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Business

Boston firms cautious over Martin Walsh victory

Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh participated in a high-tech forum with opponent John Connolly in October.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh participated in a high-tech forum with opponent John Connolly in October.

Now it’s real. Martin J. Walsh, a man who has represented organized labor for much of his life, is going to be mayor of Boston and responsible for making decisions that will affect thousands of companies in a fast-growing city.

After his victory, business owners in many sectors are worried about the potential impact on everything from taxes to building rules. They are concerned about the new mayor’s ability to create more moderately priced housing, better transportation options, and opportunities for minority-owned companies.

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But many industry leaders said his election can also bring needed change in the city. They see his labor background not as an impediment to growth, but a powerful reason for him to push for expansion by companies that can occupy new office towers and create jobs.

“You can bash the union connection, but in my experience what’s good for business is good for unions,” said Mike Sheehan, chairman of the advertising firm Hill Holliday. “I mean, talk about interests that are interlocked. Unions like growth, they like expansion, they like companies that go from 50 to 500 people.”

For any new mayor, learning to interact with a diverse business community is no easy task. During the campaign, it was clear that Walsh’s plainspoken Dorchester demeanor did not always mix easily with some of the business constituencies he must now represent.

‘But the question is whether he can think big-picture enough.’

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For example, he told a crowd of technology workers in the South Boston Innovation District that he is not a “big high-tech person.” And when Walsh was asked to name an entrepreneur he admired, he couldn’t come up with an answer.

“I’m not sure he lives in the current world,” said Jane Fine, who runs a marketing firm in Boston and works with many tech start-ups. Fine attended the Innovation District event in which both Walsh and opponent John R. Connolly were peppered with tech-related questions. She ended up voting for Connolly.

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“I have nothing against unions. I really don’t,” said Fine. “But the question is whether he can think big-picture enough.”

In an interview Thursday, Walsh said he attracted a broad base of support from businesses during his campaign and will not be confined to a narrow set of priorities as mayor.

“Anyone who has concerns, they just don’t know me,” he said. “Once we have a meeting they’re going to understand very quickly that I’m open to discussion on anything. I mean without the success of the business community, in many ways, I can’t do a lot of the things that I want to do to make it a better city.”

Darryl Settles, an entrepreneur and developer, said he wants Walsh to focus on expanding the economic opportunities of the Innovation District to companies and start-ups in Roxbury and Mattapan. “In the early ’90s, there were a lot of women- and minority-owned businesses, and we have less today,” Settles said. “No one wants to say that. No one wants to talk about it, but it’s a reality.”

He said the city should forge more public-private partnerships with minority businesses and ensure they are included in small-business-lending programs and major construction projects. “I think Marty is going to step up to the plate,” Settles added. “He’s got a great opportunity in front of him.”

Walsh has generated concern among developers by proposing to replace the Boston Redevelopment Authority with a new agency that would be partially overseen by the City Council. Some fear such a sweeping reorganization could disrupt the city’s permitting process and create delays for development projects.

They are also skeptical that Walsh, the former head of the Boston Building Trades Council, will work to control the union labor costs that sometimes make it more difficult to build housing for low- and middle-income families and individuals.

“There are a lot of developers who want to build for the middle market, but the only way to do that is to make the costs work,” said Greg Vasil, chief executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. “It’s one of the issues we want to engage him on.”

Vasil added, however, that Walsh has proved willing to work with the real estate community as a state representative. “Marty gets it,” he said. “Jobs are his big issue, and he knows what to do to get people working.”

As Walsh prepares to take office, he will also be forced to address turmoil in some industries critical to Boston’s economic health. Boston Medical Center, the city’s largest safety net hospital, is struggling financially, as are other community health care facilities such as Carney Hospital in Dorchester and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton.

It will be important for Walsh to advocate effectively on Beacon Hill and in Washington for increased funding for Medicaid and Medicare, the government insurance programs for low-income and older residents.

Veronica Turner, executive vice president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, said her union — which backed Walsh in the mayoral race — would also like to see him press the city’s richer academic medical centers to rein in their own costs and help poorer care-providers.

The new mayor will also face the challenge of building up a legitimate cluster of life sciences businesses in the Innovation District, and supporting growth by new technology companies.

Shereen Shermak, chief executive of Boston venture capital firm Launch Angels, said the Walsh administration’s top tech policy priority should be clear. “The most important one — and I cannot say this enough — is enabling our public education system to turn out STEM-ready students,” she said, referring to career preparation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

With education at the top of her mind, Shermak acknowledged some ambivalence about Walsh’s victory. Of the two candidates, it was Connolly, a former teacher, who focused more of his campaign on improving city schools. “For this particular aspect, I would have preferred Connolly,” Shermak said. “But both of them were talking about our public education system and what they were going to do for investment, and I really want to hold Marty Walsh to a high standard on that front.”

Callum Borchers, Michael B. Farrell, Shirley Leung, and Robert Weisman of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.

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