TBF News July Aug 08 header

Staying Power
The Future of Manufacturing in Massachusetts 

Factory Worker photo
An assumption-shattering report on the state of manufacturing in Massachusetts drew a sizeable audience to the Boston Foundation for a forum that included remarks by Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray (pictured below, right). “This report, which is the most comprehensive study of the manufacturing sector in 20 years, is a Massachusetts story,” he said. “It’s my story—one about a foreign-born grandfather who got a job in manufacturing here to begin a new life in a new country— and it’s a contemporary story that is still being written.”
Mary Jo Meisner photo Lt Gov Murray photo
Mary Jo Meisner, above left, moderated the panel discussion.
Barry Bluestone photo
Barry Bluestone (above), Dean of the School of Social Science, Urban Affairs and Public Policy at Northeastern University and Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Policy (CURP), wrote the report with Don Walsh, a Senior Research Associate at CURP, Lauren Nicoll and Chase Billingham. All of them were praised by Paul Grogan for representing Boston’s “intellectual firepower,” which the Foundation often relies on for conducting research and producing reports like “Staying Power.”
Staying Power panel
(From left) Panelists included Richard Lord, Michael Tamasi, Brian Quirk, Daniel O’Connell and Jerry Rubin.

Business and industry leaders joined representatives of the nonprofit and public policy sectors for a Boston Foundation Understanding Boston forum on July 15th. The occasion was the release of an assumption-shattering report on the current and future state of manufacturing in Massachusetts.

Boston Foundation President and CEO Paul S. Grogan opened the proceedings by making the point that research conducted on behalf of the Foundation often reveals troubling news about challenges in education or housing or other areas. “But the report we are discussing today reflects some very good news,” he said. “It dashes past and future assumptions about manufacturing through new, impeccable research.”

In fact, the report, Staying Power: The Future of Manufacturing in Massachusetts, turns conventional wisdom on its head by establishing not only the importance of manufacturing as a potent part of the regional economy, but also a catalyst for future economic growth in the Commonwealth.

“This research invites all of us to reboot our thinking about manufacturing,” said Northeastern University’s Barry Bluestone, who coauthored the report and presented the findings. “We have moved far beyond the shoes and textile mills that put Massachusetts at the center of the American Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.”

He went on to report that the sector includes more than 8,600 firms that are technologically sophisticated and well positioned to compete successfully in the emerging global economy. It also employs close to 10 percent of the state’s workforce—300,000 workers making electronics, fabricating metals and other durable goods—creating close to $40 billion worth of business annually. Even more promising is a sharp increase in productivity that highlights the continued importance of the sector. Since 1997, manufacturing in Massachusetts has outpaced the nation as a whole, with an increase in productivity of more than 60 percent, compared to a national rate of just 30 percent.

Among the more stunning findings of the report is that, taking into account natural turnover and a wave of retirements by the baby boom generation, the sector will hire some 100,000 new workers by 2016.

A panel discussion, led by Mary Jo Meisner, Vice President for Communications, Community Relations and Public Affairs at the Foundation, followed the presentation of the report, and covered topics ranging from workforce development to the importance of sophisticated design.



















“This is an exciting day for manufacturing,” said Michael Tamasi, President of Boston Centerless and AccuRounds, two state-of-the-art, high tech companies. “It shines a light on an area of our economy that has been in a dark cave for years.”

Richard Lord, President and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, agreed. “With this fresh look at manufacturing, we won’t be able to ignore this vital part of our economy any longer,” he said, adding that the greatest challenge will be preparing the future workforce.

Daniel O’Connell, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development for the state, also focused on the workforce challenge. “I see this report as a ‘call to action ’ to those of us in government,” he said. “Our workforce is our calling card. We need to train this future workforce and we need to do it through partnerships among vocational education, community colleges and manufacturers themselves.”

Jerry Rubin, President and CEO of Jewish Vocational Services, spoke to the importance of integrating language instruction into training. “The percentage of non-English-speaking residents in our state is growing more rapidly than at any time since the early 1900s,” he said. “We need to acknowledge that and integrate English for Speakers of Other Languages instruction into all aspects of education and training.”

Brian Quirk, Vice President for Global Operations at MKS Instruments, emphasized the importance of sophisticated design to the future of manufacturing in the state. “Most manufacturers rely on a lean approach to productivity,” he said, “and that has everything to do with design. In today’s world, design is key.”

Following a dialogue with the audience that featured further discussion of the importance of design, but also touched on issues related to the affordability of energy and health care, Mr. Grogan made final remarks. He connected the morning’s discussion to work the Boston Foundation is doing in the areas of education, employer-involved workforce development and health promotion.

“The Boston Foundation often finds that when you shine a light on a subject, it is a predicate to action,” he ended. “Let’s take the best ideas we’ve heard today and turn them into actions that not only will benefit manufacturing, but the Commonwealth as a whole.”

Back to TBF News July/August 2008