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Dukakis outlines economic strategy

By Andrea Lamberti

Biotechnology will be at the center of economic success in Massachusetts in the 1990s, said Governor Michael S. Dukakis Tuesday in a speech at MIT's Bartos Theater.

Outlining his economic strategies for the 1990s, Dukakis said that he will spend the next 14 months "laying the foundation we will need to make the '90s every bit as good as or better than the 1980s." He also presented five major components of an economic blueprint for the '90s that he will unveil in January.

Dukakis called the biotechnology initiative one example of "how we're going to fashion a winning strategy for the nineties -- together." For the past two months, the governor has been meeting with leaders from the Massachusetts economic community. Together they "identified five basic economic problems facing this commonwealth," he said.

Dukakis mentioned the loss of manufacturing jobs in both traditional industries and in the mini-computer industry. The Northeast did not see the same resurgence in manufacturing that the rest of the nation enjoyed in 1987.

Certain areas of the state, labeled by Dukakis as "targets for opportunity," have lost economic momentum. The economic gap between these areas, such as the Berkshires, Southeastern Massachusetts and Greater Roxbury, and the rest of the state "is growing again."

There is concern among the political and economic leaders of Massachusetts that the number of skilled and trained workers is on the decline, and that the region may lose growth to other parts of the country with labor surpluses. Dukakis recognized that the "sky-high housing prices" present in the state do not help attract work forces.

The "white-hot" economy of the 1980s encouraged real-estate development, and now much of the state is overbuilt. There is "too much of everything, construction is down, and built space is moving very slowly," Dukakis said.

Finally, Dukakis said that at the state level, "tax revenues are way off." The problem of revenue shortfall creates "a sudden instability to invest in our economic future" as well as fiscal instability.

Planning for the next decade

Despite these problems, Dukakis is starting now to plan for the next decade. The "fundamental strengths" behind the Massachusetts Miracle still exist, Dukakis claimed: daring entrepreneurs, productive workers, great universities, and great hospitals.

"If the the economic leaders I've been meeting with have told me one thing, it is that the Massachusetts economy has plenty of life in it."

Dukakis' economic blueprint will be based on a commitment to "growth and jobs in every region of the commonwealth," and to biotechnology and education.

The governor asserted that there are "tens of thousands of jobs in the high-technology industries," and Massachusetts must get these jobs. Biotechnology is one of these industries, and it is "exploding" across the state and the country.

"We're going to make Massachusetts the world's preeminent center for biomedical research, development and manufacturing," Dukakis said, emphasizing aid the state has given to entrepreneurs, to biotech developers, and to larger companies in bypassing red tape in Washington.

The emergence of biotechnology as a major industry in Massachusetts indicates that the number of jobs requiring more than just a high school education is decreasing. In the next 10 to 20 years, 85 percent of new jobs in Massachusetts will require at least a community college education, according to a recent MIT study, Made In America.

The study placed education and training at the top of the list of national priorities. "We've got to educate the workers and innovators of tomorrow," Dukakis said. He admitted that cuts in education spending are "a terrible mistake... we must continue to invest in quality education in Massachusetts."

Another facet of the plan to improve the state economy includes the "Mega-projects" -- five large-scale public investments in the greater Boston area. "The Harbor clean-up and the artery tunnel project will provide tens of thousands of jobs for the next ten years," Dukakis said.

The artery project will build a new central artery highway below the existing one downtown, add a harbor tunnel, and then tear down the existing central artery. It is part of Dukakis' plan to make Boston "the hub of an expanding New England economy."

The governor also intends to attain the necessary federal support for a high-speed rail system between New York and Boston to eliminate overcrowding at Logan Airport.

Outside of Boston, Dukakis said he plans to restore the Old Colony Railroad and rebuild the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The final element of the economic strategy is for Massachusetts to "go international" and be a primary force of the "Atlantic Rim." Dukakis said he would try to help companies begin exporting to Canada and Europe and take advantage of Massachusetts' location.