Baker prepping measures as rival states eye tech jobs
NEWTON, MASS., FEB. 25, 2015…..Gov. Charlie Baker warned the state’s high-tech executives on Wednesday that their edge in the national economy is under attack from other states, hinting that he will put forward ideas soon to help ensure a strong supply of workforce talent to keep their businesses growing.
Baker returned to Massachusetts this week after spending the weekend in Washington D.C. at the National Governors Association winter meeting where he dined at the White House on Sunday night at a table with President Barack Obama, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
“Colorado is coming on and coming on strong,” Baker told a banquet hall full of executives at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts High Technology Council at the Newton Marriott. “I saw Governor Hickenlooper from Colorado when I was at the NGA meeting and he couldn’t help but make this point to me many, many times over the course of several days. I need a really good rejoinder on that one, folks.”
Baker said Virginia, Maryland and New York City, under initiatives put in place by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have all made progress building strong tech sectors. “And our high cost of doing business continues to be a drag on our ability to be successful,” Baker said.
While in Washington, Baker said he participated in a roundtable discussion with other governors who were all asked the most significant challenge to economic development in their states.
“You will probably not be surprised to hear the overwhelming answer from most governors as they worked their way around the room was skill building and the lack of connectivity between skills people have the and jobs that are available,” Baker said, adding that he named “snow” as his biggest challenge so far.
Lawmakers and the governor’s office have for years tried to find ways to partner with businesses to help educate and train a new workforce for jobs in the technology, life science and advanced manufacturing fields where employers have reported job openings that they are unable to fill because of the lack of a qualified applicant pool.
“This is a serious issue and one that we certainly plan to spend a significant amount of time on. We’ll have more to say about that over the course of the next couple weeks as we roll out a couple of initiatives on that,” Baker said.
While aides to Baker declined to discuss the details of those initiatives, one top advisor suggested Baker’s strategy will include initiatives incorporated into his fiscal 2016 budget proposal due next Wednesday, as well as other efforts.
Baker said Massachusetts continues to have “probably the broadest tech innovation sector employment base” in the country, including California, North Carolina and New Jersey. With significant footholds in nine of the 11 “key innovation clusters,” Baker credited the innovation and technology industries in Massachusetts with producing $150 billion in economic output annually and accounting for a fifth of the state’s workforce.
Discussing his previous work on the board of Athena HeaLth Care in Watertown, Baker said the state has done well to capitalize on the strength of its health care and research institutions by expanding into “big data,” personalized medicine and electronic medical records.
“I can’t think of a state in a better position to be hugely successful in leading the charge on all those initiatives than the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said.
At the event, the High Tech Council formally launched its new Massachusetts’ Technology, Talent and Economic Reporting System (MATTERS), a free online tool that will be accessible to the public.
The website allows users to measure Massachusetts against other states using various sources of data to evaluate talent and business competitiveness, and developers said they want it to give policymakers, advocates and tech leaders access to information to inform decisions.
According to some measures, MATTERS showed that Massachusetts ranks 47th in the country for ease of finding technology talent, which could have something to do with the high cost of living, tax burden, energy prices or other factors.
Baker said he looked forward to using MATTERS and engaging with the industry to keep Massachusetts at the leading edge of the sector.
“I think it will help us to mount an offensive on the place we can go on attack and it also gives us what we need to frame those places where we need to be better and stronger,” Baker said.