Greater Boston Region Needs to ‘Wake Up’ to Challenges of Globalization

March 29, 2005

Boston – Boston, by all accounts, is thriving: it is rich in intellectual and institutional resources, home to a well-educated, skilled workforce, and increasingly culturally and ethnically diverse.  However, there are ominous signs that a number of accelerating technological and demographic changes are gathering that will profoundly affect not only the Greater Boston region, but cities and regions throughout the world, according to a new report.  These changes, and their implications for Boston and the region, are the focus of the third Boston Indicators Report, Thinking Globally/Acting Locally: A Regional Wake-Up Call.

This report covers the years 2003 and 2004, a remarkable period of city building and civic accomplishment which have left Boston healthy and dynamic across a range of measures. However, in today’s fast changing world, competitive pressures are intensifying and Boston and the region it anchors will have to come to terms with the fact that ‘our’ workers, ‘our’ jobs, and ‘our’ industry sectors are more mobile than we knew and, to a large extent, up for grabs.  At the same time, Massachusetts is losing its competitive edge, cutting back as other states invest in public higher education and forward-looking economic development strategies.  Even worse, in contrast to the states and regions that are facing many of the same external forces and are responding by mobilizing their civic, business and elected leadership, Greater Boston has yet to agree on a shared vision for the future, or to align its resources to advance shared goals.  The report suggests that this lack of a collaborative vision and shared strategies is the greatest competitive disadvantage of all.

“Today, under the skilled leadership of Mayor Tom Menino, Boston is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world. However, globalization has unleashed a dramatic new set of dynamics, creating unprecedented levels of competition, driving job loss and corporate consolidation, and transforming Greater Boston’s economic and civic landscape,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation, which sponsors the Boston Indicators Project.  “To succeed, we will have to strengthen our region’s most important asset – its people.  We will also have to create a new, more inclusive and dynamic civic culture that encourages innovation and rewards collaboration – reinventing Greater Boston as a powerful source of solutions to national and global challenges, as well as a springboard to greater economic opportunity for all.”

The Boston Indicators report is to be released on March 30th at a special Boston College Citizens Seminar honoring the 50th anniversary of the seminars, with an audience of 300 business, civic and community leaders expected to attend.  Boston College President Father Leahy and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino will provide opening remarks, and Frances Rivera, Anchor of WHDH-TV Channel 7, will act as Master of Ceremonies.  Richard Hill, former CEO of BankBoston, will be honored for the many contributions he made to this city and region, and Dr. Thomas O’Connor, noted author and Boston College historian, will deliver the keynote address.

“The Boston College Citizen Seminars have played an influential role during the past half century in bringing together leaders from all sectors of society to discuss key issues facing the City of Boston,” said Father Leahy.  “The Seminars have contributed immensely to revitalizing the Boston metropolitan area, widely acknowledged as a great place to live, to work, to study, and to visit.”  Dr. O’Connor agreed, saying, “By bringing together on the Chestnut Hill campus labor leaders and corporate executives, politicians and bankers, journalists and educators, the Seminars broke down old barriers that had divided the city and held back progress for many years.  Through dialogue and discussion, the Seminars provided a stimulating vision of a new City upon a Hill.”

Dr. O’Connor’s remarks will be followed by a panel discussion of the findings of the new Indicators report and its implications for the city and the region, moderated by Paul Grogan.  Panelists for the discussion include Paul LaCamera, President and General Manager, WCVB-TV Channel 5; J. Keith Motley, Chancellor, UMass/ Boston; Ranch Kimball, Secretary of the Executive Office of Economic Development, Commonwealth of MA; and Linda Whitlock, President and CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs.

The regional wake-up call is only one of hundreds of stories that emerge from the data gathered in the Boston Indicator’s Report 2004, which will be available in its entirety online March 30th at a newly enhanced interactive website, This report, the third in a series of biennial reports, provides 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 a partial list of challenges, of innovative local, national and global solutions, and of benchmarks of progress in each sector. The Boston Indicators project is co-sponsored by The City of Boston/Boston Redevelopment Authority, The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and The Boston Foundation, in cooperation with many public agencies, civic and educational institutions, and community-based organizations.

In the summary report, an analysis of recent trends shows that, if left unaddressed, a number of them will further weaken the economic and social prospects for those already falling behind, and will challenge the region’s very capacity to succeed in this new century.  Boston, with its cold winters, without its own source of oil, with fewer fish in its ocean and fewer corporate headquarters in its downtown, must strengthen its hold on good 21st century jobs and firmly root its primary competitive advantage: a skilled, educated, hard working, diverse and creative workforce.  Although a decline such as the one Boston faced 50 years ago, when the shoe and textile industries were moving south and the city was losing its tax base, seems unlikely given the city and region’s permanent assets, the pace with which the region is changing is unsettling and demands collective action.

With no effective regional mechanisms in place to encourage leaders to come to consensus and execute quickly on shared strategies, inaction is a problem that is costing us more and more.  Some of our regional challenges were unimaginable only a few years ago, such as the prospect of losing even more local companies to external purchasers, while other shared concerns – such as housing, transportation, educational quality, and disparities by race and house-hold income – are longstanding, and have festered for decades.  Continuing to ignore them is no longer an option.

The report provides examples of some of the most significant challenges we face as a region, gives the data behind them, and points out some of the most promising techniques that other areas are using to address them, including:

    • On the foreign front, while the US stood out as the world’s dominant power in economic and military terms only a few years ago, today there are a number of ‘developing nations’ have emerged as blockbuster economies, and the US trade deficit is swelling in their favor every year.  China specializes in manufacturing of an increasingly sophisticated nature and is now attracting more foreign investment than the US, Brazil is the world’s largest food exporter, and the European Union, now with a larger population than the US, is the world’s largest total exporter.  China and India are educating hundreds of thousands of highly skilled, low-wage computer scientists and engineers who are fully able to perform the jobs that until recently were assumed to ‘belong’ to the residents of Greater Boston.

    • Closer to home, a high-stakes race is now underway around the nation as states are trying to stay at the cutting edge of these global trends.  This is translating into a fierce and growing competition for research, investment, and highly skilled and specialized workers.  For example, while Massachusetts had the highest percentage of scientists and engineers, and attracted more venture capital and federal R&D funds than all states except California, the Commonwealth generated fewer jobs, with a decline in innovation economy sectors of about 4% between 2002 and 2003 – the largest among the leading technology states. And in November, California voters passed a $3 billion bond bill to invest in stem cell research, with the clear intent of attracting the best and the brightest in bioscience, heretofore Greater Boston’s premier new industry cluster.

    • A number of internal challenges are causing competitive disadvantages within our own region, including a consumer price index that has risen faster than the national urban average in each year between 1997 and 2003, making Greater Boston one of the most expensive regions in the US; a stubbornly high cost, and short supply, of housing; a widening earnings gap, which means that those with good educations are fast pulling ahead, while those with less education are falling further behind; and uneven access to a high quality education.

The report notes that the City of Boston has already taken the lead in a number of areas, such as its enactment of new “green” building codes, creation of more affordable housing, and support for a range of urban school reforms.  Mayor Menino is expected to speak about the great strides Boston has made, noting that “With all of the positive evidence of our city pressing forward, however, we are increasingly mindful of the significant challenges we face – as a city and as a region.  We know that our city’s efforts alone cannot solve all the challenges the region faces, and we look to our partners in government and civic life throughout the city of Boston and the region as a whole to help us address these challenges thoughtfully and comprehensively.  The Indicators Report is a significant voice among many in our civic dialogue.  The progress it charts and the challenges it identifies encourage us to consider and to cultivate Boston’s Civic Agenda.”

The Civic Agenda, based on the work of many of the region’s most respected and accomplished researchers, think tanks, policy makers and civic leaders, is included in the Indicators report for the first time.  It includes both long-term goals and short-term targets that address key challenges facing Greater Boston.  Divided into four components, it focuses on the establishment of a dynamic and open civic culture, with inclusive civic mechanisms and institutions and a leadership that reflects the full diversity of the city and region; a commitment to the creation of world class human resources, providing educational excellence and lifelong learning for everyone, and improved health outcomes for all ages;  a 21st century jobs and economic strategies that build on the region’s core strengths, tackle its greatest challenges, root good jobs, and broaden economic opportunity; and a 21st century infrastructure, creating vibrant, healthy communities with high quality housing choices across a range of prices throughout Metro Boston.

The Civic Agenda also stresses the importance of moving public resources upstream – toward more cost-effective, preventive approaches to health, criminal justice, family support and infrastructure maintenance – in order to free up “downstream” funds for investment in the future.  It points out that by investing in its greatest competitive advantage – its human resources and capacity for innovation – the Boston ‘citistate’ can become a powerful human capital magnet, drawing youth and talent from throughout the United States and the world.

The pivotal role that will be played by the Baby Boomers in Boston’s evolution is also analyzed in the report.  It is the Baby Boomers – the generation born between 1946 and 1964 – who currently hold most of the leadership position in the city and region, and who will guide change in Boston and the region for at least the next decade. Much more diverse than previous generations of Bostonians – about one-fourth African American and one-third foreign born – they are also more educated than predecessor generations of their leaders.

“In this complex new century of radical technological, demographic and economic change, the Baby Boom generation is faced with the challenge of developing and nurturing the human capital this region will need in order to succeed in a competitive, global environment that values knowledge and ideas above everything else,” notes Grogan.  “In facing this challenge, it is crucial that today’s leaders find ways to tap the experience and the skills of everyone – young and old – so that all of the people of this city and region can meet the demands of the 21st century together.”

A print version of the summary of the report, whose principal author is Charlotte Kahn, Director of the Boston Indicators Project at the Boston Foundation, is available from the Boston Foundation.

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The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, has an endowment of almost $675 million, made grants of  $51 million to nonprofit organizations, and received gifts of $41 million 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 grant making, visit, or call 617-338-1700.