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From Massport to MCCA, help wanted atop some of the state’s most powerful entities

Healey has the chance to reset several key posts in her administration all at once

The top job at Massport, which oversees Logan International Airport, is up for grabs, along with several other key posts at state quasipublic agencies.John Tlumacki

The monthslong search for a new head of the Massachusetts Port Authority is almost over, with a final decision expected as soon as Wednesday.

The search for new chief executives to run some of the other powerful arms of state government? That’s only just beginning.

There are so many CEO vacancies among the quasipublic authorities — business-government hybrids that help make the economy hum — that it’s getting hard to keep up. Sure, some turnover is natural with a new governor. But Governor Maura Healey took over more than 16 months ago, and this big changeover is only just beginning.


Consider: Along with Massport, there are openings right now at the top of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, MassDevelopment, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, and small-business financier Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp. At least MassHousing’s Chrystal Kornegay isn’t going anywhere.

Filling the vacancies is sure to keep the Healey administration busy, though for now the governor has dragooned Gloria Larson and Dan O’Connell out of semiretirement to help steer the MCCA and MassDevelopment, respectively, until new CEOs can be found.

These are semiautonomous agencies that operate with separate budgets, boards of directors, revenue streams, and (in many cases) bonding authority. And because they can be vehicles for Healey and her top aides to bolster their economic development agenda, the governor wants trusted hands at the wheel. Last fall, the Healey administration hired a new leader to run the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in advance of filing economic development legislation aimed at supercharging that agency.

It turns out that hire, former Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert, will be the first of many.

Lisa Wieland left Massport for a job at National Grid in November, but it doesn’t look as if the other departing executives had new gigs lined up. Next to go was David Gibbons at the convention center authority, who had clashed with the administration over his handling of surplus land in South Boston and faced criticism about diversity at the authority. The MCCA board, which Healey controls, hired headhunting firm Koya Partners to search for his successor, though it has not started interviewing prospects yet. Meanwhile, Healey brought Larson, a former Bentley University president who chaired the MCCA board for more than a decade, back as interim executive director.


Vicksburg Square, a former barracks at the old Devens military base, could be converted to housing by MassDevelopment, the quasipublic entity that oversees the base. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Then came several more departures. Dan Rivera at MassDevelopment, Kenn Turner at the life sciences center, and Larry Andrews at Mass. Growth Capital are all on their way out, with Rivera and Turner both leaving the state payroll on June 14. Andrews intended to step down on April 30 and then stay for a short time to assist with the transition, but he may stay longer than he initially expected, possibly until his replacement is named. All three, like Gibbons, received severance packages, typically limited to three months of pay regardless of the time left on their contracts. The boards of these three quasis are chaired by Yvonne Hao, Healey’s economic development secretary, so this transition represents an opportunity for her. Healey has other top aides on the Massport, MassCEC, and convention center boards.

Measured by workforce and responsibilities, MassDevelopment is by far the biggest of these three economic development agencies. It manages the 4,400-acre former army base at Devens, now primarily a giant industrial park, provides low-cost bonds for hospitals and universities, and oversees other state-owned properties such as a pier in New Bedford that’s currently drawing redevelopment bids. Healey brought back Dan O’Connell, an economic development secretary in Deval Patrick’s administration, to run MassDevelopment, while Rivera sticks around for a few more weeks to help with the transition. Meanwhile, Jeanne LeClair has been named acting CEO at the life sciences center.


It’s natural for leaders of these agencies to rethink their jobs with a new governor in charge, said Greg Bialecki, another Patrick-era economic development secretary, especially if they don’t enjoy the same level of access with the boss. Some know they’re on borrowed time. It’s better to leave on your own terms than to wait around for that phone call. And while the pay is usually good by the standards of state government — often exceeding that of the governor and cabinet members — the private sector can be far more lucrative.

And it’s reasonable for Healey to want her own people in charge. Jay Ash, who led economic development under then-governor Charlie Baker, says a governor has a relatively short time to accomplish an ambitious agenda. (Baker also swapped out almost everyone in these roles.)

The New England Boat Show at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, run by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. Governor Maura Healey is seeking a new leader for the MCCA.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

For all these top executive roles, the Healey administration and the boards of directors are using executive search firms, not simply plugging in a well-connected campaign supporter. That’s a credit to Healey, Ash said. She is seeking qualified pros and not simply making patronage hires from the local ranks. Ash, now the CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, adds this thought: We’re fighting for our competitive life here in Massachusetts, so Healey and her advisers realize they need the best possible generals on the battlefield.


So how will these agencies change under new leadership? That’s hard to know right now, but it seems likely the administration will try to get more housing built. Massport and MCCA have some surplus land that could be good for apartment construction, for example. MassDevelopment could do more to finance multifamily housing construction. Healey has already asked the Legislature to remove the cap on how much housing can be built at Devens, a proposal that faces some pushback from local officials.

Healey and Hao aren’t saying much publicly about this wave of departures. But they spelled out their economic development strategy in December, with a 66-page report that leans heavily on sectors such as life sciences, climate-tech, robotics, tourism, and artificial intelligence. They followed up by filing that economic development bill in March, one that would invest in those sectors and others, though state lawmakers will in all likelihood make changes before returning the bill for Healey’s signature this summer.

Their boards packed with private-sector leaders, the quasis are often depicted as removed from the vagaries of politics. Not exactly. The big transition that’s underway now underscores just how intertwined these authorities are with state government.

Will Healey fully take advantage of these often overlooked resources? That remains to be seen. All the new CEOs will play a crucial role in answering that question, so you can’t blame Healey for wanting to get these hires right.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him @jonchesto.