Massachusetts Business Czar Greg Bialecki’s Innovation Agenda: The Xconomy Interview, Part One

9/3/09Follow @wroush

From his corner office on the 21st floor of the MacCormack State Office Building on Beacon Hill, Gregory Bialecki has what is probably the best view of any state official in Massachusetts. To the south, the floor-to-ceiling windows peer over Boston Common, Downtown Crossing, the South End, and South Boston; to the east, they look toward Back Bay, the Charles River, and MIT.

But if any official can benefit from such an expansive view, it’s Bialecki. As the secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, after all, his job is to help all the people he looks out upon find homes to live in and jobs to go to. Because his office includes the state Department of Business Development, he’s also in charge of attracting new employers to Massachusetts and making sure that existing employers stay here and grow. And that means he’s the point man in Governor Deval Patrick’s administration for all efforts to build on the commonwealth’s track record of high-tech innovation, through efforts like the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and the new MassChallenge business plan competition.

In the inaugural post of his “Mass Innovation” blog in July, Bialecki argued that innovation gives Massachusetts its fundamental competitive advantage, but that the state still needs “a deliberate innovation agenda” to improve collaboration between industry, academia, and government. A Newton, MA, resident and Harvard-trained lawyer, Bialecki replaced former Cabinet secretary Daniel O’Connell in January. He invited Xconomy to his office last week for our first formal interview; the questions we covered ranged from Bialecki’s background to non-compete agreements, data privacy regulations, and the role of state government in funding early-stage commercialization work. We’ve condensed and edited this far-ranging conversation. Part 1 follows here; we’ll publish Part 2 tomorrow.

Xconomy: You’ve practiced law with big firms like Hill & Barlow and DLA Piper. What kinds of work did you do for them?

Secretary Bialecki: Over the years, the vast majority of my clients were in real estate development. There’s a lot of moving parts in real estate development. Your clients are buying land, designing projects, getting permits, getting tenants, getting financing. Within that broad outline, my specialty was permitting and land use regulation. So I tended to work with clients who had chosen projects that, by either their size or their location, involved very significant land use issues. For example, with the Fan Pier site in Boston, I represented the Pritzker family at the time they acquired the property. The zoning had been the same for decades, and was consistent with the history of South Boston’s waterfront—there were warehouses and parking lots and an old industrial neighborhood, and Fan Pier itself used to be a trainyard. So if Fan Pier was going to be redeveloped and brought into the current generation…a critical element was to work with the city and the state, because in Massachusetts, waterfront property is subject to very significant state land use regulations. So advancing that involved working with the city and the state to come up with new zoning and land use regulations that would accommodate a new generation of uses for that site [which is now home to a convention center, several hotels, a federal courthouse, and the Institute of Contemporary Art].

X: How do you feel this sort of work prepared you for your current role helping the Patrick Administration interface with the business community?

GB: In permitting and land use work, even when you’re representing private clients, you’re very involved with the public sector, because you’re working very closely with … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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