By Mike Lake and Dan Spiess | Boston.com | April 1, 2013
It is time to change the discourse around talent retention in Greater Boston.
Last Thursday’s second-ever joint city council hearing, hosted by Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson and Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung, in partnership with the World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP), highlighted the concern of talent loss to many in the Boston area. The discourse on this topic is not new to local leaders and the same lamentations about why young talent leaves – apartments are too expensive, the T doesn’t run all night, the bar scene is boring – keep getting shared across forum discussions, newspaper editorials, and election campaigns. But these are more the complaints of the people who stay, rather than the reasons for why others leave.
Greater Boston has never had a problem attracting talent. The region’s 76 colleges and universities and almost 350,000 students virtually guarantee a steady stream of knowledge-workers-in-training. Our bigger challenge is keeping this young, educated population from leaving Massachusetts once they’ve crossed the stage and received their diplomas. Data presented from WCCP’s new Talent Magnets report show that too often we lump together all of these various reasons that push people out of the Commonwealth without regard for importance, timing, or life needs. We give each reason equal weight, which diminishes the effectiveness of our response. By breaking down talent needs into life stages, policy makers can better prioritize talent retention strategies.
First, we need to take the spotlight away from housing affordability and shine it on jobs, student integration, and lifestyle. Greater Boston loses a majority of its talent to New York City and the San Francisco Bay area, the two highest priced housing markets and cost of living ratios in the nation. Recent graduates rarely state “I chose to stay in Boston because of the housing,” rather, they choose to stay, or leave, based on the availability of a good job in their field of study. One panelist at the hearing, current Boston University student Christian Schlachte, stated quite clearly that he would stay in Boston primarily if he had a job waiting for him upon graduation. Others at the hearing echoed Mr. Schlachte’s priority: former Northeastern University student, and Pennsylvania native, Eric Ferrara credits his co-operative education program at John Hancock for integrating him into the local employment scene and keeping him in Boston for 12 years, where he is now settled and raising a family.
Of course, Mr. Ferrara’s priorities have shifted since he was a 22-year old graduate and his reasons to stay or leave the Boston area are now honed to the price of housing, the quality of public schools, and the safety of city neighborhoods for his family. But these are the needs of those who have stayed, not those who have left. When local policy makers focus strictly on these latter points – and how could they not, with the chorus of exorbitant housing costs playing on a continuous feedback loop – they miss out on the former: a quality job in a graduating student’s field that will keep them in Greater Boston in the first place. If we can’t keep young talent within the first 7 years of graduation (the time when most young talent moves), we have a smaller pool to work with later on issues related to housing and schools.
The 33 testimonies given on Thursday showcased the breadth of issues that are on the forefront of businesses, government leaders, academic, students, investors, and non-profit groups. Google’s Tarun Rathnam believes that the Boston area has plenty of great reasons, including jobs, to keep people in the area but we lack effective marketing about our assets. Ben Forman, of MassINC, and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley cautioned the audience on the region’s continuing racial and growing income inequality problems. Jon Lai reiterated his recent posting on CNN Money calling for Boston to create a “lifestyle identity” that distinguishes our unique assets and will act as a talent magnet strong enough for him and his Harvard Business School classmates to stay in Massachusetts.
The time for better communication and action is now and testimony from all sectors of the Greater Boston community shows the passion for our home and our desire to make it better. Councilor Jackson repeated throughout the hearing that this is just the beginning, the first step of a dialogue that will continue into the future. Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center noted that a step-by-step approach may be the most effective way to help keep talent in Greater Boston. “It’s the hundreds of small things that we all can do to make the region great. When someone comes to me with an idea, even a crazy idea, I say ‘how can I help?’” Thursday’s hearing made it clear that there are many ready to join our local leaders and say “how can I help?”
For more from those in attendance and to continue the conversation online, use the Twitter hashtag #masstalent.
By Mike Lake & Dan Spiess | Boston.com | January 29, 2013
While New England froze over the weekend in some of the coldest temperatures of the year, a group of Massachusetts leaders were fired up with ideas for making the local economy stronger, more innovative, and inclusive.
The World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP) hosted its annual Chatham Forum to make some big announcements and to highlight lessons learned from the group’s October Policy Exchange Mission to Lisbon and the Azores, Portugal: a Mission so successful and bonding that the Vice Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Lisbon joined the Chatham group for the weekend, following their time in Boston and Cambridge as the first participants in the WCCP’s Municipal Leadership Exchange Program.
The Chatham Forum began with an overview of the key takeaways from the October Mission to Portugal, including solutions to such urban challenges as eliminating high school dropout rates, promoting the innovative city, incentivizing the private sector to achieve public sector priorities and increasing citizen engagement.
The first exciting announcement of the weekend occurred when Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson and Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung, in partnership with WCCP announced that they will be hosting an historic joint council hearing (the first held two years ago with Councilor Mike Ross of Boston) around the issue of talent attraction and retention covered in the upcoming release of WCCP’s “Talent Magnets” report.
A highlight of the weekend occurred when it was revealed that just hours earlier WCCP began facilitating trade talks between Ireland and Massachusetts and that confirmation had been received that delegates on the fall 2013 Policy Exchange Mission to Ireland will be having a special opportunity to meet with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Finally, on the one-year anniversary of its inception at the 2012 Chatham Forum, AwesomeBoston.org launched to broadcast Greater Boston’s innovation economy success stories and to serve as a bridge connecting successful Massachusetts-based entrepreneurs and CEO’s with college campuses to share their stories and promote the benefits of doing business in our Commonwealth.
With photos of clean geothermal plants, historic architecture, and tech-oriented 20-somethings on the big screen, Portugal Mission delegates shared lessons learned from a country with many cultural and economic ties to Massachusetts: from Startup Lisboa, the tech incubator created by popular vote in the participatory budgeting process, to the incredible waterfront transformation, to the cooperation agreement signed between Massport and the Port of Lisbon, delegates surprised the audience with the buzz of civic and business innovation happening in a city that is poised to be a gateway to Europe rather than the dreary portrayal often captured in the media.
Photo courtesy of WCCP | 2013 Chatham Forum panelists Bob Buckley, Manuel Salgado and Greg Bialecki
Massachusetts leaders paired up with their Lisbon counterparts in a fireside-style chat on stage to tease out the details of the participatory budgeting process and transferable development rights program in Lisbon. Tony Parham, the Commonwealth’s newGovernment Innovation Officer, offered his “10 A’s” that governments can implement to meet the needs of constituents, including Audience Engaged, Accessible & Open, and Any Device. Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki reflected on the “carrot” that Lisbon offers developers through Transferable Development Rights and compared it to the “stick” of Massachusetts’ current zoning and development rules which make it difficult to redevelop and grow our Commonwealth.
As ideas swirled the task turned from talk to action with the second annual Urban Excellence unConference. Kicking it off was a recap of achievements initiated at last year’s Chatham Forum– the launch of AwesomeBoston.org as well as Governor Patrick’s proclamation of the week of October 22nd as Innovation Week in Massachusetts. With no shortage of new ideas, participants organized themselves into self-selected sessions and were instructed to “vote with their feet” and attend several of the concurrent brainstorming sessions to generate action items for each of the 12 topics offered by attendees.
Participants explored creating innovation spaces for areas of the city that need it most, connecting small and medium-sized enterprises with global partners, encouraging recent immigrants to be more entrepreneurial, recycling existing and abandoned buildings for new uses, and housing solutions for workers in the innovation economy. Startup Lisboa is now being considered as a model for a potential Startup Roxbury. Old buildings in Charlestown may now “Recycle History” and housing the innovation economy is now more expansive and inclusive than simply providing micro-units for 20-somethings. Plans are already in the works for a day-long gathering of SMEs and a spectrum of Boston’s international consulates to discuss incentives and opportunities to take local businesses into the global marketplace.
Though it has come to be expected that the Chatham Forum will engage civically minded leaders and produce tangible results, this year’s Forum went well beyond expectations. With exciting announcements, collaborations, and a wellspring of new ideas for Greater Boston, WCCP’s local partners are poised to produce significant benefits for the community in 2013.
In March, Francisco Torres, MURP ’12, conducted research at the Carmel Academic Center in Haifa, Israel, to find out whether the university is succeeding in helping the city attract — and retain — top young talent.
He gathered data by interviewing the campus project manager, a city statistician and the director of a young adult center that helps students find jobs.
“The issue is that there is a large population of young adults leaving Haifa and going to other cities in Israel in much the same way that many college students leave Boston after graduation,” Torres explained.
The experiential-learning opportunity was part of a two-semester graduate-level capstone course in urban and regional policy. Each student in the class was tasked with determining whether specific initiatives in particular cities throughout the world were succeeding in promoting talent retention and job creation by reviewing policies, analyzing literature and conducting interviews with stakeholders in each location.
At the end of the semester, each student wrote — and presented — a case study on his or her respective city.
Each of the selected cities — Barcelona, Spain; Dublin, Ireland; Guadalajara, Mexico; Haifa; Hangzhou, China; Lisbon, Portugal; and Vancouver, Canada — is part of the World Class Cities Partnership, an initiative of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. The goal of the program is to establish productive partnerships between universities and government agencies in metropolitan areas worldwide to identify and address mutually important urban issues.
Michael Lake, executive director of the WCCP, designed the capstone course. An interdisciplinary cast of faculty members —comprising Michael Dukakis, distinguished professor of political science, Daniel Spiess, a lecturer in the policy school and the partnership’s research director, and Raymond Kinnunen, associate professor of international business and strategy — co-taught the class.
Torres, a finalist for a two-year paid fellowship with the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, commended the course for its focus on applying concepts learned in class to the real world.
“It’s one thing to read about something in a textbook, but when you’re actually learning about it on the ground, it changes your perspective,” said Torres, who has traveled throughout the world as a classically trained ballet dancer. “The most amazing part of the capstone was getting to speak to all the people I had heard so much about.”
Lake praised the course for aligning with Northeastern’s commitment to research, urban engagement and experiential learning. “It takes experiential learning to the Nth degree,” he explained. “It combines everything that Northeastern stands for.”
Kinnunen, who guided the students through writing their case studies, agreed with Lake’s assessment and discussed a plan to share the case studies with delegates from the program’s partner cities at a summit later this year. “I don’t know of any other school in the country that does this,” he said. “The students have made a tremendous contribution to the literature on each of these cities and on urban and regional policy.”
Boston Globe | May 14, 2012
By Michael Lake and Daniel Spiess, World Class Cities Partnership
Boston’s high ranking as a global innovation city and, according to one recent report, reputation as the 10th most competitive city in the world would be the pride of mayors everywhere, but Boston continues to experience its “brain drain.” Northeastern University’s World Class Cities Partnership, whose global research has focused on talent attraction and retention issues, recently hosted the pre-launch of Boston’s foremost advocate for hipness – the Future Boston Alliance (FBA). Founded by Greg Selkoe, a locally-based streetwear retailer, Selkoe and FBA director Malia Lazu described the Alliance as an opportunity for Boston and Massachusetts to seek input and guidance from an untapped core of new leaders and entrepreneurs in order for our region to compete in the 21st century. Selkoe and Lazu noted that not only does Boston need to compete in education and technology, in which it already performs quite well, but it also needs to compete in the ‘hip’ factor as featured by Michael Farrell in his recent Boston Globe article “E-retailer Hopes to Boost Hub’s Hip Factor.”
Though this hip factor may seem irrelevant to the focus of modern city policy, research shows that a city’s success rate for talent attraction and retention, the bedrock of a stable economy and the lifeblood of an entrepreneurship ecosystem, can be greatly influenced by the population’s desire to want to live and work in a creative, welcoming and fun urban environment.
Selkoe draws his knowledge from personal entrepreneurial experiences, but is also a Harvard-trained city planner and knows of what he speaks. His tenure at the Boston Redevelopment Authority shows in his awareness of the power and potential of zoning, tax incentives, citizen participation, and regulation to truly influence how the city literally shapes itself and its image, both to residents and those who are considering a move to the so-called Hub of the Universe. As a business owner who chose to start and keep his business here within the city limits, Selkoe knows that keeping and attracting workers to grow his company is not based on salary alone.
Talent attraction and retention has been a hot topic lately. The prominent Boston Globe-sponsored “Building a Better Commonwealth” series spent the second half of last year looking exclusively at talent from a variety of angles, including management challenges, the importance of life-outside-the-job attractions, and building a talent pipeline through investment in science, technology, engineering, and math education. The series recently kicked off anew with the timely titled “Loosen Up, Boston” looking at enhancing urban vitality while balancing local character and neighborhood skepticism.
Studies and reports show that while jobs tend to be the leading factor in determining whether talent (particularly recent college-educated graduates) stay or leave the area, housing affordability, weather, nightlife, and transit influence their decision as well. While we can’t change the weather, we can work toward building a 21st century city to match our #1 ranking as a young and knowledge-based center. Mayor Menino’s administration is admirably tackling this task with the Innovation District and the ONEin3 Boston program, for example, but more needs to be done. This means allowing Boston to become a 24-hour city, granting easier and cheaper access to build cultural and nightlife options, supporting the creative class through innovative zoning and business licenses, and backing up the “car is no longer king” declaration by investing in a flexible and adaptable public transit system. Boston natives, like Selkoe, along with newcomers and business owners want nothing less than this city to become even better than the sum of its parts. By allowing Boston to loosen up a bit, there is no reason why it can’t.
Michael Lake is Executive Director and Daniel Spiess is Research Director for World Class Cities Partnership, a network of global cities exchanging solutions to urban challenges.