To win over Amazon, it’s all about the people

This post originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal.

Since Amazon announced its plans to open a second headquarters location, the region has been abuzz, but, to date, the focus has been on real estate. Where can 8 million square feet of space be developed? Does it need to be in one location or multiple sites?

Amazon, however, is not really looking for space. It is looking for people. These are the skilled workers that fuel the local economy, due to the region’s exceptional ability to attract students and immigrants.

So, while we are spending so much time and effort to present the best site for Amazon’s real estate decision makers, we had better be equally as focused contemplating the human resource side. Where will Amazon’s workers come from? Will they be relocating from other areas around the country?

Reality paints a different picture. Other than the post 2009 recession years, Massachusetts has experienced consistent net domestic migration. We are currently close to full employment. There are few workers available and qualified for the jobs that are currently open. Therefore, it’s more likely that these Amazon workers will come from other local companies. The critical question is how will those companies survive and grow with an even tighter job market? Will they, in turn, be forced to relocate?

To make matters even more complex and challenging, there is a multiplier effect with a company like Amazon establishing a major local presence. Other companies will look to locate near this “mother ship” and many of the service companies in the area will have to bulk up to handle the additional demand. As a result, there may be a need for upwards of 150,000 more positions to fill over the next 10+ years.

The dog that chases the car, but then catches it, had better have a plan for what happens next. If we are serious about getting Amazon to choose Massachusetts, let’s strategize about what it would take to actually increase our labor force. As with the Olympics, planning for the possibility of success can be a beneficial, long term, strategic exercise. In any case, we should prepare ourselves for sustainable growth, whether, or not, any individual company locates here.

Three strategies for retaining more skilled workers and attracting others to come here should be pursued. The first deals with the issue of the high cost of living. The second is job training/retraining. The last is immigration policy.

The primary component of the cost of living is housing. We need to produce more affordable, urban housing, and also open up opportunities for “starter homes” for families in communities that are accessible to the new jobs and with good school systems. Schools, commuting time, and affordability are what drive home purchases (particularly for families). Unfortunately, local zoning in most of the Commonwealth discourages multi-family housing, as well as smaller, denser single-family homes.

As for job training, we will need to adapt our institutions and training pathways to help workers acquire new skills. We have not been sufficiently agile to respond to the needs of those businesses that are expanding and hiring. Even a college degree is not sufficient to guarantee a new job in the new economy. New training methods that can be adapted and adjusted in short order will be needed to fine tune a prospect’s skill set to match a company’s requirements. Lifelong learning that is priced right, available on demand, and responsive to the changing needs of the workplace must become the norm.

Finally, we have benefited greatly by the historic flow of immigrants. Were it not for immigration, we would not have accommodated the strong economic growth over the last 20 years. Local and state leaders must flex their political muscles to ensure that our national policies do not impede the beneficial impact that comes from a wide range of skills entering and fueling our economy.

Yes, we can benefit from a thoughtful strategy to attract Amazon to our region. But, over time, we will be well served with a realistic plan to increase our skilled workforce that will be the honey that easily attracts many more companies to locate and expand here.

Choosing Massachusetts for Business: Key Factors in Location Decision Making

Zakim_SkyA study commissioned by the non-partisan economic development organization, MassEcon, and conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute‘s Economic and Public Policy Research group, was recently released. The good news is that the vast majority of companies that chose Massachusetts as a place to expand their business would do it again. This consensus was largely based on Massachusetts’ innovative economy, industry clusters, and skilled workforce.

As with all good news, there are some troubling challenges and concerns that were voiced by the businesses about future growth in the Commonwealth:

  • TRANSPORTATION: Companies in Greater Boston are concerned about highway congestion and public transit capacity, while businesses outside the urban core worry about a shortage of public transportation. MBTA reliability is vital to the ability to attract and retain workers, expressing concerns that not enough is being done to accommodate a growing population.
  • HOUSING: The availability and affordability of housing was a significant concern statewide, a challenge to attracting and keeping employees, especially younger employees. Costs in Greater Boston, in particular, are inordinately high, limiting options for low and middle-income workers.
  • BUSINESS COSTS: In general, for companies locating in Greater Boston the advantage of skilled labor outweighed various higher business costs; but labor, health care, and energy costs were identified as challenges to business in Massachusetts. Business costs seemed to be of less concern to those companies that considered and compared other states than to those already doing business in the Commonwealth. Companies engaged in manufacturing were more sensitive to cost challenges of health care and energy than companies in Greater Boston.
  • QUALITY OF FUTURE LABOR SUPPLY: Although more than 90 percent of survey respondents said the availability and quality of the workforce were important to their decision to locate in Massachusetts, some companies are struggling to find enough technically trained workers and those with middle-level skills. Continuing to produce talented labor must be a priority for the state, respondents indicated.
  • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE: While over half of the businesses surveyed were solidly favorable about the effectiveness of economic development officials in helping them become established in Massachusetts, others reported that the system is confusing.  Some said they sought a “roadmap” with which to navigate the various economic development organizations.

The Commonwealth has been experiencing one of the best periods of economic growth in its recent history. The problem with success is that it sometimes breeds complacency. If we are to maintain and enhance our position as one of the best locations to grow a business, we had better heed the warnings and fix our own house before it begins to lose its luster against all the many worldwide competing centers for growth.

ViewPoint: A new stretch energy code is not justified

This OpEd appeared in the Boston Business Journal on June 3, 2016.

In March 2015, Governor Charlie Baker signed Executive Order 562, initiating a comprehensive review process for all regulations. Only those regulations which are mandated by law or essential to the health, safety, environment, or welfare of the Commonwealth’s residents would be retained or modified, making Massachusetts a more efficient and competitive place to live and work.

Agencies must demonstrate, in their review, that there is a clearly identified need for governmental intervention; the costs do not exceed the benefits; a regulation does not exceed federal requirements; less restrictive and intrusive alternatives have been considered and found less desirable; and the regulation does not unduly and adversely affect the competitive environment in Massachusetts.

Based on these specific criteria, the business community is concerned that the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) is currently considering a new Stretch Energy Code as it develops the 9th edition of the statewide building code. Besides the fact that this Stretch Code undermines the statutory requirement that there be a uniform State Building/Energy Code, there is no good reason for it. This proposed energy code is unnecessary and fails the regulatory review standards, and the Baker Administration and the BBRS should not advance it.

The Stretch Energy Code was originally adopted in May 2009, despite strong opposition from the business community.  The code required commercial and residential construction in those communities that voted to adopt it to be approximately 20% more energy efficient than the statewide code. The new stretch energy code would require a 15% increase in energy efficiency over the current code. The Stretch Code has caused confusion among local building inspectors and developers.  Due to this and several other reasons, a new version of the Stretch Energy Code has never been adopted, even when the statewide code changed.  In fact, at the close of the Patrick Administration, the BBRS voted not to advance a new draft of the Stretch Energy Code.  However, in April 2015, this decision was reversed.

Massachusetts is already the most energy efficient state in the nation, with the most aggressive energy efficiency targets.  Furthermore, Massachusetts will be one of only a handful of states in the nation to adopt the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) statewide.  Since the Green Communities Act requires the adoption of the latest IECC (every three years), the Commonwealth’s position as a national leader in energy efficiency will be ensured even without a Stretch Code.  Anything beyond that is overly burdensome and creates a significant competitive disadvantage for Massachusetts.

It is important to note that there is no statutory requirement to adopt or update a Stretch Energy Code.  There is no mention of it in any statute, and it is only the Department of Energy Resources’ (DOER) policy that encourages the creation of this code.

According to DOER, the changes to the Stretch Code would take effect automatically in stretch code communities without any local vote.  Many municipalities had no idea they would be subject to an automatic upgrade.

The business community continues to support a uniform statewide building and energy code.  We believe a new Stretch Energy Code is unnecessary, will hinder economic development, and would impose an unfair and difficult burden on local building officials and the construction industry.  We urge the Baker Administration and the BBRS to eliminate the Stretch Energy Code, once and for all, and acknowledge the latest version of the IECC as the only energy code in Massachusetts.

David Begelfer is the CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

MassDOT Wants You!

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MassDOT has started a talent search for a range of professionals to work for the agency, as well as for the MBTA. They are looking for the right people with the right skills at the right time, and that time is now! These will be energetic individuals that are familiar with best practices and want to assist in transforming the current transportation system into a world class system.

This is a great opportunity to get involved with an agency that has problems, for sure, but also one that is on the move and seeking change with top notch leadership at its helm. The experience that these new hires will get will be invaluable as they move on with their careers. Or, for more seasoned professionals, this is a great way to give back and shape the future of transportation in the Commonwealth.

Some of the current jobs include:

  • MBTA Assistant Administrator of Contracting Strategy & Supply Chain
  • MBTA Business Analyst
  • MBTA Deputy Administrator of Customer Experience
  • MBTA Director of Cost Control & Lean Strategy
  • MBTA Director of Financial Analysis & Planning
  • MBTA Director of Revenue
  • MBTA Manager of Capital Budget
  • MBTA Sr. Operating Budget Analyst

If you know of someone looking for a new, challenging opportunity, let them know about MassDOT.

A Little Late, But Welcome to Massachusetts, Steve!

WynnEverettIt appears that the lengthy, sometimes contentious, legal battle between Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is over. A “surrounding community” agreement was reached by both parties for the development of an Everett casino. The agreement includes:

  • $31 million over 15 years for community impact
  • $25 million over 10 years for Sullivan Square infrastructure improvements
  • $11 million for traffic mitigation in Charlestown
  • $250,000 for a regional working group on a “long-term fix” for Sullivan Square
  • a “good faith effort” to purchase $20 million annually over 15 years from Boston businesses
  • $1 million for reimbursement of Boston’s professional (legal) expenses.

Wynn Resorts Everett will be a $1.7 billion, five-star, premier destination resort with a 600 all-suite room hotel in Everett, located off Lower Broadway, at the site of the heavily contaminated, former Monsanto Chemical plant. Millions of dollars will be invested to clean and remediate the site and to construct infrastructure and traffic betterments.

The Commonwealth will receive a licensing fee of $85 million, along with 25% of gross gaming revenues, which are estimated to be $260 million annually.

There will be 4,000 full time jobs, as well as over 3,600 construction jobs.

For Everett:

  • $30 million in advanced payments for a Community Enhancement Fund payable during the construction period
  • $5 million Community Impact Fee, increasing annually
  • $20 million for real estate taxes, increasing annually (almost 25% of the city’s tax base)
  • $250,000 contribution to Everett Citizens Foundation
  • $50,000 annual payment to purchase vouchers/gift certificates from Everett businesses to be distributed by Wynn as part of its loyalty programs
  • An estimated $2.5 million per year in hotel and restaurant taxes
  • An active waterfront park with a winter garden and harbor walk will be created

That’s quite a financial commitment by an out-of-state company to the Commonwealth. In case you haven’t heard it before, welcome to Massachusetts!

A Great Start for Economic Development Under the Baker/Polito Administration

BakerGovernor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito just filed the administration’s Economic Development bill with $1 billion to be invested over the next five years into economic development, housing and job training across the Commonwealth.

A core principal of this legislation is to take various existing programs and make enhancements to them so that they become more widely used, more effective, recapitalized, and more user-friendly:

  • MassWorks ($500 million proposed capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that provides municipalities and other public entities with public infrastructure grants to support economic development and job creation.
  • Brownfields Redevelopment Fund ($75 million proposed capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating the redevelopment of contaminated properties.
  • Housing-Related Tax Increment Financing: Supports housing production in town centers by reforming a seldom-used local-only smart growth tax incentive program, removing onerous regulations, and allowing communities to set their own affordability requirements.
  • Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) Reform: Supports the development of market-rate housing in Gateway Cities by allowing credits to support new construction, and by raising the formula that sets housing development incentives.
  • I-Cubed Reform: Reforms the I-Cubed infrastructure program by removing unnecessary program requirements (such as eliminating the per-municipality cap on the number of projects that may participate and raising the aggregate limit of funds from the I-cubed program that may be used in any one municipality from 31% to 50%) building flexibility into the program, and aligning program requirements with the demonstrated project pipeline.
  • Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) Reforms: Builds accountability in the state’s primary job-creation incentive program by strengthening the link between the issuance of tax credits, and job creation that would not otherwise occur; adds flexibility to the incentive program by eliminating obsolete formula-driven incentive categories, and by creating a new Extraordinary Development Opportunity designation.

In addition, the bill creates two important provisions:

  • Site Readiness Fund ($25 million proposed capital authorization): Advances regional job creation by creating a new fund for site assembly and pre-development activities (including site assessment and cleanup) that support regionally significant commercial or industrial development opportunities.
  • “Starter Home” Zoning: Incentivizes the creation of smaller, denser, and more affordable single-family homes by creating a new starter home option under the Chapter 40R smart growth housing program. These projects will also allow the municipality to be eligible for school reimbursements under Chapter 40S.
  • Parking Management Districts: Aligns local parking policies with broader economic development priorities by enabling municipalities to opt into creating demand-based parking fees, and allowing parking fees to support capital improvements in designated districts, like downtowns.

In addition, there are new programs with a Massachusetts Innovation Initiative, Workforce Development, and Economic Competitiveness.

We are very supportive of the bill, which contains many of NAIOP’s priorities. This legislation will be one of NAIOP’s top priorities for the remainder of the legislative session.

Welcome to Your New Home, General Electric

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The Greater Boston region’s research and higher education institutions are the envy of most of the world. While financial incentives helped seal the General Electric deal, this was not a cost-driven determination. It was a desire by the company to be housed in an innovation ecosystem that can provide the highest levels of skilled talent and technology. And, as a company doing business worldwide, GE will become an integral part of the local culture that successfully produces new ideas, products and technologies.

Kudos to Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh! This is a clear endorsement for the Commonwealth’s and the City‘s ability to market the region and all it has to offer to a business that could have relocated anywhere in the country (even in locations that could have provided greater financial incentives). The Legislature also deserves recognition for the important economic development bills passed over the last 6 years, which provided many of the tools needed to attract and close the deal with GE.

We may not have an Olympics here in Boston to remind the world that we are a global leader, but we do have the vote of a $130 billion high-tech industrial company (the 8th largest U.S. corporation) who will bring over 800 jobs to the “Innovation” Seaport District. Welcome home, General Electric.