As the race for the next mayor of Boston enters the home stretch, we are witnessing a substantive debate on the future of the city, spanning education, public safety, the environment, and economic development. One critical element of our future is how we support and grow our innovation economy, including life sciences and high-tech businesses.
Over the past two decades, Boston has developed a unique innovation ecosystem in which large and small companies are fueled by the region’s tremendous scientific, academic, entrepreneurial, and venture capital strengths. While this ecosystem has created thousands of jobs and dozens of new medicines and technologies that have changed peoples’ lives, its future is not guaranteed as other regions attempt to capture a piece of our success.
California, for example, had significantly more venture capital investment than Massachusetts across each of five key industries in 2012 — software, biotech, energy, medical devices, and IT services. In the same year, 1,280 companies received some $14.1 billion in venture funding in California compared to just 326 companies and $3.1 billion in Massachusetts.
To protect our future, we must change these trends. The next mayor must be a leader in fostering a strong economic climate and in outlining bold new initiatives that will further expand our innovation ecosystem.
The recent success of the Innovation District is a case study in how to create a thriving hub that can spark growth and excitement in the business community and across the city. Mayor Tom Menino partnered with the private sector to create a community of innovation-based businesses surrounded by new hotels, housing, restaurants, and arts and entertainment facilities — a vibrant neighborhood that is creating thousands of new jobs.
The next mayor should continue to be a champion for all aspects of this ecosystem. As the city grows, there are at least three key areas where the next mayor can make an immediate and lasting impact:
■ Develop an educated workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.
Boston should be more than a location for innovation. It should also prepare its residents for the technology-based jobs of tomorrow. Doing this will require significant enhancements to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in our city’s public schools, community colleges, and universities.
In addition to in-school education, industry must provide students with hands-on work experience within our companies. This summer I spent a day with 20 high school students from Boston Public Schools who interned with Vertex. While I was impressed with their interest in science, I was surprised that these students were largely unaware of the varying career opportunities available within Boston companies. Exposing students to more opportunities within local companies will undoubtedly increase their interest in higher education and, ultimately, entice them to work for Boston-area companies.
■ Ensure small companies can find and afford space to work.
While it’s encouraging that so many large, global technology and health care companies are expanding or relocating to Boston, we must be careful not to price smaller firms out of the market. Locating start-ups next to established companies creates a dynamic business environment and promotes an influx of talented employees. District Hall is a good first step toward providing shared meeting space for start-up firms, but we must also create office and laboratory space that is financially accessible for small companies to establish and grow their businesses.
■ Get the workforce to work.
As has been recently reported in the Boston Globe, the rapid success of the Innovation District has dramatically increased the number of commuters to the area. We can’t let our early success curtail future growth. We must invest in multiple public transportation options that are reliable, convenient, and affordable. And, for the workers who must drive, we must invest in better roads and bridges and improve traffic control to keep pace with growth. These initiatives will require extensive collaboration between city, state, and federal officials, residents, and the business community.
Boston’s business community is thriving, but we cannot assume that our past successes will predict the future. The new mayor of Boston must take the leading role in ensuring the long-term success of our innovation economy and, in turn, our city.
Jeffrey Leiden is chairman, president, and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals.