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Walsh, leaders of local cities to sign economic development pact

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh: “I’m not going to make a push in the city at the sake of taking business away from another [local] city.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh: “I’m not going to make a push in the city at the sake of taking business away from another [local] city.” AFP/Getty Images

When Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh convenes with his peers from several neighboring cities on Wednesday, they’ll kick off an unusual partnership: Instead of competing for employers, they’ll now formally work together to draw them to the region or keep them here.

On Wednesday, Walsh is scheduled to sign the Greater Boston Regional Economic Compact. He’ll be joined by Quincy, Braintree, Cambridge, Somerville, and Chelsea leaders. Together they will hire a point person to coordinate economic development efforts and will initiate monthly meetings among staffers from each city.

The move reflects a campaign pledge that Walsh made two years ago to take a more regional approach to economic development, a significant break from the approach employed by his predecessor, Thomas M. Menino.

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“When you talk about Greater Boston, we compete with New York, we compete with Silicon Valley, we compete with other areas of the country,” Walsh said. “I’m going to continue to push for Boston. However, I’m not going to make a push in the city at the sake of taking business away from another [local] city.”

Menino famously celebrated Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ decision to relocate from Cambridge to Boston, and he publicly complained when Partners HealthCare chose Somerville over Boston for its new office complex.

But companies from other parts of the country don’t necessarily think of municipal boundaries the same way. To many of these out-of-state companies, the cities are all part of “Boston.”

When you have a major employer shortlisting the Boston area as it sniffs around for a potential new headquarters, for example, the region’s case can be helped if its top cities act as allies.

“What we want to make sure happens is that corporations understand they’re not just getting one city,” said John Barros, Walsh’s economic development chief. “They’re getting the region, a strong, politically stable, well-coordinated region.”

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After Walsh took office in January 2014, the local mayors and city managers began meeting on a quarterly basis to discuss shared issues. These discussions helped prompt an effort later that year to brand the cities along the Red Line as a “life sciences corridor.”

This new compact goes well beyond that effort. Barros said he fully expects the coalition to be supported by at least one staff person, with office space in all six municipalities.

City staffers also will work to resolve regional issues such as employment growth, housing, transportation, and climate change. The group will also discuss how to brand the region.

“We’re all sitting in a regional economy where [much of] the workforce lives in one city, works in another, buys in yet another,” Barros said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said he’s glad for the change in direction at Boston City Hall.

“Marty Walsh . . . opened up Boston to a greater conversation that many of us have been advocating for,” he said.

Tom Ambrosino, Chelsea’s city manager, said getting officials from other cities together can only help.

“When you’re sitting around in a room, collaborating with other leaders, sometimes someone has an idea that makes a lot of sense, and you say, ‘I’m going to try that in Chelsea,’ ” Ambrosino said. “We all benefit from these regional efforts, so let’s work together as opposed to working at odds.”

The approach probably will come as a relief to business leaders, who sometimes complain about differing rules and politics in each municipality.

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“It’s about time,” said David Begelfer of NAIOP Massachusetts, a commercial real estate trade group. “[Under Menino], if you could steal a company from Cambridge, you broke open the champagne. We need to have everyone together, saying ‘We’ve got one from South Carolina, break open the champagne.’ ”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com.