Loss of Talented Young People Threatens Boston’s Competitive Advantage

February 27, 2003

Boston, MA -- Boston’s competitive advantage has been built on a longstanding tradition of creativity and innovation. However, the 2002 Boston Indicators Report, Creativity and Innovation: A Bridge to the Future, explores the implications of a trend that is threatening this region’s future prosperity. Boston, Metro Boston, and Massachusetts lost a significant percentage of the population of young people between the ages of 20 to 35 – the age group that has always been on the leading edge of innovation and creative change. This loss is made even more significant by the growth of this age group in Boston’s major competitor cities, such as San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, and Atlanta. This happened despite the economic expansion of the 1990’s, a major influx of new immigrants, and the fact that Metro Boston enrolls more than 265,000 students annually in its institutions of higher education.

Metro Boston has always relied on a rich mixture of intellectual and financial capital to generate economic growth. The Boston Indicators Report, to be released on February 28th at the Boston College Citizens Seminar, describes this set of advantages as a 3-legged stool: a strong physical and institutional infrastructure, including an array of higher education, research and cultural institutions; the culture and practice of innovation, drawing billions of dollars in research funding and venture capital to the city and region; and a plentiful supply of human capital, with 36% of Boston residents and 40% of Metro residents holding a bachelor’s degree or more, and a growing number of immigrants with cultural dynamism and economic vitality across the city’s neighborhoods. These qualities have made Boston a major player in the regional, national and global economies.

“Recently, for reasons we are just beginning to understand, the city, region and state are beginning to lose young adults, while other cities and regions are attracting them. The implications of this trend are alarming,” said Paul Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation, which sponsors the Boston Indicators Project. “Even in this time of scarce public resources, we must reassert our commitment to nurturing, educating and cultivating the civic leaders and innovators of tomorrow. We cannot afford to let this become a long-term trend.”

The “brain drain” is only one of hundreds of stories that emerge from the data gathered in the Boston Indicators Report 2002. The complete Indicators report is now available online at a new interactive website, www.bostonindicators.org, providing the latest data, charts, and analysis tracking Greater Boston’s progress across ten categories: Civic Health, Cultural Life and the Arts, Economy, Education, Environment, Housing, Public Health, Public Safety, Technology, and Transportation. The full online report enables visitors to the site to explore, research, understand and explain many stories about Boston and the region, how issues connect to each other across sectors and how change occurs. It also presents partial lists of challenges, innovative local solutions, and competition in each sector. A print version of the full report, whose principal authors are Charlotte Kahn and Geeta Pradhan of the Boston Foundation, will be available later this Spring.

The Citizens Seminar event will feature Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, as keynote speaker. Berners-Lee is Senior Research Scientist at 3Com Laboratory for Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was identified by Time magazine as “one of the 100 greatest minds in the 20th Century.” Berners-Lee will be followed by a panel dialogue on innovative approaches to the region’s challenges that includes Douglas Foy, Chief of Commonwealth Development; Rev. Ray Hammond, Pastor of Bethel AME Church and founder of the 10 Point Coalition; Cathy Minehan, Chair of Boston Federal Reserve Bank; Janice E. Jackson, former deputy superintendent of Boston Public Schools; and Paul Grogan, serving as moderator. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and J. Donald Monan, S.J., Chancellor, Boston College, will welcome the audience of more than 500 participants.

“This report reminds us that innovation and research are the drivers of our regional economy, and it alerts us to the factors which are beginning to threaten our leadership in these areas,” said Mayor Menino. “For a long time, Boston resisted the national recession because of its strong and diverse modern economy. Today’s situation, however, requires even more attention to the indicators that are detailed in this report, to help protect the gains we’ve already made and to find new solutions, such as giving cities and towns the tools they need to continue making progress.”

Boston College Chancellor Father Monan will remind the audience of the historic role played by the Boston College Citizens Seminar since the mid-1950s in convening the civic and community leadership of Metro Boston to envision the future and to set goals and identify priorities.

The Boston Indicators Project is a civic initiative coordinated by the Boston Foundation in partnership with the City of Boston/Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Its goal is to engage the general public, as well as civic and community-based institutions, the media, business and government, in better understanding Boston’s key challenges and opportunities through shared access to high quality objective data.

The usual yardsticks by which urban communities are measured include data in categories such as unemployment, school drop out rates, teen pregnancy, and infant mortality statistics. These figures tend to paint a dismal picture of urban life, even when the indicators are positive. By contrast, the Boston Indicators Report uses similar measures, but its categories are broader, are set in the context of community goals, and paint a picture that includes the community’s strengths as well as its challenges.

This new measurement framework was created by hundreds of Bostonians, from resident leaders to professional experts across the city, in a process that began in 1997. They constructed the Boston Indicators Report goals and measures of progress in each of ten sectors. Some are conventional sectors, such as housing, health, education and the economy, while others were created in response to participants’ demands that areas such as civic health be included, with measures of race relations, voter participation rates, the breadth of leadership across gender and race/ethnicity, neighborly trust, hate crimes, and openness to the needs of linguistic minorities and people with disabilities.

The category of cultural life and the arts was created to measure the health and vitality of Boston’s traditional cultural resources, but it also includes measures of such things as the “distribution of Boston’s cultural facilities in relationship to the concentration of Boston’s children,” and “Teachers dedicated to visual arts, music, and theater in Boston’s public schools.” This category also measures the level of volunteering in Boston’s arts organizations, and tracks the number of designated artists’ housing units in the city.

Likewise, the environment sector is an amalgam of data, measuring everything from household recycling rates in Boston versus other cities in the Commonwealth, to trends in global climate change as they affect local conditions, Boston’s per capita greenhouse gas contribution to global warming, the number of “swimmable” days in Boston’s rivers and the Boston Harbor, and the distribution of green space in Boston’s neighborhoods that are home to more than 1000 children.

Even the more conventional categories, such as housing, contain a number of unconventional measures that help communicate current conditions to “real people,” such as “housing units within a ten-minute walk of public transportation,” and another which tracks access to mortgages by race, the distribution of affordable housing by neighborhood in Boston, and trends in public funding of housing programs.

Each section begins with comparisons of Boston, Metro Boston or Massachusetts compared with their counterparts in other parts of the nation, and each ends with a section on funding (although some of the latter are “under construction” pending resolution of state budget issues.).

The Boston Indicators Report 2002 includes major contributions of time, expertise and data from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development, the Boston School Department, the Boston Police Department, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, the Boston Transportation Department, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Artery Business Committee and Northeastern University’s Center for Urban and Regional Planning and its College of Criminal Justice. In addition, the report draws extensively on the work of the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassInc) and the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, and on the work of other local think tanks, research institutes, public agencies and nonprofit organizations and institutions as noted.

In addition to producing the Indicators Report, the Project engages residents, civic, business, and community leaders, government officials and academics in dialogue about how to identify and respond to the city and region’s unique challenges and opportunities. It also sponsors an educational curriculum and a seminar series, and conducts Boston tours for media professionals. It has a Leadership Advisory Committee made up of key leaders in Boston’s civic, business, nonprofit and public sectors.

The first Boston Indicators report, The Wisdom of Our Choices: Boston’s Indicators of Progress, Change and Sustainability, was released at a Boston College Citizens Seminar in 2000 and established a baseline by which change can now be tracked. The Boston Foundation will release a biennial report with constant online updates and outreach through 2030, Boston’s 400th anniversary.

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The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, has an endowment of more than $550 million and made grants of $53.7 million to nonprofit organizations last year. The Boston Foundation is made up of 750 separate charitable funds, which have been established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a civic leader, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to build community. For more information about the Boston Foundation and its grantmaking, visit www.tbf.org, or call 617-338-1700.

The Boston College Citizens Seminars, in association with the Boston College Carroll School of Management, were created in 1954 to bring together the people of Boston for the purpose of discussing and debating some of the vital issues facing the City of Boston and the region in which it is located. The Seminars serve the role of catalyst to bring about cooperative efforts to affect positive change and creative solutions to the many challenges facing the city and the region