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Bay State gets right to brag

Massachusetts, it seems, has the right to boast these days.

Its economy grew at more than twice the national rate during this year's first quarter, boosted by its booming technology sector.

This past month, the University of Massachusetts' MassBenchmarks journal showed the Bay State is doing very well, thank you, as it ships its tech wares across the globe, including various software and equipment. The state's so-called "growth premium," says the journal, "appears largely to be a function of the strength of the Massachusetts innovation economy that, unlike in recent recessions, helped buffer Massachusetts from the 'Great Recession' and has been a growing driver during the recovery period."

As the report points out, that booming technology sector is the reason for Massachusetts' strong growth during the first three months of this year. Experts pegged that growth at more than 4 percent. Compare that to our national growth rate of under 2 percent during this year's first quarter and you get an idea of the robust economy housed within our nearby New England neighbor.

"Throughout 2010, the pace of (Massachusetts') economic expansion has consistently outpaced the U.S., frequently by a substantial margin," says the latest issue of the MassBenchmarks journal.

Southeastern Connecticut, in fact, has felt the effect of the Massachusetts tech miracle, as Pfizer Inc. — one of southeastern Connecticut's largest employers — announced it would move jobs from its research-and-development campus in Groton to its growing research presence in Cambridge, Mass. That Pfizer presence in Cambridge is surrounded by technology firms and two prestigious education centers: Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ah, but dare to dream. Wouldn't it be great if Connecticut's economy showed such profound growth. We can't boast nearly as loudly since our economy is still working its way out of a dearth of real job creation, high unemployment and a state budget that is finally getting the fiscal repair job it's needed for a long time.

Here in Connecticut, we are seeing some modest growth from the Great Recession, which also was the Great Jobs Reducer, zapping nearly 100,000 jobs from this state's work force. Those jobs are coming back, alas, at a very meager pace. It should be noted that Massachusetts certainly had its share of a housing meltdown — what state didn't? — and its employment rate was also battered during the recession.

But experts there say the jobless rate in March stood at 8 percent, below the national rate of nearly 9 percent — and below Connecticut's jobless rate of 9.1 percent.

Connecticut's economy does have its technology bright spots. The University of Connecticut is beginning work on a technology park at its Storrs campus. The state is committing nearly $20 million to help design the site, and some of those funds are expected to be used to attract scientists and others. UConn and state officials say the tech park will house laboratories, as well as incubator facilities for startups.

Such a commitment of funding toward future technology development is a good sign. Who knows, maybe with more of a commitment in funding and resources, Connecticut could someday tout its own high-tech miracle that fuels job and economic growth.

Anthony Cronin is The Day's business editor.

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