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Harvard study finds US losing edge on jobs

Business leaders expect the nation’s competitiveness to deteriorate, with companies less able to compete globally, pay workers well, or both, according to a new report released by Harvard Business School.

The report, unveiled Wednesday, surveyed nearly 7,000 Harvard Business School graduates in September and found that 58 percent expected the nation’s ability to compete against other countries for companies and jobs to erode. Seventeen percent were neutral, and 25 percent were optimistic.

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Harvard professor Michael E. Porter , an author of the report, “Competitiveness at a Crossroads,” said profound changes have taken place in the nation’s ability to attract business and that anemic job growth of recent years is not something that’s going away “any time soon.”

“American companies are doing OK, American multinationals are doing OK. America as a place to relocate is not OK,” Porter said. “America used to be a job machine.”

The report marks the second year Harvard Business School faculty have released the results of their survey of graduates. Porter said the scholars are speaking publicly about their findings at venues across the nation and have met with President Obama’s economic advisers to discuss their findings and recommendations, such as improving workers’ skills and linking them to employers, supporting education, and fostering research .

The report said most graduates surveyed, including many top and retired corporate leaders, said the tax code, regulatory system, and public schools were areas of concern or in need of reform. The survey also found that most believed the availability of skilled labor “remained stubbornly weak.”

“The US faces a long-term, structural challenge to its competitiveness that is undermining economic growth and average incomes,” the report said. “Unless we address this fundamental problem, Americans will confront budget problems again and again.”

The report included the results of a survey of the public. US business leaders and the general public agreed on several areas: the need for corporate tax changes, a sustainable federal budget, investments in roads, and other public works.

The report also highlighted divisions between the public’s and business leaders’ views on policies that would give high-skill workers special immigration status and make it easier for companies to hire them. The business community supports such measures, but most Americans remain skeptical.

Gregory Bialecki, the state’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development and a panelist at a forum that followed the release of the report, said Massachusetts has undertaken efforts to collaborate with various industries to keep the state economically competitive and to retain jobs.

For example, state officials worked with several colleges and universities, including Northeastern, Harvard, and MIT, to build — and fund — a high performance computing center to provide researchers with massive computing power that might lead to breakthroughs in medicine, climate science, and other fields.

“In higher ed, Massachusetts and Boston are world famous for universities, but not world famous for collaboration between universities,” Bialecki said to laughs.

The state has also tried to address skill shortages, he said. For example, the state has put in place programs at community colleges to train more machinists, who are in great demand by small manufacturers.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.
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