When Marty Walsh takes office next month as Boston’s mayor, he will face important decisions related to the city’s economic future. Under Tom Menino, Boston has seen strong growth in population and jobs, the evolution of an “innovation” economy and city district of the same name, key industries thriving in the wake of recession, and a development boom that has construction cranes rising everywhere. Menino is leaving the city on a strong economic footing.
The challenge for Walsh will be to determine how best to sustain and build on the city’s growth, particularly in light of increasing competition for jobs and investment from other cites, regions, and countries. If we are to succeed in that competition, Boston must take action to make its infrastructure, talent pool, and business climate even stronger.
To that end, the Greater Boston Chamber has just released an analysis and report (“A Growth Agenda for Boston”) recommending that Walsh and his administration focus on four key initiatives that will help position Boston for continued growth:
• Regional Infrastructure: A cooperative effort by business and local government leaders throughout Greater Boston to advance the expansion of South Station, new international connections at Logan Airport, and improvements to the Port of Boston.
• Charter School Floating Cap: A “floating cap” to expand the supply of charter schools where demand for them is high, without forcing all school districts to have the same percentage of charter school seats in their system.
• Smart Permitting: Principles governing permitting across all city agencies that include enforceable deadlines, simultaneous agencies review, and clear schedules to make them easy to navigate while maintaining substantive standards.
• Improved Cost Competitiveness: A more competitive commercial property tax rate, to bring Boston’s rate closer to those in competitor cities such as San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, and Miami.
As the economic hub of New England, Greater Boston’s regional population density and transportation connections are key assets in the competition for growth. Strengthening infrastructure across the region will help position us well for the future and create durable ties between municipal governments and the business community.
Similarly, the talent pool in Greater Boston is among the strongest in the world and helps drive the success of businesses of all sizes and industries. Establishing a floating cap for charter schools will help boost our talent pipeline by strengthening academic performance and graduation rates in Boston’s high schools, which rank in the middle compared to Boston’s top economic competitor cities.
We also need to strengthen our competitiveness with five “smart permitting” principles that will improve the efficiency, predictability, and ease of the development permitting process. And bringing the city’s commercial property tax rate more in line with our competitor cities will help address the ongoing challenge of cost competitiveness that prevents Boston from reaching its full economic potential.
The good news is that Boston begins 2014 and the new mayor’s term from a position of strength. We are fortunate to have a diverse economy that has helped make the city a magnet for people and ideas over the past 20 years, leading to consistent growth in population, jobs, and development.
The continuation of that growth is not guaranteed, nor will it happen on its own. It depends on decisions and actions to be taken in the months ahead by Walsh, other governmental leaders, and the business community. We believe the initiatives outlined in the Chamber’s Growth Agenda provide a good starting point for making choices about the city’s economic future. Working together, we can make Boston stronger than it’s ever been.
Paul Guzzi is president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.