The employment picture is bad and getting worse. Friday it was announced the U.S. unemployment rate had reached 8.1 percent in February. Thursday, state officials revealed the Massachusetts unemployment rate had soared from 6.4 percent in December to 7.4 percent in January.

No one knows whether we've reached bottom yet, but when things turn around, it's important the Bay State be positioned to grab as many new jobs as possible.

And that's not likely to happen unless the Patrick administration and Legislature act to remove some of the costs and obstacles to business development that are unique to the Bay State.

Most expect this great recessionary cloud to lift at some point. But when it does, you can be sure bruised business owners will be taking a much closer look at those factors that influence the bottom line in deciding where to invest. And right now, things like the high cost of electricity, a too-tight regulatory environment, unpredictable tax policies and onerous employment laws, work against the Bay State.

Reasonable reform with the goal of creating a more business-friendly environment is the goal of the new "Common Wealth" initiative launched by Associated Industries of Massachusetts. Representing some 6,500 employers, AIM is urging the Legislature this term to position the state for growth. Among the recommendations worthy of consideration:

Extension of the Investment Tax Credit to all industry sectors.

Correct the law that made employers subject to treble damages even if their violation of wage-and-hours laws was found to be unintentional.

Bring unemployment insurance practices in line with those of most other states. The current system has resulted in Massachusetts having the highest unemployment insurance rates in the country.

Curb the ability of the governor's office to arbitrarily institute costly environmental regulations under the Global Warming Solutions Act. These solutions should be set at the federal level, so that all states are affected equally.

Reform a product liability system that has allowed local firms to become targets of "frivolous and resource-sapping lawsuits brought by parties looking for huge payoffs," AIM says.

Commit to using capital-gains revenues for one-time-only capital projects.

Such reforms need to be enacted now lest Massachusetts be left behind when the recovery finally begins.

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