UMass Boston chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco knows local employers are figuring out how to diversify their workforces. He has an answer for them: Come to UMass Boston, where you’ll find one of the country’s most diverse student populations.
It’s a message that appears to be taking hold, in one-on-one sessions and group meetings with business leaders since he started the job in mid-2020.
The latest example: an all-day workforce summit aimed at the life sciences sector that is being scheduled for this winter. (The exact date will hinge on local coronavirus cases.) Suárez-Orozco has joined forces with Kenn Turner, who leads the quasi-public Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, to host the event.
The murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests accelerated employers’ diversity efforts in 2020. Suárez-Orozco also said managers see where population growth is taking place, and realize the important role that immigrants or immigrants’ children will play in filling jobs in the coming decade.
If more aren’t brought into the workforce, “the math doesn’t work if the commonwealth is going to be at the forefront in the domains where we have indisputable, global dominance,” he said. “I made a lot of presentations in my capacity as the new chancellor, and people said, ‘Interesting, can we talk?’”
Suárez-Orozco knows a thing or two about this topic; he has built a career around studying immigration, after all. Inspired in part by his own experiences coming to the United States from Argentina at 17, Suárez-Orozco received his doctorate in anthropology from University of California Berkeley, and has specialized in research about migration patterns and their health and cultural effects.
Since he got involved in Boston’s business community, he began to regularly hear from employers, ranging from Deloitte to the Massachusetts Port Authority, to propose internships or other opportunities for students at UMass Boston. Nearly two-thirds of the school’s roughly 13,000 undergraduates are people of color.
In September, he met with a group of business leaders to align the school’s 10-year-plan with the needs of the city’s economy; attendees included: JD Chesloff, from the Massachusetts Business Roundtable; Jay Ash, of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, Betty Francisco, of the Boston Impact Initiative; and Chris Anderson, with the Massachusetts High Technology Council.
“For [Massachusetts], immigration is our history,” Suárez-Orozco said. “But it’s also our destiny.”
Ames gets around
Sanford Ames has an ambitious New Year’s resolution as the new local boss at RCN: to add more Greater Boston communities to the Princeton, N.J.-based cable company’s mini-empire.
It’s a slow process, obtaining local franchise approvals and stringing wire, street by street.
Ames, who took over as head of RCN’s local operations when Jeff Carlson retired in 2021, declined to name the places the company will go next. They would likely be adjacent to one of the 20 existing RCN municipalities in Greater Boston, although RCN might leapfrog a town or two. He also wants to further build out networks in cities such as Boston where RCN is already available but not in every neighborhood.
For Ames, the new job means plenty of traveling: He added Greater Boston to his responsibilities for RCN’s Pennsylvania and D.C. markets, which he already oversees. That means Ames, who lives in Maryland, regularly hops between four different offices in those markets. Good thing for him that Hanscom Field is only 15 minutes from RCN’s office on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington. Ames is also heavily reliant on Zoom to keep in touch with colleagues — like most of us these days.
Beefing up for a biotech boom
As with many PR firms around here, Slowey McManus Communications is chasing the big biotech bucks.
To help with the hunt, founders Jim McManus and Dominic Slowey hired Jeff Krasner, a PR consultant steeped in Boston’s burgeoning life sciences industry. Krasner specialized in biotech and health care as a Boston Globe reporter before moving into PR in 2009. He has since worked at Ariad Pharmaceuticals and venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, as well as on his own.
Krasner began teaming up with Slowey McManus in 2018, helping the firm with Casebia Therapeutics, a joint venture between CRISPR Therapeutics and pharma giant Bayer that was later subsumed by CRISPR. The partnership expanded to other life sciences firms. It eventually got to the point that, as Krasner puts it, “we would save a lot of money on the postage, mailing checks back and forth, if we just joined up.”
Krasner started at the 15-person firm, which recently relocated to 101 Federal St., on Monday. Even though Krasner is being hired as a senior vice president, McManus said he refers to the hiring as an acquisition, because the firm is acquiring Krasner’s client base and other business relationships.
“We’re poised to take advantage of a lot of new opportunities in life sciences,” McManus said. “It seems like every other Starbucks is turning into a lab space.”
A new crop for Connecticut: Data
Nicholas Fiorillo is betting that the next big thing in commercial real estate will be farms — server farms, that is. His year-old company, Boston-based Gotspace Data Partners, says it has secured about 1,500 acres of land across several Connecticut towns for data center projects.
Why Connecticut? Governor Ned Lamont signed a generous tax incentive bill last year aimed at spurring data center construction. Gotspace has focused on towns with municipal utilities, making it possible to negotiate competitive electric rates with local officials.
Fiorillo just tapped Mike Grella, a former economic development director at Amazon, to be Gotspace’s chief operating officer. Grella worked at Amazon from 2012 through 2019, most recently helping develop data center properties for Amazon’s web services division. He will remain based in Atlanta, where he lives.
Gotspace’s Connecticut rollout hasn’t always gone smoothly: Local officials in Bozrah rejected a Gotspace proposal in October, though Fiorillo said he is confident the issues there will be resolved. Meanwhile, he said Gotspace has secured local support for projects in Griswold, Groton, and Wallingford.
Grella said Gotspace is in active talks with potential end users and industrial developers that want to be closer to New England consumers. He noted that the region is already known for industries such as fintech, life sciences, defense contractors, and gaming. If Fiorillo and Grella have their way, data centers could soon be added to the list.
Playing a new tune
Over the years, musician Stevie Aiello has worked with everyone from Mumford & Sons to Lana Del Rey. He also tours with rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars.
But Aiello recently teamed up with a decidedly different musical partner: Cambridge marketing software firm Wistia. His assignment: a theme song for a cartoon, “Gear Squad vs. Dr. Boring,” about anthropomorphic audio-visual equipment. The heroes — including a camera, a microphone, and a drone — battle the sinister Dr. Boring and his mediocre minions.
Wistia initially planned a project involving videos that featured real child actors, solving problems for clients. The pandemic forced Wistia to scrap that idea. Animation seemed like the perfect workaround.
The guitar-driven theme song was written by Wistia executives Dan Mills and Chris Lavigne. (Sample lyric: “When the lights go out, and the humans leave, the video gear starts to live and breathe.”) Aiello played all the instruments; Irish singer Colin Smith handled vocals. The six-minute episodes, available on Wistia’s website, are short stories worthy of Cartoon Network airtime aimed at persuading marketers to add videos and podcasting to their bag of tricks (presumably by hiring Wistia).
Mills is a singer/songwriter himself who still tours occasionally. The work Mills did with Aiello, a longtime friend and a Rhode Island native, is a different kind of tune for him. “I’m the acoustic nerd and he’s the rocker,” said Mills, Wistia’s vice president of marketing. “There are not many moments we get to collaborate.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.