Japan stocking up on Mass. R&D, Tsongas reports

US Representative Niki Tsongas
US Representative Niki Tsongas

US Representative Niki Tsongas noticed all the Massachusetts companies that were acquired by Japanese firms over the years, and often wondered why.

The Lowell Democrat says she finally received an answer last Friday at a meeting in Tokyo with business leaders in that city — executives from the likes of Mitsubishi and Toyota Motor Corp.

Tsongas says she learned that Japanese government doesn’t subsidize research and development the way that federal and state agencies do here. So, she says, Japanese companies often get the innovation they need through acquisitions. And that’s what brings them to these shores, to buy companies such as Sunovion Pharmaceuticals in Marlborough and Zoll Medical Corp. in Chelmsford.


“It certainly validated the fact that Massachusetts is a hub of innovation given the number of companies that are in my district alone that have been acquired by Japanese companies because of their innovative products,” she said.

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Tsongas joined several of her colleagues in Congress for the weeklong trip, an excursion funded by the US Association of Former Members of Congress.

For Tsongas, 69, this trip had personal relevance: This was the first time she had returned to Japan since she was a teenager in the 1960s, when she lived there while her father, an Air Force colonel, was stationed in the country.

The change, she says, was dramatic. All of her old haunts were gone.

“I felt like I was visiting Japan for the first time,” Tsongas says. “It was fundamentally altered, a very modern country at this point.” — JON CHESTO

Chinese banquet’s menu features pols and karaoke


If you can make it to only one Chinese New Year banquet, this is the one: Gee How Oak Tin.

That’s the family association that puts on an annual dinner so big it needs two Chinatown restaurants, Empire Garden and Hei La Moon.

Gee How Oak Tin is the association for families with surnames Chan, Chen, Chin, Yuen, and Woo. About 1,100 guests are expected at this year’s banquet on Saturday night.

Among those non-family members expected to attend include Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, US Senator Elizabeth Warren, and US Representative Mike Capuano.

The Boston City Council should be well represented with RSVPs from Bill Linehan, Frank Baker, Andrea Campbell, Michael Flaherty, Annissa Essaibi George, Sal LaMattina, Timothy McCarthy, and of course, Michelle Wu, the group’s first Asian-American president.


The 13-course banquet will feature chicken, lobster, and steak, but not to be missed will be the karaoke. Linehan, whose district includes Chinatown, is always a hit with his crooning, said James Chan, president of the Gee How Oak Tin Association of New England and the councilor’s chief of staff.

Linehan has belted out classics like the “Star-Spangled Banner” and Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”

“You are going to get votes by singing,” Chan has told his boss. “Don’t complain.”

One team, lots of projects near the Broadway T

There are few areas of the city that are changing more rapidly than the section of South Boston near the Broadway T station. For some visitors, it seems like the landscape looks different every time they amble off the Red Line escalator.

And there are few firms more involved right now in this transformation than RODE Architects, the South End firm run by Eric Robinson and Kevin Deabler.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority earlier this month approved their latest venture, the conversion of a former rivet plant at 69 A St. into a six-story office building. This follows the opening of the Coppersmith restaurant on West Third Street last September, another industrial conversion they designed.

Then there’s the hotel at 6 West Broadway and the condo project at 14 West Broadway, a two-pronged project being developed by City Point Capital. The complex, which replaces the Cornerstone Pub, will consist of two tower structures enclosing a 160-room hotel and 49 condo units, along with 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

For two Dorchester guys who aspire to shape the city they live in, watching the area’s revival — a transition from old industrial to vibrant residential — is particularly satisfying.

“We’re seeing the movement of pulling the density toward the train stations [across the city] and we think that’s a good thing,” Robinson says. “West Broadway, in our minds, is an interesting case study of that happening.” — JON CHESTO

New life for state workforce board

Is smaller better?

That’s what Governor Charlie Baker is hoping when he swears in 33 members of the new Workforce Development Board on Thursday. This used to the old Workforce Investment Board with a whopping 66 members, but was recently reconstituted by the state legislature.

The board’s mission is to advise the administration on the state’s workforce needs and help strengthen the regional economies. The new group includes business leaders, labor union representatives, and nonprofits that work with job seekers. The business representatives include manufacturers, financiers and even Kristin Broadley, the cofounder of Cape Cod’s Centerville Pie Co., who rose to fame by delivering pies to Oprah Winfrey in 2009, when the talk show host was in the area.

Ronald Walker, the state’s secretary of labor and workforce development, said he’s hoping that the smaller group will be better able to tackle pressing issues facing the state economy, including the chronically unemployed and the skills gap.

“It’s more nimble,” Walker said. And getting a quorum for the quarterly meetings should be easier, he joked. — DEIRDRE FERNANDES

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