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Patrick: State recovery depends on small biz

Glen Johnson and Steve LeBlanc

BOSTON — Massachusetts will consider a fund to provide capital to small- and medium-sized businesses, Gov. Deval Patrick announced Tuesday as he closed a one-day summit with government and business leaders.

The Democrat also said he would explore ways to provide strategic advice to smaller businesses, whose growth could play a pivotal role in the state’s recovery from the national recession. He said he hoped to work out details of both programs during the next 90 days.

Hours earlier, Patrick opened the meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank by outlining his administration’s four-pronged growth strategy: supporting innovative industries such as life sciences and clean energy; investing in education; building infrastructure through bonding; and promoting development throughout the state.

“Like the nation, this Commonwealth is in a tough spot,” Patrick told about 150 attendees. “And we are all in it together and we will recover together. The question today is ‘how do we rebuild together?’”

Senate President Therese Murray, a Democrat, said one of her priorities is streamlining the state’s economic development infrastructure, which she called “fairly disorganized.”

Murray added, “Anyone looking at the Commonwealth’s organizational structure for statewide economic development will see too many organizations, with many overlapping and moving in different directions. There needs to be consistency, focus and the ability to respond quickly to businesses seeking help and information. In other words, we must achieve greater coordination and less confusion.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo reiterated his call for expanded gambling in Massachusetts, saying it would help with his top priority, creating jobs.

“I don’t see gaming as the solution to all of our economic and fiscal problems in the state, but I do see it as another tool that we can use to help our state prosper,” the speaker, a Democrat, said.

The meeting had the trappings of a campaign event; roughly half of the organizing committee are prior Patrick donors, and a screen behind the governor promoted the “Patrick-Murray Administration Economic Summit.” Even before it concluded, Patrick’s campaign committee sent an e-mail to his supporters highlighting the get-together.

State Republicans were critical.

“Today’s so-called ‘economic summit’ was really nothing more than another stop on Governor Patrick’s re-election campaign,” said a statement issued by Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei. The Watertown Republican also is chairman of the gubernatorial campaign of GOP candidate Charles Baker.

Among those in the crowd was Beacon Power Corp. President Bill Capp.

He said he has grown his 65-person Tyngsborough company, which creates energy storage and management systems, with help from both the state and federal governments. It has included a $5 million state loan to build a manufacturing plant and a federal loan guarantee to construct a second facility.

Capp said he attended to learn what other help he may be able to receive from the state.

“We’ve been very happy with the administration,” Capp said. “We’ve received support every time we’ve asked for it.”

The governor, shaking hands nearby, said Beacon Power’s story is one he hopes to replicate with other Massachusetts employers.

“Brick by brick, company by company,” Patrick said.

On the day after the summit, Patrick detailed the results of one of those bricks — federal stimulus money.

Patrick said that the federal stimulus program has created or saved more than 23,000 jobs in Massachusetts since February.

State agencies have received $4 billion from the national $787 billion package, and have spent $1.9 billion. The expenses include $1.3 billion for such benefits as unemployment insurance and $500 million on programs and infrastructure.

The 23,533 jobs represent anyone whose paycheck was supported by stimulus money, including about 6,000 summer interns, whose jobs have now ended.

Patrick said the extra money has helped avoid deeper job cuts across the state. He said many of those who were spared pink slips as a result of the stimulus spending included teachers, firefighters, police officers and construction workers.

“Real jobs are being created or saved,” Patrick told reporters during a press conference in his office. “Real projects are under way.”

The issue of the number of jobs created by the federal stimulus program has been contentious.

Critics, including Republican activists, questioned how the administration came up with the number of saved or retained jobs. They also pointed out that despite the extra spending, the state’s unemployment numbers continue to climb.

In September, the unemployment rate rose to 9.3 percent in Massachusetts, its highest level since 1976.

“Another report to claim phantom jobs have been ‘created or retained’ won’t convince people otherwise,” said Jennifer Nassour, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Massachusetts officials earlier this year also expressed frustration after the Obama administration estimated the 27-month program would save or create 79,000 jobs in the state. At the time, state officials overseeing the program in Massachusetts said they had no idea how the White House came up with the pledge.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, also complained that Massachusetts wasn’t spending its funding fast enough.

But Patrick said last week that he expects the state will eventually secure about $6 billion in total stimulus funds, and he hopes to exceed the 79,000 job figure when all the federal money is spent.

He also defended the pace of spending. He said Massachusetts has met its federal deadlines, but has been cautious about additional spending of stimulus dollars to ensure they produce long-term benefits.

“It’s a very conservative approach we have taken,” he said.

At the press conference, Patrick surrounded himself with labor leaders who said the extra spending has prevented more drastic job cuts.

“There is nothing more debilitating than losing one’s job,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes.

Jeffrey Simon, director of Infrastructure Investment in Massachusetts, said the 23,533 jobs represent real individuals whose jobs have been created or saved as a result of the spending. He said a formula used to estimate the number of indirect jobs saved as a result of the surge of spending would increase the total number to about 35,000 jobs.

(Associated Press)