The chief executive of Associated Industries of Massachusetts today outlined an expansive vision for the role of business in society, asserting that employers must be a positive force for change in creating a better, more prosperous world.
“Employers are bound to the economic hopes and dreams of the communities in which they operate. Our challenge is to integrate the economic needs of employers with the welfare of the society in which employers play a central role,” AIM President John Regan told an audience of 350 business leaders during his State of Massachusetts Business address.
“That means ensuring that business remains an economic engine of progress that expands prosperity for everyone.”
Regan noted that Massachusetts calls itself a commonwealth, a term deliberately chosen by John Adams when he drafted the state constitution in the fall of 1779. The world's oldest functioning written constitution, Regan said, thus enshrined the idea that “we are all in this together.”
“We need to acknowledge economic inequalities and address them by creating real pathways for achieving economic security. Failure will drive our public discussions and our politics down an ever more resentful and unconstructive path,” he said.
“We must have our gaze firmly fixed on the future. We need to advocate boldly for our members and for the importance of thriving businesses.”
Regan offered several prescriptions to ensure that the interests of business and the larger society are aligned:
- Massachusetts and the business community must set the standard for diversity and inclusion in all aspects of its operations, from talent acquisition and management to supply chain development and participation.
- Business must lead the way in developing and keeping a highly qualified workforce. Regan’s speech featured a video highlighting two apprenticeships developed by Interstate Electrical Services of North Billerica.
- Ensure that Massachusetts remains fertile ground for launching new businesses and growing existing ones.
“Economic growth and business ownership and success are the only effective methods of achieving the social equity necessary to a sustainable commonwealth,” Regan said.
In his first State of Massachusetts Business Address since taking over as CEO last year, Regan warned that as the nation embarks upon a presidential election year, the debate over the role of business has unmistakable political implications. Where once those on both sides of the aisle could reach compromise on issues like tax rates, interest levels and government spending, the 2020 campaign has shifted largely to the margins on either side.
The good news, according to Regan, is that AIM, the business community and the political establishment in Massachusetts enjoy a uniquely collaborative relationship that has allowed the commonwealth to find reasonable solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
He urged employers to involve themselves in key upcoming debates on issues such as transportation funding, climate change and health-care reform.
Regan’s remarks were followed by a discussion among business and economic leaders who were generally optimistic about prospects for the Massachusetts and US economies.
Sara Johnson, Executive Director of Global Economics for IHS Markit, predicted that global economic growth will remain steady at 2.5 percent during 2020. The US economy, she said, should feel the positive effects of the preliminary trade agreement signed recently between the US and Canada.
“I think the outlook for the US economy is favorable, but the global outlook is a mixed picture,” said Johnson, who serves as vice chair of the AIM Board of Economic Advisors.
Steve Grande, owner of Meridian Industrial Group in Holyoke, said manufacturing companies have the potential to once again anchor the economies of Gateway cities as long as business and government address issues such as transportation and boosting labor-force participation.
“I’m really encouraged by where Massachusetts economy and the national economy are,” Grande said
Emily Reichert, CEO of the clean technology incubator Greentown Labs in Somerville, said recent proposals by Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Senate to make the commonwealth net carbon neutral by 2050 will attract additional environmental start-ups.
“It tells entrepreneurs around the world that Massachusetts is a place where you can build a company to address one of the great challenges of our time,” Reichert said.
Panel members and moderator Donna Latson Gittens also discussed the opportunity to address some of the growth challenges in eastern Massachusetts by promoting economic expansion in the western portion of the state.