacturing and robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Healey also used her chamber appearance to tout her $4 billion Affordable Homes Act, which remains under review in the Legislature but is expected to advance in some form.

She called housing “the biggest challenge we face” and acknowledged local resistance to more production. The governor lamented the commonwealth’s housing shortage is causing Bay Staters to live elsewhere, such as North Carolina and Texas.

“This is the solution that we need to overcome decades of inertia and inaction. Making housing more affordable unlocks a better quality of life for our families and removes the biggest barrier holding back economic growth and development in our state,” Healey said.