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Mass. a magnet for federal funding, official says

Development chief cites state’s knack for innovation

‘We are in real alignment with the Obama agenda,’ said Greg Bialecki, secretary of Housing and Economic Development . ‘We are in real alignment with the Obama agenda,’ said Greg Bialecki, secretary of Housing and Economic Development .
By Robert Gavin
Globe Staff / May 28, 2010

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Massachusetts is well-positioned to win a disproportionate share of federal funds, which are increasingly being awarded by the Obama administration through competitions emphasizing innovation and collaboration, state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki said yesterday.

Bialecki, speaking at a forum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, noted that although Massachusetts accounts for only about 2 percent of the US population, the state has won far bigger shares of federal money awarded over the past year. Hospitals and other research institutions, for example, last year won more than 9 percent funding from the National Institutes of Health, according to state officials. Massachusetts has done even better with alternative energy, accounting for more than 30 percent of funding awarded so far through a program financed with federal stimulus money.

“We are in real alignment with the Obama agenda and ahead of the curve,’’ Bialecki said. “The president wants to see innovation, and wants to see it fast.’’ Attracting federal funding to spur innovation in the state was the focus of the John LaWare Leadership Forum, which is typically held four times a year to examine issues facing Greater Boston and Massachusetts. Founded five years ago, the forum has tackled education, housing, attracting and retaining skilled workers, and other issues.

Yesterday’s forum highlighted collaborative efforts that could win federal support, including the state’s attempt to gain $250 million in education funding in the second round of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top’’ competition; a large, powerful computing center in Holyoke that is being developed by a consortium of universities and technology firms; and a regionwide collaboration of universities, research labs, manufacturers, and alternative energy firms to develop energy-efficient building technologies.

These examples show that the turf consciousness that has traditionally marked relations among government, business, and institutions is fading, said Paul Grogan, president of Boston Foundation. Several years ago, Grogan said, a report commissioned by the foundation found that Greater Boston appeared to be missing the “collaborative gene.’’

“We are creating some new habits,’’ Grogan said. “This is a city and region that is getting much better at collaboration, and putting its best foot forward.’’ Grogan and others at the forum pointed to the high performance computing center as a prime example. Five universities — MIT, Harvard, Northeastern , Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts — are participating in the consortium. Also involved are technology firms EMC Corp., of Hopkinton, and Cisco Systems Inc., of San Jose Calif., and the city of Holyoke.

As planned, the center will would occupy 130,000 square feet in Holyoke’s mill district and provide high-powered computing for a wide variety of disciplines — including life sciences, high energy physics, and environmental sciences —that will help attract federal research money, said Christopher Hill, an MIT principal researcher who presented the plans for the center. The $95 million project would also provide a boost to the economy of Holyoke, where the unemployment rate in April was nearly 12 percent, nearly 3 percentage points above the state average.

Robert Gavin can be reached at rgavin@globe.com.