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Economists: Massachusetts economy booming in many ways, harsh winter caused little harm


BOSTON — The brutal winter had only a "transitory, and ultimately minor" effect on the state's overall economy, according to economists who said Thursday that Massachusetts is in many ways experiencing its strongest expansion since the late 1990s.

But the editorial board of MassBenchmarks, a journal of the state's economy, also waved some warning flags about uneven growth and pockets of stubbornly high unemployment. It also said future growth could be curtailed without greater investment in transportation infrastructure.

The board, in a summary of its latest research, said surveys showed strong growth in the labor force and that the estimated gross state product was continuing to outpace the U.S. as a whole.

The growth was being fueled by the so-called knowledge sector, including software development, computer services, and architectural, engineering and consulting services.

A series of winter storms from late January through early March pummeled Massachusetts with record snowfall. The storms brought Boston's aging public transit system to its knees, disrupting travel and impacting many local businesses.

But the economic harm, according to MassBenchmarks, was for the most part temporary.

"As the board anticipated, this year's severe winter weather had only a transitory, and ultimately minor, impact," the economists wrote.

The storms did, however, expose the degree of stress that growth was placing on transportation infrastructure, leaving it "in serious need of attention and investment," if economic expansion is to continue, they said.

The journal is published by the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The latest summary pointed to continued regional and socio-economic disparities.

"Economic growth continues to be disproportionately concentrated in the Greater Boston region and within the Route 495 belt," the economists said. "While there are notable exceptions to this pattern of imbalanced growth, including the cities of Lowell and Worcester, conditions in regions outside of the Greater Boston region are improving but their economic performance continues to lag."

Other short- and long-term threats cited by the board include rising electricity rates that are limiting economic growth in some areas, and a shortage of new housing that is driving up home prices — making it more difficult for businesses to recruit highly-skilled workers from outside Massachusetts.

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