What is the Economic Outlook for Massachusetts in 2020?

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 3, 2020 8:00:00 AM

Four distinguished experts rolled up their sleeves and looked at the outlook for the state and national economies January 24 during the 2020 AIM Economic Outlook Forum.  The group included moderator Donna Latson Gittens, founder of MORE Advertising in Watertown; Sara Johnson, Executive Director of Global Economics at IHS Markit in Boston; Steve Grande, Owner of Meridian Industrial Systems in Holyoke; and Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs in Somerville.


Topics: Massachusetts economy, Economy, AIM Executive Forum

AIM CEO Outlines Expansive Role for Business

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 24, 2020 11:40:15 AM

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.

Regan.Annual.2019“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.

Topics: Massachusetts economy, AIM Executive Forum, John Regan

MassMutual CEO Provides Formula for Growth

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 22, 2019 11:32:27 AM

The chief executive of a company creating thousands of jobs in Massachusetts believes the commonwealth can continue to prosper by addressing key issues such as housing, transportation and education.

Roger W. Crandall, President and Chief Executive Officer of Springfield-based MassMutual, told the AIM Executive Forum this morning that Massachusetts benefits from a bi-partisan and balanced public-policy approach to business.

“Massachusetts has the best of everything. It has an unbelievable history. We've had an unbelievable run over the last 10, 15, 20 years and I think we've got another unbelievable 10, 20, 25 years in front of us,” Crandall told an audience of 250 business leaders.

MassMutual, which oversees more than $500 billion in assets, has embarked upon a major expansion in Massachusetts that includes a new, 17-story tower now under construction on the South Boston Waterfront that will accommodate approximately 1,000 employees. The company is also adding 1,500 jobs to its Springfield headquarters.

Crandall said Massachusetts has generally done a good job providing support and resources for business development while maintaining a good quality of life for its residents. One key element of that quality of life is housing, he said, that that is a challenge moving forward.

Moderately priced housing is essential to retaining the talented employees who graduate from the commonwealth’s renowned colleges and universities, Crandall said. The price of housing in Boston has increased by 61 percent during the past decade and the average monthly rent in the city now stands at $2,500.

MassMutual has supported Governor Charlie Baker’s Housing Choice Bill, along with proposals to create a $10 million down-payment assistance program for first-time home buyers. The company separately contributes to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s Way Home Fund to provide homeless people with a safe and stable environment in which to rebuild their lives.

“We are supportive of efforts to create more housing,” Crandall said.

On transportation, Crandall said companies cannot afford to lose employees – or fail to attract new ones – because people are unable to get where they need to go. He urged employers to support investment in the MBTA and made an impassioned plea for the development of high-speed east-west rail to connect Boston and Springfield.

The final major issue on MassMutual’s priority list is education. Crandall said Massachusetts must continue to pay attention to maintaining best-in-the-nation educational institutions at all levels that provide young people with the skills that will be needed to drive the innovation economy. He commended the Massachusetts Legislature for passing an education funding bill with strong accountability provisions.

“The future is a future of human capital,” he said.

MassMutual was founded in 1851 when 31 founders pooled together $100,000 to write insurance policies for friends and neighbors. The company now pays out more than $14 million per day in life-insurance, retirement and other benefits to customers.


Topics: Massachusetts economy, Education, AIM Executive Forum, Transportation

Transportation Chief Takes Strategic Approach

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 27, 2019 11:09:51 AM

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack thinks of the increasing frustration among Massachusetts commuters in terms of “good days” and “bad days.”

While average commute times have not increased substantially in recent years, Pollack said drivers are encountering more frequent bad days in which a 40-minute commute can turn into a 60-minute ordeal.

“If one day in five takes 60 minutes, you now have an hour commute every day. You plan your life as if it’s an hour and that’s why everybody feels worse,” Pollack told 300 business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum this morning.

The insight is one of many to come from a strategic effort by state officials to understand the underlying transportation challenges facing the commonwealth before identifying solutions. A comprehensive approach to transportation, according to Pollack, covers a daunting range of issues from improving capital planning at the MBTA to highway management to housing development to telecommuting.

“We have laid the foundation for hitting the accelerator and getting these things done,” Pollack told the audience.

She said the two largest challenges facing the transportation system are climate change and traffic congestion.

Massachusetts is seeking to meld the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with funding for new transportation initiatives through the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative. TCI is a regional collaboration of 13 Northeast/Mid-Atlantic states working to reduce carbon emissions through a “cap-and-invest” program or other mechanism that establishes a price for transportation emissions.

Pollack noted that transportation accounts for almost half of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts.

“TCI was not proposed to be a revenue source. It was proposed because it is proven mechanism that has worked in electric sector. It is our best bet to make a dent in transportation greenhouse gas emission.”

Traffic congestion in Massachusetts has reached a “tipping point,” according to a report issued in August by the Baker Administration, which  has signaled support for solutions ranging from allowing commuters to pay to bypass gridlock to reserving bus lanes on highways. The report offered 10 major conclusions:

  1. Congestion is bad because the economy is good.
  2. The worst congestion in the Commonwealth occurs in Greater Boston.
  3. Congestion can and does occur at various times and locations throughout the Commonwealth.
  4. Many roadways are now congested outside of peak periods.
  5. Congestion worsened between 2013 and 2018.
  6. Simple changes in travel time on an average day do not capture the severity of the problem.
  7. Massachusetts has reached a tipping point with respect to congestion.
  8. Many commuting corridors have become unreliable, with lengthy trips on bad days.
  9. Congestion has worsened to the point where it reduces access to jobs.
  10. We should be worried about congestion on local roads, too.

Modernizing the MBTA will plan a big part in helping to reduce the number of cars on the roads, Pollack said. Total capital spending at the T will increase to $9.3 billion between now and 2024, but capital delivery needs to increase to $1.5 billion annually to fund reliability and modernization.

“When enough people use transit and they have a reliable way to get to work, you can take out some of the peaks and get to reasonable balance of good says and bad days,” Pollack said.

Governor Baker in July filed a transportation bond bill seeking $18 billion in additional capital authorization to invest in building and modernizing a transportation system that meets the needs of residents, businesses and cities and towns statewide. The authorization would be used to fund existing programs as well as several new initiatives designed to lessen impacts from roadway congestion and ensure reliable travel throughout the Commonwealth.

Topics: AIM Executive Forum, Transportation

Senate President Calls for 'Bold Steps'

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 15, 2019 11:20:37 AM


Senate President Karen E. Spilka today called for Massachusetts to take “bold steps” to address issues such as transportation, education, health-care costs and economic development in the face of relentless changes to the state economy.

SP.Spilka“The common thread of all the challenges we face is unprecedented change. The success of our Commonwealth will ultimately be measured by how well we navigate and harness the potential of this change,” Spilka told more than 300 business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum on Waltham.

She said Massachusetts finds itself in a unique political moment that will determine the future course of its economy.

“It would be a mistake to waste this moment on incremental changes and small ideas,” she said. “Now is the time to be bold. That said, we have to find a way to reach consensus on our bold ideas.”

Spilka said state leaders must replicate the collaborative model of last year’s “grand bargain,” which brought together employers, advocacy groups and legislators to hammer out a compromise on paid family leave and the minimum wage. She thanked the business community for engaging in those conversations and invited employers to continue to participate in major policy debates.

The Senate President cited the growth of the Metrowest district she represents as an example of the challenges and opportunities facing the Massachusetts economy. Technology and innovation have transformed Metrowest from a Boston bedroom region to the home of major employers like Staples, TJX and Boston Scientific, but that growth has stressed the transportation infrastructure and priced some workers out of the housing market.

She acknowledged that resolving these issues carries a large price tag.

“I firmly believe we must create an economic development and tax framework for the 21st century where innovative technology-driven businesses can develop and thrive here but where we also capture new revenue to continue providing essential services, and fund our vision for our future,” she told the audience.

“So far, we have been addressing these new industries on a piecemeal basis, which only serves to breed confusion for business, government, and consumers. We must work together to find a balance that benefits us all, especially as we will be relying on these industries to continue to fuel our economic success.”

Spilka said the Senate will address health-care costs by looking at the price of prescription drugs and the cost transparency of the medical system. She praised the initiative led by AIM and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation to reduce unnecessary use of emergency rooms.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, AIM Executive Forum, Senate President Karen Spilka

Video Blog | Economic Outlook 2019

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 1, 2019 9:11:06 AM

The AIM Economic Outlook Forum on January 25 looked at creative solutions to the persistent shortage of skilled workers in Massachusetts. Watch as WBZ radio morning news anchor Jeff Brown moderates a discussion with Robin LeClaire, President of Lampin Corporation in Uxbridge; Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta and UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

Topics: Skills Gap, Massachusetts economy, AIM Executive Forum

Many Job Openings, Few Job Seekers

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 25, 2019 11:41:10 AM

At a time when there are more job openings than job seekers in New England and throughout the United States, Massachusetts must summon all its creativity and innovation to solve the structural shortage of qualified workers, AIM President Rick Lord and a group of experts said today.

SOMB2019“There are 6.9 million job openings throughout the United States this morning. There are 6.2 million unemployed people throughout the United States looking for work. Closer to home, there are 51,000 more jobs available in the six New England states than people to fill them,” Lord told an audience of 300 employers during his final State of Massachusetts Business Address.

“The good news is that we live in a commonwealth known for creative solutions to seemingly intractable problems. A state that has produced everything from the game of basketball to the microwave oven to Facebook should certainly be a leader in ensuring that all its citizens share in the economic possibilities that lie ahead.”

Lord offered several recommendations to help Massachusetts employers find the people they need to fuel economic growth:

  • Overhauling the work-force development system to ensure that people of all ages are being taught the skills that employers demand.
  • Ensuring that the public schools provide the basic skills that allow students to compete for jobs that were not even envisioned 20 years ago.
  • Supporting and expanding vocational education.
  • Resolving the immigration issue that has restricted the availability of skilled foreign workers in Massachusetts and other education and technology driven economies.
  • Expanding opportunity to the full diversity of the Massachusetts population. Lord noted that the unemployment rate among people of color exceeds 6 percent in Massachusetts and among Latinos is 5.6 percent.
  • Encouraging collaboration among employers, schools, community colleges, universities and training providers to establish a consistent and logical path from learning to employment.

Lord highlighted several examples of such collaborations, including an initiative by Prime Motor Group to provide scholarships and employment opportunities to automotive technology students at the Benjamin Franklin School of Technology in Boston.

Robin LeClaire, President of Lampin Corporation in Uxbridge, said the 35-person manufacturing company is working on multiple fronts to attract and train people to replace a workforce heavily tilted toward 40 and 50-somethings. The company speaks frequently to middle- and high-school students to let them know that manufacturing offers a rewarding career path to young people who don’t wish to attend college or who cannot afford to do so in the traditional manner.

“They don’t know that there are jobs other than those that require going to college,” said LeClaire.

“We tell them that when they come to Lampin, we’ll pay for them to go to college.”

Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Work Force Development Rosalin Acosta said it is “astonishing” that the state economy added 185,000 people during 2018 amid a 3.4 percent unemployment rate. She warned, however, that the future work force – people 19 years of age or under – has virtually flattened.

“Where are we going to get all the people employers need, and how are we going to get the right people with the right skills,” Acosta said.

She told the audience that the Baker Administration is focusing its job-training resources on three key areas - manufacturing, health care and information technology.

University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said the commonwealth’s formidable lineup of colleges and universities are using internships and other experiential learning to ensure that students have the ability to meet the evolving needs of employers.

“Employers now look for employees who are more job ready that when we went to college,” Subbaswamy said.

Topics: Skills Gap, AIM Executive Forum, Workforce Training

Technology Becomes Fifth Utility for Cities

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 16, 2018 11:19:01 AM

A sophisticated technology infrastructure and real-time data have allowed the Boston Police Department to reduce crime in the city by 20 percent while arresting far fewer people than in the past.

SmartCities.2“A lot of that is because we are policing smarter. All this technology allows us to do our jobs better,” retired Boston Policy Commissioner William Evans told more than 200 business leaders at an AIM Executive Forum on Smart Cities this morning.

Evans, now Chief of Police at Boston College, said police now have access to video feeds, body camera footage, “shot-spotter” sound data and predictive analytics as they assign police officers to areas most affected by crime. Beginning in January, he said, Boston police officers will collect all of that information on smart phones.

Several miles to the south in Quincy, Chris Cassani is overseeing a $1.3 million project to install an adaptive signal platform that will allow the city’s traffic signals to share data to improve traffic flow. He said the system contains a software algorithm that can grow alongside the tremendous amount of economic development taking place in Quincy.

“There has been a tremendous amount of change, a tremendous amount of investment,” said Cassani, the city’s Director of Traffic, Parking, Alarm and Lighting.

Smart Cities technologies represent a kind of “fifth utility” for municipalities alongside water, electricity, gas and waste, according to three senior executives from Dell who lead the discussion. The executives said that technology not only makes more efficient the city services upon which businesses depend, but also increasingly makes reams to data available to employers on everything from flooding history to refuse collection.

“We absolutely have to build out a digital infrastructure,” said Corky Allen, Regional Field Director for State and Local Government Affairs for Dell EMC.

Rich Barlow, Field Chief Technology Officer for Dell, described how the City of Virginia Beach recently developed the ability to coordinate data from hundreds of flood sensors to minimize damage from hurricanes and other natural disasters.

AIM President Rick Lord said all the changes have important implications for employers.”

“Technology is transforming the world outside your business,” Lord told the gathering.

“It’s changing the management of the roads your employees travel to work, the infrastructure that “provides power to your building, and the municipal emergency services you call if the worst happens.”

Topics: Technology, AIM Executive Forum

Non-Voters Will Outnumber Voters in November, Pollster Says

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 14, 2018 3:28:11 PM

The number of registered voters in the United States who will choose not to cast ballots in the mid-term elections is more than twice that of people who will vote for Democratic and Republican candidates combined, Suffolk University political pollster David Paleologos told the AIM Executive Forum this morning.

Paleologos2018The director of Suffolk’s Political Research Center estimates that 77 million Americans will vote in November, but that 160 million registered voters will stay home. Paleologos challenged the 280 business leaders in the audience to take a leadership role in urging employees to participate in the political process.

“You have people working for you who are not registered to vote. You have people working for you who are registered but who will not vote,” he said.

Paleologos, who typically interviews only probable voters for his political surveys, conducted an unusual poll in April of people not registered to vote or registered voters who have not voted. These non-voters showed the same preference patterns as their voting neighbors in terms of candidates and the country’s direction but cited a multitude of reasons for sitting out elections.

Their reasons ranged from a feeling that their votes would not make a difference to apathy to lack of trust in the candidates on the ballot. More than 78 percent of the non-voters believe the nation needs more than the two current two major political parties to represent the political views of the American people.

Paleologos predicts that if the current trend continues, the 2036 presidential election will mark the first race for the White House in which the total votes cast for Democrats and Republicans will be less than the people who don’t vote.

“This will be the number one topic in 2020,” he told the audience. “The numbers don’t lie.”

The swelling ranks of non-voters represent an opportunity for both Republicans and Democrats as they battle for control of the US House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate in November. Unregistered voters preferred President Trump against a generic Democratic nominee in the Suffolk survey, but registered non-voters strongly favor the Democrat against the incumbent president.

More than 80 percent of non-voters say they would consider casting ballots if they knew their votes could swing a close election in either direction.

Paleologos’ polling of people who do vote indicates potential trouble for Republicans in Congress. Fifty percent of Americans in a generic poll favor Democrats versus 39 percent Republicans in the mid-terms, while 58 percent say they want to elect a Congress that “stands up” to President Trump.

Those results remain consistent in statewide polls in key jurisdictions such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

At the same time, Paleologos stressed that voters by a slim margin do not appear inclined to impeach the president. Forty-seven percent of voters oppose impeachment, even following the guilty pleas of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, while 44 percent favor impeachment and 9 percent are undecided.



Topics: AIM Executive Forum, Election 2018

Economic Development Chief Staying Busy

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 23, 2018 12:22:16 PM

Jay Ash acknowledges that it’s a great time to be Secretary of Housing and Economic Development in Massachusetts.

Ash.jpg“I am getting a call a week from a company talking to me, not about bringing 100 or 200 or 500 jobs, but 1,000, 5,000 or 10,000 jobs,” Ash told 300 business leaders during a presentation to the AIM Executive Forum this morning.

Ash has recently played a key role in the recruitment or expansion in Massachusetts of major employers ranging from Amazon, General Electric and MassMutual to IBM Watson Health, Kronos and Siemens. These expansions promise thousands of high-quality new jobs for Massachusetts residents while cementing the state’s reputation as a global center of innovation and growth.

“What an unbelievable time to be involved in economic development, and what an unbelievable time to be involved in a great state like Massachusetts,” he said.

Ash, an avuncular Democrat who has overseen economic development for the Baker Administration during its first three years, said Massachusetts benefits from a uniquely bipartisan approach to issues affecting the economy. He noted that the economic development bill announced by the Republican governor just two weeks ago has already been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday by the Democratically controlled Legislature.

The bill would commit $100 million to regionally significant economic development projects throughout the commonwealth, establish an apprenticeship tax credit, double grants to community colleges and vocations high schools to purchase equipment and establish a permanent sales-tax holiday.

Ash said the administration is pursuing its economic agenda in tandem with efforts to expand the availability of housing and to address persistent educational achievement and funding gaps. He thanked Associated Industries of Massachusetts for efforts to streamline the process used by communities to permit both low-income and market-rate housing.

 “There’s reason to be optimistic. Let’s roll up our sleeves because the best jobs done are the one we do ourselves.

Topics: Economic Development, Economy, AIM Executive Forum

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